Who doesn't love a delicious steak? It brings a smile to everyone in the family but try topping it with a tantalizing mushroom gravy and pairing it with thick cut home fries. It doesn't get much better than this! This is comfort food at it's best!

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 tender beef steaks (about 3/4-inch thick), well-trimmed
  • Montreal steak spice (or use coarse salt and pepper)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot, minced finely
  • 1 pkg of sliced white mushrooms
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cup low-sodium beef stock

Baked home fries:

  • 3 large baking potatoes, cut into thick fries
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder

1. Home fries: Preheat the oven to 425 F and line the large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the cut fries onto the baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, pepper and chili powder. Using clean hands, gently toss the fries to coat. Place it in the oven and bake it for a good 40 minutes, tossing the fries half way through to ensure even cooking. The fries should be lightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.

2. Season the tender beef steaks with the Montreal steak spice on both sides. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet, on medium high heat. Once the skillet comes up to temperature, sear the steaks on both sides to desired doneness. To give you an idea, 10-12 minutes per side should cook the steaks to medium. Make sure not to press down on the steaks while cooking, and turn the steaks only once. Transfer to a plate and tent the steaks with foil. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan while cooking. I suggest cooking it two at a time.

3. Turn the heat up to medium, and add the remaining oil, and the butter. Once the butter melts, add the minced shallot and the sliced mushrooms. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until the mushrooms are tender. Stir in the flour. Cook the flour for a minute, then slowly whisk in the beef stock. Once the gravy starts to thicken, let it bubble for a minute then take it off the heat. Serve the steak, mushroom gravy and the home fries altogether. Enjoy!

Cook's tip: If you find the steak not warm enough while you wait for the fries to cook, place the steaks in a low heated oven until you're ready to serve.

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EASY WINTER VEGETABLE RISOTTO

I don't usually tend make too many pure vegetarian dishes but lately I have craved winter vegetables. You heard right craved! Since I am expecting and I am a few months in I have noticed a huge change in the way I eat. I don't tend to favour meat all that much lately (shocking as that may sound), so I am re-teaching myself to cook so that I can bring out the most flavour in the foods I like to eat. This easy winter risotto turned out to be a real hit with me. I honestly ate the whole bowl and had a huge smile on my face while I took bite after bite. This is quite a filling dish that warms the soul. You really appreciate all the flavours that vegetables bring to a dish. You can really feel good about eating this.

Adapted and modified from the "Easy Garden Risotto" recipe in the Canadian Living: Cooks Step by Step Cookbook (1999). Written by: Daphna Rabinovitch

Serves 4

Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 lb carrots, diced
  • 2 cups arborio rice or Italian short-grain rice
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 lb asparagus, cut into thirds
  • 1 zucchini, cut into half moons
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • coarse salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tbsp butter, cubed

1. In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the chopped onions, garlic and carrots, stirring occasionally for a good 7-10 minutes. Stir in the rice and coat the rice with the mixture, then pour in half of the stock. Bring the pan up to a boil, stirring often.

2. Reduce the heat to low; stir in the diced tomatoes, and simmer for 15 minutes. You want the tomatoes to breakdown and create a light red sauce. Add in the asparagus, zucchini and the remaining stock; simmer gently for 10 minutes.

3. Add in the remaining stock and simmer for another 7-10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. The rice should be creamy in consistency and the rice should be cooked through. Stir in the frozen peas at this point. Take the pan off the heat and add in the lemon juice, salt, pepper and the butter. Once everything is stirred in, serve the risotto immediately.

Cook's tip: Although I chose not to add grated Parmesan cheese in this risotto feel free to add it in if you like. 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese should be stirred in along with the butter at the last second before you serve.

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CHICKEN CACCIATORE

Here is a good all around family dinner that is both comforting and filling. I love making this for my family during the cold winter months. I like to serve this slow braised chicken with the sauce on top of either cooked rice or pasta. It's a beautiful dish to serve to guests as well.

Adapted from the "Easy Chicken Cacciatore" recipe on the Canadian Living Website

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 chicken legs or thighs
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 sweet red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced (optional)
  • 1 tsp dried Italian herbed seasoning
  • 1 can (28 oz.) diced herbed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 bay leafs
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley

1. Lightly toss the chicken in the seasoned flour (with salt and pepper). In a large shallow pan, heat half of the oil on medium high heat, and brown the chicken on all sides. Transfer to a plate and drain all of the excess oil from the pan.

2. Heat the remaining oil over medium heat, and saute the onion, garlic, red bell pepper, celery and Italian herbed seasoning. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Saute for about 3-4 minutes until tender. Add in the diced tomatoes, stock, tomato paste and bay leafs; and bring all of the ingredients up to a boil.

3. Then return the chicken into the pan and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pan and cook the cacciatore until the chicken is cooked through. This should take a good 30-40 minutes. If you find the sauce thickening too quickly for you add a bit more stock to loosen it. Once the chicken is cooked through, turn the heat off and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately with cooked pasta or rice.

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MATT'S BEER WE GO! LIBERTY ALE

Well dear reader! There's nothing like, oh, FOOD POISONING! to really take the wind out of one's sails (or the liquor out of one's system *insert grimace here*). And what's worse, I had to pour almost an entire litre and a half (that's like almost three pints for my Yankee readers) of good red wine down the drain, because I had opened it - gotten sick - and then felt like drinking nothing until I got better, by which time el vino had gone stale *insert frowny face*. What a sin!

But, by the Good Grace of the Lord, I'm back at it! And, speaking of Yankees earlier, today's beer happens to epitomize America (by its name at least), Liberty Ale!

America takes a lot of flack from the rest of the world, but most are genuinely lovely people with good hearts and souls, with an entrepreneurial spirit that produces many wonderful products. While I won't go so far as to call this beer one of the BEST they've produced, it certainly ain't bad.

On to details? Yes, let's!

First, this beer doesn't "screw around" - literally! It notes right on the cap: use opener. That's VERY clever and very considerate, especially if any muscle bound oafs out there get the idea that this one can be opened easily! Much like Fort Knox, you need the right know how to get into it - get yourself an opener!

It pours a hazy golden, orangy colour, and is a little cloudy (I assume due to its use of top fermenting yeast and the process therein - these types of fermented beers always have a cloud if I recall correctly...IF!).

It has a light and fragrant bouquet, smelling a little like banana, or light orange...very fresh indeed! What bananas and oranges have to do with "liberty" is beyonddd me...but I'm not complaining!

Upon taste, there is a little bitterness, definite dryishness, and one can indeed pick up an orangy taste, and the carbonation produces a degree of freshness, which the bitterness does tame, however. The hoppiness of the well, hops, comes to the forefront of the aftertaste.

So there you have it. As noted, this isn't the best beer Uncle Sam has ever made, but it is by far not the worst. The freshness and slight fruity tastes fades a little too fast for my taste, but it does have a nice balance otherwise, keeping the 5.9% alcohol well in check. If you have a taste for liberty, you may very well enjoy this beer!

I wonder if there's a "Communism Beer"...

**3/4 out of 4

Purchased at a Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) store for C$3.90 (US$3.71).

From LCBO.com:

LIBERTY ALE, 650 mL bottle
LCBO #580217
Beer, Ale, Craft Brewery
5.9% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: 3
Made in: California, United States of America
By: Anchor Brewing Co.
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STRAWBERRY CRUMBLE COFFEE CAKE

My parents came over recently for a nice visit and brought over tons of strawberries that they bought downtown on sale. The strawberries were so fresh and beautiful, but my husband and I both knew that there was no way we were going to finish those in time. My husband Matt suggested that I bake something with tons of strawberries in it. I don't usually bake with strawberries mainly because of the high water content. I find the strawberries make the baked good go bad rather quickly and it's always best eaten that day. I found this recipe recently on a website and knew I had to give it a try. Although I knew the cake wouldn't have a long shelf life I still really wanted to try it. For me if the recipe is simple and the comments on the recipe are superb I know it's on my to-do list of recipes to try. Luckily this one made it to the blog and now I share it with you all.

Adapted from the "Strawberry Coffee Cake" recipe on the about.com:Southern Food website.

Serves 8

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Baking time: 35-40 minutes

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1-1/2 cup strawberries, sliced

Crumble topping:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cold butter, cubed

Preheat the oven to 375 F and grease and lightly flour a square or round 8-inch cake pan. I recommend lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to ensure that the cake doesn't burn.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add in the milk and melted butter. Beat the mixture for about 2 minutes.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and then top the cake with the sliced strawberries. Note: it is not necessary to arrange the strawberries really nice and pretty since the crumble mixture will cover it anyway.

In another bowl, combine the flour and sugar; quickly blend in the cold butter cubes using your finger tips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. If you wish you can also add in 1/4 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts at this point. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over top of the strawberries. Place the cake in the oven and bake it for about 35-40 minutes or until the crumble topping is a nice golden brown. Insert a toothpick in the middle of the cake to ensure that the cake is cooked through. Let the cake cool completely then serve.

Cook's note: This cake is best eaten the same day that it is made. I strongly suggest not keeping it for more than 2 days. The crumble topping tends to go a bit mushy because of the strawberries.
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GREEK PASTA SALAD

Here is a pasta salad that I remember eating as a child. My mom used to take my sister and I grocery shopping every week and I used to ask my mom to buy the pre-made Greek pasta salad that they had over at the deli counter. I just loved the tanginess that came from both the red wine vinegar/lemon juice and the creamy tanginess that came from the feta cheese. My mom used to buy enough to serve as a side during our meals but to be honest.... it never lasted long enough to be served as a side. Once I was old enough to cook I knew this was one recipe that I knew I had to master; that way I could make a double batch and eat to my heart's content for the next few days. Here is my recipe for a yummy Greek pasta salad.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
  • 1-1/2 cup dry fusilli pasta
  • 1/2 cup red or sweet onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green or black olives, halved
  • 1 seedless cucumber, quartered
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • juice of one lemon or 2-3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • feta cheese crumbles (as much as you want)
  • handful of chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Put on a large pot of boiling water and cook the fusilli pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta and rinse it under cold water until all of the heat from the pasta is gone. Leave it in the colander to cool down and dry out a bit.

In a large bowl, combine the chopped onion, olives, cucumber, tomatoes, and diced red bell pepper. Mix the cooled pasta with the veggies. In another small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and oregano. Sprinkle a generous amount of feta cheese crumbles on top of the pasta mix and then pour the vinaigrette. Gently toss the pasta salad together until just combined.

Give the pasta salad a taste and season if necessary or add more cheese. Place the bowl in the fridge for a good 30 minutes so the pasta salad has a chance to merry the flavours together. Serve when ready.

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MATT'S WINE NOT! MANTINIA NASIAKOS 2008 GREEK WHITE WINE

To be honest dear reader, I am one to try and seek out wines from all over the world. I don't want to focus say, only on French reds (although I do enjoy them quite a bit); I want to see what the world has to offer (and I do say this is a far cheaper way to "travel" than by air...and one could say the boozy affects makes one "travel" anyway! But I digress).

Ah, Greece. It was a pleasure to discover this wine from the land of Zeus and Hercules, and I consider it a pleasurable duty to review this wine simply because of the fact that Ancient Greece had a wine deity - Dionysus (Bacchus to you Roman lovers).


This wine featuring grape clippers on the label (I sure as hell hope they're not dental implements) was made from 100% Moschofilero grapes, which is a noted gray-skinned (yup!) grape of Greek origins, found chiefly in the Peloponnese region. Where is Peloponnese? Well, Greece, duh!! I didn't get an audition for Jeopardy! for nothing...

So! Slip on a toga, if you have a friend called "Newton," invite them over, it's time to indulge!

First, you know you're getting authentic goods: remove the foil, and the cork is sealed with a tape with Greek writing (that purple bit I taped around the cork in the pic)...don't ask what it says, I haven't a clue, and there's only so far I'll go for you dear reader! (Send me some free wine and then we'll talk.)

The cork itself is quite unique: some kind of synthetic plastic made with the copyrighted name of "Supercap." Fascinating...

It poured a light, bordering faint, yellow hue, and looked fresh and crisp. How can one describe "fresh and crisp" by looks alone? I'm not sure really, but it isn't thick or syrupy like some heavier bodied, higher alcohol red wines - so I stand by what I say! Or type...

A fragrant nose is present of appley goodness, with tones of apricot, and is scintillating in its cleanness and lightness, like sun rays gently peering through the clouds of Mount Olympus. Yup. The bottle noted scents of mint and roses. Shows what I know!!

Tasty time presented a peachy/appley taste, which wasn't too strong, but was more subtle. This wine also featured the trifecta of some dryness, sweetness, and acidity, so there is almost something for everyone to be had!

This white was not one of those lesser whites with weak body or depth of taste, but did pack a fairly good punch in the taste department, with some sourness and acidity, and a flavour of dried apricots in the aftertaste coming to.

So! This award winning wine - it won a Silver at the International Wine and Spirit Competition and was marked a "Best in Class," certainly is a winner with this wineophile. As noted, it had a mix of features (dryness, acidity, and sweetness) and pleasant fruity notes in scent and taste. Head over to your wine press and get one today, or, if unavailable, your local wine distributor and enjoy this gift of the gods today. Olympiaaaaaaaaa!!

***1/2 out of 4

Purchased at a Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) store for C$15.95 (US$14.88).

From LCBO.com:

NASIAKOS MANTINIA 2008, 750 mL bottle
LCBO/Vintages #143032
Wine, White Wine
12% Alcohol/Vol.
Sugar Content: XD
Made in: Peloponnese, Greece
By: Nasiakos Wines
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SEARED TILAPIA WITH LEMON DILL BUTTER SAUCE

When I went to the grocery store recently I was so happy to find fresh tilapia on sale that week so I knew I just had to buy it and try something new in the kitchen. Believe me it's not often that I see a good sale on fresh fish around my area so I definitely jumped at the chance. I wanted to make something of course simple but definitely more on the romantic side, a dinner for two as some may say. I happened to have dill in the fridge that day and had my idea at hand! I am a firm believer that when people cook with fresh fish they should really let the fish shine on the plate, and not cover it up with thick sauces. I think I did that with this.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
  • 2 fresh tilapia fillets
  • kosher salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/4 cup of dry white wine or fish stock
  • 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped

Season the fresh tilapia fillets with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in a medium non-stick skillet, on medium high heat, and place the fish gently into the pan. Sear the fish on both sides. It should take no more than 3 minutes per side, flip when the fish is nice and brown on the edges.

When you flip the fish to cook on the other side, sprinkle lemon zest over top and squeeze the juice all over the fish fillets. Once you start to see the fish brown on the edges, pour the white wine or fish stock over and let the alcohol cook off for a minute. Quickly add in the fresh dill, swirl the pan around to incorporate the herb. Take the pan off the heat and serve immediately.

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Here is a recipe that is sure to be a winner at your house. If you're a busy career person like me and don't have much time most days to make a delicious meal give this recipe a try! The combination of the warm saucy barbeque pork and the tangy creamy coleslaw on a lightly toasted bun is just perfect in my mouth. My husband and I finished every bite and at the end wished I had made more!

Serves 4

Ingredients:
  • 1 pork tenderloin, sliced into thin pieces
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • half a bottle of smokey barbeque sauce (your fav)
  • a few dashes of hot sauce
  • 1 pkg of coleslaw, washed and ready to use
  • 1/2 cup of sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup light mayo
  • juice of half a lemon
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 4 Kaiser buns, lightly toasted

1. Slice the pork tenderloin into thin pieces, using a sharp knife. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet, on medium high heat, and sear the thin pieces of pork on both sides. This should take no more than 2-3 minutes per side. There is no need to season the pork since the barbeque sauce has so much flavour.

2. Turn the heat down to low, and pour over the barbeque sauce and add in a few dashes of hot sauce. If you find the sauce too thick then add in 2 tbsp of water or so to loosen the sauce. Cover the pan and let the pork cook with the sauce for a good 5-7 minutes.

3. In a large mixing bowl, add in the ready-to-use coleslaw from the package, the sweet onions, light mayo, lemon juice and just a pinch of salt and ground black pepper. Toss the mixture together and place it in the fridge until you're ready to serve. Lightly toast the buns at this point. Put the sandwich together... Take your lightly toasted bun and place some of the barbequed meat on top, then add as much coleslaw as you wish, place the other bun on top and you've got dinner ready on the table.

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