Archive for January, 2010

“We Are Family” Rye Bread ‘n Brie

Posted on: January 31st, 2010 by Carla Johnson 1 Comment

What whisky will not cure, there is no cure for. ~ An Irish Proverb


Tracie Douglas Giesbrecht

When I started this blog, my very dear friend Tracie Giesbrecht offered to be my “minion.” She has heroically taken on the job of testing and tweaking the recipes and helping to edit the posts. Another set of eyes and taste buds is wonderful!

It may be true that “blood is thicker than water,” but Tracie and I know that water can be turned into blood.

Tracie and I grew up in Sarnia, Ontario and our families, the Phibbs and the Johnsons were woven so tightly together that we just called everyone “aunt” and “uncle.” Tracie’s aunts and uncles were my aunts and uncles and vice versa. In fact, Tracie was certain we were first cousins until last year when the two of us sat down and laid it all out. Our two families have no blood connection, but there is a marriage connection through the Pease family. The simple version of the circle that connects Tracie and me is this. Tracie’s mom Avis is cousins with Everett Pease who married my dad’s sister Minerva.

Ev & Minerva's wedding

Ev and Minerva's Wedding

My grandparents, Dorothy & Edwin Johnson moved a lot with their young family and first connected with Allan and Verona Phibbs in Saskatchewan. The two families, along with extended family members, then migrated to Timmins, Ontario together. The journey took several days and must have been quite an adventure. 22 people, one cube van, one car, the flat tires, the furniture precariously balanced on trailers, the active kids. They left in 1938, the day of Avis’s 7th birthday. With so many bodies packed in tightly, one of the young adults thought he would be more comfortable travelling in the trailer carrying the mattresses. (These were the days long before seat belts!) Somehow the trailer came unhitched and he woke up to surprise “trip” of his own.  The group took a big detour through Minnesota to visit a community where other Johnson relatives lived. They parked out on the road and when people passing by saw all the bodies climbing out of the vehicles and trailers, they thought they were gypsies. It was the talk of the town.

Tracie and I grew up listening to stories about the epic Johnson-Phibbs trek. After four years in Timmins, the Phibbs clan packed up their belongings and moved to Sarnia. Not much later, the Johnsons followed and moved in with the Phibbs. It was a zoo until Edwin and Dorothy found a place for their own family. Both our families’ roots remain in Sarnia to this day.

Wm Johnson Const

The Johnsons and the Phibbs have a very special relationship that is as rich and solid as  family. Our families have been close friends for 72 years… and counting. Interestingly though, there has never been a marriage between the two families – probably because we thought we were related!!

Like so many in the Johnson, Phibbs and Pease families, Tracie and I have long since moved away from Sarnia. Tracie and her family live in St. Catharines and I live with my family in Cambridge, Ontario. We are about an hour and a half apart from each other, but the “magic” of technology keeps us in close contact.

Tracie’s Aunt Pauline sent us one of her favourite recipes for Rye Bread – rye the grain. (For our American readers, Canadians call whisky “rye” hence the play on words.) Pauline got this recipe from her cousins Ralph & Dorey Pease. (Everett’s brother & his wife). It makes a perfect dip for these two whisky cheese recipes.


My husband's favourite whisky right now. Most of the world spells it "whiskey" except for us Canadians and the Scots. We spell it "whisky."

These two cheese recipes were given to me by my sister-in-law Audrey Roorda. They are from good friends of hers who are a little too shy to be named. They are a couple who come from two different Christian denominations. Her background is Pentecostal where movies, cards, dancing and all forms of alcohol were evil and forbidden. His background is Reformed and alcohol is okay, but must be handled in much moderation. Wanting to honour their upbringings, they have found a way to merge their two world views. They permit beer and wine occasionally in their home, but never hard liquor.

A few years ago, they won the door prize at a work Christmas party – a bottle of rye whisky. Both of them, being thrifty souls, couldn’t throw it out and didn’t want to encourage someone else to drink, so they decided to just keep it. At their next “Hockey Night in Canada” get-together they were preparing a recipe for cheese fondue that called for beer. This time there was an “Aha!” moment. Why not substitute the door-prize whisky, instead of the beer, since the alcohol should evapourate once it is cooked. Their friends loved it! Later, they did the same with the brie recipe.

They are still working on the original bottle of rye. Maybe their attitude is to cook with sin to prevent others from sinning.

Whisky Brie CC

1 (226 g/8 oz.) wheel of Brie cheese
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans (or almonds)
1 tablespoon rye whisky (you can add more for a stronger flavour)

Brie and Camembert are from two different provinces in France. Camembert is very similar to brie and can be substituted. You may enjoy it because the cheese and rind have a stronger flavour.

cut brie

I decided to cut the sides of my brie so it melted to fill the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Make 1/4 inch deep criss-cross cuts on the top of the brie wheel. Place the brie in a baking dish with sides.

Bake the brie in the preheated oven until it is softened, about 5 minutes. While it is baking, stir together the brown sugar, pecans and rye whisky in a small bowl. Pour the mix on top of the brie, making sure it goes into the slits and return it to the oven for another 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

brie fresh from the oven

Rye Whisky Fondue

1 cup minced sweet onion
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
1 pound/450 g grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup rye whisky
Cubes of rye bread for dippers (see the next recipe)

In a heavy saucepan, gently saute the onions in the butter until soft and translucent. Add milk and bring to a simmer. Stir in cheddar cheese until melted and smooth.

Whisk together cornstarch and whisky until smooth. While constantly stirring, slowly pour whisky mixture into cheese mixture and continue to cook until thickened.

Pour cheddar whisky fondue into a fondue pot or heat-proof bowl. Serve with rye bread as dippers.

cheese fondue crop

Dorey’s Swedish Rye Bread

1 package dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon anise seed (Dorey uses 1)
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup shortening
2 cups scalded milk
1 cup dark rye flour
About 4 cups flour (stiff dough)

Flour on dough

Dissolve the yeast in warm water, melt the shortening & scald the milk.

Transfer milk to a large bowl, and add the salt, white sugar, brown sugar, anise seed, molasses, lemon juice and melted shortening. Cool to lukewarm, and add dissolved yeast.

Add the rye flour, beating it with mixer. Gradually beat in white flour, kneeding the last cup or two by hand.

batter n beater

Place the dough in a greased bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover it with a damp towel, and allow to rise in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours until it doubles in size.

dark rye flour

Dark rye flour

Punch down the dough, and place it on a lightly floured surface. Knead it well until it becomes elastic and separate the dough into 3 loaves.

*Note: The dough is absolutely delicious, so keep your sampling to a minimum, otherwise you may only have enough for 2 loaves. :)

Place in greased 9 x 5 inch bread pans. Let rise in the pans for 3/4 of an hour or more, then bake at 325 degrees F for an hour.

Baked Bread

* * *

A Special Note from Aunt Pauline:

This is a sweeter tasting dark bread that is so delicious you will have people begging for the recipe, just like I did at the home of Ralph and Dorey Pease.

Some of you may not know of Gracie Allen, but her methodology will help you smile.

Gracie Allen’s Classic Recipe for Roast Beef

1 large Roast of beef
1 small Roast of beef

Take the two roasts and put them in the oven. When the little one burns, the big one is done.

* * *


If you are looking for more cheese appetizers, you might like “Goddess Supper I” Potted Cheese.

“Special Delivery” Black Forest Cake

Posted on: January 17th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 2 Comments

“Claret is the liquor for boys; port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson

ShelleyShelley (Boyd) Stone is my dear friend and neighbour here in Cambridge, Ontario. She has done many things with her boundless energy and creativity over the years. After studying theology, she worked with young people (street youth, high schools & a camp director at Pioneer Camp). When her children were young she ran a great daycare out of her home (where she cared for our daughter). She adventurously took those little ones on regular field trips and fed them healthy food that she gave fun names to. When her kids got older she worked in a local college and then a few years ago she found her dream job – I called it her “Erin Brokovich job” – coordinating the efforts of the Ontario chapter of the non-profit organization “Ontario Christian Gleaners.”

Gleaners take in surplus vegetables and fruit from farms. It is dried and made into a soup mix. The soup mixes are sent all over the world to area of need, refugees camps, communities and crisis areas. In the wake of the recent earthquake in Haiti, she has been working over-time to direct extra food to the relief efforts there. If you like what the Gleaners are doing, here two different ways you can donate.

Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson
Family shot

Victoria, Tyler & Shelley

Our paths have crossed repeatedly for the past 25+ years. On New Year’s Eve, I spent the afternoon with Shelley and her two children, Victoria & Tyler. She had just finished making her mother’s Black Forest cake with brandy. We took a moment to sit and catch up over a piece of cake. It was delicious – all the way around.

Shelley was raised in  Dundas, Ontario. Her parents Bill and Jean Boyd were actively involved in their church and, true to their beliefs, faithful abstainers. With one exception. jackie_oJean loved to make her Black Forest cake with brandy. Jean loved to cook and especially enjoyed desserts, but her Black Forest cake was a favourite for special occasions. In Ontario, liquor is only sold in government controlled stores called the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario). Shopping for brandy would have been strongly looked down up by her fellow church members, so she would put on, what she called, her “Jackie O” outfit . She hoped that the scarf over her head and the large sunglasses would make her  incognito on her trip to the LCBO.

In the fall of 1981, Shelley was in her 2nd year at Briercrest Bible College. Briercrest is located in Saskatchewan, part of the “Bible Belt” of the Canadian prairies. Shelley remembers her time at Briercrest with true fondness. She made a lot of great friends and had a wonderful time, but the college had rules and expectations in the ’80’s that would shock most Briercrest students today. Female students had to wear dresses/skirts to all classes. They were allowed to wear dress pants to supper and could change into jeans after 7 pm. Married couples were not allowed to kiss in public, but were allowed to hold hands and link arms if it was slippery. Students were only permitted to leave the campus a few times a month and were allowed only one date a month. Dorm supervisors had to be notified anytime students left the campus. Everyone had to sign-in for breakfast and all dorms had to have lights out by 11 pm. Dancing and drinking were absolutely prohibited.

Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson

Undaunted, Jean decided that Shelley’s birthday that fall would not be complete without her special Black Forest cake with brandy. So Jean baked the cake, soaked it in brandy and arranged it all carefully along with all the accessories in a special package. She then took special precautions and had it sent to Shelley in Saskatchewan by bus. Jean chose the bus because she was concerned it would get too jostled in the mail. When Shelley heard her cake was enroute, she actually consulted her dorm supervisor, but she didn’t ask permission, instead she simply told her, “My mom is sending me a brandy cake for my birthday and I am eating it.” Fortunately, the supervisor was easy-going and trusted Shelley, so it wasn’t an issue, but considering the climate, it certainly could have been. Shelley remembers running around her dorm looking for beaters for the whipped cream.

Carla Johnson Cooking With Sin

Shelley and Brenda

Ironically, during my visit with Shelley one of her former Briercrest classmates Brenda Nickerson dropped by. They hadn’t seen each other in a long time.Jean has since passed away – gone too soon. She was always fun, energetic, wise and full of adventure. I am so pleased to share her Black Forest cake recipe here with Shelley. It’s a great way to honour a truly wonderful woman.


Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson

“Special Delivery” Black Forest Cake

(As prepared by my mom, Jean Boyd ~ who taught me to love desserts, truly and well! ~ Shelley Stone)

Ingredients: Brandy bottles w cherries

Chocolate Cake Mix
Can of Cherry Pie Filling
Jar of Sour Cherries, drained
Brandy (I use a French brandy, but go with your preference)
500 ml Whipped Cream
Chocolate Shavings
Fresh Cherries

Shhh… No need to whisper to anyone how easy this creation comes together and your guests will feel fussed over!

Make the chocolate cake according to package directions, baking it in 2 round pans. When completely cooled, carefully cut both cakes in half horizontally, creating 4 rounds. A bread knife works well for this task.

  Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson  Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson

Drain the sour cherries well. In a bowl, stir the cherries in with the cherry pie filling. Whip the cream, adding a little sugar to suit your taste.

You’ll want to arrange the cake on your most beautiful pedestal cake plate (or borrow one!).

Time to get the brandy!

This is the fun part. With a fork, poke holes in each cake round, here and there on top of each layer. Drizzle a capful of brandy over every layer and let it soak in.

CAREFULLY layer a sliced and ‘doctored’ (that’s what my mom called it) cake round, topped with 1/3 of the cherry mixture and a thin layer of whipped cream. Repeat twice. (I know the repeat thing is obvious, but recipes tend to be written that way.)

Be sure to have plenty of whipped cream to slather on the outside of the entire cake before decorating. You want it to look luscious!

Chocolate sprinkles bag

The chocolate shaving and fresh cherries are momentarily your best friends in turning this wonderful dessert into a lasting memory with your guests. Do  your artistic thing, and Voila!

Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson

Carefully store your treasure in the fridge to keep the whipped cream cold.

The ooh’s and ahh’s of the recipients will ring in your ears for the next five days!

Bon Appetit!

Cooking With Sin Carla Johnson

Shelley Stone,
Cambridge, ON
Carla Johnson Cooking With Sin  Tori & cake  Carla Johnson author Cooking With Sin

Carla Johnson Cooking With Sin

“Grandma Started It!” Chicken Cacciatore

Posted on: January 12th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 7 Comments
The wines that one best remembers are not necessarily the finest that one has ever tasted, and the highest quality may fail to delight so much as some far more humble beverage drunk in more favorable surroundings. ~ H. Warner Allen
Nickel family 1940

Nickel family 1940 L to R: My grandfather John holding Alice, Gerald, Hank, Betty & my grandma Elizabeth

My mother, Betty (Nickel) Johnson, was raised in a staunch, devout, Mennonite Brethren home.  Her family moved throughout western Canada – Grande Prairie, AB to Yarrow, BC. She and her 5 siblings, Jerry, Hank, Alice, Esther & David remain proud and true to their roots, but enjoy sharing tales of the times they grew up in.

The Mennonite tradition is rooted in simple living and a solid work ethic, so in the 1940’s things like nail polish and lipstick made one stand out too much. Smoking, dancing, drinking and playing cards were also taboo. It was often joked that they weren’t allowed to have sex is because it might lead to dancing.

My maternal grandmother, Elizabeth (Voth) Nickel Dyck (1910-1996), lived the life of a true pioneer. As a teen, she and her family fled the Russian Revolution with only the clothes on their backs. They started off farming in Mexico, then picked up again and travelled to northern Alberta where they settled down to farm the cold prairies. She had worked extremely hard her entire life and had seen first hand how it paid off for her family. Faith was #1. Work was #2.

Grandma's recipe for platz, a Mennonite strudel

When Grandma married my grandfather, John Nickel, and started a family, she was extremely dedicated to making the farm flourish. Work was so important for her that she questioned the value of humour. She often told her children that jokes and laughter were a waste of time. Her love of work was supported by her enormous stamina. She had to bury her infant son Melvin (my Mom’s twin) and out-lived two husbands and only slowed down in her mid-80’s just before she passed away. When Grandma first met Steve, my husband, she grabbed his face, nodded approvingly and said, ”Good for work.”

Our 4 generations: Betty (my mom), Elizabeth Voth (my great-grandmother) holding me as a baby and Elizabeth (Voth) Nickel (my grandmother)

My brother and I at the airport.

I grew up in the east in Ontario. Visits with my western relatives were few and far between. Grandma lived in Clearbrook BC and I remember one of her visits when I was a teen. Mom was making one of my favourite dishes, Chicken Cacciatore and she liked to add a bit of red wine into her recipe. (Please understand, my parents were both devoted non-drinkers. There was never alcohol in our home and I never saw my parents take even a sip of wine until I was in my 20’s.) On that particular day, mom was hunched cautiously over the stove quickly pouring the red wine into the pan of cooking chicken before Grandma found out. Too late. Grandma came around the corner and caught my mom ”red wine handed.” With her firm voice and Plautdietsch (Low German) accent, she hrmphed, “Cooking with sin, are we?”

It was the first time I ever really saw my mom become defensive. “Well Mom, the alcohol is cooked off in the pan. It adds a nice flavour. It’s fine to eat… really.”

We all happily ate the cacciatore for supper and enjoyed every morsel. As the years went by, Grandma mellowed – as we all do – and became more relaxed about many things. After she passed away in 1996, the family was very surprised to find a good stash of liquor in her nursing room cupboard. Way to go Grandma!

Recently, my daughter Daren and I spent a day with Mom where we made her chicken cacciatore and reminisced. We were joined by my Aunt Esther, her daughter Leanne and Leanne’s daughter Beth. The six of us represented the only maternal lines decended from Grandma. Betty and Esther were the daughters of Elizabeth who had a daughter, who had a daughter. We had a great time together.


Here is my mom’s chicken cacciatore recipe. We served it on homemade mennonite Kjielkje (cheel’-cha) that Grandma often made by hand and also had it with salad & garlic bread sticks. We paired (or tripled :) ) it with both a red Colle Secco and a white Pinot Grigio.


For dessert, we had a small bowl of beautiful vanilla gelato. Grandma often served her own rice pudding for dessert. She would bake it in an enamelled metal bowl. Mom and her siblings would fight over who go the Hüt (hoot), the brown, sweet milky skin on top.

* * *French Cross

Betty’s Chicken Cacciatore


14 fresh button mushrooms
2 tbsp + 2 tsp olive oil
7-8 chicken thighs
3/4 cup flour
sea salt
Herbes de provence
1 tbsp margarine or butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large can (796 ml/28 oz) chopped tomatoes
1 can (398 ml/14 oz) chicken broth
1/2 cup red wine (we used a mini bottle of French Cross Dry Red Wine)
2 tbsp parsley
A sprinkle of oregano or marjoram
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
A few fresh basil leaves torn up by hand
A handful of cherry tomatoes


1. Roast the mushrooms. Place them caps down on a non-stick baking pan. Sprinkle them with 2 tbsp olive oil, pepper and sea salt and bake at 375° F for 20 minutes.

2. While the mushrooms are baking, roll the chicken thighs in a mix of flour with salt, pepper & oregano. Brown them in margarine or butter to seal in the juices.

Chicken browning crop

3. As the chicken is browning, sprinkle with Herbes de Provence. Take the meat out when browned, and stir the chopped onion in the meat drippings with 2 tsp of olive oil. Fry them for 4-5 minutes, until they are soft and clear, then stir in the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute. The garlic gets a shorter time as you don’t want it browned.

4. Add the wine to the onions & garlic and stir making sure to stir up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Then add the can of chopped tomatoes followed by the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the temperature and cook for 10 minutes.

Onion-wine sauce

5. Return the chicken to the wine-tomato sauce adding the parsley and the oregano or marjoram and the mushrooms. A few of the basil leaves can be added at this time too. Bring the entire mix to a boil then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 20 – 25 minutes until the chicken is tender. If all goes well, it will be beautifully tender.

Simmering pot

6. After transferring the cacciatore to a serving bowl, place cherry tomatoes loosely and sprinkle the basil leaf pieces on top.

Note: This recipe can be prepared a little healthier by substituting chicken breasts for the thighs and baking the chicken instead of frying it.  Some may prefer substituting white wine (more traditionally combined with chicken) instead of the red.


We served it on Kjielkje (recipe below) sprinkled with fresh parmesan, but it works well on rice or on a bed of fresh spinach leaves.

This was one of Grandma’s cookbooks. The word for noodles is spelled “kielke” in here.


(Mennonite handmade noodles)


1 egg to 1 cup of flour
milk sprinkled in as needed

1. Make a hill of flour on a smooth working surface. Create a small bowl-like opening in the top of the hill of flour (much like a volcano) to put the egg(s) in.

2. Using a fork, stir the egg from the top centre of the pile, pulling the flour into the egg slowly for it to blend. Continue stirring  the flour into the egg and srpinkle milk as needed until it is all mixed together and feels like a thick dough.

3. Roll the pasta dough out until  it is about 1/3 inch thick. Add flour to keep it from sticking to the surface.

Flour & egg hill

4. Cut the pasta into strips and boil until tender. It will be a thick, rough type of pasta with a soft texture and it will taste dee-lish! A less healthy option is to fry the noodles up after boiling them. Yum!

* * *

The night before we cooked the cacciatore, Mom and I were going through her kitchen looking for ingredients when I found a bottle of brandy and some exquisite Belgium chocolates. That evening as we sat around her kitchen table, we savoured the chocolate, rolling the brandy over our chocolatey pallets. So nice.



L to R: Esther, Carla, Betty, Daren, Leanne & Beth

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