Category Archives: 2015 Archive


Posted: December 3, 2015

The last post was all about Risotto and it was also a story about how much I had been enjoying my life with Marc and Lotte and their kids in the summer of 1993. But as August progressed a plan was hatched for the family to go on a one week or ten-day trip with the boat. They had never gone cruising for more than a night or two but both Marc and Lotte and the two older ones had become pretty competent at both navigation and at maneuvering this large boat. There is little question that the introduction of bow thrusters on recreational boats meant that the art of docking something of that size moved more into the science or learned skill category. With that said, it still takes experience and some conviction to handle it well and that was the stage all four of them but Lotte and Marc especially had made it to.

So in mid-August, they were heading off for ten days cruising up the Dutch coast, German coast and over to the English coast before coming back to Harlingen.  I was to make up a lot of prepared food and they agreed to pay me half my usual wage and I would go somewhere on holiday too!

I had not seen my grandmother in Rennes France for some years and had not even kept up with her by correspondence but decided that now that I had some dollars ahead I would take the train and go to see her.

It was a shocking ten days for me. When I arrived I found her in good health but quite upset for many reasons. She had not heard from me nor had my parents heard from me for several months and assumed that I was still working for the cruise line that had fired me. Several calls and faxes to the ship and to the cruise line had gone unanswered until it was learned that I was no longer employed there.

My grandmother was the one to tell me that my parents had both died in a car accident at about the same time I was sacked – almost nine months earlier. They had been on a slippery road with the first big snowfall north of Ottawa where they had rented a ski cabin for the winter and were setting it up.  It highlighted that I had not checked in at any point during that time – not at Christmas or my parents or grandmothers birthday or even to let them know where I was.

My father’s coworkers and some of my parent’s friends and their lawyer had dealt with everything including the sale of the house, the cremation … everything.

As a woman in her eighties, my grandmother or Odie, as I called her, (her real name was Odile), had lived as a child through the first war, then as a young mother through the depression and into the second war. She had buried her husband and daughter from illness in the 1950’s and now one of her two sons. Her other son she refused to see as he had made some bad decisions during the second war. Like me, she felt like an orphan. Unlike me, however, she had always been disciplined and hardworking and supportive.

For the first time Odie told me how bad a child I had been and the sacrifices my parents had made for me. As part of the French Diplomatic corps, my father had many opportunities to move to a higher position by moving to other postings but stayed in Ottawa to try to have a nice life for me to grow up. He became a senior, but not very senior, part of the French Embassy in Ottawa, and would train incoming roles junior to his to be his senior but he like his life with my mother and me in Ottawa. By the time high school was over for me most of his opportunities were behind him and it must have been frustrating for him and my mom to watch me not focus on my future. My cavalier attitude and irresponsible lifestyle after quitting university were tolerated at first but then became tiresome for my parents and eventually an open disappointment.  With no siblings, I was their focus, pride and joy and then disappointment. Their two urns sat on a shelf in Odie’s living room.

I won’t share how bad my visit with my Odie was, but after the second day, I left on a train from Rennes to Paris and a flight to Canada. As the child of a foreign diplomat from France, with a mother from Canada and being born in Canada I carried both a French (EU) passport as well as a Canadian passport, but my Canadian one had expired so I traveled on the French one.

In Ottawa, I went to see my fathers office both to speak to them about any outstanding issues and to have them re-apply for my Canadian passport for me and to send it to my grandmother. My fathers assistant was pretty upset to see me. Apparently, my parents fought all the time about what to do about me. She had a few mementos from his office, one of which was a postcard he prized,  I had once sent them from Turkey. The look on her face when looking at me was so disturbing. This was the second person in a week who needed to make sure I knew that I had not deserved the love and support they had for me.

My next stop was at a lawyers office who was a personal friend of my parents and who had handled my parents will. Apparently, between my mother’s parents who were now passed and my fathers’ mother (Odie), they had fed some of their income each year to help their parents and after the sale of their house in a real estate downturn, there was very little left. My mothers work had been for a not for profit that paid very little as well. Given what a disappointment I now knew I had been to them I was embarrassed even having the conversation with the lawyer about getting an inheritance.

The life insurance company documents the lawyer had me sign and would submit but I would have to set up an account with a Canadian bank with operations in Europe to have the insurance annuity they had set up for me paid into each month. It would be $763.54 Canadian each month until the earlier of the age of 90 or my death.

I was at day five of my ten-day “holiday” from my work with Marc and Lotte and decided to look up some old friends to try to reconnect with someone. I really had not been back to Canada much since quitting university about eighteen years before. Most were on summer holiday or had left Ottawa, so I headed off to Toronto where many had ended up. An old girlfriend hung up on me and my call to Jim’s place and the response of his eight-year-old daughter was fairly typical of a busy family who didn’t know who I was. She told me her mom was outside packing to go to the cottage, her dad was at work and asked if I was “the crazy Django my dad went to high school with”.  I assured her I was that very Django and told her to just wish her mom and dad well.

So I had been a bad son, an absent friend and everyone I knew in Canada had moved on. I had felt pretty good about how my life had been going with Marc, Lotte, and their family but knew that even that little achievement would soon end as the summer was coming to a close.

As I sat on the plane back to Europe I  did not really know what I would do but just felt that whatever it would be I would have to create as I had burned out any real links to my past. The guilt I was feeling about my parents was overwhelming but my grandmother and my fathers assistant had only seen it from one perspective.

My parents were pretty absent in my life. As an only child, you would think they were an ever-present part but my father was very focused on his work and because my mother worked for an NGO  that was often at odds with the French Government they never talked about his work or hers so there was a big gap in their relationship. I was treated very much just as a third adult in the house and on the rare occasions we would eat together my mom couldn’t tell me what she was up to, nor could my dad and they would rarely ask me about school or my interests as it would highlight how strange their own relationship was. The only things they seemed to share were skiing, occasional cooking, and house stuff, a few trips,  and a lot of sex. This pair were like rabbits. They couldn’t talk together about work but boy they made up for it sexually. Not my favourite memories, especially when I would have friends over for a sleepover in high school.

Even my name had been a result of their strained work conflict. My father, seen to be an up and coming diplomate did not want me to have his surname as the protocol at the time for diplomats (who were much more senior than he was, but that he aspired to be) was to name their children their wife’s surname to protect them somewhat from kidnapping. So that is how I came to have the last name Bisous, my moms’ last name. Now Bisous is a pretty “out-there” name and was one that my mother was also happy for me to have because I was the last in the line and she liked the idea of keeping the name alive. It was a name that originated with her grandfather, Henri Bissonette, who on the ship from France to New France decided somewhere on that crossing that his nickname should be his formal name. So he stepped onto the ship in France as Henri Bissonette and off the ship in what would later become Canada as Henri Bisous. The snickers that it would attract all the way through my school life my mother assured me were nothing compared to the experience she and her three sisters endured and that it was a fine name. For any of you who do not speak French,  Bisous means “little kisses” and the act of greeting a friend with alternating little kisses on the cheek also falls under this term.

My parents also were unanimous apparently on my other names. Django was my middle name, as they were both fans of the duo Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, but Django in particular. Giving that as a second name was also a safe, personal element to my identity as they gave me what they felt was a fine first name – Pascal. Oh My God – Pascal! I know that my buddy Jim was named after James Dean and jokes that he could have as easily been named Fabian or Elvis. I think those would be in the same category as Pascal. My parents and Odie still called me Pascal but from about grade four on I was Django to everyone else. Well, my parents wouldn’t be calling me Pascal anymore. It was a sad thing.

Maybe it was partially having a unique, almost cartoon name that made me a class clown or so self-focused- I don’t know. Other kids had multiples of their name in every class and were usually called by their last name. In one year there were seven Jims in a class of less than thirty. Maybe that’s how my great-grandfather ended up being called Bisous – too many Bissonnette’s?

As the flight back to Europe drew on I kept wondering how much of my strange childhood had been my fault and how much was my parents doing. When I looked at the warmth of Marc and Lotte with their four kids it was nothing like my life growing up.  But when I reflected on most of my friend’s relationships with their parents when we were growing up it wasn’t all that close either. But to put it in perspective none of my school friends experienced two parents forgetting to get a tree for Christmas and going out on Christmas day to find one. The next year my mother bought an artificial one and it sat decorated in the basement for every year thereafter.

I was hopeful  Odie I could still have a relationship with if I worked at it. It was a  long overnight flight and I had the opportunity to write her a letter telling her about what I had done in Canada and that I would stay in touch once I had a more permanent place to live.

So for those of you who thought these posts were going to be all happy thoughts … sorry, I let you down too. But as I am writing this many years later I can tell you it does get better. Don’t give up on me.


Posted: Aug 24, 2015

No, I don’t mean risotto with a side of kids but working with kids to prepare Risotto!

For those of you who have been following along this is an extension of my last post “1990’s: DJANGO STARTS TO GET IT TOGETHER”, where I was working for a family during the summer of 1993 in the Netherlands and enjoyed teaching their kids to cook.  So if your not into cooking or are a good cook already and won’t learn much from this than go do something else. The rest of you – follow me.

Most kids, especially by the time they are teenagers, are quite astute and if they are interested in a topic will grasp ideas and instructions very well. I have never had any kids and not spent a lot of time with them other than that summer in 1993 but I was really impressed. Intelligent ideas, inquisitive perspective, a steely sense of right and wrong – we should all be more like teenagers!

I know that Janice and Jim had a lot of fun doing the cooking school they had,  and one course that Jim and his chef designed was “College Survival”.  The idea was to cover in the space of five evening classes, a quick course in equipment, hygiene, and cooking techniques. Their experience with Risotto and young people was much like what mine had been.  We have compared notes and some of my future entries here will shamelessly borrow on their experience with their cooking school as well.   Time for a little plug – check out the link to the cooking school in the LINKS WE LOVE section.

The amount of time I have spent in North America in the last couple of decades has been limited but I think that pizza, mac and cheese, and burgers are still the staples of teenage diets there. European kids like pizza as well but really enjoy a variety of pasta dishes and sauces and risotto is a pretty popular one with them.

One of the things I love about this dish is that you can mix it up so much. We all think of using Arborio, but there are other kinds of rice that are fat, starchy and medium grain that will also get you that creamy texture: try Carnaroli, Roma, Vialone, Violone Nano and Maratelli.

What works so well with kids is that you can also put one “sous chef” on the rice and stock mixture while another is working on the prep of the toppings or ingredients.


But it all starts with the stock. At the end of this piece I have included some detail on preparing a good stock. I have worked in big kitchen operations on cruise ships that resemble food factories and in small little kitchens on private yachts with limited counter space and even less fridge space and after doing this for a few decades a few rules keep floating to the surface.


Ok so that may not be the epiphany of the century but too often we spend our time trying to see if we can make a component of a dish ourselves that takes a lot of time and energy to not really be appreciated by the guest. You need to find the sweet spot in each recipe that combines the efficiency of buying something prepared vs. the taste and quality of the result. The cost factor of course comes into this little equation as well. Most people who make phyllo pastry or puff pastry the first time will quickly realize that unless they are doing it all the time or for a large group – just buy it frozen at the grocery store and focus on what you are doing with it.

So if you are living in a place with great grocery or specialty stores available and have limited space go buy your vegetable, chicken or beef stock. If it’s not readily available or you have the time and interest go to the bottom of this piece and work away on producing a good stock. Personally, I do both. When I have the time I will produce a great stock and it will be the basis for a great risotto, and other times I will have some that I made at an earlier point in the freezer to pull out but sometimes it just doesn’t work out to make it and I will buy the stock. One of the benefits of buying the stock is that you can now focus your attention and limited time on more interesting components to add to the risotto or sit on top.  On the rare occasion I have lived on land and had a conventional kitchen, I have found freezing your homemade stock a great way to go, but most of the time my freezer space on a boat has been pretty precious.

Whichever way you go you will have to choose one of those three types of stock and the choice will come down to matching the stock with the protein or vegetable that will be the feature of the risotto: we will make a butternut squash risotto with a vegetable stock, a seafood risotto with a fish stock, a beef risotto with a veal stock and a duck risotto with a chicken stock, for example. Otherwise, the flavours just become jumbled. Of course, vegetarians are going to use a vegetable stock for everything.

So once we have our stock, here is what we are going to do to prepare the Risotto.

The grocery list is below the ingredients.

Before getting going on anything, turn the kids on to kitchen hygiene. Get them to wash up before handling food, and every time they have handled raw meat or fish, and get the utensils or plates that have touched those raw products into a designated area or sink or dishwasher for clean up later. They won’t know if you don’t teach them and getting them into good habits first thing is the way to go.

I like to set up two large stock pots. One will be for our finished Risotto and one is for the stock.

  1. get started by peeling and chopping fairly fine the onion, garlic, and the celery
  2. Put your stock into the first stock pot and put on a low- medium heat. We are really just preheating or warming this stock, not trying to boil it. The only purpose this stock pot is for is heating the vegetable, beef or fish stock so if any of my explanation is not clear – everything else is being added to the other pot
  3. Preheat the second large stock pot (or if don’t have two you could use a saute pan or fry pan) to medium-low heat
  4. add the two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to this second pot and about 15 ml of the butter
  5. add the finely chopped shallots or onion, the celery and garlic and sauté in the second pot, for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s better to do them at a lower temperature but have some control of the exercise, especially when working with kids or teenagers.
  6. get the rice into the second pot and saute for two to four minutes. Make sure you stir the rice at this point
  7. this is where I would typically add a glass (cup) or two of white wine, and once it’s largely absorbed or evaporated off you can move to the next step.
  8. So from this point, you have a wonderful task available for your sous-chef (child or teenager). Have them ladle (about a half cup size ladle) one scoop of stock into the rice mixture and stir to help the stock be absorbed by the rice. When it is largely absorbed into the rice give it another ladle full and continue with this process until all the stock has been added. This process is going to take about twenty or thirty minutes or more.
  9. Meanwhile, during this process of adding the stock to the rice mixture, you or your other sous chef can work on the other components that will either be added to the dish or sit on top.   (see comments below)
  10.  when the stock is all added and absorbed the rice should be al dente, just chewy to the bite, you can also decide if you would like to add another half cup of dry white wine (sauvignon blanc for example). It’s not usually done if you added it earlier but if you did not put in earlier it does add to the flavor and sweetness to put some in at this point. If you are poor the way I have been for most of my life I would not put it in earlier as much of it evaporates and putting in half a cup at this point gives a nice flavour.
  11. at this point its time to add our unsalted butter and Reggiano Parmigiano cheese and any of our mixtures we are mixing in. (See comments below)
  12. then plate up with your toppings and serve in heated bowls.

Common additions to put into the risotto are: grape tomatoes cut in half, asparagus cut at two cm (three-quarters of an inch)  lengths, mushrooms sliced or ripped and sauteed, chicken or pork cut into bite size pieces and grilled.

Common toppings are: Sauteed portobello mushroom slices, grilled jumbo shrimp or prawns, sautéed or grilled scallops, boiled or steamed lobster tails, boneless skinless chicken breasts or duck grilled and sliced on top.

Sometimes when we would go shopping together Isa and Tess would really get into it and be looking for different flavours and textures and when their older siblings would go shopping for us the envelope would really get pushed (anchovies and capers, sundried tomatoes and spicy meatballs, grilled squid with strips of grilled fennel) but it was a great way to include the older ones who had little interest in cooking but extensive interest in eating. I was successful at getting Luna to plant a potted herb garden on the back deck of the boat with Italian parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary and one or more of these would regularly find their way into the food we would make. Lars ended up quite pleased with himself when we made pesto near the end of the season with the fruits of our basil plant that was looking more like a small tree!

A Note on Salt: traditional risotto recipes will have salt added through this process and will use salted butter. Today the appetite for salt is considerably reduced from the past and as there is already salt in the cheese most of the time I will wait until the end to see if we are going to add any salt to the dish. It’s easy to put it in later and impossible to take it out!

If you are going to add pepper you would usually use a white pepper.

GROCERY LIST (for risotto as a main course for six)

  • 1 liter organic stock, such as chicken, fish, vegetable – or make your own – see below
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Five or six shoots of celery (about half a stock)
  • 100 g Parmesan cheese (3.5 oz) – when grated it turns into about half a cup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • unsalted butter
  • 400 g risotto rice (14 oz)
  • dry white wine or vermouth (optional)


As we go forward with more recipes you will learn that I love to share “cheats” or tips that largely come from commercial applications of food prep or just from my experience working in small spaces with future meals in mind.

Some of these relate to logistics and planning. In a commercial context, a chef or a cook is always thinking of the second or third day of the components of a meal.   A roast chicken or turkey the first day becomes chicken sandwiches or chicken soup the second day and also becomes the basis for our chicken stock. So whenever you are having a chicken, turkey or fish build in the leftovers and time to prepare your stock.

Another great cheat with making risotto is to have more ingredients on hand and to do some arancini balls that you can freeze for a future meal. At a future post, I will go through a recipe for Arancini balls.



The core of a good soup, sauce or risotto is a good stock, whether beef, vegetable or fish.

Always rinse chicken and fish bones in cold water to wash off blood and reduce impurities in your stock. It is important to use fresh bones.

A stock or broth is a semi-clear, thin liquid flavoured by soluble substances extracted from meat, poultry, fish and their bones, and from vegetables and seasonings.


Beef Bones-There are two different types of stocks for beef.  A white stock can be made from beef or veal bones. Cooking the bones without browning them first will make a white stock. Browning the bones in the oven on the stove top before cooling them will make a brown stock.


Chicken and Fish – Remember to wash chicken or fish really well in cold water before beginning.



Mirepoix– Aromatic vegetables are the second most important ingredient in flavouring a stock. The basic flavouring for mirepoix is carrots, celery, and onions. Other ingredients that can be added to a mirepoix are vegetables such as mushrooms and tomatoes. Tomato products provide both flavour and acid to a stock. It can also provide some colour that might be undesirable in some stocks. When making a white veal stock, we would not add a tomato product.


You can adjust the combination of vegetables in a mirepoix to get a desired flavour or colour for your stock. For example, increase the amount of carrots and your stock will become darker. Increase the amount of onions and celery and the stock will be lighter.

Note: Your vegetable stock will take on the flavours of the vegetables used so choose the ratio of vegetables wisely so your vegetable stocks flavour will complement the dish.

The size of the vegetables is also an important factor when cooking a stock. A beef or veal stock need to be cooked for several hours and the longer it is cooked the darker the stock.

  • Chicken stock need only be cooked for one hour or so to extract all the marrow and nutrients from the bones. A fish stock can be made in 30-45 minutes.
  • Vegetable stock can be made in 15-30 minutes. It is important to note that vegetable stocks were not part of classical French cuisine. The increase in demand for vegetable stocks has arisen from the increase in vegetarians. Making a good and consistent vegetable stock comes from practice.


Scraps-meat scraps can be added to a stock to provide additional flavour provided the scrapes are low in fat, clean, wholesome and appropriate for the stock being made. For instance, you should only use beef or veal scrapes when making a beef or veal stock. When making a vegetable stock, caution should be used in the amounts of strongly flavoured vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. These vegetables each have a strong flavour and will overpower the stock if too much is used.

Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash will make a stock cloudy.


Seasoning and Spices-Salt is usually not added when making a stock, however, using a slight amount will help to extract marrow and flavouring from the bones. Herbs and spices should be used only slightly. You can either put the herbs and spices in the mix and then get them out with a fine strainer but if you like your stock to be a bit more dense and you are using a more course strainer you should put the collection of seasonings and spices in sachet or cheesecloth bag tied up so that it infuses the stock but can then be easily pulled out later. It is also a way that you can see how the flavor is evolving as you are preparing your stock and pull the little sachet or cheesecloth bag out part way through the process. Common herbs and spices used when making a stock are, black peppercorns, thyme, basil, parsley stems, bay leaves, cloves, garlic, apples, star anise, and cinnamon.  The combination and amount of seasoning is based on the type and amount of stock being prepared.




Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brown bones (do not burn) in a roasting pan. When brown, add tomato paste to bones and mirepoix to roasting pan. Continue to roast for an additional 10 minutes. Add bones and browned mirepoix to large stock pot. Cover bones with cold water. Add all the other ingredients to the stock pot and bring to a boil. Deglaze the roasting pan with red wine and add to stockpot. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for three to four hours. The longer you cook the stock, the darker it will become. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock will keep for up to three or four days.  If you have freezer space it is great to freeze some for future use.

Brown Stock-Beef Stock

5-6 kg (10-12 lbs)  Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water


500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped


1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Note: After the stock has been strained add cold water over the bones again and cook for an hour. This mixture is called a remoulage or remi. It is a weak brown stock but is excellent as a starter for your next brown stock.


White Stock-Chicken or Veal

5-6 kg  (10-12 lbs) Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water


500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped


1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Rinse chicken bones in cold water. Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for one hour to one and a half hours. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days or frozen.

Vegetable Stock

1 lb. or 500 g Onion chopped medium dice

8 oz. or 250 g Carrots chopped medium dice

8 oz or 250 g Celery chopped medium dice

1 Tomato roughly chopped in ¼’s


1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes to one hour. Strain stock. Keep in the fridge for 3- 4 days or freeze.


Note: For a mushroom risotto stock add mushroom stems to the stock for flavour.