Cats, Cooking, and Life!

Cinnamon Buns

Here's a favourite that I made many times when I was chef at a fishing resort. It was in regular rotation on the breakfast menu, and was always popular. Very rich, though. The leftovers would sometimes come back, and as the days went by, the staff (including me) wouldn't finish them off because they are quite filling.

Part of the attraction to this treat, in my opinion, is that it's made with fresh bread. Plain and simple white bread. Anyone who has ever made bread knows how great it is to pull it apart while still warm and dive into the still-steaming pieces with a little butter dripping down the sides. Well, cinnamon buns are just like that, with the addition of sugar, cinnamon and nuts.

While this recipe shows the ingredients, it does not go into great detail about how to make the bread from scratch. I'm sure it will turn out better if you've had some experience in making and handling dough. Maybe that's a future post, but it would be hard. There are lots of books that describe the art of making bread and there's no way I could duplicate that task.

Traditionally I knead bread by hand but in this case I used the bread hook on my stand mixer.

Unfortunately, the weather turned cooler the day I made these so I had to get creative about finding a warm spot for the dough to rise. In summer, a corner in the kitchen works fine, but for winter days I try these:

  1. in a little-used bathroom on the top floor, I close the door and leave the lights on. This warms up nicely.
  2. turn the oven on low (about 75 to 100 C), then turn it off and leave the oven light on. Not quite as warm as the previous suggestion but still does the trick.

Most bread recipes advocate proofing the yeast, which is to combine the yeast, sugar and warm water. Then let them sit for 10 minutes to "prove" the yeast works before adding it to the dough mixture. I usually skip this step as long as I'm sure my yeast is reasonably fresh and well cared for. I've never yet had yeast fail on me.


Ingredients for the Dough

  • 333 g white flour (2 2/3 cups)
  • 250 ml warm water (1 cup)
  • 15 ml yeast (1 tbsp)
  • 30 ml oil (2 tbsp)
  • 5 ml salt (1 tsp)
  • 15 ml sugar (1 tbsp)
  • Extra oil to coat the rising bowl

Kneading in the mixer

Place the first 6 ingredients in a mixer bowl and set it to knead for 5-10 minutes. Remove the dough, shape it into a ball, coat it with oil and place into an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with some linen and place in a warm area for two to three hours while it raises to about double the size.

Ready for the first raising

The amount here is equivalent to one loaf of bread, at least for the size of loaf pans that I use.

Melting the butter with the brown sugar

Ingredients for the topping

  • 250 ml butter (1 cup)
  • 375 ml brown sugar, packed (1-1/2 cups)
  • 250 ml walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped, or raisins (1 cup)
  • 15 ml cinnamon (1 tbsp)

In saucepan over medium heat, melt 175 ml (3/4 cup) of the butter with 175 ml (3/4 cup) of the sugar; stir until smooth, i.e., the sugar has dissolved and is no longer grainy. Pour into greased 23 x 33 cm (9 x 13 in) baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the nuts.

Topping in the bottom of the pan

Melt remaining butter.

Combine the remaining sugar, remaining nuts and cinnamon in a separate bowl.

On a floured surface, roll dough to 48 x 36 cm (18 x 14 in). Brush with 1/2 of the melted butter, leaving 1 cm border. Sprinkle with the sugar mixture. 

Rolled out and sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon and nuts

Roll the dough tightly into a cylinder, along the long edge. Brush with remaining butter. 

Rolled up and ready to slice

Slice into 15 discs and arrange in the pan. Cover and let rise until doubled again, about another two to three hours.

Sliced up and ready for the second raising

Risen again and ready for the oven

Bake in 200C (350 F) oven for 25 minutes or until crusts are golden and tops sound hollow when tapped. Let stand in pan for 3 minutes. 

Fresh out of the oven

Run a knife around the outside to loosen the buns from the pan. Invert onto serving platter or cookie sheet and scrape any remaining sugar mixture in the pan to drizzle over buns.  Let cool slightly and serve.

Just out of the pan, over easy

Sometimes, though, it's difficult to resist the urge to eat long enough to let them cool slightly. They smell fabulous in the oven and when they're taken out and everyone in the house will come running. It's OK if you can't fend them off. Just make sure no one burns themselves.

And Bow-Tie Calico is not sure what to think!

Does she like it? We're not sure.

My Other Cat Monty

At the back window

From before I brought him home, sixteen years ago, I knew he was no ordinary cat. The breeder said when she did the vacuuming, all the other kittens would scatter. But there was Monty riding on top of the cleaner. He was deaf, of course, but I'm pretty sure he was able to hear a bit, above and beyond feeling vibrations through the floor.

Later, he developed a talent for what I called Late Night Cat Opera. He'd go to the top of the stairs at about 2 AM, and call loudly for about two minutes. Then he'd stop and return to whatever he was doing. This would go on for a few nights in a row, then stop for weeks before starting all over again. He's very loud, probably because of his deafness, and it was very funny.

Just a kitten, exploring the backyard for the first time

Most of the time, he'd be The Cat Who Walks By Himself and would be deeply interested in whatever was happening out of the window. Or whatever else was on his agenda. But he also liked quality lap time. Quality lap time was usually pretty intense, with Monty alternately doing happy feet (a.k.a. kneading) on my belly, and licking my fingertips, and occasionally drooling, purring all the while. Oh, how he liked to lick. He wanted to lick my nose but I had to discourage that because he took skin off.

With a neckerchief and a treat in his mouth

His favourite activities were being brushed, particularly around the face and the ruff, and getting his chin scratched. He'd stretch his neck out for almost anyone, even when he'd be shyly hiding from visitors.

Hard to believe he was this small

When Monty was young, I had a friend visiting. We were talking in the living room when Monty decided it was time for some affection. So he stood on me, back legs in my lap and front legs on my chest, and I stroked his back and ruff. Hard. When I slowed down, he jumped down and ran over to my friend for a repeat performance. When she missed a stroke, he jumped down and raced back to me. He just couldn't get enough. This happened four or five times until he had had enough and retired to the end of the couch to watch us.

Everyone who met him said what an unusual personality he had, alternately hiding from visitors to sitting on their laps, to his unusual vocalisations. Plus his distinctive looks -- a large, shaggy, white Maine Coon with intense yellow eyes. What little skin showed -- nose, lips, ears, paw-pads -- was bright pink and many people thought he was a she. He was very gentle and good-natured. He never bit anyone, and while I had received the odd scratch from him, it was never out of malice or bad temper.

He thinks he's hiding out of sight

We were very close, Monty and me. That's why it was so heartbreaking when he suddenly couldn't walk anymore. He was fine one day, and the next was only able to crawl unsteadily. The vet said it was neurological in origin but couldn't be more specific. A stroke or clot or embolism or something else were possibilities. And with the hospitalisation required to do everyday things like eat and use the litter box, it became a quality of life decision. So we decided to say good-bye to the little guy.

Asleep on the stairs

Monty had had several health problems in recent years. Besides being deaf, he came down with diabetes at age 15. That's unusual for an older cat, according to his vet. I administered insulin shots twice a day for a couple of months, then was able to stop when a special food controlled his blood sugar. He disliked being picked up, but it's easy to sneak up on a deaf cat -- a.k.a. Mr. Oblivious -- so the shots were never a problem.

He loved to wear my sheepskin slipper

Then, a year later, the vet discovered what turned out to be a softball-sized cyst attached to his liver. It was successfully removed, along with other cysts inside his liver, about two months ago. He was recovering nicely when the walking thing happened. So there were problems, but we always worked though them together.

Handsome and furry.  This is his summer coat.

It seems like only yesterday we was saying goodbye to Maxie, my first cat, and way too soon, we had to say farewell again.

At the vet. My last photo of Monty

My wife and I visited my little buddy one last time. He was wrapped up in a blanket and had a drip attached to a leg. He was a bit dazed but still stretched out his neck for a scratch under his chin.

We will miss Monty and all his quirks. But he'll never truly be gone because we will remember him always.

Strike a pose!

Date Squares

Here's a traditional and fancy treat that's got some goodness in it. While it's definitely not health food, it's not as sweet as more common desserts plus there's some fibre content. We never seem to get enough fibre these days.

Date squares are typically served as a fancy treat for Sunday tea, special occasions, and important guests. Elegant and delicious, they have wide appeal. Everyone likes to get the many crumbs left in the baking dish. And, of course, it's hard to find a traditional bake sale without them.

This recipe has been handed down from the Admiral Catnap (retired) (and at least one generation before her). I think you'll find the results are as good as any you've ever tried.

You may be tempted to change the order of these directions by cooking the dates first, but please don't. It's much easier to spread the warm date mixture on the crust than after it has cooled.

Equipment note: If you have a pastry cutter, here's a good chance to use it. If no cutter, then use two table knives in a scissor motion to cut the butter into the flour. Very similar to a pie pastry recipe.

Date note: The Admiral recommends Jaffa dates as they result in a smooth paste that easy to spread when cooked. Jaffa is a city on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.

The following recipe makes enough for a 20 x 20 cm pan (9 x 9 in) pan. These pictures show a 20 x 30 cm (9 x 13 in) pan, and we increased the ingredients by 50%.


  • 200 g flour, all purpose (1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 ml baking soda (1/2 tsp)
  • 5 ml baking powder (1 tsp)
  • 2 ml salt (1/4 tsp)
  • 250 ml butter (1 cup)
  • 250 ml brown sugar (1 cup)
  • 375 ml rolled oats (1 1/2 cup)
 Date filling:
  • 500 ml chopped dates (2 cups)
  • 60 ml cold water (1/4 cup)
  • 30 ml brown sugar (2 tbsp)
  • 15 ml lemon juice (1 tbsp)
  • 30 ml orange juice (2 tbsp)
  • grated zest from an orange


Cutting in the butter

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Add sugar and oats. Mix well.

After adding the oats

Spread half the crumbs in a greased, shallow, 9-inch square pan. Pat and press the crumbs until firm and smooth.

Pressing the crust using a small bowl

Chopping dates after removing pits
Ready to cook

Cook the dates, water, orange rind and sugar in a small saucepan over moderate heat until thick and smooth. Remove from heat and add fruit juices. Mix well. Spread the date mixture over the bottom layer of the crumbs.

Cooked and smooth

Spread on bottom crust

Top the date mixture with the other half of the crumbs.  Again, pat and press the crumbs until firm and smooth.

Ready to bake

Bake at 180 C (325 F) for 35-40 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Cut squares while still hot and allow to cool while in pan.

Cut and cooled

Does Bowtie Calico approve? Yes, with a lick of her lips.

Bow-Tie Calico Approves!

Japanese Crab Cakes with Spicy Mayo

This is a great recipe that makes for some scrumptious crab cakes. They're a bit finicky, though, as several steps are required to put them together. But they're not difficult to create.

More importantly, they need to be deep fried, so this recipe is *not* for everyone!

But we're not everyone so we bravely forged ahead. The Wonder Woman has lots of experience with stovetop deep frying as she has make wonderful spring rolls for lots of years (more about them in a later post).

Our deep fryer is a pot on the stove top. It's fine if you watch carefully and don't allow it to overheat and start smoking or burning. We keep the heat relatively low, too.

These crab cakes are very nice when served fresh from the fryer with some spicy mayo. The spice level is up to you, of course. Feel free to adjust the ingredients as you see fit.

Ingredients for the spicy mayo
  • 120 ml mayonnaise (1/2 cup)
  • 60 ml (or to taste) your favourite hot sauce such as Sriracha or Sambal Oelek or Tabasco (1/4 cup)
  • 30 ml tobiko fish roe (optional) (2 Tbsp)
  • 10 ml rice wine or rice vinegar (2 tsp)
  • freshly grated lemon zest

Ingredients for the crab cakes

  • 65 g flour (1/2 cup)
  • 120 g butter (1/2 cup)
  • 750 ml milk (3 cups)
  • 500 g crab meat, in small chunks or diced. (1 lb)
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 125 ml rice wine (optional) (1/2 cup)
  • 1 medium potato, cubed and boiled. mash it until it's no longer lumpy
  • Flour for coating
  • 1 egg, beaten, for coating
  • Panko bread crumbs, from Japan, for coating. You can substitute regular bread crumbs but they won't have that special crunch.
  • oil for deep frying

Directions for the spicy mayo

Combine all ingredients in a small blender, or stir vigorously. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Directions for the crab cakes

Start by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Mix in the flour and stir until well combined. Then gradually add the milk and stir until it's smooth.

Add mashed potato in the milk mixture. Mix well.

In a fry pan, carmelise the onion.  Add the crab meat onion and stir fry for a bit.  Add salt, pepper and wine to season.

Add the crab mixture to the potato and milk.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool enough to handle easily.

Lay out 3 medium-size bowls, one containing flour, one with the beaten egg and the last containing bread crumbs. Line a tray with wax paper to hold the finished crab cakes.

With your hands, take some crab mixture and shape into a ball, about 3 cm in diameter.

Dredge the ball in the flour. Remove it and shake off any excess flour. Then dip it in the egg until coated. Remove and shake off the excess egg. Finally, roll the crab in the bread crumbs. Flatten into a disc and place on the tray. Repeat for the rest of the crab cakes.

Heat the oil in the deep fryer or pan. The oil should be at least 5 cm deep to be effective. Otherwise the oil will cool too much when the cakes are added.

Have a plate lined with paper towels ready to drain the crab cakes as they're finished frying.

Once the oil is medium hot, add a crab cake, two at a time into the pan. They'll float to the surface. Watch them carefully and turn once when browned. Remove from the oil and onto the cooling plate. Repeat for all.  The purpose of the frying is to brown the breadcrumbs.  The crab mixture is already cooked so you don't need to deep fry for long, and not a very high temperature.

Serve while still hot along with the dipping sauce in small bowls.

Makes about 20 crab cakes.

Vietnamese Tomato-Noodle Soup

Vietnamese Tomato-Noodle Soup

Here's a warming noodle soup. So good yet I've never seen it available in any restaurant. Then The Wonder Woman introduced it to me and now it's one of my all-time favourite dishes. It's called soup but there's not much liquid in it, as you can see from the photo. Very satisfying.

The Wonder Woman says this is a modified version. The original recipe uses meat from small crabs. Just another way to use every bit of the crab.

Like a lot of Asian dishes, this needs lots of prep up front then the cooking time is fairly short.

This recipe is enough for 3 - 4 large bowls. And these bowls really are larger than your typical soup bowl.

Some ingredients

Soup ingredients

  • peanut oil for frying
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • 250 g ground pork (1/2 lb) (optional)
  • 2 x 160 g cans of chopped shrimp or crab with spices (we use one of each). Use only one can if you want a taste that's not as strong, but we like two.
  • 1.5 l water (6 cups)
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 egg, broken into a bowl and gently mixed (optional)
  • 125 ml coriander leaves, washed and chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 125 ml bean sprouts (1/2 cup)
  • 5 ml fish sauce (1 tsp) or to taste

More ingredients

Toppings for the bowl

  • 200 g rice vermicelli, soaked in warm water for several hours
  • 1 lime, sliced into wedges
  • 1 head of leaf lettuce
  • 100 g bean sprouts (1/4 lb)
  • tofu puffs, 4 - 5 puffs per bowl, prepared as below (optional)
  • shrimp, 4 - 5 per bowl, depending on size, prepared as below (optional)

Cans of spiced prawns

Shrimp just about finished frying


Here's how to prepare the best fried shrimp you'll ever have. We purchase frozen shrimp that are of size 31 - 40 per pound, uncooked with the shell on. Those are the most flavourful. Defrost the shrimp in a bowl of cold water on the countertop. After defrosting, shell them. Put the meat back into the bowl and season lightly with salt and pepper. Let them sit in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Start the frying pan on medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add a bit of oil and add the shrimp. Saute for a short time. Turn the shrimp once. Remove the shrimp to a plate once it's just turned pink. It's important to not overcook the shrimp. Otherwise they'll be tough and rubbery.

Take the shrimp out of the pan, place them on a plate then set them aside until assembling the soup.

Bow-Tie Calico inspects the tofu puffs before they're put under the broiler

Tofu puffs

Rinse the tofu puffs in warm water to get rid of the oil. Drain. Slice the puffs in half, season them with some garlic powder and salt and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast lightly under a broiler until crisp and barely turning brown. Remove from the broiler and set them aside until you put the soup together.

Make the soup broth

Heat a wok or deep frying pan over medium high heat. Add some peanut oil when the pan is hot. Add the garlic to the wok and saute for a short time.

Add the ground pork if using. Break it up and fry until it's no longer pink.

Garlic and a can of spiced prawns

Add a can of spiced shrimp and stir and fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the water and the second can of spiced shrimp or crab. Cover and bring to a boil.

Just after adding the tomatos

Add the tomatoes. Return the soup to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Adding the coriander

Add the bean sprouts, the coriander and the egg. Stir gently to mix the egg into the broth. Bring everything back to a boil and it's ready to serve.

Ready for the bowl


  1. Place the rice noodles in the bowls.
  2. Pour the soup broth on top.
  3. Arrange lettuce leaves, shrimp, tofu puffs, sprouts and lime wedges on top.


Serve with a spoon and chopsticks (or fork). Squeeze the lime wedges into the soup and dig in. Have your favourite hot sauce available for those who like it spicy!