Tara’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Several years ago now, I was new to a neighbourhood I didn’t know at the time was quite up-and-coming.  It was on the “wrong” side of town and at times I heard gunshots at night, and, on my first day living in our little home, a sex trade worker showed me the best place to cross the busy thoroughfare across from where we lived. 

Needless to say, I felt a little out of sorts; a little disconnected from the affluent neighbourhoods close to the university where I’d rented flats throughout my post-secondary years.  I was bound and determined, though, to make this community feel like home.  I volunteered for a local health board, and I went about my daily business just as I had on the tree-lined streets across the harbour:  I went for a run many mornings of the week, before the sun rose and washed out the blanket of stars that stretched across the night sky. 

Tara's Chocolate Chip Cookies | www.purplehousecafe.com

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Next time you’ve got a couple of hours that you want to spend with a cup of hot tea and a book, aware in the periphery of your little blanket-wrapped, couch-bound world of the smell of warmly spiced meat, make a tourtière.


Tourtière is a traditional French Canadian meat pie – a simple flaky crust with ground veal and pork spiced with cinnamon, cloves, allspice, savory, mace and bay leaves.  The meat soaks in the flavour of the aromatic herbs as it cooks slowly on the stove top.  Though the filling takes a little while to cook, this recipe easily makes two pies, and they freeze beautifully for a mid-week meal or a special Sunday lunch.


I got my recipe from Renee Lavallée (aka the Feisty Chef), a local chef who’s famous for her Family Dinners at Two if By Sea Cafe (best place EVER!) among other culinary feats.

Here’s what you need:

For the filling –

2 lbs ground pork

2 lbs ground veal (I couldn’t find ground veal at my butcher on the day I made this so I used pork for the whole thing…still good!)

1 onion, diced finely

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 bay leaves

1 tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 tbsp. ground cloves

1 tbsp. ground allspice

1 tbsp. savory

1/2 tbsp. ground mace (this recipe really gave me an excuse to flesh out my spice cupboard!)

2 medium potatoes, grated (skin on)

Salt and pepper to taste

Oil for sauteing

For the crust –

This is my Gramma’s pie crust recipe.  The.  Best.  Note:  this recipe only makes one top and bottom crust – if you want to make two pies you should double it.

2 cups all purpose white flour or pastry flour

1 cup cold butter (cut into cubes) or shortening

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup cold water

Here’s what you do:

Add the olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  Saute the onions and garlic until soft and translucent.  Add the meat and saute until browned, and then add the spices.  Cover the meat with boiling water and let it simmer for two hours.  After this, add the grated potato and allow to cook for 5 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasonings as desired.  Cool and skim off any fat.


For the crust, add the flour and salt to a bowl and whisk.  Add the fat by breaking it apart and rubbing it into the flour mixture with your fingers until it forms pebble-sized chunks.  Do not overwork!  Add just enough of the cold water (you may not use all of it) to form a cohesive dough.


Now, I recommend re-chilling your pie dough in the fridge for an hour or two to achieve maximum flakiness/awesomeness, but it’s up to you.

Split the dough in half and roll out onto a flour dusted countertop (with a flour dusted rolling pin!) or silicone mat (I used mine for the first time when making this recipe and had a complete pastry-related epiphany.  Those things are handy!!).  When the crust is about 1/4″ thick, transfer to a pie pan.  Now add in half of your meat mixture.  Roll out the second half of the dough and place on top of the meat.


Use your fingers to pinch together the top and bottom crusts (if someone wants to teach me the art of doing this in a pretty way, I would welcome it!).  Cut a couple slices out of the top crust for steam to escape.


To cook, preheat your oven to 350F and bake the pie until the crust is golden brown.


…on excellent coffee…and my barista days

Once upon a time I worked as a barista – same little French patisserie in New Zealand where I saw my first croquembouche.  While I had always loved cafes (if you know anything about me, you know that at the tender age of 15 or so, I had blue hair, played the bass, and wanted desperately to own my own cafe), I hadn’t really appreciated the coffee part of them.

A lovely latte...

A lovely latte…

Until living in New Zealand, that is.

New Zealand, though you might not expect it, has an incredible coffee culture.  Or at least it did during my time there nearly 8 years ago now (oh my god, it’s been EIGHT years???).

When I was hired at this little place, I was told that I would be taught how to pull espresso, steam milk, and pour drinks properly.  Which would mean that I would not be permitted to make a drink – especially a latte – to a living breathing human being for several months, the time it was estimated it would take to train me.

Did you know coffee was this complicated?  Well, maybe:  we have an increasingly sophisticated (and locally roasted!) coffee culture growing in Halifax.  Places like Two if By Sea, Just Us, Le French Fix and Smiling Goat are really setting the bar (and, after becoming a total coffee snob – so much so that for many years I would only drink tea because I deemed it impossible to get a good espresso in this town – they are my go-to places in town for excellent coffee).

Anyways, I was reminded of my espresso pulling days the other day when I was getting a macchiato at one of the above establishments.  I watched the barista steam the milk in a very small jug for my drink and then pour most of it down the sink, leaving the foam to spoon onto my espresso.


You see, one of the rules of good milk steaming is that to get a really great foam – like what you would need for a cappuccino or to “mark” a macchiato – you need to start with fresh, ice cold (read: not having being steamed ten minutes ago for someone else’s drink only to be re-steamed for yours) milk.  And, once milk has been steamed, it’s not so great to be re-steaming it for other drinks.

What are some of the other coffee “rules” I learned, you ask?  What should I be watching for at my local java joint?  Here’s my take.  If you’re a barista who’s up on the trends of latte pouring and espresso pulling of the last eight years, please feel free to add more or update!

  • The froth on your latte or cappuccino should be creamy with close-knit bubbles.  It shouldn’t look like a five-year-old took a straw and started blowing bubbles in your drink.
  • A cappuccino is pretty much half foam, with the crema (the caramel-coloured foam that tops a freshly-pulled espresso) ringing the outside of the cup.  The milk for a cappucino is poured slowly into the centre of the drink to achieve this.
  • A latte is poured quickly, usually starting in the middle, working out towards the edge of the cup, and then back into the middle to create a beautiful pattern of crema and foam (this is why lattes are hardest – you have to start pouring, really commit, and get ‘er done quickly and correctly).
  • Espresso should never be bitter.  If it’s bitter, it’s been over-extracted (which means the barista let the water run through the espresso grinds too long).
  • Your espresso beans should be ground when you order your drink (not three hours – or thirty minutes – before)
  • An espresso is properly pulled when the crema begins to pour out of the machine, and should be stopped juuuuuust before the streams of coffee begin to twist into the cup.

Okay, that’s enough.  Maybe you’re not a coffee nerd and maybe you don’t care.  But I just felt like sharing, because I was feeling some love for the excellent coffee that I have the privilege of drinking in this wonderful city!

And then there are some days where whipped cream and chocolate are needed....

And then there are some days where whipped cream and chocolate are needed….