It took me a long time to figure out grilling can be so much more than burgers and dogs. Over the years as I've become more experienced on the grill, and in the kitchen in general, I've expanded my grilling lineup to include vegetables, chicken, fish and more. These days my favourites off the grill include cream cheese-stuffed mini peppers and marinated chicken souvlaki served with cool, creamy tzatziki.

This traditional Greek sauce is made with cucumber, yogurt, lemon juice and fresh herbs (I like dill best) and can be served with a variety of meats, vegetables and flatbreads. Unlike heavy mayonnaise-based aioli or sour cream dips and spreads, tzatziki feels fresh and bright, and can be made with everything from low fat to heavy Greek yogurts.

I think I was in my late teens when I first heard the word tzatziki. There was a pita wrap takeout place in downtown Ottawa that my friends and I used to frequent when we were 19 or so and enjoying the nightlife in the Byward Market. Those 2 a.m. pita wraps with loads of tzatziki were a dream after dancing with my friends on a hot summer night. Sometimes I miss those days!

Nowadays I see tzatziki everywhere, even pre-made at the grocery store. But, like most things, I like it best homemade. This recipe is tangy, super flavourful and easy to make. I plan to make it a regular this summer to dress up pretty much everything that comes off the grill. 

Grab the recipe below and you too can keep a bowl of cool, creamy tzatziki handy to take all your grilling to the next level.

Makes 2 cups (500 mL)

1 cup (250 mL) peeled, grated cucumber
1 tsp (5 mL) coarse salt
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) any plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh dill
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
Cracked black pepper to taste

Add the grated cucumber to a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the salt and set aside for 20-30 minutes to allow the salt to draw out the excess moisture. Do not rinse. 

Squeeze the excess moisture from the grated cucumber by gathering it up in cheesecloth or a clean dish towel, or press with the back of a spoon in a fine mesh sieve. Discard the excess liquid. Add the cucumber back to the mixing bowl. Add the yogurt, dill, garlic, lemon juice and black pepper. Stir to combine. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. 

What do you like with tzatziki?

My New Kitchen

Now, more than ever, the kitchen is my favourite place. It's a creative space, it's where I feed my favourite people, there's usually music playing - lots of reasons. It's also an escape from the craziness going on the world, where I can disappear from the 24-hour bad news cycle and just focus on home and family. And now, after a year-long renovation, I can also say my kitchen is a beautiful place to escape.

My love of pale turquoise endures. It has been my favourite colour since I bought a retro radio that colour about 15 years ago. Around here it's just called Amy Colour now. So when it came to designing our kitchen, I wanted it to be there, but I didn't want it to overpower. The overall colour palette is bright white and light maple wood with a pop of turquoise in the island cabinets in a shade chosen to match exactly with my stand mixer. 

Read on and I'll tell you a little more about the features...

We brought natural gas into the house as part of the renovation, so I switched from an electric coil range to a five burner, dual fuel gas range. Dual meaning it has gas burners and an electric oven. As a recipe writer, I wanted to continue using an electric oven, which is what most home cooks use. 

These bar stools from IKEA are sleek and practical. They're super comfy with curved seats and low backs. The plastic is a dream to wipe down easily and the legs protect the new wood floor nicely. The pendant lights are schoolhouse style and we have three of them along the island, with the centre pendant over the sink.

This corner window is a remnant from our old kitchen. I knew from the beginning I wanted to hang onto them. These windows are how I know what my kids are up to outside and see my husband pulling into the driveway.

I knew I wanted to go with a farmhouse sink, I just didn't like the price tags I saw around town, ranging from about $1,800 to $3,000. Then, with perfect timing, IKEA put this beautiful ceramic double sink on the market for $399. Sold!

The cabinets are shaker style, which feel like a perfect mix of traditional and modern, with nickel drawer pulls. The hardware reminds me of the kitchen where I first learned to cook for myself.

On either side of the stove, we added some convenient organizers. To the right are all my cooking utensils - ladles, whisks, wooden spoons, spatulas, etc. To the left are my cutting boards, cooling racks and larger baking pans that don't fit under the range.

One of our renovation goals was to have a walk-in food pantry. Having storage in another space allowed us to not have upper cabinets in the kitchen. Instead, we have these natural wood shelves to match the light maple flooring. All our drinking glasses and wine glasses come right off the shelf when we need them.

My favourite thing about the pantry, other than the fact it keeps all our food (and mess) out of the way, is the built-in step so I can reach things up high. The shelves go right up to the ceiling, with the things I use less often, such as my pasta makers and largest canning pots, on the top shelf. It's also a great place to store countertop appliances like the air fryer, multi-cooker and food processor.

Although the pantry door is right off the kitchen, it is on the other side of the island from the gas range. So I keep a basket in the pantry to shuttle ingredients back and forth.

The best thing about a custom kitchen is the details. This shelf for my most-used cookbooks was built into the end of the island, closest to the double French doors that open onto our new backyard deck.

Yes, now, more than ever, I just want to be in the kitchen. In fact, it's kind of hard to leave it sometimes.

Two Mushroom Soup with Parmesan Croutons

Everyone has their immediate yes foods. When I'm dining out or just stepping away from the office to grab some lunch to go, if the daily soup on the menu is cream of mushroom I will order it. You really don't need to tell me what other soups are available because it's a yes to the mushroom. Every time.

That's why I'm excited to share this new recipe for a creamy mushroom soup with crunchy, cheesy croutons. It's robust and filling enough to make a meal, with loads of deep and earthy mushroom flavour. 

The soup starts by browning a thinly sliced onion under a heap of fresh mushrooms. The temptation to stir while the onions are browning is strong, but if you restrain yourself as the recipe suggests, you'll be rewarded with the most beautifully browned onion and mushroom aroma and flavour. The extra mushroom goodness comes from soaking dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water to create a dark and delicious broth for the soup. You can find packages of dried mushrooms in the produce department of most grocery stores.

Although this is a new recipe from me, I am already confident it will become a classic in my kitchen that I'll make again and again. You can get the easy recipe below. I hope it becomes a classic in your kitchen too.

Two Mushroom Soup with Parmesan Croutons

Serves 4-6

For the soup:
1 package (14 g) dried porcini mushrooms
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 lb (450 g) fresh white or cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp (30 mL) white wine
1/3 cup (75 mL) all-purpose flour
1 box (946 mL) chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tsp (2 mL) dried thyme
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) black pepper
1 cup (250 mL) half and half cream

For the croutons:
2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil
3 slices of fresh or day-old bakery bread (any kind), cubed
2 tsp (10 mL) grated parmesan

Soup directions:
Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a heat-proof container or bowl. Pour three cups of boiling water over the mushrooms and set aside to soak.

Warm the olive oil in a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cover with the fresh mushrooms. Allow to cook for 10 minutes without stirring. Stir and cook another five minutes. At this point you can set aside a small amount of mushrooms as a garnish if you wish (optional). 

Pour in the white wine and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Add the flour and stir well to coat. Pour in the porcini mushrooms and soaking liquid, as well as the chicken or vegetable stock. Add the thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and allow to bubble away for a minute or two to thicken slightly. Turn off the heat.

Puree using an immersion blender right in the pot, or by ladling into a traditional blender (if using a traditional blender, you will need to work in batches). Add the cream to the soup and heat through over medium heat until hot. Remove from the heat.

Croutons directions:
Warm the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the cubed bread and cook, turning often, until golden (usually 2-3 minutes, but it can depend on the type of bread). Remove from the heat. Add the parmesan to a bowl. Toss the croutons in the parmesan and serve on top of the hot soup with any reserved mushrooms as a garnish.

Quick Chickpea and Carrot Salad Topper

It has been a long time since I last shared a recipe from my kitchen, but it seems I'm back.

After a couple of very busy years - the busiest of my life - things are starting to settle down in my life and in my kitchen. In 2016, after nine years at home with the kids while food writing on the side, I picked up my career again and went back to the office Monday to Friday. The steady income and routine has been good for me, but it has meant less time in the kitchen and adjusting to the weeknight scramble to figure out what's for dinner - a routine I know many of you live everyday as well. 

On top of that, in 2017 we started planning a major house renovation. And at the start of 2018 we moved out of our house for ten months, relocating four times while the renovation was completed. Builders put on additions at the front and back, re-did the layout, replaced the stucco with siding, replaced the electrical and plumbing, new roof, new deck, new stairs, three new bathrooms and a new kitchen. It has been a journey to say the least, but we are now settled into our lovely new/old house and I am finally making time again for the things that make me truly happy, like knitting, catching up with friends and, yes, writing about cooking. It's amazing how quickly the activities you love can fall away when you're trying to figure out the basics, like where your family is going to live.

Now that I have more free time, I'm in my new kitchen as much as possible. Soon I'll share some photos of what it looks like. For now I'll just say it's a big white kitchen with a long turquoise island, and it's my favourite place to be.

My first new recipe reflects the way I like to cook - casual and unrushed. To do that within my new career woman lifestyle it helps to have some things prepared ahead of time, like this quick chickpea and carrot salad topper. Yup, a salad you put on a salad. It's yummy on its own but best used piled on top of dressed greens for a weeknight dinner salad or a packed lunch as a quick hit of protein and texture. I used pre-cut matchstick carrots which come in a bag in the produce section to save myself time, but you could also julienne them yourself. 

I can't tell you how good it feels to be writing a recipe again - you can find it below. I'm finally slowing down to enjoy the good life again. I hope you're getting the chance to do that too.

Quick Chickpea and Carrot Salad Topper

Makes about 2 1/2 cups (625 mL)

1 can  (398 mL) chickpeas, drained
1 cup (250 mL) julienned (matchstick) carrots
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
3 tbsp (50 mL) canola or other light tasting oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) apple cider or red wine vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) tahini
1 tsp (5 mL) Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp (1 mL) dried thyme
1/4 tsp (1 mL) salt

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chickpeas, carrots and chopped parsley. Add the oil, vinegar, tahini, Dijon, thyme and salt. Stir to combine. Serve immediately on its own or on salad greens, or cover and store in the fridge for up to five days.

Blueberry Pie That'll Make You a Hero

The job of family baker, and I'm guessing that's you since you're reading this, is a special one. You get to tempt taste buds with a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies and Sunday morning cinnamon buns, and everyone ooh and ahhs over your creations. Yes, baking is work and there isn't always a lot of time to make the magic happen, but when the time is there and the ingredients are handy, there's something empowering about being the one with the white thumb (like a green thumb, but dusted in flour).

Unless of course they don't ooh and ahh. Unless they say no thanks, I don't really like pie/those cookies/that kind of cake today. Yes, there are people out there, including one in my very own home, who are extra particular about what they eat or don't have a single sweet tooth to count. Or they do have a sweet tooth but it belongs to candy. Let's not pretend it makes sense, it's not logical. We can only hope to win them over one day.

Then there are the home baking superfans. I have one of those in my house too. He jumps up and down at the mere mention of pie, takes a first slow bite then rolls his eyes back in his head and pretends to fall off his chair. Yup, those are the hero moments for the family baker. Those are the moments when you swing your apron around to the back like a cape and take the dramatic bow you deserve because you. are. that. good.

Blueberry pie in butter pastry is a winner. This recipe uses frozen blueberries so you can whip one up any time of year and be the family baking marvel that you are. Who knows, maybe you'll even convince the tough to please.

Blueberry Pie (using frozen berries)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cold butter, cubed
1 egg
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp water

4 1/2 cups frozen blueberries
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp butter
Extra granulated sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the pastry, stir the flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Cut in the butter using a hand pastry blender or two knives working across each other (or pulse all ingredients so far a few times in a food processor) until coarsely blended and there's not much flour dust left in the bottom of the bowl. In a small dish, beat the egg, vinegar and water. Add to the butter mixture and stir with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Form the dough into two balls. Roll out one ball on a floured surface and transfer to an 8 or 9-inch pie plate. Set the other ball aside.

To make the filling, combine the blueberries, sugar, flour and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Stir to coat the berries. Pour into the pie shell and spread out evenly. Cut the butter into pieces and dot across the filling. Roll out the second ball of dough on a floured surface. Transfer to cover the filling. Crimp edges and cut a few slashes in the centre for a vent. Dust pie top with extra granulated sugar.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 65 to 75 minutes until the filling can be seen bubbling through the vent. If the edge is getting dark while baking, cover with foil.

NOTE: A hot-from-the-oven blueberry pie tends to be soupy. It's best to let it cool back almost to room temperature, or chill it after it cools, to allow the filling to fully set. 
What do you bake that makes you feel like a hero?