Giving Up On Guilt [Pickle-Patty Melts]


The New Year. A speckless slate untarnished by bad decisions and weighing feelings. Our chance to start fresh and make the changes we didn’t get around to last year. Or maybe the new ones we’ve only just taken back to the drawing board. 

I’ve decided, not that it’s a far stretch from years before, that I’m dropping food-related guilt off at the door this year. I don’t like hearing the term “guilty pleasure” when we’re talking about food. Food and guilt don’t belong together. It shouldn’t be your first reaction upon biting into a greasy slice of pizza. YOU SHOULD BE THRILLED. Relishing that delicious moment in time and letting yourself be fully there while you do. Not thinking about how many miles you’re going to have to run to make up for it, or how many meals you’ll have to skip because of it. Indulging should feel good and if it doesn’t, it’s not worth it. Be wise when spoiling yourself. If you’re going to indulge, make sure it’s something real. Real chocolate, real butter, real meat, REAL ingredients. Don’t waste your time on these 100-calorie snacks you don’t really want. Have that slice of chocolate cake…but make it yourself and make it with wholesome ingredients. 


I know that I have to eat well to feel good. And I do just that. So when the occasional (or often, as of late) indulgence comes up, I don’t feel the slightest tinge of anxiety. I’m going to relish that moment knowing that I eat real, whole food and while I may not be 130 pounds to my 5”8, I’m healthy. And happy. And kind (to myself, most importantly). I know that I put 80% whole food in my body; that’s what I’m choosing to put my focus on this year. If I feel good, I look good. Depriving myself of what I want makes me an irritable, miserable asshole. That’s not who I want to be. 

This sloppy, greasy-looking patty melt was the first dish I made this year. It wasn’t the healthiest option and it was heavy and rich, but it was real. Made from ingredients in their purest form. Locally made rye bread, gifted pickles from a friend, local beef (freshly ground), caramelized onions, high quality Swiss cheese and a good, spicy mustard. That’s it. No 40 what-the-F-is-that ingredients that promise to make you thin. Six ingredients that taste amazing and feel good in your body. 


I hope you’ll join me in a guilt-free year of real food. Eat what feels good, eat what’s real and be happy with the choices you’re making.

Pickle-Patty Melts 
makes 4 sandwiches

I used Swiss cheese here and it melted wonderfully. You can use any type that melts well, but the flavour of the Swiss is what really makes this melt taste as wonderful as it does. 

I love pickles with my patty melt so I just added them to the beef. The sweet, briny kick helps cut the fat/richness of the sandwich. If you prefer it without, simply leave them out. 

vegetable oil
2 lbs freshly ground beef 
1/4 cup - 1/3 cup diced sweet pickle (bread and butter)
salt and pepper
2 large yellow/brown onions, thinly sliced
8 slices good rye bread (light or dark)
10-12 slices Swiss cheese
4 tbsp spicy yellow mustard (Keen’s is my choice)

Using your hands, mix together the beef, pickles and a few generous pinches of salt and pepper and mix gently until combined. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions and shape to the size of your rye bread. It will shrink slightly making it the perfect size for a meat-in-every-bite sandwich. When you’re ready to cook them, sprinkle each patty with a little more salt and pepper on each side. 

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over med-high heat. When sizzling, add the patties, 2 at a time depending on pan size, and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side or until a deep golden crust forms. Flip and cook the other side. Remove to paper towels to absorb excess fat. 

In the same pan, add a few more tablespoons of oil and add the onions. Cook, stirring up any brown bits left behind from the meat, until deep golden brown, 15 minutes. 

To assemble: 

Preheat oven to 400. 

Toast all the bread in a dry skillet until charred slightly, 4-5 minutes over med-high heat. You can toast in a toaster if you’d like, but I love the flavour a skillet-toasted rye gets. 

Place 4 slices of the rye bread down on a parchment lined baking sheet. Coat each slice with 1 tbsp of mustard. Top with the patty, then the onions and finally with the Swiss cheese.  Place pan in the oven (without the second slice of toasted rye on top) for 10 minutes or until cheese is melting and bubbly. Remove from oven and top with second slice of bread. Cut on the diagonal and enjoy! 


Finding My Past in Food [Healthier Egg Salad with Tarragon and Pickled Celery]


My past with food isn’t as glamorous as I sometimes wish it was. I didn’t learn to mix, knead and roll pasta with my grandmother on Sundays and I wasn’t teetering on my tip toes, nose barely reaching the counter, while my Dad taught me how to break down a chicken, sear it to a golden brown and simmer it in tomatoes and capers, olives and hot peppers. It wasn’t my reality. There are times I feel nostalgic for the stories of those whose family and food lives were wrapped around each other like a sturdy vine, but I forget that I, too, have a past in food, glamorous or not. 

The older I get the more I remember the things I did learn about food from my family. They may not be the stories I longed for or the romantic ones some of my friends and peers can tell, but they were the ones that shaped me. My Dad passed along his fearlessness towards all food. Mold? Just cut it off and carry on. Leftovers there for a while? Details, details - just eat it. Expiry dates? A mere suggestion. He joked endlessly about liver and onions, terrifying my sister and I at the thought of having to join him at the table. He ate any cut, any way. If there was something on a menu that he hadn’t heard of before, there was an 80% chance it would arrive in front of him minutes later. At the time I may not have appreciated his ways with food, but theses days I embrace them. He made me a fearless eater, never one to turn anything down, never afraid to try anything at least once. Especially creamy, mayonnaise-filled items like chicken salad, egg salad, any kind of canned meat… I was my fathers daughter and it made me proud to say that I liked what he liked. 

Years later, when it was just my mom and I living in her place, I learned how to cook the first meals I made for my friends and first real boyfriend. Meaty spaghetti sauces studded with big hunks of tomato (something that made my sister squirm in disgust), tomato soup jazzed up with a hit of Worcestershire sauce, tabasco and melted cheese slice that I still crave today when I’m under the weather, dreamy whipped mashed potatoes that I can still claim as the best I’ve ever had and still make today, much to Al and my friend’s delight. She taught me that cooking for people made them feel special and showed them how much you cared for them. It was a high I still haven’t come down from despite not getting into cooking until I was about 24. Sunday dinners at her place brought us all together so we could slow down, laugh hysterically and tell our stories from the week. I still relish her cooking and it always makes me feel important and loved when she cooks for us. 


My best friend, Amanda, is Lebanese. She comes from the kind of food background that I’ve always longed for. Her mother cooks everything from scratch. When I used to go there, back when I was only just learning to love cooking, I remember seeing hot peppers from her garden drying on the window sill. Amanda explained that she would grind them and use that as seasoning in her dishes. That nearly blew my mind. Do people do that? Don’t spices come from a clear jar with a sage-green lid in the spice aisle? She would feed us labneh, a soft cheese made with strained yogurt (also homemade) and I would sit, bewildered at her dedication to feeding her family ingredients that she pulled from the garden or created from a few humble items in her fridge. Her cooking is a nudge to her past, rich with tradition and memories of Lebanon. I remember Amanda always felt a bit weird about her entirely ethnic lunches (at least to suburban kids who ate french fries or peanut butter sandwiches for lunch), and I would be lying if I said we weren’t all a bit put off by them in the high school cafeteria, but those are the meals I now hope I can feed my kids someday. Meals rich in culture and tradition, meals that have a past and a story to them. Meals and ingredients that made with my two hands. Ones that I might even be able to say Mary Melhem, your Aunt Amanda’s mom, taught me about when I was just a bratty 10th grader. 

All of these stories shaped the way I cook, the way I eat and my relationship with food. Though I longed for more then, I realize now that I couldn’t want for any more. Fearlessness and an open mind, the knowledge that cooking equates to loving and that making a meal for someone is the best way to show them you care, and a dedication to create meals from scratch for my family and share the tradition and stories behind them. 

Egg salad always reminds me of my Dad. He liked his creamy and mayonnaise-filled (expired or not) and studded with green olives. I haven’t eaten egg salad in a long time but when I do, I prefer mine a touch healthier and with plenty of flavour from tarragon, pickled celery and hot sauce. I still thought of him as I spread it thick on bread and took a monstrous bite as the salad pushed out the sides like toothpaste. 


Healthier Egg Salad with Pickled Celery and Tarragon
makes 4 sandwiches

Though this recipe is mostly mine, I did use Smitten Kitchen's idea of picking the celery. This adds such a welcome kick of sour bite to the salad without having to bite down on a pickle. Unless you're into that sort of thing, in which case - add a few pickles diced really tiny. 

Hard boiled egg method courtesy of 101Cookbooks. Follow it to the tee and you’ll have perfect eggs every time. 

1/4 cup (2 stalks) celery, diced
1/2 cup pickle brine (from dill pickles, sweet gherkins, pickled jalapenos)
6 hard boiled eggs, method follows
2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp fresh tarragon, minced
1 tbsp Tabasco sauce (or favourite hot sauce)
1 tsp dijon
1 tbsp caper berries (2 tbsp if you really like them)
1/2 tsp salt
plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste
sliced whole wheat bread
romaine, kale or greens of your choice

Place the diced celery in a pickle brine of your choice. I used jalapeno because I wanted that spicy kick. Let it sit in the brine for at least 45 minutes up to overnight. 

Have a bowl of ice water ready. Place your eggs in a pot and cover by 1-2” with cold water. Bring to a gentle boil, turn off the heat, cover and let them sit for exactly 7 minutes. Plunge into the ice water and let cool for at least 3 minutes to stop the cooking process. 

Peel the eggs, place in a big bowl with the celery, greek yogurt, tarragon, Tabasco, dijon, capers lots of pepper and salt. Mash everything together, paying most attention to the eggs, until you’re left with a well combined, coarse textured salad. Taste and adjust to your liking. Spread a nice, thick layer onto bread and top with greens of your choice. Place the second slice of bread on top and take a big, messy bite. 


Was your childhood ripe with tradition and history in food or did you have a past similar to mine? 


Slow Down. Eat Pork! [Coffee-Chipotle Pulled Pork Sliders]


Every so often, maybe more than I’d like to admit, I have to make a point to remind myself to slow down. Stop and breathe. Look around at the life I’m lucky enough to have been plunked into and relish a little more in how wonderful it is. 

I’ve always struggled with anxiety and it makes it extremely difficult for me to just be still. If my mind isn’t completely occupied with ideas, projects and plans, I feel a little uneasy. The same can often be said about my cooking - you’ll rarely find a recipe that takes more than 30 minutes to throw together. It’s quick and simple so you can move onto the next best thing. You get it, right? (I like to assume you’re all just like me. I’m sure you’re not. The world would be a hideous mess if it were filled with that many me’s)

Summer is the perfect time to be slow. Not only because it’s too hot to think or do anything but sit stark & motionless in front of a fan, but because everything is slow like sticky honey in the summer. Plans are more laissez faire, time becomes more of a suggestion than a necessity, drinks are sipped lazily, and, much to my (and hopefully yours) enjoyment, the food becomes less hurried, too. 

I made this low and slow Texas Style Pulled Pork from Homesick Texan over the weekend and, much like the pork shoulder that came out of the oven after 7 glorious hours, I found myself melting in it’s presence. It was tender, succulent and heavily spiced with the flavours of Texas. As someone who isn’t fond of the overly sauced, crockpot-style pulled pork (not that I don’t appreciate it’s ease and convenience, it’s just too sweet for my taste), I was shocked at how much I bonded with this humble hunk of pork. I might even like it more than the Pork Carnitas (also from Homesick Texan - Lisa knows how to do meat better than most) that graced our plates earlier this Spring. It’s simple, consisting of little more than a homemade spice rub, pork shoulder, coleslaw and buns (really! That’s it!). It’s slow food that makes me wonder why I don’t cook like this more often… and then I remember that I rarely have 7 hours of free time. But when you do, and it’s worth finding the time, this is what you should do with those 7 hours. 


Texas-Style Chipotle-Coffee Pulled Pork
adapted from Homesick Texan
makes about 6 regular sized sandwiches, or 12 sliders

I did these in both slider and regular sized buns, either is delicious. Coleslaw is a must! It’s limey, light and cuts through the richness of the pork. 

I skipped the 8 hour rest in the fridge and was happy with the results just the same. But if you do have time, pop the spice-rubbed (raw) pork in the fridge for 8 hours before cooking. I bet the spiced mixture gets that much sexier in those 8 hours.

1 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder
1 1/2 cups favourite barbecue sauce
Chipotle-Coffee rub (recipe to follow)
Cilantro-Jalapeno Slaw (recipe to follow)
sesame buns, toasted

Preheat oven to 250. 

Coat the pork shoulder on all sides with the rub (how amazing does it smell, right?!). Drizzle a large roasting pan with 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and place the roast in. Pop in the oven, uncovered, for 7-8 hours. 


Remove from the oven and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Using a fork, start shredding the pork. You might need to use a knife to slice through the spice bark, but once you’re through, the meat literally falls right out of it’s crust. Take a little of the bark, chop it up and toss it into the pulled pork mixture for some extra spiced-up flavour. Toss with 1 cup of the barbecue sauce and serve extra on the side for those who want more. 

Spoon a generous amount of the pork onto the toasted buns and top with coleslaw. And don’t forget to serve with a very cold beer! 


Chipotle-Coffee Spice Rub
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup of finely ground dark coffee
1/4 cup paprika 
2 tbsp salt
tbsp chipotle powder
2 tsp granulated garlic
tsp of cinnamon
tsp cumin
tsp allspice  

Mix all spices until no lumps remain. You might not use all the rub, so have a container at the ready for the leftovers. 
Cilantro-Jalapeno Slaw
adapted from Homesick Texan

4 cups red or green cabbage, shredded 
tbsp cilantro 
2 jalapenos, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced julienned 
1/3 cup of mayonnaise
tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp green onions, sliced thin
tbsp rice wine vinegar (you can use apple cider vinegar, too) 
1 cloves garlic pressed or minced

Mix cabbage, cilantro and julienned jalapenos. Whisk the mayo, lime, vinegar, green onion and garlic until smooth. Toss with the slaw and let it chill in the fridge for 30 minutes (at least). 



Sandwich Love [Review: Pressed Gourmet Sandwich Bar]

I always get excited to hear of new café/restaurants opening, but what’s better, is when they open right down the street from you! 

Pressed is a gourmet sandwich bar devoted to all things local, organic and most of all, delicious. They serve Equator Coffee, adding to their list of local vendors that also includes Auntie Loo’s Treats & B-Goods Cookies

I had the pleasure of visiting Pressed this afternoon, just 2 days after their opening. As soon as Don, Krista and I heard they were opening this week, we started hatching a plan to visit for lunch. 

The first thing you notice upon entering Pressed is the cozy wood decor and warm colours. It feels as though you’re coming into a friends home rather than a restaurant. Some of the wood in the cafe was salvaged from joists in an old home that was being torn down, while parts of the seating were built using century old oak pews the Peace Tower Church was selling. Keeping things ethical seems to be important to Jeff, which is always nice to see in local businesses. The shop is teaming with vintage treasures like LIFE Magazines from the 60’s, Trivial Pursuit - Baby Boomer Edition, and kitschy cool lamps you might find in your great grandmothers living room, adding to it’s comfortable yet elegant feel.

We each ordered a different sandwich from their list of very-hard-to-choose from delights. Krista ordered the Flank Steak Sandwich with caramelized onions, blue cheese, and a red wine reduction. Don ordered the Smoked Chicken Sandwich (fresh out of the smoker 5 minutes prior to our arrival) with roasted garlic aioli, goat cheese and red pepper. Though I didn’t try either of their sandwiches, they both seemed to be quite happy with their choices. I chose the Sandwich Special, which was a Margherita Sandwich filled with smoked tomatoes, basil, black olive tapenade and big hunks of mozzarella. I took my first bite and was a little startled when the tomatoes exploded, oozing down the sides of both the sandwich and my hands. Startled in the best way possible, of course. The combination of the juicy smoked tomatoes, mild gooey Mozzarella, salty tapenade and fresh bright basil was so perfectly balanced and flavourful that I might have been able to eat 5 more. Jeff explained he’s still on the hunt for the perfect local bread, but the ciabatta he’s using now is wonderfully crisp on the outside, though not so crisp that it cuts your gums, and soft and smooshy (a very technical term, of course) inside. I thought it was delicious, but I’m looking forward to seeing what bread he does eventually settle down with. 

Krista ordered a side of the Sweet Potato Chili (vegan) and it was packed with flavour. Just a bit of sweetness, beautifully spiced and seasoned perfectly. I imagine it would make a perfect lunch while lazily flipping through the pages of your Holiday Food & Drink magazine. 

Don ordered a side of macaroni and cheese, made with fresh cheese curds (how very Canadian!), that was also pretty scrumptious. Not too gooey, but not dry and like everything else, seasoned well. 

All in all, it was a really great lunch. The food is delicious and exciting without being pretentious, the atmosphere is fresh and modern, cozy and comfortable. A place you could easily watch a few hours pass by without knowing it. 

I’m anxious to go back, try more things and get better acquainted with a good book in the cozy dining room. 

Jeff is working on getting a liquor license and eventually hopes to invite local artists and musicians in to entertain his guests both visually and musically a few nights a week. 

Don’t miss out on this new gem. It’ll be packed with excited patrons in no time at all! 

Pressed - Gourmet Sandwich Bar
750 Gladstone Ave
Ottawa, ON