Monthly Archives: February 2011

Food & Wine Magazine: Feb Cover Recipe

Crispy Chicken Thighs with Golden Raisin Compote

Rating: 3 out of 5 (unexciting flavours, compote too sweet)

Initial Thoughts: As soon as I saw February’s cover I was immediately drawn into the photo, visually falling into the warm tones and rich colours that literally jump off the page. The dish itself looked like the ultimate comfort food, perfect for consumption on a cold winter night.

The Test: Because I have this inability to trust when recipes say it will serve four people that it will actually serve four people, I ended up doubling everything and making way too much food for Mr. Spock, the girls and me. Over the years this mistrust of mine has led to my poor hubby thinking me incapable of making food in ‘normal’ quantities. He may have a point.

But I digress.

Once everything had been peeled and chopped and prepped and ready to go, the compote came together easily and quickly. Because the ingredients are all thrown in a pot over medium heat and covered with the lid, the squash steams and softens faster than if it were roasted in the oven. In fact, by the time the rice was cooked everything was ready to be plated.

Sweetness was a concern for me right out of the gate. With naturally sweet ingredients like butternut squash and raisins is it really necessary to add honey as well? Deciding to trust my gut I opted to leave out the honey and hoped that the tartness from the granny smith apples would be enough to balance out the sweetness from the other ingredients.

I chose boneless/skinless chicken thighs instead of the bone-in/skin thighs called for in the recipe. Honestly, Mr. Spock and I tend to prefer the less caloric version as our previous attempts with bone-in/skin covered thighs have garnered results best described as ‘creepy’. It always takes longer to cook and we never end up eating the skin anyways. Too much guilt. Because thighs are dark meat they don’t get dry and still develop a nice crisp exterior, even without the skin.

The Results: We were all disappointed in the results of this recipe. Just as I feared, the compote was way too sweet (even without the honey) and the flavours were all expected and boring. The ingredients got lost within each other, the squash dominating everything else. The addition of other root vegetables like parsnips or even some celeriac would bring a nice edge to the compote and make it much more interesting.

On a more positive note the chicken did turn out great. But come on…when does pan seared chicken with salt and pepper not taste good?!

For a copy of the recipe for Crispy Chicken Thighs with Golden Raisin Compote, please click HERE

As part of my culinary New Year’s resolutions, I have committed to creating each month’s cover recipe from Food & Wine Magaine.

NOTE: If any of you would like to follow along with me and join in on the fun, I’d love to compare notes! So pick-up a copy of the latest issue of Food & Wine and get cooking. Be sure to send your comments and photos to

The mission of Food & Wine Magazine is to find the most exciting places, new experiences, emerging trends and sensations in the culinary and wine industries. From travel and entertaining to luxury and design, this magazine brings an energetic and stylish take on food and wine. For more information on Food & Wine Magazine, please visit

Food & Wine Magazine: Jan Cover Recipe

Biscuit Breakfast Sandwich

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (perfect biscuits, great combination of sweet & salty flavours)

Initial Thoughts: I was relieved to see a magazine with a January cover recipe that did not follow the typical New Year’s diet food trend. Yum!

The Test: We ended up making these breakfast sandwiches for dinner one night. Come on; who doesn’t love backwards day?! The biscuits were easy and quick to prepare, and the dough came together effortlessly. Because of the number of comments online complaining that the biscuits turned out way too salty, I only used 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. I also opted to grate the butter into the flour mixture instead of cutting it into cubes, as this technique worked really well with the Chicken Pot Pie recipe from Pam Anderson’s Perfect One-Dish Dinners.

The Results: First cover recipe of the year for my monthly challenge with Food & Wine Magazine and I’m happy to report that it was a smashing success! The results tasted superb to any fast food breakfast sandwich I’ve consumed, and I really enjoyed the white cheddar cheese called for in the recipe (I used applewood smoked cheddar) which gave the sandwich more of a grown-up/sophisticated feel. Initially I was wary of the idea of spreading raspberry jam on the biscuits, but the sweetness worked well with such concentrated levels of salt from the biscuits, ham and cheese. The combination of sweet and salty lessened the intensity of the flavours, producing a much more mellow result.

I love how this recipe updates the classic breakfast sandwich without altering it to the point of no recognition. The attention to detail was something that I really appreciated; such as the suggestion of grilling the biscuit halves in the pan with butter prior to assembling the sandwich, and even the reminder to turn the pan halfway through cooking the biscuits. A well thought-out recipe is invaluable and makes the cooking process go smoothly, and in this case resulted in some pretty gosh darn tasty food.

Although the majority of comments online indicated that even with a reduced amount of salt the biscuits were still much too salty, Mr. Spock and I thought the 1 tablespoon amount worked well.

We will definitely be making these biscuits again in the future, although when it comes to breakfast sandwiches my family still prefers using the less crumbly English muffin option.

For a copy of the recipe for Biscuit Breakfast Sandwiches, please click HERE

As part of my culinary New Year’s resolutions, I have committed to creating each month’s cover recipe from Food & Wine Magaine.

NOTE: If any of you would like to follow along with me and join in on the fun, I’d love to compare notes! So pick-up a copy of the latest issue of Food & Wine and get cooking. Be sure to send your comments and photos to

The mission of Food & Wine Magazine is to find the most exciting places, new experiences, emerging trends and sensations in the culinary and wine industries. From travel and entertaining to luxury and design, this magazine brings an energetic and stylish take on food and wine. For more information on Food & Wine Magazine, please visit

Review: Gems of Gluten-Free Baking: breads and irresistible treats everyone can enjoy

By Wendy Turnbull

Cookbook review courtesy of contributing writer
Andrea Savard

Gems of Gluten-Free Baking: breads and irresistible treats everyone can enjoy by Wendy Turnbull (Whitecap Books, $29.95 CAD) is an essential gluten-free guide to baking. Wendy is a former registered nurse who was diagnosed with Celiac Disease over 30 years ago, and it was her avid interest in nutrition combined with a desire to create gluten-free recipes that tasted like ‘the real deal’ which led to years of experimentation with gluten-free whole grain combinations. Eventually her work led to an innovative flour blend she called GEMS flour™, which produces exceptional wheat-like baking.

As most people who have baked without wheat for the first time can attest, initial results are often disappointing and sometimes downright unacceptable (but I usually still eat it anyways). Luckily Wendy’s GEMS flour™ will make your future baking – and not just the recipes in her book – taste as good if not better than the gluten filled version!

I love that the GEMS flour™ has a basic recipe to which you can then add amaranth, buckwheat, gluten-free oat or teff flour. Want to try something different? Try adding a few tablespoons of chickpea, millet, soy, quinoa, or bean flour. I was more than happy to try these various flour varieties as I have bags of all of the above mentioned flours languishing in my fridge due to trying to follow another recipe book (which didn’t work out so well).

The things I enjoy the most about this book are the clean design, gluten-free flour chart, conversion charts, and tips for success. The photos she includes are beautiful, but in my opinion there are not enough. Not that I am the type of person who needs a photo on every page, but I think this book would work better with a few more enticing photographs to give it more colour and character.

This book will cover all of your baking needs and includes chapters on breads, muffins, cookies, squares and bars, cakes and cupcakes, pies, tarts, and other desserts. So far I’ve only tried out the basic bread, banana bread, and cream puff recipes but I know I’ll come back and work my way through the rest of this useful and dependable book.

To read the results from Andrea’s recipe tests, please click HERE

Bon Appétit Magazine: December Cover Recipe

Spiced Chocolate Torte Wrapped in Chocolate Ribbons

Rating: 4 out of 5 (challenging and time consuming but oh-so-delicious!)

Initial Thoughts: Gulp.

The Test: The last cover recipe in my year-long quest of making each of the 12 covers from Bon Appétit Magazine. Talk about going out with a bang! This picture perfect chocolate torte first appeared on the cover of the magazine in 1984, and apparently it has been the most requested recipe in the history of this publication.

Before attempting this recipe, I went online and read the 30 plus comments left by readers. This was probably a good thing as it enabled me to approach this recipe with my eyes wide open. With the general consensus being that the cake was very time consuming with mediocre results, I cleared my entire weekend and rolled up my selves determined to give it my best shot.

The Cake Pretty straight forward although there are quite a few steps involved (beating sugar, cream and egg batter, melting and blending chocolate into the mix, folding dry ingredients into batter in multiple batches, and whipping and folding in egg whites). The end result is a batter that is very thick and dense in texture, but smells absolutely divine with the combination of spices that include cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Perfect flavours to pair up against rich, dark chocolate. NOTE: ignore recipe baking times as a number of people including myself found the suggested times to be much too long, and unfortunately my cakes ended up overcooked and a little dry.

The Buttercream Making the buttercream was probably my favourite element of the entire recipe. Would you consider me too much of a food geek if I said I had a lot of fun whipping this up?! It was incredibly satisfying to watch the icing froth up and become this lovely, glossy mass of light as air cake filler. Don’t know whether I can credit beginners luck for my success, but I didn’t have any problems with the icing seizing when I added the cooler tempered butter into the warm sugar and egg mixture. However if this happens, simply set your bowl over simmering water to relax the icing and melt all lumpy bits. Yes, ‘lumpy bits’ is a technical term. NOTE: chilling the buttercream makes layering the cake much easier, and I also found it useful to stick chop sticks into the cake to hold the layers together while placed in the freezer.

The Glaze Making the glaze was simple, but I did find I had to stir the mixture for much longer than the mere five minutes suggested in the recipe. I think I waited for close to half an hour before the chocolate had thickened enough to spread over the cake, and even after that long it was still runny enough to make icing the sides of the cake an extremely frustrating task. NOTE: next time I would trim the cake first, allowing for more of an even surface upon which to spread the glaze, and I would also let the chocolate firm up more prior to icing the cake.

The Ribbons As if a three layer chocolate torte with buttercream and rich chocolate glaze weren’t enough, the recipe calls for adorning the cake with white and dark chocolate ribbons! This is done by mixing corn syrup to melted chocolate which creates a pliable mixture called modeling chocolate. The recipe suggests using a pasta maker to roll out the sheets of chocolate prior to cutting into ribbons, but I would have to agree with the other readers who found this method to be useless and messy.

If I were to attempt the ribbons again I would simply use a rolling pin, a tactic which many people found to work perfectly well. As for my ribbons, I found the white chocolate mixture much too oily and soft while the dark chocolate quickly became much too hard to use. In the end I chucked the chocolate. Lord knows there would still be enough calories left on the cake without the decadent bow and ribbons! NOTE: according to the Sweet Silent Thoughts blog there are a whopping 1,235.9 calories a serving for this recipe!

The Results: As you can tell, this cake is a labour of love. So was it worth it in the end? I can safely say yes, but I would only consider making it for special occasions. VERY special occasions. Because of the length of time it takes to prepare this dessert as well as the expense of the ingredients (all that chocolate is not cheap people!) I would not whip this up for an ordinary Sunday dinner. That being said, I would definitely consider making a scaled down version of this cake on a more regular basis, perhaps making only two layers and not even bothering to attempt the ribbons. Despite being overcooked, the cake tasted incredible and the unexpected flavour of cloves really made this recipe stand out from the crowd of ordinary chocolate cakes. It was very rich and dense in texture; Mr. Spock compared it to a moist version of biscotti which I think is an accurate description. The buttercream was silky smooth and not too sweet, the hint of rum cutting through the chocolate and adding a nice richness to the torte. The glaze was a fantastic way to top the whole thing off, although some people found it a little much. But that’s the whole point of this cake…it’s all a little much.

For a copy of the recipe for Spiced Chocolate Torte Wrapped in Chocolate Ribbons, please click HERE

Bon Appétit celebrates the world of great food and the pleasure of sharing it with others. Every issue invites readers into a hands-on experience, engaging them in all aspects of the epicurean lifestyle—cooking, dining, travel, entertaining, shopping and design. For more information please visit

Bon Appétit Magazine: November Cover Recipe

Salt-Roasted Turkey with Lemon & Oregano, and Rosemary Bread Stuffing with Speck, Fennel & Lemon

Rating: 5 out of 5 (revolutionized my opinion of turkey!)

Initial Thoughts:
All year long I have been dreading the November issue because I knew it would involve cooking a whole turkey. Wish me luck!

The Test:
Considering I waited until February to attempt this recipe, my procrastination must be obvious. A whole turkey. Yikes.

First of all, I have never bothered cooking an entire turkey as I am not the biggest fan of this particular type of poultry. Combined with my painful childhood memories of flavourless sawdust dry birds each holiday, is it any wonder my expectations were low? Nonetheless I committed to a year’s worth of cover recipes so what the hell…what’s the worst that can happen?!

The recipe calls for rubbing the turkey with a citrus and herb salt mixture and leaving it overnight. The reason is because as the turkey sits, the salt draws moisture to the skin and while cooking creates a flavourful liquid that seasons the meat and keeps it moist. I was very interested in tasting the result of this particular technique, as we usually brine our poultry for maximum flavour and moisture.

Prepping the turkey on the day of my impromptu Thanksgiving Dinner in February was quick and easy. The ingredients for stuffing into the cavity of the bird consisted of chopped lemons, celery, onion, and fresh herbs. An olive oil and lemon juice glaze was then brushed over the turkey while it cooked. In mere minutes of putting the turkey in the oven my kitchen started to smell divine!

Now for the stuffing.

This recipe is great as it can be prepared ahead of time and then baked once the turkey is done and resting. Be warned that there are several elements involved in making the stuffing, including pre-toasting the rosemary bread, soaking and cooking off raisins in wine, as well as sautéing the fennel, shallot and speck mixture. NOTE: I was unable to find speck (a lightly smoked, cured pork) so substituted prosciutto instead.

The Results: Oh. My. Goodness.

This was hands down the BEST turkey dinner I have ever had the pleasure of consuming. Damn. Why had I procrastinated in making this recipe for so long?!

The turkey was moist and full of a lovely herbaceous citrusy flavour that was strong enough to hold up to the turkey taste but in no way overpowered the dish. It also rendered the most amazing pan drippings that resulted in fantastic gravy. Delicious!

The stuffing was also a huge hit at the table, and made a nice change from the usual traditional version. This recipe produced a light, flavour-packed side that went well with the Greek-inspired turkey, Two-Toned Mashed Potatoes and my mom’s famous Cranberry Sauce.

My first full on turkey dinner and it was a success! Well done to the Bon Appétit team who came up with these ingenious recipes.

For a copy of the recipe for Salt-Roasted Turkey with Lemon & Oregano please click HERE, and for the Rosemary Bread Stuffing with Speck, Fennel & Lemon please click HERE

Bon Appétit celebrates the world of great food and the pleasure of sharing it with others. Every issue invites readers into a hands-on experience, engaging them in all aspects of the epicurean lifestyle—cooking, dining, travel, entertaining, shopping and design. For more information please visit

Review: The Best Places to Kiss Cookbook: recipes from the most romantic restaurants, cafes, and inns of the pacific northwest

By Carol Frieberg

This cookbook is a wonderful compilation of recipes from establishments featured in the renowned travel guide; The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest. For years this famed travel guide has provided tourists and locals with a comprehensive resource for romantic destinations in the Pacific Northwest, including accommodation, restaurant and winery recommendations. The cookbook edition – published by Sasquatch Books ($19.95) – features some of the favourite recipes from establishments included in the guide. A romantic weekend away not in the cards? This book will allow you to create irresistible dishes that will almost have you believe you are on vacation. Except for the pile of dirty dishes. And the laundry hiding around the corner… Nonetheless, a temporary (but oh so lovely) escape from your daily routine is always nice!

I bought this book a few years ago after Mr. Spock and I ran away for a romantic weekend to the Tuwanek Hotel, a boutique B&B featured in The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest and located on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. Being pregnant with our second at the time, for me the vacation was all about the food and prenatal massages. That and spending some quality time together before delving back into the world of diapers and sleepless nights, where the idea of romance becomes an extra hour of sleep or heck even just 10 minutes of alone time in the shower. It. Was. Magical.

Back to the book! Littered with cute sidebars that include tips for creating an intimate dinning experience, cheese and wine pairings, fun things to do with champagne, playlist suggestions and a list of classic romantic movies, I have no qualms recommending this cookbook. All of the recipes I tested turned out great and each time I was amazed at how effortlessly the dishes came together. Everything looked like it belonged in a fine dining establishment, not my rinky dink little kitchen.

Be warned that photos are scarce in this book (I counted six in total) and the ones that are included are not particularly inspiring. The main image on the front cover is an istock image, which I found slightly insulting given the rich and vibrant landscape of the Pacific Northwest and the array of mouthwatering recipes included in the book. That being said, The Best Places to Kiss Cookbook is guaranteed to provide you with the culinary arsenal to create an impressive meal capable of sweeping anyone off their feet.

So turn off your phone, choose some romantic background music, pull out some candles, put a bottle of something special on ice and get cooking! Romance awaits within the pages of this little gem of a book…

To read the results of my recipe tests for The Best Places to Kiss Cookbook, please click HERE

Review: Perfect One-Dish Dinners: all you need for easy get-togethers

by Pam Anderson

The latest release from famed cookbook author Pam Anderson (no, no, no – not that Pam Anderson) is entitled Perfect One-Dish Dinners: all you need for easy get-togethers. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt ($32) the theme of the book can best be described as effortless entertaining guaranteed to satisfy your guests and fill their stomachs with classic style comfort food.

What I love about this book is that almost all of the recipes can be made ahead of time, each one clearly written with helpful footnotes that include alternatives for quick premade options, and even wine pairing suggestions. In fact, the only thing this book doesn’t do is the dishes!

The primary goal of Perfect One-Dish Dinners is to make life in the kitchen easier, whether it is for busy weeknights or special event entertaining. Portion sizes are generous and will feed a large group or provide yummy leftovers for the next day. Judd Pilossof’s beautiful photographs are littered throughout the book, and are guaranteed to whet your appetite and send you straight into the kitchen.

While the jury is still out on whether or not I prefer this book to her previous Perfect Recipes for Having People Over, I would highly recommend it for the busy cook short on time and not wanting to resort to meals in a box. Full of a variety of menus that will not leave you flustered or exhausted before your company arrives, it is also a great option for kitchen newbies looking for easy and inspiring recipes for their table.

Pam Anderson is the former Executive Editor for Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, a contributing editor for Fine Cooking Magazine, USA Today food columnist and author of six cookbooks whose recipes are often described as “foolproof” and “infallible”. As if she were not busy enough, Pam (along with her two daughters) also writes a food blog called Three Many Cooks.

To read the results of my recipe tests for Perfect One-Dish Dinners, please click HERE

Review: Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef

By Shauna James Ahern & Daniel Ahern

Published by John Wiley & Sons

Cookbook review courtesy of contributing writer
Andrea Savard

Shauna and Daniel Ahern’s recently released cookbook entitled Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef (published by John Wiley & Sons $29.95), is chock full of user friendly recipes that range from lovely breakfast ideas to complex dinner recipes, beautiful warming pasta and comfort food dishes, along with some great recipes for baking.

Many of the recipes in the book are from Shauna’s blog, a website that continues to inspire me each time I need a little pick me up in the kitchen. The cookbook is as beautiful as her blog, and includes bright pictures of amazing food markets around the Pacific Northwest, her family and food. Reading through her book is like sharing with an old friend all the frustrations, joys, and small victories of learning to cook, bake and live happily gluten-free. Shauna has the good fortune of being married to a chef who patiently lends his knowledge on proper technique, as well as sourcing, tweaking, and blending ingredients. Although personally I feel that it is Shauna’s inventiveness, personal touch, and delightful descriptions that truly make this cookbook more than just a book full of recipes.

As much as I do love this book, there are a few recipes that I found to be overly time consuming for the everyday cook. Some of the recipes are not user friendly, like Braised Balsamic Rabbit, and Rabbit with Mustard that likely won’t be gracing my dinner table any time soon (I think that two rabbit recipes in one book is a bit of an overkill). The cover art is also a little perplexing and disappointing and I don’t think reflects the loveliness that lies within the book’s covers. That being said, overall I think this is a worthwhile cookbook to have in your gluten-free collection.

To read the results from Andrea’s recipe tests, please click HERE

Meet Contributing Writer Andrea Savard

Andrea was diagnosed with Celiac Disease 13 years ago. Since then she has ended a long term relationship with beer and buck-a-slice pizza, broken up with several bakeries and started going on blind dates with dozens of recipes from gluten-free cookbooks and gluten-free websites, which have both inspired and, at times, disappointed her. With more and more people giving up the gluten, either by choice or because of dietary restrictions, she is looking forward to sharing her reviews of her dalliances with the latest gluten-free recipes and cookbooks attempting to seduce her.

Sweet Treats

Saint Valentine’s Day – the annual celebration of romantic love. This special day dedicated to lovers was first observed back in approximately 500 AD. Obviously today’s festivities are not anywhere near what they used to be back in the good ol’ AD days, when it was more of a religious than romantic celebration.

Yet even during modern times this popular holiday has continued to undergo a steady evolution, with the majority of today’s valentines being mass produced rather than personally handwritten. We have also witnessed the increased involvement of the business world, which has contributed to and capitalized on the pressures of needing to make February 14 an uber special occasion for sweethearts. Simple heart-shaped cards and flowers have given way to desires for expensive jewellery, extravagant flower arrangements, high-end restaurant reservations and even marriage proposal expectations. Poor Cupid!

In our house we like to keep things simple, and with two small children and a lack of unlimited resources we try to focus on being creative rather than spendy. This year’s treats were inspired by ideas from Martha Stewart’s website which is a wonderful resource for all of your crafting, culinary and decorative needs for Valentine’s Day.

First up? Adorable mini chocolate cupcakes with heart cutouts!

These treats are quick and easy, perfect to make with your little ones and would be an instant hit at any Valentine’s Day party or even a bake sale. Simply whip up a batch of your favourite chocolate cupcakes (feel free to use a box mix), slice off the tops and punch thru with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.

For the buttercream icing I added a couple of drops of food colouring to create the perfect pink, and spread the icing on the bottom half of the cupcake before gently placing the tops back on again.

Coffee was the ultimate companion for these cute little cupcakes, topped off with a fun marshmallow cutout!

Take a heart-shaped cookie cutter and press into a marshmallow, placing both pieces into a steaming cup of coffee or hot cocoa. Enjoy!