Kat eats local

Sometimes, when you’ve been baking way too many cookies and you say you’ll do just one more batch late in the evening, and you’re a little bit tired, you make mistakes – you’re missing an ingredient, or you skip a step, or both.

No? Just me?

Sometimes, you do this and it’s a disaster, but other times, it works – which is the case with these mincemeat meringue cookies.

I was all set to make the Almond, Cinnamon and Meringue Biscuits from the beautiful Breakfast Lunch Tea book from Rose Bakery – and one day, I will. But I made so many modifications I can’t say I really tried the original recipe. For one thing, I had picked up hazelnut meal and decided to use it instead of almonds; for another, I discovered too late that the candied peel in my cupboard was dried out and unusable, and substituted some leftover mincemeat I had in the fridge. And, I forgot the cinnamon that the original recipe calls for. (I also added some cacao nibs, which don’t entirely work with the mincemeat, but would work with the hazelnuts and, maybe, some cocoa powder added early on, for a better-than-Nutella flavour?)

The original recipe calls for setting aside 200 g of meringue after adding the lemon juice but before adding the remaining ingredients, to be brushed on top of the cookies before they are dried then baked. I forgot this step and while it probably makes for prettier cookies, it makes the recipe more fussy. Finally, the original recipe notes that “they are a little tricky to cut,” which is shorthand for “they are sticky and impossible to get out of the cookie cutter” – so I gave up and just sliced them into squares with a knife, which also means no scraps to waste or, um, snack on. Not that I would do such a thing.

The final product has the look of a scone rather than a pretty cookie, but I love them all the same, and the gluten-avoiders at my party did, too. They can be frozen (they’re somewhat prone to breaking, but I’ve had a bunch in the freezer in a ziploc bag for a couple of weeks and they’re mostly intact) and are also delicious straight out of the freezer, like most Christmas cookies. They’re chewy and nutty with just enough mincemeat flavour.

(Baked custard is one of my favourite things to make with leftover egg yolks, by the way.)

4 egg whites
450 g (4 1/2 cups) icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
juice of 1/2 lemon and grated zest of 1 lemon
320 g (3 1/3 cups) ground hazelnuts
1/2 cup mincemeat

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then gradually add the sugar. When the mixture is very stiff, beat in the lemon juice. Add the ground hazelnuts, mincemeat and lemon zest. Mix until you have a dough-like paste, then chill in the fridge for 1 hour.

Line a cookie sheet (or more) with parchment paper.

Dust your work surface with sugar and use a well-sugared rolling pin to roll the dough to about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Cut into two- to three-inch squares and place on baking tray (they will spread slightly but not much so they can be fairly close). Leave to dry for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F and bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, until the bases are lightly golden. The tops should remain white and the bases should be soft and moist.

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After a gorgeous morning in Prince Edward County for the Terroir Run, we decided to head back to Toronto via the country roads instead of the soul-sucking 401. One perk to this? Farmstand rhubarb (and asparagus, and eggs), which had me thinking gin and tonic as soon as I got home.

Not one to cook two things when one will do, I decided to forgo a fancy simple syrup and go straight to compote. It’s super easy to make: just wash and chop the rhubarb (1-inch-ish chunks, depending on the thickness), add a bit of water and some sugar to taste, bring to the boil, and simmer until tender.

When you get to the stage where you want your cocktail *now*, just scoop out some of the liquid (don’t worry about chunks of fruit – think of them as a garnish) and mix to taste with ice, tonic water and your favourite gin. (I used Fever-Tree and Vor gin that I picked up in Iceland earlier this week.) The compote that remains tastes great with plain yogurt and pistachios for breakfast or folded with lightly sweetened whipped cream and meringue chunks, for dessert.

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muesliThe hardest thing about travelling for me is often breakfast. At home, I start my day with healthy whole foods: steel-cut oats, or a smoothie, sometimes whole-grain toast for nut butter. It’s not that I’m a health food puritan, but I find a sugary, carb-heavy breakfast makes me sleepy and hungry the rest of the day. On the road, especially at mid- and low-range US hotels (the kind that boast of their make-your-own-waffle stations, as though that means homemade), it can be hard to find anything good at all: the peanut butter has sugar, the yogurt has sugar (and no fat) and the eggs are inedible scrambled-from-a-carton, meaning if I want protein, I have to pack it in.

And then there’s Switzerland. On the one hand, every breakfast buffet features Nutella and white bread, which can be hard to resist. But on the other hand, you’ll usually find cheese, and full-fat yogurt, and – best of all – birchermuesli and toppings. (Breakfast at left from Hotel Dom in St Gallen.) A Swiss classic, birchermuesli is basically oats soaked overnight with grated apple, milk and yogurt, ending up with a super creamy cereal – a cold alternative to oatmeal, really – that can be dressed up to your taste. Also common at Swiss buffets is bowls of raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds, perfect to add crunch, flavour and nutrition to your morning oats. And at Swiss grocery stores (and, important for travellers, the Sprüngli at Zurich airport), you can grab delicious to-go birchermuesli from the yogurt section. The Sprüngli version has raspberries mixed in and possibly red currants, and tastes sweet enough that they must be adding at least a little sugar, but it’s perfect to have on the plane to sub in for whatever your airline likes to call a meal.

There are plenty of recipes online for creative takes on “overnight oats,” but I really wanted to recreate what I’d had in Switzerland. Unfortunately, my first few attempts were mediocre, making me suspect that the secret was fatty Swiss cream or something similar. And then, I found this Jamie Oliver video online and had an epiphany. It’s brilliant: he uses grated banana in his soaking mixture to add sweetness and creaminess. The following is a riff off of that recipe, a slightly tropical take on birchermuesli. Measurements are approximate – play with it!


1 cup slow-cook rolled oats (gluten-free if you roll that way)
1 apple, grated
1 banana, grated (best to use one that’s still fairly firm – not green, but not mushy)
1 – 2 cups almond milk, or other nut milk of your choice
2 – 3 tablespoons coconut milk (from a can)
1/3 cup leftover pulp from homemade nut milk (optional)
spices (vanilla powder, cinnamon, etc.) – optional (my almond milk has spices so I don’t add any here)

Mix all ingredients in a large Mason jar or other container. (The narrower the better to prevent browning.) Leave in fridge at least 4 – 5 hours or overnight. Serve topped with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, shredded coconut or toppings of your choice. (Thawed frozen raspberries are a nice option – throw some in the fridge the night before at the same time as you’re making the muesli.) Makes 2 – 3 servings, and will keep for a couple of days – if you’re making breakfast ahead, you can separate the mixture out into separate to-go containers for breakfast at or en route to work.

Oh, and here’s a gratuitous Switzerland photo, just to get your mind in vacation mode. I wrote about sledding in Switzerland for enRoute.


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This year I’ve had the amazing opportunity to judge the Ontario Culinary Tourism Awards, which celebrate “Ontario’s best and brightest in culinary tourism”. From a large pool of worthy applicants, we chose a list of finalists earlier this year, and have been researching each one with the goal of picking a winner in each of three categories, to be announced at a gala on November 14.

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.


Today, I got to play tourist in my (adopted) home town, a nice break since I’ve spent only 10 days here out of the past seven weeks. (Yes, I just counted.) Fellow judge Rod Charles and I joined a group of local and international food lovers on the signature 501 (Queen) streetcar food tour put on by local operator Foodies on Foot. The tour fee (around $79, I think, including a TTC day pass, less if you have your own) includes respectable food and drink samples at multiple stops along the route as well as a bottle of water and a tote bag. Trust me, you’ll need it.

The route technically starts in the west, at the corner of Queen and Roncesvalles, at 11 am. I was running late and arranged to meet the group in Parkdale, at Glory Hole Doughnuts. I rarely make it to Parkdale and while I’d heard of Glory Hole, I’d never had the chance to sample their goods. Tour leader Steve gave us a bit of history of the restaurant – owner Ashley Jacot de Boinod started Glory Hole as a wholesale business then opened the storefront in August 2012 – and then set us free to grab a doughnut of choice and a coffee. With flavours like toast & butter, Nanaimo bar, margarita glaze and piña colada it was hard to pick, but I ended up with a Viva Puff doughnut – yes, a giant glazed topped with chocolate, marshmallow and jelly. If you’re on this tour, do yourself a favour and don’t finish your doughnut. There’s plenty more food to come.



I knew in advance that our next stop was Queen and Strachan, but had been wondering where we’d stop in: Clafouti, perhaps, White Squirrel, or Nadege? Turns out, it was none other than raw vegan takeaway Feel Good Guru, one of my favourite spots on the West Queen West strip. Three food samples helped our digestive systems recover a little from the doughnut, and we got to hear a little about the Trinity Bellwoods area and the support Feel Good Guru has had from the community. They’re now serving up their fresh, healthy fare seven days a week. If you’re in the neighbourhood, come by for lunch and borrow a picnic blanket to take to the park. And if you balk a little at the prices (“I’m paying what for nothing but vegetables?!”), remember that they buy organic and support local farmers as much as possible, a business model that comes with higher overhead but just as high dividends in the community.




We hopped back on the streetcar, which was being surprisingly reliable today, and kept going east toward Spadina. Every time we entered the car, Steve would tell us the next stop in case we got separated. But this didn’t prove to be a problem, and our group held together well, chatting about food experiences and theorizing about the next sample. At Spadina, it turned out, as we exited the streetcar?


Yes, none other than Banh Mi Boys, a spot that has been on my list for ages but which I’d never gotten around to visiting. Steve kindly got me the vegetarian (and very tasty) Panko Tofu Steamed Bao, while the others each enjoyed half of what I think was a beef Banh Mi.



Back on the streetcar and heading further eastward, I knew for sure I’d be trying new places – like many Torontonians, I have a bad habit (fueled to a great degree by bad traffic) for staying on my side of the city, and I rarely venture to the East End. After so many carbs I was getting sleepy, so I was happy when we got off at Queen and Parliament and went kitty corner to Redline Coffee, appropriately named after the streetcar line itself and known for making its own flavoured syrups.


While they had kindly whipped up a batch of pumpkin spice for us, earlier than its scheduled seasonal launch on September 21 (aka the first day of fall), I resisted its allure – they make it with their own fresh pumpkin puree, apparently – in favour of the toasted marshmallow latte, a vanilla latte (I had mine with almond milk) topped with marshmallows that they, yes, roast with a blowtorch. And it’s every bit as good as it sounds. If you think that’s not enough sugar, don’t worry – we each got to pick out a cookie as well.



shortbread2Feeling more and more stuffed and hyped up on sugar and caffeine, we crossed the Don River and made a quick stop at Toronto institution Mary Macleod’s Shortbread for a sample of their buttery goodness. The chocolate crunch is the classic flavour but I couldn’t resist the old-fashioned wedges of plain shortbread, perfect to nibble on with a nice afternoon cuppa. If you’re looking for edible gifts, this is one place to consider shopping at.


With no streetcar in sight but not much farther to go, we keep walking toward Leslieville for half a grilled cheese sandwich and our choice of dip at Leslieville Cheese Market. I was convinced this would be our last stop and regretting the small bowl of yogurt I’d eaten before leaving the house this morning, but no, Steve kept us going a little farther, to none other than Leslieville Pumps, yet another new-ish Toronto eatery (I hate that word, but you can’t really call it a restaurant, nor a gas station) I’d yet to have a chance to visit. Leslieville Pumps is, indeed, a gas station, but it’s a gas station with a southern-style takeaway inside.


We settled in on the picnic tables outside and listened to Steve explain the business’s origins until he lost our attention to our final samples of the day: a sandwich, corn fritter and fried pickle, the latter both with dip. The sandwich was beyond my capabilities, but the fritter and its creamy parsley dip were the perfect blend of fresh, flavourful and fried, a perfect end to a day packed with new eating experiences.


I like to think I’m somewhat up to date on Toronto’s food scene, and yet this tour, which took us along 8.4 km (the distance from Glory Hole to Leslieville Pumps, according to Google Maps) of one of Toronto’s most interesting and diverse streets, included only one spot I’d been to before. Clearly, I need to get out more – though, judging by the number of locals that regularly take Steve’s tours, I’m not the only one. And while the Queen streetcar can be frustrating when you’re trying to get somewhere, it’s nice to remember that when you’re not in a hurry, it’s a lovely way to get around and see the city, better than any hop-on, hop-off bus tour.



But the real highlight of the tour was tour-guide Steve himself, who is clearly passionate about the city and its neighbourhoods. Toronto’s not the easiest city for tourists to get to know, and it can be overwhelming for food-loving travellers to choose where to eat. The beauty of a tour with Foodies on Foot is they do the hard work for you, letting you just enjoy the eating.


The restaurants we visited today were some of Steve’s favourites, but they’re far from the only businesses he works with, so don’t think the tour’s not worth it if you’ve visited many of them before. Let Steve know ahead of time and he can customize the route for second-timers and local experts, as well as for special meal requests – today was easy to vegetarian-ize, but it might have been challenging to do gluten-free, though I’m more than sure that’s doable given advanced notice.

Last but not least, some tips to avoid rookie mistakes? First, don’t feel like you have to finish everything you try, and take it with you if you can so you can fully enjoy everything along the route. (I have three-quarters of a doughnut in my kitchen right now.) And second, have a light (or no) breakfast and don’t make serious dinner reservations on the day of your tour. You will not be hungry. Finally, book ahead. These tours sell out fast and if you leave it too late, you’re likely to be left hungry, forced to choose your own places to eat.

Thanks, Steve!

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My summer pilgrimage to the Okanagan is often oriented around fruit. If I’m there in July, I spend far too much time standing on my parents’ picnic table, eating cherries straight off the tree. If it’s August, then peaches. Lots and lots of fresh peaches, eaten over the sink as the juice drips down my hand and chin.


This year, I was lucky enough to also get my hands on a couple of boxes of apricots. While my parents’ small espaliered tree didn’t get pollinated this year, my mother’s coworker had a tree laden with fruit and invited us to come and pick as many as we wanted. How can you turn down an offer like that?


The thing about apricots is, they are immeasurably better cooked than raw. And the beauty of them is you don’t even need a knife for processing – you can just tear them apart with your fingers, and the pit comes right out. Easy and fast, though even at that speed, two boxes full is a lot to deal with.


I wasn’t in the mood for canning, so one bag of apricot halves went in the freezer, and I filled the dehydrator trays with another batch. Home-dried apricots aren’t soft and bright orange like the store-bought ones – you need additives for that – but if you dry them until they’re hard, they keep well, and are a spectacular addition to oatmeal (throw them in to soften while it’s cooking) in winter months.


The apricots that had started going mushy – that’s the thing about fresh fruit, it needs to be dealt with so fast – went into a big pot with just a small amount of sugar, to be turned into compote. Halfway between jam and stewed fruit (maybe more on the stewed fruit side), this just-sweetened-enough fruit puree disappeared pretty quickly, mixed in with yogurt, poured onto ice cream, and on the side of a sweet pavlova we had for dessert one night. Many recipes call for the apricot seeds – you can crack the pits open like a nut – to be tossed in with the jam or compote to add an almond-like flavour. I cracked a few open then pinched my hand in the nutcracker and decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Almost a month later, there’s still a faint line on my palm.


A Smitten Kitchen-style apricot crumble – that is, designed for breakfast – was another favourite. Topped with oats and crunchy pecans and served with plain yogurt, it was the perfect start to the hot, sunny days, scooped into a bowl and enjoyed on the front porch. I also threw together an apricot and cherry clafoutis based on the recipe in David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris (Amazon/iTunes/Kobo), and a gorgeous apricot and almond pound-type cake that I didn’t love enough to make again, except for how the apricots are placed on top.

In the end, we had a lot of apricot pits, and a lot of sweets, and a desire to do it all again next year. There are so many more apricot recipes to try.


And by the way, if you’re a fruit lover, you’ll adore this story about apricots by Montreal writer Adam Leith Gollner, which I originally read in issue 2 of Lucky Peach magazine.


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I didn’t change a thing in this refreshing spring salad from new cookbook The Green Kitchen (I think it has a different title in Canada, which is so dumb) via My New Roots. Ontario strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus (as well as frozen edamame) from Karma Co-op, Canadian beluga lentils from my cupboard and basil from my garden, tossed in a maple-lemon vinaigrette. Just what I needed at the end of a long, busy day, as you can see from the fact I took the photo after dark despite it being only a week until solstice.


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tumblr_mo5i9bOi5g1qlqemwo1_500I have a friend from Colombia who commented once on how much Canadians love their fresh ground black pepper. Funny – what I see as normal, he sees as a Canadian thing. I guess that’s how it goes. Since that discussion, years ago now, I’ve paid more attention to pepper, and now that I’m conscious of its presence, I find I love it even more. So when I was browsing for a quick recipe to make with the season’s first pint of strawberries and I stumbled upon this gem from Epicurious, I couldn’t help but try it out, served with plain yogurt rather than mascarpone or ice cream.

It’s a perfect recipe, really: simple and easy to adjust, and yet with a flavour twist that many people will find unusual. Balsamic vinegar on strawberries is probably more common – in fact, I’m looking forward to trying out the People’s Pops recipe for popsicles of that flavour. Black pepper, though, is less so. As you can tell from the comments on the site, this flavour combination is a love-hate thing. I’m on the love side of the spectrum.

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Not long ago, I was having one of those days where when a recipe for raw vegan cookie dough shows up in your Google Reader (ahem, yes, still haven’t switched), you get up and go to the kitchen and make it. I used macadamias and pecans instead of cashews and walnuts and added a bit of honey because my banana was slightly underripe, and the result was delicious. It also made a ton, so I decided to freeze some. And then I had a brain wave – cookie dough ice cream.

It’s easy – make the cookie dough, then freeze some into little chunks, about the size you would want them in your ice cream. Then when you make banana soft serve or your favourite other ice cream, toss the chunks in right at the end, so they get chopped in a little – or just stir them in.


Next up? I’ll have to figure out a new version of dulce de leche ice cream.

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Guys, I just made the best smoothie. It’s a variation on the date-almond smoothie, which is my go-to pre-workout snack-slash-meal. Dates always give me extra energy for exercising, and the almond gives the smoothie staying power.

This time, I tossed in half an avocado, and I’m glad I did – it upped the creaminess factor while adding in some healthy fat and fibre. Here’s the recipe, though forgive me – the amounts are just rough guidelines.

• 1 banana
• 1 cup frozen cranberries
• 1/2 avocado
• 3 dates
• 1-2 tbsp each almond butter, hempseeds, coconut oil, protein powder (I like Vega)
• 1 cup almond milk
• 1 cup water, or as needed

Blend and enjoy!

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Hello, neglected blog!

In need of a chocolate fix (and it’s “feels like minus 10 outside”, as in I don’t want to leave the house anymore today), I was searching for some emergency chocolate recipes, and figured I’m not the only one. But some of the recipes I found that were labelled emergency included chocolate (not cocoa) as an ingredient, which confuses me: if it’s a chocolate emergency, wouldn’t you just eat the chocolate instead of baking with it, if you had any?


My usual is banana with quick chocolate sauce. The sauce, easily adaptable, is a blend of coconut oil, cocoa powder and maple syrup in near-equal amounts, with a touch of vanilla and salt if you like. Whisk together and pour over the banana, either freshly sliced or – if you’re feeling fancy – sliced lengthwise and fried in some coconut oil until gooey and delicious. (Use butter if you want.)

But here are a few other options, some of which I’ve made and some I’ve just pinned:

Chocolate Frosting Shots
This genius recipe is super simple and only requires that you have thick coconut milk hanging around. In my more ambitious states, I keep a can or two in the back of the fridge to use for emergency faux whipped cream, too, and those will do just fine. It doesn’t matter in terms of flavour if your coconut milk is a little runny, it’s more a texture thing, and chilled is nice. I jazzed mine up tonight with a touch of espresso powder.

Frozen Peanut Butter Chocolate Banana Bites
Uses chocolate chips, which isn’t something I keep in my house due to eating them, but the peanut butter part is genius, and I bet you could adapt my sauce recipe above for this. If you try it, let me know.

Raw Cacao Pudding
Uses irish moss gel, which means it only counts as an emergency recipe if you happen to have any in your fridge. But I’m dying to try this.

Chocolate Chia Pudding
Delicious. She says to let it sit for one to ten hours but honestly, I’m sure I’ve eaten it after 15 minutes or so.

I’ve never had tons of luck with the cake-in-a-mug recipes I’ve found, and I’m still hunting for a recipe for a single chocolate cookie. Do you have any others to add?

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