Chef’s Plate review

(Note: No one paid or encouraged me to write this review. I just want to share my food experience with others!)

Does anyone else find themselves in a food rut from time to time? Usually around January every year I find myself in a “food rut.” I’m tired of the same old recipes we’ve been making for the season, but I can’t seem to think of anything interesting or exciting to make. Or if I do come up with a different idea, I don’t have the time or inclination to make it on a weeknight.

Some of my work colleagues swear by Chef’s Plate, one of the many meal kit services that deliver door to door. I was intrigued by some of the recipes—Spicy Chicken Taquitos, Greek Turkey Burgers, Pork and Ramen Stir Fry. These were recipes I could easily make myself, but hadn’t thought of on my own. Like most people, I have my usual repertoire of recipes, and have to be in the right cooking frame of mind to do something completely new.

My colleagues raved about the food. “Everything has been delicious!” one told me. I was a bit skeptical, as my colleagues happily eat stale cookies and think those are fantastic. Nevertheless, I wanted to get outside my food rut.

We decided to order food for the week. You have a choice of how many suppers: two, three, or four. To get the best price with our introductory discount, we choose three suppers. The box of food was delivered by courier, and packed well: produce on the top, followed by a divider, with ice packs and the meat on the bottom. The meat was still partially frozen when it arrived, which alleviated my fears about the fish and chicken.

First Night: Lemon and Za’atar Basa with Broccoli Tabbouleh

I was intrigued by this meal. I had never eaten Basa before, and I like broccoli. Unfortunately, the website does not allow you to filter out (or pick out) most foods you don’t like. I do not like fresh tomatoes, so I set those aside.

All of the ingredients were portioned out, from the spices to the vegetables. The recipe cards are very time specific, and you have to follow the steps exactly. My cooking tends to be a bit more freestyle, with a bit of mis en place and a bit of chopping and adding extras to taste as I go. I did my best to follow the steps religiously, and the timing of the meal (30 minutes from start to finish) was pretty much spot on.

I admit, I doctored the meal. Firstly, I don’t like raw garlic or tomatoes. So I added the garlic and about 5 baby tomatoes to the millet as it cooked. I also added some chicken stock paste to the water to better flavour the millet. When mixing the millet “tabbouleh,” I added some feta cheese as well.

Result: The meal had good flavour. I liked my changes to the broccoli tabbouleh, especially the added feta, which added a nice salty, creamy hit to the roasted broccoli. Roasting the broccoli was delicious, and I would do it again for different recipes. Because I had extra tomatoes left over, I gave them to a colleague the next day.

The fish was good with the za’atar, but better with only lemon. The texture was a bit soft for our tastes. Perhaps a piece of sole, or a thin piece of cod would be tastier.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 plates

Second Night: BBQ Chicken with Warm Potato Salad

This meal was one of the “15 Minute Meals,” so everything is pre-chopped for you. The instructions, again, were pretty straight forward.

The green beans were a bit sad looking, so I chopped the ends off. I usually buy much smaller, tenderer beans. The beans included were very old and stringy. I wasn’t sure how they would turn out.

I had to dry off the pre-roasted potato chunks, then warm them in the oven with the beans. Chef’s Plate uses a LOT of the same style of cooking: something in the pan, and something roasted in the oven. This recipe was consistent with that style.

The potato salad, again, required doctoring because we don’t like fresh dill. Instead, I chopped up some green onion and swapped out half of the regular mayo included for Miracle Whip. It needed a bit of sugar as well.

The chicken needed more BBQ sauce. This was an easy fix with our bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s.

Result: Like the first night, this meal also had good flavour. I don’t think I would roast beans again with panko crumbs, but we agreed that we would make the potato salad again. The chicken portions seemed a bit small, though we didn’t feel hungry after eating. Less leftover sides this night.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 plates

Third Night: Balsamic Steak with Parmesan Potatoes

I was particularly looking forward to this supper, because I like to eat a good piece of steak!

After cutting the potatoes, I decided that they seemed a bit anemic seasoned only with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Some paprika and oregano helped kick the potatoes up a notch before I started roasting them.

The salad was simple: lemon juice, honey mustard, oil, salt and pepper, and oil. All of the recipes assume you have some sort of oil on hand, so for the dressing, I used a lemon-infused olive oil, which ramped up the flavour. We also added some dried cranberries and feta to the salad for texture and flavour, because spinach leaves on their own aren’t terribly exciting.

The balsamic reduction for the steak didn’t make enough. I increased the amount of balsamic vinegar and butter, and added a bit of sugar to counterbalance the sourness.

As for the potatoes, I was immensely disappointed that the meal kit included a package of ground canister-style “parmesan.” If you are going to have parmesan, have the real umami-filled Parmegiano Reggiano (or at least Grana Padano). Of course, I grated some real Parmegiano to add to the potatoes.

Result: This was probably our favourite meal. The salad was tasty. The potatoes we would definitely make again. The steak sauce was luxurious with the buttery balsamic shallots. However, the steak itself had a big piece of grizzle running through it. We had to hack around it, and gnaw at it like Neanderthals. Flank steak is not my favourite cut of beef in the least. I also wanted a shade more meat, since there was a fair bit of wastage once we got the grizzle out.

Rating: 4 out of 5 plates with a different cut of steak

Overall, I thought it was worth a try. It did give us some different recipes from our usual, and I enjoyed having everything delivered to my doorstep. However, there was a LOT of packaging—everything was individually packaged in little bags or containers. At least it is nearly all recyclable or reusable.

For a person who doesn’t cook much, or needs a lot of guidance in the kitchen, a meal kit would be a great way to improve their cooking. If you have a hard time with portion size, or cook only for one, it would also be a good investment. For me, though, it was fun to do for a week, and I like getting ideas from their upcoming menus, but it won’t be a regular thing.

Mustard Cheddar Chicken

Years ago, when I lived in the UK, I saw a recipe for Mustard Cheddar Chicken in a magazine. Because this was such a simple recipe to convert for one serving, it was perfect (not to mention a delicious way to use up the dregs of a bar of cheddar). Also, it incorporated the flavours of cheese with mustard, which is a classic British combination I came to highly appreciate.

Mustard happens to be one of my favourite condiments. I love the classic tangy yellow mustard on sandwiches. I add Dijon mustard to salad dressings and serve it with meat. I could eat it by the spoonful. Mustard has been cultivated for nearly four thousand years, and is used as a condiment in cultures across the world, from France to India. Ancient Romans mixed unfermented grape must with ground mustard seeds. In medieval England, mustard seeds were rolled into balls with flour and spices. In the fifteenth century Italian cookbook, Libro de Arte Coquinaria, by Maestro Martino (c. 1465), the author provides several recipes for the condiment, including one that combines mustard seeds with ground almonds, and another with raisins and cinnamon.

Sinapis (Mustard) in the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a late medieval health treatise (BNF NAL 1673, fol. 23, first half of fifteenth century).

In the depths of January, I was searching for something to make for a weeknight supper, and remembered this recipe. However, we also had the remains of holiday and charcuterie boards lurking in the fridge. So I adapted the recipe to use up ingredients. Instead of bacon, I used pancetta, which crisped up wonderfully in the oven. I also added some caramelized onion chutney to round out the flavours. The swaps made the chicken just as good—maybe even better—than the original! You could easily switch up the type of cheese used, and potentially the type of mustard.

This is not a very photogenic dish, but it is tasty. And a clever way to use up bits leftover from a holiday or dinner party! The sticky bits left behind in the pan are particularly addictive.

Mustard Cheddar Chicken

Makes 4 servings.

150g grated cheese (i.e. a strong cheddar)
2 tbsp herb cream cheese, such as Boursin
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp caramelized onion jam
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
8 slices of prosciutto or bacon

1. Preheat oven to 380F.

2. Mix the cheeses, seasonings, and mustard together. It will be fairly stiff. Divide the mixture into quarters, and form log shapes.

3. Cut a slit into the side of each chicken breast, then stuff with the cheese logs.

4. Divide the onion jam between the chicken breasts, stuffing it alongside the cheese mixture.

5. Wrap each stuffed chicken breast with 2 bacon strips or pancetta slices – not too tightly, but enough to hold the chicken together.

6. Season, place on a baking sheet and roast for 20-25 mins, or until the juices in the centre of the chicken breast run clear.

Cheese Ball


Every family has holiday foods that they like to make each year to celebrate. They aren’t always glamourous. They aren’t always fancy or beautiful. But they are traditions that you simply must have, or the holiday does not feel right.

One of our favourite holiday foods is a cheeseball. We snack on it from Christmas Eve to New Year’s. We eat it at home, and we bring it to gatherings with extended family. It is tasty on Ritz crackers, sliced baguette, in a sandwich, or snuck from the refrigerator in the middle of the night. It wouldn’t be a Christmas spread for us without our cheeseball.

Originally, the cheeseball recipe came from an ex-girlfriend of my uncle. He appropriated it from her after they split up, and every branch of our family has since adopted it. It is simple to make, and lasts for several weeks. We use old orange cheddar for the colour, though any mature cheddar will do. The green onions add a fresh punch of colour and flavour to the mixture. The recipe is so simple that anyone—even someone who rarely cooks—can mix it up!


3 cups (3/4 lb) old cheddar cheese, shredded
250g package of cream cheese
1/4 to 1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped green onion
Dash of tobacco sauce
Dash of Worcestershire sauce (I use a very liberal dash of this)

1. Using an electric hand mixer, cream together cream cheese and sour cream. Add Worcestershire sauce and tobacco sauce. Cream until everything is smooth.
2. Fold in green onions.
3. Fold in shredded cheese.
4. Line a mould or plastic container with cling-film. Spoon in cheese ball mixture to fill mould. You can make two small cheeseballs if you prefer and divide the mixture between two containers.
5. Allow cheeseball to mellow in the fridge for 6-12 hours before serving.

Hazelnut Shortbread


Not all Decembers are created equal. Unfortunately, this year for my family, we’ve been dealing with relatives in the hospital, and an all ill cat (who subsequently died, RIP Wolfie). Nevertheless, there are some recipes that I strive to make for the holiday season, be it a good year or a trying year. Hazelnut shortbreads are one such stalwart recipe.

I came across the recipe a few years ago, Painted Hazelnut Shortbreads My attempt at the recipe, I painstakingly painted fancy patterns on the hazelnut trees using the eggwash paint. It took hours. They were pretty, but oh so fussy! I swore to myself I would simplify things, so the next year, I omitted the paint. The cookies were simpler, but tasted just as a good. When you have so many other tasks to do and people to visit at the holidays, taking the time to paint patterns on cookies isn’t for everyone (unless you have unlimited time and help, which I do not).

These shortbreads must use whole hazelnuts—do not try to use pre-ground hazelnuts; it won’t work. Most of the prep can be done in a food processor, but use your hands to make sure all of the dough is evenly mixed.

Hazelnut Shortbreads

1 cup whole hazelnuts
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place whole hazelnuts on baking sheet, and roast for 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool, and peel the skins from the hazelnuts. Most will come away easily by hand.
2. Pulse toasted hazelnuts and sugar in food processor just until nuts are very finely chopped.
3. Add butter, vanilla and salt; pulse to blend. Add flour; pulse just until blended and a soft dough forms.
4. Dump dough into a mixing bowl, and mould dough into a ball by hand, making sure to combine any crumbly bits into the dough. Divide dough into fourths; shape each into a 4-in.-round disk. Wrap in plastic and chill 30 minutes.
5. Heat oven to 300°F. You will need 2 baking sheets.
6. Place 2 disks of dough on each ungreased baking sheet; sprinkle with a little flour. Pat or roll each disk into a 7-in. round, about 3/8 in. thick. Flute or crimp the edges of each round with your finger. With large knife, cut each round into 8 wedges (don’t separate)
7. Bake 1 sheet at a time (refrigerate remaining sheet) 30-35 minutes, or until pale-golden around edges. While hot, recut wedges. Cool slightly on baking sheet before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Makes 32 shortbreads. You could also dip the edge or the end into melted chocolate if feeling fancy, but I enjoy the cookies plain with a good cup of milky chai tea.

Zesty Citrus Shortbread

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without delicious, seasonal cookies. Shortbreads are one of my favourite cookies. I have my stalwart recipes–hazelnut shortbreads, pinwheel shortbreads, and chocolate sables. But I also like to try new recipes in my quest for the “perfect” shortbread recipe.

Shortbread supposedly has its origins in medieval Britain, where it began as as twice-baked bread, sometimes sweetened and spiced. The shortbread that we know today appeared in 18th century Scotland. Because of the expensive ingredients (especially sugar), it was reserved for holiday celebrations.

I saw a recipe a month ago in the Canadian House and Home magazine for a Scottish shortbread. It sounded but promising, but needed a bit of zing. So I made a batch, adding some fresh citrus zest. Any sort of citrus zest would work–clementine would be delicious, as would grapefruit. I settled on a combination of lemon and lime.

To store shortbread, keep them in a wax paper-lined cookie tin rather than a plastic container–they will stay fresh and retain their delicate texture longer!

Zesty Citrus Shortbread

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 tsp citrus zest (I used the zest of one lime and half a lemon)
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup rice flour
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 275F.
2. Add sugar and citrus zest to food processor. Grind sugar and zest together for a few seconds. Add butter, and process until butter and sugar are smoothly incorporated.
3. Add flour, rice flour, and salt. Run food processor until mixture is combined. OR scrape butter and sugar mixture into a bowl, and add dry ingredients. Stir by hand until combined, and the mixture forms a uniform batter.
4. Wrap dough in cling film and let chill in refrigerator for a half hour.
Divide dough in half. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough into 1/4 inch thickness.
5. Using a 2 inch cookie cutter (round or square), cut dough. You can reroll dough scraps once, but avoid rerolling too many times or dough will become tough.
6. Place on ungreased cookie sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until cookies are a creamy colour.

Updated Christmas Cake

Once November 1 hits, the Christmas season starts in our household. The decorations come out, and the baking begins. Smells of cinnamon and spicy cloves, bright citrus, and buttery cookies fills the house and makes the dark days of autumn much more festive.

A couple years ago, I came across a recipe for a Christmas cake in the BBC Good Food magazine. I’m not a big Christmas cake person, so the combination of cranberry and hazelnuts in a Christmas cake intrigued me. This cake is very straightforward to make, and you don’t even need to mix it with an electric mixer (if you are like me, and prefer to just do it by hand). It lasts a good week or more, and you can freeze it up to about 6-8 months. I like to eat it warmed up with a little butter and a cup of tea, or even with a bit of cheese.

Because this is a British recipe, all quantities are in metric. You can convert to imperial, but sometimes the amounts aren’t quite right, so I recommend using a kitchen scale if you have one.


Cranberry and Hazelnut Christmas Cake

Servings: 16

200g butter, softened, plus a little extra for greasing
150g raisins
200g pot glacé cherry, halved
100g dried cranberries
100g dried pears, chopped (optional)
200g fresh or frozen cranberry
zest and juice 1 orange
2 tbsp mixed peel, chopped finely
50ml sherry, brandy, Disaronno or Frangelico
250g light soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
100g ground almonds
100g toasted hazelnut, chopped
100g pistachios, chopped (optional)
1 tbsp mixed spice (See here for a recipe to make your own)

1. Heat oven to 320F (160C/140C fan/gas 3). Grease a deep 20cm cake tin and line with baking parchment – high enough to come 2.5cm above the top of the tin, or grease and flour a bundt pan.
2. Put all of the dried fruit, orange zest and juice, and alcohol into a small pan. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 3 mins, until the cranberries have softened a little and most of the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.
3. Put the sugar, butter and vanilla in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, flour, almonds, hazelnuts and mixed spice. Whisk again until just combined, then stir through the soaked fruit and any remaining juices.
4. Tip the cake mixture into the tin and level the top, then bake for 1 hr 20 mins, or until a skewer pushed into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave in the tin to cool. Serve cake at room temperature, or warmed in the microwave.

Acadian Chicken


Many years ago as a teenager, I visited Cape Breton Island with my family. There wasn’t a lot of memorable meals on that trip—after all, what teenager wants to spend their vacation driving around in a van with their family! However, I do remember the stunning scenery and one particular dish.

We stopped for lunch on the Cabot Trail in a tiny French-speaking hamlet. It may have been in the Chéticamp area, but it was certainly on the eastern coast. We were hungry, and there was a single restaurant in town, serving just a very few dishes. One, which both of my parents ordered, was a simple stew of chicken and onions, served with mash potatoes. I remember trying their meal, and wishing I had ordered the same. It was so good that my parents asked the proprietors for the recipe. The ladies explained in broken English that you simply dredged the chicken in a bit of flour, salt, and pepper, browned the chicken, added in chopped onions, and let everything simmer in the oven until the onions have virtually melted to form a “sauce.” This is exactly the sort of meal you can imagine early settlers to the East Coast cooking over a fire in a great big 17th century cooking pot!

Since then, the so-called “Acadian Chicken” has become a part of our family meal repertoire. It may not be pretty, but it is filling, simply, and delicious, and especially good on a cold, Canadian winter’s day. We’ve doctored it over the years to suit our tastes, though the essence is the same. Now that autumn has taken a frozen turn towards winter, I cooked up Acadian chicken recently. It is nice served with mashed potatoes or egg noodles, and a vibrant vegetable.

Acadian Chicken

Serves 4-6

2-3 lbs of bone-in chicken pieces (or one large chicken, cut into pieces)
10-12 medium onions, sliced
1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
Splash of dry white wine (optional)
1 tsp dried thyme (or 1 sprig fresh thyme)
Salt and pepper

1. Add oil to oven-proof dish or roasting pan. On medium-high heat, brown chicken pieces. Set aside.
2. Turn down heat to medium-low. Add onions to pan. Cook 2-3 minutes. Preheat oven to 325F.
3. Add chicken pieces and stock. Add thyme, salt, and pepper to taste. You can also add some dry white wine at this point.
4. Cook chicken in oven with lid on for 1.5-2 hours. Remove lid and continue cooking for 1 more hour or until chicken is falling off bones and the onions have cooked down to create a sort of sauce. If the chicken is too saucy (or you are impatient, like me), you can thicken the dish with a slurry of chicken stock and flour.
5. Serve with mashed potatoes, a glass of wine, and enjoy!

Note: You could probably adapt this recipe easily to a slow cooker. We have often prepped everything and left it in the oven all afternoon to cook around 300F. It is a perfect meal to “fix and forget about it.”

Pumpkin Pasta Bake

Caravaggio, Still Life with Fruit, c. 1603, oil on canvas. Denver Art Museum.

Building on my previous post about eating pumpkins, I thought I would go back further in time. Pumpkins, a member of the cucurbit genus, are native to North America. They have been consumed for thousands of years by indigenous peoples—they ate the pumpkin flesh, the seeds, and even blossoms.

After Columbus reached the Americas, pumpkins arrived in Europe. Some of the first images of cucurbits in Europe are found at the Villa Farnesina in Rome, a beautiful Renaissance gem that was decorated by Raphael and his pupils in the second decade of the sixteenth century. Other artists, like Caravaggio, included pumpkins in still-life paintings, like the one you see above.

Renaissance Europeans also began to cook with pumpkin. One recipe, found in Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera, published in 1580, includes a recipe for a tourte of domestic pumpkin, which combines ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar, pepper and cinnamon that is then poured into a tourte shell, covered with an upper shell, baked, and finally glazed with sugar and rosewater. (Scappi, Book V. 106) This recipe sounds suspiciously like a precursor to our “modern” versions of pumpkin pie!

Pumpkin is often found in sweet foods, but it is equally tasty in savoury pasta dishes. In the Northern Italian town of Mantua, for example, raviolis are filled with a mixture of pumpkin, amaretti, and mostarda (a spicy condiment of fruit preserved in sugar syrup and mustard oil). I opted for a simpler pumpkin pasta recipe when I had some friends over for supper recently. This recipe has a creamy pumpkin sauce covering ziti noodles, peppered with chunks of sausage and fresh sage leaves. It was delicious, and a perfect way to consume seasonal produce in a slightly different way!


Pumpkin Pasta Bake
Serves 6-8

1 pound ziti or rigatoni noodles, cooked to al dente
1 pound sausage meat (I used a combination of mild Italian and British bangers)
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
6-8 sage leaves, chopped
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 of a garlic and herb cream cheese spread (i.e. Boursin)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup cream
15 oz can pumpkin puree (approx. 2 cups of pumpkin)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Brown the sausage in a pan over medium high heat until the sausage is no longer pink. Break up larger chunks as you cook.
3. In the same pan, add the onion, and garlic. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the wine, and then the sage leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until the wine has reduced by half.
5. Add the chicken stock, cream, and Boursin cheese. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Mix until everything is incorporated. You can also add some extra grated Parmesan to the sauce for a more cheesy flavour.
5. Transfer to a casserole dish with the pasta. Mix until combined.
6. Top with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25-35 minutes until bubbly.
7. Garnish with parsley (or fried sage) and enjoy with a nice glass of white wine!

A new take on an old Pumpkin Cake recipe


During October, we celebrate two holidays in Canada: Thanksgiving and Halloween. For me, the entire month is all about the sights, smells and tastes of autumn—the smell of crisp leaves falling, frost sparkling on the grass in the morning, and the firm end of the harvest season. Pumpkins are king in October. You see them decorating front porches and store displays, and jack-o’lantern images are found in every window. Vibrant orange gourds dot farmers’ fields as you drive past.

And they are delicious.

In the past 10-15 years, we have become obsessed with pumpkin [spice] everything during autumn. Not only are pumpkins drank in lattes, but they are cooked up into everything from layer cakes to cookies to seasonal lasagnas. I don’t recall ever hearing about pumpkin macaroni and cheese when I was kid. But now? Pumpkins feature heavily in October food, both sweet and savoury!

Out of curiosity, I checked into some old cookbooks recently at my grandmother’s house. Fascinatingly, old cookbooks might associate pumpkins with autumn, but they didn’t serve them in very many ways. One cookbook, the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, published in 1966, included only 4 pumpkin recipes out of hundreds of dishes that reflect “Canadian cooking.” Given that pumpkins are native to North America, and have been consumed for centuries, I found this lack of pumpkin recipes interesting. Other cookbooks from 50 years ago are similar—they might include a recipe for pumpkin pie, perhaps one simple cake or muffin recipe, and occasionally a version of pickles, but rarely anything else.

In the spirit of history, I cooked up the pumpkin cake recipe from the Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook, albeit a modified version to suit 21st century pumpkin tastes. (What makes the originally cake specifically from Calgary, I’m not sure.) I changed the spices to more of a blend of warm, autumnal spices, including cloves and ginger, which always go well with pumpkin. In addition, I swapped shortening for butter because—hey, who doesn’t like butter? The original recipe used very little pumpkin, so I increased that to one cup. If you eat pumpkin cake, you want to taste the pumpkin’s flavour!

“Old-Fashioned” Pumpkin Spice Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup sour milk or buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup canned pumpkin (or pureed pumpkin you have prepared yourself)
1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cloves
1/2 cup raisins

1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease an 8×8″ square baking pan.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
3. Add vanilla, buttermilk, and pumpkin. Mix until well incorporated.
4. Add dry ingredients and spices. Mix. Fold in raisins.
5. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Because I found the cake a bit dry, I served it with a Grand Marnier cream cheese icing. I think the cake could also be served with butter, similar to a loaf or muffin.


Cooking with Bushra

In my current line of work, I encounter a number of newly-arrived residents of Canada, including many Syrian refugees. Recently, a co-worker of mine assisted a Syrian lady, Bushra, who she brought in an array of snacks as thanks for the help. Her Syrian generosity meant that there were a lot of snacks to share. I tried several delicious foods, including little pizza flatbreads, a sweet semolina cake, and kibbeh. The kibbeh were amazing—little balls of bulgur wheat stuffed with slightly spiced meat. They were so tasty, in fact, that I wanted to find out the recipe.

With the help of a woman who works for a local immigration agency, we set up a cooking demo at Bushra’s home. “Cooking demo” for Syrians apparently means “large feast with friends” because, when my co-worker and I arrived at Bushra’s place, there was a veritable banquet of dishes awaiting us. Bushra and her husband, Abdulwahab, are from Aleppo in Syria, which is a city known for its food culture. Aleppo was a major stop along the Silk Road, so the cuisine there was a sort of melting pot of influences and the diverse communities—Arabs, Armenians, Kurds and also Christians—who lived there. Abdulwahab ran a restaurant in Kuwait for many years, thus both husband and wife are accomplished cooks and prepared different aspects of the meal for us.


The spread included some familiar foods and some new dishes. There was hummus (almost Israeli-style, with lots of tahini) and a lusciously smooth baba ganoush, decorated with shreds of carrot, olives, and pomegranate seeds. The tabbouleh (pictured above) was dressed simply, with just lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, and finely-diced tomatoes and onions made it one of the nicest tabboulehs I’ve yet had. Abdulwahab told us that the proper way to eat tabbouleh was with lettuce, which actually made it very easy to eat!

(Clockwise from left: Green beans, hummus, Abdulwahab’s Famous Salad, chicken curry, rice)

Vegetables played a major role in the meal. Abdulwahab made his “famous salad,” that he used to serve in his restaurant days—it was mainly cucumber, lettuce, tomato, and onion dressed in lemon juice, olive oil, and mint. Another dish consisted of tomatoes, red peppers, eggplants, and onions simmered in olive oil (Bushra noted that you have to make sure to salt the eggplant before cooking so it absorbs less oil). My favourite vegetable dish was probably the simplest: onions simmered in about a half cup of oil on low (so they don’t brown). Add to that green beans, put on the lid, and let cook gently for an hour. Bushra served the beans cold. They were unexpectedly simple yet very tasty.

(Clockwise from left: hummus, salad, curry, simmered vegetables, baba ganoush, kibbeh, rice)

There was also a big platter of yellow rice, served with a turmeric-heavy chicken curry. Spinach and onion handpies and the ubiquitous kibbeh finished off the meal. Bushra and Abdulwahab told us that they have a saying in Aleppo that “you eat as much as you love them.” The host wants to be generous with their guests, and Bushra and Abdulwahab were immensely warm and inviting. My co-worker and I tried our best to finish everything, but we failed in that challenge!


Bushra gave a brief demonstration to me of how to make kibbeh. Years of practice have made her adept at forming the egg-shaped balls of kibbeh deliciousness. She uses an electric meat grinder to combine the bulgur wheat and meat, forms them into elongated little cups, stuffs in the spiced ground meat and onion mixture, then she moulds it into a tapered egg to be fried in a fairly shallow pan of oil (about ½ an inch deep). Bushra said that the thinner the kibbeh are, the better.

The meal ended with a round of tea and a platter of baklava and Syrian desserts. The whole evening was lovely—not only was there delicious food, but we learned a lot about Syrian culture. There was no political agenda, just a gathering of people with an appreciation of good food. We were there to share and learn, just one-on-one, as people. Bushra and Abdulwahab seemed surprised at how much I knew about architecture in Syria, and I was surprised at how they could be so generous in light of everything that they lost back home. I hope that there is a future for Syria that isn’t just warfare and destruction, because they have such a rich history, fascinating food culture, and such warm, welcoming people.