In the mid-sixties we lived in Rochester NY for 8 years. It was a great experience because we were in the midst of an early wave of progressive causes. One of these was the co-op movement that we joined and from which we bought, among other things, sacks of wheat to make our own bread. This was my first introduction to cooking and it was reasonably successful – so much so, that when we moved to Montreal in 1975 – we brought the sacks of wheat with us. McGill was paying the moving costs. At the time I knew how to bake bread reasonably well though I recall one attempt at either bagels or chala ended up with an object that only served well as a doorstop!
In Montreal I did little cooking for a long while. Then, around 2000 – near the time of my retirement – I began to assist Ann with various recipes. An early one, which remains a favourite, was an entirely “spontaneous” vegetable soup. There was no recipe, just an amalgam of all the veggies on hand: potatoes, onions, leeks, mushrooms, parsnips, and some seasoning. Later, I began to assist in the far more challenging and laborious making of orange marmalade. After Ann died, I continued to do so, but my success rate remains about 50%. The last two batches included one successful, and a second that was still soupy after three tries with supplementary pectin. This is the most challenging dishes I try each year when the Seville oranges arrive, usually in January.
Along the way I perfected a banana cake recipe – simple and satisfying. Somewhat less simple but equally popular and usually good was my honey cake. I can nicely cook fish and chicken and have had some successes with beef in the slow cooker. I have also had many slow cooker disappointments. The quails that were traditional for our anniversary dinner the week before Xmas seem to have fallen out of favour. My roast beef has improved, as has a roast leg of lamb. Occasionally, the tricky Yorkshire puddings are worthy of praise. The most recent triumph, quite unexpected, was oxtail soup. I am anxious to try some calves brain and maybe a few other related exotica but have not yet summoned the courage. A reasonably consistent triumph is gravlax – the Scandinavian equivalent of smoked salmon but far cheaper and incredibly easy. I am also good at toast and tea, made the British way in a teapot with tea leaves.
Generally, I think – especially for a latecomer – I am a reasonably good cook. I have learned that only some recipes demand strict obedience, especially baking while others allow for creativity. In other words, there are many recipes that you can take with a grain of salt (clever pun intended). You can usually take liberties with the amounts of salt, sugar. But you cannot risk exchanging baking soda with baking powder. I am not much good with herbs and spices and other forms of seasoning.
As a bonus for my faithful followers (both of you), here is my recipe for gravlax. If it works as well for you as it does for me, you may never buy smoked salmon again.
- Buy a not too thick, not too large piece of reasonably good salmon.
- Mix half cup of coarse salt and half cup of sugar with about ¼ cup of fresh dill cut into small pieces. (It doesn’t matter how small but probably the smaller the better. I do it with scissors, but it could be chopped).
- Rinse then pat the salmon with paper towel. Put a sheet of saran wrap on the bottom of a casserole or a glass dish long enough for the salmon to sit comfortably.
- Sprinkle half the salt/sugar/dill mixture on the saran wrap. Lay the salmon skin side down; sprinkle same again over the top of the salmon; cover with saran wrap.
- Put a board over the top; add a weight; put in the fridge for 12 hours; turn the wrapped salmon over; repeat after another 12 hours; repeat one final time. Total about 36 hours.
- Take out of fridge and pour off the fat that has leached out; scrape off remaining mixture from top and bottom; slice thinly and serve preferably with brown bread.
- Bask in the praise that is certain to follow.
Gravlax … awaiting consumption.