Luisa Rios' Kitchen Notebook

Mama in the Kitchen: Time-Saving Tips for New Moms

Susan and Teo, almost six months ago

Susan and Teo, almost six months ago.

Guest Blog by Cooking Journeys sous-chef (and new mom!) Susan Elliott

On February 23 of this year, my husband Jesse and I received the momentous call we’d been hoping for: it was our adoption agency letting us know that a birth mother had selected us to be the parents of her baby, who was in the very immediate process of being born.

Short story even shorter, we accepted this generous and amazing offer and dropped everything we were doing. We were taken completely by surprise and had nothing prepared, so we bought an infant car seat and headed out of town on the 9 hour drive to meet our son. Theodore (Teo for short) was in our arms just 3 hours after he was born.

Life changed dramatically that day and without a doubt for the better. However, Jesse and I suddenly found ourselves with a newborn and not much else to accompany it.  Teo slept in a drawer for a couple of nights before our friends and loved ones generously brought clothing, bassinets and all the books and stuffed animals our little guy would need for quite some time.

With his needs attended to, we were left with our hearts full but our cupboards empty!  I had hoped to have a little more notice so that I could cook up a storm and stock our fridge/freezer, but this was not to be.

Once Teo was here I found that I had little desire or energy to cook, but wanted to make sure that Jesse and I continued to eat healthily.  Lucky for me, Jesse loves to cook and is very good at it, so together we made hearty one-pot meals our focus. Here are a few of the other time-saving tips that have kept us sane and full through this very busy – and utterly wonderful – time:

  • Dishes such as Coq au Vin or a Veggie Chili go a long way and can be easily frozen.
  • These days, grocery stores have an abundance of delicious green blends for salads and a plethora of pre-cut veggies for easy snacking or cooking. Take advantage of these short cuts! While they may cost a bit more, they will save you from reaching for junk food or, worse yet, skipping meals.
  • My go-to “lazy meal” is a good quality, store-bought  soup (my favourite brand is Happy Planet). It provides a great base, which you can enhance with fresh-chopped kale or spinach.
  • Also remember that people want to help you out and don’t always know what to do.  So if someone offers to make you a favourite casserole or drop off a basket of home-cooked gooodies – say yes!

Stay tuned for more time-saving tips for new parents (and meals for baby once solids are introduced!).

*Susan Elliott is one of my sous-chefs here at Cooking Journeys. She is a wonderful dancing cook who splits her days between cooking delicious first bites for Teo and whipping up dishes with Courtney & I. She always brings so much joy and spice, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Wild About Zucchini Cakes!

Gluten-Free Savoury Zucchini Cakes

Savoury Zucchini Cakes

At Cooking Journeys, all of our clients have very different food preferences. Some have gone gluten free, for one reason or another, some don’t eat mushrooms, some are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, and others are vegan.  You name it, we’ve cooked it. Italian Cannelloni without pasta? Sure. Meat-free bacon? No problem.

Despite all the varied dietary needs, we’ve found a winner of a recipe that is insanely popular with everyone. And since zucchini season is in full swing, we want to share this with you now.

Go grab a pound of zucchini (or more, as you might want to double or even triple this recipe, it’s so darn good) and get cookin’!

Savoury Zucchini Cakes Recipe

(adapted from


1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium)

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 clove garlic, minced

2 scallions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

1 large egg OR 1 flax egg (1 tablespoon ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons of warm water)

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup Bob’s Red Mill™ Gluten Free All Purpose Flour

½ teaspoon gluten free baking powder

Olive oil, for frying


1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Grate zucchini using the large holes on a box grater. Season with the salt and toss well. Let stand for 10 minutes to draw the excess moisture out of the zucchini.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the gluten-free flour, baking powder and black pepper in a small bowl.

4. Using a kitchen towel or clean hands, squeeze the water out of the zucchini and place in a large bowl. Add egg or flax egg, garlic and scallions and mix well. Add in the flour mixture. You may want to fry a tester cake to check your salt levels at this point; alternatively you can salt the cakes as soon as they come out of the frying pan.

5. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. When the oil ripples, spoon rounds into the pan, about two tablespoons worth, flattening slightly. Fry until golden brown (about 2 minutes per side) and remove from pan to a parchment-lined baking tray. When all the cakes have been fried, bake for 10 minutes, flipping them after five minutes.

6. Remove to a cooling rack. Enjoy warm, at room temperature or cold. All are equally delicious!

Cardamom Crème Brûlée x 108!


Cardamon Creme Brûlée X 108

Recently, Cooking Journeys had the opportunity to create 108 – yes, 108! – crèmes brûlée for a friend’s wedding.

This delicious dessert is so versatile, it can be infused with almost any flavour, from Chinese Five-Spice to Earl Grey tea. The buffet dinner was to be catered by a local Indian restaurant, so we took our inspiration from the flavours of that land and infused our crème brûlée with the aromatic, warm and inviting taste of cardamom.

We set up shop as we usually do, in the kitchen of the bride and groom, just two days before their wedding. They had purchased and washed 125-ml mason jars for us to bake the crèmes brûlée. These jars are fairly inexpensive to buy, reusable, and are a beautiful and homey way to plate the desserts once they’re ready.

The three of us each had our assigned tasks, from separating 108 eggs and heating the cream infusion, to whisking, tempering and finally pouring the mixture into the jars to bake. We also made two gorgeous flourless chocolate cakes, all in a standard home oven during the course of a single day.

It was another fun and challenging day in the kitchen, and the desserts were a huge hit at the wedding! Want to try a taste for yourself? Here’s our recipe for Cardamom Crème Brûlée, which serves approx. 6 people (we filled about 100 ml per jar).

What you will need:

  • Ramekins or mason jars;
  • Roasting or baking pan deep enough to hold the jars (this will be your water bath, or “bain-marie”);
  • 2 Bowls: one for the eggs, one with a spout to strain the mixture;
  • 1 pot;
  • Strainer;
  • Whisk;
  • An oven to bake in;
  • A torch to fire or “brûlée” the crèmes (you can also place them under the broiler for 2 minutes); and
  • Hot water (for the “bain”).


  • 7 egg yolks
  • 4-5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed, or 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
  • ½ cup cream
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup sugar


1. Separate the egg yolks from the whites (the whites can be frozen for later use.)

2. Mix the cream, heavy cream, cardamom and half the sugar, then bring the mixture to a light boil. Remove from the heat and let the mixture infuse for 15-30 minutes depending on how strong a flavour you prefer.

3. While your cream mixture is infusing, whisk the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar. Bring your cream mixture back to a light boil, then temper your eggs by slowly adding a bit of the hot cream to the eggs while whisking vigorously to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

4. Once all the cream is combined with the eggs, pour the mixture through a strainer into a bowl with a spout. Using the spout, pour the mixture into the ramekins or mason jars until they’re almost full (about 100 ml per serving).

5. Place the filled ramekins or jars into the roasting pan or baking dish. Add hot water to the pan until it reaches at least halfway up the ramekins/jars.

6. Bake at 300?F for 30-40 minutes, checking at 30 minutes to make sure you don’t over bake. When the crèmes are done, the centre should jiggle slightly, while the outer edges should appear more set.

7. Place the jars or ramekins on a rack to cool. When they reach room temperature, cover them with plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

To brûlée: when you’re ready to serve, sprinkle the top of each crème with an even layer of sugar, then torch away to caramelize the sugar, or place them under your broiler until they’re golden brown and perfectly crunchy!

Want the recipe for our foolproof flourless chocolate cake, too? Send us an email or leave us a comment!

The Almighty Peach

Okanagan Peaches

Okanagan Peaches – Great Grilled, Dressed Up! or Frozen

How lucky are we to have the bounty of the Okanagan at our fingertips? When mid-summer rolls around and local stone fruits fill the farmers markets, I am always in awe of what our land can produce.

Everyone has got their favourite summer fruit. The one they long for all winter and that inspires a squeal of delight when it makes its debut at the market. For me, it is the vibrant, sweet, soft, juicy peach – the kind that drenches you with its nectar as you eat it.

Although I love to just eat them as is, sometimes they inspire me to get creative. If you find yourself with more peaches than you know what to do with, here are a few ways you can use them in your kitchen:

  • The Savoury Peach: Slice peaches into wedges, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Grill for a few minutes on each side and serve as an accompaniment to grilled pork.
  • The Sweet Peach: Halve peaches and remove pit. Fill the cavity with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and top with crushed amaretti cookies or sliced, toasted almonds and a drizzle of honey.
  • The Saved Peach: Dice and spread on a cookie sheet and freeze. Transfer to a freezer bag and use in frozen drinks and smoothies well into winter.
What’s your favourite way to eat a peach?

To EVOO or Not to EVOO: Tips for Choosing the Right Olive Oil

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Where to start when choosing Extra-Virgin Olive Oil?

A few weeks ago, while teaching a class about salads, I was surprised how much debate a simple bottle of olive oil caused among my interested eaters. Olive oil is just olive oil, right? When did it become so complicated?

Actually, olive oils can come in a staggering variety of different flavours, qualities – and prices. Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, for example, is the top grade oil, made by crushing the olives to extract the juice without any chemicals, solvents or ghee (clarified butter). It’s a slow process, and therefore an expensive product, but one that can be well worth your extra pennies.

In most cases, the label will give you all the clues you need to choose a good bottle of olive oil for dressing your next salad or finishing your favourite dish. Look for labels that say one (or more) of the following:

  • Cold/First-Pressed, Extra-Virgin (estate made): The most expensive (and usually the best) olive oils.
  • First or Cold Pressed: Indicates 100% of the oil has been extracted without steam or chemical treatment.
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: First run-off or cold pressed oils, which means it is 100% extra-virgin. Great for salads, dipping, or to drizzle on soups and stews, but probably overkill for cooking, because heat can destroy all the lovely antioxidants and other qualities that make EVOO so wonderful.
  • Estate-Made: Means more artisanal care and authenticity went into the making of the olive oil.
  • Unfiltered: Estate-made olive oils are usually sold unfiltered to capture all of the oil’s complexity (so long as you don’t mind a bit of sediment).
  • Certified Organic: Free of pesticides and herbicides, and also often unfiltered.

Beyond the label, here are a few other tips to help demystify olive oils, and help you choose the best one for your family’s table:

  • Like great wine, quality olive oil depends on the harvest crop, the terroir and how it’s made.
  • Artisanal methods produce a higher quality oil than mechanical ones.
  • The best packaging for olive oil is dark bottles or tins. Light is olive oil’s enemy #1, so always store your oil in a cool, dark place, and it can last up to a year.
  • Like wine grapes (or egg shells for that matter), the colour of an olive oil is no indication of its quality. Darker green olives will give different colour and flavour profiles than yellower olives, but the oils they produce can both be equally good.
  • Remember that, when it’s cooked, olive oil loses its flavour and many of its most valuable health benefits. It’s best to use raw, high-quality olive oil to finish a dish or dress a salad or some fresh veggies.
  • Last but not least, stay away from olive oils that are marked only with words like “Pure,” “Light,” “Pomace Olive Oil” or just plain “Olive Oil.” In general, these names indicate a lower-quality olive oil that may have undergone chemical refinement. Even worse, producers might have added “colouring or aroma” to other oils such as sunflower, hazelnut or canola oil to make it taste and look like the real extra-virgin olive oil.

Cooks Tip of the Day: What’s my personal recommendation? Here at Cooking Journeys, we’re wild about Maison Orphée olive oils. Their products are great quality, delicate, delicious, and – best of all – they have different blends for everyday cooking, salads, pestos and other purposes. And before you ask – nope, I’m not a stock-holder or anything else in the Maison – just a fan!

What’s your favourite olive oil brand or recipe idea?