Bucket lists, delicious adventures and road tripping

A recent lunch at Ottawa’s famed Coconut Lagoon introduced me to the exotic culinary artistry of Chef Joe Thottungal and eventually led to more delicious discoveries on a made-in-Canada road trip. You wouldn’t think that Joe’s birthplace of Kerala in southwest India and Quebec’s Eastern Townships share any connection whatsoever, but the glue that brought them together for me was adventurer and author Robin Esrock, who has penned seven books of Canadian and global ‘bucket list’ activities. At the Coconut Lagoon lunch, Robin was invited by Ford Canada to share some of his travel stories and inspire a small group of local writers to embark on adventures of our own. Needless to say, I couldn’t say no to the offer of a road trip, especially one that would involve more tasty food!

The 2017 Ford Escape was a perfect match for the fall foliage

This 2017 Ford Escape was a perfect match for Mont Sutton’s fall foliage on my Bucket List adventure!

The Bucket List campaign is not just a clever way to promote vehicles, but also fitting for a company whose tag line is Go Further. As Robin said, the ethos behind Ford’s slogan is not just physical; it’s also about where you put yourself mentally. As someone who’s always loved travel, the idea of going further certainly resonated with me!

While Robin may have participated in astounding adventures all over the globe, he noted that a bucket list experience close to home can be just as worthwhile as one halfway around the world. Reasonably proximate to Ottawa, he singled out five possibilities for us to consider: The Diefenbunker, The Warsaw Caves near Peterborough, the Aboriginal art at Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Great Canadian Bungee Jumping in Wakefield and in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, the Vélo Volant aerial adventure. Each of these spots fulfill his key criteria for a bucket list experience, which are: is it unique in the world; will you remember it the rest of your life; is it something everyone can actually do; and will it make a great story?

The 2017 Ford Escape was the perfect weekend roadtrip vehicle

The Vélo Volant experience piqued my interest, so off to Sutton we went on a sunny Friday morning, in a snazzy copper-coloured 2017 Ford Escape.  It takes just over three hours from Ottawa to get to this beautiful region, a journey we thoroughly enjoyed in our loaner SUV. There was loads of room for our luggage, and the vehicle was both quieter and more comfortable than many others we have driven. We made an interesting observation on our drive, which was that there are a lot of Ford Escapes on the road these days, proof that it’s a multipurpose vehicle that suits lots of people.

One of the vehicle’s features I particularly appreciated were the multiple USB plugs as well as a 110V power outlet accessible from both the front and back seats, so we could charge both our phones and a laptop enroute. Another really neat thing: the hands-free liftgate! Just wave your foot under the back bumper and the liftgate opens automatically, which was awesome when my arms were full of baggage.

Performance-wise, the Ford Escape was fantastic on the highway with lots of getup and go. When we got into the Townships and finally had to stop at a traffic light for the first time, it was neat to observe the auto start-stop eco-feature kick in, shutting down the engine when the vehicle is idling for more than a moment or two, then quickly restarting it as soon the gas pedal is pressed again. I also liked the blind-spot information system, whereby a light illuminates on both side mirrors when there is a vehicle in your blind spot.

I wanted to check off my bucket list adventure first, so we headed to Glen Sutton, home of Au Diable Vert outdoor centre and the one-of-a-kind Vélo Volant eco-adventure activity. I didn’t know quite what to expect at Vélo Volant. I’d been zip lining previously and thought it might be similar, but I was wrong – it turned out to be an unexpected blend of tranquility and exhilaration!

Velo Volant in Quebec's Eastern Townships is a great bucket list adventure

Imagine sitting in a recumbent bike, as high at times as 100 feet off the ground, gazing at babbling brooks below and sundrenched mountains in the distance. You can drift along at a leisurely pace, admiring the scenery, only having to pedal with a bit more intensity as you move your bike through the brackets that hold the kilometre long network of cables up in the air. The exhilaration comes from floating along at treetop level, an experience that for me was greatly enhanced by the glorious fall foliage, which was at its absolute prettiest the day we visited. Prior to participating in this fantastic adventure, I didn’t quite understand why Robin had deemed this activity ‘bucket list worthy’, but I agree now that it fits the bill. It’s one of just three such facilities in the world, the only one in Canada, and the highest installation of its kind. Plus, it was definitely an unforgettable experience.

Of course, a trip to the Eastern Townships offers a wealth of other touristic possibilities and we were determined to make the most of our time there. Our next destination was the nearby Chapelle Ste Agnès Vineyard which we’d spied on our drive to Glen Sutton. It proved to be an incredibly worthwhile stop that reinforced for me the value of getting off the beaten track.

The Chapelle Ste Agnes Vineyard near Sutton is breathtaking

From its Romanesque-style stone chapel to the neo-Renaissance banquet halls, tasting rooms and vaulted wine cellars, visiting this vineyard was like stepping back in time to an ancient, old world treasure. I found it hard to believe that everything there – including the Alsatian-style terraced vineyard – was created within the past twenty-five years, as the entire property felt absolutely steeped in history. The 2012 Vidal ice wine we purchased will be a wonderful reminder of this enchanting spot.

We rounded out our bucket list adventure with a stay at the charming Auberge des Appalaches just down the road from the Mont Sutton ski hill, chosen because of its reputation for outstanding food. The European-style inn’s rustic dining room offers a gastronomic menu reminiscent of what you’d find in a bistro in the French Alps, expertly prepared by renowned Chef John Kostuik (who was named Ireland’s Chef of the Year in 2010) and delivered to our table by a charming, jovial server.

Gastronomic delights can be found at Sutton's Auberge Appalaches

We enjoyed the wapiti (elk) tartare with pickled ginger and wasabi, the roasted beet and apple salad with candied nuts and a platter of perfectly-prepared moules et frites. I remarked after dinner that the meal we shared will likely be as memorable to me as the Vélo Volant experience which, as someone who spends so much time focused on food, makes me very happy. I can’t wait to get my hands on some elk to recreate that delicious tartare.

The next day, before heading home we explored some of the Eastern Townships’ prettiest back roads, admiring both the dazzling autumn colours and the beautiful country homes scattered throughout the region. I couldn’t help but reflect on how even a one night escape can be as restorative as a longer vacation. I think I’m going to start crafting my own close-to-home road trip bucket list, to inspire us to go further a little more often.

The backroads of the Eastern Townships yield many beautiful surprises

Disclaimer: I am grateful to have been the guest of Ford Canada on this excursion; opinions expressed are my own.

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Greek-style tomato, chickpea and spinach stew

I remember thinking many years ago that I’d never learn to enjoy chickpeas. Well, times have changed because now I just love them. They don’t have much taste on their own, but mix them with almost any mixture of other ingredients and they just seem to pop with flavour. The classic combination of chickpeas, tomatoes and spinach is usually seasoned with Indian influences like ginger, garam masala turmeric and cumin, but I decided to try a new twist. The traditional Greek elements of oregano, mint, lemon and feta turned out to be the perfect thing to make chickpeas sing. This hearty stew takes just minutes to prepare and will warm you even on the dampest and coldest of days.

Hearty Greek-style stew made with chickpeas, tomatoes, spinach, mint and lemon


  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chopped fresh tomatoes (or equivalent in canned)
  • 1 19 oz (540 mL) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) each salt and pepper
  • pinch red pepper flakes (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) water
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) chopped fresh mint
  • 2 cups (500 mL) packed baby spinach leaves
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons (30 – 45 mL) crumbled feta (omit for vegans)

Greek-style tomato, chickpea and spinach stew



  • Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions and sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes more.
  • Add tomatoes, chickpeas, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and water. Stir to combine then cover pot and let cook 10 minutes.
  • Add mint, spinach and lemon and stir to combine. Cover pot and cook 2 – 3 minutes, stirring once, just until spinach has wilted.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.
  • Ladle into bowls and garnish with crumbled feta. Serve hot, with crusty bread.

Makes 2 generous servings.

Greek-style tomato, spinach and chickpea stew is hearty and flavourful

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Mini Shortbread Apple Tarts with Salted Caramel

Freshly picked apples are one of the delights of autumn. Their beautiful red skins and crisp texture seem a perfect pairing with the changing seasons. These delicious tarts are a great way to showcase apples in a pretty way and I think you’ll find this recipe super easy as well. Note that if you’d like, you can double the quantities and follow the same directions below to prepare a 9 inch tart (use a springform pan). Mini or full sized tarts can be baked ahead and frozen in an airtight container for up to three months, though I doubt you’ll be able to wait that long to polish ’em off.

Mini tarts with a shortbread base, spiced apples and salted caramel


For the shortbread crust:

  • 3/4 cup (185 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) white sugar
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) very cold butter

For the filling:

  • 2 medium apples
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) ground ginger

For the topping:

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) caramel sauce (purchased or homemade)
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) fine sea salt or Maldon salt flakes


  • Start by preheating oven to 375F. Line a twelve-compartment muffin pan with paper liners (use the parchment ones if you can find them) and set aside.
  • Prepare shortbread crust by combining flour, sugar and butter, cut in 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) cubes in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Alternatively, you can also combine flour and sugar in a medium sized bowl and use a box grater to grate the butter into the flour mixture. Combine well with your fingers, rubbing the grated butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  • Divide the flour mixture among the twelve muffin tin compartments and press down with the back of a small spoon.


  • Bake for 15 minutes until just beginning to turn golden brown. Remove muffin pan from oven but do not turn oven off.
  • While crust is baking, prepare fruit filling by peeling and coring apples, then cutting into thin pieces (approximately 1/8 inch by 1/2 inch).
  • Put the cut apples in a bowl, toss with lemon juice. Combine sugar, cinnamon and ginger and sprinkle over apples then stir to combine.
  • When crust has baked, top with apple mixture, dividing evenly among the twelve tarts. Press down very lightly with fingers.
  • Top each tart with 1 teaspoon (5 mL) of the caramel sauce and finish with a sprinkling of salt.


  • Return pan to oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until apples are tender and caramel sauce is bubbling.


  • Let cool at least 1 hour at room temperature or 30 minutes in the refrigerator (to allow caramel sauce to set) before removing from paper liners and serving.

Makes 12 mini tarts.

Mini tarts with shortbread, spiced apples and salted caramel


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Big News: A TV Show – starring me!

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting as many recipes as usual lately, and for that I sincerely apologize. It’s not that I haven’t been busy in the kitchen…after all, I truly am Constantly Cooking. The reason for my apparent absence is a fun one: I’ve been busy this summer writing and filming a cooking show! It’s been an amazing project and as the air date looms ever closer, I waffle (pun intended) between feeling ecstatically excited and totally terrified.


It was so much fun making the show. Of course it involved a lot of hard work but I loved every moment of having the crew in my kitchen (and I made sure they were very well fed, too). I cannot wait to see what editing magic they work on the hours and hours of footage we shot for each of the initial six episodes.

The show is called Paula Roy’s Favourite Foods and it was filmed and produced by my wonderful friends at Rogers TV Ottawa and sponsored by Farm Boy. The episodes will also be available on YouTube after they first appear on Ottawa’s Channel 22. I’ll be sure to share the links with everyone as soon as the show starts airing in the next few weeks.

While you’re waiting, check out this nice story about me and my show that ran in the latest edition of the Kitchissippi Times, the great community newspaper for my ‘hood.  You can also visit my other recipe blog, Whole Foods in Half the Time, for some delicious inspiration.

More new recipes coming your way very soon, I promise. Thanks for your patience.


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Better Than Takeout Sweet & Sour Shrimp

When I was a kid, as soon as saw the words ‘sweet and sour’ on any Chinese restaurant takeout menu, I simply had to have it. I didn’t care if there was a cup of icky red food colouring in that chicken ball sauce, or if it took a tub of MSG to make those tiny spareribs taste so good – I wanted all the sweet and sour things. Well, times have changed and so have my tastebuds. This dish strikes a perfect balance of flavour, offering a little salt, a little sweet, a little sour and a little spice. It’s got some nice contrasting colours and textures, too, thanks to the vegetables. Serving it on brown rice also makes the dish more filling and nutritious – here are some tips for cooking brown rice so it stays nice and fluffy. But the star of the show is definitely the shrimp. Coating them in cornstarch before flash frying them gives them a nice crispy coating, makes the insides stay tender and also keeps them from drying out. One more tip: skip the shrimp for a fantastic vegetarian / vegan meal! You can also do much of the prep work for this dish ahead of time, making it fast to assemble at dinnertime.

Perfectly cooked shrimp and vegetables in a sweet and sour sauce that is truly delicious. A great mostly make-ahead meal!


For the sauce:

  • 3/4 cup (175 mL) pineapple juice (fresh or canned)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) grated fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) honey
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) sesame oil
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 mL) Sriracha or Sambol Oelek (Asian hot sauce) or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) cornstarch

This better-than-takeout meal is easy to prepare

For the shrimp and vegetables:

  • 1 lb (454 g) medium or large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons (30 – 60 mL) canola oil
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 large red pepper, in 3/4 inch (2 cm) pieces
  • 1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 fresh pineapple, peeled and cored, in 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) minced green onion tops
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) salted cashews
  • cooked brown rice, to serve



  • Prepare sauce by combining all ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shaking well to blend.
  • Chop all ingredients before beginning to cook.
  • Put cornstarch and pepper in a small bag and shake to blend.
  • Pat shrimp dry then dredge, a handful at a time, in the cornstarch mixture. Place them on a clean plate, in a single layer. This can be done up to an hour before cooking time; refrigerate shrimp until needed.
  • When ready to assemble the dish, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat.
  • Add shrimp to the pan in batches so they are not too crowded and cook, flipping once, until shrimp has turned pink and coating is crispy, about 2 – 3 minutes. Remove cooked shrimp to a clean plate and add more oil as needed. The shrimp can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated for up to an hour.
  • When shrimp has been cooked, add a tiny bit more oil to the pan and cook carrots, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add peppers and cook for 2 minutes more. Add zucchini and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Return cooked shrimp to the pan and drizzle sauce over top and cook, stirring gently, for 3 – 5 minutes until sauce is thickened.
  • Serve chicken mixture and sauce over cooked brown rice and garnish with minced green onion and cashews.

Serves 4.

The best sweet and sour shrimp dish ever!

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Pasta with roasted tomatoes, peaches and burrata

This is the dish that just might make you consider becoming a vegetarian. Seriously. I love the way my family looks at me when I tell them we’re having a vegetarian meal. Their facial expressions suggest that they might a) die of starvation within the hour after dinner or b) head out for meaty takeout before I’ve even finished the dishes. Well, I tricked them with this one. It is packed with flavour and enough protein (thanks to delicious burrata cheese which is a ball made of mozzarella on the outside, and a creamy ricotta-filling on the inside) to satisfy even the most committed of carnivores.  When I served this up, I was thrilled to hear, after just one bite, “you can make this again. Definitely.”

This quick vegetarian pasta dish features roasted tomatoes and peaches plus delicious burrata cheese


  • 3 plum tomatoes
  • 2 ripe peaches
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) chopped fresh basil
  • 1 cup (250 mL) small pasta (shells, macaroni, etc.)
  • 8 oz (250 g) Burrata cheese



  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Cut the tomatoes and peaches into 3/4 inch pieces and place on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Roast for 20 minutes.
  • While fruit is roasting, cook pasta in boiling salted water.
  • When pasta is tender, remove and reserve 1/4 cup (60 mL) cooking water before draining the cooked noodles.
  • Put hot, cooked pasta in a serving bowl. Scatter roasted tomatoes and peaches on top.
  • On a cutting board, quickly slice burrata into small pieces and transfer the cheese to the top of the pasta bowl. Drizzle with reserved pasta cooking water.
  • Sprinkle with chopped basil and add a few grinds of pepper, then serve immediately.


Serves 2 – 3


Posted in Fruits and vegetables, One dish meals, Pasta, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Caramel Crunch S’mores Dip

No campfire is needed to make this delicious treat whenever a s’mores craving strikes! Use either your oven’s broiler or a kitchen torch and the microwave to whip this up in just moments.

No campfire needed to make this s'mores dip!


  • Mini marshmallows
  • Mini chocolate chips
  • Skor baking bits
  • Graham crackers, for dipping


  • Fill the bottom of an oven-safe dish with a layer of mini marshmallows.
  • Broil or scorch with a kitchen torch until the marshmallows are just beginning to blacken (or turn a dark golden brown if you’re one of “those people” who only eats ‘perfectly toasted’ marshmallows).

Use your oven's broiler or a kitchen torch to toast the marshmallows

  • Sprinkle just enough chocolate chips and Skor bits on top to cover in a thin layer.
  • Return to oven (which has been turned off) for 2 minutes to melt chocolate, or microwave on medium power for about 30 seconds.
  • Transfer dip to mouth via graham crackers.

No campfire needed to make this delicious dip.

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