FFWD – Salmon with Basil Tapenade

Tapenade "sauce" over salmon.

The first time I made this dish was not long after French Fridays began. A friend of ours was living with cancer and was slowly beginning to let go. I started going over regularly to cook for her and Kevin would join me when his work schedule allowed. Another friend of hers had organized a rotation using Lotsa Helping Hands, so that folks didn’t show up all at once on one day and leave her hanging another. I was holding onto a lot of denial, which was fed by the fact that this had all happened before – the decline, the rotation – and she’d bounced back miraculously. By the end of the year, though, she was gone. Many of the first several months of French Fridays recipes were shared with her. They have a bittersweetness for me now. I also have her assessment of those recipes in the back of my mind – this one was too oily (I used a lot less olive oil this time), the Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans were actually a dessert, she wouldn’t change a thing about the Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots.

The timing of this week’s dish is perfect – last weekend was the Vancouver Folk Music Festival and she devoured it passionately every year. Jeanne was a foodie, an explorer, a self-described “culture vulture,” and a seeker of healing and wisdom. She was fiercely opinionated, always ready for adventure, and deeply committed to her friends. The world is less for not having her in it, but it seems as though there are traces of her everywhere, in the festivals, art shows and Pride marches; the waterways she kayaked up and down BC’s coast; the roads across the province she knew as well as the locals. I think of her often, especially when I go to an art show or try a new restaurant. Nothing got her as excited as trying something new, unless it was taking off into the wilderness for a while.

Memory is wrapped up in the senses. One of the reasons I love cooking and baking for those I love is that it helps build those memories for me and for them. When Jeanne died, she left me some of her kitchen equipment and some of her camera equipment. I like the connection that’s made between my blogging and my memories of her.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Salmon with Basil Tapenade

FFWD – Sardine Rillettes

An onion biscuit stuffed with sardine rillettes, with cornichons in the background.

Every summer, my family would go on holiday for the month of August. We’d go “up country” to the lakes north of Kamloops. British Columbia is dotted with freshwater lakes and we visited many of them. We’d stay at one for a while and if the fishing wasn’t good, my Dad would hitch up the Boler trailer and the family would pile back into the car, ready to explore the next forestry campsite. My sister, brother, and I would run through the woods, swim in the lakes, read books by the shore, and at least once a day, we’d go out in the boat to troll for trout. The rule was, If You Catch It, You Clean It and when the fishing was good, we got a lot of practice.

I found myself thinking about these trips the other day, while removing the spine and tail from two tins’ worth of sardines for this week’s recipe. It’s a much easier job than cleaning trout, if a bit fussier. The process is almost as rewarding, though, because rillettes are my new best friend. Forget dip, spread, and stuffing – the only word you need, I’ve found, is rillettes.

A can of sardines, chopped aromatics, and a lime awaiting juicing.

For this recipe, sardines are mashed into a mixture of cream cheese, onions, and herbs, with lime juice and a dash of cayenne for bite. Chilled overnight, the rillettes become a thick, spreadable paste. You might spread it on bread or crackers, use it to stuff eggs or vegetables, or add it to a plate of crudités for dipping.

Sardines mashed into cream cheese, green onions, shallots, herbs and lime.

We still had a big bag of Saint-Germain-des-Prés Onion Biscuits in the freezer, so we baked a few and while they were still warm, filled them with rillettes, with a few cornichons on the side. The next day, we did it again. I’m going to have to make another batch if I want to try these rillettes with anything else. I think a thin layer on rye bread would make an excellent condiment for a Montréal smoked meat sandwich. For example. I might have to try Dorie’s recipe for Salmon Rillettes, first, though. And perhaps I’ll have to get my hands on some rainbow trout and work up a version for that, too. Like I said, rillettes are my new best friend.

A plate full of rillettes-stuffed biscuits, with cornichons on the side.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Sardine Rillettes

FFWD – Roasted Rhubarb

Rhubarb in a field of sugar, with a partly zested lemon and (unsurprisingly) a zester.

It’s not the complicated recipes that evoke sensory memories for me, though I have plenty of other memories about those dishes. My mother’s French Onion soup is inextricably linked with Hayley Mills and The Moon-Spinners, because she once made it for us on a Mother and daughters movie night. Coq au Vin and Angel Food Cake bring to mind special occasions with Tante Leona, my mother’s aunt. Pâte de Cochon and tourtière mean Christmas. But these are associative memories, not strongly sensory.

The memories that transport me to particular periods of my life, rather than specific events, are triggered by simple aromas. Caramelizing sugar brings me back to early childhood, my mother making sucre à la crème on the stovetop. Roasting garlic and lemon are associated with my university years, when my idea of sophisticated home cuisine was 40 Cloves of Garlic Chicken. Rhubarb cooking down is the scent of early summer, reminding me of the building excitement as the school year neared its end. Rhubarb found its way into puffs, crisps and pies, but one of the first things my mother always did with it was to cook some down on the stove with sugar. It would often end up served over ice cream, usually on a hot June day.

Partly roasted rhubard sitting in a melted sugar bath.

We’ve not had many hot days this month, but this afternoon I evoked the memory of warm days with this week’s French Fridays recipe. Instead of cooking it down slowly on the stove, though, this recipe calls for chunks of rhubarb to be tossed with sugar and freshly grated lemon zest (I added a pinch of cinnamon, too) and then roasted in the oven. This method requires almost no attention – no frequent stirring and temperature checks and leaves the pieces of rhubarb soft, infused with the flavour of the sugar. Cooking rhubarb on the stovetop breaks down its fibres, incorporating the sugar syrup, but this method leaves the rhubarb intact, surrounded by a sugary sauce. It’s a lovely variation and just as good with ice cream as the original.

Roasted rhubarb, still warm and melting the ice cream it's accompanying.

What are some of the things that trigger sensory memories for you? Scents, sounds, colours? I’d love to hear.

You can find many other blogged descriptions of this week’s FFWD recipe here: Roasted Rhubarb