Thursday, October 21, 2010

Falling for Colour

I have a difficult time getting through the winter months. This may have something to do with those nasty, four letter words; “snow” and “cold”. If I ever chance to live in a warm tropical place, you will never here me say; “I miss the snow”. Never, ever. I can guarantee that I would never utter those words. If I lived in a climate that was more appropriate for growing palm trees in the front yard instead of maples, the one month in Canada that I would truly miss would be October.

I often think that October is Mother Nature’s way of trying to make me feel better about the inevitable. My beautiful consolation prize for the (brrr) winter months ahead. This feeling is especially true on those gorgeous, mildly warm fall days, when the skies are blue, the sun is shining brightly and the leaves on the trees are lit up in brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow.

On crisp, cool October Saturday mornings at the local farmers’ market, those gorgeous fall colours are also reflected in the produce. Butternut squash, pepper squash, numerous varieties of apples, peppers, potatoes, carrots; colour is everywhere. It’s so easy to get inspired to cook up something warm and comforting. It’s been said that we eat with our eyes before we taste our food and I believe that using colourful ingredients is key to making the food we prepare visually appealing as well as flavourful.

The other night I made one of my favourite weeknight meals; fresh arctic char, topped with slices of lemon, gold and red sweet peppers and carrots; all the colours of fall. Everything is wrapped up in parchment paper, like a little package, and baked in the oven. It’s such a simple meal to prepare, but when it comes out of the oven and the “package” is opened, it really looks like something special.  Arctic char is a cold water fish that’s part of the salmon family and is one of my favourite choices for fish. The flesh is a lovely, light coral colour. The taste is similar to salmon, but the texture is lighter and flakier. The sweetness of the peppers and carrots are a perfect accompaniment to the fish. The parchment packages go into the oven on a baking sheet and that’s the only clean-up there is. No messy pans to wash up afterwards.

Arctic Char en Papillote – by Catherine Negus


For each “package”

5 to 6 oz. fresh fillet of Arctic char (preferably boneless)
2 slices of fresh lemon + additional lemon wedges for serving
1 medium to large carrot
½ sweet red pepper
½ sweet golden pepper
approx. ½ tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¼ tsp. dried tarragon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. For each “package”, you will need a piece of parchment paper approximately 15” square. Peel the carrot and remove the top. Slice it lengthwise in half. Set each half flat side down on a slicing board and slice each half lengthwise in ¼” widths. Cut the carrots slices in half horizontally. Remove the membrane and seeds from the sweet pepper halves and slice each half lengthwise in ¼” slices.
Place a fish fillet in the center of the piece of parchment. Season the fish with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and little dried tarragon. Set two slices of fresh lemon side by side on top of the fish. Carefully stack the carrot and sweet pepper slices on top of the fish and drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil. (If you have too many slices of carrot and peppers to rest easily on the fish, save them for nibbling later.)

 Each fillet has two shorter length ends and longer sides. On the longer sides, draw up the sides of the parchment and bring them together. Holding the sides of the paper together at the top, fold them down about ¾”. Using this fold as your guideline, keep folding the paper over and over in the same direction until you have reached the top of the vegetables. Tuck the ends of the paper underneath the package. 

Set the prepared packages on a baking sheet and bake for about 30-35 minutes, until the parchment has lightly browned on top. Using a spatula, remove the parchment packages from the oven and serve on dinner plates as is. Unroll the parchment packages carefully as there will be steam that escapes. Serve with wedges of lemon. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Remains of the Day

One of the best things about a Thanksgiving dinner is the leftover roast turkey. In fact, sometimes I think I’m more excited about the leftover turkey, than when the roast turkey first comes out of the oven. Turkey is an incredibly versatile ingredient that works well in many dishes. One of my favourite ways of enjoying leftover turkey is one of the simplest; on a sandwich with toasted bread and lots of homemade cranberry sauce. Getting down to the end of the stash, there seem to be more bits and pieces of light and dark rather than lovely slices. This is when I like to make soup to use up what’s left. Turkey works exceptionally well in a corn chowder, with the sweetness of the corn balancing the dark and white pieces of savoury turkey. Turkey Corn Chowder is a nourishing, satisfying meal in itself, perfect for cool fall evenings.

 Thanks to the addition of a roux and creamed corn, this chowder has a rich creaminess to it without the addition of cream. Tarragon lends itself really well to poultry and corn. When adding the dried tarragon, I would recommend adding half a teaspoon first and blending it in, then taste to see if you would prefer the additional half teaspoon. The amount of turkey you use depends on how much you have available. No turkey hiding out in your fridge? Cooked chicken works equally well. And there’s one more great thing about this chowder; the leftovers!

Turkey Corn Chowder – by Catherine Negus


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped white onion
2 cups chopped celery
¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
4 cups milk
1 14 oz. can creamed corn
3 cups canned, frozen or roasted corn kernels 
2 -3 cups chopped cooked turkey (pieces approx. ½” x ½”)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ - 1 tsp. dried tarragon (or 2 tsp. fresh chopped tarragon)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


In a large dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and sauté the chopped white onion and chopped celery until softened and the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

 In a separate small pan, melt the butter on medium heat. Gradually add the flour, whisking until thoroughly blended and smooth. Cook the roux on medium heat, whisking constantly for about 2 minutes, so that the flour is cooked and the roux has thickened. Add the roux to the onion and celery and stir to combine.

Add 2 cups chicken broth and stir for a few minutes until the mixture begins to thicken. Add the milk and heat, stirring. Add the creamed corn, corn kernels and turkey. Stir occasionally and heat through, but do not allow the soup to boil. Stir in the parsley and dried tarragon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Southern Hospitality (cont'd)

Elizabeth on 37th

I didn’t know at the time, but if there was ever a perfect time to discover “Elizabeth on 37th”, it was then, now long ago, while on a week long vacation with my seven month old daughter Karen, in tow. Tybee Island, Georgia, served as the base of the trip, with daily trips made into nearby Savannah. I quickly become captivated by Savannah’s undeniable beauty and charm. The historic center of the city had been largely preserved through a number of years of renovations. The lively River Street port area, park-like center square, moss draped trees and graceful mansions were much as they had always been.

Discovering “Elizabeth on 37th” was purely by accident. A chance drive down East 37th Street took me past a lovely early 20th century mansion that had been converted into a restaurant named “Elizabeth on 37th. The restaurant was named for one of its founding owners, self-taught chef Elizabeth Terry, who was in partnership with her husband, Michael Terry.  Intrigued by the impressive mansion and curious about the restaurant, plans were quickly made to have dinner there. It honestly never occurred to me that being a “fine dining establishment” it would be unusual for anyone to have dinner there with a baby along. I don’t remember Karen ever being loud or boisterous at anytime during her “babyhood”, and the thought never crossed my mind not to go because of her. She would come along just as she always did.

Elizabeth on 37th” did not disappoint. Stepping through the immense front doors of the mansion made me feel as though I was stepping into the grand foyer of someone’s home. The elegant mansion exuded a quiet, gracious presence that could be felt immediately. We were ushered into one of the original main floor front receiving rooms which now comprised the restaurant. Karen was graciously accepted as readily as any other guest.

I hadn’t given any consideration to the idea that the food would be any different than any other typical higher end restaurant of that time. It hadn’t occurred to me that I would be having “southern cuisine”, of which I knew very little. Quite frankly, just the sound of some southern fare had been of very little interest to me. After all, anything called “grits” couldn’t taste good, could it? And what about “black-eyed peas”? What were they? It sounded more like a type of bean to me. Hm.

Considering my then unfamiliarity with much of what is known as “southern cuisine”, I unwittingly ordered a “Stuffed Sweet Vidalia Onion”, a seasonal dish that was not only intrinsically “southern” but a perennial favourite of regular guests to Elizabeth on 37th. Under a U.S. Federal law, the growing region for Vidalia Onions is restricted to within thirteen counties in Georgia. Vidalia onions are in season during April, May and June and I was lucky enough to be there during May of 1988. I couldn’t have known that for many years, Chef Terry’s “Stuffed Sweet Vidalia Onion” was on the dinner menu only during Vidalia onion season. The onion was filled with a mixture of sausage and cheddar, seasoned with sage as well as other herbs and seasonings, baked, and served with a lemon butter sauce. The end result was heavenly. The flavours melded beautifully. It had the sweetness of the onion, a gently spicy kick from the sausage, undertones of savoury from the herbs and creaminess from the cheddar and lemon butter sauce. It was unique and unforgettable.

Not only had the food been spectacular, the service had been outstanding. I just had to go back one more time before returning north. Reservations were made and kept for the following evening. This time we were ushered into the former receiving room to the left of the grand foyer. Once again, Karen came along and sat happily and quietly in her stroller through the course of the evening.

There are few restaurants that I recall the service as being truly as outstanding as it was at Elizabeth on 37th. I’m probably not the only one who is irked by waiters who amble over to your table and announce themselves in the same loud manner, such as; “How’re you doing tonight, folks? My name is Bobby and I’ll be your server tonight.” Never once have I had to call the server by their name (i.e.; “Bobby, could you please bring me another…”) and if they come to the table to take my order, I’ll assume that, yes, they are indeed my server for the evening. During the second evening at Elizabeth on 37th, the waiter was dressed impeccably in a white shirt and black bow tie, black dress pants and polished shoes. His shoulder length hair was smoothed back in a ponytail and his demeanour was one of quiet confidence. Throughout the meal, he was attentive and responsive. Rarely have I experienced such excellence in service.

That evening I ordered “Savannah Jambalaya”, Chef Terry’s own version of the infamous low country dish. There are endless variations of this one-pot rice based dish, which is said to have originated in Louisiana. This version included hot Italian style sausage, dark chicken meat, southern style country ham, perfectly cooked shrimp and just the right level of heat. Chef Terry had perfected the classic southern dish, once again expertly balancing the sweetness of the ham and shrimp with the heat from the sausage.

I waited in the large, empty foyer with Karen in her stroller while the bill was being looked after. From around the corner, a waiter appeared and stood several feet back and watched Karen. Then another waiter appeared, standing beside the first, just watching Karen. Another appeared, then another, simply standing there and looking at Karen, all the while not saying anything. More staff followed; cooks in whites and tall white chef’s hats as well as waiters, until there was a large semi circle of staff in front of Karen’s stroller. No one spoke. Karen sat there quietly as usual. The strangest part about this situation is no one said a single word. I cleared my throat and began talking to them.

“This is Karen. She’s seven months old.”

Nothing. No questions, no response, no one even acknowledging that I said anything. In fact, none of them took their eyes off of the baby girl who sat quietly in front of them. Unruffled, I chatted on a bit more to them, relating small details about the little baby that was holding them in seemingly silent fascination. What fascinated me was their complete silence. The time came to leave and one by one the staff slipped away around corners as silently as they had come. It was then that I realized that this staff probably never had a baby guest in the restaurant. For such a well behaved baby to make an appearance two nights in a row was more than likely unheard of. In a strange kind of way it was flattering that they all wanted to just quietly watch her for a few minutes.

Karen in Savannah

Since the time that I experienced those two memorable evenings at Elizabeth on 37th, I learned that through her career, self-taught chef, Elizabeth Terry, received a number of prestigious awards for her fresh, innovative approach to southern cuisine including a James Beard award in 1995 for “Best American Chef: Southeast”. With her daughter, Alexis, she has written a cook book entitled; “Savannah Seasons – Food and Stories from Elizabeth on 37th”, which was first published in 1996 and is still available. The front of the house is now run by owners Greg and Gary Butch, former long-time employees of the restaurant, and the Executive Chef is Kelly Yambor. If you are planning to be in the Savannah area and like to experience fantastic southern cuisine and true southern hospitality, Elizabeth on 37th is located at 105 E. 37th Street. For details about the restaurant, their web site can be found at

Karen - still lovely now