Montreal! And a taste of home…

In the last few weeks, I have sat down to write this post in many different places, including on a frigid bench in Banff, Alberta; at a campsite alongside the bugs in Moose Jaw; after a dip in Lake Superior; and during a power outage from Irene in Quebec city. Now, I start this post from a humble (with a capital “h”) hostel in the Mont-Royal area of Montreal. Hang on Jenny, didn’t you say that you were moving to Montreal? Doesn’t that mean you’ve found an apartment by now? Why yes, I have found an apartment near McGill that I am very excited about, but as it turns out we don’t take possession until September 1st, which happens to coincide with the first day of classes (fun fun!). Up until now, Sebastien and I packed up the van for a road trip across Canada, which lasted 6 days until we hit Ottawa, where we crashed with some family friends for a few nights. After Ottawa, we headed to Quebec City to see Sebastien’s relatives for a couple nights, and arrange a moving van and it’s contents for Sebastien’s Mom to deliver to Montreal. It’s been a great last couple of weeks, part vacation, part exhaustion, part unorganized, but all fun in the end.

Of course, this post was not finished from a hostel, because what can make you busier than a) moving and b) starting a new semester of university. Saying that I’ve “moved in” is a bit misleading, implying that everything is unpacked and in its proper new position. Of course, it is anticipated that it will take at least a week to reach that point. While Sebastien’s family in Quebec has been very helpful in providing us with lots of furniture, we are still lacking a desk, couch, pans, and approximately 50 other things we don’t notice we are missing until we attempt a new task. All this hefting furniture around, massive grocery shops, loads of laundry, and assembling of Ikea products has been conducted without air conditioning in a oh-so-humid atmosphere. It’s nice to have a little summer weather, but surely it could have cleared off for just a couple days…it’s enough to make me miss the cold of Vancouver Island!!

Speaking of Vancouver Island, nothing could be more different than where I am now. On the busy main street of Sherbrooke on the fourteenth floor of a large apartment building, it’s a far cry from my semi-below ground basement suite in Cadboro Bay. There’s a lot of food here, restaurants, bars, markets, and artisan shops. There’s lots of events and street performances going on all the time. People bike everywhere, that is when they are not on the metro. But, it is still a new, strange place that makes me both excited and nervous. This is hands-down the farthest I’ve ever lived from home, and I still am leaning towards some comforts that remind me of the coast. One dish I keep coming back to in my mind is my favourite salmon dish. I made it before I left, and am tempted to recreate it here even despite the lack of Sebastien-fished salmon. It’s a cedar plank salmon, rubbed with just garlic, salt, and pepper, then drizzled with a warm combination of maple syrup, whiskey, and butter. Simple, smokey, sweet, and rich, this is a perfect salmon recipe in my opinion. Serve it with lemon wedges and a side of local greens, this is the meal to bring the smells and sounds of the coast right back into your dining room.

First things first, lets talk about soaking the cedar plank. There are a few ways you can do this, but any which way takes time. It is recommended to soak planks for 2 hours-overnight. I have found that pouring boiling water over the plank and letting it soak for an hour works in a pinch, but it is easier to just submerge the plank in tap water for about 3 hours before you plan on cooking. In this recipe I just use plain water, which I poured over the planks on a cookie sheet, which were weighted down with mugs so they were fully submerged. If you have a large sink, it is easy to soak the planks straight in the sink. If you are wanting to try out something different, you can soak the plank in liquids other than water for a different smokey flavour. A water-apple cider vinegar combo with crushed cinnamon sticks would go very well with pork, a beer and bay combo is fantastic with ribs, and white wine and dill is a soaking variation that would go well with salmon. If you are wanting to use something other in water, keep in mind that you should avoid soaking in something with lots of sugar, as the sugar may burn and release a slightly unpleasant flavour. For your first non-water soak, maybe try consulting a cookbook or the internet for a reference!

In this recipe I use spring salmon, which has a lighter taste than the famous sockeye. It is still a lovely fish, available in the spring (clearly). Of course, right now is sockeye season, my personal favourite, so I would recommend searching out some local sockeye from west coast fishermen!

Cedar-Plank Salmon

Keep in mind that the cedar plank needs to be soaked ahead of time. Untreated cedar planks are now regularly available at most grocery stores, but can also be purchased at hardware stores for the same purpose.

1 cedar plank

Individual salmon stakes or a filet of salmon (skin on)

~1 tsp granulated garlic

Salt + Pepper

Maple-Whiskey Sauce (recipe below)

1) Submerge the cedar plank in water for 2 hours-overnight. This can be done in your sink, in a tub (clean, clean tub), or on a cookie sheet with a lip.

2) Remove salmon from the fridge, and rinse it lightly with freshwater by running water over it under the tap. Place the salmon on a clean, dry plate. Check the salmon for any bones- if you feel any use pliers to firmly pull them out (watch especially for small pinbones). Pat salmon dry with some paper towel (for hygienic reasons, don’t use a cloth!).

3) Rub with granulated garlic, salt, and pepper. Don’t be shy with the salt- using a touch more than you normally would and it will really play nicely with the sweetness of the maple-whiskey sauce.

4) When you are ready to start cooking, preheat your BBQ. Get it nice and hot, then place the cedar plank on but don’t put the salmon on yet. The key to getting a real smokey flavour is to give the plank a chance to get a smolder going. To keep the smolder under control, keep a spray bottle nearby to extinguish any flames.

5) Let the cedar plank heat up for about ten minutes, then place the salmon, skin side down if your using a filet, on the cedar plank. Now close the lid, so the smoke will be enclosed and permeate the salmon.

6) Let the salmon cook until it is flakes when touched by a fork, for a piece the size I used it took about 20 minutes in 375 degrees F BBQ temperature. If you like to use internal temperature to check for doneness, I like a nice rare salmon which is 120 degrees F in the thickest part. If you like a more well-done salmon, you could let it get to 130 degrees F internal temp without drying the salmon out, but anything hotter than that will be dry.

7) When you are certain the salmon is at your desired doneness, pull the plank off the grill, pull the salmon off the plank, and serve immediately!! Of course, with the maple-whiskey sauce and lemon wedges.

Maple-Whiskey Sauce

This sauce is easy to make, with a ration of 2:1 maple syrup to whiskey, and just a touch of butter to add a little creaminess. I’ve been making it for years, and never use a recipe, it’s so easy. You can keep this sauce warm on the stove while you are cooking the salmon, so prepare it ahead of time.

1/2 c Whiskey

1 c Maple Syrup (Use the real thing!! It won’t be any good with a substitute!)

1 Tbsp butter

optional: a dash of chili flakes

1) Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan, and bring to low boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Allow to simmer away until the volume decreases by approximately half and you can coat the back of a spoon with the mixture.

2) Keep the sauce warm until you are ready to serve the salmon. I like to drizzle a little sauce on the whole cut of salmon, then put the sauce in little pots around the table so people can add as much as they’d like to their own individual pieces.


Sus domestica AKA Pig

So, it’s about time for me to delve into, on this fine summer day, the world of science. Because the world IS science. Science has been what I have passionately studied for the past two years at the University of Victoria. The topics that I find myself most smitten with are microbiology (so many grotesquely intriguing diseases and infections) and organic chemistry (pushing arrows is my favourite hobby). As luck should have it, however, I was recently admitted into McGill University (Montreal) for the dietetics program, where I hope to fuse my obsessions with food and science. So that will be Septembers exciting adventure, for sure! Sebastien (aka Seb aka Babs aka Sea Bass aka the BF) is also joining me to study chemistry (nerd) at McGill. Besides being endlessly ecstatic about moving to the maple syrup capital of the world, I have started to read earnestly into food science in preparation for the next chapter of my education.

In this post we are going to delve into the science of a pork chop. Yes, a pork chop. As some of my close friends, family members, and coworkers are aware of, I dig pork in a big way. The story of my relationship with pork begins as a semi-poor student striving to eat well. It didn’t take me long to notice the price difference between pork and beef/lamb/veal/chicken. Also the fact that the local grocery store carried gorgeous heritage pork at a totally reasonable price, especially when the grocery store label fairy slapped a “Use Today or Freeze” sticker on the chops. I seasoned, baked, fried, slow cooked, broiled, and stewed pork into every imaginable presentation. From there, I extended mostly meat-free dishes with a touch of bacon, and introduced much-welcomed rib nights that took advantage of the flavourful, reasonable baby backs in the meat department. Pulled pork (be still, my heart!) became a much-loved member of the pork rotation. So, all in all, pork is one of my favourite additions to any meal. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate all that is pig. Now let the science lesson begin.

When cooking, we are always dealing with the gustatory sense. What is it? Taste. We can break down taste into salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (savory). In this case, the pork represents umami. When served with apples cooked with a squeeze of lemon juice, we bring in sweet and sour. If rubbed with curry powder, we bring in bitter (predominantly from fenugreek). Brining the pork chop would create the taste that is salty.

Now that we’ve covered the tastes, how do we actually taste them? The taste buds on our tongue have receptor cells that interact with chemicals present in the food. Depending how the receptor cells interact with the chemicals, they will send a specific signal, which the brain then collects and puts together to create a portrait of taste. If you liken it to your hearing, food is the sound, taste buds are the ears, and the brain plays the same role of putting it all together. The same way the ear bud vibrates depending on the pitch, the receptor cells send signals in accordance with the chemical make up of the food. The picture I drew of the tongue is actually the result of a mistranslation of a German study from 1901, so is it accurate at all? No, in fact we can taste all the different kinds of tastes all over our tongue, but some respond with different intensity.

We all know that the gorgeous part of a pork chop has all to do with the browning of the outside. The colour and aroma produced is due to a party of amino acids and sugars breaking down and then turning around and recombining. The denaturing of proteins is the difference between raw and cooked meat, and the caramelization of the sugars is something we are all too familiar with (think caramelized onions, mmm). This is called a Maillard reaction. Gotta love that Maillard, French physician and chemist (1878-1936). He would be French, wouldn’t he.

So, we know that for proper pork taste, we need to get a Maillard going and pair it with something OTHER than umami. In this case, I decided to go with a classic apple sauce, spiced with some mustard. This is the way my mama used to get us to eat our pork when we were little, and it works to this day. Enjoy this pork, after a touch of science!

Grilled Pork Chop

I decided to keep the pork simple with just a good rub of salt and pepper (be generous!). For grilling, I decided to dismantle a pork shoulder roast, after a quick grill of the sides, into bone-in chops that were approximately two inches. You could, for ease, use already cut bone-in shoulder chops or butt chops (they would taste equally as good!).

Pork Chops (1 per person)
Sea Salt, Rock Salt, or Kosher Salt (for a lower sodium chloride content, but all the flavour enhancement!)
Coarse Ground Pepper

1) Preheat grill to medium-high heat. While the grill is heating, take out the pork chops for 20 minutes so they are not so chilled when they hit the grill.
2) Pat the pork chop with paper towel to remove excess moisture, and rub generously with salt and pepper.
3) When the grill is well heated (Maillard reaction does not become noticeable until at least 310 degrees F, and we want to be well above that!), place the chops on the grill. You should be able to hear the chops sear.
4) Cook the chops for about 7 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature registers 155 degrees F (it will rise to 160 degrees F while resting). Whatever you do, DON’T cut into the chop! That will release all kinds of juice and you will end up with a dry, dry pork chop. If you are unaccustomed to grilling meats, and don’t know how to tell the doneness of meat by the spring back, the best way to grill is with a meat thermometer on hand, because temperature doesn’t lie about doneness!

5) When the pork chop registers 155 degrees F or desired doneness, pull of the grill. Loosely cover with tin foil, and let rest for 10 minutes so the juices settle in.
6) Serve!

Savory Apple Sauce

2 lbs apples, peeled (optional) and sliced
juice of ½ a lemon
5 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp coarse Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper
optional: 1 tsp finely chopped sage

1) Place the apples in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the apples have softened (start at the same time you put the pork chops on the grill). Gently mash the apples with a wooden spoon or potato masher to achieve the desired chunky sauce-like texture. Add the remaining ingredients just before serving.

Note: If you wish to make the applesauce ahead of time, you can choose to serve it warm or cold (perhaps depending on the temperature outside!).