Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Matriarchs Birthday

So, for my fathers 70th birthday we threw a party in my parents backyard. I decided to make a stuffed whole salmon, something that sounded like a lot of fun even though I had never tried it before. As usual, how hard could it be? Not only was it quite easy, it was a hit. Move forward 5 years, dad is gone but the memories of that party are very strong in all of our minds and hearts. I know it is quite hard everyday for mom and that she misses pops, as we all do. For her though it's a struggle and I decided for her birthday this year (no im not telling you how old she is, I was raised better than that), to recreate that memory in hopes of cheering her up on one of the many occasions in the year that are hard for her.

The plan was to spend the day together gathering the ingredients and to recreate, of course with a change and a twist, as I dont like to do the same thing more than once and even a tweak on a recipe here or there makes it new. Last time I did wrap the fish and grill it, this time I wanted it directly on the grill to get a nice crispy skin and a nicer flavour to the flesh, but that is a challenge with the stuffing and how to properly manage the all important flip. Here is the recounting of the process, through pictures:
It all begins with a trip to City Fish
A beautiful piece of Salmon, 6Lbs without bones and head
The makings of the stuffing for the fish
Rosemary, flat parsley, basil, almonds, Crasins, Greek feta, and black olives
Cuisinart ready to work its magic
Added the juice and zest of 2 lemons
As you can see my knife was very sharp and pierced through the fish,
this is going to make grilling very tricky
Ready to go on the grill, I will start there and see what happens,
might need to finish it in the stove if I cant manage to flip it
Fish on the grill, lets see what happens
Yup, thats a baking sheet, flipping attempts were in vain
I gave up and threw it in the oven to finish cooking

Things I would do differently next time:
1. be more delicate with the knife, so as to not cut through the flesh. Know the knife you are working with, which can be tough in someone else's kitchen
2. Better oil the grill as I did loose a lot of the skin during the removal and flip attempt. Better too much than too little
3. maybe some butcher string or a thread and needle to sew up the opening to help everything hold together

The finishing in the oven, on convection, was actually nice and resulted in a nice crisp to the skin and the flesh was cooked a perfect medium (even though I prefer mine more on the rare side). I was able to steal a piece of rare flesh prior to switching the fish off the grill, and I know I use this word a lot, but it was pure heaven. Nothing better than a good piece of grilled fish, even better when you are by the body of water it came from. City Fish had been on my list for a while, and I tend not to cook fish often so I was waiting for a reason to go. It was such a great spot, good selection and value and the 8LB fish was just under $50. Staff is excellent, knowledgeable and very helpful.

The entire meal was to consist of the fish, grilled corn, some smashed potatoes (pre-boil, place on baking sheet, cover with a 2nd sheet and literally smash down to break the skin and slightly flatten the potatoes, evoo and some seat salt, roast), and a summer salad from a recipe that my sister had been waiting all summer to make.
15 ears of Ontario summer corn, so good
My sisters salad - watermelon, feta, mint - tastes of summer in a bowl

Dinner was a big hit, and everyone enjoyed themselves tremendously. The smile on moms face was thanks enough and the praise was just the topping for me. "Mmmm" and "this is sooo good" and big sis exclaiming "I dont know why you dont do this professionally". We know my ego loved it, Im not going to deny.

For me though, the best part of the night was to be the sundae bar, a perfect summer treat for young and old alike.
Toppings (L to R): Sprinkles, mini M&m's, Map-o-spread, Skor bits, Gummi Bears, Bananas, Blueberries, and Strawberries
A rainbow of ice cream, with the basics all represented

My creation: a little bit of everything minus gummis
Jacob: heavy on toppings, light on ice cream. Interesting strategy.
Rebecca: a love for strawberry ice cream
Madeline: like her uncle, a little bit of everything, a bon vivant in the making
(she wants to study in Paris to become a pastry chef, she is only 11)

Sitting on moms balcony after all of the prep, cooking, eating, and cleaning had been done (thanks to the help of the two angel nieces of mine), I was truly exhausted. Every time I do a big dinner I gain such a respect for professionals involved in restaurants, catering, etc., I was really wiped. I enjoyed the view from the 12th floor looking up towards Don Mills and reflected on the success of the evening.

Would I still love to cook a much if I did this for a living in some way was always the question.It is a tough business and most restaurants fail was the lesson taught by one of my dads good friends who was in the business most of his life. I do always come back to my love for food and cooking, however.

My grandfather always told me that if you can afford to do what you love in life, that is ideal, but not always possible. If you can, do it and bust your ass. I think I missed the second part of that lesson, or just forget it sometimes as I am stubborn, bull headed, and have a strong need to be happy but to have things handed to me. I love to cook, I love to eat, I love it all and it is the passion that I hope I will have forever and do enjoy passing on to others. For now, I will leave the restaurant business to the professionals and cook for those who love to eat. When I learn the lessons I need to I might reconsider.

I enjoy writing about it and am thankful of the encouragement of the people who enjoy my blog and my adventures. I thank you and dedicate this entry to mom and dad for raising me with love and understanding. I was a challenge and continue to be, I would have it no other way. As always, thanks to mom and Bubbie for teaching me the basics I needed moving forward to create my own style of cooking. I call it "senses cooking", and truly believe in using all of your senses as being crucial to success in the kitchen moreover than the tools you have in your drawers.

Peace, Love, and Ice Cream.


  1. Wow... that is so awesome of you to put all that together for your mom's special day. I'm sure she appreciated it - she's definitely a wonderful lady and deserves all the best!

  2. Sounds wonderful and special. I hope that one day I have a son that thoughtful.

    It's always a risk to turn a hobby into a career. You could end up with a career that you love or one that you hate, resenting what you used to enjoy.

    Finally: I hate the word "craisins". I'd ban it if I could even though it's a brand name. Those silly people at Ocean Spray thought that more people would buy them if the product sounded like raisins. What's wrong with calling them "dried cranberries"?