The Food Network Makes Me Hungry

food network

I like to watch HGTV when I have the chance, and I enjoy every version of House Hunters that has been created. I don’t have a lot of time to watch television, but I am also partial to the Food Network. I am not a professional chef (not at all, I have never even attended a real cooking class), but I love to cook and bake. There’s only one big problem with every show on the Food Network: they make me hungry.

The best way to watch any show on the Food Network is with a snack in one hand and the remote control in the other hand. No matter what show it is, as soon as I turn it on, I am hungry. Somehow on TV everything just looks so tasty.

It can be 11:00 at night, 9:00 am or noon, and no matter what they are cooking or baking on any show, I start to crave it. Meat and potatoes, fresh fish, vegetables or a decadent dessert, I want it.

As I write, I am watching Top Chef, a show that’s been on the Food Network for 15 seasons. It brings together some of the greatest chefs. The show is a mix of big egos, competition and great food. Sometimes the food they cook looks so good on my TV screen that I just want to reach in and grab it. I can’t get through an episode without heading to the kitchen to grab a snack, usually a big snack.

I went through a phase when I wanted to watch Chopped all the time, but I have little patience for that one anymore. Four chefs are given a basket of ingredients that they must include in a dish they are cooking for a panel of three judges. By the end of the third round, the final person is chopped and a winner is declared. Sometimes they cook scrumptious looking dishes, but they often run out of time and throw a mess onto the plate. That doesn’t make me quite as hungry.

Then there is Master Chef. This show doesn’t actually air on the Food Network, but hey, it’s a show about food so it fits in here. While I often watch Food Network shows on my own, my whole family joins me for Master Chef. And we have learned that the only way to watch this show is while we eat dinner.

When this show’s main host, Gordon Ramsay, holds a master class for the group of amateur chefs, I watch in fascination then can’t wait to cook the dishes myself. I literally can feel myself (and David) salivating as we watch the master of all master chefs himself cook anything. He could probably make stale bread taste good.

The Food Network has shown me that cooking is not just about eating, it’s also about creating incredible works of art. It’s about bringing flavours and aromas together with design and flair. Today’s professional chefs need to cook food that tastes good and looks great. Not an easy task. And if they are really talented, they have stage presence as well and can snag a TV deal.

But at its core, the Food Network is about eating. You can do all kinds of crazy things with food but at the end of the day, what we all want to do is just eat it. And the best shows on this channel make me want to eat immediately. Just writing about food makes me hungry, I need a snack. Now.

A Visit with Family in a Special Place

visit with family

David and I are lucky to have family who live all over the world, from New Zealand to England and Israel to Washington State. We are even luckier that our family has invited us to visit them, stay with them and experience their local culture. We have taken full advantage of our family’s warm hospitality over the years, and we often plan our travel expeditions based on where various members of our family live at any given time. A visit with family is always wonderful, and a visit with family who live in an interesting place is even better.

Matthew, Barbara and I are having a great trip to Seattle, and this weekend we had the opportunity to have a trip within a trip. We spent the weekend in the San Juan Islands. More specifically, we had a visit with family on the island of Friday Harbor. Don’t know where that is? Well, it’s a series of beautiful islands off the coast of Washington State, northwest of Seattle. Look it up on Google Maps. You may want to visit sometime too.

David’s first cousin, Pema, lives on Friday Harbour. She generously hosted us this weekend, along with other members of the family. Pema lives in, what I believe, one of the most beautiful places in the world. On first look at her house it seems like she lives in a treehouse. Her home overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and it’s built on bedrock surrounded by trees. It welcomes you as you approach.

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View from the second floor of Pema’s house. Like you are in a treehouse
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There are deer all over Friday Harbor. Here’s one hanging out near our car.

A ferry boat brought us from the mainland to Friday Harbor on Friday morning. I felt an immediate sense of calm as I drove my car off the ferry and into the streets of the island. There are no traffic lights on Friday Harbor, and there’s no need. People are friendly and polite.

A visit with family always begins with warm greetings and hugs upon arrival. A visit with family in Friday Harbor then includes getting cozy on a comfortable couch near the wood stove. That’s what we did. Pema’s house is open concept, and once we found our comfortable spots around the house, we dug in for an afternoon of relaxation. Or at least most of us did.

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Pema and Barbara show off the new tablecloth – a gift from Barbara

You see, the other great part about a visit with family is eating with family. David and I are also lucky that we come from families in which food plays a central role in all gatherings. David’s extended family, especially the Hart family, plans all gatherings around food. Much of the conversation is focused on what the last meal was and what the next meal will be, all while eating the current meal.

So, while some of us lazed around on the comfy couches, others, including our host, Pema, planned the meals, prepared the meals and cleaned up too. We enjoyed a wide range of delicacies this weekend, like roast chicken, vegan pot pie, cheeses, black cod, homemade fish cakes and more. And the desserts. Pema’s homemade apple pie and lemon tarts from a local bakery. Wow. I also just snacked on a pain au chocolat from the same bakery that had more dark chocolate loaded into it than any other I have ever tasted. Another wow.

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I can’t resist a local farmer’s market. Even Demeter bakery has a booth!
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The lemon tarts from Demeter. Amazing, don’t you think?

I would love to write that we took full advantage of the great outdoors and scenery around us this weekend, but really, we spent most of our time indoors. It was freezing outside. It even snowed a bit. We took one short walk all weekend, which was pleasant, but it was nice to return to the couch and warm house. And to get ready for more food.

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Matthew and Barbara on our walk
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Matthew climbed up the hillside, that has a greenhouse on top.
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Wall of moss. Will climb.
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It’s convenient when another member of the family is house-sitting, where there is a hot tub

I love to see the world and have a visit with family in some great cities like Hong Kong or London. But I also love a quiet weekend with family in special places like Friday Harbor. The warmth of the wood stove warmed my heart, but so did my time with close family.

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We can’t resist a selfie, especially on a ferry.
visit with family
We just had to take another selfie

Filling the House with Family


How many members of your family – or your spouse’s family – have you crammed into your home in one day, one evening or one weekend? The most relatives I have ever hosted for dinner was 32, and Holiday meals at my house average 25 people. I have hosted parties for family or friends with dozens of people too. But how many of these relatives have stayed at your house overnight?

Each year, throughout the summer, my husband, David, and I host a ton of close family who are visiting from overseas. So, when I say we “host” I mean we cram in various family members for days at a time into our house. David’s family lives all over the world, from faraway places like Israel and New Zealand to various towns in Ontario like Peterborough and London. Their main destination is the family’s beloved country home in Saint-Donat, Quebec (details on that house coming in a future post). But they also enjoy some big-city fun, BBQ steak and a visit to our home while they are in Canada.

Once in a while we will host a few relatives, but usually when one plans a visit they line up behind him or her and come along too. In the summer of 2014, just after we moved into our current home, I believe we crammed 12 or 13 people into the house for four days. I had people sleeping on couches, a futon, a couple of beds and even the floor. There were toys, clothes and scraps of food everywhere. My fridge overflowed with food and emptied every few hours, and we gave our stove and oven a good workout. There was screaming and whispering and tears and laughter.

Hugs from cousins visiting a few years ago – who again visited us this past week

This week was the start of our annual summer hosting of David’s family, and this weekend we were a rowdy group of 8 people in the house. We made full use of our spacious home, with people sleeping on the futon, a couch, beds and even the floor. I cooked from all the food groups, starting with a huge steak and chicken BBQ dinner on Friday night, and the festivities came to a crescendo Sunday night with my first-ever attempt at fish and chips.

We always need a photo when cousins arrive at our house, as we did this week
Eating fish and chips in the backyard last night

Family will continue to arrive and depart Canada in the coming weeks, and most of them will make a stop at our house. Next weekend David’s sisters are joining us, then a few days later his brother arrives. Each guest is different, and as is the case with all of us (including me, David and our children!), everyone has their quirks. Some are cleaner and tidier than others, some are loud while others are quiet, but one thing is clear – they all like to eat!

Now don’t get me wrong – I enjoy hosting family, and I love to cook for a crowd. In particular, I like to cook for a crowd who appreciates food and like to eat. David and I look forward to the summer visits from various relatives, and we carefully plan our menus, sleeping arrangements and activities. But of course, it’s a lot of work, especially when our house is crammed with people for days.

This weekend’s relatives have moved on to other destinations and for a few days the house is quiet with only me, David and our girls at home. We will open our home again this coming weekend to family, find various places for them to sleep and fill the fridge with wondrous delights. Then we will come up for air, jump back in for another weekend, until it’s our turn to make our way to Saint-Donat and join the throngs of family along the shores of Lake Archembault.

July is almost over and as usual summer is flying by too fast. It’s nice to know that we can always count on visits from family to enrich the season. We feel blessed to have a large family who actually want to spend time together year after year, and we look forward to hosting them for years to come.

My Husband David Usually Cooks and Bakes Great Food But….


 My husband, David, loves to cook and bake. He does not cook and bake often, but when he does the food usually tastes really good. He always comes up with interesting and adventurous ideas for meals, and usually the result is delicious. I commend David for being enthusiastic about cooking and baking and helping out in the kitchen. I encourage him to keep experimenting with recipes. But… sometimes the food tastes a bit funky, or it looks strange or it takes David so long to make the food that I quietly grab a snack or two while he cooks and I don’t have the opportunity to eat his food.

David makes the BEST pie I have ever tasted. His two specialties are sour cherry and blueberry. I don’t know how to make pie so I have no idea what he does to make the crust perfectly flakey and the filling a perfect balance of sweet and tart. I have learned to never actually watch him prepare his pies as he manages to turn the kitchen into a space that looks like a hurricane blew through. Flour covers all surfaces; the floor is sticky and every bowl and utensil in the kitchen is utilized. He cleans up after the baking is complete, but the process is painful to watch.

David taught Matthew how to make blueberry pie last summer in the country house in St. Donat

Some of David’s baking experiments have not gone as well. The one I remember best was his version of Black Forest Chocolate Cake. My poor sister joined us when David presented this abomination, which definitely did not look or taste like a cake at all. Kudos to him for trying.

Barbecuing is not his forte either, as the food often comes off the grill either burnt or dry. Most men, in their macho way, see themselves as King of the Grill, but from my experience women are much better at grilling up perfect cuts of meat than men. Yes, I do the barbecuing in our house!

I don’t know what it is about males and eggs, but I have met many a Dad who can’t cook much but can make great eggs. Scrambled, sunny-side up or over-easy, David makes great eggs. He usually makes use of every fry pan and pot in the house when he cooks those eggs, but they taste great. It took him a while to figure out how to make pancakes, and his first try was rather unsuccessful. He has learned from his errors, and I know our children love his pancakes.

I think these are pancakes

Speaking of eggs, David’s best dish is an egg-based middle eastern delicacy called Shakshuka. Simply put, it consists of eggs poached in a sauce comprised of tomatoes, chili peppers and onions, and it is spiced with cumin and black pepper. David cooked this dish for dinner last night, and it was the inspiration for today’s post.

David offered to cook this dish for dinner last night, even though he only started the prep well after 7:00 pm. He was slow moving and messy as usual, but wow, it was delicious! I cleaned my plate and even our seven-year-old polished off her portion.

So indeed, my husband David usually cooks and bakes great food. He is slow and messy and sometimes does not quite read the recipe correctly. But… I love that he cooks and I hope he keeps rolling out great food.

When I Cook with my Instant Pot All the Food is Scrumptious

Instant Pot

My mother and sister are always on the hunt for the latest kitchen toys. Ice cream maker, spiralizer, sous vide, bread maker. The list goes on and on. These are all good toys and they have their use in the kitchen. For the most part I also believe my mother and sister use them. They both are great cooks and often feed big crowds. I do enjoy the odd toy in my kitchen (I can’t live without my espresso maker!), but I was a skeptic when my sister first told me about the Instant Pot.

When she bought this contraption, she talked about a pressure cooker that was easy and safe and that could cook up delicious food in minutes. I did not believe her. How could you dump ingredients into a machine, press on and minutes later have fully cooked food that was also tasty? No way. Not possible and I wasn’t interested.

If you know my sister you know that she is a rather determined person. She did not give up on me. Every time the Instant Pot went on sale on Amazon I got a friendly text or email. It was unrelenting. She told me this machine was life-changing, that it would become the centrepiece of my kitchen. No way I said, I had enough kitchen toys.

Then on Black Friday last year the Instant Pot was on sale for a price that was almost too good to be true, so I relented and purchased it. A few days later it arrived at my house, I opened the box and gave it a once-over.

I surfed the web in the days before my Instant Pot arrived to find a few recipes to try on this new toy and was ready with a fridge stocked with ingredients. In my first week, I decided to experiment with a Mongolian beef dish, General Tsao chicken and a couple of soups.

Oh my gosh my sister was right. Yes, I will very publicly admit it here – my sister was right. The Instant Pot was easy to use and every dish was sensational. The beef was full of flavour and melted in the mouth. The chicken had just enough kick and was tender and juicy. Every soup had a deep flavour after only 10, 20 or 30 minutes in the pot.

My Instant Pot is definitely now one of my best friends in the kitchen. I have tried dozens of recipes since it joined the family back in December. Soup is my favourite thing to make, but I have also made roast chicken, chicken wings, pasta dishes, rices and last night made the best ratatouille I have ever tasted.

Instant Pot
It cooks chicken wings
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One of my favourite soups was minestrone

My daughter has had a bit of thing for ratatouille since she saw the famous movie by the same name and has been begging me to make it. So, last night I thinly sliced up 2 baby eggplants, 2 zucchinis, I chopped 3 peppers, one onion and four garlic cloves.

I turned on my Instant Pot to sauté (yes you can first sauté in the pot before you switch to high pressure), heated up some olive oil, then threw in the garlic and onions to create a strong flavour base. Then came the peppers, followed by the eggplant and zucchini. Then in went a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes and some pepper and salt. I carefully mixed it all together, closed the lid and set the machine to manual high pressure for 5 minutes.

The Instant Pot did its thing. It rose to high pressure, cooked the food for 5 minutes, then I let the pressure naturally release for a few more minutes. In the meantime, I cooked a pot of quinoa (which one can also make in the Instant Pot if you wish) and in less than 30 minutes (includes time to chop veggies and cook the food) I had a fabulous dinner.

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This is how the ratatouille looked last night after I saluted it but before high pressure.
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My ratatouille in he bowl, on a bed of quinoa. Yum.

After 7 months, I am still a novice with the Instant Pot. I have not ventured out into foods such as yoghurt or cheesecake (though I did make perfect molten chocolate cakes in there). I hope to go there soon. This toy is a good investment, whether you are a gourmet cook or scared of the kitchen.

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The molten cakes when I took the lid off
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I cooled them for a couple of minutes
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And enjoyed mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a cappuccino from my espresso maker

I am always looking for new recipes and new foods to try in my Instant Pot. Leave me a comment here, post on Facebook or Tweet me @AliciaRichler with some ideas that I can try. I will let you know how it goes.