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A taste of Canadiana (photo gallery)

If you haven’t decided on a Canada Day menu, why not serve up some ginger beef and poutine?
If there’s a classic Canadian dessert

If you haven’t decided on a Canada Day menu, why not serve up some ginger beef and poutine?

For dessert, instead of decorating a cake with a strawberry maple leaf, consider butter tarts and some Nanaimo bars. Then toast the fireworks with a salt-rimmed glass of Caesar!

Seems like an odd menu combination, but they all have a common celebratory theme — they all are uniquely Canadian and have roots extending from our home and native land.

Because my love for all things sweet, I am going to begin with Canadian pastries.

If there’s a classic Canadian dessert, the butter tart is it. According to Wikipedia, the history of the tart recipe has been traced back to the arrival of the ‘filles à marier’ in Quebec during the 1600s.

It is believed that these imported brides used maple syrup, butter and dried fruit to make a possible precursor to modern examples of the butter tart.

The butter tart of today still consists of a flaky pastry. But when it come to the sweet filling everyone has their own definite ideas about what makes the best butter tart.

Some prefer raisins to pecans inside their filling while others strive to obtain a filling which is gooey and drippy rather than perfectly set inside.

Another decadent Canadian dessert is the famous bar cookie — the Nanaimo bar.

There is much speculation surrounding who invented the Nanaimo bar treat. One legend recounts a home cook from Nanaimo, BC who entered her chocolate squares in a magazine contest and named it after her hometown.

Another story is that homemaker Mabel Jenkins, not from Nanaimo but still from B.C., entered her recipe to a fundraising cookbook and it soon spread like wildfire around the local communities. Our neighbours south of the border have also claimed that it has American roots. Personally I think the latter is ridiculous because then the bar would have been called New York bar, Seattle bar or Boston Bar! They have never been called anything but from the place they originated from — Nanaimo!

According to city of Nanaimo’s web page, the Nanaimo bars were sent by miners’ families to their loved ones in the field as a sweet treat to brighten their day. In 1986, in order to have an original Nanaimo bar recipe, Nanaimo Mayor Graeme Roberts, initiated a contest to find the ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe. During the four-week long contest, almost 100 different variations of the famous confection were submitted. The winner was Joyce Hardcastle.

Besides the sweet treats, Canada is also famous for a popular cocktail! If you order a Caesar anywhere in the world but Canada, you’ll likely get a salad and not a cocktail.

The Bloody Caesar cocktail was invented in 1969, by bartender Walter Chell at the Westin Hotel, in Calgary.

He had been asked to create a drink to commemorate the opening of the hotel’s Italian restaurant. Using its Italian cuisine for inspiration, he came up with a mixture of hand-mashed clams, tomato juice, vodka, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper; then garnished it with a celery stick and named it after the Roman Emperor — a ‘Bloody Caesar’. Now it is simply referred to as Caesar.

Another food concocted in Calgary is the ginger beef. Though ginger beef is popular in Chinese buffets or menus, it is indeed not Chinese. When the first Chinese immigrants came to Canada, they opened their cafés. Since their customers were mostly Caucasians, the Chinese chefs closely observed what they ate.

What they noticed was that Canadians, especially Albertans, liked their beef, enjoyed all things fried and they fancied sweets. To appease the local palate, the Chinese cooks incorporated sweet sauces into traditional Chinese dishes. Eventually, ginger beef emerged.

Finally, the simplest and yet the most distinctive Canadian food has to be the poutine. The poutine is 20th century concoction from Quebec consisting of three simple ingredients: French fries, cheese curds and gravy. How the poutine came to be is very vague. The most popular story is that poutine was created at a small eastern Quebec restaurant owned by Fernand Lachance. Lachance had a specialty takeout item on the menu consisting of French fries and cheese curds mixed together in a plastic bag.

In 1957, a truck driver ordered the bag of fries with a side dish of gravy, dumped the gravy into the bag, and ate them together. Other patron noticed his look of complete contentment and ordered the same. The rest is history. Poutine is now readily available across the country in many fast food and casual restaurants.

Poutine only has three ingredients, but connoisseurs argue there are many subtleties involved in preparing the dish correctly. The French fries should be fried while the gravy should be chicken gravy which should be served piping hot over the cheese curds and fries.

If you are still contemplating how to celebrate Canada day, why not consider whipping up these recipes that Canada calls its own!

Butter Tarts

1-1/2cups all-purpose flour

1/4tsp salt

1/4 cup cold butter , cubed

1/4 cup lard, cubed

1 egg yolks

1 tsp vinegar

Ice water


1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup corn syrup

1 egg

2 tbsp butter , softened

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp vinegar

1 pinch salt

1/4 cup currants or raisins or chopped pecans or shredded coconut

In large bowl, whisk flour with salt. With pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in butter and lard until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few larger pieces. In liquid measure, whisk egg yolk with vinegar; add enough ice water to make 1/3 cup (75 mL). Sprinkle over flour mixture, stirring briskly with fork until pastry holds together.

Press into disc; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. In bowl, whisk together brown sugar, corn syrup, egg, butter, vanilla, vinegar and salt until blended; set aside. On lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to 1/8-inch (3 mm) thickness. Using 4-inch (10 cm) round cookie cutter cut out 12 circles, rerolling scraps once if necessary. Fit into 2-3/4- x 1-1/4-inch (7 x 3 cm) muffin cups. Divide the raisins among shells. Spoon in filling until three-quarters full.

Bake in bottom third of 450 F (230 C) oven until filling is puffed and bubbly and pastry is golden, about 12 minutes. Let stand on rack for 1 minute. Run metal spatula around tarts to loosen; carefully slide spatula under tarts and transfer to rack to let cool.

The original Nanaimo Bar

By Joyce Hardcastle.

Bottom Layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup sugar

5 tbsp. cocoa

1 egg beaten

1 3/4 cup graham wafer crumbs

1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

1 cup coconut

Melt first three ingredients in the top of a double bolier. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken .

Remove from heat.Stir in crumbs, coconut and nuts.Press firmly into an ungreased 8 X 8 pan.

Second Layer

1/2 cup unsalted butter

2 tbsp. and 2 tsp. of cream

2 tbsp. vanilla custard powder

2 cup icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder and icing sugar together well.Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer

Third Layer

4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz each)

2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat.Cool. Once cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

Ginger Beef

1 stalk celery

1 red bell pepper

1 carrot

4 to 5 cups oil for deep-frying

2 Tbsp oil for stir-frying, or as needed

3 red chilli peppers, seeds left in

1 Tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp sesame oil

1 pound flank steak (pork can also be used)


2 Tbsp dark soy sauce

1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 tsp granulated sugar

2 tablespoons ginger juice (store bought or homemade)


1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 Tbsp hot chilli oil (optional)

1/3 cup water, or as needed


4 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

2 Tbsp light soy sauce

4Tbsp white or rice vinegar

4 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 Tbsp water

2 teaspoon hot chilli oil or crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

2 teaspoon of flour to thicken

Partially freeze the beef to make it easier to cut.If making homemade ginger juice, grate the ginger and squeeze out the juice until you have 2 tablespoons. Cut the partially frozen beef along the grain into thin strips the approximately length and width of matchsticks. Add the marinade ingredients and marinate the beef for 25 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, vinegar, sugar, water and hot chilli oil. Set aside.While the beef is marinating, prepare the vegetables and sauce. Cut the celery, red bell pepper, and carrot into thin strips.

To prepare the batter, combine the flour and cornstarch. Stir in the vegetable oil, and the hot chili oil if using. Add a much water as is needed to make a smooth batter. It should not be too dry or too runny, but should lightly drop off the back of a wooden spoon.

Heat the oil for deep-frying to 360 degrees Fahrenheit. Dip the marinated beef pieces into the batter. When the oil is hot, add the beef and deep-fry until it is golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.Increase the heat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Deep-fry the beef a second time, to make it extra crispy. Remove and drain. Clean out the wok.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the wok. When the oil is hot, add the chillies, minced garlic and ginger. Stir-fry until the chilies begin to blister. Add the carrot. Stir-fry briefly, then add the celery, and then the red pepper.Push the vegetables up to the sides of the wok. Add the sauce in the middle.

Heat to boiling and add flour to thicken, then add the deep-fried beef back into the pan. Mix all the ingredients together. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sesame oil. Serve hot.