Smoked Salmon Chowder

Christmas is just around the corner and mostly the focus is on the big day. The day we have a big turkey with all the trimmings. Thankfully this is a family event because no one family could possibly cater to all the celebrations.
Christmas Eve is traditionally a fish and seafood night for many families. This recipe may be something you serve that night or it might be a way to use up all those bits and pieces of leftover seafood. Either way it is very satisfying

Smoked Salmon Chowder

Any fresh or smoked fish would work in this recipe. You could also use all the bits and pieces of leftover fish and seafood in this chowder. Manitoba smoked goldeye would be delicious.

1 tbsp. olive oil
3 c. leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large stalk celery, chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 c. vegetable broth
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 c. milk (any fat content)
8 oz. smoked salmon, flaked
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 tbsp. chives, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat. Add leeks and garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add potato, celery, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth and simmer until potato is tender, about 15 minutes.
Add tomato paste and milk, then the salmon, and bring the mixture back to a simmer for a few minutes but don't let it boil, or the milk will separate. As it simmers, stir in the cream.
Remove from heat, garnish with chives, and serve. Makes four to six servings. (From Epicurious)


To Victoria and Back Again

What is your first question when you talk to someone just returning from Victoria, Canada? Really, it took you more than two seconds? It's all about the weather. While the rest of the country is in the depths of cold and snow Victoria is the only green spot in the entire country. Therefore, I thought I would share my visit through the lens of weather. This is the view from one window of the home I was housesitting. The neighbouring property is a little old house perched far back on the lot leaving a sizeable front garden. I took a liking to these two flamingo pink lawn chairs.


One day this painting arrived on one of the chairs. Was it for me? Did my neighbour witness my voyeurism? 

At first blush I would discard this photograph. But look at the sunlight it reflects.

 This shows the normal November weather.

Eek! Snow! And it stayed for two or three days. I was wearing my fur lined jacket, Uggs, fur hat and ski mitts.

Dull days.

So there you have it. November in Victoria. Really, it isn't all about the weather. Honest.


Fritto Misto Amalfitano

Here is another idea for your Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve. I am not a big fan of deep frying but I really like this recipe from Leite's Culinaria. There is no heavy batter. It is only a light dusting. Any oil with a high smokepoint would work. This is a great idea for bits and pieces of fish and seafood in the larder. Turn it out onto newspaper to absorb all the oil. Serve with lemon wedges.

Fritto Misto Amalfitano
6 c. extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
2 c. canola oil, or more as needed
1 1/2 c.rice flour
1 c. cornstarch
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, 1 thinly sliced and 1 cut into wedges
1 lb. squid, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces, or large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 oz. shucked oysters
4 oz. bay scallops
1/2 lb. firm mild white fish, cut into 1 1/4-inch strips 
Combine oils in a Dutch oven or other wide, deep pot. It should be at least 8 inches deep. Add more oil, if necessary. Set the pot over a medium flame. Bring to 275 F and maintain that temperature.
While oil is heating, combine flour, cornstarch, sugar, cayenne and two teaspoons each of salt and pepper in a wide, shallow bowl. Dredge the lemon slices and the seafood in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour. 
Using tongs or a slotted spoon, gently lower some of the dredged lemon slices into the hot oil, working with just four to six pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pot. The oil should bubble and sizzle but not spatter. Cook until golden brown and crisp, about five minutes. Keep an eye on the oil temperature. It will drop after the raw ingredients are added and climb as they are cooking. Do not let the oil temperature climb above 280 F. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the lemons to a baking sheet or platter lined with paper towels or a brown paper bag and season with salt and pepper while everything is still hot out of the oil.
Repeat with the seafood, reserving the squid. Increase the temperature of the oil to 325 F and repeat with the squid. Serve family style, on a platter or a newspaper covered table, along with lemon wedges on the side for squeezing.


Oven Roasted Rainbow Trout

There is something about whole fish that impresses dinner guests. Usually I like to grill over wood charcoal but sometimes, in the winter, I want to stay cozy in my kitchen.

Any whole fish can be used. Arctic char or salmon work well. Quickly grilling the orange slices in a dry hot pan before garnishing adds more interest to their appearance and caramelizes the sugars for a more complex flavour.

I make my wild rice pilaf with mostly wild rice and some white basmati rice. In a cast iron pan saute finely chopped shallots, wild mushrooms, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds before adding the rices. Lay the fish over and serve right in the cast iron pan.

This would be great on Christmas Eve for the feast of the seven fishes.
Roasted Rainbow Trout with Orange and Thyme

1 2-lb. whole rainbow trout, scaled, gutted, and cleaned
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1/2 orange, sliced into thin rounds
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh orange juice
Heat oven to 450 F. Season the trout cavity with salt and pepper, and stuff it with thyme, parsley and orange slices. Using kitchen twine, tie the trout crosswise spacing two inches apart. Rub trout with one tablespoon of oil, and then transfer it to an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Bake trout, turning once with a metal spatula, until cooked through and golden brown on the outside, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the remaining oil with the juice in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Remove twine from the trout and garnish with more orange slices. Drizzle with sauce before serving.


Culinary Tour in Canada's Oldest Chinatown

The earliest immigrants from China started arriving in 1858 and by 1880 Victoria had the largest settlement in Canada. Gold is what brought them but as more and more arrived many established businesses to serve this thriving community.

If you are like me you have walked up and down the aisles of the grocery stores and baffled at the array of dried, canned and fresh foods many of which have no English labels. Enter Chef Heidi who has assisted hundreds of curious cooks over the past 10 years leading this tour. The groups are limited to six people which allows lots of opportunity for questions and personal assistance. Her knowledge of ingredients and even recommending certain brands is impressive. After all, we are often faced with too many choices.

A couple of words we learned as it relates to produce are 'moo' and 'sum'. Moo means baby, as in baby bok choy. Sum refers to a flowering vegetable such as Chinese broccoli.
If you like sticky rice as much as I do you have probably wondered "What is in that?" These sausages add amazing flavour. They must be steamed or boiled for about 15 minutes before using to soften them and render out fat. And you should see the bacon! I wish I had taken a picture. They use it as we would use lardons.
Many people are cautious of produce coming from China. The good news is that most of these are grown in California and make a short trip up the coast. Most items are labelled with country of origin.
Prices in Chinatown are much better than the chain grocery store. One reason is that they have a much smaller space. The aisles are narrow and crammed with product. The sidewalk is an extension of the store. There is no space wasted. Another reason for better prices is that they often purchase the 'ugly' vegetables. This is called #2 grade produce. This is a good thing for the planet. Regular grocery stores throw out a lot of produce because it doesn't conform to certain physical standards.
I had to make a pictorial note of these fermented black beans. I love homemade black bean sauce and this is the key ingredient.
Our tour wound up with tea tasting at Silk Road Tea Store. Honestly, there are too many choices again. I became enamoured with the lapsang souchong black tea. It is a pine smoked black tea that could have all sorts of applications in your kitchen. Thank heaven for the 20% discount. They also sell online which will make it all too easy for me to try a few more.


Poached Cod with Pernod Saffron Broth

This picture perfect dish was my lunch today. I must confess that I am not the chef. Friends Meredith and Gary invited me to their Sooke acreage for lunch. The drive from Victoria is intoxicating as it winds through rocky mixed coniferous and deciduous forests and eventually exposing peek-a-boo views of harbours and inlets along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I always feel recharged when I visit. Their quaint home lies in a cozy clearing surrounded by forest and gardens providing complete privacy.  The Sooke River is the back boundary of their plot. Water is a calming feature and a reminder of life, Mother Nature and the seasons. Growing up on the farm one of my favourite summer vacation diversions was to bicycle to the creek about three miles down the road. By the end of harvest it was barely a trickle in contrast to the overflowing banks in spring.

I am envious of the bay tree and fresh plucked leaves anytime they are called for. Meredith and Gary have lived here for a very long time and together have created this respite from the world. Meredith asked for a bay leaf and Gary came back from the garden with fresh thyme. I was perplexed. After pulling the leaves from the stems and adding them to the poaching liquid Meredith added bay leaves. I pondered this throughout the leisurely meal and after until I realized that after many years of marriage, raising a family and lovingly maintaining their home, perhaps they sometimes work together as one. Obviously Gary knew she had bay leaves already but no thyme so, of course he picked thyme. Either that or I completely missed something.

Meredith carefully followed the recipe from the folded magazine and checked from time to time when I would have thrown it all together. The result was perfection. I had to find this recipe and save it. Although the fresh fish and seafood are not always available where I live I think that frozen cod would be acceptable. The clams not so much so but the dish would still be lovely even without clams.

An added bonus for me was to be able to take pictures with a fully set table. I rarely have that opportunity. It makes for an interesting photograph and allows for different shooting angles with background interest.

As an aside, if you are dreaming of visiting Vancouver Island this is a beautiful spot to spend a week. Gary and Meredith have a private totally equipped cottage on their property that they rent out. So if you would be romanced by a quaint cottage in the woods backing onto a river within a five minute drive to the beaches on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and 40 minutes to the city, make a note of this.
Poached Cod with Pernod Saffron Broth       adapted from Fine Cooking

4 5-oz. cod fillets (preferably 1 inch thick) 
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper  
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 
1 small fennel bulb (about 3/4 lb.), trimmed (leave core intact) and cut into 1/2-inch wedges, plus 1 tbsp. chopped fronds  
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped 
1 medium-large shallot, chopped  
2 8-oz. bottles clam juice 
8 oz. small baby red or fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick coins, ends discarded (about 6 potatoes)  
1 large tomato, cut into small dice (12 oz., about 1-1/2 cups) 
2 tbsp. anisette liqueur, such as Pernod or Sambuca  
1 bay leaf 
1 large sprig fresh thyme  
1/4 tsp. roughly chopped or coarsely ground fennel seed 
A generous pinch of saffron, crumbled (about 25 threads)  
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed 
1-1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 F. Season the cod with salt and pepper. Let it sit at room temperature while you prepare the braising mixture.

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the fennel to a plate. Put the pan over low heat and add the garlic, shallot, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until just softened, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the clam juice, potatoes, tomato, liqueur, bay leaf, thyme, fennel seed, and saffron to the skillet. Raise the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 3 minutes to start the potatoes cooking. Nestle the cod pieces and clams into the sauce, piling the fennel on top of the fish and making sure all of the potatoes are submerged. Tightly cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil and poach in the oven until the fish is almost cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness.

With a slotted spatula, transfer the cod to 4 shallow bowls. Bring the braising liquid, clams, and vegetables to a brisk simmer on top of the stove, cover the pan, and cook until the clams are opened and the vegetables are tender, 3 to 6 minutes more. Divide the opened clams (discard any unopened ones) and vegetables among the bowls. Add the fennel fronds and parsley to the braising liquid in the pan. Bring to a simmer and pour over the fish and vegetables.

Crusty garlic bread served alongside is perfect for soaking up the flavorful sauce.