Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Toast To My Hometown's Better Eateries - Murray Street and Whalesbone

In case you haven't guessed yet, I'm from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Now, for those of you who read this and are unfamiliar with Canadian geography, Ottawa is Canada's capital. The Ottawa-Gatineau "metropolitan area" is Canada's 4th largest, while the city itself (without counting all the 'burbs) is the 6th largest. We clock in at about 1 million people.

Anyhoo, because of it's "government town" nature, Ottawa can get a bit dull. Perhaps we also have an inferiority complex due to our proximity to Montreal and Toronto which prevents some of our best aspects from shining through. That being said, we have a great, albeit tightly-knit, music scene, a whackload of excellent museums and galleries, and we're surrounded by natural splendour. Seriously, you can get lost in the woods within minutes of the downtown core.

But what I really love about this town is the FOOD! Since it's a tourist-friendly town and home to movers, shakers, lobbyists and leaders, naturally there are some really classy joints with old school flavour, where a guy like me would stick out like a sore thumb. But with the advent of the "foodie" movement of the past 15 years or so, we're seeing an upswing of restaurants that have a much more laid-back feel, but that have unbelievably good food.

Seriously, you know life is good when you can sit down and eat a gourmet meal wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt. And this is food that's so good you might find yourself gripping the table in amazement. Now, all good food comes at a cost regardless of the casual ambiance. Most of this places serve larger plates ranging in the 25-40 dollar range, and don't expect portions like the ones you get at Denny's. This is high end food that is hard to get, is usually produced by smaller local farms and environmentally sustainable fisheries and is of tremendous quality. This isn't the stuff you eat to fill you up in a pinch, this is "event eating".

Over the past few years, I've had the good fortune of eating at some wonderful places around this fine city and today's post is going to describe some of those places and talk a little about some of the plates I've had there. Also, I'm going to try my hand at cribbing and reprinting a recipe here and there. It might be a dismal failure, it might work out great. But be forewarned, I haven't actually tried any of these in my kitchen as yet.

1 - Murray Street  - http://www.murraystreet.ca/

Murray Street is a very "homey" type of restaurant nestled along Murray Street in the Byward Market, which I discovered just today is also called "Gastro Alley". Which makes sense considering that it houses this place, Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro (more on that later), Khao Thai (some of Ottawa's best), Domus Café (which I've not had the pleasure of trying - yet) and a few others.

I first went there in 2008 shortly after its opening for a friend's birthday and there were a lot of growing pains in the experience (apparently the words "pork" and "duck" sound very similar in a noisy resto), but the food was tremendous and I did get my meal comped because they got my order wrong. I was a bit 'meh' about the whole thing, albeit well-fed. A couple of years passed and it was a Friday night and my lady friend and I decided to pop in for what has to be the highlight of their menu: duck confit poutine. For ten bucks, there really isn't a more "bang-for-your-buck" treat out there. If you don't know what poutine is, I'll give you the basics: it's french fries smothered in gravy topped with cheese curds. Now, the evil genius chef at Murray Street (Steve Mitton) took the gloves off with his take on it. And I quote their menu:

Poutine: Hand-cut herb spatzle (Spatzle is a kind of egg noodle), shredded duck confit, roast duck gravy, fresh cheese curds.

Now, I've never confited a duck in my life. But for those of you who are now intrigued, duck confit is basically pieces of duck meat braised/baked in duck fat. You can buy it pre-made at higher end butcher shops.

Anyway, this is a dish that is so tasty and rich, most people couldn't finish it. And it's a small plate. Definitely a "must try before you die" kind of dish.

Now, on a recent Saturday morning I went for brunch there and had a smoked fish/veggie scrambled egg. It was quite tasty, but not quite as mindblowing as my girl's duck confit cassoulet (again with the duck confit!). But if you want to impress at breakfast (as I keep the conceptual thread of my last post going), make this!

Smoked Fish Scramble


- 4 tbsp butter or 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp vegetable/olive oil
- 200 g smoked trout or salmon or other smoked fish
- 4 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- assorted chopped/sliced veggies - the one I had had rutabaga, onion and leeks (I think). I recommend onion and leek for sure, the rutabaga was a bit weird with eggs.
- 1/2 cup grated cheese (I'd say a sharp cheddar or smoked Gouda to compliment the fish)


- In a frying pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter or heat 2 tbsp of olive oil
- Sauté veggies until softened and put aside
- In a mixing bowl, crack eggs. Add milk and whisk with a fork until fluffy consistency reached.
- Roughly chop smoked fish into 1 cm pieces
- Melt 2 tbsp butter in a frying pan and coat bottom of pan
- Add eggs to pan and cook until they start to turn opaque
- Add rest of ingredients and cook until everything is well-heated

Serve on a plate or in a shallow bowl with fresh biscuits or multi-grain toast.

2 - The Whalesbone Oyster House - http://www.thewhalesbone.com/ -

I love seafood. You'd better like seafood. If not, this place won't be your cup of tea. But then again, let's peek at the menu, shall we?

Hey, Bone Marrow and Foie Gras? Beet Carpaccio? Roasted Veal Breast? Never mind, I'm almost tempted to go back soon and try all the non-seafood! Wait, no, let's not be crazy. But, it is ironic that it was here at a fish place that I first tried seared foie gras. And it was pretty damn delicious!

Speaking of foie gras, I feel it necessary to rant about this. My lack of previous exposure to foie gras (except in paté) is possibly because a lot of restaurants in Ottawa had been subjected to protests by uneducated animal-lovers who think that the gorging process that helps develop foie gras is cruel. So it was pulled from the menu at Beckta, Play and others. Methinks these holier-than-thou jerkstores have never actually visited Mariposa Farms where most restos in Ottawa get their foie gras. I'll betcha that those birds are treated a damn sight better than most people! Also, all farmed animals are born meat. The modern cow, pig, chicken and domesticated duck or goose only exists because it's going to be turned into food.

So, to all you political "eating meat is wrong and cruel" jackasses out there, I will simply say this: slaughtering farm animals is no more cruel than reaping crops. These creatures only exist to die and be eaten. Yes there are issues about how animals are treated in factory farms and they are valid concerns, but instead of tarring all carnivores and meat farmers with the same brush, why don't you find out where the factory farms are and conduct some sort of sit-in preventing their products from leaving, and allow the caring, conscientious farmer who loves and respects animals far more than you could ever fathom to carry on with their business.

And just in case I've not offended vegetarians quite enough, here's how I REALLY feel about this subject:

Now somebody get me a veal cutlet, some lamb stew and a tub of baby panda liver paté! (mmmmmm... panda liver... finger Ling-Ling gooood...)

OK, OK... PHEW! Getting carried away there. Back to the subject at hand: The Whalesbone Oyster House and its amazing food. I've only been twice and the first time I had the Seared Foie Gras plate followed by the Butter-Poached Lobster. What can I say? It's LOBSTER! Utterly delicious and perfectly tender. I had to stop myself from licking the plate.

The second time I went, I had a halibut dish as a main and it was gorgeous, but it was our appetizer that completely blew me away. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Big Eye Tuna Belly.

This was a special off-menu appetizer and there is no way I can imagine being able to recreate the dense, meaty, yet delicate flavour of this dish. I wonder if it was a one-in-a-lifetime treat and that breaks my taste buds' collective heart.

Oh wait, it appears to be on their regular menu now! Excuse me, I have to run to Whalesbone RIGHT NOW!

OK, now I have to rein it back in. I'm stuck at work, no point in imagining that my Cobb Salad is somehow going to magically become a lightly seared piece of succulent tuna. Dammit...

I can't even remember what it was served with, it was seared, dusted with coarse salt and some sort of creamy mayo-like sauce, and it tasted like HEAVEN! If you ever get the chance to try anything like this, get on that! I'm wondering where and how I could find a piece of tuna of that quality and am drawing blanks. Luckily, Whalesbone has that covered too! They have an office at 504 Kent Street that allows members of the public to pick up some of their own succulent piscatorial offerings. Not to mention the "brown bag lunch", which I have not taken advantage of trying. Which makes me feel moronic since I live three blocks away, but am planning to leave the neighbourhood in a few months! So the lesson here is to take advantage of nearby treasures since you never know when you'll be leaving them behind.

That's it for now. Many more posts to come, including Part 2 of my toast to Ottawa. Hopefully they'll be up before the New Year!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Breakfast goodness - Part 2


Alright, last post dealt with some of the lighter breakfast options out there (not counting a bowl of oatmeal or Special K). This time we get into the more decadent breakfasts. If Part 1 was meant for a nice romantic "morning after", Part 2 is more in tune with the "must cure hangover with sex and grease" mentality. So, get ready for lots of greasy, sugary, fattening, booze-absorbing goodness!

First up is my take on an old British standard, the "fry-up". A fry-up is pretty self-explanatory: you fry up a bunch of stuff in a pan. Now the Brits do it up separately, basically making it a variation of the 2 egg special you'd get at your local greasy spoon (Ottawa folk, think Mellos).

Here's what a basic version of the English fry-up looks like:

Please note that I got this picture off the Internet, so whomever took it, please don't sue! 

Mmmmm, greasy! Now, in my version, I kind of took a lazy man's way out. As you can see, they keep the ingredients separate in this fry-up, but I hate dirtying dishes, so I threw the lot of ingredients in the same pan!

I shall explain...

Fry-up à la Nick


1 potato (the kind you use for boiling), diced small (about 1/2 centimetre, or 1/4 inch)
2 chorizo sausages, sliced thin
1/4 onion, sliced very thin
6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved (try to keep as much juice as possible)
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated cheddar
fresh ground pepper

other options

- diced red pepper
- sliced mushrooms
- various herbs of your choice


- boil potatoes until you can pierce with fork easily, strain and set aside (this shouldn't take more than 5-8 minutes)
- drizzle a bit of olive oil into a pan and heat
- add sausage and sauté for about 5 minutes
- add rest of ingredients and cook until eggs and veggies are done
- serve with toast and hot sauce

Trust me, it's a thing of greeeeezzzzzzy beauty.

French Toast - basics and variations

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast,
But I'm intercontinental when I eat French toast!"
- Beastie Boys, The Move

I don't about you, but I happen to think that French toast is the best of the "Sweet Three" of breakfast. The "Sweet Three" being French toast, waffles and pancakes, of course.

Most people would probably choose pancakes over French toast. The thing is that unless you have a wunderkind taking care of the pancakes, I find they often taste like sweetened lumps of dough. I am a much bigger fan of the other two.

Now, I will admit that waffles are perhaps the PERFECT (non-oven-baked) breakfast treat, if cooked to the point of nigh-burnt crispy goodness. But, having made and cleaned up the resulting batterstorm of mess in the past, I'm pretty much convinced they're not worth the frigging effort.

Which brings us to the delicious compromise that is French toast. What can be simpler than coating bread in an egg-milk mixture and frying it up?

Now, I have no idea where French toast comes from, but hey! Wikipedia says neat stuff!

"The earliest official mention of French Toast is in the Apicius, a collection of roman recipes dating back to the 4th or 5th century." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_toast

We all know that French toast is commonly explained as a excuse to use up stale bread, but I find if you use a nice artisan bread or baguette, it goes from being merely tasty to "Man, that's so good!". The key is to use bread that's a bit stale or started out being fairly hard. Soft bread falls apart when you try coating it in the egg-milk mixture.

Implement-wise, you'll need a mixing bowl for the egg-milk mixture, a frying pan to cook the French toast, a fork and knife and LOTS of maple syrup.

Making French toast - Basics

The simplest way to do up French toast is as follows (I know most of us learned this when we were 7, but you never know):

- Crack an egg into a bowl, pour milk in (not too much) and whisk together with a fork. Add a dash of cinnamon and vanilla if you wish. Add more egg and milk as needed.
- Take a slice of bread and place it in the egg-milk mixture, ensuring that the bread is fully coated.
- Shake off excess mixture (you want just enough to lightly coat the bread and not get it too soggy).
- Repeat previous two steps with as many slices of bread as needed.
- In pan, melt about 1 tbsp butter and coat pan with butter.
- Place coated slices of bread in pan and fry until golden brown, flip and do the same for the other side.
- Serve on a plate with whatever forms of decadence you see fit. I'm a fan of pure maple syrup and sliced fruit

Now that you have the basics, let's fancy things up a bit!

Variation 1 - Bananas Foster French Toast

This was a beauty of a breakfast that my girl Kari found online a few weeks back and, like any chef worth his or her salt, I made a damn sight easier.

Now, no matter how easy I would like to make this recipe, it's still going to require two pans. You'll need a fairly large frying pan and a smaller saucepan of some sort.


- French toast basics (eggs, milk, bread, vanilla, cinnamon, etc.)

- Bananas Foster

- 1-2 ripe bananas, sliced
- 3-4 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- pinch cinnamon
- (tiny) pinch nutmeg
- splash dark rum (optional)
- splash banana liqueur (quite optional, since I don't actually know where you can by the stuff!)

SIDE NOTE: Bananas Foster with booze is how I used to make it back in my line cook days, but when we made it for breakfast, there was no booze at all and it tasted fine. ALSO, I just looked up banana liqueur on the LCBO Web site and it would seem that Malibu sells a banana rum. So, perhaps use a bigger splash of that in place of both the dark rum and banana liqueur. Really it's up to you.


- In a frying pan, cook up French toast as indicated earlier.
- At the same time, in some other sort of pan, melt butter on medium-high heat, add brown sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add cinnamon and nutmeg. Continue stirring, bringing mixture to a boil.
- Add bananas and booze (if using). Stir all ingredients together until liquid is smooth and bananas have softened. Reduce heart to simmer.
- Serve French toast on a plate as normal and top with Bananas Foster sauce.
- Serve with your favourite breakfast pork. I somehow don't see steak working with this one.

2 - French Toast Sammiches with Ham and Chèvre

OK, now we get into possibly(?) more challenging (and untested) territory. This is an idea I want to try for a more savoury French toast dish, but I haven't actually tried it out yet.

The principle is pretty basic though.

First of all, prepare 2 pieces of French toast per sandwich as per the "basic" method. Once ready, put on  a plate and let cool a bit.

Using the same pan, fry up as many slices of ham as you want until it reaches a nice texture (or don't, depends on how you like your ham). Once cooked, put aside as well.

On each slice of French toast, spread about a 1/2 tsp of goat cheese (aka chèvre).

Assemble your sandwich.

Put the pan back onto heat and reheat, until sandwich is warm and chèvre has melted slightly.

Serve topped with chopped green onion (if you wish).

Probably best eaten with a knife and fork, but it's up to you.

I swear to Jebus I'll try this out, take a picture, and post it for you all to see what it is I have in mind.

So, yeah, that's just a few forays into the crazy culinary art known as breakfast. Thing is that there really isn't much to making breakfast when you get right down to it. The basics of a tasty morning are simple: eggs, pig, some sort of bread or bagel, some kind of plant matter, and cheese. Assemble as you see fit!

And, if all else fails, there's always Corn Flakes.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Breakfast goodness - Part 1

Well, I am hoping that by now you've managed to cook your way into seduction as per the original aim of this blog. If you haven't, go back to the first post and try again!

As for the rest of you, now it's time for the most important meal of the day: Breakfast!

Now, if you're like me, breakfast isn't the first on your list of meals for practicing the fine art of cooking. I've always been a 'bowl of cereal and cup of coffee' kind of guy. That was before meeting my girlfriend who is a total breakfast-o-phile. She's made some craziness in that department! Example: tater tots, bacon and cheese smothered in Hollandaise sauce. I got through about 5 bites. Maybe she should send it in as a This Is Why You're Fat entry.

Now, that being said, I've had a lot of delicious breakfasts since we've been together and would like to share some of them with you.

Alright, where to begin, hmmmmmmmm...

Well, I figure we'll start smallish and healthier.

An easy, nutritious and tasty breakfast is the smoothie. While not a solid meal, it has most of the ingredients one needs to start their day and is very simple to prepare (as long as you have a blender).

Basically, a smoothie is milk, fruit and a sweetener, if required. Many other ingredients can be thrown in as you see fit, such as yogurt, cereal (such as All-Bran for fibre) and vitamin supplements.

Here's a fairly tasty smoothie I make somewhat regularly:

Strawberry Banana Mango Smoothie

2 cups milk (2%, 1% or Skim)
1/2 cup banana slices
1/2 cup mango chunks (I use bags of frozen mango bought at the supermarket)
1/4 cup strawberries
1 tbsp sugar or honey
3 tbsp plain yogurt

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

If mixture is very thick, add more milk and continue blending.

Any kind of liquid can be substituted for milk. I've used pineapple and orange juice. You can always use soy/almond/hemp/whatever milk, if you can stand that stuff (I can't).

Serve in a couple of big glasses and there you have it.

Another "healthy" choice is a simple offering of plain yogurt, granola and fresh strawberries. Slice the strawberries, toss in a bowl with granola, spoon in a generous dollop of yogurt, top with a teaspoon of maple syrup and voilà!


Next up is an old favourite: the omelette. Now, omelettes aren't really complicated at all. They're basically made much the same way as scrambled eggs (I'll assume you all know how to make scrambled eggs), with just a bit more skill required.

I'll walk you through the process.

First of all, the size of the omelette is based on how many people are eating it. Let's assume Romeo (or Juliet) that this is an intimate breakfast for two. So, let's go with two eggs per person, grand total of four eggs.

Now, you need to figure out what you like in your omelette. I usually go with something simple like onion, red pepper, mushroom and cheddar, so let's assume you're going to make that too.

Dice onion and pepper fairly small (about half a centimetre in width), slice mushrooms. Sauté all veggies in butter until soft. Put in a bowl and set aside.

Crack the eggs in another  bowl. (If you don't know how to crack an egg by now, I think this is about the time you rush out for McMuffins. Fail.) Add about 1/2 cup milk. Whisk with a fork. Set aside.

In a large (and I do mean large) frying pan, melt about 2 tablespoons butter. Yeah, omelettes aren't diet food either. As the butter melts, make sure you manipulate it as to coat the whole pan. This is VERY important, as it will help the omelette cook evenly and not stick. Be careful not to burn the butter either.

Once your pan is coated, pour in the egg/milk mixture. Let it cook on medium high heat until the edges start to become solid and recede from the sides of the pan.

Add your veggies and cheese and let cook for about 5 minutes, allowing the cheese to start melting.

Now this is the tough part: folding the omelette over. Make sure you have a fairly wide spatula or damn agile hands. You can either use the spatula to fold one side of the omelette onto the other, or do it by flipping one side onto the other with just the pan. Now, if you're like me, you suck at both and are going to break the omelette's beauty.

Here's what a properly folded omelette looks like:

(side note: Avocado Omelette? YES PLEASE!)

Here's what mine usually look like (ignore the hash browns and sausages on the left of the plate):

But if you're like me, presentation means sweet frak all, as long as it tastes good! Now, I like my omelettes (and all my eggs really) well done, almost crispy. Just remember that the longer you cook it, the drier the eggs will be. The goodness or badness of this fact is purely subjective.

Either way, once you've gracefully folded the omelette, or not, slide it onto a plate and slice into two equal servings. Serve one half to your guest and eat the other. Enjoy!

Now, the breakfasts I've shown you so far are somewhat reasonable affairs and not too over-the-top. That all changes with the next post. That's when we bring in the meat!

Until then, enjoy your morning!

A new pasta recipe of utter luxury - sort of...


Hello again!

It's easy enough to make pasta, as demonstrated (hopefully) in my first set of posts. And the great thing about pasta is that you can experiment to your heart's content with the sauce. You can go from something light like an oil and garlic sauce to the decadent richness of an Alfredo or vodka sauce. But what we have here is the pinnacle of decadent. So decadent, in fact, that we're going beyond pasta into the lovely terrain of gnocchi.

Gnocchi is a potato dumpling of sorts, about 1 inch long. You can find it in supermarkets in the pasta section. It cooks in mere minutes and is about as substantial a base for sauce as you can find. You can also make it at home with different ingredients than potatoes (Me or my girlfriend are going to make sweet potato gnocchi at some point).

Here's what it looks like:

Gnocchi is the kind of stick-to-ribs food that would be great after a day in the snow (or an hour shovelling the driveway), especially when you top it with a Gorgonzola-cream sauce. Be warned, this is the opposite of diet food!

Potato Gnocchi w/Gorgonzola-Cream Sauce


1 package potato gnocchi (about 500 grams)

1 tbsp unsalted butter or olive oil
1 small onion, cut in half and sliced thin

3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup whipping or table cream
1/2 cup 2%, 1% or skim milk
100 g (approx) Gorgonzola or other blue cheese (the original recipe calls for Stilton, but that can overpower the palette)
2 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
Fresh ground black pepper to taste


In a fairly large pot, bring salted water to boil.

While water is heating to a boil, in a saucepan, melt butter/heat oil (you're using the butter/oil to sauté the garlic and onions, so it's up to you which one you want to use, both are tasty, olive oil is probably better for you).

Sauté onions and garlic until they start to turn golden brown, about 6-8 minutes on medium-high heat.

Add cream and milk and bring to a boil. Be careful when bringing to a boil as the cream/milk mixture will bubble over very quickly making a total mess. Reduce heat to low (2-3) as soon as it boils. Let sauce simmer and reduce a bit (3 minutes or so)

Add cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly, until all cheese has melted into sauce.

Add thyme, rosemary and pepper. Reduce heat to minimum.

Back to the water: once boiling, add gnocchi, stirring to separate each piece. Boil for about 3 minutes. Gnocchi will be ready when it floats to to the top of the pot.

Empty gnocchi into a strainer and drain water. Put gnocchi back into pot.

Pour sauce into pot with gnocchi and mix well.

Serve in bowls with good bread to soak up sauce, a salad, and your favourite wine.


Monday, November 1, 2010

A tidbit to whet your appetite for my next full post

Hello again!

As I may have mentioned in previous posts, I discovered the art of smoking food a couple of years ago and am really enjoying it. So far, I've done smoked pork back ribs several times, smoked pork tenderloin and smoked tilapia (fish).

When I have a bit more time and experience, I'm going to go into a full-blown post about the art, the joy, the dreams that I've felt while wreathed in smoke on my back deck.

My next thought is to try smoking shrimp. And cabbage.

So, since it seems easiest, here's a completely untested Smoked Cabbage recipe. If you have the tools, give it a try! If not, give me a few days and I'll tell you EVERYTHING I know on the art of smoking food.

Simple Smoked Cabbage

4 servings


1 head cabbage
1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste


- cut cabbage into fourths place stick of butter in middle close firmly but don't let butter come out of top place heavy aluminum foil around place on smoker for about 4 hours until tender.

Simple enough, right? Well, there are things you'll need and steps to take. If you know them, give 'er. If not and you're completely confused by what I'm talking about, stick around, all will be revealed. I just hope I've piqued your curiosity.

See you soon!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Comfort Food and Levels of Taste


It's hard to pin down what exactly 'comfort food' really means. It's all a matter of how you grew up and your level of taste. I remember a girl I was dating once told me that her ultimate comfort food was seared foie gras. Yeah, not quite what what normally comes to mind.

Which brings me to 'levels of taste' and a distinction I like to make amongst those of us who LOVE food. There are two kinds of food lovers: so-called 'foodies' and what I like to call 'foodophiles'. In French, it's the difference between 'gourmet' and 'gourmand'. More to the point, a 'foodie' is someone who only eats the best: the freshest and rarest ingredients, the fanciest, most elaborate plates, and who generally avoids all fast food and processed foods. Basically, a food snob. Contrary to what you might have gathered, I am NOT a 'foodie', I am a foodophile (with some foodie leanings).

So what is a foodophile? Well, think of Homer Simpson as the foodophile poster boy. A foodophile is someone who loves ALL (well, most) food, whether it's beluga caviar or a Joe Louis (think Hostess cupcakes, but Canadian); Beckta or McDonald's. Now, I do have a few peccadilloes about food that might nudge me towards foodie-ness, like my aversion to McDonald's 'beef', my revulsion at the proliferation of ketchup on wonderful foods, and my sense of bewilderment at the term 'well done' applying to any cut of meat.

But, for the most part, I'll eat ANYTHING.

Which brings us back to comfort food.

Part of growing up in the 70s/80s was living through the beginning of the Age of Processed Food. Entire meals could be done up in the microwave. Burgers from the local McDick's or Harvey's was the biggest treat 10-year-old me could get. As time went on and the 90s came along, I was living off of microwaved nachos (to be fair, I was in university at the time).

All this to say that a lot of homecooked meals were hard to come by for most kids growing up around me. I was lucky enough to have a mom who cooked a lot and very well, but there were still corners cut (there was a pizza night and a take-out burger night almost every week). I know that a lot of my friends were living off KD and hot dogs. So, it's only natural that a lot of us consider things like KD, hot dogs, pizza pops and other super-processed foods to be comfort foods!

Which is really a shame when you get right down to it, because the nutritional value of this kinda stuff is on par with shoe leather, and I will stand firm on the 'foodie-esque' principle that homemade food is almost always better tasting, not to mention more nutritious as it usually uses less salt, there's no monoguanodextrine, and you can taste the love (at least that's what my girlfriend says).

So, maybe the best thing is to try and recreate store bought comfort food at home. Just today I found a recipe for homemade Joe Louis! Pretty sure you can't taste the chemicals in this version!

Now my last two posts were all about warming Fall fare that easily falls into the "comfort food" category. So, what besides chili, pasta and soup is a 'comfort food'? Well, even though I rarely had it at home growing up, many North Americans will stand with meatloaf as a comfort food standard. So, with that in mind, I present a truly remarkable version of meatloaf that I found in the paper back in '04.

Meatloaf par Excellence

2 eggs
½ cup milk
1 ½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ cup bread crumbs
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ grated carrot
1 cup grated cheddar
1 tsp basil (dry)
½ tsp oregano
1 lb ground beef
meat from 2 sausages (mild Italian)

- Mix eggs, milk, salt, pepper & bread crumbs till crumbs dissolve
- Add veggies, cheese and herbs and mix
- Add meat and mix together
- Pack mix into loaf pan and top with salsa
- Bake at 350 F for 75 minutes (possibly less, check to see if done) – drain fat as you go (VERY important - basically, with oven mitts, remove the loaf from the oven and pour out the fat from one of the corners into the sink)

Once finished, remove from pan with spatula, slice and serve with veggies on the side!

So, that's one comfort food recipe down. 

No. 2 is completely switching gears but reflects a cuisine that is almost all 'comfort food'. Or at least all fattening! I lived in Prague, Czech Republic for almost a year back in '98-'99 and pretty much lived off of 'smazeny syr' - which is essentially a deep fried cheese sandwich. They take a breaded disk of Edam cheese, deep fry it till it's melty, stick it on a kaiser style bun and top it with a glob of mayo. They were sold at little kiosks all over the downtown core. Oh, and you could buy cold beer at the same spot and drink it while you ate your sammich o' doom, IN PUBLIC! Ahhh, those were the days. Needless to say, I gained over 30 pounds while I was there. Now, I won't encourage you to try and make 'smazeny syr' any time soon, I'm not that sadistic! But, there is another Czech delicacy that is almost as decadent, but probably a lot easier to make and less calorically masochistic.

Bramborak is a Czech potato pancake, similar to latkes. I had it a few times here and there and tried to make it myself once, but forgot to buy a cheese grater! The result was tasty, but the texture was all wrong. So do yourself a favour and buy a cheese grater! Heck, any cook worth his or her salt should have one anyway...

Bramborak (Czech potato pancakes)

½ kg raw potatoes, peeled and grated
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 egg
¼ cup flour
1 tbsp. salt
oil for frying (veg or peanut)
milk (as much as necessary to bind mixture)

1 tsp. marjoram (or more to taste)
Black pepper to taste
1 tsp caraway seeds

- grate/mince potatoes
- mix with eggs, milk, flour, spices

- form into flat, pancake-like pieces, about 10 cm in diameter
- float cook in hot oil until golden and slightly crispy
- drain on paper towel to remove excess oil
- serve hot topped with warmed sauerkraut

So, that's about all I can think of today on comfort food. I'm sure I'll be back with more!


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall means Batch Cooking - Part II - Soups and Sauces


Hi there!

So we're back with the second part of my hard-hitting journalistic bombshell piece on... um, batch cooking? Never mind. But here I am back with more hearty Fall-oriented recipes that will warm your cockles and sub-cockles (a nod to Denis Leary). First, we'll look at a couple of pasta sauces that are a little different from your standard bolognese (meat) sauce or "chunky vegetable delight" or whatnot.

3 - Pasta Sauce

As you may well know, I'm a big fan of pasta. It's easy to prepare (as seen from this blog's inaugural posts), easy to eat, and it's good for you (I've recently started running and am enjoying the guilt-free carbs...). Now, a good "aglio e olio" (garlic and oil) style pasta is the height of simple gourmet, but there's something about a thick, rich, tomato-laden sauce that simply screams "comfort food". We all had a mom/grandmom/stepmom whose sauce evokes childhood memories. I'm fortunate enough to have had my mom's vegetarian sauce (but with sausage thrown in!) as well as my step-mom's spicy bolognese, as well as my dad's meatballs to satisfy my culinary memories of the joys of spaghetti.

Now over the years, I've developed a few of my own pasta sauces that bear no resemblance to anything I grew up with. The first was based on a tomato basil sauce that we made at Big Daddy's restaurant in Ottawa. As you'll notice, it's a sweet sauce that doesn't make use of the standard whackload of garlic found in most pasta sauces, which makes for a more delicate flavour that you might find surprisingly enjoyable.

Tomato-Basil-Sausage Pasta Sauce


4 tomatoes – ripe, pureed or chopped very fine
1 can tomato paste
3-4 cloves garlic
1 medium sweet onion, minced fine
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp cracked black pepper pepper
2-3 sausages - sliced (use whatever sausage you see fit;  I originally used mild Italian, but I've tried many different kinds and all usually add something different to the recipe)
1 red pepper – pureed or very finely chopped
½ cup fresh basil, chopped finely


- sauté garlic and onion in olive oil
- combine rest of ingredients, except basil and simmer until desired consistency is reached
- add basil once sauce is ready and is cooling (you do not want to cook the basil or it will taste like compost)

I usually serve this over penne or rigatoni and topped with lots of grated Parmesan (naturally).

Sauce number two is my take on an old standard: Linguine with clam sauce. My original recipe was a bit too fiery, even for me, so I've been working on reducing the spice level without making it too wimpy. So, the spices presented here are purely optional.

Red Clam Sauce for Linguine


2 cans clams
4 ripe tomatoes, puréed or finely chopped (or 2 cans plum tomatoes)
2 red peppers, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 sweet or red onion, minced
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup red wine
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne (or less)
1/2 tsp crushed dry chillies (or less)
2 tsp basil (dry)
1-2 tsp oregano (dry)
olive oil

- Open cans of clams, reserve about 1/4 cup liquid, drain and rinse clams in colander.
- Heat olive oil and sauté garlic and onions for about 5 minutes.
- Add rest of ingredients, stir and simmer at medium low heat for about 90 minutes.
- Serve over or toss with cooked linguine and top generously with Parmesan cheese.

So, those are two of the sauces I frequently like to make. The Tomato Basil is best in early Fall when all the ingredients are freshest. The Clam sauce uses canned clams, so canned tomatoes aren't so bad and because it's spicy, it's a good cold weather warming meal for late October into Winter.

4 - Soup

Nothing says warming goodness like a hot bowl of soup! Chicken Noodle Soup, is, of course, a staple of Fall/Winter cooking as cold and flus abound. I'd offer a recipe or whatnot, but personally, nothing beats Lipton's Chicken Noodle with a whack of hot sauce.

Now soup covers 8 gazillion variations and recipes. There are some standards from across the world that I could provide recipes for, but there are myriad versions across the 'Net. But I do feel like naming a few of them (with a little help from wikipedia):

- Borscht - Ukraine/Russia (beet soup)
- Bouillabaisse - France (fish soup)
- Clam Chowder - Canada/U.S. (thick soup with clams and potatoes and bacon)
- Cock-a-leekie - Scotland (leek, potato and chicken broth)
- Gumbo - Louisiana (spicy seafood and okra soup)
- Minestrone - Italy (vegetable soup)
- Miso - Japan (fish broth and soy)
- Mulligatawny - India (British influenced spiced chicken soup)
- Onion Soup - France (self-explanatory)
- Tom Kha Gai - Thailand (chicken soup with coconut milk)
- Avgolemono - Greece (chicken soup with lemon and egg)

As for soup recipes, I have two I'll be sharing. First, I give you a personalized twist on an old favourite:

Broccoli-Cheddar Soup


- 3 cup vegetable broth (you can get it premade in tetra cartons, or use a powder/cube)
- 1 cup light cream (or full-fat milk)
- 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets and sliced stalks
- 1 small onion, minced
- butter to taste (for sautéeing onions)
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1 cup grated cheddar (old works best)


- sauté onion in butter until soft and translucent
- add broth, bring to boil
- add broccoli, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 mins. (till broccoli. is soft but not mush)
- add milk, cheese, salt and pepper
- stir until cheese is melted
- let cool for a few minutes and purée using an immersion blender if you have one. Otherwise you can use a regular blender and blend in small batches, just remember not to cover it completely in order to let heat and
pressure escape. Conversely, you could just leave it as is, but it won't be terribly pleasing to the eye (but still quite tasty!).

With the cream and the cheddar, you'll find that this is a very hearty soup and is more than enough to make a meal. Maybe a little bread on the side is all you need.

The next recipe was one my girlfriend provided to me when I was trying to decide to do with some dried mushrooms in my cupboard. It's from the New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen. And it's available through Google books!

So I made this a couple of weeks ago and it was deeeeeeelicious! Imagine a bowl of the best mushroom gravy ever with some sour cream goodness as a bonus...

Hungarian Mushroom Soup (I think it's considered Hungarian due to the paprika/sour cream element)


2 tbsp butter
2 cups chopped onions
1.5 to 2 lbs mushrooms, sliced (I used a mix of white, cremini, oyster, shitake and reconstituted porcini)
1 tsp salt
2 to 3 tsp dried dill (or 2 to 3 tbsp freshly minced)
1 tbsp mild paprika
2 tsp lemon juice
3 tbsp flour
2 cups water
1 cup milk - at room temperature
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
finely minced fresh parsley, for garnish


1) melt the butter in a kettle or dutch oven (or any large pot).Add onions, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, salt, dill, and paprika. Stir well and cover. Let cook for about 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lemon juice.

2) Gradually sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly. Cook and stir another 5 minutes or so over medium-low heat. Add water, cover, and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often.

3) Stir in milk, add black pepper to taste. Check to see if it needs more salt. Whisk in the sour cream, and heat very gently. Don't boil or cook it after this point. Serve hot, topped with freshly minced parsley.

I had this with toast and was totally satisfied. But I think it would be glorious alongside pork chops or schnitzel of some sort... And now I want schnitzel... dammit...

So there you have it, just a few ideas for batch cooking. Have fun with them, get creative! I'll be back soon with more recipes that suit the season.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fall Means Batch Cooking - Part I - Stews (Chili and Curry)

So, it's getting chillier at night, sweaters are coming out of storage and thoughts of warming comfort food are replacing obsessions with grills and smoke.

Now, my favourite type of cooking when not using the BBQ is also pretty much the easiest: Get a big pot, throw ingredients in the pot, cook and stir for a few hours, serve piping hot. Pretty damn simple, right? And the great thing is that if you're a single guy like me, you can feed yourself for almost a week on one batch! That's if you don't mind repeated leftovers... Lord knows I don't.

Batch cooking basically involves three S foods: soups, stews and sauces. A good thick soup makes as satifying a meal as any steak ever could. A hearty stew filled with all kinds of veggies and meat sometimes makes the difference between hiding under blankets all day or hiking in autumnal splendour (or heading out drinking with the boys). And what is life without the occasional heaping plate/bowl of pasta drowning in a rich tomato-based sauce?

Now over the years I've developed some favourite "bunch-of-food-in-a-pot" recipes that I want to share with you. So let's give 'er!

1 - Chili

Let's start with EVERYONE's fall favourite. Who can deny the joy of a hot bowl of chili on a blustery Sunday watching football? With a cold one on the side and some fresh bread, you have an epic afternoon/evening sown up! Let's just hope your lady/gentleman friend aren't averse to gas...

Chili is as personalized as your dental records; no one makes it the same as anyone else. And usually no one makes it the same way twice. I find chili is the ultimate experimental recipe. You can throw all kinds of neat stuff in there and it'll generally still be delicious. There are some basic ingredients you need: kidney beans, meat (unless you're making vegetarian chili), garlic, onions, tomatoes, chili powder, and tomato paste. Everything else is up to you. What I present to you today is the basics of the chili I've been making for years, but I've since made several tweaks. More on that after the recipe...

Nick’s Chili – large order


2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg. medium ground beef (or ½ kg. ground beef & 300-400 g. cubed steak)
5 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 red, & 1 yellow or orange pepper, diced thickly
2 large onions, diced
4-6 ripe tomatoes, pureed
2 cans tomato paste
3 cans red kidney beans (rinse most of the juice from beans, add a small amount to chili)
1-2 cups Creemore lager (or your favourite beer)
1 cup veg. juice (e.g. V-8, if required, for liquid)
chili powder to taste
3 tbsp salt
hot sauce to taste
1-2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp dry coriander
3 tsp cayenne (more to add desired heat)


- in a large pot, sauté meat and garlic in olive oil
- add some chili powder and cayenne
- after 5 mins., stir in beans, tomato, tomato paste and beer (and veg. juice if needed)
- cook until everything begins to boil together, approx. 15 mins.
- add peppers and onion and rest of spices
- simmer until desired consistency is reached (about 90 mins. – in order to keep veggies slightly crisp, more if you like them mushier), stirring every few minutes.

Now, since I first wrote out this recipe, I've since taken to using a mix of chili powder and berbere spice. Also, I like to add some frozen corn and, if I'm feeling really carnivorous, sliced pieces of sausage (I add the sausage at the beginning with the beef, the corn goes in near the end). Some other tweaks: a tablespoon or so of maple syrup, a few drops of liquid smoke, the juice of half a lime. Maybe try a wild and crazy hot sauce if you really like it hot? Or some chopped jalapeno? It's up to you, dude!

2 - Curry

Indian cooking was never really something that came up growing up at my house, but when I met my ex-fiancée, she declared a strong love of the cuisine and I had the pleasure of trying lots of yummy different curries in restos and through friends. But I didn't give much thought to making it myself.

Fast forward a few years and here I am, single and cooking for one, with a powerful craving for Indian food, but no desire to eat out by myself. With that desperate inspiration, I literally pulled the next recipe out of thin air. This event, not to boast, cemented that I have a knack for cooking, because I pulled it out of thin air and it was delicious on the first go. I must admit that I looked up a couple of recipes for ideas, but mostly it was "Hmmmm, I feel like curry, but not butter chicken. I want beef. What goes with beef? Sweet potatoes!" and a legend was born...

Beef-Sweet Potato Curry

You'll notice a lot of variable ingredient levels with this one. Well, that's because it's a matter of taste. Some of us want the ginger or garlic or cayenne at milder levels, others want to be kicked in the face by them. So, play with your levels as you see fit. When in doubt, use the smaller amount. These are all still very flavourful ingredients and it will by no means be bland.


1 package stewing beef, cubed (around 350 g)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 small red onions, quartered and sliceed (or 1 medium sweet onion)
1-2 medium sized tomato (ripe), diced
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced finely
1-2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced finely
4-6 tbsp plain yogurt (it all depends on your spice and/or yogurt tolerance levels)
1/3 - 2/3 cups butter, divided into 3 equal parts (more or less depending on taste)
3 tbsp curry powder (to taste)
2 tsp salt (to taste)
1 tbsp black pepper (to taste)
2 tsp cayenne pepper (to taste)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
Juice from 2 lemon wedges
Juice from 1/2 clementine (or ¼ regular orange)


- In a stewing pot, melt 1 part butter on medium heat
- Add beef, sweet potato, garlic, ginger, 1 tbsp curry and cayenne
- Cover pot and cook for about 10-15 mins.
- Add remaining ingredients except yogurt and cilantro
- Reduce heat and simmer for approx. 30 mins.
- Add yogurt and simmer for 10 more mins.
- Stir in cilantro and remove from heat

-- Serve garnished with more fresh cilantro, if you like (I DO!)--
- best served with Basmati rice or naan bread, if you have it –


- add 350-400 g cubed chicken and 1 can chick peas (drained and rinsed) and omit beef, sweet potato and juice from clementine

In the next post, we'll deal with soup and pasta sauce.


Monday, August 23, 2010

More Neat Foods!


Hello all! I had a lot of fun with this topic last time, so I figure I should try it out again!

Here are a bunch more 'unusual', obscure, or infamous (in the case of haggis) foods from around the world, including right here in Canada!

1 – Kimchee (or Kimchi)

Kimchee is Korean fermented cabbage salad. I kid you not. But millions of Koreans can’t be wrong and kimchee is a main staple of any Korean kitchen. I’ve only had it a few times, but it’s got a very unique flavour. I imagine a lot of Western palates won’t be able to get past the… stinky(?) aftertaste, but if you can manage it, it’s totally delicious. Luckily for me, my tastebuds can pretty much handle anything, except fruity beer and cider.

Any Oriental supermarket worth its salt will carry jars of it premade, and definitely at a Korean grocer (which reminds me that I need to get some from the place up the street from me!). But, if you’re feeling daring, I got this recipe from epicurious.com:

Napa Cabbage Kimchi


1 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
2 heads Napa cabbage, cut into quarters or 2-inch wedges, depending on size of cabbage
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 (2-inch) piece of ginger root
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 Asian radish, peeled and grated
1 bunch of green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 cup Korean chili powder (looks like you’re going to the Korean grocer anyway!) - substitute crushed red chili flakes if you have to
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Sesame oil (optional)
Sesame seeds (optional)

1. Dissolve 1 cup salt in 1/2 gallon water. Soak cabbage in the salt water for 3 to 4 hours.

2. Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce in food processor or blender until finely minced.

3. In large bowl, combine radish, green onions, mustard greens, garlic mixture, chili powder, 1 tablespoon salt and optional sugar. Toss gently but thoroughly. (If mixing with your hands, be sure to wear rubber gloves to avoid chili burn.)

4. Remove cabbage from water and rinse thoroughly. Drain cabbage in colander, squeezing as much water from the leaves as possible. Take cabbage and stuff radish mixture between leaves, working from outside in, starting with largest leaf to smallest. Do not overstuff, but make sure radish mixture adequately fills leaves. When entire cabbage is stuffed, take one of the larger leaves and wrap tightly around the rest of the cabbage. Divide cabbage among 4 (1-quart) jars or 1-gallon jar, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles.

5. Let sit for 2 to 3 days in a cool place before serving. Remove kimchi from jar and slice into 1-inch-length pieces. If serving before kimchi is fermented, sprinkle with a little bit of sesame oil and sesame seeds. Refrigerate after opening.

Note: Kimchi will be good enough to eat straight for up to about 3 weeks. After about 4 weeks, once the kimchi gets too fermented to eat by itself, use it to make hot pots, flatcakes, dumplings, or just plain fried rice.

2 – Cretons

Wow, it just occurred to me as I think of neat and unique bites from around the world, I was forgetting my own Quebecer heritage. My grandmaman was one of the best cooks I’ve ever seen and she would make her own chicken liver paté as well as cretons. So, what is cretons? Well, it’s basically a working man’s paté. Where paté uses duck, goose or chicken liver and cognac and other high end ingredients, cretons uses plain old ground pork and some basic spices. If you ever wondered what the difference is between a Frenchman and a Quebecer, it’s basically the difference between paté and cretons (this is coming from someone who's half-cretons). that isn't an insult though, I’d rather be the salt of the earth than the élite any day.

Cretons is available at pretty much any supermarket in Quebec or Eastern Ontario. Anywhere else, I have serious doubts you'll find it.

Luckily it's fairly easy to make!



1 pound ground pork
1 cup milk
1 onion, chopped
chopped garlic
salt and pepper, to taste
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground allspice
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs


Place the ground pork, milk, onion and garlic into a large saucepan. Season with salt, pepper, cloves and allspice. Cook over medium heat for about 1 hour, then stir in the bread crumbs. Cook for 10 more minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Transfer to a small container and keep refrigerated.

3 – BBQ Pork Buns

If you’re lucky enough to have a Chinese bakery in the vicinity, these things will be well worth the trip! They’re cheap and delicious. Imagine taking the meat those old school American-Chinese spare ribs, but making it about 10 times better and stuffing it inside a fluffy bun. Add a BBQ sauce-like tang and, yeah, you're starting to see what I'm talking about.

My Taiwanese friend Shumin first introduced me to these at a cottage party back in 2001 and I was hooked from the start.

There are recipes aplenty on the 'Net for these babies, but they're sold at about a buck each, so, you do the math as to whether or not you want to go through the trouble! In Ottawa, they can be found en masse at Kowloon Market on Somerset Street.

4 – Vietnamese Subs

AKA Bánh mí, these are one of the best snack deals out there (well at least at Co Cham on Somerset in Ottawa who sells them at 2.25$ apiece!).

Essentially, they're subs served on French baguette (a little bit of colonialism cuisine, I guess) with standard ingredients being carrot, pickled radish of some sort, mayo, sprigs of cilantro (it was while eating these sammiches that I discovered the awesomeness of cilantro), cucumber, chilis and some kind of meat. The place in Ottawa serves chicken, shredded pork and a bunch more.

5 – Pickled eggplant

A fixture of the antipasto plate and one of my favourite sandwich toppings. It comes mild and spicy, I always go for the spicy, heartburn be damned! Once it was only found at Italian grocers, now most supermarkets carry it. The flavour can best be described as all briny deliciousness as eggplant itself has little flavour and takes on the flavours of liquids it absorbs.
Pretty much any Italian sandwich needs this!

6 -Haggis

Ah, haggis, possibly the most infamous European dish of all time!

From wikipedia: Haggis is a dish containing sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach.

I’ve only had it a few times, once at a wedding, a couple of times for Robbie Burns Day. I know, I know, it’s organ meat and other weird ingredients boiled in a sheep’s stomach; it sounds utterly revolting. But, it’s actually quite tasty! The organ meat is ground so fine that a lot of the nasty texture is gone and, luckily, you don’t eat the stomach! If you get a chance, step up and give it a shot. You’ll never have to prove your courage again.

And, for kicks, here's a recipe! I highly doubt you'd want to even try this. They sell haggis at better butcher shops around January 25th (Robbie Burns Day). Or better yet, find yourself a decent pub that night and take in some additional Scots culture. Too all readers actually from Scotland, completely ignore this section.

Haggis (traditonal)

1 sheep's lung (illegal?; may be omitted if not available)
1 sheep's stomach (or large sausage casing)
1 sheep heart
1 sheep liver
1/2 lb fresh suet (kidney leaf fat is preferred)
3/4 cup oatmeal (the ground type, NOT the Quaker Oats type!)
3 onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup stock

Wash lungs and stomach well, rub with salt and rinse.

Remove membranes and excess fat. Soak in cold salted water for several hours. Turn stomach inside out for stuffing.

Cover heart and liver with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Chop heart and coarsely grate liver.

Toast oatmeal in a skillet on top of the stove, stirring frequently, until golden. Combine all ingredients and mix well. Loosely pack mixture into stomach, about two-thirds full. Remember,
oatmeal expands in cooking.

Press any air out of stomach and truss securely. Put into boiling water to cover. Simmer for 3 hours, uncovered, adding more water as needed to maintain water level. Prick stomach several times with a sharp needle when it begins to swell; this keeps the bag from bursting. Place on a hot platter, removing trussing strings. Serve with a spoon.

Ceremoniously served with "neeps, tatties and nips" -- mashed turnips, mashed potatoes, nips of whiskey.

7 – Paneer

Paneer is a fresh cheese of Indian origin and features prominently in quite a few staple Indian dishes that we find here in North America. One of my all time favourites that seems to be readily available at any curry shop is saag paneer, which is a spinach curry dotted with chunks of paneer cheese. A more recent discovery that my friend Kari now swears by are paneer pakoras from a shop called, oddly enough, Indian Express here in Ottawa. It’s become a kind of bi-weekly, pre-geekout tradition. Thing is though, paneer seems like it isn’t too hard to make.

Here’s a "how-to" on making your own paneer from wikiHow.com:


1 L or quart of 3.8% whole cow milk
3-4 tbsp of an acid; lemon juice is used in this example but you can substitute with lime juice or vinegar

(or you can use yoghurt)


1 - Bring the milk to a temperature just below the boil then turn off the heat.Just like 80`C.Temp(176 f).
2 - Add lemon juice/acid (one teaspoon) at a time and keep stirring the milk after each addition, until the milk separates; the solid curds will separate from the green watery whey.

3 - Allow the curds and whey to cool for a half hour (or until still warm, but at a temperature you can handle), then strain through cheese cloth in a strainer. You may wish to save some or all of the whey; it can be used to make your next batch of paneer, producing a slightly more tender cheese than lemon juice. Rinse the curds with fresh water.

4 - Wrap the cheese cloth on itself in order to squeeze out moisture from the curds. The more you squeeze, the firmer the resulting paneer.

5 - Shape the paneer, still in the cheese cloth, into a block, wrapping it tightly with the cloth. By putting a cutting board or something heavy and flat on top of the paneer, you can force out more moisture, and make it into a firmer block, suitable for slicing and frying. To get a more rectangular shape, tie a knot and place the cheese cloth bundle in a box without closing it. Place something heavy like a pile of books or a brick on the cheese cloth to press down and give the cheese the box's shape. The longer you press the cheese, the firmer it gets.

6 - Soak the block of cheese in chilled water for 2-3 hours This is optional, as the intention is to improve appearance and texture.

7 - Use as required in whatever recipe. It keeps about a week in the fridge, by it must be well-covered.

As an added bonus, here's a recipe for Saag Paneer:

Saag Paneer


250 g (1/2 lb. paneer)
500 gm (1 lb.) spinach (fresh or frozen)
2 green chillies
Juice of half a lemon
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chilli powder
Half tsp turmeric powder
Half tsp garam masala
1 medium onion, chopped fine
4 garlic cloves and 1 inch ginger, pureed
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil (sunflower, olive or canola)

Cut the paneer into even, two-centimetre by one-centimetre cubes. Marinate them in the turmeric powder, half the chilli powder and half a teaspoon of salt.

In the meantime, microwave cook the frozen spinach for five minutes until thoroughly defrosted. Or tear fresh spinach into smaller pieces. Add in the green chillies and puree it to a smooth paste with a hand blender.

Now heat the oil in a thick bottomed frying pan over a high flame. When it is hot, fry the paneer pieces until pale brown on two opposite sides. Remove from the oil, draining them carefully.

Now add the onion, garlic and ginger into the same oil and fry until they are a pale toffee brown.
Then add all the spice powders, apart from the garam masala. Stir vigorously for about 10 minutes on a high heat until the pungent, individual smell of the ingredients changes to a more blended aroma.

Now mix in the pureed spinach evenly, adding salt to taste. Lower the flame to a gentle simmer and let the spices work their magic through the spinach for five minutes.

Finally stir in the garam masala, the paneer cubes and the lemon juice. Let the ingredients simmer together for another five minutes and serve hot. As a final tip, this tastes much better if it’s left sitting in the fridge for a couple of hours before being reheated.

And that's it for this edition of "Neat Foods!". As always, any freaky suggestions you have are welcome!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Classic Appetizers


Appetizers, gotta love ‘em! Today I’m looking back at some recipes I consider ‘classics’, things all of us have probably enjoyed at least once!

1) Curry Dip

I’ve made a lot of food in my day and consider myself a pretty good cook, but I am nothing, NOTHING compared to my mom. It’s a bit scary, actually. I still remember last year offering to make dinner for her and my step-dad, and she said “why don’t you let me do it, I’ll make something simple.” Next thing I know, there’s brandied cheese for an appetizer, this honey mustard chicken awesomeness for the main, and CHOCOLATE GOOP for dessert! (‘chocolate goop’ being the household name for this warm chocolate-walnut pudding that is simply he best dessert ever). That’s my mom’s idea of ‘simple’. Not sure what that anecdote is for other than to praise my mom I guess…

One of the first recipes I ever actually put together was my mom’s classic Curry Dip for veggies. Easy and SO TASTY. As a kid I used to eat so much of this I’d get a belly-ache, FROM VEGGIES! What kid does that?!?!?

Here it is:

Curry Dip (for veggies)

Mix the following in a normal-sized soup/cereal bowl:

- 1 cup mayo/Miracle Whip
- 1 tbsp minced/grated/pressed onion
- 1 tbsp prepared horseradish
- 1 tbsp tarragon vinegar
- 1 tbsp curry powder (more or less depending on desired zing)

Serve with cut-up veggies: celery, carrots, peppers, radishes, white mushrooms (my favourite with this dip), cucumber, etc…

2) Chicken Wings

When I was young, my dad wouldn’t have much time to cook (he was a head partner in a law firm, ‘nuff said!). But when he did, look out! His BBQ steak is still one of my favourite all-time feasts (basically a giant slab of meat marinated in Kraft Catalina dressing of all things!). He also made wicked spaghetti and meatballs. One of the things he did that was a little ‘before-its-time’ were his chicken wings. They were served chilled and coated in a kind of subtle teriyaki/soya sauce and not spicy at all. But BOY THEY WERE GOOD!!!

Now, I finally took the plunge and tried my own hand at making chicken wings for a family Xmas dinner a couple of years back. They were a hit! Now, I like my wings spicy, but not stupid ‘suicide’ level spicy (although when I was in university, me and a buddy would often get high as monkeys and see how many suicide wings we could stand eating. Good times…). These are tasty and not too hot, say medium? Feel free to play around!

Nick’s Wings

- 24-36 chicken wings/drums (plain, thawed, skin on)

- ¼ cup chili-garlic sauce
- 1/8 cup BBQ sauce
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1 tbsp finely grated ginger (or ginger powder
- 2 tbsp finely grated garlic (or garlic powder)
- juice from 1 lime
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt

- Mix all ingredients in a bowl and coat chicken with sauce
- Line a large cookie sheet with foil
- Bake wings at 375 F for approx. 30-35 mins., until skins are crispy (or grill at medium-low heat until cooked)

3) Devilled Eggs

I think it’s pretty fair to say we’ve all been to a relative’s party where Devilled Eggs were on the menu. I looked up Wikipedia for some background on this ubiquitous appetizer and apparently they hearken back to Ancient Rome! NEATO!

I found this some years ago in the newspaper, have fun!

Devilled Eggs (24)

12 hard-boiled eggs
½ cup & 2 tbsp mayo
3 tsp dry mustard powder
salt to taste
½ tsp cayenne
1-2 tsp Worcestershire

- cut eggs in half and remove yolk
- arrange egg halves on tray
- mash yolks until smooth
- mix in mayo and whip
- mix in rest of ingredients
- top egg halves with mix
- garnish with:
- smoked salmon and dill
- radish and green onion
- olive, roasted pepper and basil
- capers, red onion and dill

4) Bruschetta

Bruschetta is one heck of a way to use up stale bread and ripe tomatoes. Or at least that’s what it originally was. Bruschetta was once an obscure Italian snack that has become pretty much standard pub fare across North America. I used to make a ton of it when I worked as a prep cook. I updated it a few years ago to use fresh baguette, because, well, YEAH!


- 1 baguette, sliced & toasted
- 6 ripe Roma tomatoes, chopped fine
- 3 tbsp olive oil (or more, depending on desired consistency)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced (more if desired)
- 3-4 tbsp fresh basil, finely minced
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Parmesean cheese, grated

- mix all ingredients except bread and Parmesean in large bowl
- spoon mixture onto bread slices
- top with Parmesean to taste

5) Sweet Potato Fries (sort of)

Alright, more a side than an appetizer. It seems that a lot of restaurants and pubs have learned something I learned ages ago: potatoes, compared to their sweet/yammy counterpart, are kinda boring…

Now, I LOVE sweet potatoes. I make a pretty tasty curry with them (to be posted later) and I love them as hash browns in the morning.

The following is a recipe I tried for a friend’s Xmas party, and it totally works for the gluten free crowd (check your Cajun spice to make sure it’s gluten free):

Cajun Sweet Potato Fingers With Chili Mayo

4 small sweet potatoes, unpeeled
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cajun seasoning


1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp chili-garlic sauce or chili powder
1 tsp grainy or dijon mustard

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut each half lengthwise into 4 fingers. Place in large bowl. Toss with oil and cajun seasoning to coat evenly; transfer to baking sheet. Bake in preheated 400F oven 30 to 45 minutes, turning once, until tender and beginning to brown.

Meanwhile, for chili mayo, in small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, lemon juice, chili-garlic sauce or chili powder and mustard. Serve as dip with potatoes.

Makes 32 fingers.

6) Calamari

You’d think squid wouldn’t be all that delicious, right? WRONG! In Mediterranean cuisine, squid is a cornerstone. My dad once mentioned how, along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, there were little calamari shacks very much in the same vein as chip wagons here. And it was delicious (taking his word for it). Over the years, I’ve seen grilled variations and different cuisines applied (Thai, Indian, etc.). But the standard is basically deep fried in a light flour coating.

Now, as a fry cook in a couple of seafood places for about 4 years, I must have cooked a freaking ton of the stuff! So, using some of my knowhow, I cobbled together this version of deep fried squid rings! You can get them frozen in tube form at the supermarket. Just thaw them out and cut into ½ cm wide rings. You may have to remove the cartilage if there is any.


1 cup squid rings
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
*1 tsp basil (dry)
*1 tsp cayenne
oil for frying

- soak squid in milk for 1 hour
- mix flour and spices
- dredge squid in flour
- deep fry until done (30-40 secs) – you can also float cook in an inch or two of veggie oil, just be careful!
- serve with Tzatziki or cocktail sauce

That’s it for now. More fun to come as I write it!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

More BBQ awesomeness


Hi there!

I really only got into grilling when I moved in with my girlfriend (at-the-time) back in 1999. Before then I didn't have access to my own grill outside work, so it wasn't too often that I'd do it. But, I was trying my best to do more and more of it and get new and interesting recipes.

It wasn't until we got my Dad a new BBQ for Father's Day 2000 that I found my first really mouth-wateringly AWESOME recipe. I don't even know what cookbook it's from, but it's been a favourite amongst myself and my compadres for years. I even made a massive batch (in the rain) for my friends' Richard and Sara's wedding back in November 2001.

What is it, you ask?

Well, without further ado, I give you White Man's Tandoori!

“White Man’s Tandoori” (Marinade for chicken; grilling)

Mix in a large bowl:

- 1 cup yogurt (plain)
- 2-3 tbsp vegetable/olive oil
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp minced ginger (fresh)
- 1 tsp ground coriander (dry)
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp cayenne
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp salt

- mix all ingredients thoroughly in a bowl, ensure spices are well blended into yogurt.
- add chicken to mix and allow to sit for 24 hours in fridge. I recommend using boneless chicken thighs, they're juicier and have more flavour than breasts (also fattier, but I'm not your dietician).

- grill until meat is cooked through.

Although I've never tried it, this could work for lamb, shrimp or fish as well! Not sure if the flavours would compliment beef or pork.

Dammit, now I'm hungry for this! Totally going to make it soon!

Saturday, August 7, 2010


Alright, I’ve been giving you tips on how to make some awesomely scrumptious goodness, notably with the goal of “gettin’ some”. To be honest, I was somewhat inspired to write this blog after reading a book called Cooking to Hook Up, which, while being funny as hell and having some very good meal ideas, presumed that the average guy couldn’t read a recipe and yet would be up for cooking a 3-4 course meal.

I figured that most sexy nights shouldn’t involve massively bloated bellies from a crapton of food. Keep it light, except in the case of rib pig-outs. Ribs are more satisfying than sex anyway…

But some days, you just don’t want to cook! And you might not want to go out to a restaurant for a meal either, but you don’t always have to make everything yourself. Let someone else do the cooking sometimes!

So, with that in mind, I’m going to clue you in on some easy meal shortcuts I find quite helpful, listed by meal.


1 - Croissants – If you’re lucky enough to live in a bigger town/city, you’ll likely have access to a decent bakery somewhere in walking/cycling/bussing distance. Pick up a half dozen of these (or, even better, the chocolate ones!) and she’ll definitely be impressed. Pair with a fancier jam/jelly (gooseberry, blackberry, blueberry, etc.).

In Downtown Ottawa: Bread and Sons on Bank (near Laurier) make delicious croissants, and really good brewed coffee too, if your hands are free enough to carry it! Le Boulanger français/French Baker on Murray St. might have the tastiest croissants in the city, but not sure what their coffee’s like.

2 - Freshly squeezed OJ – fairly self-explanatory. If it’s not a working day, have a bottle of champagne around to make mimosas (basically just half champagne, half OJ). Your super-market or produce store should have some.

In Downtown Ottawa: Boushey’s grocery on Elgin St. always has a wide slection of freshly squeezed juices. Both the Fresh Fruit Company and Byward Fruit Market also sell freshly squeezed juices.

3 - Bagels – Bagel shops aren’t the most common phenomenon, but again, if you’re lucky enough to have one in your home town, take advantage! There really isn’t anything simpler than getting a dozen sesame seed bagels (or whatever kind you most enjoy), a small tub of plain cream cheese, and 200 g or so of nice smoked salmon or trout. Pretty impressive breakfast for minimal work! Heck, if you’re feeling ambitious, top with sliced red onion and capers.

In Downtown Ottawa (sort of): Kettleman’s Bagels on Bank St. across from Lansdowne Park make the city’s best bagels, period. And they offer a wide selection of cream cheeses and smoked fish.


1 – Italian Sandwiches – You’d think a sandwich would not be an impressive meal, but something about what the Italian grocers/delis do with meat and bread is so damn tasty it’s impossible to resist. Maybe it’s the pickled eggplant? Take the time to get to know the Italian section of your city, if there is one, and find out who makes the best sandwiches. You’ll score almost as many points as your would with the gourmet pork tenderloin dealie.

In Downtown Ottawa: Nicastro’s on the Market is where I first discovered the ‘two-day’ sandwich (I could only eat one half per meal). If you can get it on their whole wheat foccacia, you’re golden. DiRienzo’s, on the fringes of Little Italy (111 Beech Street), makes the toppings combos more specific, but maybe they use better ingredients? I’ve only been there once, so I’m biased in favour of the shop that fed me for many years while I worked on the Market.

2 – The Quicknic – The quick and easy picnic. Step 1: slice a baguette in half, Step 2: add your favourite cheese, Step 3: buy one of those whole roast chickens from the super-market and remove all the meat and add to baguette, Step 4: add whatever else you like to put on a sandwich, Step 5: pack a bottle of wine, Step 6: buy some sort of resilient pastry that can travel from wherever home is to a park/arboretum/etc. A bunch of grapes can’t hurt either. Step 7: have an awesome picnic!


1 – Pie for Dinner! – Alright, while tourtière might be strictly a Canadian delicacy, there are many variations on the same theme of savoury pies: chicken pie, salmon pie, so on and so forth… I’ve seen butchers, bakers and catering shops all sell savoury pies for something like 10-12 bucks a pie. Do yourself a favour and try one out some day. I’ll always be a sucker for tourtière, but I’m half French-Canadian so I was raised on the stuff.

In Downtown Ottawa: I used to partake of the tourtière from Lauzon Meats on Cumberland and St. Andrew all the time, but Saslove’s and Aubrey’s in the Market proper also sell them and other kinds. Also, the Red Apron on Gladstone at Percy sells savoury pies and other pre-fab dinners. No idea what they’re like though…

2 – Bag o’ Salad – I’ll give the folks at Dole credit, they make pretty tasty salads from a bag. They have numerous kinds: Southwest (tastes like taco salad, just add precooked ground beef or steak for a carnivorous meal), Asian Island Crunch (it has pineapple, oooh! The dressing kinda tastes like the kind you get at Japanese restaurants – toss cooked chicken or fish on top). There are many other kinds, but try either of those out. See your local supermarket. There are other salad makers out there as well, but this should get you started.

3 – Frozen Pizza – Screw it, it ain’t gourmet, but if your date is a casual “movie watching in your PJs” kinda night, a frozen pizza is EXACTLY what the doctor ordered. Well, that or delivery…

In Ottawa: Alright, I’m cheating on a post about cheating, sue me! Best pizza places in Ottawa (for delivery): Gabriel’s, Season’s, Calabria. Call Pizza Pizza if you’re into that whole cardboard thing… *shudder*.

Anyhoo, that’s it for cheating. Fall’s approaching, time to start thinking about batch cooking! Chili anyone? ‘Til next time!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cooking while camping

I love camping even if I do far too little of it. It's an excuse to get away from all those city-driven stressors and spend a few days completely focused on the arts of fire-building, beer-drinking, storytelling and, maybe, lazy paddling.

Now, I've never been 'middle-of-nowhere, armpit-of-the-country" camping, so for the purposes of making this post easier to understand, I'm dealing with the kind of camping where you park your car on or near the site and don't have to spend 20 hours portaging to get there.

One of the great challenges I've enjoyed over the years is trying to make tasty, nigh-gourmet meals in the camping environment. With enough cheating, anyone can pull it off in the most hostile environments. Heck, I've been to Burning Man a couple of times where the only food available is that which you bring in yourself, and a group of fisherman from San Fran trucked in freah tuna every day. In the middle of the desert, with no civilization for miles around, we were feasting on freakin' sashimi! All that to say is that with the right means of transportation and enough willpower, you can make as gourmet a spread as you want just about anywhere!

But, since this is about how to make it easy, let's start with a few tools that will make it possible to cook more than hotdogs on sticks while camping.

Here's my list of basic camping dishes (for 2 people)

- cutlery for 2 (fork, knife, spoon)
- 2 bowls (I use melamine, which is a super durable kind of plastic, but dishes also come in enamelled metal, although I find they chip and rust too easily)
- 2 plates (also melamine)
- metal or plastic coffee cups (if you're coffee drinker)
- chef's knife (store securely to avoid cutting one's self, I usually fashion a sleeve out of boxboard)
- cutting board
- large cooler (to store all those goodies) and multiple ice packs
- large frying pan - cast iron is ideal since it can go on a fire, but there are ways around that
- medium pot/saucepan with handle
- tongs and spatula (I suggest getting longer tongs that you can use in the fire too)
- grill basket (good for cooking
- heavy duty oven mitts or work gloves (for handling items hot out of the fire)

Now, every good camper needs to have a camping stove. Yes, there's that lovely campfire that makes all food eight zillion times better, but it's a bit of a pain for boiling water, and it takes a bit of time to get a fire cook-worthy. I'm not going to get into the intricacies of lighting a good campfire, mostly since that's not my forté.

So, get yourself a camping stove! I'm a big fan of the butane burners/stoves. Here's an example of one. There are also propane stoves out there. Go to a local hardware or camping supply store (or Wal-Mart, if you have no soul) and pick up some sort of source of flame independent of a campfire. You'll be glad you did.

Also, just in case you don't have access to a picnic table or whatnot, I suggest bringing some sort of portable folding table on which to prep and place the stove, etc. A card table works well.

So, now that you have the equipment, what you eat is up to you! But here are a few suggestions:

1) Whiskey Steak: If you refer to my April 30 post, you'll find the recipe for the marinade. The day before you want to eat the meat, mix ingredients in a large ziploc and keep in a cooler well-stocked with ice or icepack. Let marinate for a day or so and cook on the fire. Remember to discard the marinade, DON'T pour extra marinade on the meat. It might be full of nasty bacteria, especially when kept in a cooler.

2) Shrimp and veggies: Using the grill basket, cook together a bunch of peeled shrimp and cut veggies, pretty much the same as described in my April 30 post (Ok, I admit it, there isn't much difference from cooking on the grill and cooking on a campfire).

3) Fire-kissed lobster: Buy frozen whole lobsters, crack all shells (use a nutcracker-type dealie, or prertty much anything!), extract all meat from bodies, discard carcasses in the fire (as to keep the gourmet bears away!). Using grill basket or skewers, heat meat over fire until hot (but not charred), serve with LOTS of garlic butter (Gay Lea makes a good pre-made garlic butter).

4) Bacon Wrapped Peaches: see June 5 post. In this case, the grill basket is invaluable. Place the peaches in the basket over the fire.

5) Homemade Sausage Patties

I got this recipe from the LCBO's Food & Drink magazine 4 years back and brought them camping with some friends and they were AWESOME! Just grill them over the fire using the grill basket or whatnot, or fry them up as indicated in the recipe. What I did was make the patties the day before we went camping, put them in a tupperware, then cooked them up for breakfast. When they're ready, put them on paper towel to soak up excess grease. If going over the fire, that step probably won't be necessary.

Maple Pork Sausage Patties

NOTE: Covered patties keep well in the refrigerator for up to a day. Patties can be frozen on a wax-paper-lined baking sheet; then peeled off and transferred to a plastic bag. Defrost when needed and sauté as in recipe.


1 shallot (or half a small onion)

1 tbsp (15 mL) butter

1 lb(500 g) lean ground pork

2 tbsp (25 mL) dry white wine

1 tbsp (15 mL) maple syrup

¾ tsp (4 mL) salt

½ tsp (2 mL) dried sage leaf, finely crumbled

½ tsp (2 mL) coarsely ground black pepper

2 tbsp (25 mL) finely chopped fresh parsley

1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 25 mL) canola or peanut oil


1. Peel and finely chop shallot. Heat butter in a small frying pan over medium heat until bubbly; add shallot. Sauté for 1 to 2 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat; cool.

2. Stir pork with white wine, syrup, salt, sage, pepper, parsley and shallot mixture; mix well with a large wooden spoon. Line a flat baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Divide pork mixture into 8 portions; shape into patties about ½-inch (1-cm) thick. Cover and chill for several hours.

3. Heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Without crowding pan, sauté patties in batches, turning occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until browned and crispy. Add more oil as needed.

Serves 6 to 8

So, there are some ideas beyond the traditional hot dogs and marshmallows. I hope you enjoy them! Remember, feel free to ask me any questions or point out if I've missed anything.