Dinner for One [Grilled BC Sardines with Lemon-Herb Oil]

Eating alone is something I’m familiar with. Something I’ve grown to love, to cherish. 

It gives me the opportunity to cook the things that I know Mr GL doesn’t appreciate. A time to be selfish and create dishes that want to eat. This usually means fish, sometimes beans, maybe something consisting entirely of vegetables. Or cheese. Sometimes I get pretty awesome and just eat bread and cheese for dinner, panicking the whole time that I might get caught. Then I remember that I’m a big girl and can have whatever I want for dinner. Where’s the ice cream and whiskey? 

Cooking for one wasn’t always something I treasured, but I’ve been doing it for so long that I’ve developed a list of quick and easy go-to meals that both satisfy and provide a health kick on those busy days that leave little time to muck about in the kitchen. 

Sardines. BAM. 

I know, ok? I know. I’m sure I just lost a few of you with that. Bear with me, I promise I’m getting somewhere delicious with these. We’re not talking about the oil-packed, greasy little suckers you find in the rectangle can with a twist key. I’m talking about big, fresh from the waters of British Columbia, sparkling and clear-eyed sardines.  Inexpensive, sustainable and full of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, they make eating fish feel good. Really, super, incredibly good. And they are nothing to be afraid or apprehensive of. You should try them. You must try them. They are oilier than other fish, but they have the most decadent flavour. And you can grill them up in under 10 minutes and have a dinner-for-one that’s unrivaled. 

Grilled BC Sardines with Lemon-Herb Oil
serves 1

I grilled these whole, bones, head and everything. If you prefer, you can ask your fish monger to gut them for you so you don’t have to do it at home. 

If you’re unable to find fresh sardines, smelts will do in a pinch but are smaller and require a shorter cooking time. 

2 whole sardines, rinsed and dried
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tbsp fresh sage
1/2 tbsp fresh thyme 
1/2 tbsp parsley
1 small cloves garlic, pressed
zest from 1/2 lemon
juice from 1/2 lemon 
coarse salt
fresh ground pepper
sliced lemon to serve
shaved fennel, optional

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, herbs, garlic and lemon.  

Rub the sardines with a generous amount of the oil and let them rest for 10-15 minutes while the grill heats up. When you’re ready to grill, sprinkle the fish with coarse salt and a few grind of freshly ground pepper. 

Grill 2 minutes on each side, until skin is nice and charred and flesh is flaky. Brush with any remaining oil. Serve with a lemon wedge. 

Serve sardines with shaved fennel drizzled with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. If you do want to filet the sardines, click here for details. But if, like me, you don’t mind picking through messily, then you’re welcome to do just that. 



Expanding my Taco Horizons [Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables]


Did you just get so excited? I know I did. 

The word ‘taco’ brings about emotions in me that food shouldn’t be able to. I get excited from the pit of my tummy to the tips of my toes when I hear that sacred word. TACO! It happened again. Oh god I love them so much. 

Whenever my mom asks my sister or I what we want for our birthday dinners (yes, we still get to pick whatever we want even though we’re both well into our 20s) its consistently a resounding “TACOS!” or “FAJITAS!”. We do love our Mexican food so very much. So much, in fact, that Mr. GL doesn’t much like to be around me when I’m eating Mexican because I turn into a rabid dog focused only on stuffing as much of everything-on-the-table as I can in one tortilla. Often I fill my tortilla so full that I end up eating it with a fork and knife, defeating the whole purpose of tacos all together. Oh, what a life. 

Over the summer I had the pleasure of dining Ottawa’s SideDoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar a few times and was amazed to learn that there was more to tacos than Old El Paso had told to me.  How pathetic, right? Somehow I believed that tacos were a thing of merely taco seasoning and ground meat. I feel ashamed to tell you this, but we’re friends. And friends tell each other the truth. My eyes were opened. And tacos have never been the same. Not that I plan on wiping Old El Paso from regular rotation around here, that will never happen, but I shall be expanding my taco-horizons. 

When I accidentally stumbled across a recipe for crispy shrimp tacos this week, my world came to a sudden halt. A doughy taco shell, stuffed full of a cumin-spiked tomato, shrimp and cilantro mixture and then… get this, are you ready? Rolled up and DEEP FRIED. The resulting roll is somewhere between a taco and a taquito, bursting with this extremely bright and fresh filling. It was a game changer. A life changer. A WORLD changer, if you will. I know you won’t be surprised to learn it’s a recipe from White on Rice Couple's stunning blog. They are the cat's ass, Diane and Todd. If you haven't been for a visit, I'll wait here while you go and take a look. Go ahead. Right now. I insist!

See what I’m saying? Brilliant. And those photos? Forget about it. I can only dream of being that kind of talented some day.

These tacos are so good I didn’t even sit down to eat them. I stood there, hanging over the counter, tossing them back as fast as I could. What a pretty picture that paints. I served some quick pickles alongside to contrast with the rich filling and they were a perfect addition. 

Crispy Shrimp Tacos with Tomato Broth and Quick Pickled Vegetables
adapted from White on Rice Couple 

The recipe calls for corn tortillas, but my market had run out the day I went in to grab some. I urge you to try and find some at your Latin Market, their flavour is so much better than flour tortillas, I find.  

Taco Filling
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapenos (or chilies of your choice), diced
1 tsp ground cumin
3-4 medium sized tomatoes, diced
1lb shrimp, peeled, de-veined and cut into 1/2” pieces 
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
Oil for frying, enough to fill 2” in your frying pan (preferably peanut or Grapeseed oil)

8-10 corn tortillas
Tomato Broth (recipe follows)
Quick pickled vegetables (recipe follows)

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and let them sweat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, chilies and cumin and cook for another minute.  Add the tomatoes and shrimps and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is about ketchup-consistency. It shouldn’t be too watery. Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and let cool. 

Roll and Fill the Tacos;
Fill frying pan with oil to a depth of about 2”. Heat the oil to about 350-375 or until a drop of water sizzles when you flick it in the oil. 

Two at a time, drop the tortillas in the oil for 1 second just to soften. Place on paper towels to drain. 

Lay tortillas flat and spoon 2-3 tbsp of the mixture onto one side of the tortilla. Roll them up tight (ends open) and secure with a tooth pick. Repeat until no more filling remains. 

Place tacos, 3-4 at a time, into the hot oil for 1.5 minutes. Flip over and cook for another 1 minutes until golden brown. 

Place fried tacos on paper towels to drain. Serve with tomato broth and quick pickles. 

Tomato Broth;
3-4 tomatoes, rough chopped
1/2 sweet onion, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed

In a blender, puree all ingredients until smooth. 
Pour tomato puree into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by about 1/3. It should be a soupy consistency. 

Quick Pickles
1/2 cup cauliflower florets
2 jalapenos, sliced into rounds
2 carrots, cut into thing strips
1 small daikon, cut into thin strips 
1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
large pinch of salt
Large mason jar

In a bowl, add the vinegar, water sugar and salt. Whisk until sugar dissolves

Place half the cauliflower and jalapenos into the bottom of the jar. Add the carrot/daikon strips, and finish with the rest of the cauliflower jalapenos. Pour pickling bring over until the jar is filled and vegetables are submerged. Place the lid on the jar and let pickle for at least an hour in the fridge. These will keep for 1 week. 




A Taste of Summer [Scallop Crudo with Grapefruit, Edamame, Zucchini, Mint Oil]

I have a hard time at restaurants. 

It’s not that I’m picky. In fact, quite the opposite. The whole other end of the spectrum, actually. I want it all. I’m greedy for everything that establishment has to offer. What might seem like indecisiveness due to specific taste, is really just me feeling exasperated knowing I’m only allowed (financially, anyways) to order one of many options. 

When I learned a few years back that my favourite (yes, favourite!) Ottawa restaurant, Allium, was starting to do a tapas and wine night on Mondays, I was convinced someone finally heard my indecisive sighs and saw my heavily furrowed menu-scanning brows. At long last! A chance to eat a few small plates from the menu I most pined after. 

A girlfriend of mine, also conveniently one of the chef’s wives, and I decided to head over there last night to close out a Monday with a cold glass of wine, some gossip, catching up, and a few plates of the most delicious dishes in Ottawa. As usual, the plates did not disappoint. We each chose two of our favourite dishes and finished the meal off with a cheese plate. My girlfriend first chose some creamy Mushroom Toasts, which reminded me a lot of a broken down cream of mushroom soup. Rich, buttery, and comforting. Second, a Tuna Tadaki, perfectly seared, pink in the middle, seasoned to perfection and served with pickled ramps (!), orange, almonds and sour cream. 

My first pick was Duck Chili Cheese Fries. Can you blame me? I’d love to see you pass that up on a menu. The chili was lovely. Rich and bursting with flavour. Made only better by melted cheese and hand cut fries. Secondly, and most importantly, I chose a Scallop Crudo. It was something I would have passed up any other day, but it being particularly hot yesterday, I didn’t think I could do anything heavy after the fries. They say everything happens for a reason and I am now a believer. The crudo was… unbelievable. If summer had a flavour, that would have been it. Giant thin sliced scallops, marinated for a short period in citrus, and served with edamame, cucumber, tomato and spiced honey. If I could find a way to express just how much I enjoyed this dish, I would. But words escape me (shockingly). It was perfect. 

Our Allium plates. Mind the photo quality. Because I am not a food critic, or anything close to the likes, I don’t like to be ‘that guy’ and whip out my camera to take shots. A quick cell phone photo was all I could muster without turning red. 

I couldn’t imagine not being able to have it again, this simple plate of ingredients so perfectly balanced and bright. And thus, came home in search of a way to recreate it. Immediately. Before I forgot the way it tasted. While some changes were made based on ingredient availability and how I was feeling today, I think I came pretty darn close. Though it will never taste as good as when someone else makes it for you, I’m glad I can get my fill of summer flavour whenever I want it. 

Scallop Crudo with Grapefruit, Edamame, Zucchini and Mint Oil 
Dish based on Allium Ottawa Scallop Crudo
serves 2 as a main, 4 as an appetizer. 

If you live in Ottawa, I highly suggest making a trip to The Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster and Fish Supply for your scallops. Not only are they the size of your head (a very slight exaggeration), but they sell all sustainable species and while you’re buying you can pick up their awesome brown bag lunch. If that’s not enough to send you in their direction, I don’t know what is.

Vegetarian Note: While the scallops were delicious, they are certainly not vital to this dish. The citrus marinated zucchini slices with the rest of the ingredients would have made a wonderfully acceptable dish as well. 

4 scallops (3 if very large), sliced into 1/4” rounds
half a large zucchini, sliced as thin as you can, preferably with a mandoline
1 tsp zest from lime
Juice from 1 lime
1 tsp zest from grapefruit
Juice from half a grapefruit
1/3 cup mint leaves, plus extra for garnish
2-4 tbsp canola oil
1 cup edamame (soy beans), shelled
Large flake salt, to finish
Best olive oil you can afford, to finish
1-2 red Thai hot peppers, sliced thin to garnish (optional)

Add the sliced scallops and zucchini to a shallow bowl.

Add the lime and grapefruit zest and juice. Cover and let rest in the fridge until you’re ready to plate. 

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the mint leaves, reserving extra leaves for garnish, and blanch for about 1 minute until bright green. Add to a bowl of ice water to stop the coking process. Reserve the ice bath. Add the leaves to the bowl of a food processor with 2 tbsp canola oil. Pulse until well blended. If the mixture is still a little dry, add more oil until it’s smooth. Set aside. 

Fill the same pot up with water and a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil. Add the edamame and let cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the the ice bath. 

Take scallops and zucchini out of the fridge. On each plate, place a few zucchinis down, overlapping slightly. Place a row of scallops atop the zucchinis. Sprinkle some edamame, mint leaves, and hot pepper around the plate. Finish with a drizzle of the mint oil, olive oil, a sprinkle of flaky salt and reserved mint leaves. 

I paired this with a glass of Muscadet, which was perfect. Though I certainly don’t fancy myself a sommelier. 


Cringingly Delicious [Rioja Steamed Mussels with Caramelized Onions and Chorizo]

Remember when you were a kid and you used to sit at the adult table, looking on in disgust as your parents and their friends drank their smelly beer/wine, eating their odd looking food, and thinking to yourself “Ewwww, I will never eat or drink that stuff.”

That was me. I wouldn’ say I was picky, but every so often I would see or smell something that I wanted nothing to do with. Oysters, liver, kidneys, blood sausage, veal… those sorts of things. Things that typical hot-dog and chicken finger eating children are not exactly comfortable around. 

Two of those things in particular are oysters and mussels. I remember watching my dad eat a big bowl of mussels once, my eyes wide as he pried them open, loosening the tiny muscusy creature inside. I’m not sure I even knew they were living until much later in life. What did I think they were? I have no idea. I never thought about it long enough to ask the question. I just wrinkled my nose, made a gagging face to my sister and took another bite of my Kraft Dinner.

It wasn’t until recently that I gave some of my most feared foods a second glance. I’ve only been really adventuous food-wise in the past couple years. So as I sat at The Whalesbone Oyster House last year, staring directly into a selection of chef-selected oysters, my mouth was not exactly watering. But, much to my delight, they were no where near what I thought they would be. They weren’t as slimy as I thought, they tasted completely different than I had imagined, and I actually, gasp, enjoyed them! I guess this means I owe my dad apologies for years and years of turned up noses.

I figured recently, that if I liked oysters, how much could I really hate mussels? It was about time I gave them a shot. So I invited my best friend over for a dinner of food I didn’t know if I would like, from an ingredient I had never cooked. Obviously, I didn’t let her in on that information until she was already over with a glass of wine in her hand.

This recipes features mussels in a broth of caramelized onions, chorizo and a Spanish wine called Rioja. The chorizo and onions pack a punch of flavour on their own, but when the wine is added, it takes it somewhere completely different. And I strongly urge you have some crusty bread at the ready to sop up all the broth at the bottom of your bowl.

I should also mention that the mussels from T&T Superstore were delicious. If you’re looking for seafood in the Ottawa area, these guys are tops.  

Rioja Steamed Mussels with Caramelized Onions and Chorizo
adapted from Claire Robinson’s recipe.

Claire’s recipe calls to add the wine and mussels at the same time, but I wanted to be sure all the alcohol cooked off so you didn’t get hit with that smell or taste before anything else.

Note: while you’re cleaning the mussels, be sure to discard any that are already open. As well as any that haven’t opened in the cooking process.

2 large Chorizo links, about a pound
1 large or two medium Spanish onions, sliced or diced thin
Salt and pepper
2 lbs black mussels, cleaned and bearded
1 bottle Rioja (LCBO carries a few nice ones)
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, loosely chopped

Remove the chorizo from the casings and add to a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Cook until the fat has rendered and the meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions and let cook, stirring occasionally, until they are deep golden brown. About 10-15 minutes. Add the chorizo back to the pan and pour in the bottle of wine. Bring to a boil and let it cook for a minute or two or until the alcohol taste/smell has disappeared. Add the mussels, cover with a lid and cook until the mussels have opened, 4-5 minutes.

Serve in a big bowl, topped with parlsey and served with a hunk of bread.

And just you try not to love them. I dare you.