Wednesday, April 22, 2009

putting spring into cooking - recipe: asparagus fritatta with red bell peppers & feta cheese

Finally! Spring has sprung and the snow is gone (for now, at least… I’ve heard rumours about more snow but I’m trying my best to ignore them).

As soon as the white stuff starts to disappear, I get excited about all of the beautiful spring produce that will be available in grocery stores and markets in just a few weeks. One of my favourite spring vegetables is asparagus (Californian and Mexican grown asparagus is available right now, look for local asparagus in a few weeks).

Last week I was fortunate enough to be a guest on both the local television show “daytime”, as well as “Breakfast Television” in Toronto. The idea for both appearances (credit goes to Impact Integrated Communications) was that “economies may be withering, but thanks to the warm weather, asparagus ‘stocks’ (stalks) are again soaring! In summary, I produced three very healthy, very fast, and very easy asparagus and egg based recipes meant to feed a family of four for around five bucks!

Asparagus is an extremely versatile veggie – you can blanch it, steam it, boil it, roast it, microwave it, stir fry it, or bbq it (my fav).

Just before taping our segment on Breakfast Television, a few of the BT staff confessed that although they love eating crisp-tender cooked asparagus found on many a crudité platter, they’re afraid to prepare asparagus at home for fear of overcooking!

Here’s a tip that I shared with the crew – try a technique called blanching – which means putting food (usually vegetables or fruit ) into boiling water briefly, then immediately plunging them into ice-cold water to stop the cooking process (in the culinary world, this last step is known as “shocking”). How long you blanch the asparagus will depend on the thickness of the stalk, but for stalks that are of medium thickness, it should take about three to four minutes (or forget the timer and remove the asparagus from the boiling water as soon as it turns a vibrant green colour).

Lastly, if all else fails and you overcook the asparagus, don’t fret (and definitely don’t pitch it) - puree it into asparagus “guacamole” and serve with tortilla chips! An asparagus guacamole recipe can be found on my website: (go to ‘news’, ‘newsletters’, ‘March 2007’).

Asparagus Frittata with red bell peppers & feta cheese

serves 4 - 6


• 1 lb. (one pound) asparagus, trimmed and blanched
• 2 tbsp (two tablespoons) olive oil
• 1 (one) red bell pepper, julienned
• 1/2 cup (one-half cup) onion, chopped
• 2 tbsp (two tablespoons) Italian parsley, chopped
• 8 (eight) large eggs, beaten
• ¾ cup (three-quarters of one cup) feta cheese, crumbled
• salt and pepper, to taste
• parsley sprigs and/or lemon wedges for garnish, optional


1. Preheat oven to 375º F.

2. Reserve 6 whole, blanched asparagus spears and lightly coat with a bit of the olive oil. Cut remaining asparagus at an angle into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces and set aside.

3. Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat (important note –you must use a frying pan that has an oven-safe handle and one that can go into the oven). Sauté onion and bell pepper until soft, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in asparagus pieces and sauté for 1 minute. Crumble feta cheese on top of vegetables.

4. In a separate bowl, beat eggs. Whisk in chopped parsley and salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture on top of the cooked vegetable-feta cheese mixture in pan.

5. Cover pan with oven-safe lid or tin foil and bake until eggs are just set, about 35-40 minutes. Remove cover, place reserved asparagus spears on top of the frittata in a star shaped pattern and bake until top is lightly browned, about 5-10 minutes. Remove frittata from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Transfer to large platter and garnish with parsley and/or lemon wedges if desired.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

favourite recipe provided by a friend who continues to inspire - recipe: marinated brie

I have been trying (hard!) to wait until “National Friendship Day” (which takes place on the first Sunday of August) to write an article about Tina Roberts.

Let me tell you about Tina. She’s an inspiring friend as well as a loyal client. She encourages me to be creative, to stay focused, to be a strong leader and to stay on top of the trends. In a nutshell, she inspires me to be the best business owner that I can be. By now, you might be wondering why I am writing about her in my column. What does Tina have to do with food, you might ask? Allow me to explain, Tina is a fabulous (with a capital ‘F’) cook AND baker. She has won numerous contests for her recipes, and like me, enjoys sharing her genuine love and passion for food.

Tina has generously shared many of her award-winning recipes with me, including the below delectable marinated brie recipe. December is always a very busy month – for everyone, really, and especially those of us who work in the food industry. Tina stopped by the shop one December afternoon with a wheel of her famous marinated brie. We popped it into the oven and about 20 minutes later, found ourselves swooning over this delectable appetizer.

Probably my favourite of the many fabulous recipes that Tina has shared with me, her blueberry drizzle salad, (another award winner) can be found on my website – I featured this recipe in my August 2008 newsletter and honestly, people are still talking about it. Last summer, I prepared it about three times in one week!

Choosing which of her recipes to feature this week was tough – there are so many I love, including her flaming shrimp (even my hubby David likes it and he isn’t fond of shrimp – he calls them “sea bug filter feeders”), her roasted ratatouille salad, and her summertime pasta salad (again, featuring brie – how could you go wrong?).

Thanks for your inspiration and support Tina, I’m so lucky to call you my friend.

Tina’s award winning marinated barbecued brie
This was a “Cottage Life” recipe contest winner in 1996.
It’s hard to believe that Tina entered this contest without first trying the recipe!


• 2 (two) tablespoons lemon juice
• 1 (one) clove garlic, minced
• 1 (one) teaspoon Dijon mustard
• ¼ (one-quarter) teaspoon pepper
• 1 (one) tablespoon minced fresh parsley
(I like flat-leaf Italian best)
• 2 (two) tablespoons olive oil
• ½ (half) red bell pepper, finely minced (brunoise cut)
• 8 oz. (eight ounce) wheel of brie (can substitute camembert)


  • preheat oven (or bbq!) to 350 F
  • combine all ingredients except the cheese
  • scrape the rind off the top of the cheese and poke full of holes – a chopstick works best
  • pour marinade over cheese and if you have time, marinate overnight (marinate for at least 4 hours for the best results)
  • bake cheese for about 15 minutes – serve with French bread and assorted crackers and biscuits
  • As Tina would say, “guten appétit!”

Lastly, speaking of friends – I want to thank all of you who supported our Bake Sale to Benefit KidsAbility on Friday, April 3rd. I’m so thrilled to announce that we raised $1,709.49 to help children right here in our community! I was delighted, but not surprised, by your generosity and support. I also want to thank Carol, Rose and Mark for their hard work during the sale as well as the baked goodies they provided – the sale could not of happened without you! Thank you also to Avery & Meredith McCorkell for your wonderful hand-made “BAKE SALE” signs! The time and effort you put in (on a PA Day no less) really showed. Lastly, a thank you to Mike Delion, of Delion’s Menswear, for donating the Lacoste shirt as a raffle item for the sale.

Dana Shortt built a business around her love of food. She is the owner-operator of a specialty food store and catering business called “Dana Shortt Gourmet” on Erb Street in Uptown Waterloo. Visit her website at

catering, gourmet food shop, gift baskets