Life of Pie

By / Food / February 27th, 2014 / 2

My education at George Brown College in Toronto was not really the beginning of my culinary adventures.  By the time I attended my first class, I had been a home cook for more than 20 years. Still, I was eager to discard bad habits and soak up the new.

Truth be told, in the early years, I went kicking and screaming into the culinary world. You could say I did not go gentle into that good kitchen. As a teen, I had no interest in learning to cook or bake, and frankly my mother had no interest in teaching me. She believed too many cooks spoiled the broth, and I happily agreed by running blithely out the front door the moment she tied on her apron. Oh sure, I made pasta with garlic and the occasional chocolate chip cookie, but only because I was hungry.

After my first marriage, I waited patiently each night for my mom to come over to cook dinner, poised in this holding pattern for two years. Then I began to wonder out loud if my husband could do anything in the kitchen, but his only tricks were frying perfectly-straight bacon and stocking the fridge with beer.  I realized that if we were ever going to eat again, I would have to learn to cook.

Being the artsy sort, I decided to make cooking my creative outlet. If I had to cook every day, I was going to make it matter. My first attempts were abysmal, but over the years, cooking became the easiest of art forms.  Twenty years later, I decided to learn how to really cook and spent four and a half years at George Brown learning the ropes.

I have never lost my passion for turning out a beautiful, tasty product from my kitchen — my lab — although believe me, from time to time, I still create a clunker that nobody wants to eat. But happily, those moments are few and far between. When I am in my kitchen — chopping, sautéing, stirring, whipping — I feel everything is right with the world.  Following are some of the recipes that get me there.


pulled pork tenderloin

serves 6 to 8

My sister, who hates to cook, gave me this recipe, and it couldn’t be easier.  At first I was skeptical that lean pork tenderloin would grow tender in the slow cooker, but it does and best of all, there isn’t a lot of fat to pull off when you’re chowing down on your sandwich.  Normally I hate recipes that say “use bottled barbecue sauce” but in this case, it works, because you get the exact flavour you want by using your favourite.

2 pork tenderloins (about 3 lbs)

2 cans root beer

1 bottle barbecue sauce

Kaiser rolls

Cut each pork tenderloin in half. Place in slow cooker. Pour root beer over pork.

Cook on low 7 to 8 hours. Drain off liquid. Shred meat with two forks.

Cover with barbecue sauce and return to crockpot. Cook on high 1 hour. Serve on kaiser rolls.

A good Canadian beer is great with pulled pork, but you could also try an Australian Sémillon.


coconut cream pie

I don’t think of myself as a stellar baker, but I do my best, and my family likes what I make. I did learn to make pie crust at George Brown, but I prefer to use today’s excellent pie crusts available in the dairy or freezer case. To toast coconut, spread it out on a cookie sheet and bake about 10 minutes in a 350˚F oven until golden, stirring occasionally. For a boost of coconut flavour, substitute 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk for the milk. To make Banana Cream Pie, omit the coconut and layer sliced banana on the bottom of the baked pie crust. Pour cream filling over bananas and chill.

Single pie crust

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup flour

1/4 tsp salt

3 cups milk (or 1 1/2 cups milk and 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk)

4 eggs

3 tbsp butter, diced

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 cup flaked, sweetened coconut, toasted

Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 450˚F.

Bake pie crust for 12 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on a rack.

In medium saucepan, combine sugar, flour and salt. Gradually stir in milk. Cook, whisking, until thickened and bubbly. Reduce heat.

Cook 2 minutes more, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and set aside.

Separate eggs yolks from whites. Freeze egg whites for a later use. Beat yolks lightly. Gradually stir in 1 cup of the hot sugar mixture. (This will keep the egg mixture from curdling.) Return egg/sugar mixture to saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cook, whisking, 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, vanilla and coconut, stirring until butter melts.

Pour into baked pie shell. Chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

Slice and top with whipped cream and additional toasted coconut, if desired.

Serve with a Niagara Vidal Ice Wine.


salmon glazed with bourbon and garlic

serves 4

I love bourbon, and although I prefer a high-quality bourbon for sipping, I buy a less expensive variety for cooking.  When purchasing salmon or any fish, be sure to smell it. It should smell of the sea with no fishy odor. A fishy odor is an indicator that it’s way past its prime.

4 tbsp bourbon

3 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 minced garlic cloves

4 salmon fillets

Combine bourbon, brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper in a food-safe plastic bag. Add salmon and marinate in refrigerator 1 hour, turning occasionally.

Coat ridged grill pan with cooking spray. Heat on medium-high heat for 1 or 2 minutes. Add salmon and marinade to pan.

Cook 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve with jasmine rice and steamed snap peas.

Start the conversation with Bourbon Sours. Serve Chablis at the dinner table.


linguine with red clam sauce

October is the month for clams, and nothing is more delicious than linguine with clams. I like linguine because it reminds me of the pasta my grandmother made from scratch, just a little bit thicker and chewier than spaghetti. San Marzano tomatoes deliver the best flavour and I chop them right in the can with scissors. You can use the reserved clam juice from the steamed clams or, if you want to be absolutely certain there is no sand in the juice, buy bottled clam juice.

6 lb clams, scrubbed

450 g linguine

6 cloves garlic, sliced

2 tbsp olive oil

1 can San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped

1/4 cup tomato paste

Red pepper flakes, to taste

1 cup clam juice, strained through cheesecloth, or storebought clam juice

2 tbsp fresh minced basil

Steam clams in a large covered pot in 1 cup salted boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and discard any that have not opened. Remove meat and chop into large pieces.

Prepare linguine according to package directions.

In large skillet, sauté garlic over low heat in olive oil until softened.  Watch carefully, as garlic burns easily.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and simmer about 2 minutes. Stir in clam juice and simmer 2 minutes more. Season with salt.

Place linguine on large platter. Top with sauce, clams and basil.

Serve with Chianti, preferably the old-style/nouveau Chianti in the straw-bottomed bottles.


sesame tofu

serves 4

Occasionally I serve a meatless meal, and tofu always makes me happy. It’s like a sponge, soaking up all the delightful flavours of the dish, especially if it is cut small enough.  I have become a coupon queen and therefore, when coupons are available for frozen mixed vegetables, I grab them. Hence, they are used here with delicious results. Remember, flash-frozen veggies often retain more vitamins than fresh. For a change of pace, add curry seasonings and coconut milk rather than the teriyaki sauce.

1 package extra-firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2–inch cubes

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

2 tbsp canola oil

1 large bag frozen mixed vegetables

2/3 cup teriyaki sauce

3 cups cooked brown rice

2 scallions, thinly sliced

In a medium bowl, coat tofu with cornstarch.

In a large separate bowl, combine peanuts and ginger. Add tofu and sesame seeds. Mix gently.

In a wok or large skillet, heat oil over high heat. Add tofu mixture to skillet. Cook, stirring gently, until tofu is golden. Remove.

In the same skillet, add vegetables. Cook about 3 minutes until heated through.  Add teriyaki sauce. Cook until bubbly. Gently stir in tofu mixture and heat through.

Serve over brown rice sprinkled with scallions.

Serve with a Gewürztraminer.


autumn butternut soup

This soup includes the unexpected ingredient of pears. Serve with grilled-turkey-and-cheese sandwiches for a warm and comforting October supper. If your supermarket sells pre-diced butternut squash, snap it up. It will make the process that much easier. If you have to cut the squash yourself, the safest way is to gently whack a mallet over the top of a chef’s knife until it slices through the squash. If you do not have an immersion blender, use a food processor to puree the soup in batches.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced

2 Bosc pears, peeled and diced

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste

Sour cream and chives, for garnish

In a medium soup pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and cook until translucent.  Add squash, pears and broth.

Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until squash is tender, about 25 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree soup.  Serve in large shallow bowls, topped with sour cream and chives for garnish.

Serve with a golden apple, pear and a Pinot Grigio from Italy.


pork carnitas tortillas

serves 6 to 8

There are so many different ways to stuff a tortilla, but this is one of my favourites. Use the fattiest cut you can find for a tender outcome. I know “fatty” isn’t politically correct, but come on, it’s just one meal!  I have an electric juicer that helps me to make short work of lemons, limes and oranges. If I’m not using the juice immediately, I freeze it, as well as the zest.

3 lb boneless pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes

4 sprigs thyme

4 cloves garlic

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup canola oil

Juice of 2 limes

Juice of 2 oranges

1 cup chicken broth

Corn or flour tortillas, warmed

Sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheddar, caramelized onions and diced tomatoes for topping

In a large Dutch oven, place the pork, thyme, garlic and bay leaves. Add canola oil, lime and orange juice, broth and salt.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until tender.

Remove pork from Dutch oven. Shred. Serve in tortillas with toppings.

Pour a Mexican beer or a Sauvignon Blanc.

Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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