Wednesday, January 28, 2009

untraditional holidays help pass the winter season - recipe: crystal fold

I recently hosted an après-ski party for my family.

The best part of the party (for me at least) was that we didn't do the "avant" part — i. e. we didn't go skiing, we just enjoyed the food and company afterwards.

Allow me to explain — I grew up enjoying skiing with my family, but I'm more of a "spring skier" than anything else.

My dream as a child was to one day be the mom who managed to forgo skiing in the cold by staying warm back at the chalet, preparing appetizers and/or dinner for the evening.

An "après-ski-sans-ski" party came to mind one day and I thought, who cares if they think I'm crazy, I'm going to do it!

As you can see, I love any excuse to entertain family and/or friends. I'm even more drawn to finding reasons to bring loved ones together when the weather is cold and few can muster up the energy to do much or go anywhere (except for all of you skiers and snowbirds out there).

Accordingly, I like to always have a social event "in the works" to keep me inspired and to give me something to look forward to. I recently googled the word "celebration" and found a website ( ) that lists thousands of "bizarre, crazy, silly, unknown holidays and observances" — i. e. reasons for us to celebrate!

Here are a few of my favourites to get you through the next few dreary weeks, along with some easy food ideas:

• Jan. 26 is the start of the Chinese New Year. I've never celebrated this before but there is a first time for everything, right?

Sometime this week, I'm going to make crystal fold — a mixture of ground pork and shredded vegetables in a hoisin-style sauce.

You wrap the pork mixture in iceberg lettuce leaves and then eat them like tacos. It's super easy, super tasty and I'm sure that the kids would love it too. See the recipe below.

• Feb. 1 is Super bowl Sunday.

I don't know anything about football — I've never even watched a full game — but I know what I'll be making that night for dinner: Greta and Janet Podleski's "lord of the wings" (a much healthier version of chicken wings — boneless, skinless chicken thighs, marinated in a honey garlic sauce and shaped to look like chicken wings — all served up with a reduced fat blue cheese dip).

Visit for the recipe.

• Feb. 19 is national Chocolate Mint Day. I'm going to celebrate by eating one of Rheo Thompson Candies famous mint smoothie bars. Yum!

• Feb. 22 is Academy Awards night. (I'm already excited.) I've never been able to convince my hubby to watch with me, so it will likely be a party for one — I'm going to enjoy a glass or two of Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) and some appetizers from the shop — possibly some cheese and a few ready-to-bake hors d'oeuvres.

My dear friend Nichole used to have an annual Oscars party for the girls (complete with costumes) but this party has fallen by the wayside now that we all have little ones. Maybe next year we'll co-host and bring it back?

• Feb. 26 is National Chili Day. To celebrate, I'm going to make white chicken chili, my brother's famous corn-bread (refer to my Nov. 19 article for the recipe) and a crisp green salad.

• Feb. 28 is Open That Bottle Night. Note to self — be sure to invite mom and dad over on this night as dad can always be counted on to bring over a great bottle of wine, no matter what the occasion.

• Lastly, Jan. 25 was my dad's birthday and I made the desserts.

Dad loves dessert so I spoiled him with two varieties: dark chocolate raspberry bomb and coeur a la creme, which translated means "heart of cream." Look for this recipe in my Feb. 11 article.

Happy birthday dad — I can think of no better reason to celebrate than by honouring you and your life.

Crystal Fold

makes 8 large wraps


  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup-1 cup hoisin sauce (use more if you like the mixture quite saucy)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soya sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 can (8 oz.) sliced water chestnuts
  • 1 cup grated daikon (Japanese radish which looks like a large white carrot — optional)
  • 8 large lettuce leaves, washed and dried Cook pork (breaking up with spoon) over medium heat in a non-stick skillet until no longer pink.


  • Add diced onion and cook for three-four minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Drain off any fat.
  • Add minced garlic and cook for one-two minutes until fragrant.
  • Add hoisin sauce, soya sauce, grated carrot, water chestnuts and daikon (if using) and mix well to incorporate.
  • Cook for another two minutes or until the mixture is hot.
  • Divide pork mixture among lettuce leaves. Fold lettuce over filling and then roll up.

quick tip

President’s Choice now sells 227-gram packages of crispy lettuce wraps in the produce department that make this meal even easier to prepare. You could also top washed mixed greens or torn iceberg lettuce with the pork filling if you don’t want to roll the mixture into wraps.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

clean eating for the new year with salmon & salad - recipe: Julie Garner's Brown Sugar Salmon recipe: Lynn Johnston's Maple Blue Cheese Salad

It's the beginning of a new year, so many of us are trying to eat "lighter" after the holidays. I'm not exactly known for my low-fat cooking (I prefer to take smaller portions of great tasting foods so that I don't have to deprive myself), but I must admit that I'm craving vegetables, salads and healthy proteins after indulging in my fair share of chocolate (and cookies and scones and potatoes and gravy, among other things).

My lovely "in-law-mother" Lynn (my brother's wife's mother) prepared an absolutely delicious salad for our annual Christmas Eve family get-together and I am so pleased that she passed along the recipe to me. This salad was one of the best I've ever tasted, and when paired with salmon, it makes a delicious, complete meal.

My dear friend, Julie Garner, makes a fabulous brown sugar salmon and she also agreed to share her recipe with me. Julie is one busy lady — she commutes daily to Toronto for work, is expecting her first baby next month, is married to a small-business owner — and yet still finds the time to cook and entertain often.

She has mastered creating delicious yet easy recipes, thus allowing herself more time with her guests.

When I called Julie to ask her for her recipe and for permission to mention her in the article, we got to chatting. She asked me what the theme of the article was and I replied, "healthy eating."

She chuckled (OK, she howled) and said, "Danes, Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, blue cheese, nuts and maple syrup — do you seriously consider this healthy?"

To which I replied (albeit defensively), "Yes — the main ingredients are mixed greens and salmon after all, and don't the leafy greens and vegetables cancel out the blue cheese, nuts and syrup?" Julie thought about it and then agreed — she classified this dish as "clean eating."

Julie Garner's Brown Sugar Salmon


  • four, five to six ounce skinless and boneless filets of salmon
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (for the best results, grate the Parmesan yourself, but if you're in a pinch, you can also used the pre-grated or jarred variety)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste


  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Combine the Parmesan cheese and brown sugar together in a shallow bowl. Add freshly-cracked black pepper to taste (I like a lot).
  • Coat all sides of salmon in the parmesan-sugar mixture and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet (pat any extra parmesan-sugar mixture on the tops of the salmon filets).
  • Bake salmon for 12 to 15 minutes or until cooked to your liking.
  • Serve on top of a mixed green salad (see below).

Lynn Johnston's Maple Blue Cheese Salad

When I make the dressing for this salad, I double the below (original) recipe because I love to have homemade salad dressing on hand in the fridge — then there is never an excuse not to eat your greens.

The recipe below makes a generous half cup of dressing (the doubled recipe makes a little over one cup).

This recipe was adapted from Cottage Life magazine — it was a contest winner in 2004.


  • 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon of fresh oregano)


  • Place all of the dressing ingredients into a 500-millilitre mason jar (see tip below) and shake until well blended.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired.
  • To finish, toss mixed salad greens with desired amount of dressing and fresh vegetables and/or fruit.
  • Top each portion of salad with a filet of brown sugar salmon.

Note: The original salad recipe calls for green onions, cherry tomatoes, English cucumber, pecans and crumbled blue cheese.

When I made it, I added some sliced blood oranges and substituted walnuts for the pecans (walnuts are an amazing source of omega 3 fats and I recently read that eating plenty of these can increase your baby's IQ by as much as 10 points).

Lynn serves the blue cheese on the side, as not everyone likes it (more for me, I say). If you want, you can also substitute a tangy chévre or feta for the blue cheese.

quick tip

Lynn brought the salad dressing in a small mason jar, which is such a fantastic idea. If it separates, all you need to do is give it a quick shake. No risk of leakage either, so it's perfect for potlucks. I also discovered that this is the easiest way to make dressing with a fussy eight-month-old on your hip. Especially if he is teething and wants to put everything in his mouth, including a whisk.

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