Archive for February, 2010

“Ci Vediamo” Spezzatino

Posted on: February 28th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 3 Comments


“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.” ~ Andre Simon 

Heather Kleim had just moved to Florence, Italy and even though she knew a bit of Italian, she found out the hard way how literal translations can go awry. As she tells it,


See you later!” is a very common saying in English and is often used very casually and not meant literally. Well, I learned that the hard way during my first days in Florence. After saying good bye to a friend of mine, I threw in a “Ci vediamo dopo!” and headed home for the day. Later that night, I received a phone call from my friend who was a little irritated. “You said you’d see me later! Where are you?” Oops. Lesson learned. “Ci vediamo” (minus the ‘dopo’ meaning ‘later’) would have worked AND prevented insulting anyone.


Heather’s roommate Laura was a wonderful cook from Dublin. The two of them worked long days and sometimes on a cold winter night, Laura would cook them a pot of Spezzatino and they would hunker down to a comfortable evening of watching English DVDs. A comfortable friend in a comfortable place with comfortable food and a comfortable language. So good for the soul.

Heather has since moved back to Canada and set up a thriving home staging business in Vancouver. The Olympics with all its wonders and enthusiasm has taken over her city. While it has significantly altered life and business in the city, Canada has been profiled to the world in a whole new way. “Believe.”


Spezzatino is a Tuscan stew of minced or diced meat. It can be found in almost every restaurant and deli throughout Florence, but is not as common outside of Tuscany. Heather says, “Spezzatino is stew at its finest. Throw this into a pot and let the simmering do its magic!”


2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled, cut into large pieces
2 lbs stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes (900g)
1/2 cup of olive oil (120ml)
3 cups of red wine (710ml)
1/2 cup tomato purée (120ml)
salt and fresh black pepper to season

In a large stewing pot, heat extra virgin olive oil and sear beef for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove beef from the pot and add carrots, celery, and onions. Cook for 2 minutes or until vegetables have become soft.


Add 1 cup of red wine and let reduce.


(I chopped the veggies really fine. Note the change in colour once the wine is added.) 

Add the potatoes to the pot and season with salt and pepper.

Throw the seared beef back into the pot then add tomato pure and the remaining wine.


Let the liquid come to a boil and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for an hour and a half.

Serves 4 people



Carla’s note:

As I type this post, I feel a surge of excitement. Meeting Heather and getting her recipe was timely, because in two weeks, we are taking our daughter to Italy and we will be spending some time in Florence. We have never been there and are full of anticipation. We love to travel and are looking forward to our adventure, yet  we also predict we will be tripping over the language.


Several years ago, before we became parents, my husband and I spent a month back-packing through Venezuela. We loved seeing the country, meeting the people and learning Spanish. Along the way, I enjoyed my fair share of bloopers. A lot of people in Venezuela speak English, so every time I walked into a store or hotel, I always asked – in Spanish – if they spoke English, but I noticed that everytime the clerks would pause before answering “si” or “no.”

It was only when I got home that I realized my glitch. In Spanish, the phrase “Do you speak English?” is “¿Habla Inglés?” I had been asking “¿Hablo Inglés?” The reason the clerks all over Venezuela paused before they answered is because a perky, gangly gringa had just walked into their store and said, “Hello! Do I speak English?”

See you later!

“Super Bowl” Planked Twinkies

Posted on: February 18th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 1 Comment

jd labelAs the story goes, Mr. Jack arrived at work early one morning and tried to open the safe in his office. Thing is, he couldn’t recall the combination. In his frustration, he gave that safe a good, solid kick. The blow broke his toe and infection set in, leading to the blood poisoning that would take his life in 1911. Some people say Jack Daniel not only left his Tennessee Whiskey behind, he left us all a valuable lesson as well: Don’t go to work early.” ~ from the Jack Daniel’s website

tv cooksWhen he was 6 years old, he would run home from school excited to watch TV. While his friends enjoyed watching “Batman” and “Gilligan’s Island”, Ted Reader couldn’t wait to watch “The Galloping Gourmet” and “Julia Child.” He loved food and cooking very early in life. As he watched the cooking shows, he would choose his favourite recipes, make a shopping list and then head to the grocery store with his mom. He loved preparing special dishes and being actively involved in bringing people together at the dinner table.

The big dining room table in the Reader home was always family- and flavour-centric. Ted’s mom loved to prepare and serve a wide variety of delicious food. His grandfather travelled extensively and Ted loved listening to the stories of the different foods his grandfather would eat abroad. Early in life Ted realized that good food was an important part of bringing family and friends together.

As he grew up, his parents tried to help him choose a good career; something with stability and a decent income, but Ted knew university wasn’t right for him. All he wanted to do was to cook and see the world, so he started working in restaurants.

After gaining experience and growing comfortable with his skills, Ted knew he was ready for training, so he applied to a well-respected chef school. The administrator told him he wasn’t a good candidate for the program. He said Ted had acquired too many bad habits from restaurant work and would be a bad influence on the other students. Not one to back down, Ted told the administrator he only wanted to correct his bad habits, but if it was going to be problem, he would take his talents elsewhere! The administrator said, “You’re in.”

Ted R headshot w sandwichBefore he was 30, Ted was the executive chef at the Skydome Hotel in Toronto and that was followed by a position as the executive chef at President’s Choice where he developed chicken wings, “PC Thick and Cheesy Burgers” and other products that continue to be summer favourites on BBQs today.


Today, Ted Reader owns Ted’s World Famous BBQ. He caters, he has published over 20 cook books and travels worldwide demonstrating his BBQ skills. He is the corporate chef at a manufacturing plant where he specializes in product development. One of his operations goes through 2 million pounds of ribs a month!

Ted owns over 100 bbqs, grillers and smokers and usually has one in the back of his truck. He has made TV and radio appearances and GQ magazine called him “the crazy Canuck barbeque king.”

Gourmand World Cookbook awarded Ted’s book “Napoleon’s Everyday Gourmet Grilling” the Best Canadian Barbecue book. Also, in 2008 he won the Cordon d’ Or – Gold Ribbon BBQ Cookbook Culinary Academy Award.

Ted Reader just loves to cook! He loves having a crowd to feed, entertain and teach. He took his hopes of cooking and seeing the world to greater heights than he or his family could ever have imagined.

Ted with Regis and Kelly

Ted with Regis & Kelly

“Real Food for Real People”

If you get a chance to visit with Ted Reader, he will make you laugh out loud, yet you will understand how serious he is about his slogan “Real food for real people.” He is not a food snob. He likes all kinds tedof food – the only exception being brussel sprouts. He calls them “green golf balls”!


Ted Reader of “Ted’s World Famous BBQ” loves to prepare all kinds of food. From the most refined restaurants to the backyard bonfire he will wow you with something special. Lately he has been having fun plank grilling. His book “Napoleon’s Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling” was voted Best BBQ Cookbook in Canada by Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. The is one of his favourite recipes in the book. While this recipe does not contain “sin” he says it is so delicious it is “true sin.”

Planked Brie with Peaches and Blueberries

1 thin cedar plank (approximately 6 inches x 6 inches square) soaked in water
1 ripe peach, thinly sliced into strips
1/2 pint of fresh blueberries
1 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 wheel Brie cheese (about 5 – 6 ounces)
1 baguette, sliced

Preheat grill to medium heat.

In a small bowl, combine peach slices, blueberries, honey and thyme. Season with black pepper to taste and gently mix to combine.

Place brie onto plank and top with peach/blueberry mixture.

Place plank onto grill and close lid. Plank-grill cheese for 15 to 18 minutes until cheese is golden brown and slightly puffy and topping is hot. Remove plank from grill and allow cheese to cool for 1 to 2 minutes.

Serve immediately with fresh sliced baguette, a few big spoons and lots of napkins!

Serves 4.


And now for some cooking with sin… with Ted!

With all his phenomenal training and experience, Ted can still surprise himself. Once while tailgating in the parking lot at a Buffalo Bills game, he created “Planked Twinkies.” He told me, “It was a stroke of genius or insanity but in the end pure decadence. It makes me think of creating a cooking show based upon foods only found at 7-Eleven.” Gotta love it!

Napoloeons Everyday Gourmet Grilling book

Ted’s “Planked Twinkies” are always a huge hit wherever he goes. Here is his recipe in his own words.

Super Bowl Planked Twinkies

Ingredients:jd bottle
Chocolate chips
Mini marshmallows
Caramel pieces
Jack Daniel’s whiskey

Try my Planked Twinkies. It’s easy.

Take store bought twinkies, take em out of the plastic, line em up on a plank like little soldiers, spread the tops of the twinkies with a thick layer of Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread), top with a mixture of crushed up oreos, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows… and caramel pieces.

Plank grill with the grill lid closed over medium heat for about 15 minutes until the Twinkies get crispy and the topping is all hot and gooey.

Remove from the grill and take a cajun injector filled with Jack Daniels and inject each twinkie with a half ounce of JD dig in and get sticky.

Planked Twinkies pic

Real Food for Real People!

Do-Re-Mi Twinkie Song

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“Happy Valentine’s Day” Leopard Drink

Posted on: February 14th, 2010 by Carla Johnson No Comments

“Now join your hands, and with your hands your hearts. ” ~ William Shakespeare

Today, we exchanged family Valentine’s gifts and my daughter gave me the cutest pair of leopard wine glasses. She certainly knows her mom!

leopard glasses

On the bottom of each glass is a recipe for a drink called the “Leopard.” Just because it is so fun, I thought I’d share it here.



5 ounces sparkling wine
1 ounce orange juice
1 ounce Amaretto Disaronno
(I’m sure any amaretto liquer can be substituted)
Orange slice for garnish

Recipe on bottom of glass

Happy Valentine’s Day!



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Follow me, Carla Johnson, on Twitter @Carla_Johnson


“Cross Cultural” Chicken Curry

Posted on: February 11th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 1 Comment

“Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.” ~ Kaiser Wilhelm 

Jenni & RichardTake a Canadian girl, add a Scottish guy, mix with some Chinese flavours and stir in an American beer. What do you get? A great Indian Curry! 


Jenni Foss’s love of music drew her to concerts and the music industry, so in 1997 she uprooted herself from her Canadian home and found a great job at a recording company in London, England. Later that year, at a concert in Camden Town, she met a handsome and talented Scottish musician named Richard Guy. Richard had been raised in Edinburgh, and was working in London. They were immediately hooked on each other. 

Fast forward two years. Jenni and Richard celebrated their marriage at the elegant Jakobstettel Guest House in St. Jacob’s, Ontario here in Canada. 

Jenni and Richard settled in Cambridge, Ontario, and when they bought their new home, they made sure it was within walking distance of a good British pub. They wanted to be close to a place with UK lagers on tap, authentic pub grub and Indian food. 

flowersMarriage requires compromises and blending two cultures certainly doesn’t make it easier. Richard graciously gave up his life in the UK and came to Canada because he loved Jenni dearly. That was never lost on her, and there was one special thing she wanted to do for him. 

Ken Hom cookbook 

In Scotland, Richard’s favourite comfort food was a curry chicken he used to order from a local Chinese restaurant, so Jenni set out to recreate it here in Canada for him. It turned out to be more challenging than she had anticipated. There are many different kinds of curry and the one Richard had loved back home had been cooked with a British lager. Jenni knew this journey would be as fun as the destination. 

Jenni started with a Chinese Chicken Curry recipe she found in a cookbook by Ken Hom, a popular chef on British TV. His recipe had the basic ingredients and steps of a good curry and helped her determine the balance of ingredients and flavours. Hom used Chinese flavours like soy sauce and toasted sesame oil and as she experimented she adjusted the recipe accordingly. Each attempt was taste-tested with Richard as she tried to get it just right. 

jenni & richard in kitchen 

The part that stumped Jenni was the beer. Ken Hom’s recipe called for rice wine, but she was certain that the restaurant in Scotland had used one of the lagers that are loved throughout the Kingdom. She tried cooking with all different kinds. On one attempt she tried a strong beer. The next time she tried a heavy beer. She tried stouts and bitter beers, but none were  quite right. 

3 flavoursIt may have been a moment of desperation or just a lark, but the day Jenni added Budweiser beer was the ticket! An American light beer did it. She had not seen that coming. She had finally found the right combination and Richard found some Scottish – well… Scottish-Indian-Chinese – comfort in his new homeland. 

If you find yourself needing medical help in Cambridge, Ontario, Richard may be the paramedic first on the scene. He has been a paramedic for several years now and every year he makes a guest appearance at “Mrs. Guy’s” school. “Mrs. Guy” is a beloved middle school teacher and “Mr. Guy” is always a favourite on career day.Jennie & her girls If the siren of his ambulance doesn’t charm the students, his accent certainly does. 

Jenni and Richard have two very bright and enchanting daughters, Eva and Astrid. If you get a chance to visit in their home, the girls love music and will give you a special show that will put a wide smile on your face. 

Jenni’s recipe is named after the town Richard was raised in, Penicuik (say penny-cook), Scotland. Here it is in her own words. 

The curry with naan 

 Memories of Penicuik 

Chicken Curry
Serves 4
2 cups (500 ml) basmati riceBudweiser close up
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 or 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts,
    cut into 1 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 red peppers
    (or switch one up for a different colour if you want to
     live on the wild side), cut into 1 inch pieces
1 375 g block paneer cheese cut into ½ inch cubes
2 tablespoons madras curry paste (I like Pataks)
1 tablespoon good quality soy sauce
½ bottle Budweiser or any lightish beer
    (other half of bottle to be enjoyed while you finish cooking)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 (125 ml) cup cold water
2 green onions, finely chopped

basmati riceWash 2 cups of basmati rice. Then wash it again. And again. I hate mushy rice! 

Add 3 cups of water and place on high heat with the lid on. As soon as it starts to boil, turn it down low and let it simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until pits begin to form in the surface of the rice. Turn off the heat let the rice steam while you make the curry. 

Cut the sweet peppers and paneer before you start frying. Things happen quickly. 

Heat the oil in a stir-fry pan or wok. Add chicken and fry until cooked through, about 4 min. Add the garlic and cook one minute more 

Add peppers and paneer to the chicken. Cook, stirring, so the paneer doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan for 3 minutes or until the peppers begin to soften. 

cutting paneer

Cutting the paneer

Pataks currySpoon in curry paste and stir until everything in the pan is coated. Add the soy sauce and the beer and stir. Let everything bubble away for a few minutes. 

Stir the cornstarch into a ¼ cup of water and pour it into the curry. Let everything come to a boil again so the sauce thickens up. 

chicken w curry 

Make a nice cloud of rice in your serving dish. Pour lovely, yummy curry over top. Top with finely chopped green onions. Serve with fresh naan and more beer! 

dinner table 2 

naan on a plate 

Dig in!

“Cool Poor” Champagne Squash Soup

Posted on: February 7th, 2010 by Carla Johnson 4 Comments

marlene dietrich“Champagne makes you feel like it’s Sunday and better days are just around the corner.” Marlene Deitrich

Barry Lane and Tara Park Lane found themselves far away from family and friends when they moved to the quiet snowy cottage town of Lindsay, Ontario, early in the new year. They had both quit their jobs and moved to this small town for school. To brighten up their small, generic apartment, they filled it with a mish-mash of hand-me-downs, wedding gifts and furniture they had scrimped and saved for. There was a rag-rug from Ikea, a wobbly wooden dinner table that had belonged to Barry’s great-grandmother, and two wooden adirondack chairs. One chair was painted yellow and the other was a loud blue. They weren’t allowed to paint the boring white walls, so they covered them with pictures. The place was jammed full.

yellow & blue chairs

They had hoped for an apartment with more character, but this one was right beside the school. Barry could walk to class and Tara could use the car. Yes, the car. They had cut back to one car since neither of them had a job. Tara loved being free to drive the two hour trip to her “old faithful” Ikea store.  She also decided to take a Native Studies class at a nearby university that was “only” an hour and 15 minute drive.

Tara and Barry knew they were poor. While they found it challenging to adjust to their new economic situation, they decided that the poor situation they were in had some “cool” aspects to it, so they decided to call themselves “cool poor” and they found a few other types of “cool poor”: student poor, starving artist poor and humanitarian poor. They were student poor, they were “cool poor.” 

Tara and Barry’s “cool poor” was not the living-paycheque-to-paycheque, no-holiday-in-Mexico-this-year kind of poor. Theirs was the no-paycheque-at-all kind of poor. They couldn’t even “splurge” on a $3.49 plastic milk container. Instead, they poured the milk bags into a beautiful yellow and green pottery pitcher that had been a wedding gift from Uncle John and Aunt Shelly.

As beautiful as the pitcher was, it didn’t pour very well and the milk could be unpleasant to drink because it always absorbed the odours of the previous night’s leftovers. The milk had a different flavour everytime they tasted it. It was hard to enjoy. One day in the spring, Tara saw Barry bicycling home towards her with one arm in the air, waiving something blue in his hand. His whole body beamed a great big smile. As he got closer, Tara realized the blue thing in his hand was a blue plastic milk container. Yes, blue, not boring white. It had a piece of ripped off scotch tape on it with “25 cents” written in black marker. Barry had talked the guy at the yard sale down to 10 cents for it!

A few weeks after they had moved in, Tara’s parents called to say they were going to swing by their place for a visit on their way home from a holiday. Tara looked for something yummy, warm and cozy to make them for lunch to stave off the winter’s chill. She found a recipe called “Champagne Squash Soup.” Tara and her mom both loved squash, so she knew it was the meal to make. The cheapest bottle of champagne would be half their grocery money for the week, but it was something they knew they had to do. So, they splurged, bought the champagne and made the soup.

vintage champagne poster

Tara & Barry

Barry and Tara today

Tara still remembers standing in her small kitchen at the tiny apartment-sized stove, with the oven that never really worked, sautéing the onions in butter and adding the champagne. The aroma is sweetly embedded in her memory forever. It was exciting making this special soup for her parents; the soup they had sacrified their weekly groceries for.

The four of them sat on uncomfortable fold-out chairs at the wobbly wooden table and enjoyed the soup and their precious time together. Since they could barely afford the soup, there wasn’t much else with the meal except a fresh loaf of bread from the bread maker, another wedding gift, and the remainder of the champagne. They cherished every sip.

Tara and Barry have made this soup many times since. They now have children and own their own home in Waterloo, plus they can afford a nicer bottle of champagne. While they are also able to serve more with it, they say it is best served with a thick slice of warm olive bread generously spread with butter that has melted into it. Don’t forget a nice glass of bubbly, too!

And that milk jug… it still sits in their fridge hugging a bag of milk to this day.

blue milk jug

Champagne Squash Soup

4 lbs. squash, acorn or butternutTrius Brut 2
2 medium onions, halved & thinly sliced
4 tablespoons butter (2 + 2)
1/4 cup champagne (You will find some way to use the remainder of the bottle!)
4-5 cups chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a cookie sheet with foil. 

Quarter the squash &  scoop out the seeds.  Place the quarters skin-side up on the cookie sheet and bake 1 – 1 1/2 hours until the squash is tender. 

Let the squash cool. Scoop out the pulp and pureé in batches in a food processor. 

Sauté the onions in 2 tablespoons of the butter until they turn clear.  Add the champagne and cook, stirring often, until liquid is absorbed and onions are golden brown.  Purée the onions in a food processor with a little of the squash purée. 

In a large saucepan, combine the onion and squash purées.  Whisk in the chicken broth until you reach the consistency you prefer. 

Cover and heat on medium, stirring occasionally.  Whisk in the final 2 tablespoons of butter.  Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

soup swirl

To decorate, fill individual bowls with the soup, drop a small spoonful of sour cream on top of each bowl and swirl with a knife. Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg on top and you can garnish with a sprig of fresh parsley. 

Serves 6-8.