Yummy Bits

My mother always said, everything in moderation.  Of late, I’m trying to reduce the amount of meat we are eating in favour of vegetables.

I’ve gotten in the habit now of roasting a chicken with onions, carrots and other veggies, but only at holidays do I use the same pan to make gravy from drippings.  Most people throw away whatever is left over in their skillet or roasting pan, but this stuff is one of the most under utilized meat seasonings and what I call yummy bits.

From a Roast Chicken, bits of yummy poultry and veggies make a great starter for other dishes.

Not much to look at, this mismash is a gold mine of flavour.

I’m already working towards healthier eating by using Maple Leaf Natural Selections bacon and this bacon, egg fiasco only happens once every couple of weeks.  All the grease goes into a waxed food container and then into the freezer.  I’ll use a small amount in dishes like fried breakfast potatoes or with ground beef to make a smoky spicy chili.  Even a poor man’s Cassoulet can be enhanced by using bacon fat with haricot beans, garlic, herbs, cloves, tomatoes and tomato puree. I admit that using bacon yummy bits in these recipes is a pathetic way of doing a non-vegetarian vegetarian meals, but it works for me.  Using yummy bits also usually means I’ve got enough flavour umph and add no extra salt.

After roasting a chicken, I remove the it and the veggies to a platter.  The pan goes into the fridge to let the fat solidify on the top.  Once solid, the fat is scraped into the composting bucket and the yummy bits go into the fridge or freezer.

This mix of fat, spices, carrots, onions, Brussels sprouts, etc and chicken makes a great starter for soup with vegetarian broth and fine noodles or a risotto with white wine.  You get all the meat flavour without the extra meat.  Now I just have to figure out a recipe for yummy bits with tofu!

Healthy Savory Fish Tacos

I’m terrible at reading and writing recipes, which is probably why I cannot bake or, as a matter of fact, doing anything with flour ~ except paper maché.  I’ll cook an entire turkey dinner and get my sister Alex to make the gravy.

This is a recipe for people who like to wing it.   *Spoiler Alert:  It’s messy to eat*  It will serve approximately a family of three and is perfect for your vegetarians friends who are also gluten* free.  If you want to extend the rations, serve sides like dirty rice or black bean dishes, nacho chips, sliced avocado or guacamole.

Healthy Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos on Lettuce with rice and sliced avocado.

Trio of Peppers – yellow, orange and red and one medium Sweet or Vidalia onion – chop and saute in oil, first with the onions and then the peppers then shredded white or red cabbage.  I like my veggies a little firmer, but Rick likes them very tender, so how far you saute them is up to you. Generous dose of chili flakes, a touch of ground cumin and salt, add juice of one half lime.

We have a friend, born in Jamaica, who works at a local spice company and who grows his own hot peppers.  He only metes them out one at a time, so we save them for delicate fish dishes that require not just heat, but flavour.  I add just a minced sliver and it is enough.

IMG_4599

Peppers, Onions and Cabbage

Cod Fillets – one medium tail fillet per person, sprinkle with ground chili powder, add whole fillet to oiled pan or butter if it suits you and cook till tender and hot.

IMG_4598

Fish Fillets

IMG_4600

My husband snuck in butter, bad boy.

Pan frying in butter on high heat on a gas stove carcinogens are no different than those from the BBQ, but baking or poaching your fish may be just as satisfactory for this dish and is healthier.  You know yourself and your body, right?  

Wash and dry romaine lettuce leaves, two for the light eaters, four for the hockey players.

This casual dinner is best served right from the stove.  Each diner can use the egg lifter to chop the amount of fish for each taco and put onto each lettuce rib, top with veggies.  It’s always fun to put out a selection of hot sauces and salsa because some people just want to sweat.

Serve with accompaniments, for me a glass of organic Bonterra Chardonnay and for Rick, a cold German Bitberger or Grolsh.

*I have celiac and grind most of my own spices including chili powder.  Some people are really sensitive to gluten, so let them know if you are using store bought ground spices and I am sure they will understand and act accordingly.

Chocolate … ‘nuf said.

It’s no news that chocolate makes you happy and dark chocolate savored slowly after a meal can actually help you maintain a healthy body weight, but what constitutes “good” chocolate?  My palate has definitely changed over time.  I remember Easter chocolate as a child, followed by candy bars after high school that had better chocolate than they do today.  I remember my mother’s love of digging into that box of Quality Street.  I remember tasting wine with Chocolatier Bernard Callebaut and naming my dog after him, so much did I loVe his champagne truffles.  It’s been years since I found a new fix of this dark beauty.

For me it’s now the darkest chocolate that softens in my mouth just at the right time.  Not too quickly because I’ll just reach for another piece.  Not to slowly, because I’ll get impatient and bite it … and again, I’ll reach for another piece.

For the first time, at my local grocer Battaglia’s, I bought a four dollar bar of Donini Chocolate and for a change I got the Dark Couverture Chocolate with Cranberries.  While I understand couverture is chocolate made with extra cocoa butter to give a high gloss and used for covering sweets and cakes, I wanted it for after dinner.

I was not disappointed.  The lovely snap of breaking off the piece, the tiniest slap of cranberry contrasted by a slow mellow melt of sweet and smoky yummy-ness.

If you love chocolate and to shop local, Belleville, Ontario’s Donini Chocolate is waiting for you.

 

A European Traveling Adventure with my Teen Boys

I’ve done several trips with just one child sans husband and they were all memorable.  The first was with my son to Bermuda.  We were a walk from the beach with lots of restaurants and at age eight he was surprisingly not bored once.  The second was with my daughter also at age eight to B.C.  Another beach and more good food.  We were joined at the hip for tandem biking in Stanley Park, singing lustily on the drive from Nanimo and kayaking in Tofino.

For my son’s 16th birthday I invited his best friend, also turning 16, and we experienced the Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam, and Paris and Biarritz, France.

Some people like to tour on buses or boats, some like to create their own schedule, some like to wing it – I like to find small personal operators and “experience” somewhere in between.  For the French part of this trip I hired Evelyne Dufau, a neighbour of mine from Toronto.  She owns and operates Expérience Authentique

After two consultations, Evelyne designed an experience to please both myself and the two boys in France by connecting unique accommodations, transportation, food, shopping, outdoor activities, French language and art. Here were some of the highlights from this memorable 2006 trip.

We took the train from Amsterdam to Paris and a taxi to The Marais section, one of Paris’ oldest and most visually stunning areas with it’s narrow cobblestone streets and gorgeous French men.  There we stayed at the Hotel de la Bretonnerie which is gently loved, well priced, quaint and wonderfully located.

The Marais reminds me of SoHo with lots of dining along narrow streets, very different than the wide avenues of central Paris.

The Marais reminds me of SoHo with lots of dining along narrow streets, very different than the wide avenues of central Paris.

Of course, immediately after I paid for dinner on our first night, the boys ditched me.  I reassured myself that with the hotel’s card in hand, a map, their rudimentary French and charming smiles, they could find their way back and they did.  The boys breathless arrival was accompanied by a story about their walking into a “sports” bar and finding it entirely male.  They weren’t sure why everyone was staring at them or why they were having such bad luck finding any teenage girls.  I had not bothered to mention that the area in which we stayed was the “gay/hip” area of Paris, but it appears that they found out.

While they had their own Paris adventure, I stumbled across a film festival within five blocks and enjoyed an evening of free short films on a balmy Paris night.   It was no matter that my French is pretty pathetic, the films were all subtitled.

Stumbled across this free event complete with deck chairs and emcee Charlotte Rampling

Stumbled across this free event complete with deck chairs and emcee Charlotte Rampling

Our visit to Paris was brief and beautiful, including my bribes to visit the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay in exchange for surfing lessons later on in Biarritz.  Like the trip to Amsterdam, we mixed equal parts of Anne Frank House and Dine with Dutch with Coffee Shops, the Cannabis Collage and a graffiti walkabout.  It all worked to expand all our Cultural minds.

These Canadian boys were a fascinated and a little freaked out by the gendarmerie who were smiling broadly while carrying automatic weapons.

These Canadian boys were a fascinated and a little freaked out by the gendarmerie who were smiling broadly while carrying automatic weapons.

My triumph was seeing a brief look of awe with the sheer scale of this painting.

Triumph was seeing mouths agape and a brief look of awe with the sheer scale of this painting.

Instead of climbing the tower, we decided to sit and watch the tourists and mess with the gypsies who tried to mess with us.

Instead of climbing the tower, we decided to sit and watch the tourists and mess with the gypsies who tried to mess with us.

We had been advised about the swarming rampant at tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur [Sacred Heart Church].  It’s so easy to let fear itself be the thing that ruins your travel experiences.  I’ve done that to myself in the past and found the best antidote is be prepared and use humour whenever possible.  I discussed this with both boys and we managed to sidestep the bracelet-making circus at the Sacré Coeur, but under the Eiffel Tower my son was approached by a group of women who proceeded directly with their scam.  My son, ever the polite Canadian, decided instead to mischievously pretend he was psycho and began gibbering and laughing maniacally.  The women were shocked and unsure of what to do.  As they backed off, my son trailed them and I, with ice cream cone in hand, watched from a nearby bench with some concern.  At the point where I was sure the husbands or a Gendarme would appear – it was over.

Traveling with teens can be as challenging as living with them.  They are not yet adults and clearly too big to put in a time out.  2006 was before the day when every child had a cell phone and I was glad as it forced me to do things differently.

First I had to trust that they were able to make good decisions and second they had to agree to make them.  I worried, but the entire point was that I wanted them to have the experiences.  To see that there was a different world out there that they could navigate and to plant the seed about equal parts of curiosity and responsibility being the best part of being human.

Surfing

The people in Biarritz reminded me of Canadians. It was cool and windy, but everyone was out in their bathing suits.

In Biarritz, Evelyne had booked us into another spectacular place overlooking the ocean, which included breakfast on the terrace, in Villa le Goeland.  We walked everywhere including to the beach where she had arranged surfing lessons for Colin and Mike.  While the boys surfed I managed to get in some shopping, mostly table and bed linens which my sisters and I are addicted to.

The staff and the surf kept the boys engaged physically and mentally and they dropped into bed contentedly having only grumbled once.  Apparently the gaggles of French teenage girls disappeared at night and the only people they ran into were the gendarmerie who teased them about Canadians lax laws concerning pot smoking.   What?

Evelyne’s specialty is South West France, particularly the Basque Regions that straddle France and Spain.  My sweet sixteen year old boys were excited about what I told them would be bar hopping, but they were in for a cultural surprise.  Our driver regaled us with stories of the Basque people and history [comparing it to Quebec] and we soon arrived to the beautiful City of San Sebastian.  We parked in the port section, cleverly not dominated by condos and whose medieval architecture was home to a large number of bars in close quarters serving beer, pintxos or pinchos and tapas.

Having ordered a selection of small plates of hot and cold food to share, the beer arrived and eyeing it my son whispered that they were ripping us off because the glass was just one third full.  Our guide laughed and said yes, but since we had four more bars to go there was no use filling up in one place.  Pace yourself he said, enjoy the food, the beer and the company.

 

I can't say enough about how adventurous the boys were about eating.

I can’t say enough about how adventurous the boys were about eating.

If you didn’t already guess, food is really important to me as a travel feature, heck as an everything feature.  On the last night  in Biarritz, however, the boys were ready for some comfort food and ordered fresh shrimp, “French” fries and Coca-Cola – I could not believe at last that the novelty of ordering wine or beer had worn off.  The night’s finale was a fisherman beside the roadside restaurant who swung his catch, a wiggling squid, around the crowd, the screaming girls, and the catch discharged to be someone’s calamari.  Welcome to France!

Bison Chili Wine Pairing

I asked Georgia and Susanne, aka The Wine Ladies, for a pairing for Bison Chili where I was using the hot, citrusy, smoky and nutty flavours of dried Pequin Peppers and Cumin.  The Wine Ladies emphatically stated power with power and spice with spice, then recommended Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Carménère or a Malbec.  My dear husband, Rick, won’t buy French wines saying that they just send their swill to Canada, so I headed for an Argentinian wine to try.

According to Wine Folly because Malbec doesn’t have a super long finish, it’s a good choice for meats with less fat like Bison.  It also works well with “funky flavors like blue cheese and rustic flavors like mushrooms and Cumin”, which is exactly the spice in my chili.

BacoNoir

LCBO directed me to the Argentina section for a large selection of Malbec wines.  I don’t know one vintner from another, which is why we need people like the Wine Ladies, so I choose a couple of bottles by a tried and true method … a pretty label.   Trapiche Broquel Malbec 2011 and Norton Reserva Malbec  2010 were selected.

There is so little time and so much damn wine, but I really need to visit the Ontario wine trail just like we did in Sonoma.  Visiting wineries, especially the small ones, does two things.  Most obviously you get to taste wine, but what I love is learning about the vintner and picking their brains.   What grapes they are using, what they are trying to accomplish and what food comes to mind when they are designing their wines.

I won’t buy Canadian wines without having tasted them or by a recommendation from a foodie like me.   I was delighted when an unexpected recommendation of Henry of Pelham’s Baco Noir, as being a “lush red, best served with food”, was dropped by a Twitter acquaintance Shelley Nelson.

I opened the Norton and the Henry Pelham and gave for a blind taste test with dear hubby.  Rick confirmed the smooth short finish on them both, saying that the Norton was a little fuller, while I commented on the lovely bouquet on the Pelham.  With no clear preference, but being patriotic, we opted to serve the Ontario wine with the Bison chili and sadly both are all gone.

Savory Summer Salad

After a long winter of imported vegetables we are starting to see local produce arrive in our supermarkets.  My daily go-to is an independent grocer called Battaglia’s.  It’s one of those rare grocers that still sits in the middle of a neighbourhood, this one Lorne Park in South Mississauga.   I also shop at Loblaw’s and Metro as well as Organic Planet, Elmwood Butchers, Just Steak and Auld Doug & Son Butchers on Clarkson Road.  Each have their forte and work hard for my business.

Battaglia’s has everything you need from fresh organic to ready-made, but the two reasons I go are the staff [where everybody know your name] and their sense of adventure which is as large as mine.  It’s guaranteed that every time I go in there will be some new, a BBQ sauce or a homemade frozen pasta entree that is just begging to be tried.

This week tasting adventure was offered in-store by Dolores of The Olivar Corp. who is passionate about health, whole food and it’s taste.  I left purchasing their San Carlos Transparent Balsamic Vinegar and the Oro San Carlos Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Spain.

Except for the olives in my martini’s, I must say that I know little about them, their production, harvesting and varietals.  Most of the olive oils I use are for cooking with as the health benefits are well documented.

With some fresh hot house tomatoes and basil, I wanted the dressing to be cleaner – to have the flavours compliment, not mask each other in taste and colour.

The delicate flavour of the oil and the transparency of the vinegar were a perfect match for this salad.  I sliced the tomatoes, which should always be at room temperature, and ripped the basil over top.  The oil and vinegar can be mixed in proporations to suit your taste.  The amount you add to the salad is also subjective.  Rick, my husband, for example likes more dressing on his salad than I do.

I had a hankering for something salty and savoury on the side, this time adding goat cheese.  My favourite currently is the award winning Le Cendrillo from Québec’s Alexis de Portneuf.  It’s a vegetable ash-covered cheese with a fairly strong taste.

This salad turned out amazing and I can’t wait to make it again.

Savory Summer Sautéed Scallops

I love scallops, but this is not something I normally have the courage to season or cook.  Scallops are so delicate in more than just flavour and texture.  Like everything I eat, I like to know where it comes from and how it is raised and harvested.  Finding information on scallops proved very difficult, except that the requisite problems exist like over-fishing and degradation to environment such as with fuel and pesticide run off.  Even elimination of sharks impacts as apparently they are the main predator of the Ray whose primary source of food is Scallops.

Sea scallops are on Greenpeace’s Redlist, which states that dredging nets create a lot of problems for the sea bed and other species.  According to them, Sea Scallops are harvested in the Atlantic ocean from the northern shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland to the U.S. coast of North Carolina.  I’ve never seen a Canadian scallop frozen or otherwise.

I haven’t been buying scallops or shrimp of late because it all appears to come from China.  As a rule of thumb, I never buy food that has to come from China to hit my plate which includes things like seafood and garlic.  Yesterday I spotted Toppit’s Frozen Scallops from the USA on special at my favourite Metro Supermarket.  I’m not sure if USA means the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico and this is kind of strange since Metro’s fish counter is all about traceability.  I guess what I’m flip-flopping around on here is: do your homework and make an informed choice.  Teach your kids that food goes beyond the styrofoam tray.  Anyway …

I bought the scallops as a side dish to our rib steaks.   Since they were frozen, I let them thaw slowly overnight in the fridge.  Scallops have similar sizing to shrimps in the smaller the number the larger the piece.  These were 10/15 which means they were a good size for pan searing, but practically there were about eight in the package.  Rick used 1/3 fresh squeezed lime juice, four cloves of garlic and gluten free soy sauce as a marinade.   Timing was the hard part since scallops only need a couple of minutes on each side to cook and they cool quickly.

 

Therefore, the asparagus was still hot in the foil pouch, the steaks were cooked and resting on a plate and the corn went into the pot just as Rick heated our Komin cast iron pan.  This is something most people forget when cooking with good pans.  You’ve got to heat the pan before you add any oils.

When the pan was hot, but not smoking, Rick browned the butter and then added the scallops.

They were perfectly cooked and very tasty.   In spite of his humour, and withholding important BBQ tips, Rick and the Komin pan are keepers 😉