The Learning Zone

Those of your who've been reading Sift, Dust & Toss for the past couple of years will know I always insist I am not a baker. I think people are either cooks or bakers. They may do both, but their skill set naturally falls into one area or the other, like a painter or a sculptor. I'm more of a cook because I like to adapt and meddle. When I see a recipe, I always think I can make it better by adding an ingredient that will pair nicely with its flavours. I always adjust.

Bakers are more disciplined and scientific. They approach everything with an understanding of wet and dry ratios. I marvel at those who can bake instinctively without a recipe. They have to account for so many variables: hot and cold, wet and dry, and rising and expanding air.

In spite of my un-bakerlyness, I made a rhubarb crisp today for my colleagues at work. I think it's ok, but the process still made me apprehensive. This all reminded me of an infographic I came across many years ago while training to be a high ropes course instructor that I have replicated here for you.

We all have activities and tasks that we are comfortable with. Those tasks fall into our comfort zone. When we stretch our abilities and take on new challenges, we enter our learning zone. If we go too far outside our comfort zone, we enter our risk zone and this is becomes tense and frightful for us.

The cool part of all this is that when we spend time in our learning zone, eventually these activities become part of our comfort zone and we can take on new risks and challenges: our risk zone becomes smaller and smaller. 

Baking is definitely part of my learning zone. I hope to keep at it so I can one day be one of those people who intuitively partner hot and cold, wet and dry, and rising and expanding air.

Recipe Template: Pureed Vegetable Soup

Long ago, I curated the following recipe to make soup with basically any vegetable. I fancied myself quite clever for reducing a zillion recipes into one catch-all. The essence is that any pureed vegetable soup requires some oil or butter, a pungent flavour base, a spice, a broth, a vegetable and a blender. That's really it. Ultimately, it requires the user to understand that nutmeg goes well with green vegetables and curry is well-suited to carrots or cauliflower, but you can't really do any wrong. Add a potato, remove a potato. The world is your soup pot. Be adventurous.

Aromatics: 1 cooking onion/ 2 leeks/ 4 shallots (or any combination of all)
2 cloves of garlic/ 1 thumb sized piece of ginger (optional)
1 tsp of the spice of your choice: nutmeg/ thyme/ curry
1 russet potato, chopped (optional)
3 cups of vegetable, chopped (carrot, broccoli, mushroom, cauliflower, celery, etc.)
3 or so cups of chicken/vegetable/beef broth (enough to cover)
1 cup of 2% milk/ evaporated milk/ coconut milk/ cream (optional)
dollop of sour cream/ grated parmigiano-reggiano/ hot sauce
sea salt and freshly-cracked pepper
1/2 cup of chives/ parsley/ cilantro


  1. Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pot over medium heat, add onions (or other aromatics.) Cook until softened (7 minutes.) Add garlic and spices; cook 1 minute until you can smell the aroma.
  2. Add vegetables and soup broth. Increase heat until gently boiling. Reduce to a simmer and cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  3. Puree mixture in a blender. (Strain if desired, but I hardly ever do.)
  4. Add milk, cream or coconut milk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with freshly chopped herbs.
Serves 2.

The Dark Side of Food Blogging

I had an experience last week that left me a little rattled. Working late at work, I ordered take-out from a restaurant I know and respect. The food was delicious, but, to my shock and dismay I fished an open staple out of my mouth. Naturally, this could have cut my mouth, I could have swallowed it - a lot of terrible things could have happened. As it turned out, I caught it and it was fine, but my trust and confidence in that restaurant was compromised. It's too bad because their food is delicious.

As a food blogger, I don't think it's fair to use this platform to tear apart restaurants. I know that one bad review can make or break a business so I try to write about things I love and things of value, keeping pollution to a minimum.

Last year I had a violent and gut-wrenching food poisoning episode from eating Pad Thai at a popular downtown restaurant with a strong reputation. I was out of commission for days and my inclination was to tell the world what had happened, making the restaurant pay for their irresponsible practices.

However, I held back. I won't go back there again and I might mention the incident to my inner sanctum, but people have rightly pointed out to me that food poisoning is difficult to attribute with 100% certainty so it's reckless to take a stand and write a scathing review.

As for the staple incident, I think I'm going to tell the restaurant what happened so they are aware. I'm interested in your thoughts. What would you have done about this staple incident? Would you write about it and name the restaurant? Do you think it's the responsibility of food bloggers to tell honest stories about their negative experiences? Or do you think this is unfair to restaurants?

Surprisingly Un-Stoic Organic Lentil Soup

The words "lentil soup" aren't exactly awe-inspiring, but this soup recipe is. The first time I made it, I couldn't believe what a delicious and complex flavour it rendered. I could not stop eating it! Just amazing what a little bacon can do. The thyme plays a very important role in tying all the ingredients together and the greens and parsley add a nice freshness to brighten the lentil-y colour.

This dish is great served immediately, but it gets better after a day in the fridge when the flavours have had a chance to meld. I try my best to use organic ingredients wherever possible. Try to use sea salt instead of table salt and you'll notice the difference in flavour (as well as the added benefits of micro-nutrrients from the ocean.) I'm a garlicky person so I go heavy on it.You can add 3 cloves if you're after a milder flavour. If you want to make a vegan version, simply replace the bacon fat with olive oil, omit the cream, and use veggie stock.

If you're serving the soup immediately, follow the recipe as outlined below. Sometimes I'll make a batch and split it into smaller portions to take to work. In these cases, I'll leave out the spinach or kale until I reheat it so it doesn't get too wilty.

3 strips bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces (for good quality organic meats, try Sanagan's in Kensington Market or Cumbrae's)
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium organic carrots, peeled, halved and chopped into crescents
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons sun-dried tomato paste
1 1/2 cups of organic lentils, checked over and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon organic dried thyme
4 cups of organic veggie or chicken stock
2 cups of water
1 tablespoon organic red-wine vinegar (Eden's has a great one)
2 cups of chopped organic kale or spinach
1/2 cup of organic cream, or evaporated milk
water to thin soup, as needed
1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper


  1. In a heavy-bottom pot with a tight-fitting lid, cook bacon over medium heat until brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Reserve about a tablespoon of fat. Remove the rest, along with the bacon. Set aside...or not. My bacon usually winds up as a "chef's treat" if you catch my drift.
  2. Add onion and carrots; cook until softened for about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic until you can smell the pungent aroma, less than a minute. Stir in tomato paste, and cook 1 more minute.
  3. Add lentils, thyme, broth, and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until lentils are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. I usually puree half the soup in a blender because I like a thicker texture. You can do this or leave this step out. If the soup is too thick, add a little water to thin it out. Return blended soup to pot.
  4. Add kale or spinach. Wilt in the warmth.
  5. Stir in vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Add cream. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley

Vegan Black Metal Chef - Video for Pad Thai

My good friend Parker at Blogcampaigning just sent this video my way. It's too good not to share. 

Watch as the Vegan Black Metal Chef sings screams his recipe for Pad Thai and shows his cooking method, complete with captions and torturous cooking utensils.Something tells me I'm going to be watching a lot of Vegan Black Metal Chef in the months to come...

Good News for Sift, Dust & Toss

In case you didn't hear the good news, I was selected as the winner of Miss Ava Cado’s guacamole blogger challenge for my recipe for Multi-Citrus Guacamole. The recipe was selected based on a combination of originality/creativity, flavour profile, ingredients in the recipe and overall presentation.

I was delighted to receive a $300 Pampered Chef gift certificate and a forthcoming blogger challenge badge for Sift, Dust & Toss.

Click here to see the winning guacamole recipe. Happy belated Cinco de Mayo!

Trish Magwood's new cookbook, In My Mother's Kitchen

Toronto local and James Beard award winner, Trish Magwood, recently released her second cookbook, In My Mother's Kitchen. I was pleased to receive a copy as I've always appreciated her sweet and simple approach to cooking and entertaining. The book is filled with cozy, comforting recipes that be performed by working parents- even on weeknights.

With each recipe, Magwood shares where and who she learned it from, recounting happy memories of her family's cottage and farm.

As I flipped through the pages, I was filled with nostalgia for simple childhood favourites like Egg in a Hole or Raisin Walnut French Toast. Cheddar Chive Buttermilk Scones look simple to make and sound very promising. Soups are my favourite and Magwood does not disappoint: Sweet Potato, Curried Corn Chowder, Mulligatawny, Taco Soup and Grannie Annie's Magic Soup to cure colds are among the selections. Ultra-tested Mac and Cheese with penne sounds like a keeper. The fish recipes look ok, but Magwood confesses fish is not her favourite. Grill-Pan Rib-Eye with Creamy Mushrooms sounds delicious. Grilled Lettuce is right up my alley.

To honour her mother and grandmother, Magwood does updated versions of time-honoured recipes like Tomato Butter and Crab Apple Jelly, sixties and seventies classics like Cheese Soufflé and Cottage Barbecue Pineapple Chicken, while offering new favourites such as Miami-Style Beef Short Ribs and Mock Butter Chicken.

Very few of the recipes require more than ten ingredients. If you're a meddler like me, you could add additional spices and herbs to your liking, but Magwood offers great templates, suitable for picky little eaters' palates. Throughout In My Mother's Kitchen are lovely photos of food, memorabilia, and the family’s kitchen garden. Below, I've included Magwood's recipe for lemon ice cream that you can make without an ice cream maker.

In My Mother's Kitchen
By Trish Magwood
Harper Collins Canada
$39.99 CAD

No-Ice-Cream-Maker Lemon Ice Cream 
(Credited to Trish Magwood from her cookbook, In My Mother's Kitchen)

1 cup 10% cream
1 cup 35% cream
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon zest
1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice

How To
In a large bowl, combine 10% cream with 35% cream. Beat with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until cream starts to thicken slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. Add sugar and beat until incorporated. Stir in lemon zest and juice.

Pour into an 8-inch (2L) square cake pan. Cover and freeze until firm, about 24 hours. Serve with fresh berries. Garnish with frozen candied lemon curls: use a lemon peeler to make lemon peel curls, shake in a small bowl of sugar and freeze in a single layer on a small baking sheet.