Fennel Slaw

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Fennel is quite common and has a great texture.  It has a strong licorice flavour that can be dulled down a bit with a good dressing.  It is low in calories and has a bit of fibre, folate, vitamin C and potassium. 

It’s a tame slaw which complimented the spicy sausage I paired it with.  

I took the recipe from the website “Simply Recipes” since I had some mint in my fridge I needed to use:

Ingredients
1 large fennel bulb (or 2 medium bulbs)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
2 teaspoons minced shallot or onion
Method
1 Make the vinaigrette. Put the lemon juice, shallot, mustard, salt, sugar and mint in a blender and pulse briefly to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until it is well combined.

2 Using a mandoline, shave the fennel into 1/8 inch slices starting from the bottom of the bulb. Don’t worry about coring the fennel bulb, it’s unnecessary. If you don’t have a mandoline, slice the bulb as thin as you can. Chop some of the fennel fronds as well to toss in with the salad.

 My Suggestions:

  • If pairing with something less spicy, add a little cayenne or jalapeno to the dressing.
  • Don’t be shy with the mint.
  • Cut back on the oil a bit to reduce the calories.  I used less than the 1/4 cup and it was fine.

I Came, I Slaw, I Conquered

I love slaw.  I have ordered dishes in restaurants just to get the slaw.  It is cross-cultural, appearing in Asian, Mexican, Spanish, German, British and North American cuisine.  Most of us have grown up being fed some kind of cole slaw during a family dinner or neighbourhood bar-b-que. For the most part, it was a combination of green cabbage, miracle whip and perhaps and a few raisins or a shrivelled apple.

Slaw can add a freshness to an otherwise rich dish (eg. English fish and chips), add texture to a dish (eg.scallops) or allow the incorporation of contrasting flavors (eg.a sweet, creamy slaw to a spicy dish).  It is versatile and is a perfect way to incorporate fresh, local, in-season ingredients onto a plate.  On the other hand, it can be a means of using root vegetables such as cabbage and celery root during the off-season. You can open the fridge and make a good slaw out of whatever you see. Finally, it’s a great way to encourage fresh ingredients in your children’s diets.

This part of the blog is explore the art of slaw.  I intend to explore different techniques, ingredients and dressings to identify the best slaws. I will post pictures and recipes when I can. 

Enjoy!

Dietitians vs Diners Drive-ins and Dives

I’m a dietitian…but I don’t eat like one.  However, I don’t feel I’m defying the sacred code by frequenting my share of diners drive-ins and dives.

The reason is simple. We live in a land of abundance when the focus is on too much. Too much fat, too much salt, too much sugar. Highly processed foods and fast food concepts not only replace natural and unique flavors with the big three (salt, sugar, fat). The “beige wave” of  deep-fried foods has spread across generations. 

Although abundance is an issue, an equally important trend has occured in our eating patterns over the past 10-20 years…not enough. Packaged, processed food, whether prepared at a restuarant or at home, omits many of the standard nutrients which used to be part of a balanced meal.  We are facing chronic nutient shortages in affluent populations.  We rely on vitamin water, Flintstone chewables and Dr. Bernstein’s injections to provide us with the nutrients we should be eating already.

  I believe developing a good palate must be a trained behaviour….just like throwing a baseball or playing the piano. We have saturated our children’s palates with big three since they had teeth.  They can tell you the difference between a Mars and Snickers bar but can’t look at a thyme and rosemary plant and identify which is which.

While I’m on the soapbox, let’s talk about fresh food.  I had a friend travel to Europe for a month.  She mentioned that when she bought tomatoes from the market, she had two days to eat them before they spoiled.  When she returned from Europe a month , she had two tomatoes in her fridge which still appeared to be edible.   

So, feel free to criticize me for searching out  some of the continent’s most atrocious dining exeperiences.  Given my experiences with diners drive-ins and dives to date, here are my observations:

1.    The food is fresh.  Most of the ingredients are local and most of the foods are made in-house.

2.   The food is tasty and unique.  Rich, flavourful food with some complexity trains the palate instead of dulling it.

3.  The food is prepared with passion and pride. They want to serve it as much as you want to eat it and it shows.

That’s my rationale for a very liberal approach to dining as a dietitian.  So, leave the highly processed chicken pineapple lean cuisine in the freezer and join the adventure for fun, fresh, funky (and sometimes fried) food experiences.

X-Files and Pierogies

So when I went to university I didn’t have to wait long to develop my second signature dish. Well, maybe it was my third because the simple addition of cream cheese to my nacho dip at my high school formal after party put me heads and tails above the other three who only used sour cream.

We had a ritual. Every Friday night in our dorm, eight of us would gather and watch X-files. The dim lights, cold beer and hot girls were a recipe for a great time for my buddies. The only ingredient missing was food. One Tuesday night I whipped up a batch of pierogies complete with all the fixings and a side caesar. One of my buddies stole one and said “Man, you should make those on Friday during X-files!”. I put the thought out of my head at first, but quickly realized that it was a great idea. Frozen pierogies are cheap, so why not?

Here’s my equation:

2 bags of no name frozen pierogies= $5

1 lb of bacon= $3

1 spanish onion= $1

1 head of romaine lettuce $1

1 box of croutons=$2

5 shakes of parmesan=$0.50

1/4 bottle of casear dressing= $0.50

 seasoned salt and pepper

“Gourmet”  university dinner for you and your buddies=Priceless

 So I served my feast while Mulder and Scully ventured off on another adventure to find the truth. The feedback was incredible. I watched my creation disappear. It was like my fruit plate days all over again. I had developed another  signature dish.

 However, something interesting happened. Each of the group pulled reached into their pockets and pulled out a $5 for my troubles and food cost. Despite my efforts, resistance was futile. They appreciated it. They enjoyed it. It added another dimension to the X-file experience. I had to accept it. What I realized is I made $35 (I was one of the eight) by spending $13 and commiting less than 30 min of my time. By my calculations, I made $44/hr doing something I enjoyed and was appreciated for. Nobody questioned or complained. My ability to defrost no name perogies, fry bacon, tear up romaine and dress a salad resulted in a $22 profit every two weeks. Their $5 investment was better than anything they would eat on campus or make themselves. That is the cardinal rule I suppose. Make people happy and they will reward you in return. That is the mantra of every hot dog cart, caterer, trendy restaurant, lemonade stand, dinner host or fast food restaurant out there. I was just a dude hanging out with his friends.

 

The Carnival

I got my first job when I was 15.  My step-uncle asked if I wanted to make some money over the summer working in a local hotel with a strong catering department, a fine-dining restaurant and a casual greasy-spoon.  I agreed. I started as a dish pig.

Working in a restaurant is like working in a carnival.  Each employee is a character with a signature. In a carnival it may be a psychic power….in a kitchen it may be the prime rib, a lobster bisque or a signature dessert.

For example, I remember a old German guy named Andy.  His week consisted of showing up on Saturday and spending 6 hours making his signature dish- crepes filled with chicken and peas which he served at Sunday brunch.  He was methodical.  He was miserable.  He was an icon.

Sunday would arrive and he would serve the patrons, offering up crepes with chicken and peas to everybody in the brunch line.  He had a thick accent and I swear half of the patrons has no idea what he was saying (it kind of sounded like grapes with shaking knees), but nobody dared to ask him to repeat in fear of neing denied the mystery crepe which hasn’t changed in 7 years.

A certain mentality runs through the food service industry.  Each person attempts to solidify an identify among the surrounding white coats. Those who shine (or simply put in the time) may have their name put  on a chef jacket and/or be given a prestigous title such as sous chef or fine dining manager. 

I put in the time so I rose through the ranks to wear the white in the salad section. Mind you, the uniform selection was whatever housekeeping decided to clean and I quite often got stuck with a uniform made for a 300 pound line cook. On the other hand,  I could look down at the dish pigs now.  I now had the blank canvas to be able establish my name in the culinary world. 
I needed a signature dish and I quickly determined what I would be….a fruit plate.    I watched others slop cut-up cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew onto a plate with a ramekin of cottage cheese and call it a fruit plate.  I saw this as my opportunity. I added oranges or strawberries, used leaf lettuce as a base and cut up plums in petal shapes with a small grape in the middle to create a flower shape to set on top of the cottage cheese. 

Patrons soon came in and asked if I was working before they ordered a fruit plate. It was my first taste of heroism.  I had become a culinary icon.  I had created my first signature dish.

This concept continues to drive my passion for food today.  I love cooking and love to see how others cook to express their identity. It is the reason I like to cook and the reason I put thought into everywhere I dine.

Of course, working in this hotel for 4 years did a lot of other things. It taught me how to plan a menu, use a chef’s knife, peel potatoes, know the difference between basil and oregano, broil a steak, plate food, appreciate value, develop an ego and give me the credentials to even comment on how people more talented than me prepare dishes.

At that time, the only problem is I had no money, nobody to cook for and growing up in Sudbury, no exposure to chic and trendy restaurants.  I was about to depart for university and I was afraid my passion for food would become stagnant and that  my once impressive fruit plate would be forgotten forever.

Sudbury is a One Arch Town

In addition to my mother, my interest in the culinary arts was driven by my grandmother and my father. 

My grandmother would plan a semi-annual excursion to the McDonald’s on Regent St in Sudbury, Ontario. I didn’t complain about cold fries or the fact that were onions on my burger.  I craved the experience……the toy, the cash register, the other patrons.  I prayed for the first time I would experience the Big Mac’s special sauce since to me it was evidence of a transition to adulthood. I did, however, never want to hit the age where, with all the offerings, I would chose the Filet O’Fish like my grandmother. Fish and cheese don’t mix.

My dad brought a different perspective.  When he and my mother divorced, he made it a habit to treat my sister and I to supper at a restaurant every week (FYI- most Suburians call it supper, not dinner).  It was at this point I was introduced to the concept of the sit down dinner.  This involved a table with a cloth, appetizers and dessert other than McDonaldland cookies and soft-serve ice cream.. I remember sitting in Frank Vetere’s..a now defunct pizza restaurant with carnival like mirrors which made me look fat, skinny, tall or short and a toothpick dispenser I managed to destroy as an eight-year old.  Otherwise we’d go to Ponderosa where I watch my dad order a steak which looked like a shoe to get the free salad bar which had magical things like shredded carrots, chick peas and three types of lettuce.

While at McDonald’s, I do remember looking out the window and seeing Deluxe Hambugers across the road.  Boasting the best fries in Sudbury and selling T-shirts suggesting that “Sudbury is a one arch town”, I was introduced to the concept of competition. The big  chain versus the little guy. My experience since has been that despite celebrity endorsements, flashy ads and menu descriptions with no spelling mistakes, few chains hold a candle to the uniqueness and passion of a family run joint.

Today, despite the McDonald’s attempts to localize itself by encasing nickles in the tables, I do believe Sudbury is a one arch town.  I go there every time I visit my mom.  The chicken on a bun dinner (complete with fries and coleslaw) is a must.  I mean Diners, Drive-ins and Dives calibre. Hell, I can’t be wrong..It’s ranked 8 of 178 on trip advisor (more about trip advisor to come….)

So between my mom, dad and grandmother, by age eight I had everything I needed to progress to the stage of food aficionado.  It wasn’t until age 15 that I really learned the inners of the culinary world. Why?  I got a job.

How it all started….

I had a love of food from a young age. I was never afraid to try something new. My mother was (and still is) a good cook. I had my fill of comfort foods growing up. Cabbage rolls, chicken pot pie and lasagna were staples, each somewhat traditional with a spin. I’m at least a third generation Canadian, so my mother did not arrive in Canada with nothing more that a bunch of basil in her left hand and a wooden spoon in her right. She didn’t refer to the old days in Europe when fresh tomatoes fell from the sky and she’d rather starve than eat something that didn’t involve her jumping in a pot and stomping on it. She was ok with using canned tomatoes and Kraft Parmesan cheese (I still have that distinct green container in my fridge to this day) when making spaghetti sauce. She would buy Bisquick for her dumplings. She didn’t regret or apologize about the fact that “farm to table” was not possible since I lived in a town with a 30 day growing season . She taught me that you can be creative with what you have and what makes sense without regret.

On the flip side, her absolute need to measure every ingredient and use only the exact brand of tomato sauce stated in the recipe sparked my rebellious culinary nature.  I rarely follow an recipe to the “t”. I’m thrilled to be challenged with what’s in the fridge or what’s in a grocery flyer.