Here’s a confession: both my dinner companion (content creator and host of Baking Therapy Sabrina Stavenjord) and I were eating low-carb diets when we met up for dinner. But when the two of us sat down at the marble tables on the spacious outdoor patio in Little Portugal’s Viaggio, we knew that it would not be a low-carb night – and if you’re going to break a diet, this is the way to do it!
Viaggio is located in a historic building on the corner of Toronto’s Dundas and Lansdowne with a covered patio tucked away at the side of the building. They don’t take reservations so you’ll want to come early to avoid disappointment (because trust me, missing out on Chef Jon Vettraino’s classic yet oh-so-indulgent dishes would be very disappointing). Viaggio features a rotating menu of classic Italian fare made with the season’s best offerings. For a late-summer dinner, that meant options like Zucchini Flowers, Corn and Chanterelle Risotto and Strawberry and Earl Grey Budino in addition to classics like Cacio e Pepe and Margherita Pizza.
Burrata with figs, aged balsamic and candied pecans and the Pizza Bread Balloon
Must-Order Dishes at Viaggio
Lightly fried, ricotta and Parmigiano-filled flowers served on Romesco sauce
If you’re lucky enough to eat at Viaggio when zucchini flowers are in season, these cheese-stuffed beauties are a must-try (but if not, look for anything cheese-stuffed on the menu and you’ll be just as satisfied). These were served with a lightly garlicky Romesco that was the perfect pairing for these delicate seasonal veggies.
A perfectly chewy crust, loads of cheese and a smattering of toppings to suit your taste buds – these pizzas are a must-try. We had the Prince of Bologna, a mozzarella and Parmigiano-topped pizza with a generous helping of mortadella, pistachios and honey for a hint of sweetness. Served with the spicy bomba sauce, it was *chef’s kiss*. Pro tip: if you can’t decide between pizza or a pasta dish, try the Pizza Bread Balloon as a starter with an appetizer.
Tiramisu Pancakes with Mascarpone cream, marsala and espresso syrup
If we had to pick just one thing (and wouldn’t that be a shame?) from Viaggio’s menu, this would be it. Luckily for diners, this is on both the dessert menu for dinnertime guests as well as the weekend brunch menu, because who doesn’t love a sweet start to their day? The fluffiest pancakes (think Japanese soufflé-style) are drizzled with espresso maple syrup and topped with a mountain of Mascarpone whipped cream for a heavenly dessert that you’ll come back for again and again (trust us!).
Cookies make everything better. Craig’s Cookies though? Those treat-stuffed morsels are a stamped, pink box of downright joy. It’s not just that they’re crammed with nostalgic childhood treats like peanut butter cups, shortbread or Snickers. It’s that each cookie is crafted with feel-good principles: love, inclusivity and the power of putting yourself out there. It’s no surprise that people are eating it up.
Craig Pike, the founder and namesake behind the famous Toronto cookie empire, epitomizes those traits. This sweet journey wasn’t his original life plan, but it grew organically — first from wanting to pay his phone bill and then from the unexpected joy it brought him.
“I saw how happy people got when their cookies were delivered to the door,” he says. “I’m a queer man who owns a business. My ethics and my morals and what I stand for are mirrored in the business. So while I was building the company and the brand, it was a no-brainer to try my best to make sure that it is a representation of who I am.”
The Early Days
The base of that business started five or six years ago when the actor and musician was out of work. To foot the bills he asked if anyone on Facebook wanted some of his potluck-famous cookies delivered. He fired up his Parkdale oven, busted out a top-secret version of his mom’s cookie recipe and hopped on his bike.
“One day I was at FreshCo in Parkdale buying butter for cookies and Pop Tarts were on sale. I thought that might be fun to put in a cookie. So I bought some Pop Tarts, put them in a cookie and it worked out,” he says. “So then I thought, well maybe if that works then anything would work. So we started with the Mars Bar and the peanut butter cup and the brownie — and now the sky’s the limit.”
Before Pike knew it, he was pumping out a dozen cookies every 12 minutes, selling his goods at local markets and eventually, at a six-month pop-up partnership with William Sonoma at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. “From there I had enough confidence to take a risk and open my first brick and mortar in 2018,” Pike says. “At that time, there were two employees: myself and one other person. The goal was a two-year lease and just go sell some cookies.”
Pike’s shop in Parkdale is a space inspired by his grandmother’s home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, a place where he grew up. Pike chose simple blue tiling to represent the Atlantic Ocean (customers have since pointed out it’s also the perfect Cookie Monster blue) and he hand-picked all of the art on the walls. “It feels like you’re going your grandmother’s or your grandfather’s or your loved ones’ home,” he says. “And you get to have a cookie, you get to meet somebody who’s going to give you the cookie, have a little chat with them. The only difference is that you pay for it.”
For the Love of Cookies
Not even three weeks after launch, a local news outlet shared a video featuring Craig’s Cookies that exploded with 1.4 million views in a single week. Suddenly Pike went from selling $360 worth of cookies a day to more than $1,000 a day. He eventually opened up a location in The Village, followed by locations in Leaside and Leslieville during the pandemic. Now, Pike says he has 86 employees, he ships goods to all corners of the country and he is on track to sell $10 to $12 million worth of cookies in the next four years.
Today, there are more than 100 types of cookies to sample at Craig’s Cookies, all made from that same base recipe he learned in his mom’s kitchen. Pike unabashedly uses familiar products that are fun and delicious to stuff those cookies with, rather than coming up with recipes for fillings. Even the shortbread-stuffed cookies are made with chocolate shortbread cookies from Cookie it Up, which Pike first fell in love with on a flight at Billy Bishop Airport.
Pike also regularly hosts creativity sessions where employees can come into the kitchen and just experiment with whatever they want. It was during one such session that they may have finally cracked a birthday cake cookie, something he says customers have been asking for. Sour Cherry Blasters, Mini Eggs, Nutella, apple pie and a slew of other options can also be found on the rotating menu and of course there is a Pride cookie, which is available year-round and is a featured item during Pride Toronto.
“There’s maybe one trained baker in our entire company,” Pike says of his employees and overall philosophy. “It’s a group of amazing, incredible people — a lot of them work in the arts — who love home baking, who just want to be part of a community that is inclusive and who just celebrate the joy and happiness of what a cookie can bring to somebody.”
An Artful Future
Looking back, Pike isn’t sure he would have grown Craig’s Cookies the way he did had the pandemic not forced him to. It wasn’t just that he had to find ways to pivot, it was also that his first loves, theatre and music, were also shut down. So he doubled down with cookies and looked into how far he could push the business while exploring wholesale opportunities, a frozen cookie dough and other potential ventures.
Pike says there’s a lot of room for growth, but he’s also at the point where he wants to ensure he has a grasp on the business and not the other way around. He’s an entrepreneur with no formal business training (one of his project managers recently insisted he learn about profit margins, for example) and he feels the company is at a point where he needs someone else to help him explore future potential. Until then, he’s not in a rush.
Instead, he finally feels as though he’s in a place where he can fund other passion projects and give back to the community while exploring some of the other things he loves. That includes kicking off an arts organization in the fall and producing a play, expanding the Toronto choir he conducts and creating a youth program where underprivileged kids in the city can express themselves through theatre and music.
“Five years ago, when I was baking by myself in my apartment in Parkdale, exhausted, baking like a dozen cookies every 12 minutes for nine hours, to try to get some cookies to sell on the sidewalk, I was like, ‘There has to be a means to an end here,’” he recalls. “Because I’m an artist. I’m an actor. I’m a musician. Now the pandemic is kind of shifting and we’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel. But these initiatives are all possible because of Craig’s Cookies. All the hard work is coming to fruition in a really great way.”
For Yasmeen Persad, food is all about community — and, as the trans program coordinator at Toronto’s non-profit organization The 519, she’s had plenty of opportunities to indulge in her passion for cooking and making memories. In particular, with the Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC), which is funded by the Toronto Urban Health Fund and runs out of The 519 (virtually during COVID-19). “There’s nothing like cooking together in the [519’s] kitchen in a circle and having conversations and seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” Persad says. “There’s a social support component to it.”
While the program touches on a variety of topics, from sexual health to homemade recipes, food insecurity and trans nutrition are ones that pop up frequently. Considered a safe space by many in Toronto’s trans community, Persad believes these oft-taboo subjects are seeing the light during TPOC meetings because people feel more comfortable broaching the subjects. “If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that,” she says. “People think, ‘Oh, it will lower my self-esteem to ask for help to access food.’”
According to a Statistics Canada report, the average Canadian spends $214 per month on groceries. However, racialized trans and non-binary people in Canada face higher levels of discrimination than others, resulting in housing inequality, a lack of job opportunities and food insecurity.
To combat the issue and raise awareness, TPOC focused their efforts on crafting Cooking With Trans People of Colour, a cookbook that offers a plethora of diverse recipes inspired by group leaders and program participants. In addition, among its many vibrant pages, are nutrition facts and sexual health stats. “The cookbook represents a history of racialized trans people, [both] those who have passed away and folks who are present,” Persad explains. “We want this to be a celebration for all trans people of colour across the board. We want this to be a recognition and a celebration.”
With Trans Day of Visibility coming up on March 31, 2021, we chatted with Yasmeen Persad about the cookbook, food insecurity in the trans community and how Canadians can take action.
How would you define food insecurity and how does the TPOC program help?
“Food security — for a number of the people that access our programs — has always been a challenge. [This is] because of their identities and the lack of access to places that offers food that represents them. It’s a struggle not just to get food, but to get healthy food. The program was designed to look at that issue specifically because racialized trans people experience higher levels of food insecurity. This is for many reasons: race, identity, being a newcomer to Canada or a refugee. The way we decided to address this issue was to create a cooking program where trans people of colour could come in and talk while cooking at the same time — sharing food, sharing recipes, sharing stories. This way, folks would get good food and also a meal to take home with them.”
Tell us about how the cookbook came together.
“So much work and love went into it. [The recipes are] quite different than the average ones you would probably encounter because most of the folks that come to the program weren’t born in Canada. They’re either an immigrant or a refugee. Whenever we cooked together [before COVID-19] the staff would pass by and everybody would say, ‘Oh my god, what smells so good? Can I get the recipe?’ And that’s where [the idea] stemmed into a cookbook we could share with people. However, we didn’t want to just do a general cookbook. We wanted to add different components to it to make it a lot more interesting — by addressing sexual health and adding some fun pieces to it.”
The TPOC team, featuring (top L-R): Evana Ortigoza and Angel Glady, and (bottom L-R): Mariana Cortes, Yasmeen Persad and Christy Joseph.
How would you describe the link between food insecurity and racism?
“Folks who are racialized often find that the types of food they would want to cook or experience — or any food they might get through food banks or drop-ins — don’t necessarily reflect [the meals] of racialized people. Therefore, a lot of folks might not go to a general cooking program because they’re like, ‘This food doesn’t represent me, I don’t know what to do with this food, I can’t cook this food, it’s not a part of who I am or part of my culture.’ And that was really a key part of this — the [TPOC] participants would come, we’d ask them what they would like to cook and we’d try to bridge [the gap] between racism and food insecurity.”
Primavera Beef With Plantains and Black Beans, a recipe by Evana Ortigoza in the Cooking With Trans People of Colour cookbook
How has food insecurity in the trans community been affected by COVID?
“It’s been affected terribly because, prior to this, people could have come to physically get the food. That has been a real challenge. However, the way we decided to address the food insecurity [that arose from the pandemic] was by still cooking and having people come pick up the food. That was part of the way The 519 as a whole, and embedded with TPOC, has been addressing food insecurity.”
There is a lack of research on trans nutrition. Is this something that comes up often during discussions at TPOC meetings?
“It does. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around the trans community, in general, and what food is available in terms of how it impacts hormones, surgeries and health benefits. In the cookbook, we promote hormones and healthy eating and TPOC participants would often ask during our discussions, ‘I started hormones, is there maybe something that I shouldn’t be eating too much or less of?’ Of course, we’re not nutritionists, but we try to draw from our own lived experiences to guide folks through that process.”
Many of the nutritional needs discussed in the program and cookbook are based on lived realities. Can you speak to that a bit?
“We wanted the cookbook to represent real people’s lives — we really wanted to bring a trans human experience to it. Because the group is also strongly embedded in talking about sexual health, we wanted to address those pieces and talk about it in an affirming way. Often, when you talk about trans people living with or affected by HIV, there are so many negative stigmas attached to it. Similarly, with hormone therapy. We want to make this real, but we also want to shine on this in a positive light. We want it to show that you can be someone living with HIV and have a healthy life — and you don’t have to eat food that’s not desirable to you.”
How can Canadians help and take action?
“Everyone should look at food insecurity as a social health issue. Just as we have access to medical care, we should think of food in the same way. The way people could help support us is by donating to The 519 website. The cookbook will have a donate button and that would continue to help support the program and help to give racialized trans folks access to healthy food. [Food insecurity] is also not talked about enough — and when it is, it’s always negative. If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that. Together [we] can talk about it in such a way that helps people see it in a different light.”
Where to buy the cookbook
Digital Copy: Download the PDF via The 519 website as of March 26, 2021. Price: Donate what you can. Hard Copy: Swing by Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop. Price: Still to be announced.
The Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC) fosters affirming support, greater access to food security and access to meaningful sexual health promotion information for racialized trans folks. TPOC is an integral component of The 519’s support of BIPOC 2Spirit, trans and non-binary community members within The 519 — and has continued to provide support through the pandemic. Between 2019-2020, TPOC had over 300 visits to the drop-in. To learn more about TPOC, visit their website.
The award-winning baker beat out more than 60 competitors to win first place in both the professional traditional and fusion competitions, plus took home ‘Best in Show’ with her stunning strawberry-rhubarb butter tarts. The annual one-day festival, which is a butter tart lover’s dream come true, saw more than 60,000 people descend on the town of Midland, eager to satisfy their sweet tooths. Not only is this a chance to taste tarts from the best bakeries, it is home to the ultimate annual baking competition. The top professional and home bakers enjoy the sweet taste of butter tart baking victory.
Diane Rogers of Doo Doo’s Bakery took home three of the top prizes in Midland’s Best Butter Tart Festival on Saturday, June 9, 2018. Photo by David Hill. Photo by Rodrigo Moreno
And Rogers is one of them. In 2016, she swept the professional, non-classic category, taking home first, second and third prize with her tarts. Yet, despite the accolades, the award-winning baker wasn’t confident that she’d bake a winning batch this year. Doo Doo’s placed 12th in last year’s competition, which had Rogers wondering how her tarts really measured up.
After going back to the drawing board, Doo Doo’s reclaimed its title and more this year. The classic, plain butter tart is simple, but judges found it to be simply the best.
“I’m a purist,” the self-taught baker said. “I like them plain.”
Rogers used the classic pastry and perfectly sticky-sweet tarts as a launching pad for the creation that earned her both top prize in the fusion category, plus Best in Show. Taking advantage of fresh strawberries and seasonal rhubarb, Rogers baked the award-winning batch at midnight the night before the competition.
“I’ve kind of got a knack for pairing flavours with butter tart filling,” Rogers said. “We’re always experimenting in our kitchen – even down to the last minute.”
The Winner of Best in Show at Midland’s Best Butter Tart Festival, Saturday, June 9, 2018. Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble Butter Tart from Doo Doo’s Bakery in Bailieboro, Ont. Photo by Rodrigo Moreno.
The sweet and tangy tart was so good, that as soon as the judging ended, a crowd descended on her booth before Rogers even heard that they’d won.
“I call it Butter Tart Christmas because that really is what it is,” she said. “It was fun, it is always lots of fun.”
While the winning strawberry-rhubarb creation wasn’t among the thousands of tarts Doo Doo’s sold that weekend, fans can taste the award-winning tart at their bakery and cafe. Butter tart lovers can also seek them out at the Cobourg Farmers’ Market and the Peterborough Market.
While Rogers has had years of competition under her belt, Tonya Louks thought the festival would just be a fun weekend away. The amateur baker from Welland, Ont. is usually one to shy away from the spotlight, which is why she never expected to be crowned champ of the traditional amateur competition on Saturday.
“I thought I didn’t have a chance, but you just never know,” said Louks, who has been making butter tarts for her family for years. Armed with a family-filling recipe passed down from her husband’s great-great-grandmother, she’s perfected her thin, flaky crust and studded her tarts with raisins for a mouthwatering treat her family raves about.
Amateur baker Tonya Louks’ award-winning traditional butter tart. Photo by Rodrigo Moreno.
“My family kept bugging me to enter and I said ‘you are all biased,’” said Louks, who relented after her family insisted she share her tarts with the world. Even though she made it through the first round of the competition with ease, she was worried how her thin crust would stand up against the competition, who had thicker pastries.
“You never know what the judges are going to like or not like,” said Louks, who was excited to see The Baker Sisters as part of the judging panel.
With the surprise win under her belt, Louks is already getting requests from friends and family, who want a bite of her award-winning treats. While she isn’t taking orders, she’s definitely taking inspiration from this year’s winners and from the variety of tarts available at the festival, including some impressive gluten-free tarts and ‘puptarts’ she brought home for her dog.
Butter tarts are a uniquely Canadian dessert with a history as rich as the country itself. If you’ve never experienced the glory of these treats, they’re delightful pastries filled with a sticky, sweet, buttery filling. Raisins or pecans are popular additions to the filling while some bakers get creative with fruit, candy or other unique variations. Invented in Ontario, the province is also home to award-winning tarts and even has a festival that has transformed the dessert into a full-day experience. If you’re on a quest for butter tart bliss, here are Ontario’s top spots to indulge in this tasty treat.
The ultimate destination for butter tart buffs, Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival takes place in Midland every year. With more than 60 vendors and over 150,000 tarts for sale, it’s the perfect place for the entire family to try baked goods from across the province. Home to Ontario’s Best Butter Tart competition, bakers enter their finest classic and contemporary creations, and a panel of expert judges selects the best of the best! Another highlight of the day is the Butter Tart Trot, which includes a family-friendly fun run, as well as a 5K, 10K and half marathon.
Rachel Smith and Jean Parker, hosts of Food Network Canada’s The Baker Sisters, have been baking tarts since childhood when they helped their mother with her butter tart business. After they became mothers themselves, they co-founded their boutique butter tart company, taking their mother’s award-winning recipe and making a few tasty tweaks. Their rustic, handcrafted tarts are made with locally-milled flour and vegetable shortening and are available in four varieties: classic, raisin, pecan and maple walnut.
Three-time winners at Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival, sisters Pam and Debbie got a young start helping their mother, Jackie, sell tarts and other baked goods on their front lawn. As word spread about Jackie’s baking, she opened their first shop on Main Street in Newmarket and expanded to a larger location nearby a year later. Jackie sadly passed in 2003, but Pam and Debbie have continued the tradition, making their famous butter tarts from a secret family recipe.
Rebecca and Erica at Bitten conquered the cupcake game before venturing into butter tarts. They researched a number of recipes from cookbooks, friends and family to come up with a base for their tarts and spent many delicious months adjusting it until they landed on their current formula. Their traditional flaky pastry is made with lard and includes one secret ingredient that really sets them apart. While their cupcakes venture on the wild side, this duo considers themselves butter tart purists, offering only plain, raisin or pecan tarts.
Owner Anne Barr created the award-winning maple rhubarb apple butter tart that took first place in the Pro All-Ontario Ingredient category at last year’s Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival. Anne’s tarts are proudly made with ingredients sourced locally, in Eastern Ontario, and while her bakery is popular with locals, it is also a destination for day-trippers, boaters and cyclists alike. Nana B’s is committed to helping keep the environment beautiful, reducing and recycling as much as possible, and sends its used vegetable oil to a local garage for biodiesel conversion.
This Barrie Bakery owned by Becky Howard and her family is known right across the country for their handcrafted tarts. Each tart is made from scratch from the highest quality ingredients and baked on site. With more than 20 flavours to choose from, there is something to please every palate. They have the classics like pecan and raisin, but chocolate chip, peanut butter, English toffee and their signature tart raspberry are other popular picks.
Carla’s love of baking started as a kid while making traditional Italian cookies with her mom. As an adult, she started her butter tart journey at the request of her son after sifting through recipes from friends. None were quite right, so she experimented until she landed on her own recipe. Her handcrafted tarts are made in small batches, sometimes with help from her husband and kids, using the freshest maple syrup, flour, eggs and butter from Ontario farms and businesses. In addition to traditional fillings, she dabbles in fun flavours like nutella swirl and pina colada.
It was a bittersweet beginning for Diane Rogers’ butter tarts. Newly widowed and raising a teen and a toddler; she started her late-night baking sessions while the kids were sleeping. A self-taught baker, she developed her signature pastry by experimenting with an old recipe. Her soft, hand-rolled pastry is made in small batches with the finest ingredients. The light, flaky tarts have a jelly-like filling that’s not overly sweet with a good filling-to-crust ratio. Diane’s best ideas still come at night, so that’s her favourite time to prepare for a competition or event.
Over 40 years ago, Betty sold homemade baked goods from a converted garage, using a butter tart recipe handed down from a bakery she worked at. Betty retired in 2001 and sold the business to Nancy Coady, who first moved it to Port Hope and then to its location on Highway 2. Current owner Ali Jiggins worked at Betty’s through high school, and after university, bought the bakery from Nancy. Ali still uses Betty’s award-winning recipe with a few tweaks. They have a slightly heavy crust with a runnier filling and comes in unique flavours like PB&J and raspberry-coconut.
Every summer we would spend a week or two with my grandparents in Ottawa. My grandma introduced me to banana milkshakes, and turned me into a massive milkshake lover. Back then I really didn’t care what type of ingredients went into the milkshakes, they were just “Nan’s Banana Milkshakes” – made with bananas, vanilla ice cream and milk. Simple, yet so delicious.
Today, I’m more mindful of what ingredients go into my milkshakes – now considered smoothies. My Peanut Butter and Banana Oatmeal Smoothie is the perfect on-the-go breakfast for kids and adults alike: it’s free from refined sugars (it’s sweetened with dates) and it’s filled with whole grains, healthy fats and of course bananas, in honour of my Nan. It has the texture of a delicious milkshake – your kids won’t suspect it’s healthy one bit!
1. In small bowl, cover dates with warm water. Let soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain.
2. In blender jug, combine dates, almond milk, ice, rolled oats, banana, peanut butter and cinnamon. Blend until smooth.
3. If desired, garnish with additional peanut butter and cinnamon before serving.
Do you have a delicious dish to share with the rest of Canada? Submit your recipe for a chance to be featured on Great Canadian Cookbook and Food Network Canada!
Straight From The Jar Hi there! My name is Megan and I am the healthy food blogger behind Straight From The Jar. I started SFTJ to document and share my love for healthy, whole foods and eating them from Mason jars!
By Rosemary Martin, as told to Jasmine Mangalaseril
As the eldest of eight children to a Mennonite family in Waterloo County, Ont., Rosemary Martin helped her mother prepare “company meals” for up to 30 people every other Sunday for most of her life. Today, Rosemary’s Company Cabbage is a favourite that appears at family suppers and special meals with friends.
When I was growing up, we attended our home church every other Sunday; in between, we would visit another church in the area. For those weeks when we were at our home church, we would invite visitors for lunch, which was the main meal of the day. As our family alone was 10 people, plus two more similar-sized families or three smaller families were in attendance, there would easily be up to 30 for “company meals.” A casserole or stew, bread (always bread!) or rolls and butter were served, and we usually had green salads and jellied salads, too. I abhorred jellied salads, and my dad didn’t like them, either, but a lot of people did (it was a big thing back then). Desserts tended to be 13- by 9-inch pans of refrigerator or freezer desserts, and Mom loved to make chiffon cakes, so we would often have three. We wouldn’t mind if there were leftovers!
When it was just our family, we tended to eat fairly basic meals, partially because of our culture and partially because there were 10 of us. But they consisted of fresh or frozen homegrown vegetables and locally sourced meats—either smoked ham or summer sausage, and every now and then, a roast chicken or a roast beef.
I’m not a traditional Mennonite cook. As long as I can remember, I have liked a variety of foods and experimenting. I would beg Mom to vary from her routines because I quickly tired of eating the same foods three Sundays in a row. I learned more about food when I started eating out at higher-end restaurants with friends and by reading recipe books like they were novels with pictures. But I do credit my father for my plating skills. He always said, “Food first has to pass by my eyes before it reaches my stomach,” so I learned to serve food attractively from him.
I love cabbage in almost every form. I love cabbage soup and sauerkraut, of course. Growing up, cabbage was typically used in coleslaw or as wedges, cooked with roast beef or roast chicken. My grandma would pickle whole wedges with whole cloves or a pickling spice, vinegar, sugar and water. She cooked it until tender, marinated it in brine for several days, then kept it chilled. It was really good.
My Company Cabbage recipe is not a typical Mennonite recipe. I found it in a magazine and tweaked it over the years. You can do all the shredding and chopping the night before, then cook it in about five minutes just before serving. People are usually surprised they like it because it’s cabbage, but it has a delicious unique flavour because of the nuts, the mustard and the dill. Savoy cabbage gives you that nice curly edge. That and the green onions combine so you have light springy-summery colours.
2 tsp (10 mL) chicken bouillon
4 cups (1 L) coarsely shredded green or Savoy cabbage
½ cup (125 mL) shredded carrots
¼ cup (60 mL) chopped celery root or celery
¼ cup (60 mL) sliced green onions or chopped shallots
½ tsp (2 mL) dried dillweed (or 1½ tsp/7 mL fresh)
3 tbsp (45 mL) chopped pecans
1 tbsp (15 mL) melted butter
½ tsp (2 mL) prepared mustard
⅛ tsp (0.5 mL) pepper
1. In large saucepan, heat 1/3 cup/75 mL water over medium-high; add chicken bouillon, stirring until dissolved. Add cabbage, carrots, celery root, green onions and dillweed, stirring to combine. Cook, covered, for about 5 minutes, stirring slightly, until tender.
2. Stir together pecans, butter, mustard and pepper. Pour over cabbage mixture; tossing to combine.
Shep Ysselstein, owner of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese, near Woodstock, Ont., is one of Canada’s brightest young cheese makers. By the time he reached 30, he’d already snagged the top honour at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix for his Five Brothers in the firm-cheese category. (And in April 2015, his Handeck won for best farmhouse cheese at the same competition.) A dairy-inspired life was mapped out for him as a child: His parents still own Friesvale Farms (right next door to Gunn’s Hill), which supplies the milk for Ysselstein’s Swiss-style cheeses. It’s all in the family there.
Alpler macaroni is an old Swiss recipe. “Alpler” is the name for the people who work up in the mountains, milking cows and making cheese. Traditionally, this dish is what they would have eaten. For a summer, when I learned cheese making in the Berner Oberland area of Switzerland, I would have been considered an alpler.
While I was there, the head cheese maker had a friend who was a chef make us the macaroni dish with the cheeses we made. We ate it in a very traditional cheese-making hut: several hundred years old with thick stone walls built into the side of the mountain. It was very rustic and primitive with low ceilings that were black from all the smoke generated by the fire used to produce the cheese. In that space, we cooked and ate our own meals—we even slept upstairs.
When I ate alpler macaroni for the first time, I thought, Wow! I need to know how to make this! Obviously, I’m a big fan of dairy products, and this recipe has a lot of them, drawing flavour from the types of cheese you use.
The chef taught me how to make alpler macaroni, but he didn’t give me a written recipe. So I learned the steps but not specific volumes. He just told me, “If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Too thin? Add more cheese.”
This dish is a meal—a heavy one. Historically, alplers would not have had access to a lot of foodstuffs since everything would have had to be trekked up the mountain. So they used what they had available, primarily dairy products: milk, butter, cream and cheese. For this dish, they would have just needed to bring dry pasta up the mountain.
When I came back home to Canada, I made it for my family: Mom, Dad and whomever of my four brothers was around. I’ve made it more than once for them, and I make it for different groups of friends, too. I also made it for my wife, Colleen Bator, when we were first dating. It worked out pretty good—she married me eventually.
Alpler Macaroni is my go-to recipe for many occasions. It incorporates the things that are important in my life: my cheese factory in Oxford County; and my summer in Switzerland that helped me become a cheese maker. Plus, our cows make the milk, so it’s special in that way, too. This dish is handcrafted from the very beginning, starting with a cow. The only thing I need to do now is make my own pasta…
Alpler Macaroni and Cheese, courtesy of Shep Ysselstein
1 cup (250 mL) macaroni
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp (15 mL) flour
1 cup (250 mL) (approx) milk
1 cup (250 mL) heavy cream
1 cup (250 mL) (approx) Handeck cheese (18-month cow’s milk Swiss alpine-style cheese)
2 cups (500 mL) (approx) Five Brothers cow’s milk cheese or Appenzeller cheese
pepper and nutmeg to taste
1. In pot of boiling water, cook macaroni; drain.
2. Add butter to large pan; fry onion and garlic until soft. Add flour (to thicken and bind mixture). Add milk and cream. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is warmed throughout and just beginning to bubble.
3. Add Handeck and half of the Five Brothers cheese, 1 small handful at a time, stirring constantly, until cheese is completely melted. Do not boil. Allow to slightly simmer; add pepper and nutmeg. If mixture is too thick, add more milk; if too thin, add more cheese. (You can never have too much cheese!)
4. In buttered baking dish, add half of the macaroni. Pour in half of the cheese mixture; sprinkle on remaining Five Brothers cheese. Add remaining half of macaroni; pour in remaining half of cheese mixture.
5. Bake, uncovered, in 400°F (200°C) oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.
Former bank executive Audrey Vrooman’s post-retirement passions—cake decorating and quilting—led her to this moist and flavourful banana cake. It’s become her go-to recipe for when a special treat is called for to celebrate family and friends, plus she gets special requests to make it for weddings and showers once or twice a year.
Twelve years ago, I was putting together a cookbook for our quilting guild to sell as a fundraiser. One of the members of our guild at that time, Ruby Sowpel, gave me a banana cake recipe. After reading the directions, it struck me as a very old recipe, so I had to ask Ruby where she got it from. She told me that when she was a young bride—so in the early 1940s—she had been given this recipe by her sister-in-law, who had received it many years before from her mother-in-law. We were able to trace the origin back to about 1900. It was originally handwritten with things like “a handful of butter”—there was no measuring. When I included this recipe in the book, I had to convert all the ingredients from the original instructions into what I guessed they’d be in measuring cups.
I like the original recipe, but I’ve made some changes that I think result in a much lighter, fluffier and longer-lasting cake. Using buttermilk, instead of regular milk or cream, definitely helps lengthen the life of the recipe. I also use a lot more bananas than the original recipe called for—I wouldn’t add any fewer than five.
Ruby’s original banana cake was served with maple fudge frosting, but I don’t care for the kind of firmness that a fudge icing gives (it makes it harder to decorate), so I started experimenting. I really like my recipe for maple cream cheese frosting even better than other versions I’ve seen because it’s less stiff on the cake. The original recipe called for chopped walnuts; personally, I wouldn’t put chopped walnuts in many things, as they go rancid easily. But in the olden days, that was all you could get. We’re quite spoiled. For instance, I remember that when it was winter, you didn’t get certain fruit or vegetables, but now we can get everything we want year-round.
I didn’t grow up in a family where my mother did much cooking or baking; it’s something I came to after I retired. I started to make cakes for my grandsons, and at first, I would make just chocolate and white. When I found this banana cake recipe, I began to play around with it. It reminds me of how when I was a child, my mother used to make banana bread. That would be a really special treat for us.
A bride-to-be asked if I would make her this cake for her wedding. On the night of her wedding, she wrote me an email while traveling between her reception and hotel room to say how awesome the cake was, that there was none left. That was really, really nice.
The truth is I don’t eat much dessert, but I do love to make them. I like the satisfaction of knowing how happy they make other people. This is a delicious, awesome cake, and people are going to get a lot of accolades if they make it.
Banana Cake With Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, courtesy of Audrey Vrooman
Prep time: 15 minutes Cook time: 1 ¼ hours Yields: 1 large 9-inch (2.5 L) square cake or 9-inch (1.5 L) round cake, or 12 to 16 servings
5 bananas, peeled
1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda
½ cup (125 mL) butter
1½ cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups (500 mL) cake-and-pastry flour
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
1 cup (250 mL) buttermilk
1½ tsp (7 mL) vanilla
250 g tub cream cheese
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¼ cup (60 mL) pure maple syrup, medium grade
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1 tsp (5 mL) pure maple extract
4 cups (1 L) icing sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) meringue powder
1. In small bowl, mash bananas; add baking soda. Set aside.
2. In separate bowl, cream butter with sugar; whisk in eggs.
3. In third bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add one-third of flour mixture to butter mixture, stirring to combine. Stir in half of the buttermilk. Stir in another third of the flour, the remaining buttermilk and the remaining flour. Stir in banana mixture; stir in vanilla.
4. Scrape into cake pan. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven for about 40 minutes. (Option: Slice cake horizontally to make two layers, instead of cake with no layers.)
1. In large bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add maple syrup, vanilla and maple extract; beat until well combined. Beat in icing sugar and meringue powder until smooth.
2. Ice top and sides and cake.
Option for layer cake with banana filling: Cut cake horizontally into 2 layers. Ice cut side of bottom layer (you could use vanilla cream cheese icing between layers with maple cream cheese icing on top and sides of cake. To make vanilla cream cheese frosting, omit maple syrup and maple extract). Lay sliced bananas on top of iced layer. Replace second layer of cake over filling, cut side down. Frost sides and top of cake.
Any leftover cake or icing can be double-wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to three months.
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Abram Shantz was born in 1933 to an Old Order Mennonite family in Wallenstein, Ont. At 16, Abram left his family and moved to Kitchener, where he got married, raised a family and started a construction company. This retired widower and great-grandfather now lives in Breslau and happily shares the food of his childhood with his friends and family.
I was born during the Depression. My father had many kids: He had 10 with my mother, then after she died, he married again and had three more. We didn’t have a farm, but we had three acres with two little barns and one or two cows for milk, cream and butter, some pigs and a pen with chickens for eggs and meat. And we always had a big garden.
We kids weren’t in the kitchen a lot while the cooking was going on—we were outside playing or outside working—but I most vividly remember the smell of cooking when we came in. Everything had its own aroma. Of course, potatoes don’t give off as much of an aroma as a chicken in the kettle!
In our house, bledley grumbara (“saucer potatoes” in Pennsylvania Dutch), or cream potatoes, was a common Mennonite dish my mother served at the evening meal.
We weren’t tempted to sneak a taste while it was cooking, but the moment that cream was added, and especially when my mother grabbed a big slab of butter, that’s when you really wanted to taste it.
I got my wife to make cream potatoes a few times, but she said that cream costs too much, and they just didn’t turn out when she used skim milk! After she passed away, I did my own cooking and started trying this, trying that. I didn’t have the recipe, but I knew what was supposed to happen, so I had to make it happen.
I use russets, but I think white potatoes would have good flavour, too. Peel the potatoes, then slice them like saucers, as thin as you can comfortably slice them, as you would for scalloped potatoes. The texture isn’t right if you chop them so that some are thick and others are thin. Boil the potatoes in water with a pinch of salt until they fall apart. Drain the water, then pour in enough cream to coat the potatoes and the inside of the pot. Bring to a boil to create the sauce—the potatoes will absorb a lot of the cream, which will stop them from becoming dry. Add a spoonful of butter and more salt, if you want, for flavour.
When I eat cream potatoes, I think back to when I was little, sitting at a big table along with lots of hungry kids. My father is at the end, and then my mother, and then we kids are all around. The potatoes are in a great big bowl served with summer sausage and pickled beets. Always in the middle of the table is a plate with a tall stack of fresh bread. Everyone grabs what they want.
Cream potatoes are so simple to make. It just happens I like them, and I’ve liked them for 80 years.
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When Peggy Nagle first tasted her future mother-in-law’s butter tarts, she didn’t know she would eventually become the keeper of a prized family tradition. These Waterloo County–style butter tarts are sweet and just a little gooey—popular additions to dessert tables and potlucks.
My mother-in-law, Teresa Weadick, was an amazing cook. In her day, the farming community had a lot of events where people would get together and share food: You’d roll back the rug at home for family reunions and get-togethers; all the neighbours gathered together for “presentations,” which were community showers to honour a bride and a groom; and, of course, people would have potluck dinners.
Teresa always received a lot of praise whenever she brought her butter tarts. Sometimes, people would hide one or two away to be certain they’d have one when dessert time came! I don’t know where she got her recipe, but she knew it from memory. She usually made the same type, but occasionally, she’d try something different, like adding a dab of raspberry jam to each tart before she poured the filling.
She was known as the “Queen of Tarts,” and she was really particular about them. If they were the least bit too brown, the least bit too pale or they broke as they came out, they weren’t good enough to go; those stayed home. Not many were culled, but the kids were always ready to help out with the ones that weren’t “good enough.”
The first time I had Teresa’s butter tarts was probably when I was dating her son, Rob. It was summertime. Rob and I were both at the University of Waterloo, but he was home for the summer while I was still in class because I was a co-op student. I remember thinking how amazing his mother’s tarts were. They were divine! I had made butter tarts before, but I knew these were really, really good.
I treasure the memory of Teresa teaching me how to make them. At the time, I felt it was special, but as I was so young—I was probably 21—I didn’t really realize how special. I was focused more on eating the finished product than on the learning process, or appreciating the teaching. But it was a fun activity, and I’m so glad I did it.
I worked on the tarts and served them to my mother-in-law quite a few times—she really liked them. I found the pastry difficult, and I still find the pastry difficult. It’s about balance: work it too much and they’re tough; not enough and they’re too crumbly.
What made Teresa’s butter tarts so good? I think it was the texture. They weren’t gelatinous, like store-bought ones, or dry, like some others. When you bit into hers, they had a fabulous viscosity—runny, but not too runny. Maybe the reason is how she baked them: a few minutes in a hot oven, then finished off in a moderate oven.
Our family’s tradition is to “only” eat butter tarts the day they’re made. Day-old butter tarts don’t cut it—they may as well be culls! Of course, there’s nothing wrong with day-olds, but butter tarts are best on that first day, and they’re even better when they’re still warm.
Waterloo County Butter Tarts, courtesy of Peggy Nagle
Butter Tart Filling
½ cup (125 mL) raisins, scalded and plumped
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) corn syrup
2 tbsp (30 mL) butter or margarine
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla
1. In large bowl, combine flour and salt.
2. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few larger pea-size pieces. (I used to do it that way, but now I blend this mixture in my food processor. Much faster and less messy.)
3. In glass measure, using fork, beat egg with vinegar. Add enough very cold water to make 1 cup (250 mL). Drizzle into flour mixture a bit at a time, mixing with fork until dough looks evenly moistened and holds together when gently pressed between fingers. (You might not need all of the liquid.)
4. Divide dough equally into 6 balls. Chill in refrigerator for 3 hours. Prepared dough can be stored for 2 days in the refrigerator or 2 months in the freezer.
5. Roll dough on lightly floured surface. Using jar lid or cookie cutter or large glass, cut circles of the right size for your tart tins. If the dough cracks while rolling, allow it to sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes or until pliable enough to roll without breaking. The secret to flaky pastry is to handle the dough as little as possible. The more you handle it, the tougher it gets. (Tip: Butter tarts are best fresh, even better warm, but they’re messy to make at the last minute. I like to make the dough and fill the tart tins the night before, then just add the raisins and the filling and bake right before serving.
Butter Tart Filling
1. Place raisins in bottom of pastry-filled tart tins.
2. In a bowl, beat together egg, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter and vanilla. Spoon about 1 tbsp (15 mL) filling over raisins into each well of tart tins. (You should have enough filling for 18 tarts.)
3. Bake in 400°F (200°C) oven for 5 minutes, then turn down to 350°F (180°C) for 15 more minutes.
4. Remove from oven; let cool. They generally slide out of the tart tins fairly well. However, the rule is that any broken ones cannot be served at a meal or to company. These culls must be given to onlookers in the kitchen who are hinting for a tasty treat (or at least that’s what Rob tells me!).
For Teresa Huegle, food and restaurants are in her blood. Her extended family owned several restaurants and cafés in Waterloo County before her parents opened Angie’s Kitchen (now The Original Angie’s Since 1962) in Uptown Waterloo in 1962. Today, this Waterloo landmark continues to offer foods once favoured by the area’s early German settlers.
When my parents opened Angie’s in the ’60s, hot beef sandwiches and fish and chips were the big things here. Schnitzel really didn’t become famous until the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest was established a few years later, in 1969.
Customers didn’t want to wait until the festival came, so schnitzel became part of the food we’d serve. All the local university teams ate here—schnitzel was for the pregame meal or for the party after they won. Later, it became part of our catered banquets, while in the restaurant, schnitzel became a staple for an evening meal, or on a bun at lunch.
Originally, our breakfasts were bacon, eggs, toast, jam and sausages, but people started asking for an egg on top of schnitzel. We eventually created a breakfast platter with Oktoberfest sausage, Krug’s smoked sausage, schnitzel, eggs and a slice of lemon.
While some of the guys like it, the full breakfast platter is a very, very big meal. I think to finish the platter you need to be young and know you can wear it all off! I’ve dissected it and cut the portions a bit, so you can get a taste and have just one of the sausages or schnitzel. At breakfast, sauerkraut isn’t normally served, but you can certainly have it. Personally, I love the flavour combination of lemon on top of schnitzel with eggs and salt and pepper.
My father was Greek, and my mother was Italian, so food was always a part of our lives. Since I was the eldest of five, I was constantly in the kitchen as the clean-up girl. My mum was cooking all the time, and I learned by watching her. My parents used to bread chicken, and also pork, so basically the schnitzel was a family recipe. I married a German-Austrian, which means schnitzel also came into my life through his family.
For me, a great piece of schnitzel is made with salt, pepper and garlic. At home, I’ll often serve it with fresh homemade applesauce. If the kids want pasta on the side, I might add oregano to the breading, just to give it a different flavour. I make a curried schnitzel salad by adding chopped celery, onions, curry powder and mayo to leftover schnitzel that I’ve cubed—it’s awesome!
Schnitzel is a treat, and a treat can also be healthy and fun. For those who aren’t supposed to have salt, take it out, but add some oregano and thyme. Will you miss the salt? Not if you’ve got lemon juice squeezed over it!
When we think of schnitzel, we think of fun. We think of beer. We think of a good time. That’s part of this community, what Kitchener-Waterloo is.
4 boneless pork loin pieces
1 cup (250 mL) flour, mixed with salt and pepper to taste
4 cups (1 L) bread crumbs, mixed with salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil for frying
Lemon wedges for serving
Applesauce for serving
1. Place each pork loin between sheets of plastic wrap. Gently pound each loin with meat tenderizer until thin and even. (The wrap will help prevent splattering the counter and yourself.)
2. Put seasoned flour in shallow bowl or pan, making sure seasoning is well mixed into flour.
3. In second bowl or pan, whip together eggs and milk.
4. In third pan, add seasoned breadcrumbs, again making sure seasoning is well mixed.
5. Dredge each loin in flour, then dip in egg mixture, then in bread crumbs. Pat lightly; put on plate until frying pan is ready.
6. Heat oil in pan. Fry each schnitzel until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
7. To serve, place schnitzels on platter with lemon wedges. Serve with fresh applesauce. For breakfast, I add any style of eggs. You will love the flavours with a bit of extra salt and pepper on your eggs and a squeeze of lemon on your schnitzel. Yummy!