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I Net the News on Fish and Chips from Humble to Haute, from London To Toronto


fish and chips

My love of fish and chips dates back to for­ma­tive years grow­ing up in Lon­don, U.K., the his­tor­i­cal home of this pop­u­lar, pop­ulist, down-home dish.

In my early teens, I recall join­ing Girl Guides where we lived in the North Lon­don sub­urb of Finch­ley — then a white-collar, white-bread enclave where my Jew­ish fam­ily stood out like a sore thumb.

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Julia Child Cooks me Scrambled Eggs for Breakfast and I Hijack a Bag of Buns

Julia Child cooks scrambled eggs for me in her Cambridge MA kitchen in 1999. Her kitchen is now in the Smithsonian.

Julia Child cooks scram­bled eggs for me in her Cam­bridge MA kitchen in 1999. Her kitchen is now in the Smithsonian.

This story appeared in the Toronto Star in Octo­ber, 1999, after my visit to Cam­bridge, MA, where Julia Child, who had become my friend and men­tor, lived. She invited me for break­fast. There was an inci­dent with some crois­sants. Read on:

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Big Apple Bites: Weird Grasshopper Tacos and Superb Brussels Sprouts at Toloache

Bril­liant Brus­sels Sprouts at Toloache

I recently spent four glo­ri­ous days in mid­town Manhattan.

For two of those, I was pretty much clos­eted in the Roger Smith Hotel attend­ing back-to-back sem­i­nars at a cook­book conference.

And apart from a few heart-wrenching hours spent watch­ing the stun­ning but trag­i­cally haunt­ing pho­tos and videos of the holo­caust at the Museum of Jew­ish Her­itage, there was no other agenda.

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Martha cooks crustaceans

MIAMI – This year’s recent South Beach Wine & Food Fes­ti­val was a royal occa­sion, in more ways than one.
“Viva Espana!” was a culi­nary cel­e­bra­tion and key theme headed up by the King and Queen of Spain at this four-day, non-stop, over-the-top annual event packed with noisy par­ties, glitzy graz­ing and back-to-back cook­ing demos by celebrity chefs.
Spon­sored by the Food Net­work and Food & Wine mag­a­zine among oth­ers, this star-studded feast on the beach is never dull.
This year, things got off to a con­tro­ver­sial start when famous New York chef Mario Batali intro­duced Spain’s King Juan Car­los and Queen Sofia at a swanky gala din­ner.
Angry at exu­ber­ant din­ers who would not lis­ten when it was his turn to speak, Batali chided them vocif­er­ously with the f-word, three times. His and their unruly behav­iour was likely the result of alco­holic bev­er­ages that flowed freely through­out the sold-out fes­ti­val.
How­ever, Martha Stew­art – the come-back queen of cui­sine – was all regal ele­gance, seren­ity and charm when I met her two days after the Batali deba­cle for a one-on-one inter­view in the green room adjoin­ing one of the giant tast­ing tents erected on the sand in the heart of South Beach.
Dressed casu­ally in tapered beige pants and a grey T-shirt with match­ing cardi­gan, she was a dif­fer­ent – and much nicer — woman than the one I’d met in Toronto ear­lier in her career.
Stewart’s rise to fame began in 1982 with the pub­li­ca­tion of Enter­tain­ing: a glossy coffee-table tome that launched her as an arbiter of taste for home­mak­ers.
By 1987, she was well on the way to becom­ing a brand and revered guru on the top­ics of food, home décor and gar­den­ing. That year, I inter­viewed her in Toronto where she was pro­mot­ing her sec­ond major book: Wed­dings.
That Martha Stew­art was impe­ri­ous, uptight and humour­less. She lived up to her rep­u­ta­tion as a con­trol freak per­fec­tion­ist who was dri­ven to the point of obses­sion. In a nut­shell, she came across as a bril­liantly capa­ble over-achiever tout­ing a san­i­tized though styl­ish lifestyle rife with pas­tels.
Many, like me, had a love-hate rela­tion­ship with this fiercely ambi­tious woman whose career con­tin­ued to soar in the 1990s.
Then there was the infa­mous crim­i­nal case. In 2004, she was con­victed of obstruc­tion of jus­tice and per­jury in a stock mar­ket scan­dal. Five months of prison fol­lowed; so did five months of home con­fine­ment and two years pro­ba­tion.
In a Christ­mas mes­sage from jail, she issued a com­pas­sion­ate plea for reha­bil­i­ta­tion and prison reform to help women whose lives were “devoid of care, devoid of love, devoid of tran­quil­ity.”
As she stretched out her hand and fixed her dark brown eyes on me in the green room that day, I knew this was a kinder, gen­tler woman than the perfectly-coiffed blonde babe with the forced smile on the cov­ers of her early books.
She was eager to tell me about her new projects.
No longer allowed to be its CEO, she is still “deeply involved on a day-to-day basis” with Martha Stew­art Liv­ing Omn­i­me­dia. She owns a radio chan­nel, is still the mar­quee writer for Martha Stew­art Liv­ing mag­a­zine, is devel­op­ing a house­wares line for Macy’s, pro­motes “healthy aging” with Mount Sinai Hos­pi­tal in New York and has an eco-flooring com­pany called FLOR that makes recy­cled car­pets.
A favourite project of hers is The Martha Stew­art Show that airs on Fine Liv­ing and on day-time CBC tele­vi­sion. It is enter­tain­ing and author­i­ta­tive as per Stewart’s mis­sion: “I want to pro­mote and pro­vide the best how-to infor­ma­tion for home­mak­ers ever.”
An avid reader and detail hound who sleeps about five hours a night, she told me this: “I’m very picky, quality-conscious and research-oriented. I’m visual and cre­ative. Peo­ple trust me – I’m them. If I like some­thing, they seem to like it.”
What Stew­art doesn’t like is the trend to real­ity food shows on TV.
“They drive me nuts,” she says. “I know where the enjoy­ment comes from but I hate the slop­pi­ness and demean­ing aspect.”
I men­tion Gor­don Ram­say. She doesn’t respond directly but does say this: “The vio­lence doesn’t inter­est me. I don’t have time for schlock art.”
Top-notch chefs like Amer­i­cans Daniel Boulud, Eric Ripert, Rick Bay­less and Jean-Georges Von­gerichten, she adds, do inter­est her. So does Type-A British chef and mol­e­c­u­lar gas­tron­o­mist Hes­ton Blu­men­thal.
She also has plenty of time of time for Emeril Lagasse: the lively New Orleans chef who vir­tu­ally launched the U.S. Food Net­work in the early ‘90s with his ebul­lient behind-the-stove per­for­mances.
The two have long been bud­dies and last year, while he took a hia­tus from the spot­light, Stew­art bought all Lagasse’s assets except the sev­eral restau­rants he still owns.
That evening, Stew­art was emcee of a trib­ute din­ner hon­our­ing Lagasse. She lauded him for being an edu­ca­tor, a pas­sion­ate foodie and a man who loves to embroi­der, then announced they had plans to go deep-sea fish­ing later that night.
Lis­ten­ing to our con­ge­nial host, I mused that prison had gen­tly hum­bled her. And, at age 67, she may be more proof that wis­dom comes with age.
Stew­art demo’d these recipes after our inter­view. They are from her super new book Martha Stewart’s Cook­ing School (Pot­ter; $52).
Boiled Lob­sters
Stew­art advises look­ing for lob­sters that are “not only alive but lively” and pur­chas­ing them no more than a day before serv­ing.
Coarse salt
4 lob­sters (about 1½ lb/750g) each
Melted but­ter
Lemon wedges
Fill large stock­pot three-quarters full with cold water. Bring to boil. Add a gen­er­ous amount of salt, at least ½ cup in a 4-gallon/15-litre pot.
Plunge in live lob­sters head-first. Cook, uncov­ered, until they turn bright red, 8 to 14 min­utes, depend­ing on size. With tongs, trans­fer to plat­ter. Let rest until cool enough to han­dle. Serve with melted but­ter and lemon wedges.
Lob­ster Rolls
Shelled meat of 4 cooked lob­sters
2 tbsp may­on­naise
½ tsp chopped fresh chives
½ tsp chopped fresh tar­ragon or chervil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pep­per to taste
8 split hot dog buns
2 tbsp melted but­ter
Cut lob­ster meat into small chunks. Add to bowl. Stir in may­on­naise, chives, tar­ragon, lemon juice, salt and pep­per.
Brush hot dog buns with melted but­ter. Cook in hot skil­let until golden brown. Spoon about ½ cup lob­ster meat into each bun.
Makes 8 rolls.

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Miami must-eats

The annual South Beach Wine & Food Fes­ti­val took place this year from Feb­ru­ary 19–22 in Miami.
As usual and even in tough eco­nomic times, this glitzy, pricey, never-dull four-day event spon­sored by, among oth­ers, the Food Net­work and Food & Wine mag­a­zine, was sold out.
Attended by more than 30,000 peo­ple and founded by a fel­low called Lee Schrager in 2001, it is the biggest culi­nary cel­e­bra­tion of its kind in North Amer­ica.
Watch this space for news on my inter­view with Martha Stew­art at this annual fest — an event I’ve attended for the past five years.
She and famous New Orleans celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, who are friends and busi­ness part­ners, were front and cen­tre this year.
Martha hosted a trib­ute din­ner hon­our­ing Emeril who has been on hia­tus for a while. My the­ory is that his health hasn’t been too good. I say this judg­ing by his bloated appear­ance. How­ever, he was in fine form at a lively cook­ing demo dur­ing which he wow’d the crowd with his clever antics.
Here are a few spots you should def­i­nitely try for spe­cial­ties I’ve sleuthed when in South Beach:
Devito, 150 Ocean Drive: Yes, you guessed, this is Danny Devito’s restau­rant and one of the newer spots on the Ocean Drive strip. I rec­om­mend lunch — it’s extremely rea­son­able — and try­ing the lob­ster bisque and/or one of their amaz­ing main-course sal­ads. They serve you deli­cious, free antipasti and por­tions are large. The com­fort­able arm­chairs on the on the cov­ered patio are a plus.
Joe’s Stone Crab Take-Away, 11 Wash­ing­ton Ave., is a casual cafe and take-out empo­rium adja­cent to the vet­eran and always-packed restau­rant of the same name. This is the per­fect place to sam­ple a slice of the best Key Lime Pie I’ve found in the Miami area.
Mar­tinez, 4000 NE 2nd Ave. Located in the Design Dis­trict — about 20 min­utes from by car from South Beach — this is the newer of two Miami restau­rants owned by tal­ented chef Michelle Bern­stein. I found the wel­come warm and ambi­ence extremely pleas­ant. The tapas dishes fea­tured here were uneven but I would def­i­nitely return for the beans with duck sausage and divinely creamy flan (the Latino ver­sion of creme caramel) made from her mother’s recipe.
News Cafe, 800 Ocean Dr., is a 24-hour land­mark on the South Beach restau­rant strip known for its hearty break­fasts, excel­lent Chur­rasco Steak and deli­cious bread pud­ding. It’s the best place I know to people-watch from a side­walk or patio table as the friendly staff wait on you. This is where Gianni Ver­sace had his last morn­ing cof­fee on the day he was mur­dered — a rather grim claim to fame.
Puerto Sagua, 700 Collins Ave. A cou­ple of blocks from the News Cafe is this cheap-and-cheerful, bustling Cuban eatery. Always busy, it’s a great place for grilled fish, a sand­wich or — my favourite — the roast chicken spe­cial ($7.95 as I write). This fill­ing meal is a large piece of suc­cu­lent chicken accom­pa­nied by a large mound of white rice, sticky fried plan­tains and a bowl of black beans. The staff are friendly and efficient.

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Martha my dear .….

It took a flurry of e-mails and phone calls between pub­li­cists and p.a’s but I finally obtained an audi­ence with Martha Stew­art: one of the most pow­er­ful women (up there with Oprah, methinks) in North Amer­ica and now the come-back queen of cui­sine.
She was one of the stars at this year’s annual South Beach Wine & Food Fes­ti­val: a four-day feast on the beach that took place from Feb 19 to 22.
Like every­thing in Miami — home to the SUV, boob-jobs, tanned abs and obscenely large restau­rant por­tions — the event was a non-stop, over-the-top wing-ding. Celebrity chefs cooked up a storm, the King and Queen of Spain attended cel­e­bra­tions of Span­ish food and there were all man­ner of before– and after-parties at swanky hotels like the Raleigh and Delano. Need­less to say, the booze flowed freely.
But meet­ing Martha was a pleas­ant, easy-going sur­prise.
I inter­viewed her in Toronto in 1987 when she was begin­ning her rise to star­dom with pub­li­ca­tion of her sec­ond glossy book called Wed­dings. It fol­lowed her first book Enter­tain­ing which came out in 1982 and to which she is cur­rently writ­ing a sequel.
Known as a per­fec­tion­ist, con­trol freak and over-achiever, Martha attracted a loyal fol­low­ing and her fair share of ene­mies dur­ing the ‘80s and 90s.
I had a love/hate rela­tion­ship with this home­mak­ing doyenne, find­ing her impe­ri­ous and cold in per­son. Also, I dis­liked her mes­sage that women can do any­thing — even sand-blast a house as she did in full gear on one of her TV shows — in the name of cre­at­ing the per­fect home.
But the Martha I met in South Beach this year dur­ing our 20-minute, one-on-one con­ver­sa­tion was a gen­tler, kinder woman.
Maybe spend­ing 5 months in prison from 2004/5, then being con­fined to her home with an ankle bracelet for another 5 months — this result­ing from con­vic­tions of illicit behav­iour on the stock mar­ket — has, it seems, hum­bled and mel­lowed her.
What­ever the rea­son, she was affa­ble, polite and even warm as we chat­ted in the fest’s green room before her cook­ing demo dur­ing which she made sweet-but-simple green and potato sal­ads to go with the lob­ster she’d boiled. Dur­ing the demo, she showed a social con­science by ask­ing the audi­ence to buy these crus­taceans as the reces­sion has hurt lob­ster fish­er­men and proces­sors badly on the East Coast near where she lives.
Her cur­rent projects include a radio chan­nel, a line of house­wares for Macy’s, a TV show (shown in Canada on CBC), a line of eco-flooring made from recy­cled car­pet and her stal­wart mag­a­zine Martha Stew­art Liv­ing.
Her new book, Martha Stewart’s Cook­ing School, is a kitchen bible that offers step-by-step tech­niques for every­thing from mak­ing veg­etable stock to carv­ing a turkey. I highly rec­om­mend it.
She told me she wants to teach bud­ding cooks the basics. She likes to learn and loves to teach. Hence her low opin­ion of TV real­ity shows (Gor­don Ram­say, step right up) that are “schlock, demean­ing and sloppy.“
Martha even spoke out in favour of reha­bil­i­ta­tion in a Christ­mas mes­sage dur­ing her prison stay — a stay that seems to have elicited com­pas­sion and humil­ity in a woman who showed lit­tle of either some years ago. Then again, she is 67 years old and they say wis­dom comes with age.

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Gordon, Angela paint Camden Town red

U.K. — In Jan­u­ary, 2009, I wound up my annual trip to Lon­don to visit my mother with din­ner at Gor­don Ramsay’s newest restau­rant York & Albany located at 127–129 Park­way in my favourite neigh­bor­hood, Cam­den Town.
After lack-lustre meals at long­stand­ing veg­e­tar­ian eatery Manna — bland fare that cried out for sea­son­ing and meat — and the newish Mar­ket — bland mod­ern British fare that cried out for salt and oomph — it was a god­send to dis­cover a place in this trendy, gritty part of the city that had all the ele­ments needed for a won­drous meal out.
Our wel­come by man­ager and host­ess was warm. The ambi­ence in the down­stairs din­ing room (I highly rec­om­mend request­ing this rather than the much nois­ier room upstairs) was womb-like with red tapes­try walls, red vel­vet chairs and cur­tains, and red table-coverings under glass that exuded a retro cozi­ness aptly described by one British reviewer as “early bor­dello.“
But it’s the food that takes the cake.
Ramsay’s part­ner and chief pro­tege Angela Hart­nett is in charge of the open kitchen, also down­stairs.
She and her team have mas­tered the tricky task of cre­at­ing food that’s packed with taste and tex­ture, is unpre­ten­tious but imag­i­na­tive, and is rea­son­ably priced.
A starter of Pump­kin Risotto laced with melted gor­gonzola is sub­lime. Like­wise for entrees Roast Chicken with Bread Sauce and Sea Bream with Shrimp and Cucum­bery But­ter Sauce.
But the high point of our din­ner was Rice Pud­ding with Prune and Arma­gnac Com­pote: a divine con­fec­tion served warm that melded, sweet, smooth, tangy and tart in what is pos­si­bly the best dessert I’ve eaten.

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Beautiful Bolognese

I can’t think of a dish more sooth­ing or suit­able for frigid win­ter days than Spaghetti Bolog­nese. So when I recently invited friends over for a casual Sat­ur­day night sup­per, I set aside an after­noon three days ahead when I was at home writ­ing to sim­mer this won­der­fully sat­is­fy­ing sauce with ground meat and toma­toes as its base, giv­ing it time to sim­mer for sev­eral hours and then mel­low before the din­ner party.

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Recipe Mistakes

A recipe mis­take can be down­right dan­ger­ous.
Take the case of Aunt Vertie’s Sugar Cook­ies: a con­fec­tion that appeared in a 1991 issue of Gourmet.
Unable to find win­ter­green extract, the magazine’s testers sub­sti­tuted win­ter­green oil in that recipe: a sub­stance sold in some phar­ma­cies to treat sore mus­cles.
Although the small amount called for — a quar­ter of a tea­spoon — is not con­sid­ered toxic, Gourmet’s edi­tors were con­cerned that, if a larger amount was used in error, it could be harm­ful to a person’s health.
The result: they sent let­ters to 750,000 sub­scribers warn­ing them of the poten­tial prob­lem.
A year later, a recipe in Great Cakes (Bal­lan­tine Books) by well-known Amer­i­can baker Car­ole Wal­ter, included the poi­so­nous plant lily of the val­ley in a list of edi­ble flow­ers that could be used as a gar­nish.
The pub­lisher recalled all copies of the book, then cor­rected the egre­gious error in new edi­tions.
Most mis­takes in recipes sim­ply result in fail­ure.
Infa­mous among these was the con­fus­ing pre­scrip­tion for the aptly named Choco­late Neme­sis in the first edi­tion of the River Café Ital­ian Kitchen (Ebury Press) by U.K. restau­ra­teurs Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.
Named “cake-gate” by the British press when the book came out in the early ‘90s, vague instruc­tions for this pop­u­lar dessert at the duo’s Lon­don restau­rant resulted in what was described by one cook as “a floppy cow pie”.
Gray’s unhelp­ful response to what she called “a chal­leng­ing cake” made the prob­lem worse. She responded: “It’s a recipe you need to make a cou­ple of times before you get it right.”
Boda­cious British TV celebrity cook and cook­book author Nigella Law­son may be lovely to watch but her recipes don’t always yield lus­cious results.
The Choco­late Orange Cake in the first edi­tion of Feast (Knopf Canada) required beat­ing but­ter with sugar in its method but did not list but­ter in the ingre­di­ent list.
After a much-publicized brouhaha, this typo was cor­rected and the new recipe is but­ter­less.
It’s no sur­prise that the most glar­ing mis­takes are in bak­ing, a fact noted by Ali­son Fryer who has been man­ager of The Cook­book Store in down­town Toronto since it opened 25 years ago.
“Bak­ing is far less for­giv­ing than cook­ing,” Fryer notes. “It’s chem­istry and you can’t fool around with that. There’s no room for error.”
She describes the inci­dence of mis­takes in cook­books as a cycle that’s gone in waves.
“In the early to mid-‘80s, recipes weren’t tested as well,” she says cit­ing the famous Sil­ver Palate cook­books as “a clas­sic exam­ple of cater­ers writ­ing a cook­book.” She men­tions “some of the cookie recipes where reduc­ing large to small quan­ti­ties just didn’t work.”
Dur­ing that era, she reck­ons 30 to 35 per cent of cook­book recipes did not work.
In the 1990s, she explains, “We moved into a phase when cook­books were more painstak­ingly edited. Recipes were well-tested and the num­ber of mis­takes dropped to about 10 per cent.”
She insists there’s a “method­ol­ogy for recipe-testing and most cook­book writ­ers had begun to under­stand this con­cept.” Also, “Pub­lish­ers didn’t want to make changes when a book was re-printed.”
At the end of that decade, how­ever, there was a new haz­ard.
“With the rise of tech­nol­ogy, we see that not all word-processing pro­grams are cre­ated equal,” she adds. The result: “Lines would be dropped. Things that should have been a table­spoon became a tea­spoon – frac­tional mea­sure­ments have long been a prob­lem.”
Hap­pily, says Fryer, “We’re back up to about 20 per cent.” Not so hap­pily, she notes, “We Cana­di­ans tend to blame our­selves first when a recipe doesn’t work.”
She cites books by Chris Kim­ball and his team at Cook’s Illus­trated mag­a­zine as reli­able. “Their recipes are tested about 30 times. They have the resources. It costs money to test recipes.” I espe­cially rec­om­mend The New Best Recipe (America’s Test Kitchen) – a defin­i­tive book by those dili­gent cooks.
Here are some other rec­om­men­da­tions for trust­wor­thy sources on which Fryer and I agree.
Any­thing by my late men­tor Julia Child, espe­cially The Way to Cook (Knopf) or Ital­ian food maven Mar­cella Hazan.
“Early Martha Stew­art books had kinks in the recipes but her new books on bak­ing, cook­ies and Great Food Fast (Liv­ing Mag­a­zine) are really good,” says Fryer.
She also cites the Joy of Cook­ing by Irma Rom­bauer and Mar­ion Rom­bauer Becker (Simon & Schus­ter), the Bon Appetit Cook­book (John Wiley & Sons) and tomes by Cana­dian cooks Bon­nie Stern and Rose Mur­ray.
Fryer offers this advice: “Invest in a scale to weigh ingre­di­ents for bak­ing.” I’ll add this: When bak­ing, use mea­sur­ing scoops for dry ingre­di­ents. Scoop flour etc. from its con­tainer, then level sur­face with a knife.


Screen Cuisine

This arti­cle appeared in the Toronto Star on Decem­ber 28,2008.

Home for the hol­i­days? ‘Tis the per­fect time for relax­ing between fes­tiv­i­ties to savour some screen cuisine.

Hap­pily, there’s no short­age of tasty offer­ings on sev­eral channels.

In par­tic­u­lar, our appetite for food TV is unstop­pably fed by Food Net­work Canada’s eclec­tic 24-hour menu, one that has attracted an ever-burgeoning, increas­ingly var­ied audi­ence since it was launched in the fall of 2000.

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