I was digging around some old photographs yesterday and came across a photo of a family halibut fishing trip from 3 years ago. It was the first time I had ever gone fishing, unless you count the time at Montreal’s Atwater Market when I was really young, where I hooked a trout from a tank with a toy rod. The halibut experience was different, needless to say, and more thrilling than a plastic pool of water and a Bugs Bunny reel. I had never seen a halibut outside of a grocery seafood section, so was surprised and a little mortified when a massive, prehistoric-looking beast latched onto our line off of Vancouver Island. I felt like Quint from Jaws on board the Orca and the fish’s violent thrashing on the surface had me jokingly humming the dramatic “dah duh, dah duh,” much to the annoyance of others. It took two grown men (while I watched) to slowly reel the creature aboard.
From that fishing expedition I had nearly a year’s worth of frozen halibut. After six months, my appreciation for this “chicken of the sea” was waning from over-indulgance, so I started giving some away to friends or bringing large slabs of fish to BBQs. I haven’t caught any fish since, but my appreciation for halibut has been renewed.
Inspired by some delicious west coast catering from Bruce’s Kitchen restaurant at a Saltspring Island wedding last weekend, I decided to make this halibut dish served on a bed of kale, apples and polenta. I only recently discovered the wonders of kale and polenta, but plan to use these more regularly as a healthy and hearty side dish. Polenta is not fussy at all to make and is a nice replacement for the traditional mashed potato side dish. Continue reading
Portobello mushrooms are still foreign enough to me that I usually pass them by in the grocery store without much consideration, like kumquats or celeriac. I’m sure I’m not alone, as the cashier gave me a quizzical look when she peered in the brown paper bag at check out, unsure of its contents. I’m trying however to be bolder in the kitchen and to seek out new items in the produce section that would normally seem daunting. Fennel root and jicama, here I come!
Although portobellos have been strangers to my countertop in the past, I actually do like mushrooms; I eat them raw, toss them into risottos and stir fry’s and always admire the striking orange chanterelles in wicker baskets at fall markets, flecked with earth and dew. Portobellos (or Portabellas, if you prefer) are large, meaty and extremely versatile; and although they are reminiscent of the large toadstool from Alice in Wonderland, they are really just overgrown, brown crimini mushrooms in disguise.
I ate this dish for lunch, but it also makes for an excellent appetizer and visually-appealing side dish. There’s a lot of garlic here – the recipe calls for an entire bulb – but don’t cancel your evening plans just yet (although do make sure you have mouthwash on hand). The honey weakens the bite of the garlic, as well as adds such tremendous sweetness and flavour once cooked that the act of consuming it almost feels sinful. If I were a smoker, I would probably have lit up as soon I relinquished my fork…it was that pleasurable. Instead, I washed the dish down with a glass of our family’s home-made dessert Riesling wine, accompanied by a local Saltspring Camembert so fresh that it literally oozed with creaminess the moment I cut into it.
This recipe is so simple you’ll want to make it every week. The step that takes the longest is waiting for the oven to preheat to 500 degrees F. The ingredient quantities listed make enough glaze for 6 mushrooms, but I wouldn’t necessarily reduce quantities if you bought less than six mushrooms. I actually made more glaze than I needed and refrigerated the remainder; it can be used up to two weeks later for other delicious purposes, such as drizzling on vegetables (especially asparagus) before grilling or baking and also for marinating chicken.
Okay, admittedly the name of this dessert requires some explanation to those that don’t know me from my childhood days in Montreal. When we were kids, my brother and I fell in love with a type of cinnamon bun that our friend’s mom used to placate us with. They were small, bite-sized cinnamon buns which she affectionately called Monkey Farts. My brother and I had coincidentally also coined this same term to the very hilarious sound that one makes when doing the one-armed chicken dance with one hand cupped under the arm pit of the flapping arm. What can I say, it was the 80’s and we were easily entertained. Needless to say, this food and its juvenile moniker were very appealing. Years passed and monkey farts, like other childhood memories, passed from my ageing consciousness…until when recently at a bake sale at work I tasted something nearly identical to my childhood treat. Heads turned when I yelled out “Monkey Farts” in a room full of suits.
This is probably one of the easiest and quickest cinnamon bun recipes you’ll try – you don’t need yeast and you don’t need to let the dough rise. Enjoy the recipe….and for good measure try doing the one-handed chicken dance around your kitchen with a mouthful of cinnamon bun. Continue reading
There is something to be said for having comfort food to help get through the dreary and cold winter months. I’m not talking about Rocky Road ice cream or Oreos and a glass of milk, although that would probably work too. For me, what comes to mind is Campbell’s Tomato Soup and grilled cheese for dipping. Maybe it’s the rain or the lack of Vitamin D from Victoria’s cloudy climes, but I’ve been feeling particularly lazy and uninspired this past week and in desperate need of comfort food. I’m ashamed to admit that I had peanut butter and jam sandwiches for dinner three days last week and then bacon and eggs another time, which is very unlike me. So I’ve decided that something homey, healthy and relatively easy would be on the menu tonight to propel me through this next week on the right note.
Although tasty and inexpensive, Campbell’s soup was a little too easy tonight, so I tried to pull together something homemade that tasted close enough. I also love grilled cheese and have recently started putting a dab of pesto in the middle for some extra kick and have been experimenting with different cheeses to venture out of my Cheddar comfort zone. I didn’t have any regular pesto on hand, but at the back of the fridge was a jar of homemade pesto made from nettle plants that a friend from Saltspring Island had given me as a gift. For serving, call me crazy, but I get real enjoyment out of dipping my grilled cheese into the soup and then taking a bite of it when it’s warm and soggy. The perfect Sunday meal for eating while curled up on the couch in front of the TV. Continue reading
My friend Stasia and I were talking the other day about her family’s tabby cat, Mr. Bill, who sadly now requires twice daily injections to help with his Diabetes. This was strange to me, as I thought cats had no real worries in this world except Halloween firework pranks and quirky owners who knit them tiny socks and give them names like Blinky or Mr. Whiskers. This got me thinking about some of the other real or imaginary health consequences of not just domesticating animals into trained house pets, but subjecting them to our own injurious habits and lifestyles. Case in point: my brother’s voluptuous and wrinkled bulldog whose pastime is watching the Sopranos from his indented side of the couch while scratching his crotch. Who knows the countless ways that an unnatural lifestyle manifests itself in the health and psyche of animals, or of humans for that matter.
I was reading an article online talking about the growing popularity of prescribing antidepressants to house pets. The article mentions parrots and other highly social and intelligent birds as being particularly susceptible to depression and suicidal tendencies (as exhibited by the tearing out of its feathers, in case you were curious how a bird might try to do itself in). For dogs, antidepressants now come in beef or chicken flavours. Although controversial, the shuffling of our own psychological demons into the animal kingdom is not at all surprising, considering how much their lifestyles and hairdos are starting to resemble our own. I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that somewhere in North America right now, a German Shepherd with a bouffant is eating its owner’s burger and fries, trying to fill an emotional hole from the loss of last night’s hockey game. I don’t feel so badly for cats, who are too aloof and lethargic to have even noticed that they’ve gradually traded in the arid savannahs of Africa for the expanse of couch or kitchen floor. Dogs on the other hand, are not often as fortunate; having to stagnate in living rooms for most of the day with not nearly enough fresh air and outdoor time. My mom’s dog, however, is one of the lucky few.
I’m spending the weekend on Saltspring Island for a wedding and also for some quality time with family. Part of the enjoyment of first pulling into the driveway at my mom’s house is having our Golden Doodle, Dylan, come prancing and bounding down the gravel path to greet me, pushing past the two baby doll sheep that graze in the front yard, barely looking up from the grass to take notice. Dylan’s lucky enough to live on such a large property; and although he’s forced into monthly grooming and shampoo appointments to keep him from reeking like sewage from his daily meanderings in the pond, he is essentially a wild and care-free farm dog.
I made dog treats this morning for Dylan and although peanut butter isn’t naturally part of a dog’s diet, at least I know exactly what went into these biscuits and can pronounce the ingredients. He definitely did not complain and quickly snatched them from my hands. Continue reading
I’ve had this recipe in mind since before Christmas, but have been waiting for the right moment and the right people to test it on. It’s based on a recipe that my friend Nathalie forwarded to me, though I’ve personalized it with several other ingredients, including beets to compensate for using less sugar and to give it a richer, darker colour, as well as some coconut milk and rum for additional flavours. So much for my resolution to eat better in the new year.
When my friends Daniel and Danielle invited me to Sunday dinner tonight, I knew it would be the perfect opportunity to bring this dessert. Daniel is one of the best cooks I know – each dinner party is always replete with bold, flavourful meals, good Italian wine and lots of laughs. But as he was making chicken tikka with some of his home-roasted and ground marsala spices, I knew that any accompanying dish I contributed to the evening would have to be worthy enough as a following act.
Don’t be scared off by the thought of eating rice for dessert – it’s like rice pudding, but with sinful chocolatey goodness. I guarantee this will be a hit!
Serves 6. Preparation and cook time: 30 minutes
I don’t know what it’s like where you come from, but here in Victoria, British Columbia we have seen some strange health trends over the past few years (Vancouverites, I know you’ll agree): a cult-like obsession with yoga and form-fitting Lululemon pants, a substantial market of people who are willing to pay over $6 for a small loaf of organic bread containing enough seeds to keep the local bird population thriving through the winter…and then there is Sushimania, where the health-conscious pay through the nose for rice, seaweed and fish that the chef was too lazy to cook. Although I do enjoy things Japanese – the food, the tea ceremonies, the culture – and have voraciously read the novel Shogun, I have a difficult time paying such a hefty bill for something so inexpensive to make at home. I do that with coffee already and feel guilty enough.
A Japanese friend of mine showed me how to make very basic tuna sushi rolls which take under 30 minutes to prepare and only cost about $5 for enough rolls to plump up a roomful of hungry Victorians. There are many different ways to prepare Sushi, but this is one of the simplest rolls I’ve found, so it’s a good entry-level dish before attempting the preparation of eel, puffer fish or fish roe that pop in your mouth and set off the gag reflex.
Although sushi is relatively cheap to make, you’ll have to invest in a few inexpensive tools and ingredients that should last you a while: Continue reading
Ten days into 2011 and my resolve to eat healthier has not yet abandoned me completely, except for the short-lived Ferrero Rocher that I found in my jacket pocket this afternoon. In addition to starting a 21-day yoga challenge today to whip myself into shape, tonight I also decided to delve into my ancestry for a healthy and creative salad – Fattoosh. I don’t normally get much satisfaction from eating salads; they are too light and unfilling, too limp and without personality, and they always leave me with dressing down my shirt – though this Levantine dish which sounds liked a sneeze makes other salads wilt in shame. The ingredient list for this salad reads very much like that for its close relative, tabouli (also recommended), except Fattoosh uses romaine lettuce, ground sumac for tartness and hardened pieces of pita bread crumbled in, originally conceived as a practical use for stale bread besides using it as a middle eastern frisbee.
Sumac is an ingredient that is hard to come by here in Victoria – at least I haven’t found it – though you may be in luck if you live near a middle eastern grocer. Sumac always makes me think about an ill-planned entrepreneurial endeavour from my high school days, when my best friend Jon and I ground up the fuzzy red berries from the sumac tree in my backyard, rolled them up in cigarette paper, and sold them to our grade 8 friends under the brand name “Smacs”. They tasted pleasantly sour and fruity when inhaled, though the trend never caught on with our peers. I wouldn’t advise trying this at home, but I do highly recommend that you add this spice to your kitchen collection for the purpose of cooking. If you can’t find it, I’ve added a variation to the recipe using lemon zest, which tastes close enough. Continue reading
Like the stuffed grape vine leaves, the stuffed squash, Koosa, is another Lebanese favourite. My mother’s first vegetable garden this year on Saltspring Island was almost wholly devoted to growing this unique vegetable. The recipe can be done with regular-sized squash or zucchini, although this family recipe has always traditionally been done with small, pale green or summer squash.
15 small squash (or other squash), hollowed
1 Lb. lean ground lamb or beef
1 cup rice
1 can of tomato juice (4-5 cups)
Juice from 2 lemons
1-2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper, cinnamon and allspice Continue reading
This afternoon I went for a long walk around the lake and by kilometre six I was so ravenous with hunger that all I could think about was Italian chicken piccata and a cold Perrier. Despite how the name sounds to those that speak the Romance Languages, this dish isn’t spicy or piquant at all – piccata actually refers to the way the meat is prepared: sauteed and served in a sauce of butter, lemon, spices and parsley. This dish can be made with chicken or veal, though my preference is the former; and it uses four of my favourite ingredients in the pan sauce that accompanies it: freshly-squeezed lemon juice, cilantro, wine and capers. When all four are used together in one recipe, the aroma makes me delirious and misty-eyed. It is really that good, I swear. The other great thing about this dish is the heavy whacking involved in the preparation of the meat, to flatten it out before dredging it in batter. A perfect way to blow off steam, pounding the cutlets can be done with either a meat tenderizer, rolling pin or heavy Ayn Rand novel. Continue reading
I just returned home from a week-long trip to Quebec for the holidays where I had the opportunity to sample some fantastic French Canadian cuisine during reveillon (essentially an all-night celebration and buffet of artery-clogging treats), including tourtiere, maple fudge and home made doughnuts drizzled in a type of maple taffy. Coming back home 5 pounds heavier, I resolved to detox for at least a week on fruits, veggies and lots of fish.
While waiting for a seaplane back to Vancouver Island yesterday, I stood drooling at a Cajun halibut dish from a restaurant menu nearby, as I had skipped lunch on board the Air Canada flight from Montreal; and several hours later I found myself picking out the best looking halibut fillet from the seafood counter at the local grocer with this meal in mind. It is visually appealing in its colour and packs a mouthful of sinus-clearing kick from the Cajun-style spices. Continue reading