• Cooking
  • Cupid’s Menu

    It’s surprising how many things one should consider when planning to cook a romantic dinner for two. Obviously, if you’re trying to impress someone, you want to deliver a meal that is both delicious and attractive, but what are the potential pitfalls to be avoided? First off – keep your menu on the light side. You don’t want to lull your date into a carb coma. Next up, opt for some fresh, bright flavours. Citrus is good for that, as are raw vegetables. Avoid raw garlic, or too much of any overpowering flavour that’s likely to linger on the palate long after dinner is done. Consider dishes in terms of how easy or challenging they are to consume. Watching someone gnaw on ribs or saw away at a steak is definitely not romantic. Even trying to daintily slurp up a bowl of long pasta can be problematic. Lastly, think about the time and effort. It’s usually better to have some of the elements made ahead of time so you aren’t shackled to the stove while the object of your affection is left neglected on the couch. I therefore present to you one suggested romantic menu for two, ideal for Valentine’s Day…or any of the other 364 days of the year. I hope some – or all – of these dishes can help you work a little of Cupid’s magic in your own kitchen.

    Gougères (savoury cheese puffs)


    These tasty little bites are said to hail from the Burgundy region of France, where they are often served at room temperature to accompany tastings in wine cellars although they also make regular appearances served warm as appetizers. Composed of only butter, water (or milk), flour and eggs, choux pastry puffs up beautifully thanks to the air incorporated by beating the batter vigorously, as well as by steam created while the very moist dough is baking. The key to gougères’ rich, delicious flavour is a few seasonings and a generous amount of grated cheese; Gruyère, Comté or Emmentaler are most commonly used. They are the perfect pop-in-your-mouth offering for parties and best of all, they can be made ahead – you can even freeze the shaped dough for several weeks and bake as needed.

    Seared Scallops with Grapefruit and Vanilla

    This recipe has vaulted to the very top of my list of dishes that I would eat day after day if I could. Buy the biggest, freshest scallops you can find and transform them into something magical thanks to this outstanding sauce.

    Fennel, Apple and Pistachio Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Vinaigrette

    Salads perk up the palate in so many ways. Fruits and vegetables combined with a brightly flavoured dressing make for a refreshing element in a multi-course feast, or a delicious light meal all on their own. This salad hits all the right notes – it’s got loads of crunch along with touches of sweet, sour and salty. For a more elegant presentation, serve salads individually plated rather than in a large bowl. This way you can both divide the ingredients evenly and arrange the components a little more artistically.

    Mini Pavlovas

    mini pavlova

    What’s not to love about Pavlova? Meringue, whipped cream and fresh fruit – a perfect trio of textures and tastes. Named for the legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, the dessert was purportedly first created in her honour during a tour of New Zealand in the 1920s. Unlike traditional meringues which are usually soft throughout, the inclusion of cornstarch in Pavlova gives it a crispy exterior and adds to its delicate texture. In the past I have always made larger Pavlovas which can be rather tricky to serve; by shaping individual or miniature versions, that problem is eliminated and the dessert looks much prettier too! Two more great things: this dessert is gluten-free AND you can use lactose-free yogurt instead of whipped cream!

  • Cooking
  • Tips for Choosing and Using a Paring Knife

    paring knifeA paring knife picks up where a chef’s knife leaves off. It’s best for slicing and mincing items that are too small for an 8- to 10-inch blade, such as garlic, shallots, or strawberries. “Because the average paring knife blade is about 3 1/2 inches long, it’s a great tool for any foods that require an attention to detail,” McDermott says.

    Avoid using paring knives to cut very hard vegetables, such as carrots, celery root, or parsnips. These smaller knives don’t carry enough weight to easily slice through the foods, which may prompt you to increase the pressure or tighten your grip as you’re cutting. “If you find yourself applying pressure at any point, you’re doing something wrong,” McDermott counsels. Forcing the cut is a signal that you aren’t using the right blade for the job, and it can be dangerous, too, causing the knife to slip. – Epicurious Tips

    Victorinox Swiss Classic Paring Knife

    “I have a few tools in the kitchen that no one but me is allowed to touch. My DH has jokingly (I think) dubbed these items “sacred” and so far has stuck to the rule. This knife is the latest addition to the Sacred Tool area.

    I saw this paring knife reviewed on a PBS tv show. I was skeptical, even though the items on the show usually proved themselves. I just couldn’t believe that a knife at this price could be as good as they said. Needless to say, I was so very wrong. I have used this knife for things I’m sure would make the tv folks have a heart attack and it has come through with flying colors. It is amazingly sharp. It’s amazingly comfortable to use. It’s very light, weight-wise; those who prefer heavier or hefty feeling knives might not care for it. For me, it’s perfect. I have smallish hands and also have arthritis. The lighter weight and size are ideal for any number of slicing/cutting jobs in the kitchen. I don’t put it in the dishwasher (all the Sacred Tools are hand washed!) but I have poured boiling hot water over it occasionally to sterilize it, which hasn’t hurt it so far.

    If I could give this knife 15 stars I would. I use it constantly and haven’t had to sharpen it yet. It may not be to everyone’s taste but I highly recommend giving it a try.”  – Review by Amber

  • Cooking
  • A Test for Ceramic Knives

    Jordan Milford put six ceramic chef’s knives through their paces and provided this complete write up revealing that not all ceramic knives are equal.

    ceramic knives

    The knives were chosen based on an internet search for ceramic knives and ranged in price from $40 to $200. I then proceeded to contact all of the vendors to determine if they would be willing to provide samples and participate. Here are the other brands that I was unable to contact and/or refused to participate: Asahi (ASKB8H7), Yoshi, Silicone Zone, Boker, Stoneline. Note: Even though Kyocera refused to provide me with a sample, I felt it was necessary to compare against since they are the current market leader.

    All of the knives were tested out-of-the-box because based on the same assumption made in the original test (i.e. that most readers will not be hand sharpening their knives). I felt this assumption was even more valid in the case of ceramic knives which pride themselves on holding an edge and not needing to resharpened. In addition, most manufacturers recommended knives be sent back for sharpening which I assume would return it to an out-of-the-box condition anyway.

    I followed the same test procedure as Michael to evaluate the knives and decided to add one steel knife as a control. Originally, I was going to take the top knife from the previous test but had trouble getting a sample and also wanted to compare it to a knife I was used to using. I therefore chose the Calphalon knife that I use and purchased a new one to ensure it would be tested in the same out-of-the-box condition.

    The following test procedures are taken from the original chef knife test performed by Michael Chu. The only change necessary for the ceramic knives was a small force was required to advance the knives. The ceramic knives weigh significantly less than steel counterparts and therefore the weight of the knife itself is not sufficient to complete the cut.

    Click here for the full test results.

    The Kyocera Revolution outperformed all of the other knives tested followed closely by the Victorinox and Kyocera Damascus. Surprisingly, I did not feel that the Kyocera Damascus knife functioned any better than the revolution (and not as well in some instances). At more than double the price, I believe that this knife may be only more appealing due to it’s look and not worth the price. The other ceramic knives functioned decently and are considered entry level knives but I do not feel that they are any better than a traditional steel blade. I do not feel that ceramic knives are ready to replace steel knives but find that I would utilize them in certain applications; I personally plan to utilize both.

  • Cooking
  • The Versatile Rice Cooker

    what rice cooker can doRice cookers are much more versatile than the name lets on.

    Whether you’re a rogue chef experimenting with new kitchen tools or a college student looking for a be-all and end-all appliance, this gadget might be everything you need and more.

    Basic electric rice cookers work by heating liquid in an inner pot to steam or boil the contents. Then, once the rice cooker senses a certain temperature, it reverts to a low temperature “keep warm” function. The most basic rice cookers have just two settings: cook and keep warm. Some are more complex, with options for slow cooking and precisely adjusting the temperature. Others — in our opinion, the ultimate rice cookers — sing a song to you when your rice is ready.

    Having a rice cooker is like having a little sous chef sitting on your counter. Just pile in the ingredients and leave it to do its thing — it will turn off on its own, so there’s no need to stand by to watch it.

    Things you can make in a rice cooker that aren’t rice.

    Hard-Boiled Eggs

    Use the steam basket that comes with your rice cooker to “hard boil” eggs. The eggs will take 20-25 minutes, depending on how you like them cooked.


    Depending on the oatmeal consistency you prefer, you may have to experiment with the ratio of water to oats. Use the directions on the oatmeal packaging as a starting point, and once you find the perfect combination, the process can’t be more simple.

    Once you’ve measured your oats and water, pour them into the inner pot, stir to combine, turn the rice cooker on and wait for it to be done. Simple as that! Add in fruit and spices for a more exciting breakfast.

    Mashed Potatoes

    First, steam potatoes in your rice cooker until they are tender. (You can either place them in the steaming basket, or directly in the pot.) Then, mash the potatoes with butter and milk until they are the consistency you prefer.

    Steamed Vegetables

    Most rice cookers come with a steaming basket, which is an easy way to consistently achieve steamed veggie perfection.

    You can also throw veggies on top of a batch of rice as it cooks for a healthy alternative to fried rice.

    Click here for a venison chilli recipe.

    Chocolate Fondue

    Melt down chocolate in your rice cooker for the perfect pot of fondue. The warming function will keep the chocolate consistently melted and deliciously silky. Break out the skewers and let the dipping begin.

    Macaroni and Cheese

    This mac and cheese recipe is super easy (and cheesy). After you cook your pasta in the rice cooker and throw in the remaining ingredients, the magical gadget will do the rest of the work for you.


    Find out what the best rice cooker is for a family is in 2016.

  • Cooking
  • My New Beautiful Cookware Set

    I love my cookware! Heavy, beautiful, I enjoy cooking again! This set replaced pots I had had for years. My son is a professional chef and recommended these to me. I love the way they cook and the way they look. High heat isn’t needed because the heat is evenly distributed.
    stainless steel cookware
    In return for this incremental trouble, you get to feel like a professional chef. The pots and pans are works of art to behold, with a beautiful mirror finish, very thick and solid feeling, and, yes – the heat really DOES climb up the side compared with bottom heating pans. They are just beautiful to handle and use. The lids fit well, are heavy-duty and are well designed with a concave shape (sheds condensation down the sides) – I don’t end up wishing they were glass. I expect these best cookware to last a lifetime.

    I cook with induction, and the pans work great, and display very little “noise”, although I don’t have other pans to compare them with – not a factor either way. I could not be happier – and doubt that any other pan (AllClads included, which, yes, are wonderful pans too) would outperform or outlook.

    More reading: Things You Should Know About Cookware

    For the past 10+ years I have purchased several sets of “high end” non stick cookware including Calphalon and more recently ceramic based non stick cookware, paying anywhere from $130-$300 per set). I cook every day and typically use 2-3 pots/pans each day. The longest any set lasted was about 2 years, which seems way too short of a time.

    This is my first set of stainless steel cookware. At first I was very nervous about having to use more oil, etc. So far it has not been a big issue. The only challenge is scrambled eggs, which I do cook a lot. If you let the pan sit for 2 hours, it cleans just fine. But I have opted to just buy a non-stick pan to use for eggs. (One pan every 2+ years for less than $15 is OK by me.)

  • Cooking
  • Sharing the Basics of Choosing a Japanese Chef Knife

    How to Buy a Japanese Chef’s Knife by KimberlyRose

    After learning so much about how to pick a cutting board at Bernal Cutlery, I decided to ask Josh about the basics of choosing a chef’s knife. Bernal Cutlery primarily focuses on Japanese-style knives, but also carries new French knives as well as a selection of refurbished recent, vintage and antique knives from around the world.

    Bernal Cutlery doesn’t carry the seven or eleven piece knife sets that are often found in cutlery stores, simply due to the fact that most people will never use seven or eleven different kinds of knives. Instead, Josh encourages purchasing the nicest possible chef’s knife that one can afford, and then building a knife kit around that central piece. If taken care of, a good chef’s knife can last more than ten years.

    To the average home cook in search of a good chef’s knife, Josh recommends starting with a Japanese-style 210mm stainless steel blade. The alternative, carbon, requires more upkeep and care, as carbon blades are prone to rusting if left wet or with food on them (just ask Diane who almost cried when hers rusted on the drying rack because she hadn’t wiped the blade down properly). Also, if you are going to cut a lot of food that will cause the steel to react (think peaches, red onions or artichokes), wiping the blade clean during use will prevent the food from acquiring a slight metallic taste.

    Many home cooks like myself enjoy the familiar weight of a heavy German knife. Japanese knives, on the other hand, tend to be thin and light, and may feel too delicate and unsteady for people used to more weight. Before testing recipes, I only used German chef’s knives. After using a Japanese-style chef’s knife during the day then returning home to a heavier German knife, I have decided to make the switch. I find that the Japanese knife moves easier, can slice thinner, and doesn’t leave my hand tired. For someone that cooks a few times a week, the difference between a heavy and a light knife may not be important, but for professionals or avid home cooks that spend hours chopping and slicing, a lightweight knife might make a big difference. Additionally, the thin, Japanese-style knives are great for fine vegetable work. The thinner blade does not wedge and crush the sides of vegetables, resulting in vegetable pieces with smoother surfaces, less oxidization and less discoloration. Josh, who encounters many fans of German knives, encourages his customers to give Japanese knives a chance by keeping a bag of carrots in the store for them to chop to their hearts content.

    I asked Josh to recommend four knives for the average home cook, and to tell me a little about each:


    Ashi Hamono 210mm Gyuto: Swedish Stainless Steel with Western Handle

    This Ashi has an excellent edge life and is very easy to sharpen. Made in small batch production and hand forged from single steel, the Ashi is light and thin, but not as delicate as many similar knives. This knife retails for $220.


    Yoshikane 180mm Gyuto: Stainless Cladding, Semi-Stainless Core and Japanese Handle

    The Yoshikane above is a high quality, hand forged option that is slightly shorter than the typical chef’s knife. Constructed of three layers of steel: the outside is stainless and the core is more like carbon steel. This knife is easy to sharpen, but it also has a hard center and so it holds its edge well. The Yoshikane is thicker and a bit heavier than the Ashi. This knife retails at $180.


    Sakai Kikumori Nihon-kou 210mm Gyuto: Carbon Steel with Western Handle

    At $90 dollars less than the higher end Ashi, this Sakai has a similar outline but is a little wider and a little heavier, with a slightly shorter edge life.  This is a good entry level knife with a lot of bang for buck, especially for those planning on using a whetstone at home. They make a stainless steel version of this knife that is slightly thinner. The carbon steel version retails at $130.


    Asai Tezukuri 180mm Gyuto: Powder Metal with Japanese Handle

    This gorgeous top-shelf Japanese knife is hand forged and features a powdered steel core with an incredibly long edge life that is easy to sharpen. The beautiful acid etched Damascas cladding breaks up the surface area of the knife and makes for smooth cutting. In case you can’t tell, I’d be beyond thrilled if my boyfriend took the superfluous language in this knife’s description as an indicator of what I would love to see under the Christmas tree this year. Unfortunately for me, this knife retails for $358.

    In terms of knife care, Josh says there are three main culprits that cause a large percentage of the knife damage he deals with:

    • The number one knife no-no is the dishwasher! Even though some manufactures state that their knives are dishwasher safe, don’t subject your knives to the high heat and caustic water of the dishwasher. Interestingly, stainless steel is a bit of a misnomer; this material stains less, but is not impervious to staining and rust.
    • In terms of at-home sharpening, Josh recommends learning to use a good sharpening steel or a whetstone, and cautions that using a diamond steel or a pull through sharpener (especially two carbide blades or disks that shave the metal off the knife) can be very damaging.
    • In terms of knife use, scraping on hard surfaces or wiggling and bending knives (such as cutting through a large squash) can do significant damage to both the blade and the knife’s edge. Using knives deliberately and making sure your cutting surface is soft enough to protect your knife’s edge both can go a long way to keeping your blade in good shape.
  • Cooking
  • Changed to Stainless Steel Cookware!

    I was shopping for additional 3 qt saucepan to add to my All-Clad (AC) collection. A friend recommended this brand. When I looked it up, I found the set instead. Checked it out at the local kitchen store and I must say that the build quality and finishing is almost (95-97%) on par with AC SS set I have now. I love these new pans! I get a much better color on my meat and its easier to whisk, etc, on these than being careful on the non-stick Calphalon I own. While I have yet to clean them with the Bar Keepers’ Friend product to remove the discoloration from use, the stuck on food comes off relatively easy after a short hot water soak on the counter. Best part yet, the look fantastic when you take them out. I got many compliments about my shiny cookware during the holidays!
    stainless steel cookware
    This set had nice rolled rims to allow pouring without a spill or mess, not so on my AC pots. Ditto for the brushed SS finish on the outside. The lids are a tad lighter than the AC lids but do not effect cooking. Decided to give it a shot for a little bit more that what the All Clad pot would have cost by itself. This set was made in China unlike the AC which is made in USA.

    For the first test I sauteed onions and mushrooms, then cooked a chicken breast, and finally made a proper pan sauce. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually licked the sauce from the plate it was so good. No other pan I’ve ever owned produced such a rich and delicious sauce. I did experience some sticking on the chicken but it was because I didn’t dry the meat before placing in the pan. Lesson learned. Clean up was easy. I did experience a hazy residue in the pan after washing but I cleaned it up with some Bar Keeper’s Friend and the residue completely disappeared. I am very happy with the Cuisinart set and highly recommend it to anyone in the market for new pots and pans.

    Other Topics: All Clad cookware set will last you a lifetime

    The fact that they are molded at the bottom.. and the tri-ply is NOT a separate part. My friend had pans that had the tri-ply on the bottom as a separate piece.. and after a few years the bottom of the pan came off! I’ve had this set for 2 years thus far. Easy to clean. Even cooking. Browns meat beautifully. Just enough parts of the set to meet my needs but not too many for clutter purposes. Biggest bonus is the price! Product is priced great and I like the lifetime warranty. I can see passing the pans on to my kids one day!