Category Archives: in the night kitchen

year of the snake


Over the weekend, the Chinese marked the start of a new Lunar Year – the Year of the Snake. If you want to be specific it is actually the Year of the Water Snake as each year is accompanied by a rotating ancient element.  Apparently this year is all about waiting for the right moment to strike – a question of timing and being patient.


I decided to celebrate the Chinese New Year with a group of friends. Our first consideration was the menu. We wanted to cook authentic Chinese food that was appropriate for a New Year feast. After weeks of going back and forth we finally settled on this menu:

Pork Dumplings
Dan Dan Noodles
Sichuan Steamed Whole Fish
Dry Fried Green Beans
Tea Eggs
Wrapped Sticky Rice
Fresh Fruit
Fortune Cookies





The Chinese New Year is a time for family and friends to get together so the meal is normally shared family-style. Noodles are an important component of the meal – the longer the better as they symbolize longevity. A whole fish is often served as it is a symbol of prosperity and it is believed that eating it will make your wishes come true for the new year.



Around the home in the days preceding the Chinese New Year it is customary to give your home a thorough cleaning.The idea is to sweep away the bad luck of the previous year and make room for the good luck.


Brooms and dust pans are hidden away on New Year’s Day so that the newly entered good luck cannot be swept away. Purchasing new clothing, shoes and getting a fresh haircut is also customary during this period and symbolizes a new start. Also any dead plants or chipped plates or dishes need to be replaced.


Did any of you celebrate Chinese New Year? What did you have to eat?

A big thank you to Megan Richards who made and styled all the food and to Sian Richards (yes, they’re sisters!) who took all the photographs.


Filed under in the night kitchen

winter pizza party


Have you ever tried making your own pizza dough? It’s really quite easy. It’s a great introduction to more complicated bread recipes like baguettes and ciabattas and takes half the time. It’s also a great crowd pleaser after a snowy day outside especially if you have little ones to please!



Basic Pizza Dough (Adapted from Chatelaine Magazine)

Standing time:30 minutes Baking Time: 10 minutes


  • 1 cup (250 mL) warm water
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) granulated sugar
  • 8-g packet quick-rise or regular dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
  • 3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 11/2 tsp (7 mL) salt or 1 tbsp (15 mL) kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp (30 mL) all-purpose flour (if needed)



  • Pour water into a large bowl. Water should be between 100F (38C) and 110F (45C), slightly higher than body temperature. Stir in sugar, then yeast. Let stand until mixture is foamy on top, from 5 to 10 min, then stir in oil.
  • Meanwhile, mix 3 cups (750 mL) flour and salt in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Then with the food processor still on, slowly pour in yeast-oil mixture until it begins to form a ball. If dough doesn’t come together, pulse in another 2 tbsp (15 mL) flour.
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, then dust your hands with flour. Using the base of your palm, knead several times, rotating the dough a quarter turn after each knead, until it forms a smooth ball.
  • Place dough in an oiled bowl. Turn to coat evenly. Spray a piece of waxed paper with oil and place on top of bowl. Cover with a damp cloth. Leave dough in a warm place until it doubles in size, 30 to 60 min. Remove it to a floured surface. Punch down. Use right away, refrigerate in a sealed plastic bag up to 2 days, or freeze up to 1 month.
  • To bake, place rack in bottom third of oven. Preheat to 500F (260C). Sprinkle a large baking sheet or pizza stone with cornmeal. Stretch, press or roll out dough on counter or piece of parchment. Slide dough or parchment onto pan. Pull out paper. Add toppings. Bake until bottom of dough is golden, 10 to 15 min.

_DSC5295For toppings the only limit is your imagination. In my mind, some of the best pizzas are also the simplest. A classic Margherita pizza with homemade tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil is delicious.


Another favourite of mine is Wild Mushroom and Taleggio pizza finished off with a drizzle of truffle oil. So fragrant and earthy – my mouth waters just thinking about it!


If you can get your hands on a pizza stone or a large piece of natural tile (like untreated slate) you will end up with a pizza much closer in taste and texture to a wood oven fired pizza. If you’re feeding a crowd a couple of stones would make the job easier. Of course having an assortment of toppings on hand for your guests to choose from is ideal.

Photos: Sian Richards


Filed under in the night kitchen

a winter feast


One of life’s most simple pleasures must be the promise of a warm, savoury meal after a cold day outside. The kind of thing you throw together in the afternoon and then sit down to with friends a few hours later. It’s not complicated or fussy just good home cooking made with the most basic of ingredients.


Nigel Slater is what I would call a cook’s cook. He often eschews traditional recipes for a more organic or instinctual way of cooking. His mission is to make you enjoy cooking both the process and the end result. In his book, Appetite, there is a dish near the end of the book called A Winter Supper to Revive and Restore which was just begging to be made. At its heart is chicken but it is soulfully combined with leeks, onions, carrots, pearl barley, parsnips and potatoes. Below is the recipe directly copied from Mr. Slater’s book to give you a taste of his writing style.


A Winter Supper to Revive and Restore – Nigel Slater – Appetite

Enough for 4, at least

  • pearl barley — a good handful
  • chicken — a large free-range one, jointed
  • a little fat — dripping, butter, goose fat or olive oil
  • carrots — 1 or 2, thoroughly scrubbed
  • parsnips — 1 or 2, peeled
  • leeks — a couple of large ones, or one of those enormous, thick winter ones
  • onions — a large one, or 3 smaller ones, peeled
  • some herbs — a few bay leaves, 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme and a couple of sage leaves
  • potatoes — about 4 small to medium ones
  • parsley — a small bunch, perky and vibrant

You will also need a very large, deep pan with a lid.


Simmer the barley in a pan of salted water until it is tender — a matter of twenty minutes or so but taste it to check it — then drain it.

Lightly brown the jointed chicken in the fat in a large, deep ovenproof pan. I do this in a relay, three or four pieces at a time, over a moderately high heat. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. While the chicken is browning you need to cut the carrot and parsnip into large chunks and the leek, thoroughly scrubbed and freed of grit (it gets between the layers) into short lengths. I think it is important to keep the vegetables in fat juicy chunks for this. Cut the onion in half and then into large segments. Once the chicken is out of the pan, add the vegetables, turn them in the fat and let them soften a little, though don’t let them colour. In another pan bring enough water to boil to cover the bird. Set the oven at 180°C /Gas 4.

Keeping the vegetables in their pan, drain every little bit of oil from the pan, otherwise you will only have to do it later. Now return the chicken to the pan with the pearl barley, then tuck in all the herbs except the parsley and pour over the hot water. Season with salt and some black pepper. Now slice the potatoes the thickness of pound coins — I really think there is no need to peel them — and lay them over the top of the chicken and vegetables. Some will inevitably sink; others will sit on top, the water just lapping at their edges.

Cover with a lid and place in the oven for an hour and a half, by which time the chicken and vegetables will be meltingly tender. Remove the lid, turn up pthe heat to 200°C/Gas 6 and leave for thirty minutes for the potatoes to colour here and there. Remove very carefully from the oven — the pan will be full and very hot — then scrape off any floating oil from the top. Chop the parsley and sink it into the broth. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning with a grinding of salt and pepper.

Spoon the chicken, vegetables, barley and plenty of the broth into shallow bowls, scatter with flakes of sea salt and pass round the the pepper mill.


As mentioned above the past way to serve this piping hot meal is directly from the steaming pot. Place it on the table and let your guests help themselves. A good wintery green salad like kale served with pomegranates would be a perfect accompaniment. The end result is something between a soup and a stew. The chicken is moist and melts in your mouth while the soft vegetables are velvety smooth having absorbed all the flavour of the chicken and herbs.



And for dessert nothing beats a Pecan Pie. You can pop it in the oven right after the chicken comes out.

I hope you find some time this holiday season to make this dish. I’m taking a mini break over the next couple of weeks to revive and restore myself. I’ll be back here on January 7th to kick off my third year of blogging. Until then, here’s to a fabulous end to 2012. See you in the new year!

Photography – Sian Richards

Props and Styling – Emma Reddington (that’s me!)

Filed under in the night kitchen

blackberry & chocolate chunk scones


If you follow my blog than you know that I reside in a pretty great neighbourhood. A quick look through my Hello! Neighbor tours and you will see that the streets are teaming with creative types everything from writers to designers to photographers to artists. A great number of these people are stay at home mums or working mums just like myself. Somehow in between school drop-off and hockey lessons and making dinner and ballet recitals they still manage to find time to do something creative for themselves. Today I’m happy to have two of those talented people guest posting on the blog – Kristin Sjaarda (who most of you already know) and Rachel Gruet. Rachel is a baking aficionado and occasional writer who is happily baking and eating her way through her current predicament of what to do Next.  

I’m someone who thinks a baked treat doesn’t have to have pumpkin in it just because it’s late Fall. So when my friend Kristin Sjaarda suggested I bake something with black fruit in it for her to photograph for Emma’s blog, I was intrigued and immediately got down to business.

Should I bake a plum tart? Already a baking blog favourite.  Something with concord grapes? Forget it–the skins get caught in my teeth and that’s just downright awkward. What about beautiful, luscious black figs?  Almost out of season. So I settled on scones. There’s no better comfort food to cozy up with on a damp and chilly morning; a cup of rewarmed coffee within reach–but I can live with that and have been since I ran out of capsules for my Nespresso machine.  Just add melting chunks of dark chocolate and Axl Rose crooning November Rain on my iPod and I won’t be leaving the house until Spring.


Blackberry and Dark Chocolate Chunk Scones (Adapted from How Sweet it Is) – makes about 16 scones


3 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups blackberries
6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, chopped
melted butter for brushing



Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and powder. Using your fingers, cut in butter until it forms coarse crumbs. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla, just somewhat combining, then gently fold in chocolate and blackberries, keeping the blackberries as relatively whole as possible. Don’t worry if a few get crushed–the purple-black juice will only add to the beauty and deliciousness of the scones. Stir with a spoon until a dough forms, using your hands to bring it together. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently, adding a bit more flour if sticky.

Divide in half and pat into 7 inch round circles. Brush each dough round with melted butter. Cut into 6 or 8 wedges, or use a biscuit cutter to make smaller rounds.

Bake for 12-14 minutes (wedges) or 9-11 minutes (rounds).

Thanks Rachel and Kristin. I think I might actually head into my kitchen and make these today. I just happen to have some leftover buttermilk in the fridge!

All images by Kristin Sjaarda.



Filed under guest blogs, in the night kitchen