Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fantastic Fish Cakes with a Sweet Pear Salsa and Lemon Aioli

Three  years have passed since I judged the first ever Great Greely Fishcake competition in Ottawa. You can read about year 1 and year 2 if you like before we move on. After missing the third year, I returned in year four as a competitor...finally! At first I thought it wouldn't be a big deal because it really is a friendly competition between a group of friends. However, at the same time, you still are feeding a large group of people and you want your food to be good. So about a month before, I started to get nervous.

It would be an entire post of it's own for all the recipes I tested and subsequently threw out. I tried four different recipes with various kinds of fish and finally settled on the first one I had made. Safe to say that my wife was pretty sick of fish by the time the event came around.

My reason for choosing this recipe was because it was tasty and uses basa fish which is quite reasonably priced (though not as well priced as tinned tuna). So I chose Curtis Stone's basa fish cake but instead of his side salad, I created a salsa and aioli to go along with it which was inspired by Radius, a restaurant in Hamilton.

Before we announce the results, let's get the recipes! Let's start with the salsa and aioli which you can (and should!) make a day before the fish cakes themselves.

Lemon Aioli from Canadian Living

Printable recipe

  • 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt (I added a dash of pepper)
  • 1 dash hot pepper sauce, I used Sriracha hot sauce
 Combine well,  cover and refrigerate.

Pear Salsa

  • 1 1/2 cup pears, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced pickled red onions 
  • 1 fresh or canned jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. minced/grated ginger
  • A sprinkle of finely chopped cilantro (or mint is probably nice too)
  • Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Spicy Basa Fish Cakes by Curtis Stone (with video)


 I made a small adjustment to the original recipe
  • 500 grams Basa Fillets
  • Zest Of 1 Lemon
  • 2 tsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Small Red Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Fresh Ciilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp  Mayonnaise
  • 1 Egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 tsp Paprika
  • 1/4 tsp  Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 cup Dried Breadcrumbs (half for rolling)
  • Vegetable Oil, for frying


Preheat oven to 350F or 180C.

Place basa fillets on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with half the lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and cook in oven for 10-12 mins, until opaque and just cooked through, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Remove from oven and cool.
In a large bowl, combine red onion, coriander, mayonnaise, egg, remaining lemon zest, lemon juice, paprika and cayenne pepper. Mix until well combined. Break basa fillets into large flakes and add to bowl. Add half the breadcrumbs and season with salt and pepper. Mix gently until well combined.

Roll mixture into 8 balls, press into 1 1/2 cm-thick patties, roll the patties in the remaining breadcrumbs and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Cover and chill for at least 1 hr.

Heat enough oil to come up to 3mm in a large, heavy-based frying pan over high heat. Working in 2 batches, fry fish cakes for 4 mins on each side, or until browned. Drain on paper towels and keep covered with foil while cooking the second batch.

Test cakes at home

The Results!
So how did it all turn out? Before we reveal, let me tell you that my co-judge from the first two years, Wayne was competing as well and that there is a vote for the "Peoples' Choice" where everyone gets to vote for their favourite. At the end of it all, Wayne's fish cake was first place and mine was second! We ended up in a tie for the Peoples' Choice (if only I had voted for myself...!)

The final product. I sort of liked the salsa scattered about but maybe I shouldn't have done it. I probably would've liked a clean plate better.

The competition, although nerve wracking leading up to it, was a ton of fun and all the fish cakes (six in total) were delicious! Next year I plan on doing something a little crazier and out of the box just for fun. Thank you Uncle Don and Aunt Cathey for hosting such a wonderful event!

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Ideas for a meaty Christmas dinner? Try Beef Wellington! It's still cool.

 This comes from a long time ago...but the recipe is still good. I might make one of these for Christmas dinner this year.

Gordon Ramsay’s F Word gets me in the Kitchen

A few years ago, the summer after I finished my teaching degree, I moved to Montréal to be with my wife. Prior to this, I had only known Gordon Ramsay as the tyrant from Hell’s Kitchen. (I really do enjoy him now on Masterchef mostly because he’s a good judge and a softie when it comes to blind Vietnamese women home cooks. Yes, that’s right, spoiler inbound: big congratulations to Christine Ha for winning the third season of American Masterchef!)

His American shows were still fascinating since they featured people cooking but during my summer of job hunting in Montréal, I stumbled across his British show The F Word. The series really showcased his love for food and that his scary side only showed because of this love. He had videos showing people how to cook various dishes or even to do simple things like how to chop an onion. I thought “Hey, I can do that” and it inspired me to get into the kitchen and start cooking. I watched every single clip including how to make his famed Beef Wellington. It only took me 3 years to finally get around to making it.

I was hoping to make this dish for our 2 year wedding anniversary but my wife had to go to a conference in Switzerland that same evening. I don’t recall what we ate. Over the week she was gone, I slowly gathered the ingredients, willing myself to just make it. It’s no simple task so it was a little bit daunting (and expensive! Those beef tenderloins don’t come cheap). Finally, I decided that it was my first try and that I shouldn’t use an actual beef tenderloin, so I tried practice beef which is why mine don’t come out nice and round. Now that I know I can do it, when that special Holiday dinner comes around, it’s Beef Wellington time. Thanks Chef Ramsay, I’ve finally made it...sort of!

I wasn't terribly pleased with how it turned out. Try to wrap it super tight.

Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington

- A good beef fillet (1-2 lbs)
- English Mustard or Horseradish
- Olive Oil
- A package of chestnut mushrooms (250g)
- A clove of garlic
- (Optional: 200g Chestnuts)
- Fresh Thyme
- 6-8 slices of Prosciutto
- A package of puff pastry (500g), thawed
- 2 egg yolks, beaten
- Salt and Pepper


1. Put some olive oil in a hot pan. Season the beef fillet with salt and pepper. Before the oil starts smoking, get the beef in the pan and sear it all around. You aren’t looking to cook it, just to brown the outside. Tilt the pan to get it all around and use tongs to get the top and bottom ends. Sit it on a plate to rest, and brush it with the mustard or horseradish. Leave to absorb and cool.

2. In a food processor, add the mushrooms, a clove of garlic, season with salt and pepper. Pulse the mushrooms until they look like coarse breadcrumbs. If you want to sound fancy, you can tell people you are making a mushroom duxelles. This isn’t a necessary part of the process though.

3. Fry the mushroom duxelles in a pan, with the sprig of thyme, to soften the mixture and get rid of the moisture from the mushrooms. You can just drop the sprig of thyme in, or add the leaves, just remember to take the sprig out when done. I like thyme so I add a lot of fresh leaves. Cook for about 10 minutes until all the moisture is cooked out and move to a pan to cool.

4. Overlap two pieces of cling film (unless you have very large cling film). Lay the prosciutto on the cling film, slightly overlapping so you have a meat sheet. Spread the duxelles over the meat. Lay the fillet on the mushrooms. Roll the prosciutto around the fillet (similar to the way one would roll a sushi maki roll). Twist the ends of the cling film to tighten it into a nice log shape. Chill the fillet for about 5-10 minutes so it keeps shape.

5.  Roll out two more pieces of cling film. Lay your puff pastry over it. Get the fillet rolled in prosciutto and place it in the center of the puff pastry. Roll the pastry over it until the edges meet and trim any excess pastry. Using the cling film, once again roll it up and tighten the edges to make sure it gets the perfect roll shape. You want it to basically look like a perfect little bundle. Chill the bundle for another 5 minutes in the fridge.

Notice the water in the pan. You really have to fry out all the water of the mushrooms.

6. Pre-heat your oven to 390F/200C. Remove the wellington from the fridge. If desired, use the back of a knife to score your pastry to make it look pretty. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk. Place on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20-25 minutes. It should come out beautifully golden and crisp. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing into 1 inch slices. 
We even made a veggie one!

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

A bit of a revival? With some peanut butter, banana french toast?

I think this will be more of a monthly revival using food articles that I wrote for my uncle's Vietnamese newspaper Thoi Bao in the past couple years. I recently moved and after having a super crazy teaching/extra curricular schedule for the past few years which sent blogging to the back burner. Though now  I'm looking at trying out something new now that I'm in a province that is overflowing with teachers.

In any case, here's an article I wrote for January of this year. Generally I'll leave these unedited to save time but may make a comment or two beforehand. I have nothing to say here except that I made these pre-blog life so I don't have any pictures really. 

This year at our New Year’s eve gathering, aside from given the honour of creating the charades, I’ve also been asked to make breakfast the next morning. I thought about the idea of bringing Montréal bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon and all that good stuff but I wanted to make something interesting since I don’t get many chances to treat my relatives. I ran through my breakfast repertoire which is admittedly small and finally came up with a dish that is a delicious combination of two classics. It’s a recipe that I saw on a Diners, Drive-ins and Dives episode about a place in San Diego called Cafe 222 where they make an amazing peanut butter and banana sandwich french toast!

We've tried this recipe before and it's a wonderful breakfast to treat guests to. It combines the sweet and salty of the classic peanut butter and banana sandwich but also the comforting, warmth of French toast. The batter has a touch of rum in it which adds a lovely, sweet aroma and really brings it all together. There's something magical about combining two classic favorites when it works so well, though sometimes it can end in disaster.

I know that the timing for this recipe might be bad, considering New Year’s resolutions and that stuff, but you’ve gotta treat yourself sometime. Happy New Year and happy cooking!

Cafe 222’s Peanut Butter French Toast (Be careful if you click the link, the site plays loud music!)

This recipe makes two French toast sandwiches so double up as necessary!


4 slices of crust-less wheat bread
2 ripe bananas
Peanut butter

Batter ingredients:
4-5 eggs
1/2 cup of half and half
1/2 cup orange juice
Splash of vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp of rum
Zest of half an orange

Spread peanut butter on two slices of bread, top with lengthwise slices of banana. Drizzle with honey and top with another slice of bread to make a sandwich.

Prepare batter by combining all batter ingredients by mixing with a wire whisk.

Dip sandwiches into batter and cook in a hot pan until golden brown. Turn over and cook until also golden brown and cooked through. Slice in half diagonally and  top with powdered sugar and sliced bananas.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Kale and Quinoa Salad, not to the taste of teenagers.

I recently held a meeting for my cooking club, at a nearby restaurant, to decide what our menu would be this week. A couple of my students mentioned they couldn’t come to the restaurant because they were on a health food kick. Inquiry into what they were eating resulted in no answers so in response to this, I decided to help them expand their knowledge of healthy food in this unhealthy world.

Kale is a beautiful green vegetable that is one of those superfoods that people eat and sound incredibly healthy while doing so. Considering kale is full of vitamins and anti-cancer fighting properties, it’s no wonder that it actually is. It’s also full of various other words that I can barely pronounce which has always been the comment about bad chemicals in processed foods. Kale contains zeaxanthin which is good for your eyes but it’s not an easy word to pronounce. Let’s not discriminate against those unhealthy preservatives based on the pronounceability of their names but rather because of the harm they cause in your body! In all seriousness, I eat kale all the time, whether stir-fried or even raw in a smoothie, it’s an easy way to pick up your daily vitamins.

Quinoa is also full of food super powers. It’s a carb that also contains a good amount of protein and once again contains many vitamins and minerals that other carby foods don’t have. It’s totally a bandwagon that people are jumping on and there’s nothing wrong with joining late.

When my students tried the finished product at cooking club, these future prime ministers and decision makers complained and whined about it. Well, I tried.

This isn't how we ate it. This is the massaging part of the recipe.

Kale and Quinoa Salad

Asian Ginger Dressing, from allrecipes.com
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger root
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp honey
- ¼ Water

In a 1 pint glass jar or larger, combine the garlic, ginger, olive oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and water. Cover the jar with a tight fitting lid, and shake well. Stir the dressing until the honey dissolves. The original recipe says to microwave the jar uncovered for 1 minute but that seems unnecessary and will kill all your nutrients! Shake well before serving. Store covered in the refrigerator.
Salad Ingredients

- A bunch of Kale, washed and stalks removed.
- Olive oil
- Almonds, roasted
- 1 Orange
- ½ cup Quinoa, cooked and cooled

Cut up the Kale leaves up. Massage with olive oil, base the amount on how much kale there is. Let kale sit to absorb oil. Meanwhile, roast almonds, cut up orange. Add quinoa to kale. Add dressing and toss.

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