A few months ago, I spent some time doing volunteer work in Kenya through the volunteer agency International Volunteer HQ. I stayed with a Kenyan family and volunteered at an orphanage, Internally Displaced Persons camps, and with the Masai (warrior tribes in Kenya). It was an extremely moving experience. Read more.

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    The Joy of Cooking

    Filed under :Cookbooks, miso soup, Spaghetti, spaghetti pie, Sunday Dinners, The Joy of Cooking
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    Today, in theory, I was cooking for myself.  Chris was away, but with my Sunday free, I still wanted to make a Sunday Dinner.  The past couple of weeks have been really hectic, so I turned to The Joy of Cooking to give me some of that joy back.  I selected Becker Quick Miso Soup (p.125), Johnny Marzetti Spaghetti Pie (p.95), and Baked Figs with Ricotta (p.227).  Of course, my camera chose today to conk out so I only had pics of the miso soup (I start a photography class next month.  Then when these things happen, I’ll give a throaty laugh and magically fix said camera to take the most beautiful pictures ever).  However, two friends decided to pop by, so not only did I have lovely company, but one of them contributed an additional two pictures using his phone.

    The meal was a success, as any with the word “joy” should be, although I preferred the soup and pasta pie to the ricotta recipe.  The Johnny Marzetti pie was “made famous at Marzetti’s restaurant in Columbus, Ohio,” Joy explains.  I added mushrooms and adjusted timings, but otherwise stuck pretty close to the original.

    The miso soup was incredibly salty, probably because they used a broth base instead of water, so I added an additional cup of water to balance.  I’ve written the recipe as per my experiment, but I recommend you recreate it using 2 cups of water instead of 2 cups broth plus 1 cup water.  The soup paired perfectly with my creamy glass of milk, and would be tasty with some small shrimp thrown in.

    With fig season just past, I used delicious, plump Medjool dates instead of the specified figs.  I’m not a huge fan of either the ricotta mixture or the marsala sauce, although they did pair nicely together.  The cheese blend called for equal parts cheese and cream, and I scooped in additional ricotta to thicken the soupiness.

    All recipes adapted from The Joy of Cooking.

    Becker Quick Miso Soup

    2 cups chicken broth

    1.5 tbsps miso/ soybean paste (I used white miso)

    1 cup water (or to taste)

    3- 5 sliced mushrooms, optional

    1 green onion, chopped

    1 thin slice of lemon, to garnish

    (the Beckers also suggest a dash of hot pepper sauce to garnish, as desired)

    soybean paste

    miso/ soybean paste

    Bring the broth to boil.  Stir in miso paste, and add water to taste.  Add sliced mushrooms and green onions.  Continue boiling 1 minute.  Garnish with lemon.

    miso soup with mushrooms

    soup boiling away

    miso soup with mushrooms

    finished miso soup


    Johnny Marzetti Spaghetti Pie

    1 pound ground beef

    1 onion, chopped

    2 cloves garlic, chopped

    salt and pepper

    1 green pepper, chopped

    1 small container mushrooms, chopped

    1 28-oz can tomatoes, with juice

    1 15-oz tomato-based spaghetti sauce

    1 tsp oregano or pizza spice

    1 bay leaf

    1- 2 handfuls whole wheat spaghetti (or other pasta as desired), cooked and drained

    2 cups Cheddar cheese, shredded, separated

    1 cup breadcrumbs

    Place ground beef, onion and garlic in large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook, breaking up beef with a spoon, until beef is mostly browned.  Add green pepper and mushrooms, cook 3- 5 minutes, until vegetables have softened.

    Add tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, oregano and bay leaf.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low and simmer 25 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  While simmering, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Remove bay leaf.  Stir in spaghetti and 1 cup cheddar cheese, letting cheese melt into beef mixture.  Transfer to 9 x 13″ baking dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheese over top, followed by bread crumbs.  Bake until top is lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

    pasta casserole

    spaghetti pie

    Dates with Ricotta and Marsala Sauce

    1/3 cup sugar plus 3 tsps sugar, separated

    3 tbsps water

    1/2 cup Marsala wine

    20 Medjool dates

    2/3 cup ricotta

    1/3 cup heavy (35%) or table (18%) cream

    Cut slit lengthwise in each date and remove pit.

    In small saucepan, bring to boil 1/3 cup sugar and water, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Remove from heat and add Marsala.

    Mix together ricotta, cream, and 3 tsps sugar.  Spoon cheese mixture into center of each date, and drizzle with marsala sauce.

    dates ricotta cream marsala sauce

    dates with ricotta and marsala sauce

    Lucy Waverman’s A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen

    Filed under :Chocolate Slices, Lucy Waverman, Sunday Dinners, Thai
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    A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen, by Toronto superstar Lucy Waverman, has it all.  Divided by month, it showcases seasonal ingredients and comfort foods, highlights individual recipes but also puts togethers 2- 3 menus per month, and tops it off with Lucy’s husband Bruce adding innovative wine pairings.  Themes of dinners run the gamut from Cooking for the Cousins (when Lucy’s family comes to town) to Paris in the Spring, and the recipes smack of creativity and taste.  A lot of love and work clearly went into this.

    I’ve always been a little intimidated by Lucy.  As the food editor for the Liquor Board of Ontario’s Food & Drink magazine, and a weekly food columnist for The Globe and Mail, her recipes look complex, though well worth the time, I’m sure.  So I was excited to give this book a try.

    I decided on Thai Chicken and Tomato Stew and Easy Chocolate Slices, featured in the December section.  Not the hardest-looking recipes of the bunch, but I had some Thai red curry paste I needed to use, and who doesn’t love chocolate?  The explanation was intriguing- an Australian specialty, something that’s found everywhere?  Hmmmm.  I’ve been to the land down under but was too busy trying to figure out vegemite to look for chocolate slices.

    I was, as usual, tempted to change a few things as I went along, but decided to stick as close to the recipe as I could.  I had my doubts about the plastic wrap, for example, that lies between the baking dish and the chocolate- won’t it melt when the hot chocolate is poured on it?  Won’t it stick to the bottom?  Best to stay with it though, since I haven’t had much success with recipes that use waxed paper either.

    The Thai Chicken and Tomato Stew is an easy crowd pleaser.  If I hadn’t read the title and cooked it myself, I wouldn’t have identified it as Thai- perhaps more curry paste or the addition of fish sauce and other Thai staples would remedy that, if desired.  The measurements were difficult to work with- how many onions is two cups of onions exactly?  how many cloves equal one tablespoon of garlic?- so I altered them to be more shopper-friendly.  I omitted the salt in the first step since the curry paste has salt, but don’t forget to season the chicken, it makes a big difference.  Lastly, I exchanged the coriander for Thai basil since I grow it in my kitchen herb garden.

    The Easy Chocolate Slices consist of a base of melted chocolate chips mixed with butter, corn syrup, and crushed shortbread cookies.  The top layer contains melted chocolate bar pieces poured on top, then chilled and cut into bars.

    The amounts in the recipe were a little tricky.  The base made a lot of liquid so I wound up adding an additional 50 grams of crushed shortbread cookies.  The top layer didn’t seem to be enough for the bottom layer.  Lucy calls for 200- 300 grams of chocolate; I used the full 300 and still suspected there was too much base.  Granted, I could have used different flavoured chocolate chips to make it more interesting; she does suggest a few options for the cookies and chocolate bar.  I used semisweet chips, guessing the milk chocolate bar on top would balance nicely.  For the top, I used Fruit and Nut Toblerone, and Fruit and Nut Dairy Milk, gambling that fruit and nut pieces would be a welcome addition.

    My worries were for naught.  The Chocolate Slices were awesome.  They’re rich and yummy and the two kinds of chocolate balance beautifully.  It’s best to leave some cookie pieces in the base as bigger chunks; they were a delight to bite into.  No problem with the plastic wrap either, it worked perfectly.  The only flaw?  The recipe leaves your pot a mess- it’s going to be fun to clean that up.

    Both recipes were hits, and I think I’m now brave enough to work through a few more.

    All recipes adapted from Lucy Waverman’s A Year in Lucy’s Kitchen.

    Thai Chicken and Tomato Stew

    2 tbsps olive oil

    2 medium onions, chopped

    3 large cloves garlic, chopped

    1 tbsp gingerroot, grated

    1 tbsp Thai red curry paste

    1 can coconut milk (Lucy calls for 1 cup, my can was a little more- approx 13 oz)

    1 can chopped tomatoes (Lucy calls for two cups- again my can was bigger, approx 540 ml.  I drained off some of the juice but not all)

    1/2 cup water (I would omit this in future)

    2 tbsp lime juice

    1/2 tsp sugar

    Approx. 1 1/2 lbs/ 750 grams boneless, skinless, chicken thighs, cut in half and trimmed of excess fat

    salt and pepper to season chicken

    a handful of fresh Thai basil, chopped

    Heat oil over medium heat in large skillet.  Add onions and cook for approx. 10 minutes, until golden.  Add garlic, ginger and curry paste.  Cook, stirring, for approx. 2 minutes.  Lucy notes that if the spices stick, you can reduce the heat and add a little oil.  Mine didn’t stick.

    Curry Paste, Ginger, Onions, Garlic

    onions, garlic, ginger and curry paste

    Add coconut milk, tomatoes, water (if using), lime juice, and sugar.  Scrape up any bits stuck to bottom.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer approx. 10 minutes.  (Note:  in future I will simmer a little longer as I found there was a lot of liquid left, probably because the amounts I added are more than what Lucy calls for).

    Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Add chicken pieces to pot, cover, and cook for 8- 10 minutes over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked through.  Stir in basil.  Serve in bowls over rice (bowls hold the broth better than plates).

    Thai chicken tomato stew with basil

    Everything bubbling away

    Finished Thai chicken and tomato stew

    The finished Thai Chicken and Tomato Stew


    Easy Chocolate Slices

    1 cup (2 sticks) butter

    1/3 cup corn syrup (Lucy calls for Lyle’s Golden Syrup, if you can find it)

    1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (can alter flavour if desired)

    1 pkg/ 350 grams shortbread cookies, broken into coarse crumbs and chunks (can use other types as well- Lucy suggests digestive, oatmeal or chocolate chip)

    1-  300 gram chocolate bar, broken into pieces (I used fruit and nut milk chocolate Toblerone and Dairy Milk, feel free to use whatever pleases you)

    Shortbread coarse crumbs

    Shortbread cookie chunks and crumbs

    Melt butter and corn syrup in large pot over medium heat.  Stir in chocolate chips until melted.  Add cookie chunks and stir to combine.

    Pour mixture into 8-inch baking dish lined with plastic wrap.

    melted chocolate and cookies

    Bottom layer

    Melt chocolate bar pieces over medium-low heat.  Immediately pour over chocolate-cookie base.  Chill until set.  Cut into bars.  Eat as many as you can- yum yum.

    With top layer


    chocolate slices

    Easy Chocolate Slices- yum


    Melted chocolate in pot

    The messy pot

    Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

    Filed under :Cookbooks, Jamie Oliver, Sunday Dinners
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    I love Jamie’s Food Revolution.  Not only is there a whole movement behind it, but in and of itself it’s a great index for home cooks who need a little help creating flavourful, easy meals for their family.  Not sure what to make when you get home?  There are entire chapters dedicated to such pantry, freezer and fridge staples as ground beef, pasta, stir-fries and salads.  The Twenty-Minute Meals chapter actually delivers twenty-minute meals; it’s a pet peeve of mine when chefs promise quick recipes but don’t count the prep time so the ingredient list is full of items already chopped, minced, cooked, etc.

    Jamie urges the reader sign a contract with him to learn at least one recipe from each chapter and then pass it on to friends and family, spreading the healthier, fresher, cook-at-home movement.  I love the unflappable British style, with chapters on curries, family roast dinners, and desserts including scones with clotted cream.

    Chef Oliver breaks down his recipes into three parts- prep, cook and serve- making each part seem less daunting and easily attainable no matter the cook’s experience level.  Coupled with helpful photos, this is a cookbook I will keep going back to.

    On this particular Sunday, I opted for Chicken Korma (p.74), Light and Fluffy Rice (perfect, basic recipe, p. 95) and Pineapple and Chile with Chocolate Ice Cream (p.326).  This meal is DELISH.

    Chicken Korma on Rice with Ice Cream

    For the chicken korma, my supermarket was out of cilantro, so I substituted fresh parsley from my herb garden (I do recommend using cilantro though, if you have it).  I used half a jalapeno pepper instead of the optional full green chile and canola oil instead of peanut or veg oil.  For the korma paste, I used Patak’s, which is the one Jamie recommends and was indeed delicious, but next time I’ll try another for comparison’s sake.  You can also make Jamie’s homemade korma (p.99).  Jamie adds an additional half can of water to the curry as it’s cooking, but for future I’ll omit that step, as it made the mixture watery and thin and I had to simmer it, uncovered, for an additional 20 minutes (over the recipe’s suggested 30) to get the thicker consistency I like in a curry.  I’ve adapted the recipe below to omit the additional liquid.

    I didn’t rinse the rice but otherwise stuck fairly close to the recipe.  In future I’ll likely just follow the package directions and omit the extra headache of draining and steaming, but it certainly did produce light and fluffy grains.

    I also couldn’t find a red chile at the market, so I used the other half of the jalapeno pepper in the chocolate ice cream.  I briefly thought about adding a little chili powder to get closer to the red chile taste, but the heat from the jalapeno was enough.

    Dinner was amazing.  I bought extra yogurt thinking I would make the Leftover Curry Biriani (p.78) with the meal’s remnants, but I strongly suspect they won’t last long enough.

    All recipes below adapted from Jamie’s Food Revolution.

    Chicken Korma

    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

    2 medium onions

    1/2 jalapeno pepper

    1-inch piece fresh ginger

    small bunch fresh cilantro

    1 15-oz can chickpeas

    1- 2 tbsps canola oil

    1 tbsp butter

    1/2 cup korma paste, plus more to taste

    1 14-oz can coconut milk

    small handful sliced almonds

    2 tbsps unsweetened shredded coconut

    salt and pepper to taste

    a few spoonfuls natural yogurt, for serving

    lemon wedges, for serving

    Peel and finely chop the onions (tip:  freeze the onions for a few minutes before cutting to prevent tears).  Seed and finely chop the jalapeno pepper.  Chop the cilantro, reserving some to serve.  Drain and rinse the chickpeas (this step gets rid of much of the sodium, which is in the preserving brine).  Cut the chicken into 1- inch pieces.  Peel the ginger.

    Heat a wok on medium- high heat, add oil, let it heat up.  Add onions, chile and butter.  Grate the ginger directly into the wok.  Stir frequently until everything is nice and golden, about 6 minutes. 

    Cook until golden

    Add the 1/2 cup curry paste and let fry for about 30 seconds to release its oils.  Add the coconut milk, and stir until well blended with the curry paste.  Bring to a boil.  Add chickpeas, coconut, chicken pieces and half the sliced almonds; mix in. 

    Add chickpeas, almonds and coconut

    Turn down the heat, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring periodically and checking to get desired consistency.  If the curry becomes too thick, add a little water.  If it’s too thin, remove the cover and simmer uncovered for the last ten minutes.  Taste periodically and stir in additional curry paste to taste. 

    Curry cooking

    When chicken is cooked, season with salt and pepper to taste.

    Serve over cooked rice (see next recipe).  Dollop a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt on top, sprinkle remaining sliced almonds, and garnish with reserved cilantro.  Serve with lemon wedges.


    Light, Fluffy Rice


    1 1/2 cups basmati rice

    Put a large pot of salted water on high heat and bring to a boil.  Add the rice and boil for five minutes, stirring periodically.  Drain the rice in a colander. 

    Drained rice

    Pour one inch of water into the pot, put it back on high heat and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer, place the colander on top of the pot and cover with tinfoil. 

    My attempt at covering the colander with tinfoil

    Let the rice steam for 10- 12 minutes.  When ready, fluff with a fork and serve.

    Pineapple with Jalapeno Pepper on Chocolate Ice Cream

    handful of fresh pineapple

    1/2 jalapeno pepper

    Chocolate ice cream

    Cut the pineapple into chunks.  Seed and chop the jalapeno.  Put the pineapple at the bottom of the bowl, scoop 1- 2 balls of ice cream on top, and sprinkle on the jalapeno.


    Dinner is served.