Smoked eggplant spread

Better than baba ghanoush: a versatile dip or sandwich topper!

I have to confess that for many years I didn’t really like eggplant, called aubergine in some parts of the world. Too often, I found it prepared in ways that didn’t highlight this vegetable’s strengths. With time, that has changed and I now really enjoy eggplant, though I tend to look for smaller varieties when I go to cook it. This dip was borne out of a friend’s frustration – when her daughter was recently diagnosed with a sesame allergy, it knocked two of her favourite commercial dips out of the picture: baba ghanoush (sometimes spelled ghanouj or ganoush) and hummus, both of which usually contain tahini, which is made from sesame seeds. She also relayed that her daughter is a huge fan of bacon, which is why I thought a dip with a smoky flavour might be extra appealing. The verdict is in: the dip’s a winner, with kids and adults alike. Don’t be intimidated by the smoking process that I’ve carefully explained below – it’s super simple on a standard gas barbeque and gives the eggplant an incredible flavour. If you really don’t want to do the smoking, just halve and grill the eggplants over medium heat for about 20 minutes for small ones, 30 minutes for large; they’ll still take on a smoky taste from the grilling. If you enjoy this dip, check out these scrumptious grilled flatbreads with grilled eggplant.

Smoked eggplant spread




  • 2 cups (500 mL) wood chips
  • 3 small or 1 medium-large eggplant
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more, to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt (or more, to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) minced parsley (garnish)

smoked eggplant spread


  • Soak wood chips in water for 30 minutes.
  • While chips are soaking, cut eggplant in half lengthwise.
  • Drain wood chips thoroughly and place on a sheet of heavy duty tin foil; fold up edges to make a packet. Pierce holes all over the top of the packet. Place directly on top of burner of gas barbeque (under cooking grates) and preheat barbeque to very hot.
  • As soon as packet begins to smoke (depending upon your grill, this could take up to 30 minutes), reduce heat in barbeque to medium (or, if possible, leave burner under packet on high and turn other burners to medium-low).
  • Place eggplants, cut side facing up, on the grill (preferable over one of the burners that has been turned off).
  • Smoke for about 25 minutes (by this point the packet will stop emitting smoke).
  • While eggplant smokes, put garlic and olive oil in a glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl. Cook 1 minute on medium-high heat then set aside.
  • Remove smoked eggplant from barbeque and let cool 15 minutes before handling.
  • With a spoon, scoop cooked pulp from eggplant (it’s ok if a little bit of the skin is included; use a paring knife to remove as much skin as you can, however) and put pulp in a blender or food processor.
  • Add garlic and oil mixture, lemon juice, salt and pepper to eggplant pulp and process until smooth. Depending upon the amount of pulp, you may need to add another teaspoon or two of olive oil to get it to a smooth but thick consistency. Taste and add a bit more lemon juice and / or salt if needed.
  • Transfer to a small serving bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle parsley on top. Serve with toasted flatbreads, cut vegetables or whatever dipper you prefer, or spread on a sandwich.

Makes approximately 1.5 cups of spread.

smoked eggplant spread


Posted in appetizer, barbeque, Edible Gifts, Entertaining, Make Ahead, Recipes, vegan, Vegetables, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blueberry Cardamom Popovers

A fantastically delicious and easy breakfast treat!

Who says popovers (also known as Yorkshire Pudding) should only be eaten as part of a traditional roast beef dinner? These lightly sweetened, fruit-filled beauties taste very similar to crepes and are the ideal treat for breakfast or brunch. As a bonus, they’re super quick and easy to make. You can even prepare and refrigerate the batter the night before to speed things up in the morning.

Breakfast Blueberry Popovers


  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) freshly ground cardamom (or cinnamon if you prefer)
  • 8 teaspoons (40 mL) butter
  • 1 cup (250 mL) milk
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh blueberries
  • Half a fresh lemon
  • icing or confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

 breakfast blueberry popovers


  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Combine 1 tablespoon sugar and ground cardamom in a little bowl and set aside.
  • Put one teaspoon of the butter into 8 large muffin tin compartments.
  • Make the batter: whisk milk, eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla together in a large bowl. Whisk flour into the milk mixture and continue whisking until it forms a smooth, runny batter. You can use a regular or immersion blender for this process if you like. Let sit for at least 5 minutes so flour can hydrate.
  • While batter rests, put muffin tin in preheated oven until butter melts, about 5 minutes.
  • Give the batter a quick whisk then pour into hot, buttered muffin cups, dividing equally. Drop 1 tablespoon of blueberries into batter in each muffin compartment. Sprinkle sugar-cardamom mixture evenly over the blueberries.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce heat to 350F and continue baking until popovers are dry in the center, about 25 minutes. Remove pan from oven.
  • Note that the popovers will deflate slightly as soon as you remove the pan from the oven; this is normal and does not affect the taste.
  • Transfer the cooked popovers to a serving plate, using the tip of a sharp knife if needed to loosen them from the muffin pan.
  • Squeeze lemon juice over popovers, then dust the tops with icing sugar. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 delicious popovers.

Breakfast blueberry popovers

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Have you hugged a farmer lately?

Giving thanks to the hardworking people who feed us!

Thanksgiving is just a few days away and like many people, I am eagerly anticipating having family and friends gather from far and wide to share a delicious feast in my home. I’ve planned my menu and this year, more than ever, I’m focusing on making farm-fresh vegetables shine. It’s going to be one heck of a meal. Yesterday, I was reminded how fortunate we are in the Ottawa area to have a wealth of talented, hardworking farmers, without whom our meals would be less flavourful and nutritious.

Terry Stewart is the hardworking co-owner of Bryson Farms in Quebec’s Pontiac region.

A recent trip to Bryson Farms in the Pontiac region of Quebec, just over an hour’s drive from Ottawa, reinforced how much I appreciate people like Terry Stewart and Stuart Collins, who have been lovingly tending their organic farm (and sharing the results) for two decades; the farm has actually been in Terry’s family for over 100 years. A mainstay at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market, Bryson Farms serves up fresh produce and beef, as well as delicious prepared organic foods crafted in-house at their busy farm by talented chef Richard Nigro and flash-frozen on site for  maximum flavour and freshness. This year, they’ve also added in cooking classes and I cannot recommend this experience highly enough.

Bryson Farms

Our day began with a tour of some of the farm’s 700 acres, about 80 of which were cultivated this year. That may not sound like much compared to the scale of some conventional cash crop farms, but for an organic farm, where almost all the labour is done by hand, it’s huge. Stuart and Terry proudly showed off their efficient operation and it was a pleasure to talk with their seasonal farm hands, many of whom hail from Mexico and Jamaica.

Kenroy proudly shows off Bryson Farms’ delicious, freshly-harvested carrots

These skilled labourers who return year after year to Bryson Farms were as passionate and knowledgeable about organic farming practices as the farm owners themselves and took great pride in showing the results of their efforts after a season which got off to a very challenging start due to intense spring flooding in the region.

Bryson Farms grows a great diversity of crops including many varieties of colourful carrots and beets but one of the most fascinating things (to me) was their lettuce growing operation. Bryson’s bagged lettuce mixes sell like hotcakes at the market and are a favourite item among their home delivery customers as well. They purchase only one brand of lettuce seed called Salanova which comes in eight varieties including green and red butter, oak leaf and crisp lettuces.

Salanova lettuces grown at Bryson Farms

What makes these lettuces especially unique, aside from the fact that the plants are extremely high-yielding and the leaves have an exceptional shelf life, is the ease with which they can be processed. Stuart explained how it used to take them many hours to pick 30 pounds of lettuce leaves; now, with Salanova’s unique lettuce cutting tool, they can now harvest the same amount in just 20 minutes, after which the leaves are washed, spun, dried, bagged and ready to deliver.

Stuart Collins Salanova lettuce

Stuart Collins was delighted to teach us about Salanova lettuces and the unique cutter that makes harvesting so much more efficient

The farm tour was absolutely fascinating, so much so that I almost forgot there was more on the agenda. A thoroughly enjoyable ‘Thanksgiving Outside the Box’ cooking class led by Chef Bruce Wood was a real delight.

Chef Bruce Wood in the Bryson Farms production and teaching kitchen.

Bruce is a great teacher and offered up a wealth of information and useful tips. For example: the real reason chefs sprinkle seasonings from a great height is not because it looks impressive; it actually helps distribute the seasonings more evenly throughout the dish. He also encouraged us to think about ‘cooking backwards’, which means shopping at trusted purveyors of quality meat, fish, cheese and produce and letting what you’ve gathered determine what you prepare. Of course, working with just-picked produce is any cook’s dream come true!

Bruce’s menu included an impressive array of flavourful dishes including a sweet onion Tarte Tatin, maple-roasted root vegetables with a cheddar-oatmeal crumble, honey-butter glazed Brussels sprouts, cider-brined roast turkey with apple hazelnut cornbread stuffing and a heavenly cardamom-ginger squash pie. After watching him prepare this feast with the cheerful help of several kitchen assistants, we got to dine under a tent in the farmhouse yard, savouring both the food and our surroundings.

lunch at Bryson Farms

Chef Bruce Wood’s delectable lunch was even tastier when enjoyed outdoors on the farm!

Stuart assures me there will be more cooking classes at the farm next year. Make time to do this – you’ll be so glad you did. In the meantime, if you’ve hugged a farmer and purchased some of his or her produce, I have a whole lot of Farmers’ Market inspired recipes that you might want to take a look at.

Disclosure: I was a guest of Bryson Farms’ for this lovely day but, as always, all opinions are my own.

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Entertain with ease with fresh, tasty side dishes

The perfect plates for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike!

One of the food-related questions I am asked most often is what to serve visiting vegetarians or vegans. It can be challenging today to satisfy a variety of tastes and appetites. People used to think that they could just serve a ‘regular meal’ and the vegetarians or vegans could just eat the side dishes and avoid the meat. Clearly, that’s not the most hospitable solution and it quite often won’t be offering your guests a balanced meal (including protein) either! I’ve come up with a few side dishes that would work beautifully with many different menus, including a traditional turkey dinner. You’ll note they include classic fall flavours like squash, sweet potato, cranberry and apple. They’ll definitely appeal to vegans and vegetarians and the omnivores at the table will likely love them as well. Click on the heading of each recipe to access it!

Roasted chickpea and sweet potato salad

This amazing dish is packed with flavour and is super simple to prepare; best of all, it’s as nutritious as it is delicious. Find it in the fall 2017 issue of Ottawa At Home magazine, available now on newsstands across the city.

Shredded kale salad with cranberries

This is the salad that turned my family from kale haters into kale lovers. Cranberries are a staple on lots of holiday menus and they’re a great counterpoint to the crisp, fresh flavour of kale. Be sure to take the time to chop the kale finely and to massage in the dressing; it may sound weird, but it’s what’s needed to tenderize the firm leaves and make them easier to enjoy.

Quinoa with roasted squash, apples and cider vinaigrette

 I crafted this recipe specifically for some vegan friends who will be at my holiday table and I know they’re going to love it. Quinoa delivers a great protein punch and the roasted squash, crisp apples and slightly sweet vinaigrette are great accompaniments.

quinoa side dish or meatless main

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Quinoa with roasted squash, apples and cider vinaigrette

A delicious meatless main or inventive side dish!

While I created this recipe as a side dish, I’ve discovered we love it so much, it’s turned into one of our favourite meatless mains. Since quinoa’s gone mainstream in the Western world, you probably know that it’s a seed that is cooked like whole grains and it’s packed with protein plus all 9 essential amino acids, making it ideal for vegetarians and vegans, though omnivores love it too. One of the great things about quinoa is its versatility – you can enjoy it, as in this dish, warm or cold plus it cooks faster than other whole grains like brown rice or barley so you can whip up this tasty concoction in less time. You can even prepare the quinoa and roast the vegetables ahead of time and refrigerate, then warm slightly in the microwave (if you wish) and toss together with the apples and vinaigrette.

quinoa side dish or meatless main



  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) peeled, diced butternut squash (about 1/2″ or 1.25 cm)
  • 1 cup (250 mL) diced onion
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup (250 mL) uncooked quinoa (I like mixed white and red)
  • 2 cups (500 mL) vegetable broth or water
  • 1 cup (250 mL) diced apple (unpeeled)
  • Chopped parsley (garnish)


  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) very finely minced onion (I used red onion)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) celery seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) dry mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) each salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) white sugar or honey
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup (90 mL) canola oil


  • Preheat oven to 400F while you prepare squash and onions. Put vegetables in a small metal baking pan and drizzle with oil; toss to coat evenly and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 – 25 minutes until squash is tender, tossing in pan once or twice during cooking time.
  • While vegetables roast, bring quinoa and broth or water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until quinoa is tender and liquid has been absorbed (about 18 – 20 minutes).
  • While quinoa cooks, prepare vinaigrette by whisking together everything but canola oil. Add canola oil in a slow stream, whisking continuously, so the dressing will emulsify (you can also use an immersion blender for this). Taste and adjust vinegar, salt or sugar to your liking.
  • Transfer cooked quinoa to a medium sized bowl. Add roasted vegetables and chopped apples. Drizzle with half the vinaigrette to start and toss to blend well. Add more vinaigrette as needed until everything is nicely coated but not so much that you have a puddle of dressing in the bottom of the bowl.
  • Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Serves 4 – 6.

quinoa salad for fall

Posted in Entertaining, family-friendly main dish, gluten-free, Grains, healthy, Make Ahead, make-ahead, vegan, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tamale pie with chive cornbread topping

A tasty twist for Taco Tuesday…or any day of the week!

I recently ventured down a delicious and inspiring internet ‘rabbit hole’. After typing the following into my search engine: ‘what is the greatest recipe of all time’, I took a deep breath and scanned the first few pages of the 67,600,000 hits that were presented. Among them, I spied an article from Bon Appetit magazine talking about a dish I’d never heard of before: cornbread tamale pie. Well, I thought, I’ve enjoyed tamales before and I adore cornbread; this might be an interesting experiment. It was better than that – it was actually a glorious explosion of flavour and quite possibly my new favourite comfort food. Another great thing about my version of this dish is that you can make the filling ahead of time (it could even be prepared then frozen), so all you have to do is whip up a batch of cornbread batter, pop it in the oven, and dinner will be ready in no time at all.

Tamale Pie with Cornbread Topping


Meat Filling

  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped green pepper
  • 1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and very finely minced
  • 1 pound (454 g) ground chicken, turkey or beef
  • 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup (250 mL) frozen corn kernels
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 mL) chili powder (to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) tomato paste *
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Tex-Mex blend cheese

* I keep a tube of concentrated tomato paste in the fridge at all times. They’re super handy for when you just want a few tablespoons.

Cornbread Topping

  • 3/4 cup (185 mL) yellow cornmeal
  • 1 1/4 cups (310 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (7.5 mL) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (310 mL) buttermilk (or regular milk mixed with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar)
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) finely minced chives (or green onion)


  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Make the filling by warming the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, green pepper and jalapeños. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add the ground beef to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally to break up the meat, until browned, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir in the corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Stir well to ensure that the spices and the tomato paste are evenly distributed. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning after it has simmered.
  • While meat mixture simmers, prepare the cornbread topping.
  • Make the cornbread topping by whisking the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and melted butter.
  • Pour the wet ingredients over the cornmeal mixture along with the chives and stir together just until incorporated.
  • Stir the grated cheese into the meat mixture and spoon it into a 9×13-inch baking dish, levelling with the back of the spoon.
  • Pour the cornbread batter over the filling, using a spatula to even it out on top. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the top of the cornbread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Allow the tamale pie to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 6.

tasty tamale pie with cornbread topping

Posted in family-friendly main dish, Make Ahead, Meat, Tex-Mex | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Maple and Five Spice roasted chicken

A flavourful and aromatic dish!

As an eager experimenter in the kitchen, I was really happy when my kids started to embrace a wider variety of flavour profiles. I love Asian food and now, they do as well. This dish is so flavourful and aromatic that your whole house will smell wonderful whenever you prepare it. I like to serve the chicken with mashed potatoes which soak up the delicious pan juices beautifully. My recommended wine pairing is La Crema’s Sonoma Coast 2015 Pinot Noir; its notes of berries and stone fruit blend extremely well with the orange, maple and five spice elements in this dish. If you enjoy the flavour of five spice, readily available at most large grocery stores or online through Cardamom and Cloves, you may also enjoy this five spice duck recipe.



  • 4 bone-in, skin on chicken breast halves
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) melted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1.25 mL) coarse salt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) very finely minced fresh gingerroot
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) five spice powder

Pan juice

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chicken broth

Maple Glaze

  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) melted butter
  • 4 teaspoons (20 mL) maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) rice vinegar


  • Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rectangular baking pan with tin foil and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine melted butter, salt, garlic, ginger and five spice powder.
  • Rub mixture over the skin of the chicken breasts. Place chicken in baking pan and roast for 20 minutes.
  • While the chicken roasts, make the pan juice by combining juice and broth; set aside. Make maple glaze by combining ingredients in small bowl; set aside.
  • After chicken has roasted for 20 minutes, add broth and juice mixture to the pan then baste the chicken with some of the maple glaze.
  • Baste with glaze every 10 minutes, adding more broth if needed to maintain liquid in bottom of pan.
  • Roast chicken until cooked through to 170F; this should take 50 – 60 minutes, depending upon the size of the chicken breasts.
  • Remove chicken from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving. Transfer pan juices to a jug and pass at the table.

Serves 4.


roast chicken with maple and five spice pinnable

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