A delicious thing to do with sardines.

Kitten and I are alone this weekend, as Nick is off to a rainy lake four hours away to fish for trout/drink on a boat. And so I will stay in this rainy city, with tinned fish and my pajama pants, and drink on my couch. At least tonight. Though this work-week was only three days, they were three busy, non-stop days that required focus and effort – neither are strengths of mine.

So I’m staying in, alone. And instead of cooking, I’ve opted instead to “assemble” a meal, and have put together a grazing platter that should carry me through the evening, if I am able to stay awake. The centre of the meal is a thing with sardines, and it’s based on this anchovy thing I really like called anchoïade.

Anchoïade is a French thing, and at its most basic, it’s a potent mix of anchovies, olive oil, lemon, and garlic. It’s delicious, but I can’t quite justify a large dish of the stuff because anchovies are not a particularly sustainable ingredient these days. Good news though, sardines are. They’re plentiful, and they’re from close-by – there’s a cannery in California in Monterey and when I eat them I think of John Steinbeck because I love that book and because I literally hemorrhage bliss when an item of food tickles my book fancy, if you know what I mean.

I hope you enjoy this little adaptation. It’s for Linda, who asked for a sardine recipe; she’s expecting a baby, and sardines are all kinds of good for moms-to-be. Wander over to her place and say hello!


  • 1/2 cup whole almonds (skins on), toasted
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tin sardines packed in olive oil (smoked, if possible)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. grainy dijon mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil

Okay. You can do this two ways.

The easy, smooth-textured way to do this is to grind almonds and garlic in a food processor, then add remaining ingredients (add the oil from the sardines too, don’t forget!) and pulse until the mixture achieves the texture you prefer. I like this way for parties and things where you can just put it out without having to explain too much about it. It will resemble pate, and it will work as either a spread or a dip.

The other way, which is also easy but has more steps, is to chop the almonds as finely as possible (or as you like), mince the garlic, and mix them both together. Dump the tin of sardines into the mix, oil included, and mash it all up together until it’s a texture you like. Stir in remaining ingredients until well combined. This is better as a spread. It’s much less attractive, but just as, if not MORE tasty.

Scoop either variation into a ramekin, and drizzle the top with good oil. Serve either on a plate with pickles, slices of hard-boiled eggs, and slices of baguette. You must also have wine or sparkling water. Pajamas optional, but always implied.

If you have any left over the next day, it’s nice to thin it out with a bit more olive oil and toss pasta with it, topped with fresh herbs and grated Parmesan cheese.


Creamy, springy trout chowder.

I know. You’re probably looking at that photo thinking, “wow, she’s pretty lucky,” or “he’s probably the best she could do.” Some days, I’m not sure which is right. Or maybe you’re new here and this is your introduction, and you’re thinking that you’ve made a horrible mistake in clicking whatever link brought you here.

Fortunately, today’s recipe is pretty sound. And it was fished for by the above-implicated weekend fisherman, which means it was local and sustainable and all those keywords that people and I love to toss around. So today, I have for you a recipe for trout chowder, and it is all the things you want from a chowder. Fresh. Moderately healthy, if fattening. Local. Contains bacon. Good stuff.

Trout chowder

(Serves six.)

  • 1/4 lb. bacon, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 lb. new potatoes, boiled and cooled, and then cut into bite-size chunks
  • 3 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 lb. trout, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large (three or four quart) pot over medium-high heat, crisp up bacon. When bacon is glistening and crispy, add potatoes, stirring to coat, and fry for about three minutes, or until lightly golden. Add celery, garlic, and lemon zest. Sprinkle flour over top of ingredients in pot, and stir once again to coat.

Pour milk into the pot, and reduce to medium heat. Bring mixture to a boil, and once thickened, add pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in trout and frozen peas, and cook for five to seven minutes, until trout is cooked through and mixture has returned to a boil.

Stir in lemon juice, followed by the cream. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve hot, with bread (or corn bread!), and cold, delicious beer. This is the kind of meal that will remind your spouse, special someone, roommate, or friend that you are so much better than the best they could do, and they will appreciate you profusely. If that person has had their tongue in a fish’s mouth recently, you do not have to appreciate him back.

The good tuna.

I’ll admit, there hasn’t been much cooking around here this week. This year I committed to a lot more writing, and had given myself a deadline for one of several writerly milestones; this week, I met the very first one – the most intimidating one. I feel good about it, but my goodness, am I tired. I’m such an awful procrastinator, I could have mitigated all the turmoil by simply following that schedule I made – but no matter now. As long as it gets done, right?

The last meal I made was Sunday night, for Chelsea (seen beaming and blurry, below). It was a linguine using the good tuna, and I wrote about it at Granville Mazagine’s Secret City blog. Go check it out – I hope you like it!

And I promise, once I get settled back down, things will return to normal. At least until the next milestone; for now, I am relaxing with a little too much caramel ice cream. Thank goodness.

Dip the fish in batter made with beer and then deep fry it. You know you want to.

Fish chunks!I’ve probably mentioned a number of times now my powerful love for fish and chips, that perfect pairing of foods that allow me to practically mainline tartar sauce and malt vinegar – 80% of the time, fish and chips with tartar sauce is my meal of choice, though I hardly ever get it because there are only a handful of places that do it right and I have to go a long way out of my way to get it. I’ll attempt to sate my craving periodically with a Filet-o-Fish, but that is never enough, and so I get a little sad sometimes.

And then Paul calls offering to pick up fish for dinner, and I misunderstand and think he means salmon so I start thinking of rice, and he corrects me to say that he is considering codfish and will we need potatoes with that? And yes, yes we will, and I don’t have quite enough oil to fry all the pieces in a way that will keep some of them from kind of sticking to the bottom of the pot, but most of the pieces will come out okay, and also seriously? Is anyone looking for a single, well traveled, virile young man with fixing-stuff skills and excellent taste in food and wine? Because I am very close to injecting Paul with heroin and pimping him out for real (I think he reads this, but I refuse to self-edit). He shoots ducks and hooks trout and catches crabs, kids. I’m going to see if Nick will let us have a third.

Mad digression aside, last night we had homemade beer-battered fish and chips with hand-cut fries (baked to save space on the stove top), tartar sauce from scratch, and salad. It. Was. Awesome. The fish was fresh and perfect, the kind you can tell was just caught that day. If you’ve ever had bad fish and chips (I’m looking at you, Guildford Red Robin – your fish tasted like low tide and your patio has a view of the Walmart and your waitresses will only address Nick and pretty much ignore me so you suck), you will appreciate the difference quality and freshness make. And I am still kind of full, almost twelve hours later.

Here’s what you should do. Be sure you have at least three quarts of oil, and use a thermometer to make sure the oil hovers around 350°F. You may need to top it up – you want the fish to fry at the top, where it can’t possibly use its batter to adhere to the bottom of your pot.

Beer-battered fried fish

  • 2.5 lbs. fresh cod or halibut fillets, about an inch thick, cut into pieces that will fit comfortably into your pot (I started with three large fillets cut into six)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 regular-size (355mL or 12 oz.) can beer, such as India Pale Ale

Bring about three quarts of oil to 350°F in a large, heavy-bottomed pot on the stove. Use a candy thermometer to monitor the heat – you will need to do a bit of adjusting throughout the cooking process, as the oil will drop dramatically in temperature as soon as you add the first hunks of fish.

Mix together your batter, adding water as needed to bring the mix to a thick, pancake batter-like consistency. You might end up with too much batter, which is okay because that just means you can fry stuff tomorrow too! (Tip: Deep-fried pickles are pretty much the greatest invention ever … find out for yourself?) Optionally, you can add a bit of cumin or curry powder to the mixture for an exotic twist.

Once the oil has reached peak temperature, dredge as many pieces as will fit comfortably into your pot in batter, and gently drop them into the oil – no splashing, please … you will hurt yourself and then the experience will be ruined. I could fit in two pieces at a time.

FRYING!!!Fry for about three minutes per side, but keep in mind that thicker pieces will take longer to cook, and thinner pieces will take less time. But since you’re deep frying at home, you’ll probably not want to let the pot out of your sight, so just monitor the fish as it cooks, and use your best judgment. Cook until the batter is crisp and golden.

Remove from pot onto paper towel, and salt right away. Repeat steps with other pieces of fish. You could also drizzle a bit of lemon over the pieces at this point, but I waited until I sat down with my plate to do that.

Serve with tartar sauce, lemon slices, fries, and all those wonderful sorts of things. Feel that craving finally get satisfied. And then undo your pants because it’s one of those kinds of meals. Delight.

Fish and chips for dinner.

Fish wrapped in grape leaves: Better than fish not wrapped in grape leaves. (Fact.)

Fish and veggies.

Today we were supposed to have pork tenderloin again, something we eat a lot of during the week because it’s so quick and easy. But then yesterday we were at Nick’s sister Sharon’s place, and she handed me a bag of blue cod, because apparently she was the only one at her house who would eat fish tacos so she ended up stuck with a bunch of fish she had no use for. Cue the thirty-year-old man-child giggles over fish tacos, and I end up with a few free fishies and an awesome plan.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a jar of grape leaves at the market and got all excited – I was going to make dolmades, which are pretty much just Greek meatballs wrapped in briny leaves. And then I forgot. And then I got fish. So I decided that today was a day for white fish and lemon zest and garlic and basil and just a dribble of olive oil, and pretending that we’re anywhere but here. Odd how the heat here is unbearable, but if I were mostly naked and being slathered in oil on some Mediterrannean shore by someone named Nikolas or whatever Greek men are called, it would be infinitely easier to endure. Here, I suffer the heat and Canadian Nicholas and his ongoing love affair with Game Cube Zelda, which he has played for hours and hours, for days on end. He is less Greek than anyone else alive.

“You’ve never seen a real game binge yet,” he says. He is going to wake up to find that a terrible fate has befallen his thumbs. And I will be all kinds of surprised.

But anyway.

I had grape leaves.

Fish on leaves.I can’t tell you how many leaves you will need, because it depends entirely on the shape and size of your fillet. I needed five, because the grape leaves varied in size. You may need more, or less, but fortunately you get quite a lot in a jar.

I topped the fish, which was not frozen, with a little bit of lemon zest, some chopped garlic (perhaps too much), some fresh chopped basil, and just a taste of olive oil. A little black pepper, but no salt. The grape leaves are salty enough, so salt once you’ve tasted the finished product. You can’t unsalt a thing.

Wrap the fish in the leaves, covering it completely.

Wrapped fishy.Drizzle the packet in oil, both sides. Then place it on the barbecue or in a pan on the stove. Three minutes per side over medium heat should be more than enough – less if you have a very thin piece, more if you are working with a big thick chunk.

Fishies on grill.Serve with a drizzle of lemon, with fresh vegetables on the side. I chose asparagus, because I always forget that I’ve bought asparagus and wind up with way too much at any given time. I also made a stuffed tomato salad out of a little chopped tomato innards, some grated cucumber, yogurt, a handful of cooked bulgur (which I have on hand because it makes excellent, filling salads for work lunches), a pinch of fresh garlic, and some mint. Very refreshing, and just enough for a day where the air is still heavy with heat and the clouds have started to roll in and make things muggy.

DinnerIt’s started to cool off though, so tonight I will make muffins. If they go as well as I think they will, I will report back tomorrow. In the meantime, I have to go make fun of a 27-year-old boy who’s imagining himself a trotting, dragon-slaying dork elf. This could happen to you:

If I don't mock it in its tracks, who will?
If I don't mock it in its tracks, who will?

The fish is just a vehicle for the tartar sauce. Obviously.

Every so often, I think of fish and chips, and of my grandmother, and of the Penny Farthing, the place we used to go. The Penny Farthing was a tattered old restaurant on Kingsway across from the Safeway, and it was my first taste of England. We would go there and order cod, and I would get extra tartar sauce, and I would dump malt vinegar and big chunky salt flakes all over my chips until they were soggy, and then they were perfect. Cuddles (my grandmother was Cuddles – other people call their grandmothers “Grandma,” which is a name for old ladies, or “Nana,” which is the name of the dog in Peter Pan) would order onion rings for us to share. She would pour the salt out onto a plate and dip the rings, because the salt stuck better that way. When there were no more onion rings, she would lick her pointer finger and push it onto the plate to catch the last of the flakes, and then would pop the finger into her mouth, and then the fish would come.

The cook there was named John, and as I understand it, in a previous life he had been a cook for the Merchant Marine. I don’t quite know what that means – I never thought to ask. But he was a large, crabby man with sailor tattoos, and he would smile for Cuddles and grunt a pleasant greeting. His wife, Chris, would come to our table on ceremony, not to take our order (she knew what it was), but to say hello, and to talk about her son or her trips back home. Cuddles understood her through the accent, though it was harder for me, and I only ever collected snippets to refer back to. Later, John would run off to Thailand in scandal, and Chris would return to England, and the shop would be taken over by younger people who never cooked the fish right because the oil was dirty and never quite hot enough. Young people. What do they know? Not a thing about frying fish.

And I don’t know a thing about it either. But sometimes, when the weather is hot and I’m in the mood for beer and nostalgia and the best parts of Britain, I like to fry up a piece of fish in my humble little pan, mushy up some peas, and dream of fries soaked long in malt vinegar, studded with large flecks of salt. I rarely make fries at home: Some things are best left to the experts, and it’s always good to have a reason to go out.

And because it has been hot all of a sudden and beer has been on my mind, and because of late I have found myself writing about Cuddles, today was a day for fish and cold coleslaw and minty mushy peas. And extra tartar sauce.

My recipe does not purport to result in anything like the fish part of fish and chips, because I don’t own a deep-fryer. Even if I did, today would not be the day for it, because my apartment is already too hot, even with all of the windows open. If I were at Cuddles’ house on a day like today, she wouldn’t deep-fry either – she would arrange two Highliner tempura fish sticks and a piece of cheddar cheese on a bun smeared with homemade tartar sauce (using homemade pickles) and piled with shredded iceberg lettuce. And we would eat this and then watch Keeping up Appearances on PBS and the evening would proceed as usual.

I seem to be wandering off topic. I wanted the fish, and the tartar sauce, and the Englishy bits like the peas and the coleslaw that I remember, and I thought about picking up a bag of Miss Vickie’s Sea Salt & Malt Vinegar chips to mimic the flavour I missed, but I didn’t: I resolved instead to visit somewhere real and English that will do it for me right, even if that is days or weeks away. So I wandered down to the market and bought a me-sized fillet of halibut, some pickles, an onion, a bunch of fresh dill, a bottle of English salad cream, and a bag of shredded cabbage and carrots. I bought some beer, because that’s just what you do, and Nick is out of town so it won’t be a race to drink my share – I can enjoy them.

The tartar sauce is the important part, and I underestimated the importance of texture.

Tartar Sauce

  • 1 egg (at room temperature)
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 cup oil (whatever kind you like: I wanted a neutral taste from the oil, so I went with canola)
  • 1/2 cup of roughly chopped dill pickles
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped onion
  • As much dill as you like, also roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Crack the egg into a food processor and add the mustard and the lemon juice. If you don’t have a food processor, you could use an electric mixer, or, if you have strong, non-lazy arms, you could whisk this in a large bowl. I recommend the food processor. Because it’s way more fun. Press down the button that makes the blade go all whizzy – you don’t want to pulse. Constant motion is the thing.

While the egg is in blending motion, slowly dribble in the oil. SLOWLY. I don’t know why – science is why, but that’s all I’ve really got and I can’t expand on it. You’re making mayonnaise at this point. Isn’t it marvellous? It is.

When the mixture has thickened and looks like mayonnaise, season with your salt and pepper. At this point, you have a judgment call to make. I was just super excited about everything, so I added my onion and pickles and dill and puréed the shit out of all of it, and it was delicious, and since I now have two whole cups of it, it’s going to make potato salad and a lovely marinade for grilled vegetables, but it wasn’t chunky, like tartar sauce is. I added capers to mine because I thought it needed texture – if you like a smooth tartar sauce, throw your onion, pickles, and dill into the food processor and whiz away. If not, then mince the pickles and the onion and stir them into the mayonnaise separately. Both ways would be good.

Whiz/blend/sauce!When it’s done and you’re happy, pour it into a bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it. At this point I made some coleslaw (which wasn’t a challenge: I toasted some sunflower seeds, spilled them all over my stove, floor, and into the heating element, and poured them and some jar sauce over some bagged salad mix).

Coleslaw: Convenience food.I also made some peas. I meant for them to be mushy, but forgot I had baby peas, not the big, hearty peas I had planned on using. The result was that my peas wouldn’t mush – you need to be able to mash them with a potato masher. No matter – they were still tasty. I threw a couple of teaspoons of butter into a pan, melted it, added a cup or so of peas from the freezer, and sauteed for five minutes with a small handful of fresh spearmint. You could use regular mint if you like. But you should always use mint with peas.

Minty peas. No mush.And then I pan-fried a little panko-and-lemon-zest-crusted-halibut in some butter for about seven minutes (it wasn’t a very big piece) and topped with the tartar sauce and a smattering of capers. Served with ice-cold beer, this was very much the combination of tastes that I love and remember. A satisfying evening, all the way around, and the perfect way to end a busy, sweltering week, even if it wasn’t how Cuddles would have done it. But more on that another time.

A me-sized feast.