Christmas Eve Tourtière

In our family, there has to be Tourtière at Christmas time. It’s one of those traditions that everyone loves and expects after church on Christmas Eve. If we’re visiting my parents at the farm, church is a 45 minute drive either way so we usually begin eating the Tourtière, along with many other appetizers and treats, around 1 am. That way we will have full tummies to withstand the gauntlet of frenzied present opening and merry making that often lasts until 3 or 4 in the morning. It was pretty brutal when my kids were small, but they are older now and the whole family is able to have a good sleep-in Christmas morning.

Our last two Christmases have been here in Calgary and we celebrate Christmas Eve a little differently here in the city. Now that the kids are older, we can give them the gift of charity by volunteering with a local organization called The Magic of Christmas. The Magic of Christmas is an organization that has been running for years. They are there for people who are going through a rough patch and as a result of circumstances are unable to give their children a good Christmas. In order to qualify, the family must be nominated by a friend or family member. Calgary Transit donates all the busses, the drivers donate their time, and the toys are donated throughout the year during various toy drives and strategically placed boxes in many businesses. In the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve, volunteers sort through the toys by age and sex, all the way from baby to adult and each box carries toys suitable for that age range. On Christmas Eve, each bus is loaded up and the boxes take up all the seating…one side for boys and one side for girls with adults at the back. 

All the Christmas Eve volunteers prepare ahead of time by attending the Elf Rally and going for a costume fitting (did I mention we all dress like elves?!), while the CEO (Chief Elf Officer) and Bus Santa attend extra sessions as their jobs are a little bit more involved. Hubby was our Bus Santa the first year but he said there was too much pressure and he prefers to stay an elf…but this year I get to be the CEO! I haven’t attended my training session yet but I think I’ll be in charge of decorating the bus, making sure Santa is presentable and hydrated, planning our delivery route, and calling out the requirements for the houses we visit. I’ll have a master list of all the recipients which tells me how many people to expect at each home, whether or not they need a food or turkey hamper, and suggested gifts for each person in the family. It takes a little bit of skill (and a lot of Christmas magic) to be able to load Santa’s pack on a moving city bus!


Our family always volunteers for the later shift that begins around 3:30. It goes pretty late and we are pretty tired afterward and the last thing I want to do is make dinner. The great thing is that with a little planning ahead, dinner is already made! I make and freeze our Tourtière ahead of time, then put it in the oven and set the timer before we leave. I always have to approximate when we’ll be home because it really depends on when we’re finished our delivery list. With a side salad and some prepared veggies, we’re always thankful to come home to a cooked dinner at the end of a long day of giving. 

Christmas Eve Tourtière


  • 450 grams lean minced pork
  • 15 crimini mushrooms
  • medium onion; small dice
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried powdered sage
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 medium potatoes
  • double pastry for a pie; recipe here


  1. Peel the potatoes, cut into cubes, and boil until they are soft enough to drain and mash. Set aside mashed potatoes.
  2. Add all the mushrooms to the bowl of a food processor and process until they are quite fine, though not as far as to make a paste.
  3. Sweat the mushrooms in a med-hot pan with a bit of vegetable oil (if necessary). Remove and cool.
  4. Add small diced onions and some vegetable oil to the pan and sautée onions until softened.
  5. Add minced pork to the pan and brown; breaking it up as it cooks.
  6. Add dried herbs and season the meat mixture with salt and pepper.
  7. Mix mushrooms and potatoes into the meat. Cool until filling is room temperature.
  8. Roll out pastry and place in a deep dish pie plate OR springform pan.
  9. Add meat mixture to pie and top with pastry. Don’t forget to make pretty designs!
  10. Bake 400 F for 20 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 350 F for another 30-40 minutes, or until the pastry is nice and golden.
  11. You can freeze it for anther day or eat it right away!tourtiereunbaked




Around the World in Twelve Plates – Swedish Räksmörgås

Every month of Around the World in Twelve Plates has been a learning adventure. It’s been a journey of sorts; of flavours, techniques, and textures. I have been so fortunate to share it with my family (I know they appreciate it!) and blogger friends who I hope have gained a wealth of knowledge and appreciation for the food world around them like I have. This month’s country was…Sweden! Again, I was familiar with all the commonly known Swedish treats and dishes, after all I HAVE been to IKEA. Fun fact about IKEA: It’s the same where ever you are in the world which means that when we lived in Perth and we craved a North America style hot dog, we made a trip to IKEA. That’s not to say hot dogs are Swedish in any way but there you go. It’s been ages since I’ve been to the cafeteria at our IKEA here in Calgary. I used to take the kids up for a treat, mostly for meatballs, then drop them off at Småland so I could shop by myself (here I could add ‘in peace’ but we’ve all been to IKEA and know that it’s anything but peaceful shopping).I like to think of Swedes as the most hipster of Europeans, that is THE most European Europeans and maybe it’s just a stereotype that I am perpetuating here but these guys are the ultimate. They know what they want in life and what they want is to feel awesome, pure, and they do it in the most minimalist way possible. Case in point…have you ever had to put together a shelf from IKEA? Those are some minimal instructions, though I would point out that they rarely make you feel awesome unless by some chance you finish with a stable shelf at the very end of it all. Kudos to you. So anyway, the Swedes have words for feelings that can’t be really explained by a series of words. You’ve probably heard of Danish or Norwegian term Hygge which Wikipedia describes as ‘a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. In recent years it has been described as a defining characteristic of Danish culture’. So yeah, those Danes are pretty laid back too. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Swedes have their own word for this feeling…it’s called Lagom. There have been so many times when I’ve stopped in my tracks and thought, “this IS amazing, it’s really where I should be right now and everything is awesome!” but of course I never really knew that feeling could be expressed in such a way. I originally was going to make Swedish Meatballs for this challenge because we are huge meatball fans (of any kind) in this house but I knew that wouldn’t be stepping out of my comfort zone at all. I decided to embrace the minimalist purity of Swedish cuisine and chose a dish that brought me Lagom. It does feel a bit strange that I have not done any actual cooking for this challenge, the Räksmörgås is the ultimate good-for-you Swedish lunch but it really only is an assembly of all things delicious. The key to a great Räksmörgås (Swedish Bling Sandwich) is finding the best ingredients you can get. Fresh dill, crispy lettuce, mouthwatering tomatoes and cucumbers. Don’t be tempted to keep adding ingredients, the simpler the Räksmörgås, the better it is. I used a Russian Rye bread with bags of flavour, then spread a very thin layer of mayonnaise on it’s surface. Hey, I didn’t even cook the shrimp. If I was in Europe, I’d be using fresher prawns but these cooked and frozen salad shrimp did very nicely…just thaw and arrange over the bed of lettuce and cucumber! A few scattered scallions, some fresh dill, and a splash of fresh lemon juice is all you need. The ultimate minimalist indulgence. 

Räksmörgås (Swedish Bling Sandwich)


  • 3 slices thickly sliced rye bread (or other tasty artisan loaf)
  • mayonnaise (homemade or store bought, I won’t judge)
  • 1 pkg Co-op Cooked Frozen Salad Shrimp; thawed and patted dry
  • lettuce
  • cherry tomatoes
  • fresh dill
  • cucumber
  • 1 scallion (green or Spring onions); sliced
  • lemon


  1. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the surface of the bread slices.
  2. Arrange fresh lettuce and cucumber slices over top of the bread.
  3. Carefully arrange a handful of salad shrimp over the lettuce and cucumber. I used a ring mold but even then some escaped!
  4. Add tomatoes; scatter fresh dill and sliced scallions.
  5. Drizzle with a bit of fresh lemon juice.
  6. Smakling måltid!

I bet all the other collaborating bloggers have been up to something special for this penultimate issue of Around the World in Twelve Plates…check them out here:

Nicoletta and Loreto at Sugar Love Spices made some hearty Swedish Potato Pancakes

Gabby Peyton at The Food Girl in Town baked up a Swedish Princess Cake

Korena Vine from Korena in the Kitchen with Swedish Kanelbullar & Chokladbiskvier 






Dirty Chai Eggnog

I’m late to both the Dirty Chai and Eggnog party. It never ever occurred to me to combine both tea and coffee into one fabulously caffeinated beverage but now that I’m on that train, I don’t ever want to get off.  Cocktail recipe creation can sometimes be an arduous task and it’s becoming increasingly even more difficult to be original. Here I was on Monday, all proud of myself for coming up with this fun spin on a Christmas classic…until I googled ‘Dirty Chai Eggnog’. If you want to really doubt your special ability…google it and you’ll most likely find out you’re not so special. It’s quite deflating, kind of like going swimsuit shopping in the dead of winter.

All doubts aside, I really think ‘Cocktail Testing Monday’ should become a regular thing around here. It was a lot of fun playing around with spices and spirits, especially when the end result was so delicious. I learned a lot about taking photos in the snow and how the white balance always seems off no matter what. Best of all (or maybe not depending on how you look at it) I learned that you can make eggnog by the glassful. This is great news if you like the odd glass of eggnog and don’t want to make a huge punch bowl full every time the craving strikes. However, if you’re an addict like me this is BAD NEWS because it makes real eggnog way too accessible. By the way, I made homemade eggnog for the very first time last year and the store-bought stuff doesn’t even come close. If you are hosting a huge gathering this Christmas season, try out this amazing recipe for ‘The Best Eggnog in the World‘ from Jamie Oliver. So humble, that Jamie Oliver…and he didn’t even pay me to say that!
As a side note here, it should be mentioned that my recipe uses raw egg. Here in North America we are very particular about our eggs. They go though rigorous testing and are always refrigerated, which is a lot more than what many other countries do around the world. If you are worried, make sure you buy the freshest eggs possible and give them a wash before you crack them into your shaker.  This post was created to be part of a regular blogger cocktail collaboration called Connecting Over Cocktails. Check out all the amazing wintry cocktail concoctions from Canadian food bloggers across the country:

Justine Celina’s Classic Winter Citrus Red Sangria 

Jessica at Cooking in My Genes  Spiced Winter Punch

Amanda from Peppers and Pennies Canadian Hot Chocolate

Samantha over at My Kitchen Love Easy Bourbon Eggnog

Charlene from Chew Street Orange Ginger Punch

Dirty Chai Eggnog


  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp good quality black loose leaf tea
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 oz. coffee rum (Brinley Gold Shipwreck Coffee Rum)
  • 1 oz. Depth Charge Espresso & Cocoa Bean Liqueur
  • 1 egg
  • garnish (fresh nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, tea, etc.)


  1. Begin by infusing the whipping cream with the aromatics. Add clove bulbs, cardmom pods, peppercorns, and 1/2 cinnamon stick to a mortar. Grind slightly with a pestle then place ground aromatics in a silk mulling pouch or tea bag.
  2. Add whipping cream to a small heavy bottomed pot then add the aromatics. Bring to a slight simmer then turn temperature on low and allow to infuse for 15 minutes.
  3. Add black tea and allow to infuse for another 10 minutes. Strain and allow to cool.
  4. For the cocktail; add rum and liqueur, egg, and 1 ounce chai infused whipping cream to a shaker. Dry shake.
  5. Add ice and shake until frosty. Pour into a coup glass and garnish as desired.

Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon

Next to Halloween I think Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. Ideally it takes place on a cool but clear blue sky day when there are still leaves on the trees. The kind of day that you can appreciate all the colours of fall with friends and family. The harvest is (hopefully) over and the cold room is stocked for the winter with root vegetables, pickles, and preserves of all kinds and the turkeys are nice and plump. There’s no pressure like there is at Christmas time, no tree to drag out of the basement and decorate; no presents to buy. It’s the holiday of giving thanks, appreciating each other as you are with all your faults (and what family is without faults?) and gathering around the table to eat yourself silly.

This year I am hosting my family and my in-laws at the same time. I could be freaking out right now but I’m not. I have spaces for everyone to lay their heads at night and a full refrigerator and that’s really all that matters. It’s a long drive for all of them so I always aim to keep them comfortable and well fed.  We keep our activities low key, save for the odd walk to get our bodies moving after the feast. We usually get a lot of visiting in and the odd (okay multiple) hand of cards.

This year was a bit different. My little sister is getting married!! We decided that since everyone would be together, Saturday would be the ideal time to go dress shopping. She made all the appointments and all of us ladies were really looking forward to the day as none of us had the opportunity to go dress shopping for our own weddings. My mother had made her own dress with the help of her mother and sister (who later wore the dress at her own wedding), my other sister had tried a few dresses on then ordered one off the internet, and mine was home made as well. My mother and I went to the nearest large town to pick up the fabric; yards and yards of cream raw silk with an extra yard or two of seed pearl encrusted raw silk for the bodice. Dress shopping day was a mixture of emotions for everyone, and when my little sister tried on THE dress, there was no denying that it was made for her because EVERYONE was crying. Of course, you might be able to guess that it was the most expensive dress she had tried on that day and she’s still trying to justify spending all that money on a dress for one day. She’s notoriously thrifty, having re-designed a thrift shop dress for her own graduation, so I say it’s a well deserved splurge. I guess time will tell.

Back home during pie time, we were teasing the groom-to-be about the details of the dress, exaggerating the details and seeing how far we could go. He knows that she is a free spirit with a disdain for the mainstream and I truly think there would be nothing that would surprise him; other than that dress.

Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon (a David Lebovitz recipe)


Pastry – I used my trusty pasty recipe available here.

  • 2 cups (about 7 ounces) pecans
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips


  1. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch glass pie plate. Trim the overhang to 1/2 inch, fold the edge under itself and crimp according to your preference.  Refrigerate at least 10 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and roast the pecans on it for about 8 minutes; coarsely chop.
  3. Whisk the eggs with the brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, melted butter, bourbon and salt until blended.
  4. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Scatter pecans and chocolate chips evenly over filling.
  5. Bake on the lower oven rack for about 55 minutes, or until the center of the pie is set. You can tent the crust with foil halfway through the baking time if the edge is browning too quickly.
  6. Transfer the pie to a rack and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Kabocha Squash Daal

Daal is one of those warm comforting dishes that you can eat to your heart’s content because it is so darn good for you! Don’t get me wrong, I live for homemade mac ‘n’ cheese but whipping up a steaming pot of protein-rich spiced lentils can be equally as satisfying. Daal is super easy to make and is also a cost effective meal for those days when you want to watch your spending.

I’ve been making my usual daal for about 8 years now and it just occurred to me that I could maybe change things up a bit. I had a very small Kabocha squash (think smaller than a cantaloupe) and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with it. I have a bit of a sensitivity to squash, zucchini, and pumpkins so I don’t cook with them that often. From what I’ve been told, this mild allergy is quite common. It involves sensitivity to a particular protein that becomes denatured during the cooking process. This definitely explains why I can eat squashes in any kind of baking or in fully cooked purées but not when they are raw or slightly grilled.  I also have to wash my hands very thoroughly after working with squashes (and that includes carving pumpkins) or I get a rash. Generally when I prepare squash I always steam it so I know it is cooked all the way through.

For this recipe I cut the squash in half and scooped out the seeds. I placed a rack in the bottom of my instant pot and poured in a cup of water. After placing the two halves on top of the rack, I closed the lid, switched the seal to ‘closed’, and set the manual timer to high for 8 minutes. Since I was busy doing other things in the kitchen that day I allowed the instant pot to de-pressurize naturally before I remembered to remove the lid. The squash was super easy to peel after it had cooled down and I probably had about 2 cups puréed squash in total.

This recipe makes a pretty hefty amount (six servings over rice) which is good because it is even better the next day and extremely easy to heat up for a quick lunch or dinner.

Kabocha Squash Daal


  • 1 small kabocha squash
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 medium onion; small dice
  • 3 cloves garlic; minced
  • 2 cm piece fresh ginger; minced
  • 2 small red chilies; de-seeded
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 10 grape or cherry tomatoes; halved
  • 1 cup red lentils; rinsed
  • 2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • lime juice
  • fresh cilantro


  1. Carefully cut squash into quarters and remove seeds. Place in Instant Pot and steam for 8 minutes or just steam in your regular set up until the squash is mushy. Mash and set aside.
  2. Add oil to a large pan and add black mustard seeds. Heat them until you begin to hear them pop.
  3. Add onion and sauté until it becomes soft. Add garlic and ginger and sauté for another 2 minutes. Add chilies.
  4. Add curry powder, turmeric, coriander, and cumin. Sauté while stirring for another minute or two.
  5. Add halved tomatoes then the red lentils.
  6. Add stock and water and bring to a boil. Add mashed squash.
  7. Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until you are happy with the consistency.
  8. To finish; add salt and pepper; lime juice to taste.
  9. Garnish with fresh cilantro and enjoy with basmati rice or naan.

Around the World in Twelve Plates – Egyptian Basbousa

I say it’s high time I bake something sweet for our little Around the World in Twelve Plates blogger collaboration. Basbousa is an Egyptian classic cake made from durum semolina and a whole lot of dairy which is also popular in many other Middle Eastern countries.  The cake is quite rich with a unique texture but it’s the syrup that provides all the flavour!

What is unique about this month’s ATW12P country is that I have actually been to Egypt. When I learned that my husband had a work trip to Egypt scheduled in January 2008, I knew I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to tag along. The company he was working for scheduled private tours for me in Alexandria and I was under the close supervision of several female tour guides. Alexandria is much smaller than Cairo and when I mean ‘much smaller’ I am talking in terms of millions of people with a 2008 population of just over 4 million while Cairo at that time was around 18 million. Though Alexandria is a popular resort destination for Egyptians, I visited during the ‘off season’ when temperatures were quite a bit cooler (18-20° C) and traffic wasn’t a horrendous nightmare (though really it was pretty much a nightmare anyway compared to where I live!). I was glad we had our own driver even though we found out later he was legally blind. The drive from Cairo to Alexandria is around 3 hours on one of the world’s deadliest highways  and we made it there and back safely so I guess he wasn’t so bad after all.

Montaza Palace, the Mediterranean, and surrounding gardens

I really regret that this trip happened before I started my blog. Looking back at the photos, my skills probably matched the equivalent quality of my camera gear. Though we stayed in what was the most gorgeous hotel surrounded by the Montaza Palace grounds right on the Mediterranean, my photos are all quite grey, lackluster, and blurry. I visited Alexandria Library (though it’s a much more modern version of the famous antiquities library that was burned down by Julius Caesar), the Citadel of Qaitbay (a 15th-century defensive fortress established in 1477 AD by Sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf al-Din Qa’it Bay), the catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa (a necropolis which consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult mixed with Greek and early Imperial Roman influences) as well as the Graeco-Roman Museum, the Alexandria National Museum, and the ruins of a Roman Auditorium and Bathhouse.

The Citadel of Qaitbay and a Roman Auditorium

But the REAL highlights of this trip were:

  • realizing that young Egyptian lovebirds flock to Montaza Palace grounds to make out in cars at night.
  • eating my first BLT made with beef bacon
  • crossing the street by myself (think Frogger but deadlier) to shop in the bazaar
  • sitting on the breakwater and watching the fishermen catch fish out of skinny dug out canoes
  • listening to Shakira on repeat for 3 hours on the way to Alexandria
  • paying $3 US for 5 squares of toilet paper at the Pyramids of Giza (and yes, I know that’s 75% more than what I was supposed to give her)
  • eating a multi-course dinner in the penthouse piano bar at the Hilton Ramses in Cairo
  • chatting about life with my female tour guides. One was single, the other was married…the single lady drew all sorts of attention from the ‘tourist police’ at every stop on the tour
  • a two hour camel ride in the desert to find a geocache.
  • my hubby’s face after a two hour camel ride in the desert and bribing the gatekeeper to let us back in to the back area of the Pyramids at Giza.
  • a dinner cruise on the Nile River which included belly dancing and Whirling Dervishes
  • accidentally handing a bribe to the Egyptian customs officer at the airport

After my husband was finished work in Alexandria we had a day to tour around Cairo and ended up (as one inevitably does) in Giza to explore the Pyramids and gaze at the Sphinx. We had a chance to enter the Pyramid but I just couldn’t do it. I felt there was an electricity in the air; a strange imbalance or feeling of unrest or sadness. I felt it was just wrong to go in. We did climb up to get our photo taken and those blocks are a lot larger than I thought they would be!

Me on a camel explaining how I know there’s treasure in the dessert, The Sphinx, Treasure in the dessert! 

As far as food went, we had some great dinners but the ones that are most memorable to me were the ones that had huge crates of fresh fishes on ice. We chose our fish and how it was to be cooked (fried, grilled, etc.) then we were seated and fed small but delicious dishes until our main meal arrived. We didn’t ever really have dessert but finished our meal with a fresh orange or a mango smoothie. Egypt was where I fell in love with mangoes…until then I had only ever had the tasteless mangoes (which I call Canadian mangoes) that have to be imported halfway around the world. So, if I would have had room for dessert I would have probably chosen a slice of Basbousa with extra syrup.

Basbousa (adapted from The Mediterranean Dish)


  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter; melted
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups semolina flour with mixed textures (such as 1 cup fine plus one cup coarse)*
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • whole unpeeled almonds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • rose water (optional)


  1. Mix the yoghurt and sugar together in a medium bowl.
  2. Add the semolina, milk, and baking powder and mix well. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Press into a lightly greased shallow 9 inch baking pan and score the top with a sharp wet knife. Arrange almonds.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 350 F and bake for 45 minutes. If you want the top to be a nice golden colour, use the broiler for a few minutes. Don’t get distracted!!
  5. While the cake is baking, combine the next seven ingredients in a pot and allow to boil. Simmer lightly for around ten minutes, then discard the aromatics. If there is a lot of foam from the honey, you should skim it off.
  6. Add rose water to taste…remember a little goes a long way!
  7. When the cake is finished remove from oven and pour half of the syrup over top, taking care to coat the surface in an even layer.
  8. Serve each slice with a little extra syrup and some strong tea. 

* I spent two hours looking for coarse durum semolina flour. My ‘go-to’ place was out and I eventually figured out that couscous would do the trick as it is, essentially durum semolina mixed with water to make larger particles. I threw two cups of couscous in my blender and gave it a whirl for a minute. I ended up with the perfect mix of fine and coarse semolina!

Are you as excited as I am to hear about what the other ATW12P bloggers are up to for this month’s Egyptian cuisine challenge? Please give them a visit and show them some love and appreciation!

Gabby Peyton at The Food Girl in Town

Nicoletta and Loreto at Sugar Love Spices


Instant Pot Hungarian Chicken Paprikash on Nokedli

I grew up with a Hungarian grandmother. A word of warning; don’t be expecting a warm and fuzzy ‘awww you learned this recipe by cooking in your grandmother’s warm cozy kitchen’ sort of blog post because that’s not how this story starts out. She was born in Canada and as such, followed her family’s preference to assimilate into ‘Canadian culture’ rather than keep her Hungarian roots alive. It is kind of funny, though, now that I think of it she had a REALLY strong Hungarian accent and though she lived until the age of 97, she never lost a bit of it. I don’t ever remember her being fluent in Hungarian but I do remember her trying to teach me to count in Hungarian (but only because I asked).

I didn’t think this post was going to be so hard to write. I’m already crying. I miss her so damn much even though it’s been six years since she’s been gone. She passed away while we were living in Australia and I never had the chance to say goodbye…though to be honest the last time I visited her in 2009, I knew it would be the last time I saw her. She would have been 95 and when you visit someone of that age, you make sure to make those moments count. I remember crying in the elevator on the way out of the building because I knew it would be our last visit.

Let’s rewind a bit for a moment and get a little of that ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling even though I said we weren’t going there. I did learn to ‘cook’ with my Hungarian grandmother and these memories are among my very first memories. I must have been around three years old. She would tie her frilly apron around my neck and waist,  give me a step stool, and give me free reign of the kitchen. My favourite ‘dish’ to make was a paste of baking soda, flour and water which I would combine in a saucepan and ‘cook’ on the stove, mixing and stirring until my heart was content. Those were the days when I could make a huge mess in the kitchen and never have to clean up. Can you imagine the mess she had to deal with later? She never complained, she never ever said no.

The only Hungarian dish I remember her making was home made poppy seed roll because she was, like me, a baker at heart. I have her cookbooks and they are treasures full of annotations and recipes clipped out of the local paper. She had odd, sprawling writing that was very difficult to decipher unless you were used to it. Through the years she would always send handwritten cards and letters, many of which I have kept and store in a trunk in the basement. They are there, along with a Viczko family history book that was compiled for the one and only family reunion we attended together.  It was fascinating to meet the different branches of the family and learn about how and why they came to Canada. My oldest son was old enough to play one of the Viczko brothers in a play that celebrated the family’s journey from Hungary to Canada. It was during this reunion that I experienced the essence of Hungarian cuisine, raw bacon. Throughout the day we snacked on raw bacon cut into cubes and coated in a heavy dusting of paprika (which was kept in large shakers on each of the banquet tables) and for lunch there were raw bacon and onion sandwiches. The main dinner was a hearty Hungarian Goulash with potatoes but for dessert there was a multi-layered Dobosh Torte that I still dream about to this day. Perhaps that is another project for another day.

This post is about Hungarian Chicken Paprikash. It’s not a showy or beautiful dish. It has very few ingredients but the flavour is HUGE. Traditionally Paprikash is made using bone-in chicken pieces which adds flavour during the low and slow cooking. Since I was developing this recipe for the Instant Pot, I compromised by using chicken thighs and some chicken stock. I don’t think there is usually any tomato or pepper in the recipe but I added them because I had them and thought they would add some flavour and nutrients. The most important thing about Paprikash is getting that huge layering of paprika flavour. To achieve this, I used both ground Sweet Hungarian Paprika and mild Paprika Cream. The most widely used brand of Paprika Cream is Piros Arany and it comes in both mild (Csemege) and hot (Csípôs). 

Instant Pot Hungarian Chicken Paprikash


  • medium onion; cut in half horizontally then sliced
  • canola or olive oil
  • 2 lbs (roughly 1 kilogram) chicken thighs; cut into thirds
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic; minced
  • 3 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper; sliced into ribbons
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp Piros Arany (Paprika Cream mild or hot) paste


  1. Turn the Instant Pot sauté mode on and add 2 tbsp oil. Sauté onions until golden then add minced garlic and sweet paprika. Cook for a minute or two longer, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn.
  2. Remove onions and garlic from the insert and set aside.
  3. Mix flour, salt, and pepper together in a bowl or bag and dredge the chicken in the mixture.
  4. Add more oil to the Instant Pot insert and brown chicken pieces in batches.
  5. After browning all the chicken, add the chicken stock to the insert and deglaze for a few minutes, scraping the bottom of the insert.
  6. Add all ingredients back to the insert, then add the cherry tomatoes and peppers.
  7. Put the lid on the Instant Pot and make sure the valve is closed.
  8. Set the Instant Pot to 10 minutes on high pressure. After 10 minutes is up allow to depressurize naturally for 5 minutes, then open the valve.
  9. Stir in the Piros Arany (Paprika Cream mild or hot) paste.
  10. If the sauce is thinner than you prefer, add a little flour (1 tsp) to 3 tsp of water and mix carefully. Stir in the slurry into the stew and use the sauté mode to bring the mixture to a boil.

The best way to serve Paprikash is over Hungarian dumplings (Nokedli). They are essentially the same thing as German Spaeztle and very simple, though messy to make. The secret is the consistency of the batter which should be very thick and bordering on a very sticky dough. After the dough is mixed it needs to sit for at least ten minutes. It takes very little time to make nokedli, if you begin by setting the water to boil, you can have it ready to serve as soon as the Paprikash is ready. Be sure to soak anything batter covered in water so it doesn’t dry out because it’s almost impossible to get clean once the batter dries.

This is the spaetzle maker I have. It’s messy but worth it! 

Nokedli (small Hungarian dumplings similar to German Spaetzle)


  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • pinch nutmeg, cayenne, or finely chopped parsley (optional)


  1. Fill a large pot with salted water and bring it to a boil.
  2. Whisk eggs, water, and salt together in a bowl.
  3. Gradually add the flour into the wet mixture, stirring with a whisk until the mixture is a very wet dough. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, or parsley if using.
  4. Let sit for ten minutes.
  5. Using a cheese grater and back of a wooden spoon or a spaetzle maker, drop bits of dough into the boiling water.
  6. Remove spaetzle when they float to the surface and rinse with cold water to prevent sticking.
  7. Enjoy with Paprikash as is or fry in a pan with some butter. 





Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival – Cheers to 20 Years

On Friday, Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival will be gathering Calgarians to celebrate 20 years of the best wine, beer, spirits, and delectable dishes.

“The Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival (RMWFF) got its start 20 years ago by three rag-tag friends working as beer brand reps in Ontario. After attending beverage trade shows out east, it struck them that they could do the same thing in Calgary where such an event didn’t yet exist. It was a “rocky” start (pun intended) but in 1997, the first annual Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival was hosted, with 30 booths and 1000 guests.”

One thousand guests is pretty amazing attendance for  the first year of a festival! As the event grew each year, organizers realized that there was enough interest to expand northward to Edmonton in 2007. Ten years later, RMWFF has grown into one of Alberta’s largest wine and food festivals with hundreds of booths and over 25,000 in attendance. I’ve been fortunate to attend three years of the Festival and I find it a great way to try wines and spirits that I wouldn’t normally get to try (due to availability) or go out of my way to purchase…it’s a great way to expand your palate on a budget! Where else would I have been able to try the entire line of Japanese Nikka Whiskies? Some of my favourites last year were quite surprisingly, ciders from the BC Tree Fruits Cider Co and Reverend Nat. Less surprising were some ‘new to me’ gins from Rig Hand Distillery (formerly Big Rig Distillery) and Boodles British Gin. 

This year’s festival wines feature 17 different countries including a large list of Canadian wines and previous crowd favourites from Moldova. For a full list of available wines click here. While your there, be sure to also check out the extensive list of beer, cider, and distilled spirits. Some new and ‘not to miss’ 20th Anniversary highlights are:

  • BLUE WINE from Marqués de Alcántara is making it’s Canadian debut at RMWFF. The brilliant indigo blue hue in your glass, is due to the natural pigmentation extracted from the skin of the grapes used in production. Festival-goers will have the opportunity to sample both the Sparkling and Frizzante versions.
  • GOLD VODKA  – Royal Dragon Imperial Vodka from China is not your average vodka, it’s exclusively distilled with a Russian formula from the finest winter harvest rye – Five times distilled and accented with 23 carat gold flakes.
  • Tolaini Valdisanti Tolaini creates great wines that celebrate Tuscany’s rich tradition in culture and life. You don’t want to miss out on this cellar-worthy sip, ask for a recommended food pairing as you enjoy this big rich red.
  • Alberta Craft Breweries –  Alberta has some seriously great beers to share with the world and at RMWFF they are all under one roof! Check out true-to-Alberta brews from:
    Banded Peak Brewing, Big Rock Brewery, Freehold Brewing Co, Wild Rose Brewery, Rapid Ascent Brewing, Hell’s Basement Brewery, Cold Garden, Half Hitch
    Brewing, and Banff Ave Brewing Co.
  • Taylor Fladgate 1967 Single Harvest Port – It’s a PARTY! Why not break out this special occasion ultra-luxe 50 year old port to celebrate?!

Of course this is a FOOD blog and this year RMWFF’s is putting on a huge bash, complete with delicious food from nearly 50 vendors and artisans. Besides my returning festival favourites, there are some new and exciting tasty treats to pair with your sips!

  • Paper Street – Street food flavours from a range of tasty global cuisines crafted using ingredients from our own backyard. They will be serving up Tuna Poke Nachos and BBQ Pork Steamed Bao Buns.
  • Workshop Kitchen + Bar  – In 2016 Workshop Kitchen + Bar was named one of OpenTable’s top 100 Restaurants and earned a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. They will be dishing up creative, chefdriven and adventurous seasonal cuisine such as Lamb Tartare, Olive Oil Poached Salmon, and Tuna Tiradito.
  • Run Pig Run – One of the newest meat centric 17th Ave restaurants, proudly serving handcrafted, fresh, and chef-driven Alberta cuisine. Stop by their booth to enjoy Pulled Pork Sliders and a BBQ Pulled
    Pork Dip.

Then there are the delicious sweet treats from Sweet Tooth…rolled ice cream is the most instagrammable way to treat yourself and Sweet Tooth has it down to a delicious science. Crowd favourites Master Chocolat and Old Coal Chocolates are back again too, just in time to pair with that 50 year old port from Taylor Fladgate.  It wouldn’t be a party without some giveaways…stop by the Liquor Connect booths to enter to win a $100 gift card to Pig & Duke along with two tickets to the 2018 Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival. This year’s grand prize is an All-Inclusive Alpine Getaway for two at the beautiful SunshineMountain Lodge. The winner will enjoy two night’s accommodation, VIP parking, dinner for two, full mid-mountain rental packages for two, and next day lift tickets on “Canada’s Best Snow” at Sunshine Village.

I believe that part of the reason the festival is so successful is that the organizers have a huge opportunity to ‘give back’ and they do!  In 2016 alone,  the Festival donated over $21,000 to local charities and organizations, thanks to help from Festival guests and sponsors. This year, the Rocky Mountain Wine & Food Festival aims to donate even more to these fantastic organizations: Calgary Food Bank, SAIT and for the first time, The Leftovers foundation with $1 from every Front of the Line ticket sold donated to this worthwhile organization.

Tickets and Information:

Tickets for each tasting session are sold online or at the door (based on availability). Sampling coupons are $0.50 each and available inside the Grand Tasting Hall. To purchase tasting session tickets and learn more about Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival please visit

Event Details:

Friday Oct. 13; 5-10pm

Saturday Oct. 14; 12-4pm

Saturday Oct. 14; 6-10pm

Stampede Park BMO Centre, Halls D & E

A Taste of the Heartland – Stettler Long Table Dinner

It’s that time of the year when the leaves are turning glorious colours and gardens everywhere are being harvested. The farmers can barely get in a few well earned zzzz’s before heading back out the the fields again. Long table harvest dinners are popping up in little towns everywhere, showcasing the fruits of their labours. My very first long table dinner was a few weeks ago when the leaves along main street Stettler were still in their late summer glory and the harvest from local producers was a source of pride on each plate.

Photo: Christine Boake Photography

My table mates and I were treated like royalty; picked up in a limousine and whisked 5 minutes away to the blocked off main street section in front of Brenda’s Cozy Cafe, where all the dishes were being prepared and plated. The long table sat in the middle of main street Stettler, all decked out in prairie finery and several tables skirted the outer edges containing local products which were to be featured during the dinner. I tasted some delicious locally made cream cheese from Mary Ann Stevenson of Applejack Ranch and learned that you can make vegetarian cheese…using an extract made from thistles instead of sheep’s rennet. Then I had an absolutely wonderful cocktail from Hanson Distillery‘s Spiced Peach Moonshine.  Owners Kris and Shayna continue the Hansen family tradition of distilling quality products using 100% ingredients sourced from Alberta, except the peaches of course. After sampling the cheese and enjoying a cocktail (or two) I took my place at the long table. Set out before me was the evening’s feast and I was thrilled to see that we would be enjoying beef tenderloin supplied by the folks at Buffalo Hills Natural Beef. To see the pride on their faces was a thrill in itself. It’s not often that producers are able to see their product enjoyed in such a setting. 

To begin the dinner, prairie style Caprese Salad was passed around by the volunteer servers. Chef Riley Kay (from Cilantro and Chive) strung the sweet, juicy Kempf’s Greenhouse tomatoes along with Applejack Ranch fresh mozzarella onto wheat stalks and drizzled them with balsamic vinegar. 

Late summer flavours danced within the tiny bowl of the Zesty Gazpacho created by Chef Brenda Brinson of Brenda’s Cozy Cafe. This simple chilled soup elevated the finest tomatoes, zucchini, and basil grown at Kempf’s Greenhouse.

Our salad course contained another favourite prairie ingredient in the vinaigrette; Saskatoon Berries. The vinaigrette was also punctuated with a touch of prairie spirit…wine from Fireside Winery & Market Garden. The baby spinach greens, sweet pepper, and cucamelons were grown at Kempf’s Greenhouse while the surprise boar bacon at the bottom was supplied by Canadian Heritage Meats. Everyone likes a little bacon in their salad, right?!
We were kept well watered throughout the dinner, with Lacombe brewed Troubled Monk beers, wine from Fireside Winery & Market Garden, and spirits from Hansen Distillery.

Larry and Marcie Heck from Fireside Winery & Market Garden

The delight on everyone’s face, but especially on Quinn and Janelle Hayden of Buffalo Hills Natural Beef was evident when Chef Jimin John (Otherside Restaurant, Delburne Bistro) presented the Roasted Herbed Beef Tenderloin. It was perfectly roasted and finished with a Border Cross Whisky Sauce featuring Hansen Distillery’s Border Crossing Rye Spirit. It sat on a bed of creamed spinach (made with Primrose Farm‘s fresh cream) surrounded by seasonal veggies, all from Kempf’s Greenhouse. 
In case you’re wondering if that wonderful boar bacon from Canadian Heritage Meats would make an appearance again…I can say that it made another surprise entrance in our dessert. Not only did Chef Lutz Kintzel give us bacon for dessert, but we also had a zucchini brownie and Saskatoon Berry cream filled cream puff. The Saskatoon Berry sauce made with Fireside Winery & Market Garden wine was also a huge hit at our section of the long table. The bacon, chocolate and berries left everyone with a smile on their faces. I was asked to join in the Taste of the Heartland long table dinner as a guest of Destination Stettler. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Stettler, years in fact.  Way back when the kids were small we used to stop overnight at a cousin’s house to break up the long trip to Saskatchewan. I can honestly say that I didn’t get a good sense of what Stettler was like as a community back then. As a guest, I struggled to find the right words for what I had experienced during Open Farm Days and the Taste of the Heartland long table dinner until the event MC Shawna Benson spoke these words, “You should go visit them, they’ll treat you like family.” Truer words have never been spoken, I can honestly say that it felt like I was visiting family again.

Chefs Lutz Kintzel, Brenda Brinson, Riley Kay, and Jimin John at the Taste of the Heartland Long Table Dinner

Around the World in Twelve Plates – Japanese Chicken Curry

I can’t even begin to tell you what these first 3 weeks of school have been like for our family. Suffice it to say that if your teen ever changes high schools, make sure that you know all the policies surrounding the switch…including those related to high school athletics. To make a really long and emotional story short, our family ended up having to appear before an appeals committee to prove that he didn’t move schools for athletic reasons. It was quite surreal having to defend him against these accusations; a boy who is the kindest, quietest, most respectful boy I know. It was also disappointing for him (and us) to see how petty and vile adults can be when they are given ridiculous power over children. It was the first time that someone else was making a decision for my son other than me and it was terrifying.

Don’t worry though, the story does indeed get better! His appeal was accepted and he has been able to play football (and other sports) at his new high school. In case you are wondering why he switched schools to begin with, he was drawn to the commercial cooking course that was available at his new school. He wants to be a chef and I couldn’t be more proud! Since starting school he has come home every day telling me what he’s learned and I know the day is coming when he’ll tell me I am doing a technique wrong or criticize my knife skills.

When the September Around the World in Twelve Plates country was revealed to be Japan, I got pretty excited because there are so many options! The obvious ones may be sushi and ramen, but I’m also a huge fan of dishes like karaage, katsu, teriyaki, and various izakaya (bar snacks). There’s Japanese binchotan grilling and those gorgeous Japanese cheese cakes, mochi (check out my Red Lentil Mochi here), and one can never forget gyoza! So many possibilities and I love them all. I really need to get to Japan!

Did you know that there was such a thing as Japanese Curry? Ever since I made dumplings with Carol from The Office Broccoli I have been wanting to try and make a Japanese Curry.  We used the pre-made curry roux that comes in a box as a flavouring for our dumplings and I wanted to explore this flavour more but never did. It turns out that making the curry roux yourself is not that difficult, just time consuming. The flavours of a Japanese curry are what you would think a curry made with curry powder would be like but with other flavour aspects such as sweetness from the grated apple and honey punctuated with a bit of heat from the cayenne. Huge thanks to Gabby for giving me a gentle push I needed to make Japanese Curry for this month’s challenge!

If you’re wondering what the rest of the ATW12P regulars cooked this month, check out their links here:

Sugar Love Spices made Raw Vegetable Nori Wraps

The Food Girl in Town made some izakaya dishes to share with friends

I know that we made the right decision in supporting our son. He’s so much happier and focused at his new school. Now I know he’s also making friends too because yesterday it was game day and two of his team mates came over to chill before the big game. They arrived just as I was finishing this curry photo shoot and each had a huge bowl. I told them it was magic curry and that it would give them extra power during the game, little did I know that they would go on to win and all 3 of the boys were a huge part of that win. The boys came to see me after the game to let me know they were convinced the win was due to ‘CURRY POWER’ and that they’ll be showing up next week on game day for more of that delicious Japanese Curry.

Japanese Chicken Curry (adapted from Just One Cookbook)


  • 2 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 medium onions; cut into large pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic; peeled and minced
  • 1 inch piece ginger; peeled and minced
  • 1 lb chicken thighs; cut into bite size pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 small sweet potatoes; peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 large carrots; peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 apple
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • curry roux
  • splash of acid; either lemon juice or rice wine vinegar or ketchup

Ingredients for Curry Roux 

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper


  1. Add canola oil to a large pot, then add diced onion. Cook until the onion begins to soften then add the garlic and ginger. Cook a few more minutes.
  2. Add chicken pieces, season with salt and pepper, then cook until they have changed colour with intermittent stirring.
  3. Add sweet potatoes and carrots then cover with chicken stock. Grate the apple into the pot and add the honey. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. While the chicken is simmering, make the Curry Roux.
  5. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and stir in the flour. Stir continuously for 20-30 minutes until the roux changes colour and looks like a copper penny.
  6. Add the spices to the roux and cook for another minute, stirring continuously.
  7. Add enough ladles of the simmering chicken stock to the roux so that it becomes somewhat fluid. Add roux/stock into the simmering chicken pot.
  8. Add your splash of acid.
  9. Serve with rice and some sort of pickle; pictured below is pickled ginger but you can pickle daikon or garlic scapes as well. You can also add a soft boiled egg.