Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Po' Man's Oyster Po'boy

Hey there,

It's an interesting and tragic development in the history of aquaculture that seaborne delights that were once so common as to be considered "peasant food" have become delicacies priced out of most budgets, more often than not. As an old story goes, lobster used to be so common in the Maritime provinces of Canada and the U.S.' New England that kids would trade in their "boring" lobster sandwiches for the luxury of peanut butter and jam.

Another story is how New York is a city founded and built up on oysters. Apparently these mollusks were so abundant that about 700 million were harvested from the Hudson River in 1880. Nowadays, there's not much chance anyone's eating anything out of the Hudson unless they're a fan of Hepatitis Rockefeller. Point being, oysters also have been one of the more common foodstuffs out there and been poor man's food. Which brings me to the "po' boy", a traditional Cajun sandwich served on a baguette, basically a kind of submarine. I had thought the name was some sort of reference to it being cheap food for the workin' man, but wikipedia is woefully unclear on the matter. Anyhoo, the Oyster Po' boy is one of the more common versions of this type of sandwich, even though most "poor boys" wouldn't be able to afford fresh oysters these days. There is a cheaper alternative though...

Smoked Oysters can be found tinned in any grocery store and supermarket and are often on special (usually they run about 3.50 Cdn a can, but they'll often be on sale for 2 bucks). Now, the smoked oysters you get in a can aren't the beautiful treats you get for 3-4 bucks a piece at oyster bars. Rather, they're a product of Chinese farming, but as it turns out, this is a sustainable form of production, so you can enjoy guilt-free! So, with that in mind, Kari suggested after sampling smoked oysters once, to try making an Oyster Po' boy using smoked oysters instead of fresh. After much delaying, I finally did just that for lunch one day!

Basically, I used a standard deep frying method to prepare the oysters, served it on hot dog buns, and topped it with a little twist on tartar sauce that used elements of tapenade, so I called it Taptar Sauce (clever, eh?).

Smoked Oyster Po' Boy

Serves 2


- 1 can smoked oysters (yields about 8-10 oysters)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup panko or other bread crumbs
- oil for frying (at least 1/2 inch deep)
- 2 hot dog buns
- 2 lemon wedges


- First, drain and rinse oysters. I find using a wire strainer is the easiest and cleanest way to do this.

- Next, using a spatula, gently flatten oysters. Don't force anything or you might ruin the oysters.
- Whisk egg and milk together.
- Coat oysters, first in flour, then in egg mixture, then in panko. Try only using one hand to actually coat the oysters so as to not get both hands super-messy.

Ready for frying

- In a large pan or pot, heat oil until ready for frying (allow a drop of water to fall into oil; if it sizzles, it's ready).
- Fry oysters until crispy and golden on both sides (about 1 minute each side).
- Drain oysters on paper towel and keep warm under foil.

A crispy thing of beauty

- Next, make the "Taptar" Sauce:

Taptar Sauce

- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced (or pressed)
- 1/2 tsp capers, finely minced
- 1/2 tsp kalamata olives, finely minced
- pinch smoked paprika
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste

- Stir all ingredients together until smoothly blended

To Serve:

- Toast hot dog buns if you want (I just put them in the toaster).
- Spread Taptar Sauce on halves of buns.
- Split oysters between buns and serve with lemon wedge.

Not bad for canned seafood!

And that's the "Po' Man's Po' Boy". It was actually really tasty and fun, with a good balance of smoky, fishy and crispy, not to mention the extra zing and salt from the sauce. All in all, a pretty good way to try out something that might normally be cost prohibitive, albeit in a lesser form.


Sunday, July 28, 2013


Living in downtown Ottawa can lead to a pretty awesome series of annual festival and event traditions. There's Jazzfest, Fringe, Canada Day, Bluesfest, and so on. But in the the past decade or so, one event has become a pretty integral part of creating a Summer worthy of remembrance in Ottawa. That event is the Ottawa Ribfest on Sparks Street. Basically, about a dozen competitive "ribbers" from Canada and the US line up the pedestrian-only street and fill Downtown with smoky meat awesome. 

In this post, I'll be giving you my account of the various porcine treats this year's event had to offer. I went a little more often than I usually do, like every day, but my girl was nearly 9 months pregnant! What was I supposed to do? So, let's go day by day.


The first night of the Ribfest was probably the least involved one for me. I had to work the night shift and had less than an hour to eat.

The first sampling came from the rib stand closest to home (go figure), the Blazin' Big Rig out of Chatham, Ontario. Kari got the standard "Vegetarian's Nightmare" plate of ribs, pulled pork and chicken with sides of beans and slaw. Me, I was intrigued by the Jumbo Turkey Drumstick. Luckily, the boys working the grill had an extra one that'd been left on the heat too long so I got two for the price of one! I also got the sides of beans and slaw.

Blazin' Big Rig

So, I thought it was a really tasty little bit of fowl and something unusual to kick off the Ribsfest. As I mentioned, I had two legs, one cooked "normally" and the other kind of "overcooked", but when you leave a sauce-slathered piece of meat on the heat, it creates a kind of crunchy coating of caramelized sauce that can't be beat. So, I ate the overcooked one and kept the other for later use. Verdict? Well, it was dry from being on the heat so long, but still really flavourful. The sauce was good, but not great. The beans were really tasty as well, but I would have better later on. The slaw, on the other hand, was exactly how I want slaw to be: creamy, tangy and crunchy; best of the festival by far.

Turkey Leg and sides from Blazin' Big Rig - also serves to club seals in a pinch


If Wednesday was the tentative first step, Thursday was a full-on jump into the pool. Kari and I wandered around, unsure where to engage in our porcine goodness, but she managed to grab a twisty fried potato treat. We ran into to many of our friends, including my good friend Siobhan who, as a born-again carnivore, was enjoying her first foray into Ribfest and brought her three kids along to enjoy the ride. It was a lot of fun watching the kids' faces light up over ribs and corn on the cob and the frantic crowds. All in all, a good time was had all around.

Sticky Fingers

As for the ribs, we stopped at one of the less busy stands, Sticky Fingers. I only got a half rack, I wasn't in the mood for beans and slaw. The ribs were really well done, exactly the right texture between solid (which can sometimes mean 'tough') and fall of the bone (which too often means 'mush'). Unfortunately, there wasn't enough sauce on the ribs to get a really good idea of its flavour. I've noticed that some of the ribbers would have big bottles of sauce with a squeeze pump so you can load up your pork with as much sauce as you want. Unfortunately Sticky Fingers weren't one of them. Which is too bad, because from the little I could taste, it was a pretty decent, tomato-ey sauce. Oh well...

Half rack from Sticky Fingers


Friday was a quick trip through the festival for pulled pork as we were trying to get to Confederation Park in time to get a good spot to see Willie Nelson. Once again, we were looking for the shortest line, which we didn't really find, so we settled on Bone Daddy's for pulled pork sammiches.

Bone Daddy's

This is pulled pork the way it was meant to be: moist, greasy, smoky and loaded with sauce. It's hard to review food when it's nearly perfect since there's not much to say! I will give extra kudos on the sauce though, because all too often, the sauce used on pulled pork is "dumbed down" for public consumption and made less spicy and overly sweet. Luckily in this case, the sauce was the right mix of both. I was highly satisfied with this choice! And really, what says Summer more than an outdoor country show with BBQ on your face?

Mmmmmm, grease puddle...


Sometimes, a weird serendipity comes along to make your whole Ribfest experience sing. In this case, the decision to meet friends at noon while it was pissing rain led to being able to access one of the rib stands that usually is impossible to get to without waiting for 2 hours in line. There are two stands that always seem to be in the most high traffic area of Ribfest between Bank and O'Connor Streets and are always packed with people: Camp 31 and Silver Bullet. I'd tried Camp 31 in the past (and it wasn't as revelatory as I'd been expecting, but that was mainly due a lack of sauce) and really wanted to give Silver Bullet a go.

Sparks St. in full porcine swing

It was the noon hour and I decided to basically skip breakfast so I could have lots of room to pig out. With that in mind, I got the ribs and pulled pork combo with sides from Silver Bullet. First, the bad news: the coleslaw was, unfortunately, prepared in the same style as that pale green slaw from KFC that I dreaded eating as a kid. Needless to say, I didn't eat all of it. Another downside was that the ribs were served with membrane still attached, a BBQ no-no if there ever was one. It's basically like eating paper.

Now the good news: The ribs, other than the annoyance of the membrane, were PERFECT! They were cooked exactly right and the sauce was one of the best I've had: sweet, peppery, smoky and rich. The pulled pork was also really tasty, but it was overcooked and stringy in parts. The beans were really good as well, nice and rich but not chalky the way beans can sometimes be. They also were chock-full of BBQ sauce flavour, which isn't always the way. Not sure why...

A Porkpocalypse from Silver Bullet


By now, I have to admit that my arteries, and even my taste buds, were getting a bit overpowered by smoke and meat, so my review of the next feast might be a bit skewed. It was the last day and sweltering hot and we needed food for our D&D game, so I went out looking to get my pork fix fast. The only place that I hadn't tried that didn't have a ridiculous line-up was Texas Outlaws. I was impressed to see such a wide variety of foodstuffs being offered: pulled chicken, wings, brisket and many more. I decided on ribs and brisket since I have a soft spot for brisket. I wish the girl at the cash had been a bit less of a grumpy jerk, but I guess by Sunday, most of the ribbing staff must have been fed up with the masses of gluttony.

Texas Outlaws - definitely the most variety offered at one stand during Ribfest

So I got my mess of ribs, brisket, beans and slaw home and proceeded to mow down. My impressions were pretty straight forward: the ribs were good, but not great (the sauce had some mustard elements that I wasn't completely sold on), the sides were decent (slaw was kind of ho-hum, but in the way I wanted) and the beans were just a bit too ordinary (and I generally don't like beans most of the time). The brisket was really the saving grace, it was absolutely perfect; not too fatty, well smoked and very flavourful. But, because of the heat, I wasn't able to eat very much. Kind of an anti-climactic end to 5 days of pigging out on pig.

Brisket and Ribs from Texas Outlaws

And there you go; just one glutton's tales of a festival of gastronomic excess.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Grilling Tip - Chicken + Lemon = Besties!

Hey there fire-o-philes!

I might be telling you something you already know, but there are some flavours that naturally compliment each other and one of the simplest of these pairings is lemon and chicken. Pretty much every cuisine out there has this pairing in some form or another. So, one surefire North American (by way of the Mediterranean) way to zip up your chicken on the BBQ is to marinate in a lemon-based marinade. Not sure how to make one?

Well, here you go!

Lemon Marinade for Chicken

- juice and zest of one half lemon
- 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp green olive brine (this adds an extra tang and salt element)
- 1 tsp dried basil (or 2 tsp fresh chopped basil)
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh chopped oregano)
- salt and pepper to taste

- Whisk all ingredients together and transfer to a zipper bag
- Add about 1 pound of chicken (breast is quite good for this recipe as it allows the marinade flavours to be at the forefront).
- Marinate for at least 2 hours in the fridge.
- Grill chicken at 350 degrees for about 10-15 minutes until chicken is cooked through but not dried out.

A mess o' chikon

Of course, lemon also naturally pairs with fish, so I imagine this marinade would also work on a firm-fleshed mild fish like tilapia.

And there you go! Enjoy!

Monday, July 15, 2013


Hey there!

There are a lot of bread naysayers out there these days. Wheat Belly, a book by Dr. William Davis that has been all over the news, demonizes gluten and wheat in our modern diets, and I can't really disagree, considering that wheat is one of the most genetically modified crops in the world and gluten intolerance is on an astronomic rise.

But holy magilla, bread is sooooooo good when done well and it's one of the best canvases to make a meal of tasty goodness. Sure, there are gluten-free breads out there, but most of us are familiar with the tried and true bread made from good ol' fashioned wheat flour in all its mad-sciencey GMO goodness (well, badness, I guess).

So, with that in mind, here are a couple of bread-oriented meals that Kari and I whipped up recently.

The first was a "Stuffed Italian Bread" that Kari found on the internet. This one was pretty much a carb and cheese bonanza that was so apparently lacking in vitamins that we also had put together some veggies in the form of what I call an "Alternative" Green Salad. "Alternative" in that there was no lettuce in it, with the green coming from edamame beans, green peas and asparagus.

Alternative Green Salad

Serves 2


- 1/2 cup shelled edamame beans
- 1/2 cup shelled green peas
- 5-6 stalks asparagus, tender parts only, cut in to 1 inch long pieces
- 50 grams sopressata salami, sliced in to strips
- handful of toasted sunflower seeds

- Add water to a small pot to about 1 centimetre depth. Bring to a boil. Add edamame, peas and asparagus. Steam for 2-3 minutes. Chill in ice water for about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.


- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp honey
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- juice and zest of half a lemon
- 1/2 tsp dried basil or 2 tbsp fresh basil, finely chopped

- Whisk all ingredients together.

To serve, toss veggies in dressing and serve in large salad bowls and top with salami and sunflower seeds.

A little different, a lot delicious

The "Stuffed Italian Bread" was a fantastic recipe, easy and delicious. But me being me, I decided I need to add olives for a bit of extra flavour. Also, the "Italian loaf" aspect is purely optional, use whatever bread you want. 

Stuffed Italian Bread

1 Italian loaf, about 12 inches long 
1 stick butter, melted
1/8 cup olive oil
3 tsp minced onion
2-3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tsp chopped parsley (add more if you wish)
12 oz grated cheese

2 tsp green olives, minced (optional)

- Preheat the oven to 350 F. 
- Mix the melted butter, olive oil, onion, garlic, Dijon mustard, poppy seeds and parsley in a bowl. 
- Cut the bread into cubes with X-shaped slices without cutting all the way through the bottom crust. 
- Pour the butter-onion garlic mixture carefully into those X-shaped cracks using a small spoon and over the top of the bread. Fill those delicious cracks with the grated cheese (and olives if using). 

- Wrap the entire loaf with foil, sealing the sides properly and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and unwrap. Bake for another 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and gooey.

Stuffing the loaf - not a euphemism

Baked an' gooeh!

Next up is a little recipe that shows just how good a blank canvas bread makes for a tasty and filling meal. We all know about bruschetta and crostini and other ways in which bread is used as a delivery system for some kind of delicious topping. Well, it's also a good way to take an idea that doesn't really translate into a meal per se and make it one. In this case, it all started with figs. Figs are really super delicious when they're ripe, but pretty much useless when unripe. That is, unless you caramelize them:

- Caramelized Figs

- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 2 figs, underripe, sliced
- 2 tbsp butter
- splash Irish whiskey

- Melt butter in small skillet. Stir in sugar and figs. 
- Cook until figs begin to dissolve into tasty fruit goo. Add whiskey and cook off alcohol. Add butter as needed to keep from drying out. Keep mixture warm. 

All fancy n' tasty-like
Now, what to do with this gooey mess o' goodness? Well, slather it on bread and top it with proscuitto and blue cheese then bake it in the oven, of course (at about 400 for no more than 10 minutes)! Trust me, this is one of the best ways to use bread I've ever had. I believe we used a multigrain fennel loaf from Art-Is-In Bakery. And OH MAH GAHD! Pretty much the perfect carb-salt-meat combo on a lazy night where nutrition isn't quite on the top of your agenda. 

Ready for the oven

Crunchy salty good! 

And there you go, just a few ways bread goes a long way to making a meal.