Gentleman's Portion

A good helping of life, love and whisky

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Peach pie reduxThis week’s peach lattice pie recipe was my most popular article in three months with readers, so without any further apologies, here’s another peach pie story and recipe.

We had a wonderful day out in Niagara-on-the-Lake earlier this week and discovered a new restaurant that could quickly become a favourite. Treadwell is the brainchild of fellow Brit, Stephen Treadwell, the former Executive Chef from the town’s Queen’s Landing Hotel. We remember it fondly from sailing trips to Port Dalhousie, where coincidentally we will be cruising again this weekend. At the beginning of the summer Treadwell re-opened in NOTL on the Queen Street restaurant and tourist strip. We are greeted by his friendly son James, co-owner and sommelier. James offers us a complimentary glass of Bubblehead sparkling rosé from John Howard’s local Megalomaniac winery.

It is perfect. Crisp and dry on the palate, with a hint of something to come in the effervescence.

Treadwell - tucked away behind Starbucks - needs better signage

Treadwell – tucked away behind Starbucks – needs better signage

But I crave a martini and ask James if his bartender would understand if I ordered a Gentleman’s Portion. Indeed she would, he claims, and Jamie the bartender delivers. My vodka martini on the rocks, in a rocks glass, with a twist of lemon, very dry and of sufficient size to quench my thirst, is exactly what I want. It’s well after the lunch hour when we eat, having been looking at houses all morning, so we share a nice green salad and both order fish and chips. All the food at Treadwell is locally sourced. Our fish is delicious and we follow with a spectacular and refreshing peach Melba (one portion, two spoons).

Good comfort food, as we sit on the patio and watch the passing parade of mostly obese American tourists. The way we’re eating, we might be joining them. I know the biggest lady we see is American. She’s got the American eagle and a stars and stripes flag tattooed right across her ample chest and bosom. I hate to think what else she has pictured, hidden away among the dimples of cellulite and rolls of fat.

Fortunately we are not driving but walking about town, having dropped the car off at our helpful real estate agent’s house earlier in our exploration. Patient Glenn from Sotheby’s nearly finds us a house, in what is billed as Ontario’s prettiest town. The cottage is cute beyond belief, but for various reasons we can’t close a deal. Back at his lakeside house, his charming wife Nancy pours Diane another glass of Bubblehead. Nancy’s an even hotter real estate agent than Glenn. We’ll be back, we tell them, as we head off to the highway and town, thanking them for their hospitality.

Treadwell's peach Melba

Treadwell’s peach Melba

With memories of peach Melba fresh in our heads, we pick up a ripe basket of very fresh Niagara peaches. Tonight they become the basis for another peach pie.

First, let’s talk about Peach Melba. It’s named after Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba and is shamelessly colourful. She was performing in an opera in London in the late 1890s and the Savoy Hotel’s French chef Auguste Escoffier created this dish to honour her. The blend of poached peaches, raspberry coulis and vanilla ice cream creates a transcendent taste sensation.

Peach Melba
Serves 4
Preparation time 20 min

4 ripe peaches
1 cup simple syrup (dissolve 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of boiling water)
1 cup raspberry coulis (see my blog URGENT MESSAGE FROM THE DUCHESS on December 18, 2012 for the complete recipe)
Thin wafers or cookies of your choice
Vanilla ice cream

Preparation and cooking
1. Plunge the ripe peaches into boiling water for 30 secs, remove with a slotted spoon, then cool in icy water. The skins should slip off easily.
2. Cut the peaches in half, remove stones, and poach in a cup of boiling simple syrup for about 5 min. Remove from the syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside on a rack to cool. Once cooled, slice into eighths.
3. To serve, spoon the peach slices into a bowl or parfait glass (see photo for Treadwell’s take), cover with a good dollop of raspberry coulis, top with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and inset a triangular wafer into the ice cream. Finish with more raspberry coulis. Treadwell added crisp  chocolate cookies which were delicious, but made the whole thing a bit sweet. I prefer the traditional wafer, but it’s your choice. Anything crispy will suffice.

Peach Pie Redux
(See my blog ROADS LESS TRAVELLED on August 11, 2013 for my original recipe)
Following my effort earlier in the week and with some follow-up research, I’ve made some small changes to the recipe, which I offer here. See if you prefer the difference.
Some cooks feel the bottom pie shell should not be blind baked if a top is to be added, even a lattice. So this time, I roll out the pastry as before, but after pushing it well into the corners of a lightly greased pie dish, simply add the juicy sliced peach pie filling. One difference is that I don’t trim the pie yet.
Second change: after filling, I roll out the second half of my pie pastry recipe, moisten the edge of the bottom pie with milk, and lay on the top. After trimming all the way round with a sharp small knife, the pie top is crimped onto the bottom with a fork, to make a decorative edge. The left over pastry is rolled up and rolled out. Using the sharp knife, I cut out five small decorative peach leaves, score them to make a leaf pattern, moisten their backs with milk, and press them gently into the centre of the pie. Between the leaves, I cut slits to allow the steam to escape.
Third change: then I brush the whole pie with a thin layer of milk.
First, the pie goes into the oven for 20 min at 425°F (220°C). Since the edges are browning more quickly than the rest of the pie, it’s advisable to cover the whole edge of the pie with thin strips of foil.
Reduce the oven to 375°F (190°C) and cook for a further 30 min.
Remove and cool on a rack for a minimum of 3 hr before serving. It really does make a difference to the thickness of the sauce inside the pie.
Store lightly covered in the fridge and enjoy with vanilla ice cream.



Overlooking the Niagara River

Overlooking the Niagara River

We are driving around in the Jag, top down, having a spectacular day getting lost in the Niagara region and finding ourselves, quite by mistake, atop the Niagara Escarpment. There’s a spectacular view over orchards and vineyards with Lake Ontario stretching into a blue haze in the distance.

On a little country road, we almost run over a chicken crossing in front of us. It wants to get to the other side. We pull into a driveway and a bronzed farmer and two very cute blonde children come out of the house to see who has arrived. The farmer has a strong Manchester accent. Diane, who is from the North can tell immediately. She asks him how come he’s here and he tells about emigrating to a better place for his family and starting a farm. The chickens are completely free range, he says, confirming the obvious. His eldest sub-teen daughter collects the eggs every morning, diligently washes them, and gets the revenue from egg sales as pocket money. We buy a dozen rich brown eggs from her, all different sizes, but very clean.

He’s also got baskets of ripe peaches for sale and we buy two of those as well. We put them in the tiny trunk of the car, which is lined with a hand-made Persian carpet, as are the foot wells in front. The former Lancastrian finds it hard to believe that a Yorkshire lass can do so well as to have luxury carpets for mats in the car. He says so, but we are oblivious to the irony and are off out of his gravel driveway, tires spinning and a throaty growl from the exhaust, back on our journey to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We descend the Escarpment on a windy road and end up in the flat alluvial plain that leads down to the water.

We’re thinking of selling our Toronto townhouse and moving to this quaint small place. We meet with a real estate agent and look at properties. Nothing quite suits today, but perhaps something will be perfect on our next visit.

Home again, I look at the peaches, pick out eight perfectly ripe ones, squeeze them and smell their fragrance. These puppies are just right for a peach pie, I decide. And so to work. The classic peach pie needs only peaches and sugar. I add a very small measure of cinnamon and nutmeg to enhance the flavour, but nothing more.


Peach lattice pie

Peach lattice pie

Serves 6
Preparation time 30 min
Cooking time 40 min
Cooling down time 3 hr

5 cups (1.25 L) or about 8 medium ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
(NOTE: for a sweeter pie increase sugars to 1/3 cup each)
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
9 in double crust pastry recipe (see my blog of January 25, 2013 – THE LIFE OF PIE) or use frozen pastry

Pastry toolPreparation and cooking
1. I’ve written before about making perfect pie pastry, so I will skip this stage, except for one hint. I have quite warm hands, which makes pastry blending difficult, so I have discovered a perfect tool for mixing in the butter (illustrated). It has made life much easier, without a sticky mess adhering to my hands.
2. Once you have the bottom layer of pastry pressed into the 9 in baking dish, preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Prick the bottom of the pie with a fork to allow air to escape and blind bake for no more than 10 min, or until the shell is a light brown. Cool shell completely before adding filling.
3. While that is going on, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Dunk the ripe peaches into the boiling water and remove after a minute with a slotted spoon. The skins should slip right off. If they don’t, allow the peaches to cool and then peel with a small sharp knife. The problem is probably that the peaches were not quite ripe and you may want to add more sugar to your mixture to compensate. Slice the peaches into quarters to make pit removal easy and then slice again into thinner portions.
4. Put the sliced, skinless peaches into a large bowl, add the lemon juice, and toss to coat.
5. In a small bowl or measuring jug, mix the two sugars (you can increase the quantity for a sweeter pie), cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and cornstarch well. Pour over the peaches a little at a time and toss gently so the peaches are well covered.
6. Pour the peach filling into the cooled pastry shell. Then roll out the rest of the pastry and cut into strips about ¾ inch wide. Arrange the strips in one direction, then fold every other strip back on itself. Lay the longest remaining strip down at 90 degrees and cover with the folded strips. Repeat until the lattice is complete. Now crimp the strips to the edge of the pie and if necessary glue them down with a little water.
7. Sprinkle some sugar on top for effect and bake in a 425°F (220°C ) oven until the crust is set and beginning to brown, about 20 min. Reduce the heat to 375°F (190°C) until the filling is bubbling, about 30 to 40 min. If the edge starts to brown too quickly, cover with little strips of aluminum foil.
8. Cool your pie for at least 3 hr before serving. The longer you leave it the better it will taste and the filling will set nice and thick. Store, lightly covered at room temperature or in the fridge.

Serving suggestion
Enjoy with whipped cream, or ice cream.

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Hungry sailors ready for the feast

Hungry sailors ready for the feast

We’ve been invited to a pot-luck supper, and because there’s a sailing trip involved, I want everything prepared in advance, with no cooking on arrival. Just some last minute assembly, which I can organize in the cramped galley on the my sailboat. I’ve had compliments on my potato salad before at Harbour City Yacht Club events, so why mess with success? But I need another quite different salad as a companion. Hunting through my tattered and stained recipe card collection, I come across two recipes, one for a spinach salad and one for a beet salad. I’m torn between the two, so I decide to take a risk and incorporate the best of them both into one salad.

The key ingredients for salads will overnight in the fridge, allowing a good time for the miracle of marinading to work its magic. Then, with well secured lids, they will travel to the boat in cooler bags packed with ice, thence into the boat’s ice box until needed. Anything with eggs and mayo needs to be handled with extra care, and kept quite cool, or there’s a risk of spoiling.

The potatoes and beets are prepared and cooked first and then completely cooled before being incorporated in the recipes. The spinach is sorted and washed and re-bagged and taken separately. The mayo and sour cream sauce was made and integrated with the potatoes overnight, but the dressing for the beets and spinach was left until last minute. Hard boiled eggs, chopped spring onions, chopped candied walnuts and chopped goat feta were transported in separate containers and added at the last minute.

Since the outward bound journey threatened rain squalls, nothing was packed in glass. Smart salad bowls were left behind, in favour of a couple of 5 quart stainless steel bowls, which cool better and can withstand rough handling, possibly banging about in the icebox.

Pot-lucks are always a challenge for the organizer, as one never really knows what to expect, but club social director Lynne managed brilliantly. A waterfront gazebo had been set aside for our party, which in the end numbered more than 30 people travelling on 11  boats. A propane BBQ had been borrowed from The Oakville Club, kindly organized by their outstanding dockmaster Larry. Long tables were set with pristine white cloths and the food was brought ashore from the assembled fleet of boats. Fortunately there were no burgers to tempt us (we are off red meat at the moment) but plenty of delicious chicken. I counted chicken prepared four different ways, but there may have been more, all delicious. There were appetizers galore, plentiful salads, and cup cakes and butter tarts for dessert. Stuffed, and quite tired after an exhausting sail through the squalls, I hit my bunk unusually early, but the rest of the party went on until the small hours.

Red Skinned Potato SaladSalad 2

Serves 12
Preparation time 15 min
Cooking and chilling time 3 ½ hr

3 lb (about 15) unpeeled cooked red potatoes, cut into chunks
1 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp white vinegar
4 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 dill pickle, chopped
2 cups celery stalk, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
1 dash hot sauce
1 tbsp dried dill weed
1/2 tsp garlic powder
black pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking
1. Place the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Do not overcook. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl to cool. Cut into cubes.
2. Place the fresh eggs in cold water, salt well, and bring the water to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 10 min. Cool the eggs and leave in their shells until ready to garnish.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, pickle, celery and hot sauce. Season with dill, garlic powder, onion salt, salt, and pepper. Pour over the potatoes, and gently toss to coat. Chill at least 3 hours in the refrigerator before serving.
4. Garnish with chopped eggs and chopped green onions.

Beet and Spinach Salad with Goat FetaSalad 1

Serves 12
Preparation time 10 min
Cooking and chilling time 45 min

8 medium cooked beets – scrubbed, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 cup chopped walnuts
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 (10 ounce) package mixed baby spinach leaves
1 cup (295 ml) frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 ounces goat feta

Preparation and cooking
1. Place beets into a saucepan, and fill with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Drain and cool, then cut in to cubes.
2. While the beets are cooking, place the walnuts in a skillet over medium-low heat. Heat until warm and starting to toast, then stir in the maple syrup. Cook and stir until evenly coated, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the orange juice concentrate, balsamic vinegar and olive oil to make the dressing. Add a little dressing to the completely cooled beets to allow them to marinade.
4. To assemble, put the spinach in a bowl, add the balance of the dressing and toss well to cover. Add the beets little by little and mix in well. Garnish with the goat feta and broken up candied walnuts.

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Maui when the girls were very small

On Maui when the girls were very small

Travelling over from Maui, Hawaii, to the pineapple island of Lanai, was a wondrous trip on a large charter catamaran. We docked and were met by some cheerful locals. We had arranged a plantation tour, and our guide was a chatty Hawaiian woman. She reminded me a bit of South Pacific’s Bloody Mary, with a bit of advice for everyone. This was so long ago that my two daughters, now both lovely grown women and one to be married this summer, were very small. With them in tow we got special treatment. Halfway through the tour our guide pulls up to a field where pineapples are being harvested. She hauls a machete out of the van, tromps into the field, and moments later comes back with a large fresh fruit. The pickers had left it as too ripe for canning, but perfect for eating. She explained the Dole Company let them take as many as they wanted, and after a lifetime of picking pineapple, they didn’t want to eat much.

Grilled pineapple topped with strawberries, pomegranate and ice cream

Grilled pineapple topped with strawberries, pomegranate and ice cream

With a few deft strokes of her machete, the pineapple held in her other hand, she had peeled it and removed all the spiky eyes. Then cutting off luscious chunks, she offered them to the girls on the tip of her knife. The fruit was sweeter than candy, the juices ran down their faces and I’m sure they got an instant sugar rush. It was the best pineapple I’d ever tasted, before or since.

Sadly, soon after our visit, Dole sold the island and move their pineapple operations to the Philippines. After languishing in the doldrums for many years, Oracle chief Larry Ellison bought the island for untold millions last June. His plans are unclear, but can you hear mega resort for the ϋber weathly? I wonder what happened to Bloody Mary and her kin?

I’ve never lost the trick of peeling a pineapple Hawaiian style, cutting a spiral groove down the side to follow the pattern and remove the eyes and finally trimming off any excess skin, but there are easier methods and a simpler one is given below.

Ataulfo mango topped with kiwi and pomegranate

Ataulfo mango topped with kiwi and pomegranate

Another fruit I love, which is also tricky to peel, is the Ataulfo mango, the Mexican version of the Indian Alfonso mango. It’s flesh is yellow, sweet and not at all fibrous, which is what distinguishes it from common mangoes. Once you have tried it you will never touch another variety.

We first began buying Alfonso mangoes in the East Indian and Chinese markets in Toronto. I have a hilarious photo of Diane, dressed in an orange silk shirt, carrying an orange Dooney and Bourke handbag, standing in front of stacks of orange boxed mangoes, haggling with the vendor over the price of a case. She doesn’t like the photo so it won’t appear here, as she says it makes her look like a big mango. I believe she bought the whole case of a dozen for $10, so they cost less than a dollar each. They are only in season for a couple of months, but worth tracking down.

We discovered Ataulfos, named after the farmer on whose land they were found growing, when we were in Costa Rica a couple of years ago, and that’s where I learned the easy way to peel them. Simplicity itself when you know how, and I have included photo instructions here.

The final fruit that is difficult to peel is pomegranate, host to scores of beneficial attributes. Extracting the seeds is easy once you know how (see below). A spoonful of these ruby red tasty, crunchy seeds adds zest to any fruit dessert.

Summer is a time for serving fresh fruit desserts with a simple dollop of ice cream or crème fraîche. Markets are packed with fresh produce, including exotic fruits from warmer climes. Canadian fresh strawberries, peaches and apples are all available or will be soon. Walking around the St. Lawrence Market on our usual weekly trip we buy fresh Ataulfos and pineapple.

Here’re two really good recipes using fresh summer fruit.

Mango delight
Preparation time 10 min

Ingredients (per person)
½ fresh Ataulfo mango
1 kiwi fruit
1 tbsp pomegranate seeds (optional)
1 scoop of mango ice cream or crème fraîche

1. Peel and slice the mango as shown in the photos.
2. Peel and slice a kiwi
3. Pile the fruits in a bowl and simply top with a scoop of ice cream or crème fraîche

Easy method for slicing a mango

1. Score through skin and into flesh in quarters

1. Score through skin and into flesh in quarters

2. Peel skin

2. Peel skin

3. Slice down close beside thin pit

3. Slice down close beside thin pit

4. Separate segments and chop up as required

4. Separate segments and chop up as required

Grilled pineapple sundae
Serves 6 – 8
Preparation time 30 min
Cooking time 10 min

1 whole fresh pineapple
1 box whole fresh strawberries
1 whole fresh pomegranate (or 1 cup pomegranate seeds)
1 tbsp ground allspice
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp brown cane sugar
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 scoop of vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche per person
2 oz rum (optional)

Grilling pineapple on the BBQ

Grilling pineapple on the BBQ

Preparation and cooking
1. Peel and slice the pineapple into long, thick chunks. (Check below for my preferred method for peeling.)
2. Mix ground allspice, cinnamon and 1/2 cane sugar together, put the pineapple in a large bowl and gently toss in the mixture until well covered. If the bowl is too small the slices may break. Lay the covered slices on some waxed paper and cover with more until you are ready to broil under the grill or BBQ.
3. Wash and hull the strawberries, then chop into medium size chunks. Mix in a bowl with the balance of the cane sugar and a dash of fresh ground black pepper. Counter-intuitively, pepper brings out the full flavour of the berries. Cover and reserve in fridge until ready to serve. For an added boost of flavour splash in a couple of shots of rum.
4. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate.
5. No more than an hour before your guests arrive, grill the pineapple slices under a hot grill until the sugar caramelizes on the surface of the fruit. Turn and grill the other side. Pay attention as it’s easy to burn the fruit. If your meal is to be an outside BBQ affair, then you can grill the fruit at the same time you cook your meat. The pineapple should be no more than warm when served. Too hot will melt the ice cream.
5. Serve on a dish, not in a bowl as your guests will need to cut the pineapple on a flat surface. Plate two or three slices of grilled pineapple, spoon over the strawberry chunks, sprinkle on a tablespoonful of pomegranate seeds and top with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.

Easy method for peeling pineapple
You can tell when a pineapple is ripe is by the smell. Hold it up to your nose and smell the scent of sweetness. If it is soft it is too ripe. Cut the top leaves and bottom off with a sharp knife. Cut the pineapple vertically in half, then in quarters and finally cut the quarters into thick slices, probably three or four per quarter. Allowing two or three full slices per person, bag the rest in plastic for another day. It will keep fresh for three or four. Now cut the rough skin off, keeping as close to the edge as possible to conserve the fruit. Left behind will be a pattern of coarse prickly indents. With a small sharp knife, make V-shaped cuts around each indent and remove.

Easy method for extracting pomegranate seeds
Score the tough skin with a sharp knife into six or eight segments, but do not cut into the fruit. Break the fruit along the score lines. Then taking each chunk containing the seeds, gently ease out the seeds under water in a bowl of water with your fingers or a small spoon. Loose pith should float to the surface, the seeds should sink. Rinse well to remove any detritus. Take care not to break the seeds, which are very staining.

PS: Please leave a comment, if you found something useful or interesting in these recipes. Or please add your own variations for others to share.



Niagara sails into Toronto Harbour

Niagara sails into Toronto Harbour

The tall ships sailed into Toronto Harbour yesterday afternoon, white sails piled up into the sky like cumulus clouds, cannons firing and generally putting on a wonderful show. I was watching out particularly for the US Privateer Lynx. Captain Stefan Edick had first messaged me at 05 dark 30 to say they had their best day’s sailing yet the day before and a gentle sail overnight and that they had arrived off Toronto. As they’ve sailed up the lake, we’ve become quite acquainted electronically and I’m really looking forward to meeting him. I was glad they had the morning to get their ship squared away before parading in with several  other visiting tall ships.

The fireboat, sending cannons of water spraying into the air marks the start of the procession, leading these majestic ships through the harbour’s Eastern Gap. Unicorn is followed by Lynx, then Pride of Baltimore II, Niagara and finally Sorlandet, the largest vessel in the fleet, from Norway.

Sorlandet dressed to kill

Sorlandet dressed to kill

While the others are under sail, Sorlandet has doused her sails, dressing the ship with signal flags, and posing the crew handsomely in the rigging.

Privateer Lynx takes aim at the writer

Privateer Lynx takes aim at the writer

Several ships mount cannons and they’re fired off with great enthusiasm. I’m pleased Lynx has the loudest charge. No stinting on powder for Captain Stefan. As his ship comes level with the spot where I’m waiting with the Harbourmaster and a line handling crew–and I’m sure he was completely unaware of my presence–the starboard cannon is pointing right at me as it discharges. I’m so startled I’m amazed the picture turned out. Diane, standing beside me, actually squeaks.

The fireboat salutes the tall ships

The fireboat salutes the tall ships

Along Harbour Square Park East, Niagara docks first, her yards sticking so far over her sides that they almost touch the trees along the boardwalk. Then in comes Pride II, graceful as an ocean greyhound, her square rigged yards pulled back almost fore and aft. Finally it was time to squeeze Lynx into the dock, and she made it very nicely, but her bowsprit hung off the end of the dock by many feet. Fortunately, the pirate ship, Liana’s Ransom, docked at right angles is not going out during their stay.

While docking is taking place, re-enactors are rehearsing in the period village that has sprung up in the park behind us. Swords clash, lines are declaimed and Canada generally wins the war of 1812 again. I wonder what our three visiting historic American ships will make of that when the show opens to the public this morning.

Pride of Baltimore II and Niagara docked at Harbour Square Park East

Pride of Baltimore II and Niagara docked at Harbour Square Park East

I spend the afternoon on board, chatting with various members of the crew as Captain Stefan wrestles with the bureaucracy at Canada Border Services Agency. Finally all is organized and the crew and passengers can go ashore. The 1812 displays are set up in the park nearby and ready for today’s onslaught of visitors. The ships are spread along the waterfront. The whole Redpath Waterfront Festival is free, but access to the ships is by coded wristband. Those have to be ordered online through the Festival website in advance or bought onsite. The weather promises to be fair and this is something really worth a visit. Come early and be prepared for line-ups.

The official opening ceremonies take place in HTO Park at 1830 tonight and as I hinted in my last story, Lynx will be firing her cannon as she sails past as part of a dramatic performance. The Parade of Sail concludes the Festival with a sailpast of all the ships starting at 1600 on Sunday. Between times, there are lots of other activities and best of all the ships are all open for deck tours, starting at 1000 today through 1300 Sunday.

Cook Koriander Pepper encourages Nigel to help with crew dinner

Cook Koriander Pepper encourages Nigel to help with crew dinner

Meanwhile, Chief Mate Cheyenne Dutcher arranges for me to get a commemorative Lynx cap and T-shirt and introduces me to the cook for a tour of the boat. The cook, I kid you not, is named Koriander Pepper. How could she not be a ship’s cook? First up she offered me home made ginger snaps. I compliment her. She texts me the recipe. I ask her for the recipe to her success in feeding the crew. She has three secrets. First: the food is always served on time; second, the food is hot; and third, the food is plentiful. The crew work so hard and so continuously that they’re always hungry. Apparently, quality is not a consideration, the food just better be there when they need it, piping hot and lots of it. The bonus is that everyone I spoke to was full of praise for this talented young woman at the start of her career. The Captain said she makes the best pie crust he’s ever had afloat. Others commented on the fresh bread she bakes every day. The four paying guest crew members, all mature folks, were equally forthcoming on Kori’s talents in the tiny galley.

Then she shows me how she lights the strange diesel fuelled range and invites me to help prep dinner for the few crew members who are dining on board. She has peeled green apples simmering in a sauce of onions, nutmeg, fresh ginger and diced habañero peppers. I help by slicing up some chicken breasts, stirring them in and making sure nothing is going to burn. A big pot of rice is ready to serve. The smells in the galley are wonderful. Although I enjoyed sailing talk with the Captain and the Chief Mate, this was the highlight of my day.

Later, as I was driving the Captain and Chief Mate to a private dinner party, Kori emails me her recipe and a picture of her dish, which I am very pleased to share below.

Apple Habañero Chicken from Koriander Pepper, Privateer Lynx cook

Apple Habañero Chicken

Apple Habañero Chicken – photo by Kori

Serves 6

1/2 cup butter
1/2 a whole nutmeg, grated
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
2 habañero peppers, diced fine
1 large green apple, cored and sliced fine
1/2 medium onion, sliced
4 large chicken breasts, sliced
Salt, pepper and garlic to taste

Simmer the chicken in the sauce, covered, until the chicken is just cooked. Serve with rice and salad.



More rice than you can imagine

More rice than you can imagine

On a recent visit to Toronto’s historic St. Lawrence Market, we learn of the demise of one of the institution’s long-term characters. Rubin Marcus, who manned his rice and beans stall in the basement for more than 40 years, and from whom I first learned about quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), had died just a few days before. The last time we stocked up on this miracle grain from South America, Rube the Rice Man served me himself, still working at 92. Harp, his son-in-law, and Aida now run the store and we discuss the black quinoa I’m planning to serve for our next dinner party.

Pina's ready to custom cut Chilean sea bass

Pina’s ready to custom cut Chilean sea bass

Over at Seafront Fish, Pina, her husband and brother are another long-time market family. Pina assures me the Chilean sea bass is wild caught and sustainable. The real name for this fish is Patagonian toothfish, but in the 70s a clever marketer changed the name, which has stuck in North America. In England it’s called icefish and Japan mero. Pina cheerfully cuts my sea bass steaks to size.

Mario offers the best fruit and veggies

Mario offers the best fruit and veggies

Ponesse Foods, where we buy fresh fruits and vegetables, has been in the north-east corner of the market since 1903. Now run by Mario, Phil and Marco they’re always helpful and rush to get something you can’t find. When I lived around the corner on The Esplanade, I would shop for fresh veggies daily. Now it’s a bit more of an expedition, but the produce is still, I think, the biggest and best selection in the market, if one gets there early enough. Today, I’m picking up fresh Ontario asparagus, berries, pineapple, pomegranate seeds, figs, tarragon and chives from the fresh herbs rack, as well as some staples.

Unlike a supermarket, visiting the old market keeps us in touch with real people when we shop. They love to talk about food, and anything else if they’re not busy. It’s a place where we get ideas for new foods to try. If I can’t find what I want at one stall, I’ll usually be able to find it at another. There’s lots of variety. Now that we have stopped eating red meat, we sadly no longer visit our friends at the butcher, although I still buy fresh turkey from Brown Bros, cheese from Alex Farm Products and made pies and truffles from Eve’s Temptations. This is where I buy Chudleigh’s apple pies in the fall, the best I’ve ever tasted. Except on Saturdays, when it gets crazy busy and the tourists flock in by the bus load, the atmosphere is bright and cheerful. Bustling through the crowds makes shopping fun rather than a chore that has to be dealt with. If we get peckish, there’s half a dozen take out hot food stalls and sit-down service at Paddington’s Pump, which is also licensed. Isabel, who has been working there 23 years, serves our all day breakfast with amazing speed, helped out by a bevy of young women, all smiling. If I need more toys for the kitchen there’s the best kitchen store in the city, right in the middle of the market. I never try and find anything, but ask one of the helpful owners. This day they even have a kettle scale collector.

Sea bass and colourful veggies ready to go

Sea bass and colourful veggies ready to go

The dinner I’ve planned will be for six, but in the following recipes I’ve cut the portions back to four people. I’m planning a cold soup to start, the aforementioned Chilean sea bass for mains, with sides of black quinoa, colourful veggies, and a wonderful new strawberry and pineapple dessert to close.

The table will be laid with one of our new custom sewn table coverings. Diane came up with the idea of making them from ultra-suede. It’s a very clever alternative to cloth, as it washes easily and needs no ironing. We have sets in creamy ivory, tan and dark chocolate brown, in round, one leaf oval and two leaf oval configurations so we can seat four, six or eight people comfortably and 10 at a squeeze. As summer seems to be peeking around the corner we’re going to brighten up the table with green ceramic chargers and a flower arrangement of green and white, to go with the silver candlesticks, white candles and starched white linen napkins.

Chilean sea bass
Serves 4
Preparation time 20 min
Marinade time 1 – 2 hr
Cooking time 20 min

4 6-8oz sea bass filet steaks
Juice of ½ lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp capers (drained)
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsely
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
Whole red bell pepper

Preparation and cooking
Wash and pat the fish filet steaks dry. If the fishmonger hasn’t already cut them to size for you, use a very sharp thin knife and slice them into equal portions between 6 and 8 oz (200 g), keeping the skin. Place them into a baking dish so that they fit tightly together.
Prepare the marinade in a bowl: mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, drained capers and chopped herbs together well and spoon over the top of the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably two.
Preheat the oven to 390°F/200°C and bake the fish uncovered and in the marinade for 15 – 20 min. The fish is done when a knife slides into the flesh easily.
While the fish is baking, prepare the topping. Wash the bell pepper, cut out the stalk, break it open and rinse out the seeds and dry. Then chop into ½ inch squares. Put the chopped pepper into a small covered saucepan and soften it only with some olive oil or butter.
Lift the fish out of the baking dish with a spatula, being careful not to break the steaks. Scoop up any remaining marinade and spoon it onto the top of the fish, then spoon some of the peppers onto the top of each fish.  Garnish with some long chive stalks.

Vegetable suggestions: black quinoa, with pine nuts and mint served as an alternative to starch, a much healthier option; I steamed small organic carrots, leaving some of the stalk on for effect, organic green beans and miniature multi-coloured individual cauliflowers.

Serves 4
Preparation time 5 min
Cooking time 15 min

1 cup black quinoa
1 ½ cups water or vegetable stock
2 tbsp pine nuts
8 mint leaves
Olive oil or butter

Preparation and cooking
It is very important to rinse the quinoa thoroughly. Put the loose grains in a sieve and spray with cold water for 3 min. Then tip them into a saucepan. When you are ready to cook, add the water, bring to a boil and simmer for 12 – 15 min until all the water is absorbed. For more flavour replace the water with vegetable stock.
Gently toast the pine nuts in a pan with a very little olive oil.
Wash the mint, remove all the stalks, chop roughly.
When ready to serve, toss the pine nuts and mint briefly into the cooked grain and fluff with a fork.

PS: Please leave a comment if you like these recipes, or if you have your own variations to share.

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Baked salmon with blue spuds and buttered asparagus

Baked salmon with blue spuds and buttered asparagus

Dining out has become a chore, as two Globe and Mail columnists have pointed out. “We’ve become the … casualties of a downtown-hipster scene that defines itself by eardrum-perforating ambience, unchewable house-cured offal, self-taught twenty something chefs with laughable tats and a two-hour wait for unpadded seats at the communal picnic table,” writes John Allemang. Chris Nuttall-Smith adds that people in their 50s and 60s just don’t belong in today’s trendy restaurants. Diane and I do so agree, which is why, when we want to enjoy the company of friends and have a good chat in very comfy chairs, we entertain at home. Dinner need not be complicated. No one expects a self-taught home chef to serve Michelin-starred food. Guests feel free to help serve and clear away, or pour the wine, and their assistance is much appreciated. It’s a convivial scene.

Atlantic salmon served as tender fillets, simply pan fried in butter or baked in a sauce to enhance the flavour, makes one of my favourite dinners. Diane’s as well, and she asks me to serve this at her recent birthday dinner for friends. Fresh salmon isn’t available until later in the summer, but the fish freezes perfectly. Guests are invited and all is well until Diane recalls that the last time we went over to one of our invited couple’s house, the host prepared salmon en papillote. How embarrassing. I look through our dinner book and find the other couple have been served fish here too, though not salmon. Well, there’s nothing for it but to press on and try and make the dinner as different as anything I have made before. One advantage of a dinner book is that one knows exactly who we have had over, and what they were served, and who the other guests were. The disadvantage is that one has to refer to it.

I dig through my tatty, food splashed index card collection and find a recipe for baked Atlantic salmon with lemon, dill and kefir. I’ve only tried this once before and the sauce didn’t turn out well, so I decide simply to use the kefir as a post-oven dressing, topping the dish off with the runny yoghurt-like sauce from a squeeze bottle (one of the same type I use for coulis). The tart kefir topping enhances the rich flavour.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

The advantage of baking over pan frying is simply that everything can be prepared before the guests arrived. The salmon is left sealed under plastic wrap to marinate and can be popped straight into the oven, without all the last minute cooking, splatters and odours associated with pan frying, which must be done at the last minute.

A mild creamy vegetable soup is served first, again easy to prepare the day before and keep warm in a pot on the stove. The salmon is plated with some simply steamed asparagus and boiled tiny new potatoes, something one can leave cooking while attending to guests. Dessert was a made tart, so I dressed it up with fresh whipped cream and a raspberry blackberry coulis (see my blog An Urgent message from the Duchess on December 18, 2012). Perfect.

Serves 6
Preparation time 10 minutes
Marinade time 30 – 90 minutes
Cooking time 25 minutes

6 Atlantic salmon fillets (approx 7 – 8 oz/200 g each)
4 peeled and minced cloves of garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt
6 sprigs fresh washed dill
1/2 thinly sliced lemon
1 sliced onion
1 cup kefir

Baking dish (approx 10” x 12”)
Chef’s tongs
Knives and cutting board
Measuring cup and spoons

Preparation and cooking
1. Wash and dry the fillets. If the fishmonger hasn’t already cut them to size for you, use a very sharp thin knife and slice them into equal portions between 7 and 8 oz (200 g) each, keeping the skin on the bottom, place skin down in a baking dish.
2. Make the marinade from the peeled and minced cloves of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Mix well in a cup and pour over the salmon. Slice the onion very thinly and layer over the salmon. Slice the lemon very thinly and add on top of the onion. Wash the dill sprigs, remove most of the stalk and lay on top. Cover in plastic wrap and reserve in the fridge for between 30 and 90 min.
3. When ready to cook pre-heat the oven to 200°C/390°F, remove the plastic wrap and bake uncovered for 20 min. Then discard the toppings and broil the salmon for a further 5 min to brown the top. When you lift the fish out carefully, the skin should stay behind.
4. Plate with veggies and then decorate with a swirl of kefir from a squeeze bottle.

I steamed asparagus for 8 min and boiled yellow, red and blue new potatoes for 12 min, drizzling both with hot butter.

We served a very dry French Chablis, Domaine des Malandes, 2011, which turned out to be an excellent choice.


Recipes can be very confusing for the beginner, especially if you are not familiar with all the various abbreviations, conversions, measure and so on that are used.

When I was writing my cookbook I had, let us say, a heated discussion with an editor about the use of abbreviations in recipes. We are not writing a novel, I argued, so since many of these measure are repeated endlessly, it makes sense to use short forms. I do use several common ones consistently, such as:

oz = ounce(s)
lb = pound(s) (NOTE: lb stands for the Latin libra and, as the plural is librae, the abbreviation for pounds is still lb.)
tsp = teaspoonful(s)
tbsp = tablespoonful(s)
min = minute(s)
hr = hour(s)
F = Fahrenheit
C = Celsius or centigrade (in use until 1948 and on the BBC until 1985)

American recipe books usually have temperatures in Fahrenheit, whereas Canadian and European books are mostly in Celsius, also called centigrade in older books. To compound the difficulty the US uses a different measure to the Imperial volume used in Canada and the UK. Europe has been metric since the time of Napoleon. Converting from one to the other is not an exact science, but below are rough guides, rounded to the nearest 5 units.

Your oven may cook a little hotter or a little cooler, but only time and experience will tell, unfortunately.

Temperature conversions
0°C  = 32°F (freezing point of water)
85°C = 180°F (stove top simmering point of water)
100°C = 212°F (boiling point of water)

105°C = 225°F (very slow oven)
110°C = 230°F
120°C = 250°F
125°C = 260°F
135°C = 275°F
140°C =285°F
150°C = 300°F
160°C = 320°F (moderately slow)
170°C = 340°F (moderate)
180°C = 355°F
185°C = 365°F
190°C = 375°F (moderately hot)
200°C = 390°F
205°C = 400°F (hot)
210°C = 410°F
220°C = 430°F
230°C = 450°F (very hot)
240°C = 465°F
245°C = 475°F

Weight and volume conversions
1,000 grams = 1 kilogram = 1 litre
4 cups = 1 liquid quart = 2 pints = 1 litre
16 oz = 1/2 litre = 1 lb (dry measure)
2 cups = 16 fluid oz = 1 pint = 500 grams
1 cup = 8 oz = 225 grams
4 tbsp = 1/4 cup = 2 fluid oz = 55 grams
2 tbsp = 1 fluid oz = 25 grams
3 tsp = 1 tbsp

Save this page where you can find it fast for regular reference.

PS: Please leave a comment, if you found something useful or interesting in this recipe. Or please add your own variations for others to share.