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Blueberry Tart

I had a dream the other night about eating blueberry tarts, so I was on a mission when I woke up to gather the ingredients to bake this:

For the tart shell, I used David Lebovitz’ somewhat shocking French Tart pastry method that used boiling hot fat! (It’s shocking because usually for tart pastry fat must be super cold, in fact it’s usually a cardinal sin to use even room temperature fat!)  Anyway, the pastry turned out very well!  (Just a note, I just used an extra couple tablespoons of butter rather than the vegetable oil used in the recipe link above).


  • 2 pints (about 4-5 cups) fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup or more sugar, to taste (depending on how tart/sweet the blueberries are)
  • 1 pack gelatine

In a pot, simmer half the blueberries, the water & sugar over low heat for 30 to 45 mins, until the blueberries have popped and the mixture resembles a thin purple soup.  Remove from heat.  Stir in the gelatine and the rest of the blueberries and leave to cool for at least 30 mins (not in the fridge – you don’t want the gelatine to set too quickly).  By this point, hopefully you’ve baked the tart shell above and it has cooled a bit.  Pour the blueberry mixture into the tart shell and place in the fridge to set over night. Enjoy!

BBQ Pizza with Friends

The key to great pizza is a great pizza dough.  I use the recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice book, which must be made the day before and refrigerated  overnight (although it can also be frozen, after refrigeration overnight.  The consistency of the dough changes quite a bit after freezing and defrosting – it’s more gooey, less elasticy – but it still turns out really well when baked.)  Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks.com has reposted Peter Reinhart’s recipe here.

Another tip: I prefer to use polenta flour for dusting, which is just finely ground cornmeal.  I find that regular cornmeal is too course, and semolina is too fine. Polenta is just right!

The rest is all about being creative!   I highly recommend using a pizza stone to get a good crispy pizza bottom, and if you’ve got a charcoal BBQ that can reach temperatures of 650F or above, BBQing is the way to go!

(South-East Asian-inspired) Water Buffalo Burgers – Welcome to BBQ Season 2012!

I recently bought a pound of ground water buffalo from the Healthy Butcher.  I’m pretty sure I’ve never tasted water buffalo before, but thanks to the internet, I learned that wild water buffalo were originally native to South-east Asia.  So I created an unbelievably tasty South-East Asian-inspired burger.  The flavours here might sound a bit odd, but the burgers were sooo good.  And now that it is officially BBQ season, I will definitely be making them again soon!

Mix together:

  • 1lb ground water buffalo
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 3 tbspn fish sauce
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tbspn minced fresh or frozen thai basil
  • 1 tbspn sugar

Divide into 4 burgers & grill.

Top with:

  • sliced Ementhal
  • sliced tomatos
  • steamed baby bok choy
  • liberal drizzling of hoisin sauce

Serve on big crusty buns!

Poor Man’s Cassoulet (or the best Pork ‘n Beans you’ll ever try!)

Cassoulet is baked beans died and gone to heaven. But big hunks of duck confit and goose or rabbit being usually beyond the weekly grocery budget, I made this compromise dish to dress up a classic pork ‘n beans recipe with a ducky, savoury, sausagy twist.

The meat here is sausage and side pork. I may have called it Poor Man’s Cassoulet, but good quality sausage is key! Here I used a mix of knackwurst and honey-garlic sausages from Atwater market’s sausage mecca, the Boucherie de Tours. Yum!

For those unfamiliar with side pork you may be tempted to substitute bacon. Don’t do it. What makes a little cube of pig fat so much better than a flat little square? I don’t know, but there is a distinct “before” and “after” in life when you try that melt-in-your mouth crispy-tender pork piece the very first time.

I use cannellini (white kidney) beans, which I find have more flavour and than navy or great northern beans, but either of those could substitute, although the cooking times would be completely different. Cannellini beans are relatively big beans, hence the pre-cooking step.

With a pressure cooker, this dish only takes up to 2.5 hours from start to finish. Totally doable even on a weeknight (although the resulting fats and starch inspired pleasure-coma should be allowed to run its full and languorous course..)

What you need (makes 4 hearty servings)

1 3/4 cups dried cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed
2 big weiner-type sausages like knackwurst
2 big non-weiner type sausages (honey-garlic is really good)
200 g of side pork
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsps duck fat
2 tbsp tomato paste
few dashes worchestershire sauce
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp strong Dijon mustard
1 tsp pepper
a bit of fresh/dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1/2 cube good quality beef stock
salt to taste (probably won’t need any because of the beef stock)

To pre-cook the beans in the pressure cooker: Don’t pre-soak them. Just rinse them and throw them in the pressure cooker with plenty of water and cook on high pressure for 7-8 min (counting from when the pot reaches pressure). Remove from heat and let pressure come down on its own. Do not overcook – you want the beans to finish cooking in the pot so they soak up the liquids and flavours of the dish. So at this point, you should be able to bite through the bean without problem but it should still be hard. Drain the beans but keep the water.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a big pot with a bit of duck fat. The sausage should be about half cooked through. Remove.

For the pork, I like to leave a few larger chunks and dice up the rest. If eating a slab of pork fat is something that disturbs you, dicing it up small will help disguise it amongst all those nutritious beans! Brown the pork in the same pot with a bit of duck fat. Remove.

Add the rest of the duck fat to the pot and fry the onions and garlic well.

Stir in the tomato paste, worchestershire sauce, brown sugar, mustard, maple syrup, thyme, pepper and bay leaves. Add the beans and the pork (not the sausage). Then add a couple cups of the reserved water (the water from the beans) and the beef stock. Bring the pot to simmer on the stove then cover tightly and put in the oven at 350 degrees.

Bake for 1 ½ to 2 hours (may be longer/shorter depending on how pre-cooked the beans got). An hour before it’s done, cut up the sausage into big chunks and mix in. During cooking, add more bean water if it starts getting dry. Before serving, maybe mix in a bit more bean water to achieve the desired level of sauciness.

Mmmmmm.. amazing. If beans weren’t usually fairly low on the list of appropriate dinner-party fare, I would make this for everyone who comes over. Perfect for a cold winter evening..

Porchetta #1: Tarragon, pine-nut, stuffed

I’m numbering this, because this was the first, but definitely not the last version of slow cooked stuffed porchetta! And this was an excellent first draft, but the possibilities are endless…

On a weekend away up north with friends, Leo and I just kind of threw this porchetta together.  No, really. Ok, so there was a little planning on my part in terms of gathering fresh ingredients, but it did all come together rather spontaneously!

We loosely based this on the “Gennaro’s Stuffed Porchetta” videos featured on Jamie Oliver’s website (three parts in total).  The videos are worth watching if only for “Gennaro’s” unbelievably bizarre, must-be-heard Italian/Cockney-English accent thang.  Really.  Never heard anything like it!

So, quality ingredients here are key.  The concept is a stuffed porchetta slow-roast, complete with a crackling outer layer.  The pork I used is from a lovely Tamworth heritage breed pig, from Perth Pork Products - really can’t say enough great things about these folks: they raise happy, fatty pigs which equals amazing pork!  For this, I used a ham roast (not smoked, obviously) which I sliced open down the centre so I could stuff it.  I also cut the skin and a good 1/2 inch of fat off the one side and used another piece of skin & fat reserved from a different roast from the same pig, to complete both sides of  crackling.  And herbs and spices are up to you!  I love tarragon, but I know that this is an herb that is not for everyone, so feel free to substitute fresh rosemary, mint, sage, or whatever you like!

Here’s what you need:

  • Roughly 4lb super good quality pork roast – shoulder, ham, butt, or whatever you’ve got, as long as it’s from a happy fatty piggy
  • two good pieces of skin and fat, in size roughly the  breadth by the width of the pork roast  (one for the top, one for the bottom)
  • 8 big carrots
  • sea salt  & freshly ground black pepper
  • few feet of natural fibre roasting twine

For the stuffing:

  • pint of  high quality pine nuts
  • good big handful of fresh tarragon leaves (no stems)
  • 2 medium yellow/cooking onions, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups good quality off-dry white wine, such as a riesling or gewürztraminer
  • sea salt
  • 2 tbspn honey
  • 2 tbspn dijon mustard

Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and layer them in a grid on the bottom of medium sized deep casserole dish (the carrots are effectively the roasting rack, except this way you get ‘carrot-confit’ in the end too, as the roast, well, roasts,  the drippings swell around the carrots and imbue them with much chop-smacking lusciousness).

For the crackling: Lay out both pieces of fat skin, skin side down.  Pat dry with paper towels. Slice diamonds all the way through the fat, but careful not to cut the skin. Liberally sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper & work into the diamond cuts.

For the stuffing: In a large dry pan on the stove top, toast pine nuts.  Remove and reserve once browned. Over low heat, add a few tbspns olive  oil to the pan and sauté diced onions & garlic.  Once the onions are clear-ish, add the wine, tarragon leaves, mustard, honey and pine nuts.  Simmer over low heat until almost all the wine has been absorbed, & season with sea salt.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Preheat oven to 275F.

Assembly:  Lay out two lengths of twine on a cutting board, a few inches apart.  On top, lay one of the pieces of diamond cut fat/skin, fat side down.  Next position the porchetta and open half to receive the stuffing.  Pile the majority of the cooled stuffing (reserve a few tbspns) into the middle of the roast and then close the roast. Top with the remaining stuffing, and then the other piece of diamond-cut fat/skin, fat side facing upwards.  Grab the ends of the twine and do your best to lace up the roast retaining most of the stuffing.  Position the stuffed roast on top of the carrots in a deep roasting dish.

I’m pretty sure we roasted at 275F for 6 hours.

Holy crap, that top crackling was crazy-spectacular!  But, to tell the truth, the roast was actually a bit overdone.  We didn’t have a meat thermometer, and we went off hiking while it was roasting, to attempt to get into a bit of a calorie deficit.  That said, I think there is one fundamental thing I would do differently next time: I might forgo the bottom fat/crackling and double-up the top fat/skin instead – one with fat side out for crackling, one with fat side facing in, to keep the roast a little more “moist.”  (I always loved that term, “moist.” A lovely, understated, elegant way to imply “soaked in fat.”)

Stay tuned for the next version!

Maple Bacon Baked Beans

Leo and I had some pretty amazing baked beans for brunch last Sunday at Marben. They were the inspiration for this slow-cooker version.

  • 1 lb navy beans or other white beans
  • 2 strips (approx. 1/2 lb) super thick cut bacon (ends), cut into 1/2″ strips
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • can diced tomatoes, drained with 1/2 cup liquid reserved
  • 1/2 cup organic molasses
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar (or substitute maple syrup)
  • 1/2 cup beer (I used a lager, but you could use an ale or stout)
  • 3 tbspns white wine dijon mustard (or regular dijon)
  • 2 cups hot (not boiling) water

Rinse beans thoroughly and then soak them for 4 hours in fresh water, ideally the water should be changed every hour.  Then drain thoroughly.

In a saucepan combine 1/2 cup tomato juice, molasses, maple sugar, beer, mustard and water. Stir to mix – doesn’t matter if some chunks remain, they’ll come out when the mixture is slow cooked.

On the bottom of a slow cooker/crock-pot layer 1/2 of the  bacon chunks (use the fattiest ones), followed by 1/2 of the soaked beans, then the onion, followed by the remaining beans and bacon.  Top with 1/2 cup drained diced tomato.  Pour the maple-mollases mixture evenly over the beans.

Cook on low for 8 hours.  Let cool and then transfer to a glass tupperware and refrigerate over night – these beans are best served for breakfast the next day… in fact, the more times they are reheated, the better they get!

Day of the Rabbit – Nose to tail in 5 dishes

Leo and I picked up a nice fresh 3.5lb Rabbit yesterday at St. Lawrence Market, so my project for today was to use every last scrap of it that I could.   I’m happy to report that the only bits that went in the green bin were the brain (just not ready to deal with that one), the lungs (I cooked them for Koda and he didn’t want to eat them… if it’s not good enough for a dog, it’s not good enough for me – totally justifiable green bin toss!), and of course the bones, but only after they gave up every last bit of their essence to a very tasty consommé.

So, here is what I did with every bit of one whole fresh rabbit, which was purchased with it’s head & all organs intact. Here is the list of dishes that I ended up with, then below I’ll go through the method:

1. Rabbit cheek & Tongue amuse bouche

2. Rabbit & Black Mission Fig Pate

3. Tarragon Crepes stuffed with Braised Rabbit, Caramelized Fennel, Pomegranate & topped with Creme Fraiche

4. Rabbit Consomme

5. Olive & Spelt Ravioli stuffed with Braised Rabbit & Veggies.


1. Separate & Braise
The first thing I did was rinse the rabbit and then clean it up in preparation for braising.  I removed and set aside the organs & inner fat, and then removed and discarded any membrane film that I could from the inside of the rabbit’s ribs.  I removed the head as close to the base of the skull as possible, then cut the cheeks off each side of the skull and removed the tongue.  These items I set aside.  I then broke down the rabbit as follows: spine & ribs went directly into the soup pot for consommé that I would make later on, legs and tenderloin were cut into pieces & any little bone fragments from rib cuts etc were discarded. For braising I used the following:

  • 1 bottle semi-dry white wine
  • handful fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and peper
  • olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F. Heat a large heavy pan with a lid that can be transferred to the oven, over medium heat.  Add olive oil and all ingredients.  Saute over medium heat until the onions are translucent and the rabbit is beginning to brown (turn rabbit pieces at least once.)  Add the bottle of wine a little at a time to deglaze the pan, and then bring to a boil.  Once the wine is gently boiling, cover the pan and transfer it to the oven.  Bake for 25mins.  When done, remove from oven and set aside to cool.

2. Pate Meanwhile, refer to this earlier post for how to prepare Rabbit & Black Mission Fig Pate.

3. Crepes
In a food processor blend the following:

  • 1 cup unbleached spelt flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tbspns melted butter
  • 2 tbspn coarsely chopped tarragon leaves

Blend until smooth then transfer to a large measuring cup  or jug with a spout, cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When the braised rabbit is done, remove from the oven and let cool.  Once the braised rabbit has cooled, separate it into a bowl and using a slotted spoon remove the fennel and onions to another bowl.  Pour off 1.5cups of the braising liquid into a small sauce pan and heat over med-high heat to reduce (approx. 30mins).  Pour the remaining braising liquid into a slow cooker – this is the base for the consommé that comes next.   Back to the rabbit – remove most of the meat from the bones, and put the bones into the slow cooker.  With your hands shred the boneless braised rabbit meat.  Set aside.  Return the fennel & onion mixture to a skillet with a tbsp of butter and sauté over very low heat for about 45mins.  This creates the caramelized fennel.  After about 45 mins, add a tsp or so of very good quality balsamic vinegar, sauté for another 5 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.  When the braising liquid in the small saucepan has reduced to about 1/2 to 2/3 of its original volume, whisk in 1 tsp. arrowroot starch, bring to a boil while whisking and then remove from heat.  Add thickened sauce to shredded rabbit.  Place the pans containing the rabbit and the caramelized fennel into the oven to keep warm.

Heat a crepe skillet over medium heat.  When hot, brush with butter then pour on about 1/4 cup batter, moving skillet around so that it is evenly coated with batter.   Flip when browned.

For each crepe, add shredded rabbit meat, a small amount of caramelized fennel, finely sliced spring onion, and a sprinkling of fresh pomegranate seeds.  Roll up and top with a spoon of creme fraiche and more pomegranate seeds.  Serve immediately while hot.

4. For the Consomme, Add to a slow cooker:

  • the rabbit rib bones that were set aside earlier
  • the leftover rabbit bones from the braised rabbit
  • the leftover braising liquid, as described above
  • 2 coursely chopped carrots
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4-5 stalks celery, sliced
  • a handful of fresh tarragon leaves (stems removed)
  • a generous grating of fresh black pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Set the slow cooker on High and cook for 4 hours. Use a colander over a large pot to strain everything out of the consommé.  Discard the bay leaves.

5. Ravioli & filling
Put the strained vegetables and bones in another bowl & carefully remove and discard all the bones.  Transfer the vegetables and rabbit meat to a food processor, pulse until everything is chopped finely (do not puree).

Meanwhile, prepare homemade pasta as per this previous post.  This time I used ‘Type 00′ Olive Flour.  Cut the pasta sheets with a ravioli cutter, then fill each ravioli with a small spoonful of the filling above.   Boil a large bowl of salted water, add a couple table spoons of olive oil, then drop the all the ravioli in and cook for 1 minute.  Strain and lay the ravioli out on oiled baking sheets to cool.    From here the ravioli can be cooked further for eating immediately or it can be refrigerated or frozen.

I have not yet eaten my ravioli, so no photo… I’m looking forward to dinner tomorrow!

Pumpkin Tart with Graham crust

Pumpkin pie/tart is my favourite fall treat of all time.   My grandmother used to bake amazing pumpkin pies made with fresh pumpkin and whipped cream.  My version uses canned pumpkin and this time I opted for condensed milk instead of whipped cream – & it still turned out amazingly!  Yum, fall!
Tart Shell:
  • 1 3/4 cup Graham Flour
  • 1/4 cup Hazelnut Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cold shortening or butter, diced
  • 1/4 cup cold unsweetened organic rice milk (or cow’s milk)
  • 1 egg yolk

Combine flours, salt & sugar in a food processor & pulse to combine.  Add diced shortening & egg yolk and pulse to create a grainy mixture.  Slowly add cold milk while continuing to pulse, until evenly blended.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and form into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the freezer for at least 15 mins or 1 hour in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.   When the dough has chilled, roll it out on a floured surface and line tart or pie pan.  Liberally prick the bottom of the shell with a fork and use pie weights or dry beans to weight the bottom of the shell.  Bake at 350 F for 15 mins.

Pumpkin Filling:

  • 1 14oz/397g organic pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 300ml can sweetened condensed milk

Once the tart/pie shell has baked for 15mins, remove from the oven and set aside.  Increase the oven temperature to 450 F.

Combine all pie filling ingredients.  Don’t over blend.  Pour into pre-baked tart/pie shell.  Bake at 450F for 15 mins, then reduce the oven to 350F and continue to bake for 35-40 mins, or until a tester stick slides out clean.   Cool pie thoroughly before serving.  Serve warm or cold & top with fresh organic whipped cream!

Breakfast Quiche

This quiche didn’t turn out as well as it could have because I used a tart shell that I had in the fridge and it had holes pricked in the bottom.  Some of the exgg mixture sadly leaked out in the oven.  Still, it was tasty!


  • 1 onion, finely sliced and caramelized for 40mins in olive oil and 1 tbsp fine balsamic vinegar
  • 3 small new potatoes, thinly sliced on a mandolin, deep fried until lightly browned
  • 1/2 cup coursely grated asiago
  • 1 mennonite sausage, 1/8″-1/4″ slices, lightly sauteed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk

Nova Scotia South Shore “Seafood/IPA Tour”: Sunday July 3 (Day 4 of 5 – Part 2): Fleur de Sel

I can’t say enough about Fleur De Sel, where we both ate and slept in Lunenburg.  The super cute resto has one guest suite above it, with a bedroom, living room and awesome claw foot soaker tub.  It was a perfect end to a perfect trip!  We checked in around 6ish so we could relax and unwind before our 7:30 dinner reservation.   Immediately we ordered 2 extra dry PEI Distilleries Potato Vodka martinis, served in our room… Very well made martinis but potato vodka is strong, and tastes, well, like potatoes.  Then we headed for the tub!

After a bath we headed downstairs to dinner.  We were seated in one of the beautiful intimate dining rooms and opted to begin with a flute of bubbly (the same one that we had at Fid), Bouvet Ladubay, Brut de Blanc with which we were served an amuse bouche.  The amuse bouche was incredible, but for the life of me I cannot recall what it was.  From the photo above, it looks as though we enjoyed a piece of tuna sashimi with melon and a pesto sauce, along with a piece of mackerel served on a spoon.

When I made the reservations way back in March, I had opted for Fleur de Sel’s Stay & Dine package option.  The package included the one night in the suite above the restaurant, a three course dinner, and breakfast with the chef the next morning.  So we were prepared and brought our appetites!

For our starters we shared an order each of:
Terrine de Lapin: Annapolis Valley rabbit terrine, pickled red onion, Dijon & truffle coulis, micro greens
Tasting of Maritime Oysters on the Half Shell: Two Eel Lake Oysters with a horseradish Mary Rose sauce; Two Northern Nova Oysters with a pickled green tomato relish; Two Beausoleil Oysters with a shallot mignonette

The Beausoleil we had tried in Halifax at The Press Gang, they were again excellent & very light – our favourites of the trip.  If anyone sees these in Toronto, give them a try and let me know where to find them!  The Eel lake were also excellent, more oyster flavour than the Beausoleils.  The last one, the Northern Nova was very buttery, and paired well with the relish.

For our mains & wine, we ordered:

Rose: Benjamin Bridge, Nexus (Gaspereau Valley). Meticulously blended from their 07 & 08 harvests of Marechal Foch… stylish and refreshing with lush raspberry and citrus aromas
(Leo) Lobster: Butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, smoked paprika potato salad, organic spinach, local asparagus, lobster takoyki, beurre blanc
(Sarah) Scallops: Seared Adams & Knickle scallops, Oulton’s pork belly, pea puree, baby potatoes, beetroot reduction, mint emulsion

Leo’s lobster: he had high expectations and they were exceeded. I thought his potato salad accompaniment was not very interesting, actually I think it could have used more salt.

My scallops and pork belly: totally different from Fid! Fid’s version was super rich, Fleur de Sel’s was much more subtle, refined and light.  The pureed peas with pork belly bits, fresh peas and roasted potato were all excellent accompaniments to the perfectly seared scallops.

For desert we ordered a cheese plate, a creme brullee with ice cream and 2 snifters of cognac.   After this, we were about ready to pass out! However… The photo below shows our post-desert desert!  We took the plate up to our room and ate them when we woke up the next morning!

Nova Scotia South Shore “Seafood/IPA Tour”: Sunday July 3 (Day 4 of 5 – Part 1)

On Sunday we picked up our rental car and headed south out of Halifax.  We had received a tip from our cab driver the night before about a beach that we could drive onto – Crescent Beach, just a little south of Lunenburg.   You literally drive your car onto the beach.  Our cabbie had told us that it’s only possible when the tide has just gone out, when the sand is still hard and wet.  When the sand dries, you could get your car stuck.   We somehow happened to arrive at the perfect time of day!  It was cold though… we briefly attempted to stand outside in our swim suits and dip our toes in the water, but we quickly opted to jump back in the car.  The beach must be about 3km long or so and we drove the length of it, beautiful!  Then we stopped by the chip truck that evidently parks by the beach entrance regularly and shared a plate of fried clams & chips.  Great experience, the fried clams were nothing special, especially when compared to the ones we devoured at John’s Lunch just the evening before!
From there we took a short-cut across a rive on a super cute cable ferry towards the Lunenburg area.  We first stopped at The Ovens (cool sea caves), then the tiny town of Blue Rocks (another tip from a local Haligonian – unbelievably cute little fishing village) then arrived in Lunenburg late afternoon.
We immediately grabbed a snack of seafood chowder on one of the many patios overlooking Lunenburg’s harbour then (The Dockside). Following yet another local tip, we next headed to The Knot Pub.  I had a pint of Propeller bitter and Leo ordered the Knot Pub ale, which they claim to brew on the premises. It was virtually the same as the bitter.  We had to ask whether it actually was the same and our waiter told us definitely not.  Seriously, the Propeller bitter was my favourite beer of the trip and they made an identical version!  Asking around (and mind you it was Sunday night) it became apparent that pretty much everything in Lunenburg shuts down at 10pm (or earlier), but The Knot stays open till 1am! Not that it mattered, we didn’t actually make it out after dinner.

Halifax “Seafood/IPA Tour”: Saturday July 2 (Day 3 of 5)

Saturday began with a saunter over to Jane’s on the Common for brunch, arriving at a lovely table at 11:01am (they start serving alcohol at 11am in Halifax)  Leo was in kinda rough shape and definitely in need of a bit of the hair of the dog.  I ordered the mimosa made with local NS bubbly (Jost Prost), and Leo opted for an awesome, spicy  Organic Bloody Mary made with PEI potato vodka.   And we were very pleased to be able to order a bottle of San Pellegrino to help wash down our hangovers.
Leo’s brunch is the centre photo above:  Bacon Eggs Benedict, served on a sweet potato biscuit with house- made Hollandaise, roasted baby potatoes & greens. BEST BENNY EVER, due mostly to the amazing moist, scrumptious sweet potato biscuit, although the rest of the dish was noteworthy as well: perfect poached eggs and excellent, creamy, perfect Hollandaise. Oh, and he added on a side of “sassy baked beans,” which were heavenly and deeply flavoured with bourbon. Yum!
I ordered the Fish Cake and Eggs (photo above right): Lobster, Scallop and Haddock fish cakes with a citrus-caper aioli, two eggs, sassy baked beans, sour dough toast, roasted potatoes & greens.   Probably the best fish cake I’ve ever had as well.  I mean who can go wrong with fresh lobster, scallop and haddock??
Never one to shy away from over-doing it, Leo had a generous slice of carrot cake for desert.
Satiated, we headed back to the hotel for a nap!
Refreshed after a couple hours shut eye, we  cabbed it up to the Hydrostone Market in Halifax’s North End and from there wandered back down Agricola St. and the side streets around the area, checking out the quaint salt box houses.   At the corner of Agricola and North St. we downed a mini glass of Gus’s Gold beer at Gus’s pub, a long standing North End institution, then headed across the street to Fred for a snack of excellent Thai coconut scallop cakes, served with a fresh pineapple chutney/slaw, and a bottle of Propeller Honey Wheat each.  Fred was one of the first gentrifiers of the North End.  It’s a beautiful space that, oddly, houses a combined hair salon, cafe (called Whet) and art gallery.
From there we headed back into the central downtown area as we were planning to take the Metrolink ferry across the Halifax Harbour to Dartmouth in order to visit the famed John’s Lunch for dinner.   All that walking allowed us to at least digest a bit (if not actually get hungry) so we found a sunny waterfront patio table at the Hart & Thistle Gastropub & Brewery. I ordered a pint of Pumphouse SOB, which was excellent.  It was much like a fuller-bodied, richer IPA.  I also ordered an Oyster Shooter - local oyster served with PEI lemongrass Ginger gin garnished with pickled asparagus and Ginger.  From the menu I didn’t understand that the shooter was essentially a small martini served beside an oyster.  So I did not ask for the martini to be extra dry and unfortunately, once again, ended up with a way, way over-vermouthed drink. Ugh.  Leo and I shared the House Smoked Atlantic salmon w pickled pearl onions, capers, peppered cream cheese & roasted garlic French toast.  It was excellent, but I’m not sure why it seems that in Halifax a great many dishes are accompanied by pickled onions.
From there we took the public transit ferry to Dartmouth to hit up John’s Lunch, a legendary greasy spoon fish & chip joint. Every review I had read recommended the fried clams … I had never had, nor heard of a fried clam, however I was not disappointed.  Leo and I each ordered a Fried Clams & Halibut Tips Combo plate to go, and then found a perfect bench overlooking Halifax Harbour on which to enjoy our dinners.
I LOVE FRIED CLAMS. They were seriously amazing.  If EVER in Halifax, do make the trip across the Harbour to John’s Lunch.  The portions were generous, the price very reasonable and the taste excellent.  Although, I don’t know what we were thinking when we ordered a combo plate each, we certainly only needed one to share.  So in the end we made a flock of seagulls very happy. About 10 of them shared a lovely $14 dinner which they grabbed and gobbled down in under 9 seconds!  It was difficult to stop eating those clams, they were so good.  However, as Leo said, “When the most delicious and awesome thing you can think of starts to taste like sawdust in your mouth: it’s time to stop eating.”  Lucky seagulls.
Back to the hotel for another nap!
On Phil G’s advice we checked out the Split Crow for a pint and live music. The house band (all covers) was called Clam Chowder – three guys who were all early 40s-ish who had a crazy eclectic and broad ranging repretoire (and they took requests!).  The three harmonized perfectly on every song they played.  My favourite was their rendition of Toto’s Africa.  After some haranguing, I convinced Leo to make a request for me: Live’s Lightening Crashes.  As the lead singer noted, it is a “scientific fact that people love Live” (well at least that one Throwing Copper album).  And there was not one person in the pub who was not singing along!
I finally tried the Propeller Bitter.. Sooo good!! Nice and bitter, nice and dark, but not at all heavy.  Very clean finish, no aftertaste.  Definitely my favourite beer yet. I highly recommend it!

Halifax: Canada Day Post Script: The Donair

For those that are not ‘in the know’ (like me), a few decades ago a food casualty called the donair was invented in Halifax.  It’s essentially a bastardized version of a gyro-slash-shwarma, 100% after-bar-food, and fully 100% disgusting.  Seriously.   However, I had never tried one of these things so I encouraged Leo to get one after the bar on Friday night like a real Haligonian.

We visited K.O.D., who claim to be the first to serve donairs in Canada, established 1973.   OK.  Take a good look at the photos below, from what I can gather from observing and tasting the wretched thing, a donair is like a processed/pressed meatloaf version of a shwarma topped with bland tomato bits, onion, some sort of sweet sauce and mystery white sauce.  And you can add hot sauce to that. Yeah: way gross.

Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

A donair is a variation on the doner kebab. It was originally introduced in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in the early 1970s. A restaurant called King of Donair claims to have been the first to serve this version in 1973. The owners of King of Donair had originally tried selling Greek Gyro sandwiches, but had a hard time selling them so replaced the lamb with beef and the tzatziki with a sweet garlic sauce, thus inventing the Donair. When the owners of King of Donair approached a local printer, Leo Arkelian of Halcraft Printers to design advertising, he suggested the new anglicized spelling, making it unique to the Halifax area.

The meat is sliced from a loaf cooked on a vertical spit, made from a combination of ground beef, flour or bread crumbs, and various spices. The sweet sauce is made from evaporated milk, sugar, vinegar, and garlic. The meat and sauce are served rolled in a flat-bread pita with diced tomato and onion. The donair is very popular throughout the Atlantic provinces of Canada, and is also available in some other areas of the country like Alberta and the Greater Toronto Area, with many fast food pizza restaurants also featuring donairs on the menu. Many also offer a donair pizza featuring all of the donair ingredients served on a pizza crust. A Donair dipping sauce may also be included.

And this is what you will look like after you spend a night drinking beer and then eat a (small) donair.  I imagine you would look exponentially worse if you attempted to eat a medium, large or extra-large version.

Halifax “Seafood/IPA Tour”: Canada Day (Part 2 of Day 2 of 5): Fid Resto

Four weeks ago, in preparation for our Halifax food orgy, I emailed Fid Resto, located on Dresden Row.  The place had fantastic reviews but 4 weeks out I was unable to secure a reservation for Saturday night and had to settle for Friday, 8:30.  Still we arrived to a packed house and unfortunately we were seated at the table right by the kitchen door/waiter station.  (Note to self: I must get better at demanding a premium seat in the house when booking in advance.)   Anyway, I had high expectations for Fid after picking it over all other high end Halifax restos, and it really didn’t disappoint:
We started with a glass of bubbly: Cuvee Buvet Brut, Bouvet Ladubay Saumur, France. Then we ordered a local bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner: Gaspereau Seyval Blanc: reminiscent of a Marlborough Sauv Blanc but without the gooseberry nose.  Still, an excellent NS wine – dry but full bodied, crisp and clean but flavourful with peach, grapefruit and gooseberry.
We shared a starter of organic Newfoundland smoked salmon.  For my main I chose the Carmelized sea scallops with slow-roasted pork belly, local fiddleheads and steamed Asian greens.  Leo opted for the Pork tenderloin sous vide with scallop potatoes.  My dish was so amazingly rich that I was glad that I had Leo there to help me out.  The scallops arrived perfectly sauteed and complete with their roe attached, which I had never seen before – it was sort of like a piece of scallop pate attached to each scallop.   Amazing!   And the pork belly, though extremely rich, was incredible.
From Fid we headed down to the water to catch the fireworks display at 10pm on the pier.   Then we headed back to the lower deck…. much drinking followed although I managed to meet a few locals with recommendations for Lunenburg and area.  There is nothing like local advice, and we managed to find some real gems on this trip thanks to friendly locals that I chatted up whenever possible!

Halifax “Seafood/IPA Tour”: Canada Day (Part 1 of Day 2 of 5)

Friday (Canada Day) July 1 we slept in a bit, but then realized the Halifax Canada Day parade was about to march right past our hotel.  We enjoyed the bird’s eye view from our 7th floor room for a bit, then headed to the hotel pub.  We scored a window seat and shared a surprisingly excellent lobster roll with sweet potato fries and a couple pints of Garrison Brewery Raspberry Wheat for breakfast. What an excellent beer!  It was much lighter than the Amsterdam version and very smooth.

Breakfast was followed by a walk through the public gardens then down tongue water for a walk south along the pier. We stopped for a glass of wine and some sashimi on the patio of Hamachi Steak House (Hamachi is apparently a 3-resto strong Halifax sushi chain) right on the water. Great people watching.  We had mackerel, surf clam and tuna sashimi… Surprisingly the tuna was the least exciting of the three… the mackerel was incredible and the surf clam was unlike any surf clam i’ve ever had in Toronto: it was tender & flavourful, not at all rubbery and bland.
From there, we walked south on the waterfront boardwalk to the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market, which, even on a holiday, was bustling with activity. Founded in 1870 the market is now housed in a LEED certified, renewable energy powered waterfront warehouse building.  We visited a chocolatier for a couple delicacies and then headed across the lane to  the Garrison Brewery.   From the sample taps, Leo tried the Red and I tried the IPA.  The IPA was super bitter and really good, without aftertaste.  Leo thought the Red was good but also wanted  to try the brown and amber.   We bought 2 Blackberry Wheat bottles to go: total = $4.20 ;-)  Then we wandered back along the pier just far enough to work up a thirst/an excuse to drink those beers while they were still cold.
Next stop: a few more hundred feet north along the pier to Murphys @ the Cable Wharf.  We enjoyed a pint each of Captain Murphy’s Ale & awesome fresh Bacon Wrapped Scallops to share (I am realizing at this point that I’m not digesting fast enough for the excessive food and beer intake… It’s 3:15pm and my tummy hurts!!
Water, Hotel, Nap, Bath.
Then headed out on the town: the plan was The Press Gang for a martini and a dozen oysters around 7ish, dinner at Fid at 8:30, and then fireworks on the waterfront at 10pm sharp.
The Press Gang:
Totally worth the hype in terms of atmosphere… we walked into a romantic candel-lit romantic cozy cave of a place at Prince and Barrington streets, to the tinkling of a live pianist.
Our dozen oysters included 4 each of:
Rocky bay: medium sized, kinda plain, just a normal oyster more or less… good, but not spectacular.
Blackpoint: Big, salty, nice finish.  I generally don’t like the bigger oysters, this one had character for sure but again, not spectacular.
Beau soleil: small, spectacular! Really light taste.  Never heard of these ones but I’ll seek them out in Toronto now. Definitely our fave.
So all in the bill was $75 – $3.25/ oyster plus 2 mediocre (Hendricks Gin for Leo and Belvedere Vodka for me) martinis.  Overpriced???  Also, I learned a valuable lesson:  apparently I am spoiled in Toronto in that whenever I order a premium liquor martini, Toronto bartenders know better than to fuck it up with cheap ass vermouth.    Apparently, in other locales, one must order an extra, extra dry martini (or instruct “flavour the ice with vermouth” only) in order to not get a nasty expensive mess of premium alcohol and way too much vermouth.  I didn’t know and paid the price this weekend on a few occasions unfortunately.

Halifax “Culinary Tour”: Thursday June 30 (Day 1 of 5)

So we’re just back from Halifax and a few little towns along Nova Scoatia’s South Coast and I’m happy to say that we accomplished the mission that we set out for ourselves: eat and drink our way through a maritime 4 day Canada Day long weekend getaway!  The trip was truly fantastic (although the jeans are a tad more difficult to get buttoned up)!  Here is what we ate and drank (with a few walking bits or sleeping bits in between, in order to digest):

Thursday June 30: We arrived in Halifax around 7:30pm and checked into the Lord Nelson Hotel (fantastic..all Aveda products and super comfy) across the street from the Public Gardens and walking distance to everywhere. We dumped our stuff, took a quick breather then headed out on the town around 9:30 with the aim of grabbing a bite to eat and a few beers.  There was a thick sea fog hanging over the city, which made it extra pretty but also a tad chilly.  We walked from the hotel in the direction of the water, stopping first at The Bitter End, touted in several reviews as “Halifax’s best martini bar”.  We quickly learned that we should stick closely to the original plan of sampling all the local beers as opposed to drinking martinis.  Granted, it was earlyish on a thursday, but the day before a holiday, the place was dead and my *dry*grey goose martini tasted like a glass of vermouth and leo’s gin *extra dry* martini was not much better.  The Thai Fish Cake app we shared was excellent however, and a good start to our seafood weekend. We continued our walk in the direction of the water finding the waterfront promenade easily;  We headed north towards the Lower Deck (a pub that came highly recommended from our sailor friends) however, after we found it, and paid $10 each to get in, we found out that the kitchen had closed.  We got our cover money back and headed back into the central Argyle St. area to Durty Nelly’s where we found a good decent heaping bowl of steamed muscles and onion rings & paired it with a couple pints of Pump House Blueberry Ale from NB (excellent!)  We enjoyed the funny live band playing bad cover music for a bit, but made it an early night.

Grilled Salmon, Bok Choy & Dill Bearnaise (First garden crop of summer!)

The heat has been threatening to wilt my bok choy plants so it was time to enjoy my first garden crop of the summer!   The bok choy was so tasty that I’ll definitely grow several more plants in the fall when it’s cooler again.    I made a pretty simple dinner of grilled organic salmon fillets and very lightly steamed bok choy.  For an extra flavour kick, I added the sauce below.  (By the way, it’s actually not a Bearnaise sauce, technically, but it’s similar and I wasn’t sure what to call this).

Dill “Bearnaise” Sauce

  • 2 tbsp Butter
  • approx. 1/4 cup fresh dill, coursely chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice, to taste
  • dash of salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 whole eggs

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  Add everything except the eggs.  When everything is blended and close to a boil, whisk in the eggs one at a time.  Keep whisking the mixture over medium heat.  Because you are using whole eggs the sauce will thicken all of a sudden just before the mixture boils so it’s very important to keep whisking it continuously or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs in lemon-dill juice.   When the sauce thickens, remove it from heat immediately and enjoy!

A Grilled Feast

We welcomed spring with good friends and this never-ending grilled feast! Unfortunately after days of sun, it rained on BBQ day, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying a wide range of grilled fare prepared atop the Big Green Egg by master griller Leo.

Here is the evening’s menu:

Appetizers & Mains:

  • Grilled Calamari tossed with garlic & olive oil
  • Vietnamese Grilled Beef & Basil rolls
  • Grilled risotto-stuffed mini-peppers
  • Ground beef & pork Sliders with aged cheddar cheese centres
  • Grilled Pork Chops with spicy mango sauce
  • Braised Leeks
  • Parsnip mash


  • Cardamom custard & apple tart
  • Grapefruit tart
  • Fresh whipped cream to top off both tarts

Grapefruit Tart with Graham Crust

Graham Crust

  • 1 cup whole wheat graham flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill whole grain stone-ground graham flour)
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon or grapefruit peel
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed


  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3/4cup fresh grapefruit juice
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit peel

For crust: Preheat oven to 375°.  Add first 4 ingredients to a food processor & blend. Add cubed butter, pulse to combine until the texture of course sand. Press dough together by hand and refrigerate for 30 mins.   Roll out evenly and press into 9″ tart pan. Prick holes all over dough, weight with pie weights or dry beans, then bake crust until golden brown and firm to touch, about 25-30 minutes.

For filling: Whisk together sugar and cornstarch in heavy medium saucepan, gradually whisk in grapefruit juice. Add eggs 1 at a time, whisking to blend well after each addition. Stir in finely grated lemon peel. Whisk mixture constantly over medium heat until filling thickens (just before it boils). Remove from heat; whisk to smooth if necessary. Transfer filling to prepared crust. Smooth top. Chill in fridge.

(Mostly)Food-based Environmentally Friendly Cleaning Products

So I know I’ve been on hiatus for a bit, and this post is slightly off-topic, but after cooking I always have to clean up… Here are a few of my favourite homemade all natural & mostly food-based cleaning product substitutions:

  • Abrasive Cleaners: substitute 1/2 lemon dipped in borax
  • Ammonia: substitute vinegar, salt, and water mixture, or baking soda and water
  • Disinfectants: substitute 1/2 cup borax in 3.5L of water
  • Drain Cleaners: substitute 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup vinegar in boiling water
  • Upholstery cleaners: substitute dry cornstarch

For dishwashers, the best commercially available enviro-friendly d/w powder I have found are the Ecover dishwasher tabs.  Amazing.

In Toronto, you can buy borax in bulk at Grassroots.

Steak & Mushroom Salad

Last night we put together this simple, but very tasty & satisfying salad – a perfect way to make amends for some waist-expanding indulgences as of late.

Marinate a 12oz (for two people) t-bone, rib-eye or porterhouse steak for an hour in soy sauce, mustard, a few dashes worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, & chilli paste.

Heat a grill or heavy pan for the steak.

Finely slice 2 shallots and about a 1/2 lb of cremini mushrooms.   In another pan, saute the shallots & mushrooms with minced fresh ginger and garlic in coconut oil over medium heat until browned and bits of onion and spices have stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Deglaze pan while the mushrooms mixture is still in it, with a little dry vermouth or white wine.

Sear the steak both sides to your desired doneness.  Let it rest for 10-15 mins and then slice.  Place the slices on top of a simple green salad with a rice-wine dressing & top with the mushrooms and shallots.