Category Archives: Food – Cooking & Restaurants

Hungarian comfort food – Plum Dumplings!

I was just looking at for some ideas and came across a recipe that looked oh so familiar!  It was for an Austrian dish called “Zwetschgenknödel”.  Hungarians make these too!  They are called Szilvas (Plum) Gomboc (pronounced ‘gumboltz).  They are a plum filled dumpling smothered in toasted and sugary breadcrumbs.

The dough is made with mashed potatoes and flour.  The dough is rolled out and cut into squares with a plum, prune or spoon of thick plum jam placed in the centre; then bring all corners up to the centre and pinch off making sure the filling is sealed inside.  The dumplings are boiled and then covered with browned breadcrumbs.

Definitely an unconventional dish, especially to eat for dinner, but it could be served for dessert or brunch.  Our family loves this Hungarian Comfort Food.   I made these with my Mom – baking together was always something very special since I lived far away in Vancouver.  My Mom has now passed away so I continue to make them to share with my Dad, brother and sisters.

You can find the recipe for the Austrian version at by searching for ‘Zwetschgenknödel’ or check out the April 2013 edition of Chatelaine for the Hungarian version.  They are basically the same although the Austrian version rolls the dumpling into a ball and then pushes a plum into the middle and then pinches the opening closed.  You may find that method easier.  Maybe this will become one of your favourite dishes.

Hungarian Comfort Food
Hungarian Comfort Food

Good Eats in Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec

My friend Marlene is a “foodie” and luckily being friends with her since University set me on the way to enjoy good food and wine – cooking at home for friends or eating out. So when I was looking for some recommendations for restaurants in Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City, I asked Marlene.
Here are her suggestions:
  • 18 — an exceptional but high-end restaurant – good for a special occasion;
  • La Botega – located in Byward Market.  It’s a grocery store in the front and a deli/café in the back.
  • Royal Thai
  • Social


  • Les Pyrenees – very close to Holder; it’s always busy – good place to try for breakfast or lunch.  It’s a chacouterie.
  • Holder — a typical French restaurant

Quebec City:

  • La Grillade – a Lebanese restaurant.  Get your lunch to go or there is a small patio
  • Bakery Le Paillard  (not sure if the word Bakery is part of name) — for breakfast or lunch — croissants, pastries
I hope I get the opportunity to try out some of these restaurants.  In the meantime, let me know if you go and what you think.  I’m always looking for suggestions too.  These days, I’m more into budget restaurants, so keep that in mind.

It’s almost Pancake Day! Or do you know it as Shove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday?

pancakes - Shrove Tuesday-Pancake Day-Fat TuesdayIt’s almost Pancake Day! Or do you know it as Shove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday?  Anyway you say it or make it, pancakes are a wonderful dish to be enjoy at brunch or for dinner.

Crepes rather than pancakes were more the norm in our household.  And we called them palacinta – the Hungarian version of a crepe.

We filled ours with a sweetened cottage cheese filling with a sprinkling of cinnamon and sometimes some raisins.  We spread the filling over the crepe – not to close to the edges, and then rolled them up.  There was a nifty trick to holding the palacinta in our hands – you bent it in half and put the back half between your pinky and ring finger and the front half was placed between your first finger and thumb.  And if you didn’t like the cottage cheese filling, you could spread it with homemade strawberry jam.

Over the years I have added more variations such as drizzling a nice warm fruit compote on top or using ricotta instead of cottage cheese.  My cousin tells me she makes them with a walnut filling which sounds absolutely fabulous.  I think my sisters and I would like them with a poppy seed filling.  Of course these new variations necessitate eating them with a fork and knife.  Until now, I had forgot about the original way to eat palacinta.  Perhaps I’ll make them for Fat Tuesday / Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday.

Sunday morning breakfast at Prospect House

Sunday morning breakfast at Prospect House – yes breakfast, not brunch.  Something I’m not all that familiar with.  When on my own, I try to sleep past breakfast and move straight to brunch.  In Vancouver, I often walked over to my favourite restaurant, which closed, God Rest it’s Soul, to eat brunch at The Wild Garlic.  Luckily I was in Vancouver in March 2012 and enjoyed a couple of brunches with friends and dinner out with some good friends who were also regulars.  It was a small, stylist, friendly restaurant where the people who worked there were always happy to see you arrive.  Big hello’s, how are you doing?, and even some hugs when I had to say goodbye. Little did I know that the restaurant would later close. Sad news indeed.  This little café served the best breakfast in the City.  Perfect basted eggs, perfect fried potatoes, some grilled Italian sausage, perfect toast and a damn good cup of coffee, bottomless.  And the price couldn’t be beat.  When I first went, the price was unbelievably cheap at $3.50 and over several years the final price was $6.00.  The quality stayed the same and even at that price, it was a good deal.  The menu also offered eggs benedict, French Toast, omelettes – most items had a hint of garlic and sometimes a nod the owner’s heritage, with barbequed pork or bok choy. Sandy was from Hong Kong. I wonder what she is doing now that the restaurant is closed.

It was my go-to place where I would take my friends and family, but most often I went on my own, read The Georgia Straight, a section of The Globe & Mail or The Vancouver Sun and sometimes I’d take one of my novels. As much as I enjoyed taking my friends, I truly enjoyed going on my own. I never felt lonely or sad to be eating by myself because I always had someone to talk with. It was an open style kitchen so I got to know the chefs. In the morning it was an older Chinese woman and later the young male chef would arrive to start prepping for the dinner crowd. The waitresses were friendly – always smiling and very efficient. But I digress, as this post is about my Sunday morning breakfast at Prospect House.

These musings didn’t start as a post, but instead it was an email that I sent to a friend, Pat.  This is what I told her about my early Sunday morning:

“Up, too bright and early for me.  I’m working at Prospect House, so I’m cooking breakfast.  There’s only one resident this morning, Norman, and myself.  I should have asked him if he wanted to sleep in this morning, because he seems to be doing just that.  It’s 8:10 and he’s not down yet.  Usually, the residents show up right on time for meals.  Oh well, the coffee is ready, the bacon is keeping warm on the stove and I have time for an email.”

I was writing to her because I wanted to send her a link to the Oxford Artists’ website so that she could see the artwork of Krista Osinga.  She was the Artist of the Month for January at Station Arts and Pat hadn’t been.

I went on to tell Pat that “I had sent Krista an email following her show saying how I liked her work, etc. It was quite a nice, complimentary email.” Krista had quite a unique style using coffee as her paint for a full range of browns from dark brown-black to ruddy reds.  “I guess I wrote her a fan email by telling her how I loved her style and technique, the subject matter which included old trucks, farm tractors, animals – all of which was perfect for the rural roots that most people in Tillsonburg, including me, are familiar. I mentioned that I couldn’t find a website for her.  I just got her reply last night, and disappointingly, Krista didn’t even acknowledge my kind, enthusiastic words. 

This is what she wrote, and I quote:  I’m one of the artist on the artists of oxford website.  Just do a serch (sic) for it and I’m their (sic) with the other members., end quote.  Frankly, I think she needs a lesson in PR.  I like her art very much, but this cryptic email didn’t leave a very good impression.  Is it because she’s young?  Did she send her email from her phone and therefore she’s used to texting  short emails?  Is she already jaded at this early stage of her career? Or was she just in a hurry to get out her response since I had sent the email about 10 – 14 days ago. Maybe she doesn’t like email – too old-fashioned compared to texting or twitter?  Although, the bio I picked up at the Gallery only listed an email address and as I already said, my google search didn’t turn up any links to this artist.  So perhaps in addition to a PR lesson, she also needs a lesson in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in order to get her name to pop up within the first page of a web search. She’s young, I’m older, maybe is it the proverbial generation gap?”

And there I go, and digress again.  Back to Sunday morning breakfast at Prospect House.  My email continued:  “Well Norm is downstairs for breakfast – a little sleepy, but he’s having his first cup of coffee and I’m about to fry up some eggs.  As the cobwebs cleared from his head we had a nice chat over breakfast.  I was much more awake than him because I had now been up since 7:30 am, cooked breakfast and had finished one cup of coffee.

I tried to hold back my chatter – I was wide awake and anxious to talk.  I asked Norm if he knew the term ‘full bifter’ or ‘half-bifter’? Or does it have two ‘f’s’ and spelled ‘biffter’?.  He did not.  This is a term I’ve used for some time and found out it was also in use by my Scottish friend Ronnie.  We tried to find out the origin of the word and I think Ronnie even asked a librarian friend all to no avail.  I use the term to mean something like ‘everything on it’ as in a pizza, the full bifter would mean the pizza had every possible topping.  A full English breakfast or fry-up could also be called a full bifter when it has eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, fried potatoes and toast.  A half-bifter might only be several of those items.  I think this was too much information for Norm while he was still trying to wake up so I went back to eating my breakfast.”

Now as I’m writing this post, I have a sick feeling about the word ‘full bifter’.  We used to call the toilet or outhouse ‘the biffy’.  I hope ‘full bifter’ isn’t related to this term.  I leave it to your imagination to figure out how those two terms could be related.  But again I digress.

As I write this, I’m half listening to Michael Enright on The Sunday Edition on CBC 1 that plays from 9 am to 12 noon.  Right now there is a feature about MS focussing on the question of whether it is caused by a deficiency of Vitamin D?  It seems to mostly affect people of European ancestry which includes many of us that live in Canada.  Is it the northern climate?  Is it a white persons’ disease?  In Canada 133 people get MS while in India only 1 person will get the disease.  India is a Vitamin D rich country and is a different ethnicity.  The show is also featuring interviews with people considering the ‘Liberation Therapy’.  Time to stop writing and listen to this interesting program.

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday morning. There is a deep blanket of pristine white snow which fell through the night and most of the day on Friday. There are some snowflakes fluttering out of the sky. It’s a perfect day.

Chef Wanda Chau, “Bah!” and her shortbread cookies

My friend, Chef Wanda Chau, owns and operates Bah! Baked at Home. Her shortbread cookies were featured on the program “On the Coast” on CBC Radio 1 hosted by Stephen Quinn for its weekly food feature about the upcoming One of a Kind Show.   They tried the Lavender & Vanilla shortbread and the Parmesan shortbread – one sweet and one savoury.  I’ve had both and they are delicious.  I also love her gingersnap cookies which are both chewy and soft.  I’m still trying to find a recipe that will give me the same taste and texture.

They also featured a  pistachio shortbread cookie – recipe below.  It sounds very much like the Butterball Surprises my Mom and I made at Christmas time.  The surprise is the chocolate chips we added to the original recipe from the Five Roses Cookbook.  We roll the cookies into balls and sprinkle with icing sugar after baking.  They are quite lovely for Christmas and because they aren’t in the traditional shapes found with shortbread, people are often surprised with the taste.  The cookies are delicate, flakey and not too rich tasting although filled with butter!  The recipe is a family favourite.  My niece Chloe also bakes these cookies so the family tradition is being carried on from my Mom and me.

I don’t have my Five Roses cookbook with me so this year I am going to use Anna Olson’s recipe as the base and make some with pistachios and some with chocolate chips.  Let me know if you try these.  Happy Baking and Merry Christmas to all!

Pistachio Snowball Cookies by Anna Olson, “Back to Baking”, Whitecap Books, 2011)

• Makes about 4 dozen cookies • (egg-free)

The richness of pistachios complements the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of these dainty cookies.

2 1/3 cups (580 mL) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) shelled, roasted, unsalted pistachios
1/3 cup (80 mL) sugar
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt
1 1/4 cup (310 mL) cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
Icing sugar, for coating

Preheat the oven to 325°f (160°c) and line 2 baking trays with parchment.

Using a food processor, pulse the flour, pistachios, sugar, and salt until the pistachios are finely ground into the mixture. Add the butter and vanilla, and pulse until the dough comes together.

Roll teaspoonfuls of dough into balls about 1 inch (2.5 cm) across and place them 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on the prepared baking trays. Bake the cookies for 15 to 18 minutes, until the bottoms just begin to colour. Cool the cookies completely on the baking trays, then roll them in icing sugar to coat. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week.
Notes from Anna’s kitchen and from Cathy:
Tender nuts like pistachios, pecans, walnuts, and pine nuts can typically be interchanged in recipes, so you can tailor your cookies to suit your tastes or what you may have on hand.

The oils in these nut varieties are quite delicate and can quickly turn rancid. If you do not plan on using your stock of nuts within 2 months, it’s best to store them, well wrapped, in the freezer.

Substitute the nuts with chocolate chips for a nut-free cookie.

Champagne tips

If you love French champagne, but not the price, try some of the New World sparkling wines made in California that are owned by the French Champagne House:  Domaine Chandon (Moet & Chandon), Pacific Echo (Veuve Clicquot), Domaine Carneros (Tattinger) and Mumm Cuvee Napa (Mumm).  One of my favourite sparklers is by Blue Mountain from BC – probably not available in Ontario.