Exploring the Trails (and Food) of the Canadian Rockies

Lake Louise, Alberta

When I look at the mountains in the Canadian Rockies, a part of me feels like I’m 19 again and I can feel the excitment and promise of my whole life ahead of me bubbling below the surface. Then I feel the tug of a small hand in mine, and I’m brought back to earth. I’m no longer a carefree university student looking for her next adventure. I’m a mother of two young ponytails who need to reach the end of the hiking trail before the effects of the morning snack have worn off or another bathroom break calls.

I have to tell you that it sure was great to tour the Rockies with my family this summer. We got to explore the spectacularly beautiful area of Banff, Emerald Lake and Lake Louise, where I worked for two summers during university. We also got to spend time with my husband’s family in Edmonton.

Me with the ponytails in Banff.

Carefree isn’t the word to describe this family trip, but did it pull on my heartstrings to see the look of excitment on the girls’ faces as they discovered the magic of mountains for the first time.

The girls riding up the Sulphur Mountain gondola in Banff. Can you say excited?

We managed to complete several 5 km hikes, which was an accomplishment with a four-year old, as well as canoe around a couple of different lakes.

This helped to offset all the calories from the wonderful meals that we enjoyed–including an amazing Bistecca alla Florentina at the Chateau Lake Louise. Given that Alberta is known for its beef, this seemed like the perfect meal to have in one of my absolutely favourite places. The meal didn’t disappoint, and while we devoured the steak before I could get a picture, I’ve decided to share my version of this meal as I have been making it since we first tried it on our honeymoon in Florence.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Tuscan Porterhouse)

Serves 2

  • 1 20 oz (1.5 lb) porterhouse/t-bone steak
  • 2 tbsps good quality olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shavings of parmesan cheese
  • Lemon cut in half.

Mix olive oil and herbs in small bowl. Set aside.

Salt and pepper both sides of steak at room temperature. Place steak on grill and cook for 10 or so minutes per side, for medium rare (longer if you prefer your steak well done). Add lemon halfs to grill at same time as the steak. Remove steak and lemon from grill when steak is done. Drizzle olive oil and herb mixture over steak and let it rest for five minutes on a plate.

Serve steak on a platter with roasted asparagus, fennel, grape tomatoes and potatoes. Sprinkle parmesan cheese shavings over all items on the platter. Squeeze a bit of lemon on the meat and vegetables before eating.

  • NOTES:
    In Florence this dish is made with Chianina beef. They are the huge white oxen raised in the Val di Chiana, near Arezzo. This meat is noted for being both tender and highly flavorful.
  • For the fennel: cut it in half lengthwise, and cut out the core from both halves. Then cut into 1/4″ thick pieces lengthwise. I roasted the fennel, asparagus and grape tomatoes in a 425° oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until carmelized.
  • For a one inch steak: Rare, 10-12 mins; Medium Rare, 12-16 mins; Medium, 16-18 mins
  • It is fun for two people to share one of these platters (as long as you feel comfortable cutting every last piece of meat from the bone in front of your partner) and I’ve made this for company as well — each couple gets their own platter.

I know this won’t be our last family trip to the Rockies. I think the girls were as smitten by mountains as I was all those years ago. Lake Louise, we’ll be back!

Advertisements

Tex-Mex Taco Bake

If it is Tuesday, chances are pretty good that I’m going to be making tacos. They’re easy, they’re fast and they’re a vessel for lots and lots of cheese. What’s not to love?

Even when you love something a lot, you can get a little tired of it. Sometimes you just need a change.

That’s how I was feeling when I set out to shake up Taco Tuesdays. I wanted something a little different that would still be a hit with the girls. I found a lot of taco casseroles online, but they all used taco seasoning packages. I came up with this Tex-Mex Taco Bake that uses spices you’re likely to have on hand. It takes a little longer to prepare than standard tacos, but it’s a nice change of pace. The tacos lose most of their crunch in the process, but you still get a little bit of crunch along the edges.

But you don’t have to wait until a Tuesday to make this—it is a great meal any day of the week.

As you can see by this photo, breaking up the shells is a great job to delegate—especially to princesses!

Tex-Mex Taco Bake

  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro (optional)
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1/8 tsp ground pepper
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 lb extra lean ground beef
  • 1 cup Mexican small red beans (or black beans)
  • 1.5 cups mild salsa
  • 2 tbsp roasted red peppers, diced (jarred)
  • 12 taco shells, broken (156 g box)
  • ½ cup light sour cream
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Directions:

  1. Spray a 9” square pan with cooking spray and preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line bottom of pan with half of the broken taco shells.
  3. Saute onions in a large skillet three minutes until soft; add ground beef and sauté for 10-12 minutes until browned.
  4. Combine spices in small bowl (chili powder, paprika, salt, cilantro, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, cumin and cayenne) and add to beef. Saute one more minute. Stir in Mexican small red beans, roasted red peppers and salsa until combined well.
  5. Layer half of the meat mixture on top of the broken taco shells.
  6. Spread the sour cream over the meat.
  7. Sprinkle one cup of cheese over the sour cream.
  8. Layer the remaining half of taco shells.
  9. Add remaining half of meat mixture over shells.
  10. Sprinkle last cup of cheese on top of casserole.
  11. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until dish is brown and bubbling hot.
  12. Serve with your favourite taco toppings such as sour cream, green onions, jalapenos and salsa.

TIPS:

  • To lighten this dish, you can use ground turkey in place of ground beef.
  • Given that fresh cilantro has such a distinctive flavour, you may want to avoid substituting fresh cilantro for the dried cilantro if preparing this for kids. The dried cilantro is widely available in supermarkets.
  • I have used mild salsa because this is for kids. Feel free to spice up the recipe to suit your tastes!

Beef Short Ribs with Orange Gremolata & Polenta

Beef short ribs have been on the menu of many of the meals that I would rank as highly memorable over the years. There was the dinner at Scalini Fedeli in Tribeca, New York City; an anniversary dinner at the Charles Inn Restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake; and a recent dinner in the Quinn Family Kitchen after a fun afternoon of skating (thank you Laura and Kevin). Whatever the occasion—fine dining or a casual family get-together—there’s just something about beef short ribs.

I had high expectations of this short rib recipe and I can tell you that it didn’t disappoint. I made it a while back when my good friend Pam from Ottawa came to spend a night with us—so for that reason alone it was a memorable evening. But the combination of the orange gremolata, short ribs and polenta made me unable to control myself—I must have eaten three bowls of this dish. It is comforting, hearty and very flavourful.

If you’ve never tried polenta, why not shake things up a bit? I saw chef Michael Smith make polenta with a can of cream-style corn many years ago and I’ve made it this way ever since.

Beef Short Ribs with Orange Gremolata

Adapted slightly from Judith Finlayson, Slow Cooker Recipes

  • 4 lbs beef short ribs
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • ½ cup beef broth
  • ½ cup dry red wine

Directions

  1. Preheat oven on broil setting. Broil ribs on both sides until brown, about 10 minutes per side. Place in slow cooker.
  2. Heat oil over medium heat and add onions, carrots and celery and cook until soft. Add garlic, salt, pepper and thyme and cook for one minute. Sprinkle flour over mixture and cook, stirring for one minute. Add tomato paste, beef broth and wine and bring to a boil.
  3. Pour mixture over ribs and cook on high in slow cooker for 5 to 6 hours (or low for 10 hours) until ribs are tender and falling off the bone.

Orange Gremolata

  • ½ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Grated orange zest from one orange (using a microplane)

Combine ingredients in a small bowl just before serving and pass at the table. (We passed the gremolata at the table, so you won’t see it in my photo!)

Polenta

  • 1 14-oz can cream-style corn
  • ½ can milk (use the empty corn can for measuring)
  • 1-1/2 can of water
  • ½ can of cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Add cream-style corn to medium sauce pan (with metal handle, so that it is oven safe) on medium heat.
  3. Add water, milk and butter and stir for a couple of minutes until butter is melted and well incorporated. Bring to a boil.
  4. Pour in cornmeal in a steady stream, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes on the stove top and then cover with lid and cook in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes.

TIP:

  • If you want to make this on your stove top, follow step one. Then for step two, use a dutch oven and follow all steps noted. However, you’ll need to add extra liquid — increase the beef broth to 1-1/2 cups and increase the red wine to about 3 cups. Add short ribs to the dutch oven and cook covered on low heat for 1.5 to 2 hours until meet is fall off the bone.

An All-in-one Meal That Never Disappoints

It’s a crisp fall day. You walk through the front door and you instantly feel like you’ve walked back in time. Something smells amazing. It smells like home.

Then you realize that you’re not a kid again – that someone hasn’t spent the afternoon cooking for you. This is your handy work – and it’s the magic of a crock pot.

My favorite go-to crock pot recipe is chili with a corn bread topping – and it all cooks in the same pot. Who really likes doing dishes anyway? But what I love even more than the efficiency of this dish is the fact that my family can’t get enough of it. I made it tonight (for Gray Cup Sunday) and my six-year old ponytail and my husband had three plates, my three-year old ponytail had two plates, and I’m sorry but I’m just not saying how many helpings I had!

 

The flavor combination in this recipe is a little different than your standard chili. Don’t be alarmed by the olives and cocoa powder in this recipe – the combo really does work. If you do decide to make this, please let me know what you think.

All-in-one Chili & Cornbread

Adapted from recipe by Judith Finlayson (The 150 best Slow Cooker recipes)

  •  2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1.5 lbs lean ground beef
  • 2 onions chopped (or one large onion)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground allspice
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2-¼ cups tomato sauce
  • ½ cup condensed beef broth
  • 2  cans (10 oz/284 mL) corn kernels, drained or 2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed
  • 1 can 19 oz red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup pimento-stuffed olives, sliced
  • 1  red bell pepper, diced

Cornbread Topping

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup finely chopped green onions (optional)
  1. In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Add beef and cook, stirring and breaking meat up with the back of a spoon, until beef is no longer pink. Transfer to slow cooker stoneware. Drain off liquid in pan.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and heat remaining oil in pan. Add onions and cook until softened. Add garlic, pepper, chili powder, salt, allspice and cayenne and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add cocoa and cornmeal and stir well. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, tomato sauce and beef broth and bring to a boil.
  3. Pour mixture into slow cooker stoneware. Add corn and beans and stir to combine. Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours or on High for 4 to 5 hours, until hot and bubbling.
  4. Add olives and red pepper to slow cooker and stir well.
  5. To make Cornbread topping: in a bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar and baking powder. Add melted butter, milk or buttermilk and egg and stir well until ingredients are combined. Add grated cheddar cheese and green onions, if using, and stir well.
  6. Drop cornbread batter, by spoonfuls, over the top of the mixture. Cover and cook on High for 30 to 40 minutes, until topping is set.

TIPS:

  • You’ll get two ¼ cups out of a 5.5 oz tin of tomato paste. Measure out your second ¼ cup and freeze in a sandwich bag for the next time you make this.
  • I’ve made this without pre-cooking the meat and sauce before adding to the crock pot, but I find the flavours of the sauce meld much better by pre-cooking.
  • Make sure you rinse the kidney beans, as there’s a lot of sodium in the liquid they are canned in.
  • I often substitute ground turkey for the beef – it’s healthier and tastes great.
  • Be sure to serve with sour cream, grated cheese and chopped green onion.