Wednesday, September 29, 2010

a tapenade tribute to zia - recipe: zia maria's olive tapenade

David and I recently received an invitation to his incredibly sweet, Zia (Aunt) Maria’s 75th birthday party. Unfortunately, the party was over a thousand kilometres away in Thunder Bay.

However, along with the invitation, Maria’s daughter, Gabriella, sent some great photos and a request that those who could not attend the celebration share a memory or two of Zia.

It will come as no surprise to the regular readers of my column that most of my memories involve food! Maria is an amazing cook — I’ve written about her before — and we definitely bonded over our love of the kitchen.

Maria has an “old-school” cold room. Growing up, our family’s cold cellar was mainly used for pop, beer, canned goods and perhaps a few jars of pickles or chili sauce that someone had made for us.

I think that my jaw literally dropped when I walked into Zia’s cold room for the first time. It was full of large jugs of homemade wine, vinegars, jams, preserved vegetables, fruit, tomato sauce, hanging prosciutto and the like. I was in heaven — in fact, no trip to Thunder Bay is complete without a walk through what I like to call the “food shrine”.

I have many special memories of Zia and our time together but there are two that stand out in my mind — the first is the day last summer, when she met John for the first time. We spent the day in her backyard.

She has the vegetable garden of my dreams! We watched John run around and stuff himself with her freshly harvested raspberries and peas.

The second memory goes back a few years, to when Zia and I spent the day in her kitchen together. We used her second kitchen, located in the basement of her house. Zia and I spent the day preserving jars of food.

We made a few different items, but the one that brought the biggest smile to my husband David’s face was Zia Maria’s famous olive tapenade. We can never leave Thunder Bay without at least one jar of it, and I was thrilled to have the recipe in my hands after our day together.

This tapenade is great on crackers, flatbread or a sandwich. One of David’s favourite snacks is a fried egg on a toasted sesame seed bagel (ideally from City Cafe) topped with this tapenade and a splash of hot sauce.

zia maria's olive tapenade


  • one 375-ml jar of pitted black olives
  • one 375-ml jar of pitted green olives
  • one 14-oz can of artichoke hearts in water, well drained
  • one 375-ml jar of roasted red peppers, well drained
  • 1/2 tin of anchovies in oil
    (use a couple tablespoons of anchovy paste if you're a bit leery)
  • two or three cloves of garlic
  • peeled fresh parsley, to taste (I use about half a cup)
  • fresh basil, to taste (I use about half a cup)


  • Add all ingredients into the bowl of a cusinart and mix/pulse to desired texture (pulse longer for a smooth texture, shorter for a chunky texture).
  • This will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
  • Serve a la David on bagels, or spread onto baguette slices, top with some goat cheese or mozzarella and bake in a 350F oven until hot and cheese is melted. Also good on pasta — just add some olive oil to thin it out a bit.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

birthday cake memories - recipe: knotty pine’s buttered almond cake

I recently celebrated a birthday. It’s tradition in my family for the birthday guy or gal to give strict instructions on what he/she would like Mom to prepare for the “feast”. This year was a bit different. My brother Adam hosted the dinner and my Mom helped by baking a cake.

Adam treated us to baby back ribs, his famous spicy potato wedges, Caesar salad and Herrle’s corn-on-the-cob. Mom surprised us with a version of the Knotty Pine’s buttered almond cake. Does anyone else remember that amazing creation?

Enjoying that cake four times a year, on each of our birthdays, was another tradition that held fast until the bakery closed down a number of years ago.

Mom recently found the recipe online. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones missing this cake! If you don’t want to go to the effort of making the from-scratch cake recipe, cheat and use a yellow cake box mix — I won’t tell.

Whether you make the cake yourself or not, the best part of the cake is the icing. In fact, I recently dressed up a banana loaf with this icing for a pot luck — yum.

Knotty Pine’s buttered almond cake
(recipe found online)

ingredients: cake

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2/3 cup shortening 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 7 eggs
  • 3 1/3 cups cake and pastry flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups milk

ingredients: cream filling

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 pinch salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond flavouring
ingredients: buttered almond icing
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon margarine
  • 4 cups icing sugar
  • 6 tablespoons table cream
  • 1 cup chopped almonds, toasted

method: cake

  • Cream butter and shortening together.
  • Add sugar and beat until mixture is smooth and light.
  • Add eggs one at a time and beat until well blended.
  • Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
  • Add dry ingredients and milk alternately to creamed mixture. Mix gently until well combined.
  • Pour batter into two 10 inch or three 9 inch round cake pans that have been lightly buttered and lined with wax paper.
  • Bake at 350F for 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Let cool on racks for about 10 minutes then remove from pans and cool completely.

method: cream filling

  • Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in the top of a double boiler, being careful not to scald.
  • Make a paste of remaining milk, cornstarch, sugar and salt.
  • Add egg yolks and stir until well mixed.
  • Add a little hot milk to egg yolk mixture to warm it, then stir into milk in double boiler.
  • Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until filling is thickened and smooth and there is no raw starch taste — about five minutes. Stir in flavoring if desired.
  • To prevent a skin from forming on top, cover with plastic wrap and stir occasionally during cooling.

method: buttered almond icing

  • Heat butter and margarine in a small skillet or heavy saucepan until foam on top turns a golden brown.
  • Stir occasionally. Do not over-brown or the flavour will be burnt rather than roasted.
  • Cool slightly.
  • Place icing sugar in mixing bowl and mix in cream, then gradually stir in browned butter, scraping pan well.
  • Beat until icing is smooth and creamy.
  • Assembling cake
  • Slice each 10-inch layer in half horizontally. Do not split nine-inch layers.
  • Top one cake layer with filling and repeat, topping with final cake layer.
  • Cover top and sides of cake with a thin layer of icing.
  • Immediately add almonds to top and/or sides of cake and refrigerate.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

coconut sauce from the eastern seaboard - recipe: coconut lime sauce

published: september 1, 2010

David and I were fortunate enough to take two, one-week vacations this summer. The first was a fabulous trip in July to Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio (yes, Ohio) which I featured in my Aug. 18 article.

We’ve just returned from our second trip, which was to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Yes, Delaware. I’m amazed at the number of people (read: everyone) who were shocked by our choice of vacation destinations.

All I can say is that Rehoboth was highly recommended by a good client and it’s been featured in my favourite magazine, Coastal Living, several times.

Because of its location on the eastern seaboard, Rehoboth Beach is a popular summer destination for New Yorkers, Baltimoreans and Philadelphians.

The two snags to Rehoboth being so popular are the crowds and the traffic. But, like most everything, there is much good to accompany the bad. In addition to the beautiful beaches, Rehoboth has great shopping (with no sales tax!) tons of fun activities and of course, great food. Also, there is certainly no shortage of amazing restaurants to choose from.

We narrowed down our faves to two fantastic restaurants: Adriatico, a family-run Italian restaurant just off the strip, and Big Fish, an incredible seafood restaurant located on the main highway as you enter the city of Rehoboth itself.

We ate at Big Fish three times in one week! It’s so popular (for good reasons) that the line-ups start at 5 p. m. and even earlier on rainy, non-beach days.

Highlights included pecan crusted tilapia with a coconut-rum sauce, grouper with mushroom sauce, ridiculously tender calamari with a duo of dipping sauces, citrus swordfish, caramelized salmon and a plethora of delicious sides, including sautéed summer squash, redskin mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and our fave, “Neva’s famous potatoes”, which are grated scalloped potatoes loaded with cheese.

Here’s my take on their fabulous coconut sauce, which is delicious drizzled onto baked or grilled fish and rice. You can also use this as a stir-fry sauce.

coconut lime sauce


  • 1 tablespoon canola oil 2 garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated or
  • very finely chopped 1 14-oz can of coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons tamari or light soya
  • sauce 1 lime (zest and juice)


  • Heat canola oil in medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add minced garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about one to two minutes. Be careful not to burn. Add the coconut milk and sugar to saucepan, stir.
  • Turn the heat to high and boil the sauce until it thickens and is reduced to about one-and-a-half cups. This should take about six or seven minutes.
  • Remove from heat and add the tamari and the zest and juice of one lime. Stir to combine.
  • Note: For a spicy version, add a half to one teaspoon of thai red curry paste while cooking the garlic and ginger mixture.

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