Fish, Fish and more fish

By | Australia, Fish | No Comments

I thought if I kept posting photos of the beach you might stop reading. Even if you continued I might have stopped writing. The perfect beaches made me wish I had stayed in Australia, where although the autumn has started, it is a lot warmer than Toronto. Here it is supposedly spring, but the temperatures are still in the basement and there is nothing green in the garden. We even had snow flurries yesterday!

One of the many delights of my Australian visit was the seafood, I ate it at almost every meal and was spoiled for choice. I ate snapper, barramundi, garfish, oysters, prawns (shrimp to North American readers), but my favourite were the sardines pictured above. I love sardines, fresh or canned. We often think of canned fish as some how less than fresh, but it’s not true.

Canned fish was once a luxury, but it has lost much of its appeal. However, in France where canning began, canned sardine are often millésimé, like wine with a vintage date stamped on them. These cans are carefully stored for up to twenty-five years, during which time their contents turns into a rich paste that sardine aficionados relish. I have some in my basement in Paris and turn them every 6 months.

Canned fish also take pride of place in tapas bars in Spain, and elsewhere, check Bar Raval in Toronto. I always have canned fish in my pantry, it makes a quick meal. Canned sardines, not millésimé, were the fast food of my childhood and I remember opening them with the big key attached to the bottom of the tin. Now they have a ring pull, more practical perhaps, but not nearly as much fun. Here, from Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore is that childhood dish, improved with experience.

Serves 2

One 100 g can good quality sardines, packed in olive oil of course

4 not-too-thick slices country bread

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped dill

Fleur de sel

A lemon

Preheat the broiler.

Toast the bread under the broiler: well on one side and lightly on the other, so that it is dry and just colored. Spread the lightly toasted sides of the bread with the mustard. Arrange the sardines on top, then drizzle with olive oil from the can. Place on a baking sheet and broil until the sardines are hot and the bread is darkening on the edges.

Sprinkle with the chopped dill, and a little salt. Give them a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and serve with a lightly dressed salad of frisée or arugula, a little bitter to balance the oily sardines.

If you need more ideas on how to cook with canned fish you should check out my friend Barbara-jo’s book Tin Fish Gourmet: Great Seafood from Cupboard to Table.



By | Australia, travel | One Comment

The frigid weather has me thinking about traveling and living elsewhere. I spent 10 days on the west coast, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco promoting Bitter. Victoria was rainy, but a lot milder than Toronto. I went crazy tweeting photos of daffodils and camellias in bloom as it was only the end of January. However, I’m not sure I could live on an island and endure the continual grey skies.

Vancouver was my next stop where it was clear, sunny and around 12C, positively balmy after Toronto. I admit the view of the mountains and the ocean make it special, although I’m not sure I could put down roots there. Seattle has many of the same charms, mountains and water, however it was San Francisco that stole our hearts this trip. I stayed with friends, who make great martinis, so that swayed my judgment plus I arrived to perfect weather; sunny, warm 23C, and clear, not always the case in early February. This time the city reminded me even more of my birthplace, Australia. There were eucalyptus trees everywhere and wattle trees in flower, like the one pictured here.

I consider wattle a quintessential Australia flower, although acacias now grow around the world. You see them in the south of France and they’re called mimosa. I’m headed back to Australia for a few weeks going from -30C to +30C, it will be quite a shock to my system. I won’t see any wattle in flower, it’s the end of the summer down there, but I will see flowers, feel the warmth and be able to go out without wearing long underwear, boots, gloves, scarf and heavy winter coat. I can’t wait to have my morning coffee on my friends deck.

I’ll also do a little promotion for Bitter so check out Books for Cooks I’ll be there in March. Mostly I will be soaking in the heat and dipping my toes into the warm ocean water. I can’t wait.

I’ll try to post if I can manage on a mobile device, in the meantime feast your eyes on the wattle. And for all of you stuck in the north east of North America remember that one day spring will come…… it will.

Meyer Lemon

By | Citrus | 4 Comments

I am very attached this lemon tree. It has a difficult life here in Toronto sheltering inside during the winter months when the temperature can drop -20C and snow lies on the ground, and spending the short summers on my deck where it’s a magnet for bees. It flowers in the summer and again at Christmas filling the house with the fragrance of lemon blossoms. Now, in deepest winter, it’s covered with sunny orange, yellow fruit that cheer up my kitchen and my mood.

It’s a Meyer lemon tree and you can read all about these lemons here, thanks to to the talented Russ Parsons. I grew up with Meyer lemons in Australia. There is a large tree in the middle of my mum’s backyard, and it is still producing a huge bounty of fruit. We would never bought a lemon, and were always looking for ways to use them up, we made dozens of bottles of lemon cordial. My mum still drinks freshly squeezed lemon juice every morning. The Meyer lemon is much less acidic, almost sweet when compared to other lemons, it has orange genes. For the cook, its fragrant, aromatic peel is its best quality.

You don’t have to grow you own, these lemons make their way across the continent from California and you’ll find them at your local market now. Winter can be cruel, but it’s also the best season for citrus fruits, so cheer yourself up by buying some and realizing that is is warm and sunny in somewhere in the world.

Here is simple recipe to try –

2 ​ ​lemons
250 ml whipping cream
125 ml grappa
400 g pasta
125 ml coarsely chopped fresh chervil or parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Peel 1 lemon carefully removing the skin and pith. Dice the lemon. Zest remaining lemon, set aside zest, then juice to obtain 2 tablespoons of juice.

Put large pot of water on to boil. In a large frying pan combine cream, grappa and diced lemon. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently, stirring occasionally until thickened slightly. When water boils, add pasta and cook until al dente, then drain. Remove cream mixture from heat and slowly add lemon juice. Return to the heat, then add half the zest, drained pasta and chervil. Toss, add remaining zest and season. Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls.

Serves 4


Aussie Olive oil

By | Australia, Olive oil | No Comments
Sometimes I receive packages in the mail and I should have posted much earlier about the wonderful Cobram Estate olive oil that arrived before Christmas. However, mid December in Canada is all lard and duck fat in my kitchen, I rarely reach for the olive oil before the spring.

Australia is probably not the first place that springs to mind when you think of olive oil, but much of the country has a Mediterranean climate perfect for growing olives. This was my first encounter with an olive oil from my home state Victoria. I didn’t want to put it in a salad dressing, I was dreaming of slices of ripe tomatoes and burrata garnished with basil leaves. Well, despite a weekend of spring like weather in March, local tomatoes are still a distant dream so I decided to slurp the oil straight from a glass.

Yes, the best way to taste olive oil is to taste it like wine. Remember most of what you taste is not on your tongue, but from you sense of smell. And it is not only your nose does the work, you also receive aromas from your mouth, retronasal olfaction. This is why you should suck in air when you taste wine or olive oil. It carries the aromas into your nasal cavity from your mouth.

This oil was fresh, grassy, with a smell of green olives. There was just a hint of bitterness and slight peppery effect as I swallowed, not enough to make me cough, and the finish was long. It was the classic oil from Cobram Estate that you can use for everything, from cooking to dressings, but I am keeping my bottle in a dark cool place until the local tomatoes appear.

There is a design feature with the bottle that I really like, a pop up pouring spout. It pops up when you unscrew the top, and goes back into the bottle when you put the top back on. Ingenious!

So look out for Australian olive oil and give it a try. Depending where you live you might even be able to find this one. Thank you Ashley for introducing it to me.