Cauliflower Cheddar Stuffed Potatoes

Let's eat 1 625 sqApparently, cauliflower is the new “kale”. I am thrilled to see kale unseated as the “it” girl in the vegetable world. She can be a bit tough and has a reputation for being high-maintenance.

Finally, cauliflower is getting the respect she deserves. Pretty much a blank canvas, cauliflower can handle being pureed, boiled, roasted, fried and mashed. I especially love it raw, thinly sliced in a slaw, with almonds, capers and golden raisins, although I made this salad so many times this summer that my husband politely requested that we take a break from cauliflower slaw.

“Cauliflower steaks” are popping up on menus everywhere lately. By cutting the cauliflower into thick slabs, the florets stay attached to the stem and you get a flat wide surface area for charring. This trend of “vegetable butchery” is elevated to an art form at Blue Hill. Chef Dan Barber’s Cauliflower Steaks with Cauliflower Puree is pure genius.

I have been known to call a bowl of Baked Cheetos and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc dinner when dining alone, but lately I have been craving something a bit more comforting, and these cauliflower cheddar stuffed potatoes make me very happy.Here's what you'll needBake the potatoes until tender. Boil the cauliflower in heavily salted water until it is quite soft. Scoop the flesh out of potato skins and get yourself a big bowl for mashing. Add milk, salt, pepper and cauliflower and get busy. My masher is spring loaded and so much fun to use. scooping flesh from skinsmashingNo need to make a smooth puree here. Lumps are acceptable and welcome. Fold in the cheese and spoon back into the shells. Bake until hot and melty!filling potato skins

Click here to print recipe for Cauliflower and Cheddar Stuffed Potatoes.

let's eat 3


Being Present in Newfoundland: Part 2

cindy and marla on rockA few days ago I posted about the first part of our trip to Newfoundland. The saga continues. We checked out of our St. John’s hotel at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am. When Siobhan, the sweet front desk clerk, heard we were headed to Fogo Island, she squealed. That’s home for her. Her parents are still living there, in the village of Tilting. We jokingly said we’d say hi for her.

We hopped onto the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) at Mile Zero. The world’s longest national highway, the TCH stretches across Canada from St. John’s Newfoundland on the East Coast, to Victoria B.C. on the West Coast, a whopping 7,821 km (4,860 miles) long. Mrs. Grizzly and I napped in the back seat while Mr. Grizzly expertly navigated my husband through a dense early morning fog. We were startled awake by this sound

followed quickly by this

as Mr Grizzly ripped into the bag of All-Dressed Potato Chips at 7:45 am. It was going to be a fun ride.

We arrived in Farewell Newfoundland about 11:00 am and patiently waited to take the ferry across to Fogo Island. As we were buying our tickets, they asked if anyone in our group qualified for the senior’s discount – age 60 here. My husband, who reached this magic age the day before, was thrilled to receive his first senior benefit!

I had done a little reading before coming to Fogo Island, but nothing really prepared me for my experience here. Although I had seen a few photos online, driving up the winding gravel lane, rounding the corner and finally seeing The Fogo Island Inn come into view was surreal.Fogo Island InnThis contemporary building, all angles and lines, was such a stark contrast to the raw rocky coastal setting. One end of the building is balanced on what on what looks like stilts, rising almost three storeys up into the air, supporting the inn’s dining room. I later learned that these stilts were modelled after pilotis, the wooden stilts that support the traditional stages set up by fishermen to lay out the salted and drying cod.

Fogo Island Inn is the brainchild of Zita Cobb. Ms. Cobb, one of seven children, was born and raised on Fogo in a home with no electricity or running water. Those amenities didn’t arrive on the island until 1972. She left Fogo at age 16 to study business at Carleton University in Ottawa. Within 20 years, she made a name and quite a fortune for herself in the high-tech industry (fibre optics at JDS Uniphase). In 2001 she exercised her stock options and cashed out with close to $70 million dollars. She took off to sail around the world, but the pull of Fogo Island was very strong and brought her back there in 2005. 

Cod fishing has been critical to the economy of Newfoundland for centuries. However, due to greed and overfishing, stocks of cod became depleted and in 1993 the Federal Government declared a moratorium on cod fishing. This caused a collapse of the fishing industry in the province and Fogo Island was especially hit hard.

Zita returned with the goal of giving back to her declining community. Initially she set up scholarships for the youth of Fogo Island, but during a town hall meeting one resident approached her and said that while she appreciated everything Zita was trying to do, scholarships would just encourage people leave rather than building a better place for them to stay. As Oprah would say, Zita had an “aha” moment.

Rethinking her strategy, together with her brother Anthony, Zita established the Shorefast Foundation with the mandate of revitalizing the island by preserving local culture and making it a geotourism destination. Zita calls this “entrepreneurial philanthropy”.

The foundation’s main initiative was the building of Fogo Island Inn, which opened for business in 2013. Inn employees receive 15% of gross revenues in addition to their salary. Any profits from the Inn are reinvested by the Foundation, via micro-finance loans to local small businesses.

Fogo Island Inn is truly a love letter to the island. The Foundation hired award winning Norway architect Todd Saunders to design and oversee the building of the inn. Originally from  Gander Newfoundland, Todd had an innate understanding of Zita’s vision and worked tirelessly to bring  it to fruition.fogo island inn at nightLocal love continues on the inside as well. Island carpenters and artisans used native spruce, birch and fir trees to craft all the furnishings for the inn. The beautiful quilts on all the beds were handcrafted by the women on the island. Even the light fixtures in the dining room, designed to suggest white fishing nets, were crafted by local artists.dining room 2While there’s no denying the beauty of Fogo Island and the Inn, for me it was the people that made the place extraordinary. Fogo Island Inn has created a “community host” program with the intention of getting guests to spend some one-on-one time with locals. On our first afternoon, we were introduced to Fergus, who took us hiking. Formerly employed by the Canadian Ministry of Fisheries and Oceans, hearing his perspective on the cod industry was enlightening. We were schooled on the local topography (mostly granite), native livestock, and learned a little about the history of the the local colourful “saltbox” houses. hike to Tilting 2sheep grazingcolourful houses 1The trail we hiked ended in the village of Tilting. Fergus led us to “Da Shed” for a drink. Strangely, for a population that has such strong Irish roots, there are no pubs in Tilting. The local custom is to invite friends and neighbours (and clearly complete strangers as well), into your shed (which houses mostly fishing gear and tools) for a drink and chat. Because of a lack of liquor licence you don’t buy your drink, but rather, “make a contribution.”

We visited Phil and Maureen Foley’s shed. Reminiscent of my first student apartment, the shed was brimming with overstuffed couches and chairs that had seen better days. The walls were plastered with posters. We started chatting with Phil and discovered that he is the dad of the hotel clerk we met that morning in St. John’s! Small world. We were introduced to Phil’s brother and sister-in-law (Gerry and Darlene) as well as several other locals. After about 15 minutes of small talk Phil asked us if we had a song to share. WHAT??? Apparently shed culture involves singsongs as well. Gerry whipped out his guitar and started in on a beautiful haunting Irish melody. Phil, and then his wife Maureen also entertained us with some traditional Celtic tunes.

My initial instinct was to whip out my camera and record the performances. But an inner voice told me to sit still, be present in the moment and savour it. Somehow we have started to believe that every moment of our lives needs to be documented, and in doing so, we miss the being part of the moment.

I will admit to coming home and Googling Maureen, to see if anyone else had recorded her, so I could share it with you guys, and sure enough, there she was. Click here to check her out.

Chef Murray MacDonald is at the helm in the Fogo Island kitchen. A fellow native Newfoundlander, he left the island at age 18 to attend culinary school in P.E.I. He then honed his skills, travelling and cooking in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, China, and Mexico. Just like Zita, he travelled around the world, only to find his way back home. And, just like Zita, he believes in honouring and preserving the traditions of the past.

At heart Chef Murray is a locavore with a strong survivalist spirit. “We are doing what our ancestors did a hundred years ago, using our ingenuity to forage, gather and cook. Back then they worked with what they had to survive…Our menu is focused on wild things from the North Atlantic and local seasonal produce.” He talks about the importance of having one foot in the past while looking to the future, in order to stay relevant. His kitchen motto is “Find new ways with old things.”

Foraging for ingredients is one of his favourite pastimes. While we were there we had a chance to taste pasta created with sea urchin, found on the rocks by the shore, just beyond the kitchen door. And, as a side note, can I just say how happy it made me to discover that his guilty pleasure food is bologna!sea urchinsHe gathers springy caribou moss by the shore and candies it to serve with yogurt and berries!granola and caribou mossEverything in the kitchen is made from scratch and the inn’s very talented pastry chef, Kara Lackie, has an incredibly light touch with biscuits and scones. They almost floated off the plate.Ed's Eggs benedict on BiscuitsFogo Island also happens to be one big berry patch. We discovered this as we were hiking and I kept stepping all over these red berries and squishing them. I later learned that they are called “partrige berries” and the island is literally covered in them. They found their way into scones as well as my morning fruit bowl.Partidge berriespartrige berry scones and latteisland berriesIt’s possible that some cod flavoured kook-aid was slipped into my morning latte, because the next thing I knew, I was agreeing to go on a Cod Fishing expedition. I typically avoid all forms of watercraft, due to a proclivity toward motion sickness.

The unflappable housekeeping supervisor, Rosemarie, outfitted us in bright orange rain slickers, mittens and hats. As we were leaving, she slipped a bottle of Non-Drowsy Gravol into my pocket. Nine of us set out on the M/V Ketanja with Captain Emberley for a three hour tour. We’re  all smiles as we board the boat. smiling as I get on the boatMarla and Ed 4Once we moved out into deeper waters Captain Emberley cut the motor and gave us all a chance to try our hand at cod jigging. Jigging basically involves the use of lures attached to a line which is “jigged” or moved up and down in a series of short movements. The jigging motion attracts the fish, which are hooked as they move close to the lure. The line is then hauled onboard and the fish removed. I passed on my turn to try my hand at jigging. Non drowsy Gravol did not work too well for me
A fine catchfor the love of codLuckily everyone caught their fish quite quickly and we were soon moving again towards our next destination, Little Fogo Island. Once a vibrant fishing village, the only full-time residents on this tiny archipelago are puffins and razorbills. shore of little fogo islandThe steep cliffs on the island meant that the fish stages (platforms for drying salted cod) had to be be built on posts. You can still see several of them dotted around the shore of the island.dock at little fogo islandLittle Fogo Island is home to summer cottages now. summer cottages on little fogoWe had a chance to visit Captain Emberley’s grandfather’s cottage, and check on the progress of the new cottage he is building for his family. summer cottage on little fogoThere is a charming church on the island, and once each summer a priest comes out to hold mass to honour all of Fogo island’s departed residents. little fogo island churchWe arrived back at Fogo Island Inn, a little nauseous, but happy to have checked cod fishing off my life’s “To Do” list.

On our last night at the Inn, we began chatting with our young waitress. When we asked her what changes she has noticed since the opening of the Inn, her answer surprised us. She said that of course the Island has begun to prosper financially, but what she noticed even more was a change within her.

No different than most kids living in a small town, she said she wanted nothing more than to leave the Island when she became an adult. She headed off to Halifax when she turned 18 but became quite homesick. She moved a little closer, to St. John’s and then when the Inn opened in 2013 she came home. All of the sudden she began to see Fogo Island through the eyes of all the guests coming to visit. They gushed about the raw beauty and unspoiled terrain. She had taken it for granted all her life, and seeing it through a different lens made her really appreciate what she had all along. I guess there’s no place like home after all!lobster traps 2

Being Present in Newfoundland: Part 1

lighthouse at cape spearsYou know it’s been an awesome holiday when you leave thinking about how soon you can return again. We usually go to New York City each fall with our friends “The Grizzlies.” I have written about our previous sojourns to Manhattan with them in this space, here and here. This fall, Mrs. Grizzly suggested we stay in our own country and visit Newfoundland instead.colourful houses in st john'sFor some reason I have always attributed the quality of quirkiness to Newfoundland and it’s citizens. This most likely stems from hearing promotional ads on TV announcing upcoming stories on that night’s news. “That’s 10:00 tonight on The National, 10:30 in Newfoundland.”  Newfoundland’s time zone is just one of those unique things that makes it special.  It veers from the regular standard time zone system by a half-hour. No other state or province in North America deviates from Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on the half-hour. Curious to see if my perception of “quirky” Newfoundland met reality, I told Mrs. Grizzly I was up for it!

I have never visited any other place where the locals are so friendly. Everyone we met was eager to share with us his or her opinion of what we needed to do, see, eat and drink. Upon arrival at our hotel in St John’s, the  receptionist at our hotel sent us off to a great lunch at The Merchant’s Tavern. Owned and operated by the team behind Raymonds restaurant, the talented duo of Jeremys, (Charles and Bonia) have done it again!

Newfoundland is blessed with amazing access to fresh seafood, wild game and produce. The Merchant Tavern has taken advantage of this and adopted a sustainable approach to dining, foraging and sourcing locally grown ingredients.

For my main course, I scarfed down possibly one of the best pasta dishes I have ever eaten: Ricotta Cavatelli with Braised Lamb and Merguez Sausage. Savory, a bit spicy and salty in the very best way possible, with fresh peas and mint to add a perfect verdant freshness, I will be thinking about this dish for a very long time. The nuggets of toasted breadcrumbs that topped the pasta stayed perfectly crunchy as they tumbled down to the bottom of the bowl and soaked up all the rich sauce.merchant tavern pasta 2
Our waitress heard that we were hiking to Signal Hill that afternoon. She suggested we take the trail that ends in the historic fishing village of Quidi Vidi. (Pronounced “Kiddy Viddy“, as much fun to visit as it is to say!) Her boyfriend works at The Quidi Vidi Brewery, where they make lager brewed with water from 25,000-year-old icebergs. Every Friday at 5:30 they host a kitchen party featuring a live band and fresh seafood chowder. The place was packed when we arrived and The Brew Crew band was in full swing.

Somehow, even with our bellies full of cod chowder and Iceberg beer, we still
managed to be hungry for dinner and headed off to The Reluctant Chef. They serve a five-course set tasting menu with optional wine pairings, carefully selected to go with each dish. No surprise here that we opted for the wine pairings, but truthfully, by the fourth course (and glass of wine), we were no longer able to discern whether or not the wines were oaky, flinty or earthy, nor did we really care. They all tasted good though! The Thai soup and the lamb were truly outstanding. The dessert was beauiful to look at but a little too bitter for me.

reluctant chef menureluctant chef dessert 2

The next morning, after fortifying ourselves with a hearty breakfast, we headed off to the St. John’s Farmer’s Market, where I had a chocolate dipped oat cookie, finished with a sprinkling of fleur de sel, that had my name all over it! I am still daydreaming about it. I plan to recreate it as soon as possible.
chocolate dipped oat cookiesWe headed back to Quidi Vidi for lunch at Chef Todd Perrin’s “Mallard Cottage“. Chef Perrin captured my attention on the first season of Top Chef Canada when he bravely cooked a “seal flipper slider” (on a chive biscuit) for the judges. (Spoiler alert, it didn’t go down too well!)

He has restored one of the oldest buildings in Newfoundland and created a charming rustic spot, featuring  an impressive brick and stone fireplace in the center of the dining room, that my husband, a card carrying pyromaniac, greatly admired. Chef Perrin is cooking Newfoundland comfort food taken to the next level.mallard cottagefireplacePulled pork on cornbread was sweet and tangy and served with fresh lettuces from Lester’s Farm, just across town.Pulled pork on cornbreadMrs Grizzly had scallops pulled fresh from the ocean.scallop saladChef Perrin reimagines traditional Newfoundland dishes, like the salt cod cakes that my husband immensely enjoyed. salted cod cakes and baked beansWe asked our waiter about the “Cake plate” on the dessert menu. He informed us that you can fill a small plate with as much pastry as you can manage, all for $10. We send Mr. Grizzly to the dessert table and he accomplished the task admirably. Our favourite was the caramel apple coffee cake. cake plate at mallard duckAfter lunch we waddled off to hike up to the Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site.cape spears 3Cape Spears 2Set high on a rocky cliff, on the most easterly point of land in North America, the Cape Spear Lighthouse provided an important approach light to St. John’s harbour for more than a century. Kind of cool to think we were standing where Canada begins (or ends, depending on if you are facing the ocean or the land!). Watching the waves crashing on the rocky shore, you can appreciate how terrifying it would have been to be approaching by boat at night.

For our last night in St John’s we had a wonderful dinner at Saltwater Restaurant. We really had no idea that Newfoundland is in the midst of an incredible restaurant renaissance. Meal after meal we were served rustic East Coast food, elevated from it’s humble roots. Comforting and familiar, yet completely new.

You really get to know your friends intimately when you travel with them. We had a 5 hour drive, early the next morning, from St. John’s to Farewell, where we were catching the ferry to Fogo Island. After dinner we stopped at the corner store to stock up on Mr. Grizzly’s road trip essentials. Twizzlers, All- Dressed Chips, Classic Cheetos, Jalapeño Cheetos, Peanut M&M’s, Beef Jerky, Peanut Butter Cups and a large bag of Sour Gummi Worms completed his shopping spree.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of Being Present in Newfoundland and find out how we survived our road trip.

Spicy Roasted Tomato and Corn Soup

soup for 3 625F sqIt strikes me as quite ironic that while we consider the cracks and crevices in the skin of
heirloom tomatoes beautiful and even desirable, the same qualities in the skin of an aging woman are not. Yet I digress. We’re here to talk about tomatoes, not the skin of mature women. There’s enough conversation about that topic everywhere we turn these days.
in green bowl I feel as though I have eaten my weight in heirloom tomatoes this summer. I buy them every time I see them, which has been every few days over the past 6 weeks. The local supermarket near my cottage has been carrying them all summer. Heirloom tomatoes just taste better than hybrid tomatoes. There are actually a few reasons for this. Most heirloom plants produce only 2-3 tomatoes. What that means is that all the energy of the plant is concentrated into fewer tomatoes. Heirloom tomatoes have more locules, those little cavities in the tomato where the seeds are housed, than hybrid tomatoes.on a pedestalAccording to Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated, the seeds are the most flavourful part of the tomato. “It turns out the seed in [the tomato] jelly … has three times more flavor compounds called glutamates than the flesh, so when you seed the tomato… you’re actually throwing out most of the flavour.”

Mostly I have been slicing the tomatoes, sprinkling them with salt and basil and just eating them that way. Some days I get fancy and dice them up, mix with a bit of garlic, olive oil, coarse salt and basil and let them macerate for about an hour. Then I toss the tomatoes with some hot pasta and grated Parmesan cheese. sliced on wooden board 2The other morning there was a bit of nip in the air, before it rose to 30°C (86°F), and I started craving something roasted. I was over raw.

This soup was inspired by a roasted tomato and corn soup created by blogger Adrianna Adarme, over at PBS’s food blog, Fresh Taste. if you can’t find heirloom tomatoes, just substitute some large beefsteak tomatoes.
seasoning for roasting
cutting corn off the cob
adding veg stockThe spice in the soup comes from a combination of of heat sources: jalapeño, ancho chile powder and a bit of cayenne. Some cumin and smoked paprika round out the seasoning. The sweetness of the corn is a perfect complement to acidic juicy tomatoes. I pureed the soup and then strained it for an extra velvety texture. This is the perfect transitional soup to help you manage the difficult shift from summer to fall.

ladling soup 2F

Click here to print the recipe for Spicy Roasted Tomato and Corn Soup.

bowl of spicy tomato corn soup

Family Reunion

Most of the time I am proud to call myself a Canadian, but once in a while somethings comes along that makes me wonder, “What were we thinking?” The good folks over at Lay’s Canada dreamed up a contest called  “Lay’s Do us a Flavour.” People from all over the country sent in their ideas for new potato chip flavours.

Here are the four finalists:
Cowboy BBQ BeansButter ChickenMontreal Smoked MeatPEI Scalloped Potatoes
I had the chance to try these new flavours along with 9 other wild and wacky chip creations last weekend at our Family Reunion, in a blind chip and beer tasting. More about that event later!

I have written about previous reunion weekends here and here. This year our numbers were down. Only 34 were able to attend. Two of my cousins  had new babies (born one day apart!), so they were otherwise very busy and couldn’t make it. My aunt from Philly was also absent due to some health issues, so her kids stayed behind to be with her.

The reunion officially started on Thursday afternoon, but two sisters and their families showed up 24 hours early. One of them arrived with all the fixings for an amazing fish taco dinner, and the other one turned up with 2 dozen Nadege macarons, so we happily started our party early. Another sister and her family showed up Friday morning, 18 hours late. The last sister showed up with her family on Friday night, almost 30 hours late. (That’s 4 sisters if anyone is counting… yes I am blessed) My brother and my mom arrived Thursday afternoon, exactly on time! I guess at least one of us  was listening when mom taught us about party etiquette. All, whether early or late, were welcomed with a happy heart and open arms.

The first event of the weekend was a swim marathon on Friday morning. My baby sister, brother and I have been doing the swim for almost 10 years now. We swim from our dock to an island across the lake, a 1.6 kilometre odyssey. The man who owns the island is a heart surgeon so we know we will be taken good care of if something goes awry. This year we had the largest contingent yet, with 9 of us taking the plunge. We had 2 kayaks paddling along side to keep us company.

My cousin Brett took off at warp speed, dazzling us with his front crawl. We tried to tell him that the swim is meant to be a social time, not a race, but he was training for a triathlon, so he left us in his dust. The rest of us performed a passable head-up breaststroke at a leisurely pace.

That afternoon we all gathered at the dock for tube rides. “The Captain” (my husband) takes it as a personal challenge to tip the tube and dump all his brother-in-laws and nephews and nieces. cousinstubing 1man overboardtubing 3Many people think that it would be swell to have a doctor in the family. But those people would be wrong! What you really should be wishing for is a kindergarten teacher in your clan. My sister Bonnie teaches senior kindergarten. She was so clearly in her element this weekend, planning all the activities, corralling us into teams and keeping us on schedule.

Late afternoon we gathered on the lawn for a rousing game of “Donuts on a String.” It’s harder than it looks!donut contest 1donut contest 2Saturday morning we played “Amazing Race – Smiths Falls Edition.” We were divided into teams and went off on a car rally-treasure hunt to the charming town of Smiths Falls, Ontario.

Our first challenge was to visit The Smiths Falls Public Library and find a children’s book about goats, bunnies, cows or aliens! We were required to take a picture of at least 3 team members snuggled up together reading the book.  storytimeWe were challenged to stop by the supermarket and search for the most calorie dense food. One team felt confident with their choice of butter tarts, but my brother-in-law Brandon came up with a jar of goose fat. Goose fat trumps butter tarts!Susie Aaron Kailey with buttertartsNo visit to Smiths Falls would be complete without a visit to Canadian Tire. We were asked to  take a picture of the 7 things you would want to have on a desert island.

Obviously a boat would be good so you could get off the island!Nick with kayak Failing that, if you had to stay awhile, a portable toilet would come in handy.Jenna and Emily buy a toiletFor the final challenge of the day we were sent to McDonalds. With a budget of $10 we were able to purchase any items we wished and creatively combine them to craft a new menu item. Burger creationMy nephew Jacob was the judge and not surprisingly, he felt a little ill after sampling these imaginative concoctions.jacob judges 2Saturday afternoon was time for the chip and beer tasting, also organized by Bonnie. It was a blind tasting. The table was set with all the chips and beer, without packaging. We were each given our tasting sheet and had to complete the assignment!chips and beer 1chips and beerI teamed up with my sister Jody, who is blessed with super human taste receptors, and we got 9 of the 13 chip flavours correct. Let me just say that it is wrong to add simulated meat flavours in any form to potato chips. Some were quite vile. Everyone loved the “Balsamic Vinegar and Sweet Onion” chips. No one was surprised to learn they were made by Miss Vickie’s. She knows how to make good chips!

After all those chips we needed a good cocktail to cleanse our palates.cocktail timeWith 14 grandchildren, my mom (Mop Mop is what the kids call her) is a pretty lucky lady! We gathered them all up for a photo.mop mop and her 14 grandchildrenFor our final evening program, my sister Jody organized a family reunion version of “Heads Up.”giving cluelaughing at heads up 2We succeeded in making more treasured memories for everyone and tired a few family members out in the process!