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Talk about a big dose of nostalgia. Licorice and grilled cheese really are the foods of my youth, a not so distant youth that I revisit on an almost weekly basis.

When left to my own devices, particularly as a child and as a young adult, I practically lived on grilled cheese sandwiches. Quick, easily adapted to create any flavour, and most importantly, easy to make for one. Grilled cheese is the ideal meal for a solo diner. Then, as now, when home alone grilled cheese is my go to meal.

Like most comfort foods, people have very specific expectations regarding the “correct” flavour and texture for grilled cheese. I am not among them. Sure, cheddar on sour dough is always a satisfying alternative. But I rarely make an unembellished sandwich and I never know what I’m going to make until I open the fridge. Among my favourite combinations are brie and caramelized onion, swiss with shredded chicken, smoked cheddar with shredded pork, mozzarella with tomato and basil and, of coarse my standby, aged cheddar with a fried egg and hot sauce. As for the bread I can be inspired by almost anything that looks good at the bakery that day. Olive bread is awesome with any cheese and tomato, olive oil and rosemary with chicken, or how about a dark rye to go with salmon and goat cheese. And don’t stop with yeast breads. I made a chicken, pickled jalapeno and Monterey jack on left over corn bread one time. I’m not sure how many Weight Watchers points it was worth but it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever made. When it comes to grilled cheese, my only real criteria are crispy bread and gooey cheese.

Today’s creation – smoked turkey and gruyere with Spicy Apple Chutney on multigrain bread. The whole meal took less than 15 minutes including walking to the grocery to buy bread. (I knew I’d forgotten something yesterday.) I wasn’t planning on using the chutney but my jar of cranberry sauce was MIA and the chutney had somehow crept to the front of the fridge – a little culinary serendipity.

The sandwich was awesome – the perfect combination of salty, sweet, crispy and creamy. (Why is Fred Penner in my head again?)

Now for the licorice side of this equation. I was the kid that always ate the black jellybeans and jujubes, the one that ordered licorice ice cream and the one that actually liked the hard-as-rock licorice candies in my Halloween bag. I’ve never been much of a sweet tooth and I think I can explain my love of licorice with this one simple fact – licorice is never super sweet. Now, I could turn this into herbal medicine lesson, but I’ll leave it to you to find all the healthy excuses you could deploy to justify your licorice indulgence. As for me, I’m comfortable saying that I don’t need any other reason than I love it.

Your love of licorice does not have to end in the candy isle of course. I made chai infused crème brûlée a few months ago. The star anise was the standout in this very popular dessert. You can also infuse licorice flavour into your dinner. Fennel and orange salad is a great alternative to cabbage slaw. Pernod pairs beautifully with prawns and other shellfish. Tarragon and a splash of sherry make ordinary button mushrooms truly special. The following recipe was inspired by a trip to Granville Island. All those fresh ingredients just called out to me.

Mushroom Tarragon Cream Sauce with Parpadelle
Serves 4

• 1 pound fresh parpadelle or other wide noodle

• 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
• 3 large shallots, julienned
• 6 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced or quartered
• 2 tablespoons Brandy
• ½ cup dry White Wine
• 1 cup chicken stock
• 1 cup cream
• 3 tablespoons butter, divided
• 6 tablespoons tarragon, chopped
• ½ cup parmagiano regiano
• Salt and pepper
• Lemon juice

1. Bring large pot of well salted water to a boil.
2. In a stainless steel sauté pan (you’ll get better caramelization than in a non-stick pan) heat 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter.
3. Brown chicken and remove from pan.
4. Add shallots to pan and sauté until soft. Add garlic and sauté for another minute.
5. Add mushroom and sauté until they release their water and begin to brown.
6. Deglaze pan with brandy and white wine.
7. Add chicken stock and cream. Simmer until reduced by about a third.
8. Add chicken to sauce reheat.
9. Salt and pepper to taste.
10. While the stock is reducing cook the pasta. Fresh pasta only takes 3 to 4 minutes so don’t put it on too early.
11. When is pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly, reserving a cup of pasta water.
12. Toss pasta in sauce and thin with pasta water if required.
13. Toss with tarragon, cheese, butter and a squeeze of lemon juice.
14. Serve with an extra sprinkle of grated parmagiano reggiano.

And why stop with dinner? Licorice makes me happy. And, happy hour makes me happy. So logically, licorice at happy hour should make me practically euphoric. Now, I may have moved beyond flaming sambuca shooters, but a steaming sambuca coffee (hold the cream) is still on my menu. Or, if you prefer a shi-shi girly version, a Galliano, vodka and espresso martini with chocolate shavings is quite delicious. Of course, everything that comes in a martini glass is delicious. And then there are the classics – when was the last time someone offered you a Harvey Wallbanger? In the name of nostalgia it’s high time, don’t you think? Or you could try this variation of an old standby created by the lovely Monique.

Tarragon “Mojito”
2 tablespoons tarragon leaves
½ a lemon cut into small wedges
1 tablespoon simple syrup
Soda Water
Ice

Muddle tarragon, lemon and sugar syrup in a glass. Add ice and top off with soda.

The version we made with lemon was quite tasty. But we both think lime would be better. Maybe that’s just an excuse to make them again.

So there you have it – two foods that I associate with my youth that have grown up with me. No more processed cheddar on white bread for me. The grilled cheese of my past was barely food, but the grilled cheese of my present can be decidedly gourmet. And I can accept that there are no more trick-or-treating expeditions in my future, but I know that I will savour that first sip of my martini today as much as I did any licorice rope pulled from the candy bag then.

If there is a lesson to learn, it is probably that we remember our childhood favourites so fondly because they appeal to our palates on some fundamental level. I would argue that even the foods that you have rejected in adulthood contain some element that you continue to enjoy. The flavours that you loved then are the foundation of the sophisticated palate you possess today. Be they ketchup, fish sticks, mac and cheese or over-sweet wine, they are all part of a culinary journey.

Sorry for the lack of photos.  I keep getting error messages and have to get on a plane very soon. But trust me, it all looked great 🙂

Bon appétit,
Della

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I love crab. I love how sweet and delicate the taste is. What is not sweet and delicate about the crab, is however, the terminology used to grade it–the meat of crabs comes in different grades, depending on which part of the crab’s body it comes from and the overall size of the crab the meat is taken from. Take it away wikipedia:

Mega Jumbo Lump, is the largest whole unbroken pieces available from the blue crab and blue swimming crab.The meat is taken from the two largest muscles connected to the back swimming fins of the crab.

The jumbo lump grade crab meat comes from larger crabs, is the meat from the two large muscles connected to the swimming fins. Contrary to smaller portions of crab meat, it can be used whole. It has a brilliant white color and exquisite taste.

The Lump grade of crab meat is composed of broken pieces of Jumbo Lump, which are not included in the Jumbo Lump grade pack, and other flake pieces. This grade of crab meat is ideal for crab cakes and it is commonly used by manufacturers.

I mean … “Lump”?!? What crab marketers came up with that? Who wants to order and eat “Mega Jumbo Lump”? It sounds like either it’s something that is about to transform into an alien robot, or, will require a course of antibiotics. Either way…not so good.

But, I digress. I went to the store and got a little dungeness crab meat (sorry kids, no time to cook a live one tonight!) and came up with this crostini recipe with a little help from our friend Jamie Oliver, and a few pages on the internet. This was one of the most yummy things I have made for this blog thus far, so I really encourage you to give it a try – and it will only take you 10 min. 🙂

Crab Crostini

Makes 4

1 loaf ciabatta
150 g picked (cooked) crab
1 tbls fresh lemon juice
one pickled asian hot pepper, finely chopped.
4 tbls fennel tops, finely chopped
olive oil
one clove of garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Optional: gooey cheese or butter

Slice the ciabatta into rounds and toast. While waiting for the bread to toast, put the crab in a small bowl. Toss in the fennel, lemon juice, hot pepper and olive oil. Taste, as adjust seasonings…you want sweet crab, tart from the lemon, a little bit of hot, some fresh fennel. Really, follow your nose — you can’t really go wrong as long as you go easy on the delicate flavour of the crab.

When the bread pops, rub one side of each slice with a clove of fresh garlic. Optionally, spread A LITTLE of the  yummy cheese (I tried a goats milk brie called Cabriolet) or butter (my fave) on the bread. Pile on the crab mixture and server with a green salad, or in this case, with a sesame seaweed salad.

This would make a great light lunch or dinner, and would also be a fantastic and easy to make brunch offering.

~Deanna

French Fish Stew in a French Dutch Oven (?!)

In which our hero succeeds in making an exemplary classic French dish, and fails miserably in figuring out the depth of field on her camera.

First of all, I have to apologise.  I missed my post on the 7th.  It was National Cotton Candy Day.  I had no cotton candy and I had no internet.  And I was out of town on a business trip.  Hence, no post.  It’s a lousy excuse really, but there you have it.

It’s an interesting point to note that many of these so-called “American Food Holidays” are actually celebrations of traditional French foods.  Don’t tell those people who coined the phrase “Freedom Fries” but the French culinary tradition is so deeply engrained in American (and Canadian) food culture that many of the foods that Americans like to think of as traditional American foods are actually French in origin.  Why? Well, let’s think about it.  The three main colonizing countries of the Americas were France, England and Spain.  Spain and France are, like, right next to each other and their cuisine is really quite similar in a lot of ways.  And it’s really really good.  England?  Do I really need to state the obvious?  Mushy peas.  ‘Nuff said.  The Spanish never really got their hooks into the Northeastern seaboard so French food reigned supreme until the next big wave of immigrants from Europe began to hit in the late 19th century.

Which brings me to Bouillabaise.  A challenging word to spell, but a relatively easy dish to make.  A classic peasant meal – it’s easy to imagine French fishermen cooking up vats of the stuff in an old cauldron over the hearth in the days of yore.  As with many classic peasant dishes in the era of Michelin stars and celebrity chefs, it has been elevated to the rarified status of “gourmet food”.  In any event, it is the perfect meal at the end of a long, cold, (somewhat) snowy December day.  Of course, I had to get all “haute cuisine” on its ass and make it all fancy shmancy so it took me all day.  It still wasn’t hard, but the recipe is long on account of there’s a lot of ingredients.

I started out this morning by busting out the trusty ol’ Larousse for some quick research (see my earlier post on Mousse for more on Larousse).  Then I arrived at the grocery store shortly after they opened and I entertained myself by selecting my fish and perplexing the poor fish counter guy: “6 mussels, no 9, 9 mussels, 6 clams, 6 scallops, just a little bit of halibut, no a little less, and a little snapper, no a little more, and some shrimp please.”  I know he was curious, but he was too polite to ask.

At home, in my beautiful enamelled cast iron Dutch Oven (courtesy of the Fabulous Dea), I sauteed:  2 cups diced sweet onion, 5 cloves of Russian Red garlic (a very garlic-ey garlic, with a nice nutty flavour – an aside: did you know that there are dozens of varieties of garlic? Check out this link to discover more about garlic), a sliced/diced fennel bulb, 2 carrots diced, 2 sticks celery diced until onions were soft, translucent and starting to turn golden.  I added s & p, some sprigs of thyme, tarragon, parsley, 2 small bay leafs, 1 tsp. Ethiopian Berbere (a curry powder from a SaltSpring Island company), about 3 tbsp of chopped orange peel and sauteed for a few minutes more before removing from the heat.  I added to this mix four large peeled and diced tomatoes, 1 large can of diced tomatoes, 1 can of clam nectar.   Then I stuck the snapper, halibut and scallops on top, poured olive oil over it liberally, gently mixed it all up and stuck it on the front porch to marinate all day (it was -2 so I figured it was foodsafe).

After a raucous playdate for G with buddy Wyatt, a long afternoon nap and a trip to a baby shower (to which we arrived 2 1/2 hours late having forgotten it was a potluck and bearing the same gift we had already given to the expectant mommy months before), I made my bouillabaise.  I scooped the fish out and set it aside.  Then I brought the veggies and broth to a slow boil, adding two more cans of clam nectar and some chicken broth that was in the fridge (had to use it up – I know, I know – alll wrong in a fish soup – bad me!).  In the meantime, I fried up some potatoes to be added later.  After 30 minutes of simmering, I added back to the broth the snapper and halibut at a slow simmer.  Seared the scallops and set aside.  Deglazed pan with red wine and added to soup.  Scrubbed the mussels and then added mussels and clams.  Scallops and remaining juices went back in moments before serving.

A traditional serving of Bouillibaise (sorry about the focus - like I said, depth of field problems)

I served my serving of bouillabaise in the traditional fashion.  The broth goes in a wide shallow bowl with some bread (I used Thrifty’s “Bake your own bread” Filone) and the fish and other goodies get served separately.  P had his all in a bowl with the bread on the side.  I think the bread was probably too fresh for the traditional method – it got pretty soggy very quickly – but it was a good match flavourwise.  My second helping I had P’s way and I think I liked it better (could’ve been the butter on the bread).  It was awesome.  Reminded me of the fish stew that my dad used to make all the time. Crazy good – sometimes I really love having to do this blog because these are things I just wouldn’t make in the normal course of things.  We, of course, toasted poor Dea who was supposed to join us for dinner tonight, but was sadly held back on account of a rotten cold.

xoxo B.