Summer Rolls and Newsy Bits

I have the uneasy feeling that blogging over the summer is going to take extra effort. For us, life tends to pick up speed in July and August and doesn’t slow down until the pumpkins are ripening. Fueled by an essential café au lait in the morning and an energy drink post-lunch, I slip into a summer rhythm of applying sunscreen, collecting bathing suits & towels, and keeping everyone hydrated as we go from one event to the next. There’s so much happening, it’s hard to focus on one particular subject/meal and subsequently, much rambling ensues–hence this morning’s post!

I’ve been too busy celebrating ten years in Quebec to sit down and share what I’ve been up to, but I plan to eventually!Everyone has such good suggestions and it’s been a memorable summer so far.
We’re enjoying beet greens, lettuce, radishes, herbs and chard from the kitchen garden, but has it merited it’s own Update? Sadly, not yet. If I have a spare chuck of time, I’m weeding like a mad-woman, not documenting the progress of the tomatoes.
On top of everything, we’re counting down the weeks (2 1/2!!) until we fly out to Western Canada and I’m trying to wrap my head around packing. Focus, girl, focus.

It doesn’t help that I’m still in a dream-like state over our blissful weekend getaway; I didn’t want to leave our private beach on a quiet corner of a lake.

It was an amazing little holiday, complete with a few wine tastings, dinner at a cozy restaurant that featured local ingredients (rabbit for me, duck for him), a picturesque farmer’s market on Saturday morning and an local junk shop where I scored some antique Fiestaware.

Somehow this is our lucky month, because tonight we’re off on another date in honour of Danny’s birthday: a concert with Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis! It also happens to be opening night of the Montreal International Jazz Festival and the great Stevie Wonder is THE late-night event. We’ll catch him after Wynton; it’s going to be a fabulous evening of music under the summer night sky, rain or no rain.

Speaking of summer. we just can’t get enough of these summer rolls. Ever since I discovered that Noah will scarf them down, peanut sauce included, they’ve become a staple. Ideal for those steamy hot days when you don’t want to cook over a hot stove and your tummy is begging for a break from barbecued meat, these delicate summer rolls offer a fresh and flavorful alternative!

Here’s the recipe from the archives with a few step-by-step photos: Shrimp Summer Rolls.

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer and to my local readers: Bon Festival!

WFD? Warm Lobster Salad with Rhubarb, Fiddleheads, and Bacon

What’s for dinner? Warm salad of Lobster, Bacon, Green Grapes and Tarragon, served over gently-poached Rhubarb and Fiddleheads.

Back in the day when I worked in a professional kitchen, I cooked lobsters by the tub-full around this time of year. It was nothing to add “cook and clean 20 lobster” to my already lengthy prep list every day and I had to be quick about it too. I may have winced the first few times, but eventually the task of grasping a live, writhing crustacean with my two hands and wringing him in two became as old hat as peeling potatoes.

Danny brought home a few lobster the other day, as they are at their most affordable right now, and it was fun to introduce Noah to them and show him the whole process. He was quite excited and couldn’t wait to eat them.

If you’ve only ever dropped a whole lobster into boiling water to cook it, allow me to show you another way that, I believe, produces better results.
The tail of the lobster is more delicate than say, the claws, and doesn’t need as long as a cooking time, so you start by separating the lobster into pieces. Here is a short video demonstrating how to do it (with Noah chirping away about how he wants to eat it).

Cooking your Lobster:

Once you have your lobster divided up into four parts (tail, head, claws and legs from claws), prepare a poaching liquid, or in French, a court bouillon.

1 large pot of cold water
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 4
1 onion, same as above
1 generous handful of parsley
5-6 whole peppercorns
1 leek, washed and roughly chopped

Bring everything to a boil and let simmer a few minutes. Skim out solids and discard; bring your fragrant liquid to a boil again and salt generously, as you would for pasta.

Now you are ready to poach your lobster! Boil the claws for 7 minutes, the legs 6 and the tail 3 minutes. Cool everything and remove from shells.

This recipe just kind of evolved, but the result was amazing. I knew I wanted to use bacon and some fresh tarragon from my garden, but that left me with an incredibly rich and poorly balanced dish! I decided to add some sweet green grapes and do a compote of rhubarb for some tartness. Fresh lemon supremes added a perfect element of citrus. I wondered if I had too many elements, but in this case more was indeed merrier!
I also did a lobster butter using the carcass of the lobster (instructions below) and this is what I tossed the salad with. It was fantastic.
Warm Salad of Lobster, Bacon, Green grapes, and Tarragon with Poached Rhubarb and Lobster Butter
Serves 2

Meat from one poached lobster
1/4 cup green grapes, sliced in half
1 lemon

8 slices thick slab bacon
2 Tablespoons fresh tarragon
1/2 cup lobster butter (recipe to follow)
poached rhubarb (recipe below)
fiddleheads, pre-blanched

For the poached rhubarb:

2 cups apple juice
5 or 6 thin stalks of rhubarb, washed

Slice rhubarb diagonally in to 1 inch lengths. In a medium pot, bring apple juice to a boil. Add rhubarb and turn off the burner. Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes and occasionally check the rhubarb for doneness with a knife. Remove when tender. Time will vary depending on thickness of rhubarb. Keep at room temperature.
For the lobster butter:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, washed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
4-5 whole black peppercorns
2 lobster carcasses, crushed slightly
1 pound butter, cubed

In a heavy-bottomed pot, sweat leek, onion and carrot in olive oil. With the heat on medium-high, add lobster carcasses and color them. Keep stirring the mixture, scraping the sticky parts off the bottom and being careful not to burn anything. When the carcasses take on a nice red color, reduce the heat to low and add the butter. As the butter melts, stir the mixture a few times.
Allow to cook very gently for a half an hour or so. Turn off heat and allow to
cool. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, heat over a low flame until the butter re-melts, strain through a fine sieve and discard the lobster carcases and vegetables. You should have a beautiful, golden and fragrant lobster butter.

For the warm salad:

Slice whole lobster tail in half lengthwise (pictured above on the left). Roughly chop claws and leg meat. Cube slab bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Fry until golden, dry on a paper towel and reserve. Cut lemon into supremes and roughly chop those supremes. Chop tarragon into 1/2 inch lengths.
In a saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of lobster butter. Add the two tail pieces, cut side down and heat gently, basting with butter. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from pan a keep warm. Melt 1/4 cup of the lobster butter in the same pan. Add lemon supremes and swirl in the hot butter until they disintegrates into little pieces. Add chunked lobster, bacon, green grapes and tarragon to the pan and coat in the lemon-butter mixture. Heat gently while you add salt to taste.
Caution: do NOT cook over high heat OR more than a few minutes or your lobster will over cook and be rubbery and your grapes will turn to mush.
Turn off heat and reserve.

In another pan, saute fiddleheads in the remaining lobster butter.

To Dress:

Microwave the poached rhubarb to warm it slightly and place in the center of the plate. Place the 1/2 tails of lobster, cut side down, on top of the rhubarb. Top with half of the warm lobster and grape mixture and drizzle a little lobster butter around the plate. Add fiddleheads to plate any way you like and serve.

WFD? Seafood Creole Tagliatelle

Let the good times roll! Here is a pasta recipe worth blogging about and one that I am so excited to bring to you! I have to admit, most of my pasta dishes are usually inspired by a cleaning-out-the-fridge frenzy: Penne with….over-ripe tomatoes, wilted basil, molding provolone, and questionable slab bacon. It tastes great when it all comes together, but it’s nothing new.
However, I am happy to report that this recipe for Seafood Creole Pasta is much more than your average blah-blah pasta dish; it’s decadent enough to serve guests at a dinner party. I tend to steer away from serving pasta when I entertain because it is so, well,
week-night supper, but I think this is going on the menu really soon!I have to credit the talented Montreal chef Phillipe de Vienne for this recipe as it is yet another fantastic recipe from his titillating cookbook. Seriously, if you haven’t bought it yet, go get it (available in French only).

Seafood Creole Pasta
1 lb shrimp, with their shells
1 lb Tagliatelle or Fettuccine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup butter, cold and cubed
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bundle of green onions, sliced finely
1 cup lobster or crab or oysters or scallops
For the Shrimp Stock: Shrimp shells
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 cup white wine Ground Spices: 2 teaspoons Cajun Spice Blend(see below)
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried garlic Cajun Spice Blend: 3 Tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon Cayenne
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons white pepper
3 tablespoons dried onion flakes
½ tablespoon dried thyme Place all the ingredients for the shrimp stock in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Strain and reserve the fragrant stock. (I did this the day before.)

Combine in a spice grinder the Cajun blend, white pepper, dried oregano and dried garlic. Pulse until fine.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add some salt and cook pasta.

At the same time, place a large pot on medium-low heat. Add 1 1/2 cups of the shrimp stock, ground spices and lemon juice.
Bring it to a boil and add butter, shrimp, garlic and green onion.
Stir constantly until the butter is all melted and the sauce becomes creamy. Add the remaining seafood ( I used lobster) and cook gently another 1-2 minutes.

Check to see if the pasta is cooked and when it is ready, strain it well and add to the sauce.
Mix well, gently cook another minute and serve immediately.


Seared Halibut with Confit Garlic, Parsley and Kalamata Olives

Under the High Chair Travels: Queen Charlotte Islands

My brother’s Pathfinder reeks of fish, and I mean reeks. I would not trust myself in there for five kilometers with out a barf bag. However, I figure it is a small price to pay as they now have fifty pounds of fresh halibut in their deep freeze. Nice!

My brother Josh, his wife Laura and their one-year-old, Ava, just returned from 10 days of camping with friends on the Queen Charlotte Islands off British Columbia’s coast. There they spent their time crabbing, digging from razor clams, fishing for halibut, and then feasting late into the night on their catches.

These islands seem to have a particular draw for my family as my sister honeymooned there years ago, this is my brother’s second visit in five years, and my parents go back when ever they can to pick mushrooms or roam the beaches.

It’s been many years since I last visited the Charlottes, but Josh’s photo brought back many fond memories, (including when I met a black bear face-to-face-another story-) and reminded me of the stunning, rugged scenery. It’s has to be one of Canada’s most beautiful places and is still refreshingly wild and unsettled.

Josh and Ava enjoying an early morning hunt for razor clams on Rose Spit

Although I would have given almost anything to have gone on this ocean adventure, I am delighted that I can at least taste some of the fresh halibut that they hauled back in their car, and appreciate that they put up with the fishy smell for so long.
Seared Halibut with Concassé of Tomatoes, Confit Garlic, Italian Parsley, and Kalamata Olives.

  • 1 lb halibut fillet, portioned into four pieces
  • salt and Pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tomato, seeds removed and diced
  • 2 tablespoons pitted black olives, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chiffonade

Preheat oven to 350F. Peel garlic and slice thinly. Place in a small oven-proof pan and cover with a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Place in the oven and cook slowly until garlic is soft and starts to be translucent. Cool and reserve.

Melt butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy pan and medium-high heat. Season fish with salt and pepper, when butter is bubbling, place fish into pan and sear. Let a good crust form before you try to turn it. Cook only a few minutes on the second side, then remove from heat and let rest for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, place 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a small, heavy sauce pan and heat. Add tomatoes and stir gently for about three minutes. Add olives and reserved confit garlic and heat thoroughly. Just before serving, add parsley and season to taste.

Place fish on a bed of rice, wilted beet greens or desired accompaniment. Top with concassé and drizzle with garlic oil. Enjoy!!

WFD? Shrimp and Asparagus Summer Rolls with Avocado Puree

Last weekend the air was filled with the sounds of revving engines as it was Grand Prix weekend and all the Formula 1 cars were blowing smoke around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Even though we live a good 20 kilometers from the racetrack, I can hear the cars from my own backyard. As Noah and I got dirty in the garden under the warm sun, I tried to think of another sound that signaled the start of summer in Montreal, but the F1 cars seemed pretty significant.
Every year around here we ask each other “It’s Grand Prix all ready??” as if we can’t believe the spring rains are finally over and the summer is here for a while.
For those hot days where you don’t want to turn the oven on or even stand over a barbeque, there are spring rolls- or summer rolls as some of us call them. (I’ve even been known to call them ‘clean-out-the-fridge-rolls’ when they end up being way to use up scrap vegetables). They are refreshing, enjoyable to make and usually disappear as fast as I can roll them around here!
Quebec asparagus is cheaper than many other green veggies right now and I had a fat bunch sitting in my fridge. I found some frozen shrimp I had forgotten about, pinched a mango from Noah’s stash of fruit, and the filling for these rolls just came together.
If you’ve always had spring rolls just with peanut sauce, you must try this avocado puree for something different. It’s rich and feels almost decadent, but is simple to make. Make sure the avocado flesh is void of any brown parts.

Summer Rolls
12 medium shrimp, (about 6 ounces), peeled and deveined
3 ounces rice vermicelli
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Salt to taste
16 round 8-inch rice-paper wrappers
1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
1/4 cup packed fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil leaves, preferably Thai,
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves,
1 mango, peeled, seeded, and julienned
Juice of 1 lime
6 ounces (about 16 spears) pencil asparagus, blanched and trimmed to about 4 inches
micro chives, for garnish

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Add shrimp; cook until pink and cooked through, about 2 minutes. Slice cooked shrimp in half lengthwise. Cool, then toss with lime juice and a few pinches of salt. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, cover rice vermicelli with hot water by 2 inches; let soak for 10 minutes. Drain, and rinse under cold water. Toss with basil, cilantro, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Set aside.
  3. Have all ingredients ready for rolling the spring rolls: carrot, mango, seasoned rice noodles, shrimp, asparagus and mint leaves.
  4. Fill a dish or your kitchen sink with warm water. Working with 1 rice-paper wrapper at a time, soak in water for 30 seconds; immediately lay flat on a damp towel. Smooth to remove wrinkles, than fold up the bottom quarter toward the top. Working with your hands, place about two tablespoons of the rice noodles on the folded up part of the wrapper. Place a few asparagus spears, carrot, mango and shrimp on top of the noodles. Add a mint leaf slightly above the rest of the filling.
  5. Fold sides of the wrapper in toward the middle and roll the summer roll up, keeping the filling tightly pressed together. Tuck a few mini chives in to the side before you roll it all the way. Place roll on a plate and cover with a damp towel
  6. Repeat with remaining rice-paper sheets and filling. Chill summer rolls until ready to serve. Slice summer rolls in half to show the vibrant colors inside and serve with avocado puree or peanut sauce.

Avocado Puree

1 ripe avocado
2 Tablespoons whole milk
salt to taste

Divide avocado in half and remove seed. With a spoon, scoop out flesh in to a glass measuring cup. Add milk and using a hand held blender, blend until smooth. Try to keep the blades submerged at all times so as to incorporate as little air as possible. Season with salt, cover top with plastic wrap and refrigerate until used. May keep up to six hours before starting to discolor.