After four amazing years in Ottawa where I had the privilege of serving Foreign Minister Baird and Prime Minister Harper, I’ve returned to Navigator — the high-stakes communications firm that kick-started my career nearly a decade ago.
While we made the most of our time in Ottawa, my wife and I missed Toronto dearly. We missed the markets, the restaurants, the festivals, the parks, and the energy of a large metropolitan city.
At first, we had some angst. Was our longing to return steeped in nostalgia? Would we arrive here only to discover that our expectations were too high? We left Toronto as a family of three, returning a family of five . Could we make it work in a smaller house? Is Toronto family-friendly or were we deluding ourselves?
As we soon discovered, there was no reason to doubt. This amazing city has exceeded our expectations. Parks and early learning centres are within walking distance, in any direction you turn. For a proper cup of coffee, you need not walk longer than 10 minutes to get it. I write this having just returned from a morning at the Leslieville Farmer’s Market, which is quite possibly the best farmer’s market you could take your family to: good vendors, good food, good music, a play structure and splash pad. You need not go far to keep the kids busy in this town, and that’s a great thing.
It feels great to be back, and I look forward to sharing recipes, updates from the local food scene, and the occasional parenting hack from our new perch, here in Leslieville.
Persian rice pilafs are a wonderful thing—exceptionally fluffy rice with the separated grains that are not sticky. Add in butter and almonds, and you’ve got yourself an addictive base upon which to build flavours. In this version, I’ve used less butter than a typical Persian rice pilaf. I like cutting the richness by a couple degrees so I can layer on additional flavour. This time, that means adding some zing with garlic and green onions, with a touch of acidity with two different mustards and sorrel from my garden. The peas liven up the dish and give it a nice pop of green colour. It’s a simple dish, but the cooking method for the rice is unconventional, so make sure to start a couple hours out. It’s worth it—I haven’t found a better method to produce rice that would meet the demands of one famous Indian proverb: “Grains of rice should be like two brothers—close but not stuck together.”
Mustard Peas with Buttery Basmati Rice
- 1 cup basmati rice
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/3 cup almonds or pine nuts, chopped
- 1 bunch green onions
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1/2 tsp english mustard
- 2 tsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp Greek Yogurt
- 8 large sorrel leaves, coarsely shredded
- mustard seeds, for garnish
Make it happen
- Rinse the rice throughly, under lukewarm water until the water runs clear. Place in a large bowl and cover with lukewarm water and 2 tbsp of salt for 2 hours.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Strain the rice and add it to the pot and gently boil for 4 minutes. Strain the rice and set aside.
- Melt the butter in a wide pan on medium heat and add the almonds. Stir occasionally, for 8 minutes.
- Add half the rice to the pan and press down to an even layer, before adding the rest of the rice. Top with a lug of olive oil, a generous pinch of salt and black pepper. Cover with a lid and let simmer on the lowest heat setting you have, for 35 minutes.
- When the timer is up, remove the lid, cover the pan with a clean dish towel and put the lid back on. Remove from the heat and let rest for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, slice the green onions and garlic diagonally. Heat a lug of olive oil in a large pan on medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic to the pan, stirring occasionally until they start to golden (about 8 minutes).
- Mix the two mustards together to make a paste.
- When you're ready to serve, transfer the peas, mustard paste and yogurt to the pan of green onions, and stir. Taste to ensure the peas are warm. Just before removing from heat, stir in the sorrel.
- Transfer the rice to a bowl and top with the pea mixture. Sprinkle with additional mustard seeds, if you like.
My wife makes killer pizza dough. She’s become quite the pizza guru and we now have regular pizza nights. It’s always my favorite night of the week. I also love how the whole house smells like an Italian pizzeria on these nights. But on this particular day, it was just shy of 30°C outside, and we weren’t in the mood to heat up the whole house to make pizza. Our oven exceeds 600°F; when it’s cranked to the max for well over an hour to preheat the stone, it gets toasty!
So, we looked to the BBQ.
It was my first try at making pizza on the grill, and we were all surprised by how good it was. The dough recipe I’ve provided below will give you more of a flatbread consistency, but that also means you have a sturdier dough that can handle getting flipped on the grill. I ran out of Harissa paste for one of my pies, so I used Sriracha. You could do the same if you’re a fan of the rooster sauce.
In my books, Spring hasn’t arrived until the farmer’s market returns with a fresh selection of fiddleheads and ramps (a.k.a wild leeks or wild garlic). Ramps are a big deal in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, where the bulk of my family comes from. My grandfather counts down the days until he can hike into the woods, guided by the aroma of pungent and sweet garlic to locate patches of this most delicious ingredient. My grandfather then pickles them and saves a jar or two for his grandkids. It’s a real treat.
I haven’t pickled them in this recipe. I’ve in fact, done little to them. I’ve included some raw; some lightly roasted. I’ve used the leaves to make a yogurt sauce to augment the whole dish. The potatoes are delicious, but the ramps take centre stage in this week’s dish.
If you’ve never had ramps, now’s the time. They won’t be in season much longer. But a note of caution: As much as I love them, I’m aware that years and years of over-harvesting has made them a threatened species. Quebec banned the commercial harvest in 1995. States like North Carolina and Tennessee have done the same. So, I tend to limit myself to one or two dishes each spring.
I wish I had a compelling story to go with this week’s recipe. The truth is, one Saturday morning, my wife told me she wanted fish for dinner. With clear marching orders, I went to Whalesbone—the finest fish monger in Ottawa—to see what was on display behind the vitrine.
Salmon, trout, halibut and cod were all there for the picking. I’ve cooked a lot with the first three fish, but after one bad experience, hadn’t cooked cod in ages. So, rolled the dice and walked out with a pound of the oily white-fleshed fish.
I googled cod recipes to see what would inspire me. Upon seeing recipes for miso black cod (a different fish, I know), I decided to roll with it. This is what I came up with. My wife loved it, the bar my recipes must all clear before I share them here.
Does anyone wake up thinking, “You know what I could use right now? A root vegetable salad”? It just doesn’t happen.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we often think of using root vegetables to flavour stocks or soups. Sure, we might add some peeled carrots to our asian-inspired rice noodle dish. Or make a beet salad from time to time. But if you’re like me, the idea of making a root vegetable salad sounds kind of boring. Not any more.
This is a sexy dish. An array of colours and a wide spectrum of flavours will smack your palate around. It’s a surefire way to buck the winter blues. You’re using seasonal veggies and adding a spike of citrus, herbs, and crunch to breath new life into winter veggies. The real hero of the dish is the faux mayonnaise, made with a lot of lime juice, garlic and spicy chile. Best part is, you can make most this dish ahead of time, letting you spend the weekend as you see fit.
I was inspired by a new cookbook some good friends got me for Christmas, Bar Tartine for this recipe. I’ve adapted it by using fewer ingredients, and using ones most of us would have in our pantry (e.g. olive oil instead of pumpkin oil). I also prefer a dressing that packs a bit of punch; what I have below does the trick, for my personal tastes. As always, let me know how it worked for you!
Sexy Root Vegetable Salad
- 450g parsnips, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
- 1 small celery root, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
- 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
- 1 very small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
- Green onions, white and tender parts, sliced
- Juice of 2 limes
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- Fresh cilantro, dill and curly parsley, coarsely chopped, for garnish
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp honey
- grated zest of 2 limes
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 225g pumpkin seeds
Dressing (faux mayonnaise)
- 4 limes
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 jalapeño chile
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 5 tbsp sour cream
Make it happen
- Separately, steam all the root vegetables for 10-15 minutes, until tender, but not mushy. For the parsnip, make sure to reserve 1/2 cup and set aside at room temperature (it’ll come in handy later when we make the dressing). Otherwise, all root vegetables go straight to the fridge to cool. You can do this 1 day in advance, if you like, and store, covered, in the fridge.
- To make the roasted pumpkin seeds, preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a small saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter with the remaining ingredients before adding the seeds. Toss to coat and spread out on a baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes and then let cool. You can do this up to 5 days in advance, if you like and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
- To make the dressing, squeeze out the juice from the limes into a blender with the honey, olive oil, garlic, jalapeño and salt. Purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the sour cream. You can do this up to 5 days in advance, if you like and store in an airtight container in the fridge.
- To assemble, transfer the root veggies to a bowl and toss with juice of 2 limes and salt. Add the dressing and half of each of the green onions, cilantro, dill and parsley. Mix gently. Transfer to a plate and top with roasted pumpkin seeds, the remaining green onions and herbs.
- Close your eyes for the first bite.