Ceviche: Mexico on the Deck

I have always loved the fresh flavours of ceviche. Ceviche is a technique that “cooks” protein with acid. I first had this dish  sometime ago on Shell Island off Turks and Caicos. Our family was on vacation and we went conch diving. Conch feed in waters, ten to twelve feet deep, with a grassy bottom. We dove with masks and snorkels. After we collected a number of beautiful conchs, the boat headed to Shell Island, a tiny island made completely of shell. Here our tour guide prepared a conch ceviche on the beach. He cleaned the conch, cut it into bite sized pieces and “cooked” it with lime juice and hot pepper sauce. A little jalapeno, onion and some salt, and voila! Ceviche! So fresh and so delicious. Our guide also saved the shells for us to take home (they provide an export form and everything). However, don’t say you were not warned: after a flight home they will smell absolutely putrid and you will not be able to get rid of them fast enough. Or the smell in your suitcase. Yes you can boil them as advised, but then your house will smell putrid.

I have since had a variety of ceviches in fine restaurants and in cozy joints. This winter while in Miami Beach, we had a late night snack of shrimp ceviche that was simple, fresh and full of the flavours of the ocean and summer. It has had me craving it ever since, so I perused the web looking for a recipe. The variation in how to make ceviche is astounding with regards to the “cooking” aspect of the dish. I found directions for marinating the fish in acid from 15 minutes to five hours. So without a real guide, I am winging this on my own with my own experience eating ceviche, watching it being prepared and my knowledge of how the process works. Here’s to not killing Rob at dinner tonight!

(It is important in a dish such as this to use the freshest and best tasting ingredients)
Serves 4 (or appetizer for 6)

1/2 pound Gulf Shrimp*
1/2 pound tilapia or red snapper fillet, large dice
1 large jalapeno, finely diced
1 avocado, diced
2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 small Lebanese cucumbers, or 1 small garden cuke, peeled, seeded and diced
6 limes
1/3 cup cilantro
Tortilla chips

1 tbsp. hot sauce
1/2 tsp Sugar
1 lime

1. Boil water in a medium pot. Blanche shrimp for 2 minutes and immediately remove to a prepared ice bath to stop cooking. Peel, clean and chop into bite sized pieces. Cover with the juice of three fresh squeezed limes and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours.
2. Toss jalapeno, tomato, cucumber and onion together in a large bowl.
3. Mix together dressing ingredients
4. 1/2 hour before serving, toss tilapia pieces in the juice of three limes.
5. Just before serving, add avocado and cilantro to the bowl with the jalapeno, tomato, cuke mixture. Add dressing and toss to coat. Salt to taste.
6. Drain fish well and add to the vegetables. Toss and mix well.
7. Serve in dishes or martini glasses with tortilla chips.

*I like Gulf Shrimp because, in my experience, they taste better, seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is currently the most regulated and inspected in the world, and it supports an industry hard hit.

Click HERE for a printer-ready version of this recipe.

Atelier: June 17th, 2011

This is our fourth visit to Ottawa’s Atelier. Tonight we are celebrating our youngest daughter’s 20th birthday and Atelier is her restaurant of choice. I am taking this as a sign that I raised her right. As in our previous visits, Atelier never fails to surprise, delight, educate and provide an incredible dining experience. Prices have gone up since our last visit. $95 per person for a 12 course meal (previously grossly under priced in my view at $75) and $60 (previously $55) for the wine pairings which are surprising, sometimes daring, always spot on, and come with a knowledgeable sommelier who pours with a heavy hand.

Without further ado, here is the menu and wine pairings for June 17th, 2011

Bread with salted crust and butter served in a tube







Pork and Beans (Amuse)
Pork collar, fava bean puree, young basil, Swiss chard, sous-vide egg yolk and Gouda creme sphere. This is a very pretty Spring dish. The pork is tender and succulent and the Gouda creme sphere was a nice surprise. We thought it was a quail egg until it popped with creamy goodness.





Spot Prawns paired with Kum Bok Ju Hwa Rang Junmai Daiginjo Sake (Korea)
These were BC spot prawns with an Asian flair, plated with sorrel mayonnaise, delicious ball of sweet, refreshing cucumber jelly, soy-marinated cucumber, chickpea croquette, salmon roe, edamame and Thai purple basil. The biggest surprise of this dish was the sake pairing. Of the four of us dining tonight, none of us really enjoys sake. This Korean sake however was drinkable even on its own. It had a bite at the finish but none of the alcohol harshness that is typical of sake. Quite lovely and complimented the delicate prawns. Kudos to the sommelier on this choice – definitely a delightful surprise.



Modernist High Tea paired with 2009 Studert-Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Reisling Kabinett (Mosel, Germany)
Earl Grey tea smoked salmon, tomato jam, lemon curd, Earl Grey tea jelly. The powdered salmon was truly amazing, with fresh flavour, excellent texture and smoke.





Spruce with a P paired with NV Villa Rubini Vino Spumante di Ribolla Gialla (Friuli, Italy)
Pea and parsley soup, with birch syrup meringue, Spruce beer foam, fresh peas tossed in truffle oil, and nitro corn noodles. This dish arrived composed in a bowl at the table and the gorgeous, green chilled broth was poured over the components. The icy cold noodles were a surprise as were the lightly truffled peas. Sweet, herbal, and cold with good crunchy textures and earthy flavour from the truffle. Lots going on in this soup and it paired well with the cold, crisp Spumante with its green apple accents. A favorite course on the night with all four of us.









Johnny Cash paired with 2008 Hidden Bench Rosomel Vineyard Fumé Blanc (Niagara, Canada)
This dish was probably the most delightful visually and conceptually this evening. This plating was completely black including the slate tile as serving dish. There were other surprises that fooled the eye, including lemon jelly, dyed black with squid ink. The halibut cheeks were meaty and perfectly cooked, the ribbon of fermented black garlic was tasy and the ramp was a nice accent.



The Cure paired with 2010 Astrolabe Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough, New Zealand)
Cured mackerel and fennel three ways. The mackerel was surprisingly delicate and the dish was one of the prettiest of the evening, decorated with floral edibles, pink hibiscus foam, thinly sliced radish and roasted red pepper sauce.








Floating Fruit (palate cleanser)
This dish was a favorite on the evening. Sous-vide cooked pineapple, curried caviar for heat, star anise for a little hint of sweet. Lime leaf folded and clipped to the spoon provided a pleasant citrus aromatic.





Asparaganza paired with 2009 Vignobles des Doms Côtes du Rhône (Rhône, France)
Smoked duck served rare, morels, fried shallot, garlic scapes and purple Jerusalem artichokes. This dish was my personal favorite of the evening. The duck was heavenly and perfectly complemented with an old world red, with notes of leather and tannin.

Wagyu paired with 2004 Bodegas Altanza Reserva Selección (Rioja, Spain)
USA Wagyu beef, flatiron cut, rare with pine nuts and honey mushrooms, bone marrow gnocchi, and a 1/4 of the most delicate, sweet, baby turnip. Very nice with the mature red from Spain. A favorite on the evening for two of our guests.

iCup paired with 2007 De Bortoli Noble One Botrytis Semillion (New South Wales, Australia)
Passion fruit ice dome over a red velvet and white cake with tonka bean marshmallow goo.







Rhubarb & Co. paired with NV Kourtaki Muscat (Samos, Greece)
Paper thin unripe, green strawberries were surprisingly sweet and pretty on  the plate. The Greek Muscat was very nice. A very good Muscat.

Frozen Shattered Cupcake for the Birthday Girl. The Atelier birthday tradition is to bring a cupcake to the table and submerge it in liquid nitrogen to freeze it instantly. A birthday wish is made and then the cupcake is smashed to smithereens by the back of a spoon.













Cappuccino and Lulupop, A frozen, creamy fruit pop on a stick.


Korean Japchae

The Korean dish japchae means mixed vegetables, stir-fried, according to wikipedia. Noodles are a modern addition to this ancient fare. I was inspired to revisit this dish when I stumbled upon a recipe for it on Rasa Malaysia. I used to prepare this dish frequently years ago, but I used vermicelli noodles. This adaption uses cellophane noodles called dangmyeon, which are made from sweet potato starch and are more authentic. They taste nothing of sweet potato and are a curious dark hue. They also carry the thin sauce quite nicely. We served this with a few authentic Korean accompaniments we picked up at T&T, sweet and sour radish, sweet squid, and, of course, kimchi.

Korean Japchae
Serves 4

8 ounces dangmyeon (sweet potato noodles)*
vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, very thinly sliced
1 can shitake mushrooms**
1 carrot cut into matchsticks
2 green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces, diagonally
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1/4 pound beef tenderloin, sliced paper thin
small jar pimento pieces

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 heaping tsp. sesame seeds

1 egg

1. Cook the noodles in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse. Heat a little oil in a wok and stir-fry the noodles for about a minute. Remove to a bowl.
2. Add a little more oil and stir-fry the beef for about a minute until desired doneness. Salt to taste and remove to bowl with noodles.
3. Add more oil if necessary. Stir-fry garlic for 30 seconds and then add the onion, green onion, carrots and celery . Stir-fry for 2 minutes or until the onion is tender and the carrots still have crunch. Add the mushrooms and pimento. Heat through, salt to taste and remove to bowl with the beef.
4. Whisk sauce ingredients together. Toss with noodle mixture. Use only enough of the sauce to coat the noodles but not so the mixture is soupy.
5. Whip up the raw egg and cook it in a thin layer in a pan. Cut cooked egg into thin slices and garnish each dish of japchae.

*Available at T&T and Asian markets
** Canned shitakes are available at Asian markets. I use canned because I like the flavour and they are perfect looking. You can use fresh (remove the stems) or dried (reconstitute in boiling water).

Click HERE to download a print-friendly version of this recipe.


































The First Road Food Authority

This is the last posting where I describe a 50th birthday present. So far, I’ve posted about my membership in the “jerky of the month” club and about the astounding cake that was made to celebrate the occasion. This last gift I’m going to describe was the perfect gift: one that combines a shared passion between Maureen and I about food, food history and road travel along the older, more interesting highways in the USA.

Maureen and I have discovered over the years that our favourite vacation is a free-form road-trip with a considerable number of miles and a very loose timetable. We plan our starting point and end point and like to be fairly flexible over the 2 weeks between them. We have a couple of guidelines we’ve created for ourselves to make sure we take in the whole experience:

  1. As little time on the interstate as possible. They all look the same and are massively uninteresting.
  2. We can stop anytime, anywhere to take photos.
  3. No chain restaurants.
  4. If we want to take an extra day in a spot, we do. There’s no such thing as “making good time”.
  5. Meet the people, and “soak in” the location
  6. Our biggest burden, program the tunes and pre-load the iPod to provide the soundtrack for the miles as they go by.

The road trips these days are fairly easy to plan. We decide on a route with Google Maps, we consult Roadfood.com and WhereTheLocalsEat.com, look at FlavortownUSA.com for and “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” locations near our route, and book lodgings and research places of interest on TripAdvisor.com.  The whole thing – flights, car rental, lodging and maybe a special restaurant reservation or two, takes about an hour to book online. Of course, we have a pre-programmed GPS unit to guide us along the road and through intricate maneouvers in strange cities.

We marvel at the ease of the procedure and have often wondered aloud on how these things were done in the past without the web and without on-line booking. You’d need:

  1. Road maps big and small. In our case we often cross state lines 5 or 6 times per trip. That’s a lot of detailed maps, to get city detail, state detail and area coverage.
  2. Travel books and guides – for each city, state and area
  3. Restaurant guides – for each city, state and area
  4. Long arduous research with a lot of cross matching and planning
  5. Big long-distance bills for booking all of lodging and reservations by phone.
  6. Dumb, hit-and-miss luck – the best road food, the cool point of interest, the one-of-a-kind curiosity? Maybe. Maybe not.

We were watching on of our favorite shows of late, Alton Brown’s “Feasting on Asphalt”, in which, across a couple of seasons, he, and an entourage crosses the USA East to West and South to North on motorcycle with many of the same rules as we use. One of the stops was in Bowling Green Kentucky, where he told the story of Duncan Hines. You know: the cake mix guy.

Before the cake and cookie mixes, before becoming part of a food empire that also features Vlasic Pickles, Swanson Frozen Dinners, Lender’s Bagels, and Aunt Jemima Breakfast foods, Duncan Hines was an actual, living, breathing person with a totally different claim to fame. He was a traveling salesman, and on the pre-interstate American highways and byways, traveling salesmen and truckers knew where to eat. What set Duncan Hines apart was that he appreciated good food and service and soon had an encyclopedic knowledge of the best spots in many town, cities and roadsides in America.

Much of the story is told here (DO click the link, it’s fascinating). He starting creating lists of recommended restaurants for friends and family and the list of recipients soon grew to warrant a minor publishing empire. A listing in the annual “Duncan Hines’ Adventures in Good Eating” guidebook was a badge of honour for a restaurant and was the early equivalence of a multi-star rating from today’s major food publishers. Establishments proudly placed placards stating they were listed and diners from all over America relied on Duncan Hines for advice on where to eat. It was the first guidebook of it’s kind and capitalized on the growing automobile culture in America from the late 40s to the 60s.

An establishment bearing this sign in the window met a high standard of service and quality. Travelers looked for this and made dining decisions based on seeing it.

Maureen gave me a pristine copy of the 1950 edition of the guide. It’s a fairly thorough undertaking. Listings from all over North America are covered, organized by country and state. There are brief  descriptions of a restaurant, its best dishes, and price ranges for each meal time. It really is a slice of American history and is a fascinating look at the foodie culture of 60 years ago when considering food as an integral part of travel was in its infancy.


The two listings for Ottawa, both restaurants long gone, the first replaced by modern office buildings and the second, closed to make way for the National Arts Centre (ain’t Google great?). By the way, check out those prices!

Click HERE to see an old ad for the Bytown Inn.


A Listing for the Toll House (yes, famous for those cookies.) Thank goodness for the cookies, there’s no liquor!
Other Duncan Hines guides offered to the traveler.

It was the great gift from someone who complains that I’m tough to buy for. I’m glad for that as it makes for interesting presents and this year was no exception.


Piggy Market

We start every Saturday morning’s weekly marketing excursion at Piggy Market. We have been doing this for over a year. When we first started visiting Piggy Market, they were a medium-sized space with little product. The product they did have kept us coming back. Initially, they offered artisanal pork products, Art-Is-In bread and Pascal’s homemade ice creams. Slowly they added local cheeses, milk, butter, organic produce, maple syrup, and homemade pickles. What keeps us coming back is never knowing what we will find in the main showcase and the quality, preservative-free offerings. It seems like the powers that be at Piggy cook whatever pleases them – what they want to eat: duck and lentil soup, Jamaican patties, to-die-for mac and cheese, chorizo, duck rilletes, brined turkeys at Christmas, bbq sauces, spit-roasted whole chickens, roasts of  beef and pork sliced on the spot for lunch meat, Berkshire pork ribs, spicy baked beans, homemade hamburger patties.

They have a small freezer section with meat pies, lasagna, sausages and frozen organic vegetables from Bryson Farms. They also carry some fresh organic produce from Bryson. You can usually score some heirloom beets or fingerlings until supplies run out and they always have a good supply of peashoots and microgreens. There is never tons of anything so you better get there early.


Great sausages from the basic to the exotic.
Monday's in-house bread









Terrific Burgers - we're hooked!
Always a surprise in store for us.









I dropped by this this week to talk to Dave Neil, one of Piggy’s owners and a familiar face every time we visit. Dave was kind enough to take some time out of his very hectic schedule to pose for some pics and answer a few questions. His business partner Warren came out to say hi and get in a pic or two as well. Piggy Market came to be in 2008 and has been at its current location since 2009 where they expect to be for at least the next three years. Being tucked away on a quiet side street off of busy Richmond Rd. in Westboro adds to the stumbled upon pleasure that is Piggy. The market started with a love of charcuterie and has developed into quality take home products and meals. Charcuterie is the foundation and mainstay of the business which Dave hopes will come to be known as the premiere artisanal delicatessen in the city.


Dave Neil and Warren Sutherland, co-founders.

Piggy Market has a staff of seven and all of its members contribute on a weekly basis with ideas about new offerings. This weekly rotation allows the offerings to be fresh and simplifies ordering. Always on hand are the items that sell well, but if you call ahead with a special order, they are very accommodating. The staff are constantly trying new things and this keeps their long hours fun and interesting.

The deli has a commitment to fresh, local, seasonal product. A common and much welcomed theme in new restaurants and markets. What makes Piggy’s approach different? Piggy is committed to the head to toe, or snout to tail approach when using an animal. No waste if possible. Pork is obviously a first love but they also prepare deer, lamb and wild boar, and apply the head to toe approach. Currently they do bring in beef for burgers, roasting and Jamaican patties but don’t have the space for a whole animal. Another feature Dave feels is unique to Piggy is that he knows where every ingredient they use comes from and who made it or grew it. Today he was showing me some beautiful Jamaican escallions, with their flower buds still intact. Similar to green onions and a basic in Jamaican cooking, they had a local grower, Jambican, procure seed and grow them for Piggy. They will find their way into Jamaican patties and burgers, and a few other things I am sure.

Showing us Jamaican escallions
Piggy Market's local farms and providers.









What excites Dave most about Piggy Market? The seasons! Right now asparagus (excellent this year) and rhubarb have his attention. Rhubarb is going into sour cream cakes and bbq sauces and maybe muffins if he can find the time. The market also hopes to start bottling bbq sauce, make their own pickles and sauerkraut, offer more selection on their sandwich board, make their own mustards and mayo, and add to the small but well thought out collection of books for food lovers. Piggy is also taking on a more professional look with a new logo currently in development. Gone will be the realistic pig, but none of the authenticity of the food or the grassroots feel of the place. Dave doesn’t refer to the people who frequent his shop as customers. “I like to think of them as food enthusiasts and friends we haven’t met yet. We are all about community.” Look for Dave and the gang serving up burgers and sausage (they will be any thing but ordinary) at Dragonboatfest, Folkfest and Beau’s Beer Octoberfest this summer.


Pascale's Ice Cream - Unique and delicious.
Large variety of local cheeses.









The ever popular Art-Is-In bread is sold at the counter and used for sandwiches.  Art-Is-In does not bake on Mondays. The Piggy staff has added  bread baking to their repertoire because they do not sell day old bread. Today’s offerings were cornbread and an amazing looking yogurt sourdough among others. Where do they get the time? They also bake cookies, scones and excellent hamburger buns. Twelve hour days, seven days a week helps. Dave admits to taking Tuesdays off, but then admits that he spends a lot of his day off shopping for the business and working at whatever needs doing.

Recently they have added sandwiches to their offerings. Drop in for lunch and pick up some rare, oven-roasted beef for the week ahead,  a bottle of milk from a local dairy, a pint of Pascal’s salted caramel ice cream, some sausages for tonight’s dinner on the BBQ and hope, just maybe, dare to hope they have some mac and cheese left.


House-made prosciutto.
Warren's Burger using Art-Is-In Cheddar-jalapeno loaf as a bun, with heirloom tomato, purple onion and classic toppings, with spiced grilled corn. A wonderful dinner al fresco.