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Confederation Cove Mussels

In my first two posts about our trip to PEI I sang the praises of the delicious Three Pigs burger, shared my impression of a good takeout fish spot, and remembered the best black cherry milkshake I’ve had in a long time. Here’s the thing, none of those were really the highlight of the trip for me. What I was really interested in was the tour we got of the Confederation Cove Mussel plant in Borden-Carleton and the mussels we brought home.

Picturesque wharf scene including old-timer who ignored the "No Trespassing" signs to fish there.

Picturesque PEI scene including old-timer who ignored the “No Trespassing” signs to fish there.

The plant manager, Len, was kind enough to take us on a thorough tour of their facilities. We started by walking out to the end of the break-wall that protects their wharf (Len thinks it might be the only privately owned one in Canada) and offers a spectacular view of the Confederation Bridge.

The Confederation Cove wharf in Borden-Carlton.

The Confederation Cove wharf in Borden-Carleton.

On the way back inside we visited the By The Water Shellfish facility that is also located on Confederation Cove owned land. By The Water has impressively modern and controlled system for sorting, storing, and packing Atlantic lobster. The lobster holding tanks can keep up to 400,000 lbs of live lobster in suitable conditions for months, thereby extending the season for live lobster. (more…)

PEI Picnic

Okay, so it’s not the Northumberland Straight but Lake Simcoe was a great setting for a very enjoyable, on-the-water, PEI-themed picnic. The weather was perfect on the Saturday of Victoria Day weekend for eating on the boat. There is an apropos connection between the date and the island because the latter is named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn who was Queen Victoria’s father.

We enjoyed some Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar, potato focaccia from Fred’s Bread, mortadella, and, of course, oysters. What does mortadella have to do with PEI? I have no idea but I like it and it has been a while since I’ve had any.

Admittedly the meal was missing an acidic, pickled element. Something along the lines of the ploughman’s (the purest picnic) branston pickle. (more…)

Decoding Temaki

The rules of sushi etiquette and terminology can be mind-spinning.  Each piece of nigiri is meant, in an Olympian feat of chopstick acrobatics, to be flipped and only the fish component dipped briefly in soy sauce.  Raw before fried and–more confusing still–a lightly flavoured fish goes down the hatch before its deeply-flavoured (usually oilier) cousin.  All this is an obvious introduction for temaki the sushi preparation that throws out all of these rules in favour of a make-your-own experience.

Temaki or “lazy man’s sushi” while frequently appearing in Japanese homes for parties and family meals is only available at two restaurants in Canada and one of those places is Toronto’s own Drake Hotel.  The Drake’s temaki feast ($50, $70 with lobster) is a platter which features the usual players (tuna, salmon, and deep-fried shrimp) but also some more uncommon seafood like (butterjack and arborfish).  Diners are also given a bowl of nicely-seasoned sushi rice, a stack of nori sheets, and three ramekins of house-made sushi sauces to complete their custom hand rolls.  (more…)

Barbarian-style Lobster

With ease I can count at least half a dozen people I know who are very squeamish about handling raw chicken.  Imagine what would happen if we set the homemaking clock back a hundred years and the majority of us were still dispatching our own chickens?  Preposterous?  Sure, a little bit, but we still take lobsters from living to food in our own kitchens.  Granted chicken is an every-week sort of meal while lobster is a once or twice a year kind of thing that the faint of heart can skip.  As part of my ongoing series of posts about cooking my Foodbuzz 24X24 meal in honour of Terry Fox I’m going to share my new method for cooking lobster.

Other than oysters, these lobsters are the only multi-cell organism (therefore not counting the yeasts and moulds in bread, wine, and cheese) that I have dispatched in the kitchen so it makes sense to pay some attention to how humanely the job is done.  I believe Jeffrey Steingarten and others when they say that the best way is to plunge a heavy knife through the lobster’s head.  They don’t have a central nervous system and feel pain through eight decentralised ganglia so it’s important the cutting is not a timid nip to the nose but severs them completely–nose (speaking topographically since lobsters don’t have noses like we do) to where the tail meets the thorax, as quickly as possible.  Clearly the old routine of freezing them briefly (to dull the pain, we’re told), throwing them into boiling water, slapping a lid on, and leaving the room is not the same thing. (more…)

Foodbuzz 24X24: Terry Fox

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My memories of school assemblies from my early years are a blur of secularised holiday celebrations and faux cool jingles designed to keep us from doing drugs.  Not very influential with one glaring exception.  I remember being blown away by the story of Terry Fox a twenty-one year-old Canadian who set out to raise a million dollars for cancer research by running across the country.  Terry had been diagnosed with bone cancer in his knee, undergone chemotherapy and had his right leg amputated.  Images of Terry running, with his artificial leg, along remote and lonely stretches of the Trans Canada Highway are I think a fairly universal early memory for Canadians of my generation.

I have spent much of this summer building a wood-fired oven with my family at the cottage and since this year is the thirtieth anniversary of the Marathon of Hope it seemed appropriate to mark this occasion by cooking a meal in the oven.  The September Foodbuzz 24X24 is special because it is dedicated to raising funds for ovarian cancer research and I was happy to have my proposal to write about a meal honouring the Marathon of Hope accepted.  Throughout its course the Marathon of Hope was about connecting with the small communities and individuals across Canada and I hope that by cooking a meal (with the help of family and friends) which represents the culinary traditions of these people and places I can honour this memory in my own way.

I can’t complain too loudly about how cliched the description has become because I have written it more times than I want to count but this summer has been a remarkably hot and sunny one. Unfortunately, August’s weather rarely influences September’s and for the day of the big meal we had stronger winds than anyone could remember for Labour Day weekend.  When building the oven we were careful to face it away from prevailing winds but I still had some difficulty getting the oven lit on Saturday.  In a world of electric ovens with digital controls it’s difficult to imagine the havoc caused by 30 km/h winds when cooking in an outside brick oven but now I understand.

On April 12, 1980 Terry started his journey across the country at the Atlantic coast near St. John’s, Newfoundland.  His course took him through all four of Canada’s maritime provinces and these early stages were filled with the challenges of running a marathon every day in what can often be wintry weather in April.  He was supported by his brother and his best friend and was I’m sure buoyed by the isolated recognition and public support he received along this part of the route. (more…)