Maple Rhubarb Crisp & Maple Leaf Cookies

I was trying to be as Canadian as possible this week and made maple rhubarb crisp from the recipe on page 116 of Sweet Ontario Pure Maple Syrup: Our favourite Maple Recipes, which is published by the Ontario Mable Syrup Producers’ Association. I picked up a copy of this cookbook this past weekend at the Cumberland Farmers’ Market, which is where I also picked up the rhubarb for the recipe. I didn’t purchase any good Ontario maple syrup at the time, but only because I already had two big jugs in my fridge. Can’t get much more local than that!


Maple rhubarb crisp topped with non-dairy whipped topping

I was really happy with how this recipe turned out. The crisp was the perfect blend of sweet and tart. I’m really looking forward to trying other recipes in this cookbook, such as the french toast casserole and maple BBQ chicken.

Of course, I had to check out some of the Canada-150-themed foods that are being sold in preparation for the big day. The above cookie was from a two-cookie decorating kit that retails at Walmart for $1.50. They aren’t half bad, given the price! My kids are going to decorate their own tomorrow. For an American company, Walmart carries an awful lot of Canadiana. But as the Arrogant Worms quipped in The Mountie Song:

“Where would you get a tank?”
“Walmart.”
“Oh.”

Speaking of the Arrogant Worms, here’s their song Proud to be Canadian, from the album Live Bait.

I hope you all have a safe and happy Canada Day!

Ketchup Chip Chicken & Canada Day Rice Krispies Squares

It’s a hectic time of year, what with the kids’ end of school and all of the events that that entails, and all of the preparation for Canada’s 150th. So last night I focused on easy, stress-free food.

For dinner I whipped up some ketchup chip chicken, rice, and sliced gala apples. I’d read somewhere that it’s possible to use crushed potato chips as breading, and apparently ketchup chips are only available in Canada, so I combined the ideas for this celebration-themed meal. To bread the chicken thighs, I first dredged them in flour, then dipped them in beaten eggs, and then finally rolled them in ketchup chip crumbs. About 40min in the oven at at 350°F (175°C) on an oiled broiler pan, and it was done. While the chicken was cooking, I steamed my rice and chopped up my apples, and dinner was complete.

Not surprisingly, if you use potato chips as a breading, the final product ends up tasting like the flavour of chips you choose. The smell of this chicken strongly reminded me of hot dogs; perhaps the smell I associate with hot dogs is really that of warm ketchup and vinegar. The chips provide a nice crunch that I think would work equally well on the barbecue or, if you’re feeling really decadent, deep fried.

I also had to make up treats for my kids’ school Canada Day celebration, so I went with the time-honoured last-minute classic of Rice Krispies Squares using the microwave version of the recipe found on the box (and online). I used maple-flavoured marshmallows instead of regular ones for a more Canadian twist.

To make the treats look more appropriate for the holiday, I sprinkled them with red and white sprinkles. The presentation wasn’t all it could have been, but I wanted to use recyclable dishes so that I didn’t have to worry about the kids breaking them or not bringing them home. After making these squares, I kind of felt like the woman in the old Rice Krispies commercial, except I definitely haven’t had the chance to indulge in a good book!

Poutine & Cupcakes

Continuing this week’s pre-Canada-150 lead-up, I’d like to start with some iconic Canadian music: The Log Driver’s Waltz. The song became an integral part of art culture in Canada in 1979, when an became the soundtrack of arguably the most popular animated short in the Canada Vignettes series released by the National Film Board. The short, along with the other Vignettes, was aired on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) between programs as filler, so it was very possible to catch this song multiple times a day throughout the 1980’s. There is also a French-language version entitled La valse du maître draveur. The chorus of the English version is as follows:

For he goes birling down and down white water
That’s where the log driver learns to step lightly
Yes, birling down and down white water
The log driver’s waltz pleases girls completely

Birling, by the way, isn’t a word in common parlance even in Canada (at least not anymore), but it according to the the Free Dictionary, it is “a game of skill, especially among lumberjacks, in which two competitors try to balance on a floating log while spinning it with their feet. Also called logrolling.”

The timber trade in general is a huge part of the history of Canada as a whole, and the Ottawa area in particular. The trade blossomed in the early 1800’s, with log rafts and booms being a common sight on the Ottawa River for over a hundred years. Related trades played a large part in the development of the city, with a large number of local trades becoming part of the cultural landscape in the sawmills and their later cousins the pulp and paper mills.


Homemade poutine

The timber industry was dominated by backbreaking labour, what would now be called blue-collar work, and in a similar vein, the famous French-Canadian dish of poutine is considered a very blue-collar dish (although honestly everyone eats it, no matter their level of wealth). Poutine would probably have been appreciated by log drivers, but it didn’t come into being until the 1950’s, when the local trade was on its last legs. Poutine is a mouth-wateringly delicious pub grub combination of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. The one that I made yesterday, pictured above, also had chunks of the ground beef that I used to make the gravy from scratch. I made the fries using the Baked French Fries I recipe on Allrecipies — although I set the oven to 400°F (205°C) instead of the higher temperature in the directions, as per suggestions in the comments. Poutine may look like a hot mess, but it tastes fantastic, and it’s particularly good while/after a few drinks.


Strawberry cupcake with buttercream icing & a maple-leaf-shaped strawberry gummy

Of course, you have to follow a meal of meat and carbs with dessert, right? My family ate these strawberry cupcakes with buttercream frosting following the poutine (I don’t know how they had any room left). The cupcakes were Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes from Martha Stewart. They came out looking great, but I was a little disappointed in the flavour; I’d hoped they would taste more like the strawberry puree that was in the batter, but mostly what I could taste was vanilla. Originally I had planned to make a maple buttercream frosting, but I don’t know what I did wrong and the frosting separated as soon as I stopped mixing. I was so disappointed! I ended up using store-bought Duncan Hines buttercream frosting (which contains neither butter nor cream), which was a blow to my pride, but at least my friends with milk allergies could eat it. And hey, the cupcakes looked red and white for Canada Day!

Vegan Mac ‘N’ Cheese: Canadian Edition

A friend of mine sent me a link to the Gotta Have It Vegan Mac ‘N’ Cheese recipe from Tasty (video available here), since they know of my love for macaroni and cheese, but I’m currently forgoing dairy. I gave it a try the other day, and I have to say it was actually pretty good. As I’ve found with so many dairy-free or vegan versions of other recipes, it was a little bit off from what I’m used to, but this one was tasty enough that my kids asked for seconds, which is a pretty good recommendation in our house.


Vegan mac ‘n’ cheese in the “proper” macaroni and cheese casserole dish.

One thing that I found was that the “cheese” had a problematic texture. Even when I got it to the proper consistency, it thickened really quickly as soon as it started to cool. The vegetable puree was just starch on top of the starch of the noodles, with no fat or oil to smooth it out and make it flow. I think that the addition of an oil of some kind (olive or canola) would greatly improve the texture of the sauce. Additionally, this sauce could be used as the start of a number of different kinds of casseroles. I think adding cooked vegetables (for the vegans) or canned salmon/tuna would add some variety and flavour.


Vegan mac ‘n’ cheese with a side of steamed sugar snap peas drizzled with Heinz Sweet Teriyaki & Ginger Vegetable Sauce.

I think the reason I keep wanting to add things to this recipe is that the base flavour was incredibly bland. When I made this recipe for my family, I used the seasoning ideas in my mom’s homemade macaroni & cheese recipe and added 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 1/2 tsp table mustard. Also, I didn’t find that I needed an onion and onion powder; just the fresh onion would have sufficed. I think that the flavour of the sauce could have been boosted by using a clove of fresh garlic instead of garlic powder.

So would I make this recipe again? Most likely, but with all the modifications I’ve previously mentioned. I mean, there are a dozen changes and versions that have been made to my family’s mac ‘n’ cheese recipe, so don’t take it as a bad thing that I would do the same to someone else’s dish.


Canadian Eh? Shapes Pasta

Now, what made this vegan mac ‘n’ cheese particularly Canadian? I used Canadian Eh? Shapes Pasta, which is available at Bulk Barn. The shapes are a bear, a maple leaf, and a moose. Sadly, the shapes were mostly obscured by the “cheese” sauce; I think these noodles would work better in soups if you want to see the shapes. However, they tasted just fine! I have extra that will probably make their way into my lunch for the Canada Day weekend. Oh, and they’re also all-vegetable, if you’re trying to keep your pasta dishes vegan.

Oh, and on a semi-related pre-Canada-Day note, I present you with the Arrogant Worms and their “anthem” called Canada’s Really Big. Enjoy!

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake Recipe

It’s less than a week until Canada Day (July 1st), and this year it’s a big deal because it’s the country’s sesquicentennial, 150 years since Confederation. It’s a pretty big deal around here. There are all kinds of events planned surrounding the holiday, much more extensive than the usual celebrations. I’m not sure yet what we’re going to take part in, but it’s worth noting that most of the museums are free on Canada Day (especially useful if it’s raining but you still want to do something), and the fireworks are always spectacular.

Until the big day, though I thought I’d cook some typically-Canadian or Canada-themed dishes to start the celebrations. Canadian cuisine is really hard to pin down, as it’s very regional and is strongly influenced by the immigrants that settled in the area. Since I am predominantly of British descent, my idea of Canadian food is British-Canadian, but since I live in an area with a strong French-Canadian presence, that affects my idea of typical Canadian food as well. If you live in a different part of Canada, or come from a different heritage, your idea of typical Canadian food may be totally different — and that’s totally okay. As former PM Joe Clark put it, “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.”


Nan’s strawberry shortcake made with non-dairy whipped topping

The first dish I made to celebrate Canada Day was nice red-and-white strawberry shortcake, according to my Nan’s (my dad’s mom’s) recipe. It’s a fairly simple recipe that can be whipped up quickly. If you’d prefer a no-bake red-and-white dessert recipe, I would suggest The Cat’s Hat Parfaits.

Nan’s Strawberry Shortcake
Yields 10-12 personal-sized shortcakes

Make up a batch of
Dad’s Biscuits
However, replace the 2 tsp of sugar in the recipe for
3 Tbsp sugar
This will make a sweeter biscuit that is more suitable for dessert.
When shaping the biscuits, instead of using the drop-off-a-spoon method used in the photos, roll out the dough onto a floured surface to between 3/4″ and 1″ thick. Use a round cookie cutter or a floured drinking glass with straight sides to cut the biscuits to a uniform size. Follow the rest of the instructions as per the recipe.

While the biscuits are baking, cut up about:
1/2 cup of strawberries per shortcake
Only cut up as much as you’ll need to serve right away, as strawberries tend to go bad more quickly once they’re cut.
In a separate bowl, whip together until fluffy:
one 237mL package whipped cream
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Alternately, you may use spray whipped cream in a can, or non-dairy whipped topping.

When the biscuits are done and cool enough to handle, assemble the shortcakes on small serving plates or in bowls. Start with the bottom half of a biscuit, then a layer of strawberries, then whipped cream, then the top half of the biscuit, more strawberries, and top with whipped cream. Serve.

Alternately, make the biscuits in advance and assemble the shortcakes immediately before serving. Do not assemble them in advance, or they will get soggy.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter Recipe

One of my favourite things in the world to can is fruit butters, which are basically fruit that has been cooked, blended, and then boiled down to reduce the moisture content until the end result is smooth and spreadable. Simmering off the water increases both the flavour and the acidity, so fruit butters need less sweetening for taste or for preservation purposes. Fruit butters are a simple, wholesome kind of preserve that historically, in Canada, was a common way to make fruits last the winter. These days, they are made and eaten all year long, although most home canning happens in the summer and early fall when fruits are freshest and at their most plentiful.

Contrary to what the name may indicate, fruit butters actually don’t usually contain any dairy products, although some recipes call for a dollop of butter to prevent frothing (which I usually forgo and instead skim the froth). They are generally vegetarian and can be made vegan through proper sourcing of ingredients — as I’ve previously mentioned, some varieties of sugar use bone char as part of the filter process, so if that’s important to you, you’ll have to do your homework when choosing a brand to buy.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter will last up to a year when properly canned.

Fruit butters have easily as many uses as jams or jellies, including (but not limited to):

– a spread on bread, toast, or biscuits;
– a filling in donuts, cookies, muffins, croissants, turnovers, and tarts;
– a topping for ice cream;
– a mix-in for yogurt;
– a topping for pancakes or crepes;
– mixed with cream cheese to make a quick dip for fresh fruit or crackers; or
– an ingredient in fruit butter bread (apple being the most common)

Strawberry-rhubarb butter is the latest fruit butter I’ve made, and I’ve found that it perfectly encapsulates the tastes of late spring/early summer. Since the ingredients cook down, it’s a great way to use up rhubarb — especially if you’re searching for ways to use the stalks from an over-producing plant! I prefer to cook it in a combination of the microwave and the crock pot, because both are less prone to burning than cooking on the stove. The quickest way to ruin a batch of fruit butter is to scald it; you’ll never get rid of that burnt taste. If you choose to cook on the stove, you will have to watch your ingredients like a hawk, stir constantly, and adjust your cooking times. For these reasons, if you have a microwave and a crock pot, I highly recommend using them.


Strawberry-rhubarb butter on Dad’s biscuits.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Butter
Yields seven 250mL jars

Wash and chop until you have:
1Kg (about 8 cups) rhubarb, any variety
Place the rhubarb into a microwave-safe casserole dish with:
1/2 cup water
Cover and microwave in 3-minute increments, stirring every time you check for doneness, until the rhubarb are falling apart (approximately 15 minutes). Set rhubarb aside.
Repeat this process, cooking each fruit separately, with:
1.2Kg (about 8 cups) strawberries + 1/2 cup water
1Kg (about 8 cups) apples (any variety) + 1/2 cup water
While apples are cooking, put the rhubarb and its cooking liquid into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour rhubarb puree into crock pot. Repeat puree step with strawberries and their cooking liquid, and when they are cooked, the apples and their liquid.
To the crock pot add:
400g sugar (about 1 3/4 cups)
Stir until all elements are well combined.
Set crock pot on high and cook until resulting butter is a little bit thinner than the desired final product (fruit butter will thicken slightly as it cools). This usually takes between 24 and 48 hours. Cooking more than 48 hours is not recommended as the butter will develop a burned taste. If fruit has not thickened enough after 48 hours, finish the thickening process on the stove top, stirring regularly to prevent scalding.
Fill 250mL jars leaving 6mm head space. Process in a hot water canning bath for 30 minutes after the water returns to a boil. This fruit butter will last up to a year when processed. Alternately, the butter may simply be refrigerated for up to three weeks, or frozen (leaving additional head space for expansion) for up to six months.

Cooking for the Family

I do most of the family cooking, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone. I used to have a weeknight repertoire of about ten dishes, but a while back I got tired of making the same old, same old all the time, and I decided to branch out. I think it has changed our diets for the better, at the very least cutting down on how much red meat we eat and increasing our consumption of fruits and vegetables. From a health perspective, that has to be a good thing. From taste and presentation perspectives, well, there have been some bumps in the road of learning, but we’ve come through mostly unscathed. Here are a few of the family meals I’ve cooked lately:

I decided to take my own advice and whipped up some garlic scape pesto, which I then spread on top of trout fillets and baked. I served the pesto trout alongside mashed potatoes and asparagus. It was a super-easy dinner.

I blame the fact that I broke the over-easy eggs for this breakfast on the fact that I’d been up since 5:00am in order to drive my mother to the airport. The statement, “I am not a morning person” does not even begin to touch how muzzy and uncoordinated I am when it’s early. Even so, I was back in time to see the kids off to school, and to make them up a hot breakfast of fresh-baked Dad’s biscuits, eggs, and fruit salad (bananas, strawberries, apples, and navel oranges). I can count on one hand how often I’ve been up early enough to cook breakfast before I send the kids off to school, and I honestly wish it was zero. They are old enough now to make their own cold cereal, microwave oatmeal, or toast — and I could not be happier.

For last night’s dinner I rifled through my pantry and pulled out some sauces I’d purchased ages ago, but hadn’t yet tried. I marinated the steak for about eight hours in Sempio Kalbi Marinade, then I threw it on the grill. It was delicious! It has an flavour that I recognize from the Asian fusion buffets around here. It also made the beef nice and tender. The mixed vegetables (carrots, sweet potato, snap peas, and garlic scapes) were steamed first, then lightly coated in Heinz Sweet Teriyaki & Ginger Vegetable Sauce, which I have never seen before and can’t even seem to find online. It was fairly good, although I don’t know if I’d go out of my way to buy it again. The kids really liked it, but they are big fans of anything teriyaki anyway.

I think that I need to continue to clean out my pantry and use up all of the “oh, that looks interesting” food purchases that I made and then promptly forgot about. If I’m lucky, all of those meals will be received as well as these three were.