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[Ed: It’s National French Fries Day and also National Wieners and Beans Day. Sarah, being a brave soul, is here to talk about both!]

French fries, French-fried potatoes , chips, freedom fries, kiwi fries, pommes frites, frites , no matter what they’re called, they are delicious and so bad for you! According to Wikipedia, the noble potato was first fried in Belgium in 1680 as a substitute for fish when the rivers were frozen over. Fried fish or fried potatoes? Potatoes please! Fries (or frites) are now the national snack of Belgium. I suspect they are also the national food of Ireland, perhaps unofficially though. I lived there for a few months in 2003 and worked at an Italian deli that sold French fries with everything. Pizza and chips. Panini and chips. We went through a LOT of potatoes. [Ed: And Fanta. Drank a lot of orange fanta!]

I admit, I love French fries. I would eat them everyday if I could. For a couple of years I thought my addiction was so bad I swore off fries for six months. The first time I did it, I survived. The second time though, I got very bitter and angry. I think I lasted two months. And the first time I ate fries after the hiatus, I felt *awful* afterward! It made me realize just how terrible these things were for you. But, that awful feeling goes away by the third or fourth time you eat them. And the cycle continues .

I did not attempt to cook French fries myself for this blog. That would be a disaster in the making. Instead, I thought I would cook the much-better-for-you Franks n Beans! This recipe comes from my partner’s younger sister Amy. In her words “it’s not white trash at all. It’s delicious!”. Having spent three of my formative years living in a trailer, I’m intimately familiar with white trash and this ain’t it.

Here’s what you need:

One tin Amy organic brown beans
Two or three Freybe Chicken and Turkey Smokie Sausages
One or two sliced tomatoes

Heat the tin of beans in a saucepan and slice sausages into pan. Heat through. Garnish with tomatoes and enjoy! Hearty, filling, and quite yummy! [Ed – Sarah also notes these can be called “Beanies and Wienies” which we find quite funny!]

~Sarah

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Sometimes, etymology tells you everything you need to know about a dish. The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say about “chowder”:

App. of French origin, from chaudière pot. In the fishing villages of Brittany faire la chaudière means to supply a cauldron in which is cooked a mess of fish and biscuit with some savoury condiments, a hodge-podge contributed by the fishermen themselves, each of whom in return receives his share of the prepared dish. The Breton fishermen probably carried the custom to Newfoundland, long famous for its chowder, whence it has spread to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England.

In New England, chowder really found a home. Melville devoted a whole chunk of Moby Dick to chowder:

“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh! sweet friends, hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt…..we dispatched it with great expedition.” Herman Melville – Ishmael in ‘Moby Dick’ (1851)

Red (i.e. tomato based) clam chowder originated in Rhode Island during the late 19th century, when, as story has it, Portuguese immigrants added tomatoes to their chowder. British New Englanders believed their creamy chowder to be superior and named the Portuguese version after Manhattan, presuming that New Yorkers were the only people crazy enough to add tomatoes.

Traditionally chowder is started with a base of bacon. However, I had a pescatorian dinner guest last night, so I started the base of this soup with anchovies for a similar salty rich kick. So please note, it’s either bacon or anchovies, not both – which I think would cause some serious saltiness. Also, I would recommend that you don’t salt this at all until you serve it, as the clams will add a surprising amount of salt in the last step. This recipe makes 4 big, dinner sized bowls.

6 bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch squares OR 1 tbsp oilve oil & 2 anchovy fillets 1 cup chopped onion
3/4 c diced bell pepper
3/4 c diced celery
1 1/2 C diced potato
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/3 c sherry
1 can clams in juice
1 – 28 oz can diced tomatoes, including juice
2 pounds small hard-shelled clams (1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter), scrubbed well chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. OR, heat olive oil over moderate heat, add anchovies and stir until they start to break up.

Reduce heat to moderately low, then add onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in potato, can of clams (with juice), spices and tomatoes (with juice) and simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Depending on how much liquid you got from the tomatoes and the clams, you may need to add a little water.

Optionally, if you want a thicker broth, once the potatoes are cooked, you can take 2 cups of the mixture out of the pot, and blend it with an immersion blender. Return the blended soup to the main pot.

Stir in fresh clams and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until clams open wide, 8 to 10 minutes. (Discard any clams that after 10 minutes have not opened.) Remove pan from heat. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle soup into big bowls, and top with the chopped parsley. Serve with crusty bread.

~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.