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 | Cooking | No Comments

Leeks vinaigrette is one of my favourite dishes – cooked leeks (the white part) dressed with a mustardy dressing laced with diced shallots. The secret is to lightly cook the shallots in the liquid you used to cook the leeks. It’s delicious warm, or at room temperature and yet I rarely make it in Toronto. Why? Because I can’t find the leeks. Wait a minute I hear you all screaming, of course you can buy leeks in Toronto.  Yes, you can, but they are usually fat and only have a meagre few centimetres of white. With leeks it is all about the amount of white part. Why isn’t there more? This is what leeks should look like –

Just look at these beauties, lots of white , a little pale green, also good to eat, and dark green tops that you can throw into a stock. Surely they can be grown like this in Canada. However, as with white asparagus, no one seems prepared to put in the extra effort of hilling them, and most of us are unaware just how much better they taste when grown this way.
So I wait until I am in Europe to make any dish using leeks, I think a leek and bacon tart is next.

Friends in the Bayou

By | Louisiana | One Comment
While the weather was warmer in Louisiana it was the warmth of the people that impressed me most – friendly and unfailingly polite. The importance of good manners is often overlooked today. From the culinary students to people in the street, there was an acknowledgment that you existed – a smile, and greeting often followed by a conversation. That’s something I miss in Toronto. In Paris I will get a bonjour from strangers in the street and often find myself at the bus stop talking to someone I’ve just met. When I return to the Toronto, I have to adjust, my hellos to strangers in the street as they are usually met with a start and then discomfort.
My host, chef John Folse, is recognized everywhere in Louisiana, people want to chat and have their photo taken with him, and he always obliges. He has a vast network of friends and suppliers and I was lucky to meet three of them. Perhaps the most colourful is pictured above Bubba Frey. You can hear him describe the history behind the name of the town Mowata. I met Bubba on his farm where he raises many birds including guinea hen, turkeys, chicken, geese and ducks. He catches crawfish and grows peas. He told us that his wife offered him a choice betweens a plucker or a shucker for Christmas. He chose the shucker because he much rather pluck a bird than shuck peas.
We visited the Eunice Superette managed by the charming Andy Thibodaux. Despite it’s name this is a butcher store attached to an abattoirs. Andy has been butchering all his life, you can see him here. He was having a boucherie the following weekend, the traditional butchering of a pig. This happens in winter and the community helps with the task of killing and butchering the animal. Alas I wasn’t staying long enough to attend, but I hope to time my trip better next year.
The flat terrain and abundant rainfall make Louisiana an ideal place to grow rice and the rice paddies are the perfect habitat for crawfish. For my Aussie friends a crawfish is very similar to a yabbie. You can see the red tops of the crawfish traps sitting just above the water line everywhere you look. Until the middle of the 20th century crawfish was a poor man’s food, now it an important industry. I met Dexter Guillroy at Riceland Crawfish who explained that the cooler weather this spring has meant a slow start to the crawfish season. Riceland processes crawfish and swamp chicken – yes alligator. I didn’t eat any alligator this time, I’m guessing it is close to crocodile in taste, but I did eat a crawfish boudin and crawfish étouffée.
I’m planning my next trip south, not only for the warmer weather, but to spend more time with these warm and friendly folks.

Squirrel 0 Jennifer 12

By | Squirrels | 5 Comments

This year I am winning. My fig tree is not beautiful, but it is productive. Every winter I wonder if it is worth the effort of dragging it into the apartment and down the stairwell to the landing which is the coolest darkest spot we have. The tree is only about 1.5 metres tall however, the pot is big and heavy and manhandling it down the stairs isn’t easy. We have to walk around it all winter then drag it back outside in the spring. Yet every year the tree rewards our efforts by producing lots of figs.

This year there are well over 30. They take a time to ripe in Toronto’s climate and usually “the squirrel” gets to them before me. This stupid, indiscriminate animal knocks them off before they are ripe and doesn’t even bother to eat them. If he ate them he might be worth catching and cooking. This year after he’d removed a green lemon from our lemon tree we decided to take action. We covered the tree with mesh, and despite being labeled deer fencing it works wonders as protection against thieving squirrels.

Now I can let the figs to ripen naturally and every day there are several ready, the tree seems to know there is not much time left before it will be imprisoned again in the stairwell. And while my figs may pale in comparison to those grown in warmer climes they are pretty damn good. The skins are thicker than the imported ones, but they are sweeter. Deer fencing is now covering our lemon tree too protecting the 2 lemons left. However, it is flowering again and is a magnet for bees that seem to be able to get to the blossoms through the netting but not find their way out. So every day we take the netting off. Luckily the squirrel is not smart enough to figure this out, yet.

I think deer fencing will be covering my raspberry canes next year. Not to protect against the squirrels, but the two legged raiders who seem to think they can just wander into my yard and help themselves. If only there was some way to electrify it…..

Odd Bits Sizzler

By | Group of 7 Chefs, Offal | 6 Comments

Here is a sizzler reel introducing the Odd Bits pilot that was filmed in Toronto this summer.
 Please take a look and let me know what you think either here or, even better add your comment to Youtube and perhaps we might get the chance to make more episodes. And if you have 20 minutes free  you might want to watch the entire pilot here.