Falling into comfort food

The leaves are changing colour and a chill is creeping into the ever-lengthing evening shadows, and memories of autumns past come rushing to the fore.
The fall was when my mother- and father-in-law made their pilgrimage from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia to visit us; after his passing, my mother-in-law continued to make the trip and we forged gold and red burnished memories as she took comfort in familiar rituals. Trips to Mahone Bay for the Pirate Festival, down to the Annapolis Valley for the Pumpkin People, and countless drives to take in the brilliant colours of a Nova Scotia autumn.
She’s gone now too, and I miss her terribly, and never more so than in the fall. This year, being out West for our first fall, I not only miss her but to a lesser extent, those traditional things that we continued on with.
One of our favourite things was a stop at Hennigar’s.
There are many farm markets but there’s something about Hennigar’s–the goats, the birds, the seasonal decorations, the gift shop area, the ice cream, the bakeshop, the hot dog stand, and oh, yeah, the vegetables too–I never get tired of visiting. (If you’re not familiar, check out Hennigar’s here).
Of course, fall is harvest time, and market bins are overflowing with carrots, parsnips, corn and winter squash. One of my favourite ways of enjoying these harvest vegetables is with a root vegetable chowder. Soup is, after all, the ultimate comfort food. When I did the book launch in 2012 for my Chowders and Soups book, this is the soup I gave out as samples and it was wildly popular, drawing raves everywhere the soup pot went, and much to my delight.
Cover Draft 5
I’ve shared the recipe before, but in case you missed it, here it is again. The cream can be replaced with lactose free blend, or eliminate the dairy altogether for a lighter soup.

Root Vegetable Chowder

Roasting the vegetables extracts their natural sugars, which is what causes the browning (called caramelization). This in turn intensifies the flavours, erases bitterness and creating a more complex tasting soup.

4 x 8 oz servings

For roasting:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 /2 cup parsnip, cubed*
1 /2 cup carrots, cubed
1 /2 cup turnips, cubed
1 /2 cup red potatoes, cubed
1 /2 cup butternut squash, cubed
(* It doesn’t matter what size you cut these vegetables into, as long as they are cut uniformly so that they cook evenly.)
For the base:
1 tablespoon butter
1 /4 cup diced yellow onions (about 1 /2 small medium onion)
1 /4 cup diced celery
1 1 /2 cup vegetable stock
3 /4 cup coffee (18%) cream
1 /4 cup heavy (35%) cream
3 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 /2 teaspoon herbes de provence
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Roasting the vegetables: Preheat oven to 400F. Spread vegetables in a single layer on sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil. Roast until vegetables begin to brown and are soft (about 45 minutes).
Preparing the base: Melt butter in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Stir in onions and celery, cooking until soft. Add stock has been added, bring to a simmer. Add the roasted vegetables to the broth, and stir in cream, herbs, salt and pepper. Bring back to simmer and heat through for 5-6 minutes, allowing the flavours to blend before serving.

Newf Nibbles: In Which Fleur Assists With a Cookbook Review

One of the best things about moving to the West Coast has been the warm welcome from the Newfoundland dog community out here. Generous with advice, recommendations, and time, these folks have made us feel at home with our dogs.
I had occasion to visit one of these lovely people, and we got to talking about what I did. Once she heard I was a food writer, she asked if I had a copy of the Newfoundland cookbook. My mind of course went to the many Newfoundland (the province) books I owned–but this one was something different.


Jenny gifted me with a copy of “Culinary Concoctions & Newfy Nibbles”, a cookbook compiled by members of the Newf.net forum, and all proceeds went back to rescue and health programs of the Newfoundland Club of America. I am delighted to have this book, combining two of my favourite things, in my collection.

The book is divided into three sections: the people recipes, about 3 dozen dog recipes, and a small selection of photos and stories, both humorous and heartwarming.
There’s a broad variety of people recipes, written in folksy, lighthearted ways (Meatloaf-that-even-the-kids-like, Greg’s Colorful Poop Chili). Appetizer to desserts to drinks are covered, with plenty of Newf humour and silliness spread throughout (Newfucius Says he who has Newfie in kitchen gets a good lickin’). All good fun, and there are plenty of recipes that look great too.

Fleur: My turn? My turn? It’s my turn to write now Mom right?

Fleur: Mom went to see this lady who has dogs. She came home smelling like OTHER dogs drool, an I don’t like THAT. But she had this book see? A cookbook! And it has dog recipes in it see? An I LOVES to eat so YAY!
There’s Newf Breakfast Bars, I could eat breakfast! There’s Beef and Barley Bites, I like beef and barley! Well, beef anyway. Mom what’s barley??
There’s cake and liver brownies! I don’t like liver but I bet it’s some good in brownies! Mom, you gonna make me some of that? We haven’t had homemade treats since we moved! C’mon Mom! How about a batch of Snickerpoodles???? Bet even Jack would like those!
Fleur:I give this book 4 paws up!!!!

And there you have it. It seems that at last, I have a cookbook that I will actually prepare something from–I’m sure I, or Fleur, will let you know how it goes.

East vs. West: Battle Halibut


Halibut is one of my very favourite fish to work with. The firm, meaty flesh is versatile and stands up to many cooking techniques, the mild taste is beautiful on it’s own, but can carry stronger flavours equally well, and being a flatfish, it’s particularly easy to bone and fillet.

Atlantic (Hippoglossus hippoglossus) and Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) are technically two separate species, with the Pacific fish growing very slightly larger, but the meat is so similar in texture and taste that for cooking purposes, they are interchangeable.

The main differences in Pacific and Atlantic halibut seem to be twofold: stewardship, and usage.
In very broad terms, the Atlantic stock is well below sustainable levels, due largely to overfishing. It is more acceptable to use halibut caught via hook-and-line than trawler caught, and harpooned is better still.
The Pacific fishery has been better managed and so the West Coast halibut is not endangered. These two websites provide an excellent source of information on sustainability and making informed choices:
Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch

Atlantic market halibut are much smaller than their Pacific counterparts resulting in larger fillets and steaks on West Coast fish counters. Interestingly, I have found the prices to be higher for halibut out here.

Me, filleting halibut in the Yukon, 2000.

Me, filleting halibut in the Yukon, 2000.

Atlantic halibut, ready to fillet at home, 2013.

Atlantic halibut, ready to fillet at home, 2013.

Usage varies on each coast: Halibut is in much more common usage out here in things like fish and chips, fish tacos, and wraps. On the Atlantic side, you’d never see halibut used for casual fare (even pre-stock depletion); certainly not in fish & chips where cod is king (or more commonly in NS, haddock). On the East Coast, halibut is usually served (when offered at all) in more upscale entrees–perhaps poached, or pan seared, and never deep fried.

If this was Battle FOR Halibut, the West would win based on superior conservation efforts; efforts that I’m not sure aren’t based on lessons learned from the East Coast. But this is Battle Halibut, and based on taste, this one’s a draw.

You can find one of my favourite halibut recipes in a blog post from last year: Blackened Halibut Chowder. Bon Appetit!

Cookbook Score: Bella Coola PTA

It’s been too long since my last post, and I’m sorry for that; I’ve been dealing with a calcification in my rotator cuff, and a “frozen” shoulder that makes it difficult to write. It’s been a slow haul back to the keyboard, but shockwave & other physical therapy is starting to work a little magic. Enough of that business, on to the topic of the day.
Regular readers know I’m a sucker for a cookbook, and especially the oldies. While rooting around a fabulous used furniture store, I spied a small pile of cookbooks tucked into a corner, and unearthed this delight:


Bella Coola is about 1000km north of Vancouver, and after checking out the region online, I’ve just added it to our list of places to see while we’re posted out here. The pictures on the website are breathtaking, you really should have a look here.
Back to the book: this one was put together by the local PTA in 1963, and assures me that I can please the family using their favourite recipes (love those old-school sentiments). It’s interesting to me because while I have several of these community type cookbooks, this is the first one in which the pages are photocopies of handwritten recipes, adding a different dimension of character. (Incidentally, this one was printed by Alex Wilson Publications out of Dryden, Ontario, still in business!)

Note the recipe for a happy home, which at first glance induces eye-rolling in its folksy earnestness, then upon second reading, mostly rings true.
I love the household and cooking tips, (a lump of sugar in the water can force a rose to bloom! Before cleaning fish, sprinkle salt on the breadboard for easier cleanup!)
and can just imagine the women as they neatly scribed their favourites, in careful handwriting, for inclusion. So much community culinary history here, I wonder about their families, if they and their families still live in the valley, and how many of these books would be around with addition recipes written on the blank pages in the back.
I’m notorious for adding cookbooks to my collection without ever cooking from them, but in this case I’m not sure I can resist trying Granny Plommer’s Blackcurrant Jam, or something I’ve not seen before, Salmon Egg Stew. And if I do actually get around to making them, I’ll let you know how they go!

Dog Days: In which Fleur explores Whiffen Spit Park


Fleur: Hi! I had a BIG adventure today! An’ I wanted to tell you all about it! And Jack wasn’t there because he didn’t wanna get up in the truck, and it’s because he’s OLDER but I’m not old yet so I got to go!
Across from my house we can see this lighthouse and Mommy said it’s a “dog-friendly” park! I’m a dog! I’m friendly! So we went over there!IMG_6225

An’ when we got here, I saw a LOT of dogs! And right there in front of my very eyes was a Landseer like baby Jack! Her name is Emily and she is SEVEN today! I sat for a birthday picture with her and her friend Lucy, and their mom made a BIG fuss over me and said I was BEAUTIFUL! Which I AM! So that Mommy is a smart Mommy like mine! But Mommy made such a fuss over her–Mommy, I’M the prettiest, ask Grandma Dee!


We walked WAY out the LIGHT! We saw LOTS of people on the way an’ this woman said to Mommy “Are you taking your bear for a walk?” and I looked around for a bear but there wasn’t any just me! And Mommy laughed but that same laugh when people ask her how big our poop is! The polite laugh!
Then some animals came by I hadn’t seen before! I barked and barked but Mommy said they were horses and nothing to be afraid of. And one of the ladies on the horses said “Well look at you, you’re almost as big as a pony yourself!”
Then a girl came by an’ said “Your dog is not gonna eat mine, is he?” What kind of dog was that Mommy? Started with F? (Yorkshire Terrier, Fleur) No Mommy I think you said an F-word!
(do you want to finish this or not Fleur?)
Anyway, I was insulted because FIRST of all I’m CLEARLY a GIRL, and second I wouldn’t want to EAT that thing–all that long hair caught in my teeth, yuck!
So we looked over at my house from this side then we started back.

And I got to swim LOTS! It took us two times as long to walk back because I swam lots!

And then the BEST part, because Mommy stopped at the store to get us beef jerky treats.
I took some home to Jack. I told him ALL about our adventure so he will be SURE to want to go next time!



Upon settling into our temporary home, in a fairly secluded cottage outside Victoria, one of the first things we did was have friends over for dinner. I’m big on all the gathering round the table and breaking bread business, and my girl friend is hilarious, and quite frankly, after an 11 day drive across the country with two dogs I needed a good laugh.
There are limitations to cabin cooking, and to our energy levels at the end of the drive and so hotdogs and hamburgers it was. Now, in this part of Vancouver Island, there are bears (not grizzlies, but black bears), lots of bears, and I was doing research to ensure we didn’t do anything to inadvertently invite our new ursine neighbours for dinner too. This safety guide provides great advice and one thing jumped out at me: “Be watchful at barbecues. The smell from cooking meat attracts bears.” So…should I set another place at the table, I wondered?


The great black shadow moves easily
through old growth forested landscape
catching a scent in the breeze
he turns and moves in close
hears laughter sees smoke
mouth watering
hunger peaks
no one
as he
unaware of
what circles, watching
then melting back in trees
having recognized grill smells
beast grumbles and slowly moves off
them no wiser for close proximity
what’s wrong with these creatures-hot dogs, again?

East vs. West: Battle Salmon

Sockeye sizzling in butter

Sockeye sizzling in butter

Moving from Halifax to Victoria gives me a great opportunity to compare and contrast foodstuffs with their opposite coast counterparts. This idea came to me as I was cooking the lovely sockeye fillets, above. Without further ado, I present Battle Salmon.

Atlantic Salmon (salmo salar)
Canada’s east coast is home to one salmon species, known widely and simply as Atlantic salmon. Interestingly, these salmon do not need salt water to survive, and landlocked populations (ounaniche) are not uncommon.
Sadly, due to overfishing and habitat interference, the wild Atlantic salmon numbers dropped to critical levels by the 2000’s, and there is no commercial Canadian Atlantic fishery. Recent numbers have indicated, however, that the native population is surging back thanks to conservations efforts. We should have taken the cue from Scotland, where Alexander II passed legislation protecting Atlantic salmon in 1318 (yes, thirteen eighteen).
What’s available on the open market is farmed salmon, and there’s much debate about the viability, environmental concerns, food safety, and ethics of fish farming–so much so, that I’m not scratching that itch here. Taste-wise, the aquaculture industry has managed to produce a fish that does stack up well to wild salmon and especially if prepared using stronger ingredients or cooking techniques that prevent detection of flavour subtleties. But, in weighing desire for salmon against the potential issues, my scales come down on the side of caution, and I prefer not to eat farmed fish.

Pacific Salmon
There are seven species of Pacific salmon, two of which are indigenous to Japan, the other five found here in BC.
As I type this, sockeye salmon fishing boats are poised and ready at the mouth of the Fraser River, where 23 MILLION fish are estimated to leave the sea and head up the river to spawn. The catch window is 3pm to 6pm local time, so about an hour from now.
Sockeye, aka red salmon, turns blood red with a green head when it returns to spawn. Landlocked sockeye are known as kokanee.
Coho, or silver salmon, are popular ocean game fish because apparently, they put up quite a fight and are very exuberant in their pursuit of lures.
Chum salmon is also called dog or keta salmon, has the largest range of any Pacific salmon but is the least commercial.
Pink, or humpback salmon are the ones the colour “salmon pink” refers to–they eat a lot of shrimp and krill, which gives that pink shade. They have the shortest life span and thus are the smallest of the Pacific salmon, topping out at around 6.5kg.
The Chinook, or King salmon, is the largest of the Pacific species, weighing up to 61kg and is prized by anglers. Certain Native American tribes value the Chinook highly; it is the salmon around which most native mythology revolves. Chinook is also called “Spring” salmon locally.

But how about taste? Widely available, sockeye and coho have very red, sometimes reddish orange flesh, and a rich taste, great for the table and most commonly sold whole, fillets or steaks. Chinook has more limited availability, and is a lighter colour. It has the highest oil content of these five, and as such is most often smoked. Certain chum populations are also red, with firm flesh and medium oil content, also great as fillets. Pink salmon is very mild, soft, and typically sold canned or used in other salmon products, like fishcakes. The locals have told me that fresh pink salmon is very good and should not be discounted too quickly, and I will follow up that with more research (for me, research equates to cooking and eating).

I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the three most common table fish (Coho, sockeye, and Chinook), and would argue that wild Atlantic salmon can stand up taste wise to any of these.
Farmed salmon, however, pales in comparison in both taste and texture. As farmed salmon is the only one easily found on the market on the East Coast, I must concede the victory to the West.

Battle Salmon: West Coast for the Win.