Monthly Archives: May 2007

More cooking disasters

Thanks for all of the hilarious feedback from last week’s letter. Some of you asked to hear more of my disaster stories. Here are three more stories, all (unfortunately) from this past year …

On New Year’s Eve, I thought I’d try out the new pasta machine I got for Christmas. The first batch of dough I made turned into a giant thick glue in the food processor and nearly burned out the motor in the machine. André washed it all out, dried and wiped, and I started again with a different recipe.

On Valentine’s Day, also this year, A. worked all day and then went to school in the evening until 9 pm. The tiramisu that I slaved over turned out great, but the shrimp stirfry I tried to prepare for Valentine’s Day dinner was completely inedible. The shrimp were old and frozen and smelly, although the fish boutique had definitely charged me otherwise. Dumped into the garbage.

So, there I was, staring into the freezer at 9 pm wondering: what are we going to have for dinner when I have no groceries? I defrosted a half-pound of ground beef (we had neither sausage meat, nor buns) and I made two hamburger patties to serve with the rice and veggies from the failed shrimp dish. Truth be told, A. would have picked meatloaf if I had asked him what he wanted for Valentine’s dinner, it’s his all-time favourite meal. I was just trying to show off with the shrimp thing…


OK. One more. I’ve got a ham cooking in the oven, the house smells great. I was making the pineapple juice glaze to go on top. I put the pot on to boil, then leave the kitchen to go and check my email. And really, no more than 8 minutes later, the smoke alarm is going off, the kitchen is filled with thick black smoke, and the security company is phoning to verify if it’s a real fire before they send the fire trucks. I am forced to open the windows. Was it snowing? It was darn cold. I flapped a dish towel around the kitchen, in front of the smoke detector, wind and snow blowing in, dancing around frantically trying to get rid of the smell …Worst of all, the burnt juice glaze had magically transformed into cement that could not be separated from my favourite, lovely, no-stick pot. While André did later try to clean it with oven cleaner (!), we finally had to put my favourite pot in the garbage. (Oh there’s a whole story here about trying to buy the replacement pot… have you tried to buy one item from a set? It almost can’t be done. The stores can’t help you. I had to finally go online and special order just the one pot from the manufacturer. And it’s lovely. It’s my curried chicken pot. Can’t live without it.)


Do you have a kitchen disaster story? Just post a comment or drop me a line 🙂 I might use your story in an upcoming cooking letter. Got pictures? Send those, too.
You can always reach me at
Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef

Cooking disasters and cooking success

Everyone has a great cooking disaster story. And they happen from time to time. Double a cookie recipe but forget to double the sugar. Results are inedible and end up in the garbage.

I used to be really sad when this happened. Think of the waste, the cost, why am I such an idiot? I remember once when I was about 20 years old, and not a very experienced cook, I attempted to make a pork stew using my aunt’s recipe. The whole thing was a giant disaster — pork too tough to eat (she must have used pork tenderloin, where I had picked something tough and cheap). I remember shedding tears as I threw the entire meal in the trash. Waste. Cost. Idiot.

Since then, I’ve discovered a few secrets to successful cooking.

1. A great recipe with step-by-step instructions.

Don’t you love recipes that help you succeed? How about recipes that let you follow along with pictures so you can see if you’re in the right place, getting the right results. Recipe 1.5 > Dutch Apple Pie is a perfect example.

2. A real person who can explain the tricks to making the recipe successfully.

This could be your mom or your neighbour.

Or it can be me! Send me an email, I’d be happy to answer your questions.

I believe that every recipe has a “recipe gremlin” — a little trick that if you don’t know about, the recipe won’t turn out as well as it could. And most people don’t tell you about the recipe gremlins… They say peel and core the apples, but do they remind you check the insides of each apple section for that plastic-like piece of apple core that you DO NOT want to find in your pie? (In the photos above for Recipe 1.5 > Dutch Apple Pie, this recipe gremlin is explained in step #4).

3. A great cheering section who’ll support your attempts, and who’ll eat your recipes, no matter what!

This can be your husband, wife, grandkids – anyone who’ll say “that’s great” even when it isn’t. And when you burn the potatoes he’ll say “I like them that way” when probably he doesn’t.


And while I still sometimes have kitchen disasters, I’m more matter-of-fact about it now. If you cook often enough, sometimes it’s not going to work out as planned. I try to have a sense of humour about it.

My cheering section says “ce n’est pas grave” (literally: it’s not grave, but really what he’s saying is “it doesn’t matter.”) And finally, I’m starting to believe him.

Do you have a kitchen disaster story?

Just post a comment. Got pictures? Send those, too.
You can always reach me at

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu,
Owner & Head Chef

These are a few of my favourite things … Potato peeler

Right there in the kitchen. In a prominent place on the wall. Next to my measuring spoons. Ready for me to grab at any second. My bright fluorescent green potato peeler.

When André and I started dating, he took one look at my old rusty potato peeler and went straight out and bought me a shiny new Henckels peeler. Didn’t like it. Hard on the hands. Wasn’t sharp enough.

This new one, this green one, I found at a huge kitchen store while on vacation in Seattle. It cost about $3. I occasionally do volunteer work in a restaurant kitchen, and this kind of wide blade peeler is the only kind we use. It’s good for right and left handers, and it’s really, really sharp.

Of course, it’s not only a potato peeler. I think it’s called a vegetable peeler. Carrots. Stalks on tough broccoli.

It has earned its own place on the wall in the kitchen. Right underneath the art.

Subscribers write in >

My last article about “favourite things” was about a bamboo stick [if you want to read this or any cooking letter again, you can get your collection of the first 20 cooking letters here…]. I invited you to tell me about your favourite kitchen gadgets.

Here’s what Roberta (Vancouver, BC) had to say:

“I have the most glorious tool. It is a jar opener my mother bought for me in Hawaii many years ago and I am lost without it. It is basically a bar of wood with a heavy duty plastic loop attached. You fit the loop over the jar lid, then use one end of the bar as a lever against the jar lid which the loop is holding. I have round rubber things that call themselves jar openers, but they only open SOME jars. My little loopy thing opens all jars – have never met a jar yet it would not open. I have not tried those pliers-looking jar openers – but then I don’t need to.

What I also love about my jar opener (and why I never leave home without it when I go out photographing), is that I can use it remove the ball head off my tripod if I need to, and I can use it in reverse to tighten the ball head onto the tripod good and secure as well. There are no metal bits to damage the tripod head and it gets things on much tighter than I could by hand – very important when you are carrying big lenses on a tripod over your shoulder in rough terrain.”

Now, how many of us have a bottle opener that works as a photographer’s tool? How cool is that!

In this series of articles, to mix in with the recipe adventures and the meal planning and the research on the BEST ham and cheese pasta … well, in this series called “These are a few of my favourite things…” I’ll share some of the things that make my life as a cook just that little bit easier. Future articles will include the story of my special Dorothy-goes-to-Kansas chef shoes, and my potato ricer.

OK, what do you think?

Do you have a tool that you think everyone should know about? As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Just post a response here or you can always reach me at

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef

The first 20 cooking letters from > I have created a little booklet of the first 20 emails you’ve received … although I can’t really call it ‘little’ because it’s a whopping 48 pages long. And I can’t call it a ‘booklet’, either, it’s too comprehensive. Think of it more as a reference manual, a time capsule, a perfect snapshot, a collection of ideas and recipes and feedback and full-colour photos. A present from me to you. Visit this page to read all about it…

Subscriber feedback > A packed lunch is like a jigsaw puzzle…

Several months ago I wrote a weekly cooking letter about how making a packed lunch was like a jigsaw puzzle made up of 5 parts: drink + meal + veggie/fruit + sweet + salty.

My musings about making lunches and how to get yourself organized sparked a couple of great letters from One Roast Chicken subscribers.

Jennifer (Maple Ridge, BC) writes:

“I make lunch for Brendan every Monday and Wednesday night for preschool, so I love your 5-step jigsaw puzzle idea. I have to avoid nuts, so PB&J is unfortunately out, so I often struggle to find something that he will eat, and not the same thing each time. Cheese sticks are a common part of the puzzle for us… I like your suggestion to buy small milk containers rather than the juice boxes, although I usually give him a juice box (preferably with 25% less sugar) PLUS a sippy cup with milk in it. I’d love to see André take a sippy cup to work!

I usually make up a container of low-fat veggie dip (sometimes it goes well with chips, too J ) and I put some in a small plastic container along with the left-over cut-up veggies I served with dinner.

Philly makes light cream cheese dips like “Light Garden Vegetable” which is good as a sandwich spread instead of mayo (and surprisingly less fattening). That also takes care of the cheese part of a meat sandwich (one less step to worry about). Or sometimes I buy pre-sliced cheese at the deli counter when I’m buying lunch meats. I buy the big bags of sugar snap peas ($9.99 for a family pack, but I think it’s worth it), which is a very easy and healthy crunchy snack, with or without dip.

Now I’m going to go and see what to make for Brendan’s lunch tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration!”

Irm (Victoria, BC) writes:

“I like your contemplations on lunch. I hesitate to mention, but think you might find it interesting to hear about making lunch for four different people each morning. One refuses to eat mayonnaise, will eat almost any kind of fruit or vegetable, but is picky about cookies (they’d better not be the least bit stale!); another loves loads of mayo but won’t eat liversausage, any kind of whole grain bread, or fruit that has gone the least bit brown or mushy; another likes mayo, but not with liversausage, is the only one who will eat fig newtons, and likes apples but not oranges; then there’s the one who likes sandwiches as long as they contain at least two condiments and three other toppings, but doesn’t fuss about much else. I won’t mention myself, although I do pack my own lunch, too.”

OK, what do you think?

Do you have any lunch tips you’d like to share with us? Any particular challenges? Need help? As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Just post a comment or drop me a line 🙂 You can always reach me at

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef

Sneak Preview: Collection 1 > The first 20 cooking letters

Dear Subscriber,

I’m thrilled to share with you that the Collected cooking letters booklet is back from the printer and I have to tell you, I’m impressed!

OK, I know. I wrote the letters, one by one each week, sending them off to you. Topics from cinnamon ice cream to cooking for one…

But when the book came back from the printers, I was truly surprised.


I knew it was 48-pages, full colour, with a nice card stock for the cover.

But I didn’t think it would feel so SUBSTANTIAL.

Have you ordered your copy yet? Some have already gone out in the mail this week. Was one of them yours?

This collection is only available to senior subscribers — and based on how quickly the orders are coming in, I’m not sure how long this limited print run is going to last me 🙂 Yikes, I’m going to have to order more!

If you don’t want the print version (although if you could see it, you’d change your mind), you can always download the PDF version for $3.99 (Cdn).

But I know my subscribers pretty well. When surveyed, more than 50% of you want things sent in a PAPER version so that you can hold it in your hands. The print collection is full-colour and will be shipped to you by mail no matter where you live. I’ve created three postal categories (Canada, US, and International). You just have to figure out where you live (I know you can do it), and then you just order your copy which includes shipping.

To see a preview copy of the entire 48-page collection, click here [PDF file].

And once you’ve seen how fabulous it looks, you’ll want to order your copy by clicking here.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.
You can always reach me at
Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef

Food Treats in Paris

On a recent vacation to Paris, I sat on a sunny patio and wrote lots of notes about all of the great Parisian food bits I had discovered, because I knew I’d want to share them with you once I got home. Here’s part 2:

acations are great for getting us out of our food ruts. You usually can’t eat the same things that you have at home. Of course, the further away from home you go, the bigger the adventure. When travelling, the adventure of eating is as big and as great as you want to make it. I’m not talking about eating live reptiles (or even cooked ones). It’s more about having your mind opened to new possibilities.

Being married to a guy who doesn’t speak English has some advantages. For example, we’ve been to Paris twice, and are currently scheming our way back for a third trip. And when I’m being nosy and want to know what exactly is in the cream sauce served with our lasagne, André can ask for me. The answer is béchamel sauce — remember back when I thought white sauce was yucky?

We had a lot of great Parisian food adventures, both large and small. Here are some of my favourites:

  1. The food adventure really began on Air France, where we were served a full meal with real silverware and wine that we didn’t have to pay for! We had an appetizer of marinated chick peas and tuna. Also of note was the free champagne, and the woman who came around with the bread basket (twice) so you could have little baby baguettes with your meal.
  2. While there may not be a giant grocery store near your hotel in Paris, you will find — every few blocks — a corner store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of snacks, and corkscrews.
  3. One rainy afternoon, we sat on a covered patio across the street from Notre Dame Cathedral. I read a cool book about life in France (A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle). We drank beer and ate 4-cheese pizza that included Roquefort. I would never have ordered this at home. I’ve always avoided blue cheese on principle. On this particular pizza, on this day, it was fabulous and salty and added a new dimension to the simple combination of crust + tomato sauce + cheese.
  4. When you get back to your hotel room late at night after a concert, and you’re starving, the only thing open might be the corner store (see #2 above). But they sell tuna “saladières” in nifty packages with pasta and olive oil. It’s not exactly low in fat, but it makes for a very satisfying munchie. We bought extras and kept them in the little fridge in our hotel room.
  5. There are restaurants that specialize in tartine, which literally means ‘slice of bread’. Open faced bread, with oil and seasonings, and then different toppings. Some are heated under a broiler, some aren’t. I had ham and swiss. André had chicken and bacon.
  6. At the outdoor weekend food market, we found salt-water caramels, and herbes de provence. We learned that you can buy your beets raw or cooked, and that the squash is so giant you can buy just a slice if you like. This particular market also sells underwear, kitchen utensils, and fresh cheeses from all over France.
  7. The grocery store sells a kit with all the ingredients necessary to make pot au feu, including celery, onion, carrots, leeks, and a spice package. Just add your own beef.
  8. I discovered braised leeks. Really, who knew you could cook leeks and turn them into a silky side dish? These leeks were served as an appetizer next to grilled fish, the sauce a light mix of dijon, mayo, and perhaps tarragon. This was one of the great finds of the vacation, these braised leeks. They were perfect and opened up a whole new world for me. Adding to the novelty was the fact that they were served in a rotisserie restaurant that had a house cat, who roamed around beneath our feet the entire evening. I’ve got a picture of the cat, too, if you want to see it.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. You can always reach me at

Thanks and bon appetit!

Shelley MacDonald Beaulieu, Owner & Head Chef