Shepherd(less) Pie


I have vague memories from when I was very young of eating Shepherd’s Pie. I never enjoyed meat, but those layers of fresh green peas and creamy mashed potatoes stayed with me for years and years. Luckily, there are any number of delicious ways to recreate this traditional dish for a meatless diet, and this is my current favourite.

I initially adapted this version from a Passover recipe. I still make it at Pesach, and I get a lot of comments and requests for the recipe (so… ta-da!!!!! Here it is!). But a word of warning: my Pesach includes kitniyot, as does this pie. If you’ve also moved over to the dark side and are ready to enjoy Pesach food again, give this a try! If not, try it during the rest of the year. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, ignore this whole paragraph and start cooking.

You can easily make this vegan, by omitting the egg, and/or gluten-free, by omitting the matzah meal. It won’t change the taste, but the bottom layer won’t hold together quite as well. You could try sneaking in a bit of potato starch to see if that helps, but I really don’t think it’s a problem at all.

Also, I often cheat and use potato flakes for the potato layer, because it’s Pesach and I have enough stuff to cook. I won’t judge you.

Disclaimer: No shepherds were harmed in the creation of this recipe, although a whole bunch of chickpeas met their delicious end.

Pesach Shepherd’s Pie

  • 3 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 small orange or yellow bell pepper, diced small
  • 2 stalks celery, diced small
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tsp each dried basil and oregano, or 1 tsp each fresh
  • 3 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1 zucchini, shredded
  • 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas
  • ½ cup matzah meal
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups peas and corn, in any proportion you like. If you use frozen, that’s fine, but thaw them before using them.
  • 2 ½ cups potato flakes or 5 white potatoes, boiled till soft and mashed
  • Milk, butter and salt as desired for the potatoes. Replace these with water and oil or margarine to keep it pareve or vegan
  • Paprika to sprinkle on top.
  1. Prepare a 9×13-inch pan with a spray of oil or parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Saute the onion, bell pepper, celery, salt and pepper in oil till soft. Add the carrots and zucchini, and then the chickpeas and herbs. Test seasonings, then add matzah meal and egg if you’re using them.
  3. Spread this into the prepared 9×13-inch casserole dish. Top with the peas and corn and spread these evenly.
  4. Make the mashed potatoes. If you’re using flakes, about 3 cups of boiling water will do. You want the potatoes fairly soft and easy to spread. Add butter, milk, salt, etc, until you’re happy with the taste.
  5. Very carefully, spread the potatoes onto the pea/corn layer. I usually do this in several thin layers, because the first one will mess up all those peas that you’ve so carefully arranged. The second layer will only mess it up a bit, and the third layer will be all potato. Dust paprika lightly on top of the potato layer.
  6. Bake at 350F for about 30 minutes.

All gone!


Heads-up on a good book deal

If you read and enjoyed Ginger Monette’s Darcy’s Hope saga, you might want to check out a novel she has on sale until April 20, 2017. Tree of Life ~ Charlotte & the Colonel tells the tale of two childhood friends who find each other as adults… but is it too late?

Tree Title

I read this book too long ago to review properly now, but I do recall enjoying it very much. As always, Ms. Monette’s writing is beautiful and her story is compelling and psychologically deep.

Be warned: there is a strong religious / Christian theme running through the novel. It isn’t offensive in any way, and it is well in keeping with the time period and the characters, but I know it’s not to everyone’s tastes. I did know this when I first read the book a couple of years ago, and having that information up-front meant it wasn’t a problem at all for me. I appreciate it when authors are clear about their ideology and framework, rather than sneaking stuff in.

Regardless…. it’s a very good story and worth the time to read it! Here are some links:

More info on Facebook

Amazon US               Amazon Canada               Amazon UK

Book Review: Becoming Mrs. Norris by Alexa Adams

A newcomer to the world of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) might be excused from thinking that the great lady only wrote one novel – Pride and Prejudice. The vast majority of works in the world of JAFF focus on Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and for good reason, for theirs is a classic tale, an archetype of the story of mistaken first impressions and the coming together of two very different but complementary souls. Further explorations might lead a reader to variations based Austen’s other works, and such deviations can prove most enriching indeed. For lurking in these other tales are some wonderful stories and a myriad of fascinating and exquisitely-drawn characters.

Of the six published novels Jane Austen left us, Mansfield Park is one of the less-admired and certainly less-fan-fictioned. In many ways this is understandable, for the story of a young girl growing up with much wealthier cousins does not translate as well to modern interpretations, and the protagonist, quiet and retiring Fanny Price, takes a lot longer to get to know and love than the scintillating Elizabeth Bennet or the impulsively romantic Marianne Dashwood.

But this is also a pity, for there is so much in Mansfield Park to stir our emotions and imaginations. I, for one, have rather strong feelings about the novel, and if I ever feel my writing chops are up to the task, I have a story that I’d love to tell. Others with greater skills than my own have also set their pens to exploring and enlarging upon the tale, and Miss Austen has kindly given us a wealth of wonderful characters with whom to spend our times and exercise our creative juices.

One of these characters, all so beautifully and carefully drawn, is Fanny’s vile aunt, Mrs. Norris. She is a most unsympathetic character, full of self-serving schemes and self-aggrandizing manipulations. Not too long ago, talented author Alexa Adams set herself the task of trying to understand Mrs. Norris, to see what led a well-born lady to become so horrid a character.

The result can be seen in Becoming Mrs. Norris: A Mansfield Part Prequel. This is the third instalment of a series of Twisted Austen novellas which Ms. Adams has written in the dark spirit of Halloween. I was not certain what to expect, but to my great delight, I found myself transported by Ms. Adams’ beautiful prose to a world where I (gasp!) actually came to sympathize with the awful aunt. And, with that, here is my review.

Becoming Mrs Norris

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Becoming Mrs. Norris: A Mansfield Park Prequel (Twisted Austen Book 3) by Alexa Adams

Well, I never thought I’d find myself feeling sorry for Mrs. Norris! In her novella Becoming Mrs. Norris, Alexa Adams explores the events that might have created such a nasty woman as Fanny Price’s despised aunt. Set about thirty years before the events of Mansfield Park, this story paints a sad tale of cruelty and sacrifice, and of the spirit and strength required to rise above what life doles out. If we do not end up liking the manipulative aunt from Jane Austen’s novel, we do understand her somewhat better, and perhaps even sympathize with her just a bit.

As always, Ms. Adams’ writing is lovely. (If you haven’t read The Madness of Mr. Darcy, do yourself a favour). The prose flows beautifully from her pen, and her style captures the elegance and wit of Jane Austen’s own. Her characters work well in the story, while remaining true to how they appear in Mansfield Park. They are real and realistic, and you can easily feel you know them as well as the people you meet around town.

If I have criticisms, they are few. The ending seemed somewhat abrupt, and I would have loved some more insight into how poor Miss Ward’s awful experiences as a young woman twisted inside her after what seemed to have been a good marriage to a good man. Still, if you have ever wondered about the nasty creature that is Fanny Price’s aunt, wonder no more and read this story! It’s definitely time well spent.

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For more about Alexa Adams, check out her website at  There are some fascinating article, neat links, and a bunch of fun things to read.

Becoming Mrs. Norris can be purchased at the usual places, including Amazon (US, Canada, UK).

For Purim: Besan Burfee ~ Chickpea Fudge

Purim is around the corner, just days away, sneaking up on those of us who aren’t quite so prepared, ready to pounce. This is the holiday when we commemorate the courage of a brave woman – Queen Esther – who risked her life to save her people from the evil plans of an unscrupulous and power-hungry politician in long-ago Persia. To celebrate, we dress up in costume, hold parties, donate to the needy, and exchange gifts of food with friends. You can read more about Purim and the various traditions associated with it here.

The food most often associated with Purim is Hamantashen, those triangular pastries stuffed with an ever-expanding selection of fillings. Poppy seeds are a favourite, as are fruit and chocolate; some filings are even savoury, to be served as a snack rather than a sweet. Last year, I discovered a Persian delight called Nanbrangi.

This year, I wanted to find another less-common treat that still resonated with the holiday. I thought for a while about the story of Purim, and about what foods might be a good fit thematically while still being delicious – always my first requirement. I remembered that in the story, King Ahasuerus is said to reign from Hodu to Kush – from India to Ethiopia. I’ve been known to dabble in Indian food (alright, I’ve been known to make a complete glutton of myself around Indian food), and I sudden realized that I had the perfect recipe already.

We usually make this treat at Chanukah, since it is heavily oil-based, but it’s a treat at any time of the year, and will make a great addition to my baggies of treats that I’ll be giving to friends in a few days time. The name of this treat? Besan Burfee.

Besan WHAT? you ask. Never mind the name, in any language. This might sound like the sort of thing your well-meaning parent made to try to trick you into eating more veggies, but this is a genuine treat! Think rich and yummy and a bit nutty, with those tantalizing flavours of cardamom and pistachio hovering at the edges of your taste-buds, coaxing you, “have another piece, c’mon, just one more.”  If you’re still not convinced, think of the mouth-watering temptation of peanut butter fudge, but without the allergy concerns.

This recipe is vegan and gluten-free, and can be made nut-free as well if you leave out the pistachios. But don’t, unless you have to, because they’re part of what makes it so delicious.

The main ingredient is chickpea flour, which used to be tricky to find. These days, in our multi-ethnic cities and with our large supermarkets, its much, much easier to come by. You might find it in the Asian or Indian food aisle, labelled Besan, or you can look for it in areas that cater to the Italian population, where it’s called Farina di Ceci.

A couple of notes:

  1. You don’t need a food thermometer for this recipe, but it makes it so much easier and prevents burned fingers. These thermometers aren’t expensive (I got mine for about $12 a couple of years ago), and are more useful than you’d imagine.
  2. I use a silicone cake dish for this recipe. The silicone bends so the squares don’t break when you cut them, and it’s non-stick so the little squares of fudge pop right out without sticking to the pan.


Besan Burfee (Indian Chickpea Fudge)

  • 1 ½ cups chickpea flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom seeds
  • 2 – 3 TBSP unsalted pistachios, lightly crushed (I roast mine lightly, because I prefer the flavour. Your choice.)

Sift the chickpea flour. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and add the chickpea flour. Stir and fry 2 – 3 minutes until it turns a darker shade and tastes fried and not raw. Put into a large bowl, stir once and allow to cool.

Make a syrup with 1 cup water and 2 cups sugar by boiling these together for about 20 minutes, until the syrup reaches the one-thread consistency (put a bit between your finger and thumb and separate them slowly; the syrup should form a single thread between them). If you have a candy thermometer, this is about 230-234F. My preference is 232F, since a lower temperature makes for gooier fudge, and higher makes the fudge a bit crumbly.

Pour the hot syrup into the cooled chickpea mixture. Add the cardamom and nuts and mix well. Keep stirring until the mixture starts to set slightly. Pour into a 9-inch square cake pan, tilt so the mixture flows to the edges, and allow to cool. Cut into small cubes.

This is VERY sweet, so make the cubes small.

Book Review: Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey…. And another recipe!


A few months ago, I was honoured to host a stop on Ginger Monette’s blog tour for her recently-released novel Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes (you can read that review, and find the link to the very yummy poppy seed brioche recipe, here). I was even more honoured when she asked if I would take part in the tour for the continuation of that novel, and I jumped at the opportunity. Her books are a pleasure to read and a pleasure to write about.

One of the things I enjoy about reviewing books is the opportunity to get to know some of the authors a bit and talk to them about various aspects of their novels. In the case of Donwell Abbey, the conversation revolved around food, because what good is a book review on a food blog without a recipe to go with it? Ms. Monette mentioned a scene in her story in which the characters are eating lemon squares, and thus an obsession began to find the perfect lemon square recipe. You can read all about that adventure here. If you try them, you can let me know if you’ve had better.


You can follow the blog tour with all its various stops through this link or by clicking on the banner below, and if you’re in the US, don’t forget to check out the raffle at the bottom of the page for a giveaway of some yummy Downton Abbey Tea. (Hint: tea goes extremely nicely with lemon squares.)


Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey

In the first book of Darcy’s Hope, author Ginger Monette gives us a gritty and poignant retelling of Pride and Prejudice set against the churning backdrop of the First World War. At the conclusion of Beauty from Ashes, all seemed well as Elizabeth was heading to Pemberley to await Darcy’s return from the theatre of war for his Christmas leave. But during war, there are all too often nefarious forces afoot that ruin the soundest of plans. This is where the second novel of the two-part series begins.

In and amidst these tumultuous events, Elizabeth Bennet is unwittingly swept up in a web of treachery, treason, and deceit, and finds herself forced to abandon the one man she has ever truly loved. By remaining under his protection and at his side, she fears that the stain of guilt that has been cast upon her by others will endanger her beloved Darcy’s reputation – and perhaps even his life! Feeling she has no other choice, she runs away from her safe haven, leaving no clues as to her destination. Terrifying events soon convince her that her choice was not only right but necessary, and she redoubles her determination to vanish forever.

Darcy is devastated by the disappearance of his cherished Elizabeth, and all thoughts of finding her haunt him ceaselessly. He wishes only to search for her, but his duties as a captain in the army must take precedence, leaving him on the front lines, facing a ruthless enemy. He is still reeling from this loss when a horrific attack leaves him critically injured and he is sent home, barely alive, to recover at the soldiers’ hospital at Donwell Abbey. Lost in a world of pain and despair, the only thing that gives his life any meaning is the caring touch of his nurse, who reminds him so much of his lost Elizabeth. He starts to develop feelings for her, but Elizabeth is still out there somewhere…

While continuing the saga of the characters from the first volume, Donwell Abbey traces their trials and tribulations after the conclusion of the story as set out in Jane Austen’s beloved classic. Allowing her imagination free reign, Ms. Monette is able to throw Elizabeth and Darcy into entirely new and challenging situations as they face obstacle after obstacle to their ability to reunite and finally find happiness.

Traditionally, continuations of classic stories rely on two things: an interesting storyline and the continuity of established characters. Ms. Monette succeeds on both levels. Her story is realistic and engaging, drawing in the reader with her creative plot and vivid descriptions, both of the setting of the story as it occurs and of the several flashbacks. At the same time, she allows her characters to grow and evolve in a natural way, while always remaining true to both Austen’s archetypes and her own characters as she limned them in Beauty from Ashes. They are real and human, completely believable, and true to themselves.

“So,” you say, “a good story is nice, and good characters are nice, but I judge a book by how well it’s written. Tell me about the writing.” Alright. I have a couple of anecdotes to share in that regard. When I first picked up this book, I thought I would read through the first couple of pages to get a sense of where the story began, fully intending to pick it up and start reading seriously the next day. Well, two hours later, I finally forced myself to put it down, because it was well past midnight. Similarly, I read a lot while at the gym. I sit myself down on the exercise bike and try to keep myself amused with a book for the next half hour as I pedal myself to exhaustion. With this novel, however, I was so engrossed that I have no idea how long I spent on the bike that day, since both the half hour of pedalling and the five minutes for cool down had both long elapsed. Suffice it to say, I was engrossed!

Quibbles… It’s hard to think of a quibble. Perhaps there were one or two obstacles on the path to Happily Ever After that were not quite necessary, but without obstacles, a story won’t take you anywhere. I loved the inclusion of cameo roles by other favourites from literature, such as John Thornton, Margaret Hale, Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood, and I would have loved more of their stories. But a little bird may have suggested that their stories are still to come. Dare we hope?

I’m not a fan of rating creative works on a scale of one to four or five, since I don’t like reducing an author’s efforts to a number of stars, but I will say that I enjoyed this novel very much indeed. If you enjoy historical romance (or even if you don’t yet), give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed at all.

Note: Donwell Abbey may be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, but readers may experience some minor confusion without the context of the mystery of Darcys Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes.

You can get in touch with author Ginger Monette through her website or Facebook page or on Goodreads.



If you’re in the US, you can enter a raffle to win one of three tins of Downton Abbey Legacy Tea! The rafflecopter widget won’t show up on this page, but this link should take you to where you can enter. You can get extra entries too by commenting, sharing, or signing up for Ms. Monette’s newsletter or Facebook page. You can enter here:

Rafflecopter giveaway



You can purchase Darcy’s Hope at a Donwell Abbey at any one of a number of booksellers through this link:





To purchase the first volume, Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes, use the following link:



Lemon Squares… and a book review


When I was asked to host a stop on Ginger Monette’s blog tour for Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey, the first question I had was “what did the characters eat?” My initial thoughts of a wounded soldier recovering near his wealthy family’s estate in England involved images of scones and cream teas. I thought of writing about the delicious scones I make whenever the mood strikes. But then, while chatting a bit with the book’s author, she mentioned that there in a scene in her novel where the characters enjoy lemon squares.


You have to read the book to see where the lemon squares come in!

“Aha!” I thought. “I make lemon squares, and fairly good ones too.” But fairly good wasn’t quite good enough, and so I embarked upon a quest for the Perfect Lemon Square. (Did you hear heavenly music when I said that? (Try this: The Perfect Lemon Square)

To be fair, most of the recipes I tried were almost identical, so it seems that the Perfect Lemon Square has almost been achieved, but I still did some tweaking of my own. My poor family was forced to consume batch after batch, as I tried adding baking soda, or removing it, or seeing how many lemons created the ideal blend of tart / sweet. How I made them suffer. I don’t believe they ever want to see another lemon square, at least till next time I make them.

Now, lemon squares, especially perfect ones, are best enjoyed with tea and a good book. For both of those, check out this link to the book review that spurred this obsession. At the bottom, you’ll find a raffle for a tin of tea (for Americans only, I’m afraid). The raffle is open till February 28, 2017.


This is from an earlier attempt. Yummy, but a bit gooey. This was one thing I was trying to fix.

The Perfect Lemon Square

Nothing’s really perfect, but these come close.


  • 1 cup pastry flour
  • ½ cup cold butter
  • ½ cup icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
  • Pinch salt


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Zest of 2 lemons (about 1 TBSP)
  • Juice of 2 lemons (about 4 – 6 TBSP)
  • 4 scant TBSP flour
  1. Line a 9×9-inch baking tin with parchment paper or tin foil, and press into the pan to get a perfect fit. Spray lightly with oil or a non-stick spray. This will help it all come out nicely after it’s baked.
  2. In a food processor or with a pastry cutter (or two knives, even), combine all the crust ingredients and process until it’s a uniform crumbly mixture. It will look like sand. That’s okay. Press into the bottom of the lined tin. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until just golden
  3. While the crust is baking, beat the eggs in a mixer until they are very light and fluffy. This might take a couple of minutes. You want to get a lot of air in them. Add the sugar and keep beating. The mixture should be very light and creamy-looking. Add the zest and juice and the flour and beat again to combine.
  4. When the crust is ready, remove it from the oven and pour the lemon mixture onto the hot crust, then return it to the oven. Bake for another 25 minutes (but check it after 20, just to make sure it’s not burning). Remove from the oven and let cool for an hour or so. Chill in the refrigerator.
  5. When cold, carefully remove the bars (in their tin-foil shell) from the cake pan. I sometimes just turn the whole thing upside down over a cookie sheet, and then flip it again. Slice it into equal squares, your choice of size. 1-1/2-inch is a good size but you can see what you feel like. The squares should peel easily from the foil or parchment. They are easier to cut with a wet knife, so try that if they seem soft and mushy. Sprinkle with a dusting of icing sugar if desired. Hide from your family so you can eat them all.

Ready to enjoy with a cup of tea and a good book

Not your Uncle Malcolm’s Haggis


Each year, we look forward to hosting a Burns Night with some good friends, and the highlight is always the haggis. Or at least, that’s what I like to think, since I’m the chef.

But this isn’t your traditional haggis, for we are vegetarian, and haggis is about the most non-vegetarian dish I can think of. Luckily, somewhere along the road, somebody got creative and this treat was born.

I posted the recipe a few years ago, but it was hidden in the body of a longer post, and it really deserves a bit of the spotlight. So, in preparation for this year’s event, I dug out my camera and took some photos of the work-in-progress. For the final product, you’ll have to check back tomorrow, when I’ll finish the wee beastie and show you what it looks like just before being devoured.



  1. For the group we have over, I double the quantities in the recipe below.
  2. I don’t cook with the fine single malt I like to drink, so please forgive the Famous Grouse. Cheers!

Assembling some of the ingredients

Yuba-Wrapped Vegetarian Haggis

From Fresh From the Vegetarian Slow Cooker (Robin Robertson, The Harvard Common Press, 2004)

  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, finely shredded
  • 4 ounces white mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 ¾ cups vegetable stock or water
  • ¾ cup rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups cooked kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 TBSP minced fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 TBSP Scotch whisky (optional)
  • 1 ½ tsp tamari or other soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 large sheet fresh or frozen yuba (bean curd skin), thawed if necessary
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots, cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and stock, stir in the oats, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  2. Mash or coarsely chop the kidney beans and stir into the oat mixture. Add the nuts, parsley, whisky (if using), tamari, thyme, nutmeg, and cayenne, and season with salt and black pepper to taste. Mix well to combine.
  3. The bean curd should be soft, not brittle. If it is brittle, soak in a shallow bowl of water for a few seconds to soften. Line a lightly oiled 4-quart slow cooker with the yuba and spoon the stuffing mixture inside. Fold the yuba sheet over onto the mixture to enclose it. Cover and cook on Low for 4 hours.

NOTE from me – never having found yuba, I just make a soft pastry (like for samosas) and roll it as thinly as I can without worrying about it breaking. It’s easier to use if the filling is cold. I use that instead of the yuba, and bake the whole thing in the oven. (Try 400F for about an hour.) The pastry is then crispy, instead of soft, but we like the texture.


You mean I’m not just supposed to drink this?


All the ingredients added, ready to mix

Added the next day: And… the finished product!


Addressing the Haggis

Chai-Flavoured Biscotti

Every year, as December approaches, I start planning my annual Christmas Cookie Collection, the assortment of baked treats that my husband takes to his various staff and colleagues at work, as part of the gift exchange there. No matter what one’s religion, there’s always room on one’s faith for a home-made cookie or twelve. Some recipes remain on the list from year to year, while others come and go. One of my favourite parts of the whole cookie-baking-extravaganza is the licence to experiment with new and wonderful treats, whether from the newspaper’s cookie calendar, from cookbooks, or from my imagination.

(For some recipes from a few years ago, see this old post here.)

This year, as I started my baking, I realized that I had not done the shopping trip necessary to procure all my ingredients, but the need to bake was strong. And so I took stock of what was in my pantry and got creative. I love cooking foods from different cultures around the world, and I also enjoy mixing cuisines and traditions. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that my favourite Chanukah treats aren’t latkes or sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), but samosas! With that in mind, this is what I did.


I had some crystallized ginger that my son brought home a few weeks previous, and my spice rack is always full and expansive. And so I thought – Chai Biscotti with chopped ginger inside! I mixed and I stirred and I tasted and adjusted, and the results were so yummy that I had to make a second batch to take along to a family gathering yesterday. These are great in tea, coffee, and even hot chocolate.

I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Chai-Flavoured Biscotti

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 TBSP baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup crystallized ginger (candied ginger), chopped into small pieces
  • 3-1/4 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
  • 2 TSBP white chocolate for the drizzle (optional)

In a sturdy mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until the mixture is light and a bit frothy. Carefully pour in the oil, mixing thoroughly to incorporate. Add the baking powder and spices, and then mix in the flour and ginger, till well-blended, but not mixing more than necessary.

Prepare a baking sheet with some parchment paper or a silicon sheet, and preheat the oven to 375F. Separate the biscotti dough into two equal (or as close as you can manage without stressing out about it) portions, and shape each blob of dough into a long log, about 3 inches wide and half an inch high. This is a lot easier with damp hands, because the dough is sticky!

Bake at 375F for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven, but leave the oven on. As soon as you can handle the baked logs, slice them carefully crosswise into biscuits about 1/2 inch across. Arrange the slices on the cookie sheet (and you’ll probably need a second one as well), so they’re standing upright, with about a half-inch to an inch between them. Return to the oven and bake again (“biscotti” means “baked twice”) for another 10 minutes.

When they’re out of the oven, if you like a drizzle, melt the white chocolate carefully with a scant teaspoon of veggie oil, and using the tines of a fork, scoop up some chocolate and let it drizzle across the cooling biscotti. Do not eat in a single sitting.


Brioche au Pavot ~ Poppy Seed Brioche… and a book review

I was inspired to play with this recipe by a book I was given to review. Ginger Monette’s lovely Pride and Prejudice variation – Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes – is set in a field hospital in Northern France during the First World War. It would not be unexpected for her characters to head into the closest village to find some patisserie at a bun shop, as letters home from English nurses of the time attested, or for the cook at the chateau which was transformed into the field hospital to create in what little spare time she had.


Why this recipe? Well, first of all, it’s yummy. Really yummy. It’s amazing fresh, warm from the oven. It’s also amazing the next day, lightly toasted, with a thin smear of butter. It’s rich and tender and soft and did I say yummy? Second, with Remembrance Day fast approaching, poppy seeds seem to come to mind, as does the rich and tasty bread we so associate with French cuisine. The tie-in with the book I was reading seemed ideal. And did I mention that it’s yummy?

The pastry for this brioche isn’t quite a poor man’s brioche, nor is it a rich man’s, which would contain just enough flour to hold the butter together. Rather, it is rich and buttery enough to be delicious, while still being easy to work with. The raisins give the bread a chewy little extra; I soaked mine in some Sortilège, a Canadian maple whisky liqueur, but feel free to substitute your liquor of choice (rum… brandy…) or just a bit of hot water with a bit of lemon extract in it if you don’t use alcohol.

The recipe itself is adapted and translated by yours truly from a book we picked up in Quebec City a couple of years ago, Les meilleures recettes de pain autour du monde, published in 2015 by Marabou, in France. I was rather disappointed to discover that the cookbook was itself translated into French from its original English, because brioche really should be from a French book. Of course, being me, I changed the recipe quite a bit, so what you see here bears only a slight resemblance to the original, in whatever language it might have been printed.


Check out the book review that inspired this creation. You need something to read while sipping café au lait and nibbling delicately on brioche. There’s also a bonus for anyone who purchases the book during the blog tour, until November 22, 2016, as well as a giveaway during the same blog tour.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, start your mixers!

Brioche au Pavot – Poppy Seed Brioche

  • 7g / 1 packet / 2 tsp dry yeast
  • 180ml / ¾ cup warm milk (just to body temperature)
  • 550g / 4.5 cups bread or all-purpose flour
  • 100g / 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 120g / ½ cup butter at room temperature
  • 180g / 2 cups raisins
  • Liqueur or flavouring of your choice, optional
  • 1 egg for the egg wash
  • 30g / 2 TBSP poppy seeds
  1. Dissolve the yeast in some of the warm milk. Let sit about five minutes, until it starts to froth.
  1. In a mixing bowl, or the bowl of a mixer, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Add the egg yolks, butter and the yeast mixture, along with the rest of the warm milk. Mix till well incorporated and knead for 10-20 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and elastic. Form into a boule and spray the surface with oil (or rub with a thin coat of butter) to prevent it from drying out. Return to the bowl and cover with a clean cloth, then leave it to rise, about 1 hour, till doubled in size. If your kitchen is on the cool side, this may take quite a bit longer.
  1. While the dough is rising, plump the raisins in a small amount of hot water. Don’t use too much, because you don’t want to leech out all the flavour. After about 15 minutes, drain the water and add a bit of your chosen flavouring (rum, liqueur, flavour essence, etc) for the raisins to soak up. You don’t want this mixture too liquidy, so be stingy here.
  1. When the dough has risen, roll it out on a large flat surface. Divide it in two, and continue rolling each half to form a large rectangle, about 8 inches across by 12 inches long, at a thickness of about ¼ inch / 1/2 cm. Distribute the raisins evenly across the dough, leaving some space at the edges. Roll the dough up tightly, starting at a short edge, pulling it slightly as you roll, to keep the surface tension taut. This helps strengthen the gluten strands and gives a nice texture to the finished loaf. When you reach the end, pinch the raw edge and the bottom of the loaf together, so the raisins can’t escape. Do the same with the sides of the loaf. Repeat with the other loaf, and place then, seams down, on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
  1. Whisk your final egg and brush the surface of the loaves with the egg. Spray lightly with oil again and let rise about 1.5 hours, till doubled in size again. Brush once more with egg, then sprinkle very generously with poppy seeds, about 1 TBSP per loaf. Bake in a preheated 350F / 180C oven for 35-45 minutes. Cool on a rack, and eat at room temperature if you can wait that long. You don’t have to share.


Book Review: Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty From Ashes…. And a recipe!


I am delighted to host a stop on a blog tour of a new release this week! Yes, it’s another book review, but this one is something a bit different, because a) there’s a raffle for a giveaway for British and American readers, and b) I’m pairing it with a recipe.


Poppy seed brioche… just like they might have eaten at The Ritz, the field hospital in this story

Today is November 6th. In less than a week, it will be Remembrance Day, when we commemorate the conclusion of the First World War and think about the brave men and women who lost their lives fighting for their countries. It is nearly a century since the armistice was signed, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, but the results of that war linger. In Canada, we wear poppies to remember the fields where soldiers lie buried in the mud of northern France and Belgium; school children still learn and recite John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields“; we reflect sadly that the Great War was not, indeed, the war to end all wars, and that our brothers and sisters still fight and die for their nations and their people, and we hope for the day when we will finally see a lasting peace.

Poppies are symbolic of the loss of the war because of their prevalence in the fields where slain soldiers were buried; their red blooms a cheery contrast to the terrible loss and devastation all around them. Ginger Monette’s World War I-based novel does not dwell on poppies, but death and devastation are the sad background to her story, a skillful combination of mystery and romance. From the rubble of ruined towns and ruined lives, in the midst of a field hospital where doctors and nurses work tirelessly to save lives and mourn those they are unable to save, two people find each other through the smoke and carnage.


Scene from an early operating theatre

Poppies are also the source of a wonderfully tasty seed that decorates and flavours pastries and other treats across Europe. Since this is primarily a food and cooking blog, I thought it would be interesting to find some recipe that reflects the location of the novel and the flower that has come to symbolize the Great War. Chatting with the author of this novel, I learned from her that English nurses working in field hospitals in the region would sometimes write home about the bun shops they found in the towns near their hospitals, and since bread is one of the delights of French cuisine, what could be better than a traditional brioche recipe? Add some poppy seeds, and it’s a perfect recipe to cook and nibble at while reading a fine story. Click here for the link to the recipe for Poppy Seed Brioche. But be warned: this bread is addictive!

Keep reading after the review itself for the link to the giveaway.

Now for the novel itself… here is my review.


Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette

Pride and Prejudice is, for me, the literary equivalent to J.S. Bach. As a musician, I have heard and played Bach’s music so many times over the years, I could not begin to enumerate them. I have performed his music on period instruments in the style of the late 1600s; I have performed his music on modern instruments, and on instruments that hadn’t been imagined when the great composer lived. I have heard Bach played on synthesizer and steel drums, hummed and vocalized by a capella choirs, and set to rock and roll rhythms with a beat box in the background. And it all works. His music transcends time and style, dependent only on the skill of the musician to bring the music to life.

Likewise Jane Austen’s classic. Variations set during the early nineteenth century in England work. Modern retellings work. Add some zombies, and amazingly, it still works. Her characters are iconic, her story, like Bach’s music, timeless. And here, it is the skill of the author that brings the tale to life, skill which Ginger Monette possesses in abundance. Her novel is carefully researched, beautifully written, and tells a lovely and timeless story.

Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes is a retelling set neither during the Regency period nor in modern day, but during the tumultuous years of the First World War. The elegant balls have been replaced by trenches, the grand estates literally overrun by the army to create field hospitals to treat wounded soldiers. The elegant gowns and dashing frockcoats have become nursing aprons and army uniforms, as often as not torn and coated in blood and mud. In the skillful hands of author Ginger Monette, these details only serve to highlight the relationship between the characters, bringing them into stark relief, and letting us see the beauty that can arise from the ashes of war.

Elizabeth Bennet sees her life falling apart as the war progresses. Her family is in tatters, her home destroyed, and her dreams of becoming a doctor in ruins. The blame for all of this she places squarely on the shoulders of Captain Darcy, whose mission to Longbourn she sees as the beginning of the disasters. Eventually, however, she finds new purpose as a Volunteer Aid Detachment nurse at a field hospital just behind the lines in northern France, all the while insisting to herself that she will never rely on a man for anything. As for Darcy, he has forsworn all sentimental attachments after seeing his men slaughtered on the battlefield. Sent on an unwanted intelligence mission, he finds himself back in the presence of the woman who spurned him and broke his heart.  However, it could very be that Elizabeth herself is the traitor he is seeking!

The bulk of the story takes place after Darcy’s initial proposal of marriage, and traces the growth and changes in the characters as they are forced to work together. Ms. Monette sketches these changes with a deft hand, letting the characters grow naturally and organically, with startling epiphanies of insight interspersed with periods of reflection and change. The characters are real and vibrant and full of life. While a romance at heart, there is also a mystery to be solved in this novel. The various story lines, and the characters that drive them on, are nicely woven together, creating a rich and believable world in which the many actors play their roles. There is just enough suspense, just enough human drama, to keep us reading late into the night, waiting to see what will happen next. And romance. Of course, romance!

While Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty From Ashes is a complete story in itself, the mystery is not completely solved in this book. For that, we’ll have to wait till the release of the second volume, due to be published on January 1, 2017.

I’m not a fan of rating novels with numbers, since I feel that it’s unfair to reduce the sweep of a story  and the lives of carefully constructed characters to numbers, but I most definitely enjoyed this one, and would heartily recommend it! (And it’s even better with a toasted slice of brioche… of course!)


Since this second instalment of the story takes place at Donwell Abbey, the details inspired by Downton Abbey, Ms. Monette is giving away some Downton Abbey tree ornaments! Check her website for details, and if the gods of the Internet smile upon me, you can enter the contest here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes is available at Amazon, and check out this special bonus!


Amazon US ~ Amazon Canada ~ Amazon UK ~ Kobo ~ Nook