Friday, August 31, 2012

Recipe: Vermouth Shrimp Bisque


Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new. – Brian Tracy


Comfort food. Have you ever craved something that’s rich and satisfying but not completely unhealthy? Of course you have. But it certainly limits your choices.

Well look no further. And it’s a main dish meal, too. The miraculous concoction is called bisque.

The vegetables cooking.
Bisque is a rich, creamy soup, most often made with shellfish such as lobster, crab, shrimp or crayfish.

The long and laborious way (not my way) is with a “shell” stock. It is made by simmering the shells of whatever you’re using—like making chicken stock from bones—with aromatic vegetables. The shells are often roasted beforehand for even more flavour.

The stock is then strained, cream is added and some type of thickener. The seafood is added almost at the end of the cooking time and then all is puréed, including the seafood. My recipe leaves the seafood whole.

Traditionally one of the thickeners is rice, but more often now bisque is thickened with a roux (a mixture of butter and flour which is cooked).

Puréed until smooth.
Mine actually relies on the vegetables themselves for the thickener. That's a dietary bonus. Since I don’t make a stock for this I have added some complexity of flavour by adding vermouth. 

If you're interested, I have posted a recipe for homemade vermouth here. It's surprisingly easy and very good.

You don’t need to buy the biggest, most expensive shrimp you can find for this recipe. Medium (or even small) shrimp work very well for this. If using small shrimp you may not even need to cut them up. Use your own judgement.

There is very little in the way of fat in this recipe, only that from the nob of butter and the evaporated milk. You could use 2% evaporated if you wish, but there’s so little in this anyway why bother.

This is a wonderful simple way to use shrimp and you have the added benefit of the “fancy” name!


Vermouth and evaporated milk is added.
Vermouth Shrimp Bisque
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook 25 min  |  Serves 4 (or 8 as appetizer)
1 lb raw shrimp*
1 tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 rib celery, chopped
1 medium sweet potato, cubed
3 medium potatoes, cubed
2 chicken broth bouillon cubes
water to cover
1/2 cup white vermouth
1 can (about 1-1/4 cups) evaporated milk
1 tsp dried tarragon, or 1 tbsp fresh
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
salt to taste

Melt the butter in a soup pot. Sauté the onion and celery until translucent.

Add both types of potato, the bouillon cubes and enough water to cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and let cook for 15 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooking, peel the shrimp and slice through into two halves. You can also dice them if you wish.

Once the potatoes are cooked through remove the vegetables from the heat. Purée the mixture with a blender or stick emulsifier until very smooth.

Stir in the vermouth, tarragon, pepper and evaporated milk. I find evaporated milk works better than cream, but substitute if you would like. Then add in the shrimp. Bring to a simmer and let cook just until the shrimp are pink.

Taste for salt and adjust. The amount will depend on your bouillon cubes. Some are salty, some are not.

Serve with crusty rolls for a main course, or alone for a dinner party appetizer.

Bisque, anyone?
* Feel free to substitute other shellfish. The base and tarragon works well with any, except maybe clams...
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Thursday, August 30, 2012

One Weird Wild Plant: Indian Pipe


If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary. – Jim Rohn 

Indian Pipes with their turned down pipe bowls. Photo: suzn80, Flickr ccl

Here’s an interesting post today, or at least I hope you find it so. It’s about one of the more unusual plants that grow in Nova Scotia. You would think it’s a fungus, but it’s not.

I just caught some specimens near the end of their growing season. That's why the beauty shot is from Flickr.

The plant in question is called Monotropa uniflora. We locally call it Indian Pipe. It’s interesting because it produces absolutely no chlorophyll and therefore is completely white, or nearly so.

As the plants age the "pipe bowls" straighten and face upward.
This being a plant is unusual because chlorophyll is the pigment that is crucial for plants to photosynthesize light and grow. It uses a completely different system to generate energy.

Indian Pipe, also known as Ghost Plant or Corpse Plant is a herbaceous perennial plant. It is native to temperate regions of Asia, North America and northern South America. It is fairly rare in occurrence.

Indian Pipe is usually seen from June to September and is usually found near rotting wood or on very compost-rich forest floors. Its height varies greatly from 2-3 inches to upwards of 10. It is unmistakable because it is very white, the stems have small leaves more accurately called “scales” and the bowl-like flower top crooks over in the shape of a pipe.

The colloquial name is quite possibly due to it being used medicinally by Native Americans to treat eye conditions. I have no idea how it was used in that manner.

Its rarity is due, in part to the special circumstances it needs to grow. It needs two specific helpers in close proximity. Also because of these circumstances, unlike green plants, Indian Pipe can grow where there is very, very little light, like in dark forest floors. But it is almost impossible to replicate those conditions in a home garden.


How it grows
Indian Pipe has to receive nutrients from other sources since it doesn’t photosynthesize sunlight. Its roots tap into the mycelia (root-like threads) of Russula and Lactarius mushrooms. The Indian Pipe takes nutrients directly from those fungus. 

In turn, those fungi's mycelia tap into tree roots for their energy – because they have no chlorophyll either. Many fungi and trees have this type of relationship. The fungus gives nutrients to the tree and the tree gives nutrients to the fungus. Both organisms help each other out.

Indian Pipe doesn’t supply any nutrients to either. It is therefore a parasitic plant.


Can you eat it?
Well, yes, but… It’s mildly toxic when raw, but apparently not so when cooked. References say it tastes like asparagus when cooked. 

I have heard references that it’s “palatable” but not “choice” (to use mushroom-speak). By that I mean people don’t go out and search it out like cranberries, blueberries or chanterelle mushrooms. There’s not a lot known and all the references seem to link back to one source.

At the end of their lifecycle the stems turn black and dry out.
That source was from a local scientist’s book written at the turn of the 1900s. The author’s name was W.H. Prest, of Bedford, Nova Scotia. He wrote Edible Plants of Nova Scotia. In it he informs about much of the local flora of Nova Scotia and their degree of edibility.

He wrote: “Monotropa uniflora L. Indian Pipe, locally ‘Death-Plant.’ White semitransparent stalk 2 1/2 in. to 5 in. high, with highly organized flower of five petals, without smell, stalk with thin transparent scales or leaflets, tender and almost tasteless. Parboil, then boil or roast, comparable to asparagus. In dry or moderately dry soil in thick woods, June to August. Generally distributed and abundant.”


He thought it was abundant. Maybe in 1905, but not so much now, or at least not in my experience.

I believe the reference to “death plant” is more to do with its ghostly looks than any overriding toxicity. But, as with all things, caution should be exercised if looking for this to eat.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

30 Minute Dinner: Cilantro Cumin Roasted Chicken with Corn


If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment. – Henry David Thoreau

Simple, simple, simple...

Had a bit of a minor setback yesterday so I wasn’t up to posting. Our potential house buyer has decided to purchase another property. So we’re back to square one. Hopefully we will still sell soon…

I kind of felt all day like I had been kicked in the stomach. They must have known something was up at work. I was being nice...

Compound butter – a greenish, dirty secret...
I really wasn’t up to any laborious production tonight either. So thank goodness for these two dinner recipes: 30 minute roast chicken and oven roasted corn.

30 minute roast chicken is a godsend. You can be a little bummed out, like me, or you can be in a rush. It works well for either. Minimal effort – just let the oven do its thing. Throwing in the corn for the same length of time is just the icing on the cake.

The secret to 30 minute chicken is removing the backbone and flattening it, as well as cutting into the thickest parts (the joints by the bones). This makes the chicken cook perfectly all in the same short time.

I have to come clean about another “time saving” aspect to this meal. I already had the compound butter made. It was a “leftover”! (See yesterday’s post on what's in your 'fridge.) 

Compound butter is a great way of introducing flavour to dishes right at the table. All you do is mash together butter, herbs, spices and/or aromatic liquids. Chill – or not – and let it melt on top of your veggies or meat for an instant flavour boost. Delicious.

I’ve become quite fond of cilantro cumin butter on corn and I thought there’s no reason on earth why it wouldn’t work as a roasting baste for chicken. And I was right. It does, and very well at that.

Hopefully we’ll be able to quickly move forward with the house. I want to move to the country. But in the meantime, it’s comforting how a good meal can begin to brighten your mood.


Pan browned, basted and ready for the oven.
Cilantro Cumin Chicken
Prep: 15 min  |  Cook 25-30 min | Serves 4
2-1/2 to 3 lb chicken
4-8 ears fresh corn, still in husks
cilantro cumin butter
salt and pepper
crusty dinner rolls

To make the compound butter combine:
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter, for brushing the chicken before baking.

Using kitchen shears, cut the backbone from the chicken and crack the breastbone so the chicken lays flat. Clip into the meat around the joints partway. Fry bone side down in a sizzling hot pan for 5 minutes, and then skin down for 5 minutes more.

Flip the chicken skin side up, baste with butter and place the pan in the preheated oven.

Clip off the tip of the corn husk including the silk and any hanging bits of husk that may burn in the oven. Place directly on the rack in the oven with the chicken.

Bake both for 25-30 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the chicken's thigh and breast reads 180°F.

The meat will be just cooked and juicy.

Round out the meal with crusty rolls warmed in the oven.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Refrigerator Foraging: “Sobras” Wraps


People today are still living off the table scraps of the sixties. They are still being passed around – the music and the ideas. – Bob Dylan

The flavours of Mexican cuisine make these a hit.

Nothing’s easy… But the times we learn the most is when difficulty arises.

By the way, these wraps aren’t difficult, just me arriving at the name. They’re made of leftover bits that were hanging around in my refrigerator.

Leftovers Wraps. It doesn’t make you salivate in anticipation does it? Since these wraps turned out to be very Mexican in taste I though the least I could do is fancy up the name to reflect their "ethnicity."

So I asked Google what I thought was an easy question: What’s the Spanish word for “leftovers”? To my surprise there’s where the difficulty began.

Tortilla, lettuce, corn, pork, cumin and onion.
Although “sobras” is the term, I don’t believe it is exactly correct to use it the way I have in my blog post name. From what I have learned you really don’t just say “leftovers” in Spanish. 

For one, the word is used in context. Rather than leftovers, in general, it is often specific. For example, “usamos el pavo que había sobrado”; “we used up the leftover turkey.” Sobras is the plural noun, sobrado is the adjective.

For another, where the leftovers originated from may determine the word you use as well. “El recalentado” are specifically leftovers from a special dinner like Christmas or a wedding. 

If you use “recanlentado” you have to specify from what sort of dinner, much like above you had to specify what sort of leftover meat. 

Further, there is “restos”. Those are leftovers, but they’re like bones, skin, peels and other stuff. You wouldn’t eat restos wraps. If you did you would probably be called a “vagabundo” (hobo). 

Are you still with me? See. It wasn’t a straightforward question at all...

Regardless, back to the wraps. I had some pretty specific, but not uncommon, leftovers. 

The Superstore had 10 ears of corn for $2.00 a few days ago – local corn too. Yum. We didn’t eat it all. I also had three pork chops left over, a bit of Monterey Jack cheese, some cilantro and – wonder of wonders – salsa. 

We are always throwing out salsa. There’s 2 of us and our favourite salsa is sold in 650 ml jars. It’s Sobeys brand Fireball Salsa. For those non-Atlantic Canadian readers, Sobeys is a local grocery chain. Their branded cuisine is not usually their strong suit. But the salsa is good, if a bit runny. It’s so hot you don’t need anything else in the wraps for spiciness.

So essentially I went foraging in my refrigerator for foodstuffs I needed. I had to purchase a lime, some sour cream and lettuce.

Oh, and the tortillas. I hate buying tortillas. They cost a fortune for what they are. I think I’ll post a homemade how-to recipe some time soon. How hard can they be?


...salsa, cilantro, sour cream and Monterey Jack.
Sobras Wraps
Prep: 10 min  | Cook: 20 min  |  Makes 6 wraps
6 tortillas
lettuce leaves
1 lb pre-cooked pork, beef or chicken
1 package taco seasoning
1 lime
3 ears corn, kernels cut from cob
cumin, ground or seed
cilantro, fresh, torn
Compliments® Fireball Salsa
sour cream
200 g Monterey Jack cheese, grated
Optional: finely chopped onion or green onion

Cut the pork into manageable pieces and toss with some taco seasoning and lime juice.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking tart with foil and lay the corn kernels and pork out in a single layer. Bake for 20 minutes to reheat the pork and partially cook the corn.

Wrap the tortillas in tin foil and place in the oven for the last 10 minutes to slightly steam.

To assemble, place a lettuce leaf on the bottom of a tortilla, then add pork and corn. Sprinkle with cumin to taste.

Add a lot of torn cilantro, some salsa and sour cream. Add onions if you wish. Grate cheese on top and wrap up.

That’s it. A great way to use some sobras from your ‘fridge.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

For Dessert? Sopapilla Cheesecake


The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made. – Groucho Marx 

A nice, cream-cheesy dessert.

Sopapilla. The word conjures up all manner of interesting foreign food, doesn’t it? That’s the name I found for this pretender to the name on several sites, including Pillsbury’s. This is not sopapilla.

One person, extolling the virtues of this recipe, stated emphatically “what makes it like a sopapilla is a drizzle of honey when it comes from the oven.” 

That’s exactly like saying what makes a board the same as a car is because you nailed some tires to it. I call “bull****.”


This is sopapailla. Photo: Wiki CC.
So what is sopapilla, really?
From Wikipedia:
A sopaipilla is traditionally made from leavened wheat dough (or a mixture of wheat flour and masa harina) to which some shortening or butter is added. After being allowed to rise, the dough is rolled into a sheet that is then cut into circular, square or triangular shapes. The shapes are 8-10 cm in size for the longest dimension (if intended for a dessert) or 15-20 cm (if intended to be stuffed for a main course). The shapes are then deep-fried in oil, sometimes after allowing them to rise further before frying: the frying causes the shapes to puff up, ideally forming a hollow pocket in the centre.

Not only is this recipe not deep fried, but it has cream cheese baked right in the centre. The devil's in the details, or in this case, the technique.


The dough ready to rise.
The product of a corporate kitchen
It is, with very little doubt, the creation of the General Mills/Pillsbury kitchen to sell more of their crescent rolls. When companies start inventing things to sell products that usually spells trouble. 

All one has to do is look to the drivel that has emerged from the Campbell’s soup kitchens over the decades. For example, chicken and rice baked in cream of mushroom, sometimes with celery, soup. Have you ever made it from scratch? You should. What a difference. But that recipe is relatively "normal".

That would be a good topic for a cook book – making recipes from scratch that were invented to increase sales of a specific pre-made product. Like mushroom soup chicken rice bake, or this sopapilla cheesecake. There’s a lot of recipes out like that. 

If you have a few minutes and want a gag-inducing laugh check out these two links:

Doubled in size.
They’re mostly “bad soup ideas” courtesy of Campbell’s. How about “birthday soup” complete with floating candles on melba toast? Fish around on both sites. They're a lot of fun.


Still tasty, jut mis-named
This “sopapilla” is actually a really good dessert idea, it’s just not what it says it is. It's even better when you make your own dough.

Sadly I don’t really have another short, memorable name for this so I guess sopapilla it will remain (even though it’s not). 

One thing I want you to know: I ate a piece of this straight from the oven. It was good, but it was even better several hours later after it had completely cooled. My first piece was at about 11am. The second piece was about 8 hours later. It had much improved.

Try to eat it within 24 hours. I imagine this has a short "freshness" window. That shouldn't be a problem though.


Sopapilla Cheesecake
Prep: 2-3 hours  |  Bake 25-30 min  |  12-16 pieces
for the pastry
1 tbsp active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (110°-115°F)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup butter, softened and cubed
3-1/2 cups all purpose flour
for the remainder
2 pkgs (1 lb/454g) cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup honey

Proof the yeast in the warm water until frothy, about 10-15 minutes. If it has activated, proceed. If not – go buy new yeast and start again.

Add the sugar, eggs, butter and 2 cups of the flour. Beat until relatively smooth. 

Then add the remaining flour and knead for 8-10 minutes until very soft and smooth. A dough hook in a mixer is perfect for this.

Cover and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

After the dough has risen remove from the bowl, punch down and let rest while you make the filling.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Combine the cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure you incorporate all of the cream cheese.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out each piece so it will fit the bottom of a 10x15 jelly roll pan (or similar cookie sheet). They will be a little sticky but try to do it without adding any additional flour.

Place one rolled piece of dough on the un-greased pan. Then add the cream cheese, leaving abut 1/2” all around the edges with no filling.

Place the second sheet on top of the filling and stretch it out to the edges. Pinch the two edges of the crust together. This step may get a little messy… You’re putting a stretchy piece of dough atop a wet filling.

Once sealed, brush the surface with the melted butter. Then mix together the nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the top. Cut several vents in the top crust.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Heat the honey and drizzle over the top while still hot.

Let the sopapilla cool before cutting into squares. (The trimmed off edges were a hit with Henry, our Bouvier...)

This dessert is best after cooling and sitting for a few hours.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Dinnertime! Italian Stuffed Eggplant


I predict you will sink step by step into a bottomless quagmire, however much you spend in men and money. – Charles De Gaulle (referencing the Vietnam War)

This was good stuff(ed).

Unlike yesterday’s post, this recipe takes a little longer. It comes in at slightly more than 1 hour. But I needed something like this.

Friday was a bit on the stressful side. We’re finishing up inspection on the “country” house we hope to move to, but one obstacle stands in the way. And it’s one that could literally cause a really big stink: the dreaded septic field.

Living in the city, and being hooked to the city sewer, made us never have to worry about that sort of thing. But we’re both originally from the country so we know the importance of a perfectly functioning septic field.

The eggplant after roasting.
It’s not glamorous, but some necessities aren’t.

Anyway for most of the day we were in a bit of a quagmire, if you’ll pardon the pun. The homeowner didn’t want to dig another hole in his front lawn (he had already dug one for us), and we needed to inspect the outflow. A blockage, one might say...

We finally found a potential solution quite late in the day. It’s called a hydraulic load test –  and it’s non-invasive. Basically, the septic tank is flooded and then the outflow is tested to see the dispersion/recovery is working correctly. 

With this test we will “see” if the field is working even without a visual inspection of the actual pipes out into it. Keep that test in mind if you’re thinking of purchasing a house without city sewer hookup. A mere snip at $300...

It’s amazing the things you have to find out about, and then learn enough to understand, when doing things around a house. It's also amazing how often they bleed your wallet.

So I was feeling  bit “punchy,” or actually a little bit more like I was punched when 5pm rolled around. If the septic failed we would have to withdraw our offer or get a massive reduction in price. A septic field can cost upwards of $20 to $30 thousand to put in.

So I was glad that we found (hopefully) an equitable solution. And at day’s end I was hungry like I had run a marathon, a sure sign of my relief. So what hits that kind of spot any more than comfort food? 

Comfort food, as a rule, takes a little longer but it’s worth it. It fills your stomach and your soul.

I've been eating more eggplant this summer than in my entire life up to this point, I believe. This is the first time I have made this particular recipe, but it is an instant favourite – even with this just one try.

I bet your family will feel the same. It’s a hug for your tummy.


This filling is absolutely amazing.
Italian Stuffed Eggplant
Prep: 45 min  |  Bake: 20 min  |  Serves 4
1/4 cup olive oil + 1 tbsp
2 medium eggplant
300 g ground beef*
1 medium onion, diced
2 large garlic, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1/2 cup red wine
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 white bread rolls, toasted and chopped (I used 2 small ciabatta-style rolls)
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp chilli flakes
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
salt and pepper
250 g mozzarella cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cut the eggplants in two – from top to bottom. (see photo). 

Run a knife around the perimeter of each half and then in a diagonal pattern in the centre. You don’t have to go tight between the skin and flesh. This cutting helps the eggplant cook faster, and in separating the skin and the flesh to make the stuffing.

Place the halves in an oven proof dish. Sprinkle the top of each half with 1 tbsp of olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 30 minutes. Let cool until able to be handled safely, about 10-15 minutes. (But leave the oven on.)

While the eggplant halves are roasting, make the rest of the filling. Heat the remaining oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté the onion, garlic and green pepper until they soften slightly. Then add the ground meat and sauté until no longer pink. 

Add the wine and tomato paste and cook until almost completely dry. Then add the rolls, which have been toasted and diced into small squares. Do not chop the bread into crumbs. You want the texture.

Add the oregano, chilli flakes and basil to the meat. Mix together well and set aside.

Once the roasted eggplant is cool enough to handle remove the interior flesh, chop if necessary, and add to the filling. Don’t worry if all the flesh doesn’t come out. You need some for the halves to retain their shape.

Taste the filling for salt and pepper and adjust. Divide into four equal parts and stuff each eggplant, packing the filling in to help the eggplant halves retain its shape.

Place a quarter of the  mozzarella on top of each stuffed half. Bake in the oven for 20 more minutes until the cheese has melted and has started to brown on top.

Serve the eggplant with a side dish, such as pasta tossed with olive oil and breadcrumbs, a salad or some other complimentary Italian-esque dish.

* For the meat try substituting all ground lamb, or a mixture of beef and lamb.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Fast Lunch: Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Sandwiches


We are going as fast as we can as soon as we can. We're in a race against time, until we run out of money. – Jack Nicholson 

Looks good, doesn't it.

Look ma, no pots! I love being able to say that. It brings a smile to my face.

If you have heavy-duty tinfoil to line the baking sheet for this recipe you will have no dishes to do at all, except for possibly a grater, knife and cutting board. And this recipe is fast as well.

Split the bread and spread on Dijon.
I was really pressed for time and wanted to get food on the table – quickly. It was after a showing on our house right at mealtime. 

I was hungry and so was my spouse, waiting for his canteen delivery at work. (Just so you know, he doesn't demand it, I do it because I want to.)

What inspired this was speed – and nutrition. How can you get something on the table FAST while covering the grain, dairy, veggie and protein bases in the food guide? One option, your broiler.

I’m becoming quite enamoured with my broiler this summer, especially since we will not be replacing our BBQ until we sell our house and move. We actually have an accepted conditional offer now. Look out countryside, here we come! But I digress…

Add cooked chicken & asparagus.
Asparagus (from what country I do not know) was affordable in the grocery store so that ended up in my shopping basket. With it was a day-old, marked down 50% French baguette. Great for grilling. 

My expensive purchase was 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Shudder… But this recipe does serve 4 so I gritted my teeth and put it in the basket. The only other purchase was some swiss cheese.

Swiss, chicken and asparagus are wonderful together. If you slice the chicken into thin, wide pieces they will grill in the same length of time as the asparagus.

A few more minutes and you have lunch. To make it a delicious, informal dinner just add a side salad. Fast, tasty and good for you.

Give this one a try if you’re really in a rush. You’ll impress whoever you serve.


Place cheese on both sides of the sandwich before broiling.
Grilled Chicken and Asparagus Sandwiches
Prep: 5 min  |  Grill: 12 min  |  4 sandwiches
2 chicken breasts
1/2 lb asparagus spears
a little olive oil, salt and pepper
300 g swiss cheese
1 baguette
Dijon mustard
mayonnaise (optional)

Using a sharp knife slice each chicken breast in half horizontally through its thickness. Arrange on a baking sheet lined with tin foil.

After the cheese is bubbly and browned you can add mayonnaise
of you wish. Close, cut in two and serve.1 baguette and 2 chicken
breasts yield 4 decent-sized sandwiches.
Drizzle a little olive oil on the chicken and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus and chicken for about 4 minutes per side or until slightly browned (or to your liking). Just don't cook the chicken until it's dry... Remove and cut the chicken into 2 pieces each.

Cut a soft baguette into two “sub sandwich”length pieces; then split each piece nearly in two. Lay out flat. Cube or grate the cheese.

Spread some Dijon mustard on one half of each piece. Layer the chicken, then asparagus spears and cheese on the Dijon side. 

Let the asparagus spear tips hang out over the end of the bread. They add "drama" to the sandwich at the table.

Place cheese on the opposite side of the bread as well.

Run the open sandwiches under the broiler until slightly browned. Remove. Spread with mayonnaise if desired and serve.


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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Baking: Chocolate Whisky Cookies


I like my whisky old and my women young. – Errol Flynn 

Chocolate...and whisky.

Mmmm chocolate. Mmmm whisky. Mmmm chocolate whisky cookies.

Do I need to write any more? Well I will… you know me by now. I’m not a chocolate fanatic “per se,” but when I do get a craving I dive in up to my neck.

My craving runs to deep, dark and – if possible – gooey chocolate. Two of my choco-faves are “lava” cake (which I should post) and pudding cake (the one that makes its own “sauce”). They’re a little different, in case you think they’re the same thing.

For cookies, I want choco-choco-chocolatey. These cookies deliver with a few unusual ingredients. To make these 3x chocolate, I incorporated chocolate companions: coffee and whisky.

Have you ever eaten a really expensive chocolate bar and sipped a small glass of whisky, or bought a whisky-ganache truffle? If you have you’ll know what I mean? They complement and enhance the overall chocolatey-ness.

These cookies do not really spread much at all. If you wish you can thin the batter with 1/2 cup of milk or light cream before shaping the cookies. The milk will help them spread a little if you like a flatter cookie.

I like these because the tops crack like crinkle cookies. This effect is enhanced by the dusting of cocoa/icing sugar.

If you like chocolate, and the occasional tipple, try these. They don’t “reek” of whisky or taste of coffee. The overall effect is a wonderful, rich, chocolatey cookie.

By the way, if you don't like whisky substitute a favourite liqueur (Drambuie, Grand Marnier) or flavoured liquor.


Dust the cookies well with the cocoa/icing sugar to show off the cracked tops.
Chocolate Whisky Cookies
Prep: 20 min  |  Bake: 8-10 min  |  Yield: 40 cookies
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp instant coffee powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup whisky
4 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
(optional 1/2 cup milk or light cream)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup cocoa powder mixed with 1/4 cup icing sugar, for dusting

Stir together the sugar, cocoa powder, and butter in a mixing bowl until well incorporated. Beat in the whiskey, then the eggs (one at a time) and then the vanilla. 

If you wish to add the optional milk do it now.

Whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add to the bowl in two additions and beat until evenly combined. The dough will be quite thick.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Adjust the two racks so they are both as close to the centre of the oven as possible.

Line cookie sheets with aluminum foil. Scoop out the dough using a tablespoon measure. Place 12 “balls” of dough on each sheet, leaving some room between each cookie. The dough does not have to be in a perfect ball at all. The cookies don’t spread a great deal.

Dust the cookies with cocoa powder/icing sugar mixture passed through a sieve.

Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes. 8 minutes gives a moist cookie, 10 minutes a bit drier inside.

The cookies will be cracked on top, but with either cooking time, still delicious.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pest Control: Tent Caterpillars


As the caterpillar chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys. – William Blake

A close-up view inside a tent caterpillar "tent".

Hmmm. I’ll just let you take from that quote what you wish. I just find ‘em. I don’t write ‘em…

Malacosoma americana moth. Photo: Wiki CC
Most of us think moths are pretty little nighttime creatures. Sadly not all of the stages of their lives are quite so attractive.

Tent caterpillars are the larvae of a moth of the genus Malacosoma. The species we have in Nova Scotia are Malacosoma americana, or Eastern Tent Caterpillar.

Tent caterpillars feed on deciduous trees (ones that lose their leaves in the Fall) in most of southern Canada. Luckily severe infestations are cyclical, meaning they happen on a regular, but not yearly basis.

Unluckily it appears that this may be the year for an infestation. Outbreaks happen about every ten years and can last up to two years.

You’ve seen their “nests” if you live in a southern part of Canada. Huge tents of silk in trees with what looks like a dark mass in the centre. That dark mass is actually a swarm of caterpillars. Sometimes hundreds and hundreds of them. 

When they mature, and emerge from their tent, they can skeletonize a tree in no time flat – and neighbouring trees. Every leaf – or nearly so – eaten. The caterpillars return to their woven “lair” every evening.


Gross. A swarming mass of Eastern Tent caterpillars.
Photo: Wiki CC
What are tent caterpillars?
In Canada we have three common types of  tent caterpillars: Eastern, Western (sometimes called Gypsy Moth) and Forest. Each is slightly different looking in hairiness, spots and stripes.

Eastern and Western tent caterpillars form massive web/pouches in trees. Forest caterpillars are slightly different. They form a flat mat that the caterpillars rest on, and leave to do their destructive eating.

Eastern tent caterpillars like apple and cherry trees (including wild chokecherry and chokeberry) but I have seen them in birch and sumac this year as well.

In the spring, as soon as foliage appears, the eggs hatch into young caterpillar larvae that make communal tent webs. The Eastern's "tent" is usually built in the forks of trees while the Western tent encloses the tips of branches. The tent increases in size as the caterpillars mature inside.

On a chokecherry tree.
Tent caterpillars are social. Caterpillars from one egg mass stay together. Caterpillars from two or more egg masses may actually unite to form one large colony. That spells real trouble for the host tree.

Tent caterpillar outbreaks require several specific climactic conditions. Although they seldom kill the infested tree, they cause severe damage, often nearly defoliating the entire tree. If the tree is healthy, it usually will bud again later in the summer. However if a tree is repeatedly attacked it can stress it so much it becomes susceptible to other environmental problems.


How to “manage” outbreaks
Tent caterpillars only produce one generation per year so once you get them they won’t be coming back again. Until the next year…

Since they are a native species, birds and insect predators help control them somewhat. But if an infestation is severe nature may need a little help – especially if they are appearing in trees that you value and/or supply you with food. Remember, Eastern tent like apple and cherry trees…

So besides just sitting back and hoping nature takes care of them, what can you do?

In spring look for the egg cases on trees that are susceptible to tent caterpillars. Remove as many of them as you can.

Up in our apple trees. WAY up...
If the tents hare already developed the branches can be removed and the tent burned. It seems cruel to the caterpillars inside, but so is losing important trees...

Where I grew up some folks didn't remove the branches but stuck burning torches up in the tents. I think I would prefer removing the branch.

The torch method causes the caterpillars to drop on the ground, where they may escape, and has to do some damage to the tree itself – more than cutting off a branch.

Microbial insecticides also work. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is commonly used. It is not toxic to humans but it isn’t choosy as to what kind of caterpillar it kills. So you’ll be killing everything – butterfly caterpillars included.

"Bt" is supposed to kill caterpillar larvae within 5 days. It works by stopping them for eating so they starve. This insecticide won't affect other insects that don’t have a caterpillar larvae stage.

Another option to try is to pre-treat trees that are susceptible by spraying a dormant oil in late winter. This smothers whatever is inside the egg cases. Dormant oils are thick oils used mainly on fruit trees. They are also effective against other over-wintering pests like scale, mites, etc. They can be harmful if not used according to directions.

If you’re not into chemical help you can also encourage predators to visit and stay on your property by building bird or bat houses. If the animals have a food source nearby they’ll settle in and gladly help you along.


Tent caterpillars are a nasty thing to find in your trees. If left unchecked they can cause serious damage to your – and your neighbours' – property. Not only do they introduce the risk of other diseases to your trees (which could spread) but they also leave unattractive bare branches behind.

Oh, and they’re icky. Just look at them.

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