Life / Food

Lick Your Plate: Toronto sisters cook up real world food

Finding a happy medium between Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray


Julie Albert and Lisa Gnat will stop at nothing to get people to pick up their book and start cooking.

And, the Toronto sisters know recommendations from foodies and celebs are a serious form of currency. Astronaut Chris Hadfield, chef Michael Smith, actor Jason Alexander and singer Jon Bon Jovi are a few of the big names whose praise appears in the intro for their new book, Lick Your Plate (Appetite by Random House).

“We’ll take any angle we can to try to get to certain people who we admire or adore. We’re huge Seinfeld fans, and of course Jon Bon Jovi remains my 16-year-old crush,” jokes Albert, an admitted inexpert in the kitchen. She’s in charge of writing and visuals in the sisters’ growing food empire, which now includes three books and a website, Bite Me More.

Their playful tone has stayed the same since they self-published in 2009, but their esthetic has been “fine-tuned,” moving away from kitschy towards modern graphic design, says Albert.

Ben Wiseman, who has created colour-pop covers for Time, New York Times and Newsweek magazines, illustrated chapter sections, the more than 100 food photographs mimicking his style with bright pinks, blues and yellows serving as background to the plating.

The book aims to help home cooks elevate simple dishes — without taking up too much time — and take the thinking out of daily meal planning.

“We’re not Martha telling someone to make the eight-hour broth, but we’re also not Rachael Ray saying put cheese on toast. There is that happy medium,” says Gnat, who developed the recipes.

The sisters say they understand the importance of accessible recipes, where all the ingredients can be bought in one shop. 

“We love and admire ‘the foodie’ and we’re happy to sit down to a gourmet meal. And we are all about fresh flavours and great food. But we also live in the real world with six kids between us. We don’t always have that sort of time and inclination to go on a goose chase for fig paste,” says Albert.



Serves: 6
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes


•1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced, about 4–5 cups sliced
•1 tbsp olive oil
•½ tsp kosher salt
•¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
•¼ tsp dried oregano
•Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
•1 tbsp olive oil
•1 large yellow onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
•2 large garlic cloves, minced
•1 tsp fennel seeds
•½ tsp dried oregano
•½ tsp sugar
•½ tsp kosher salt
•¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
•½ cup dry white wine
•1 can (28 oz) whole tomatoes, drained (liquid discarded) and coarsely chopped
•2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
•1 tsp lemon zest
•6 sea bass fillets (6 oz each)
•¼ tsp kosher salt
•¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
•Fennel fronds, for garnish
Lemon zest, for garnish


1. Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large bowl, toss sliced fennel with 1 tablespoon  olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano  and crushed  red pepper  flakes. Place in a 13- × 9-inch baking dish and roast for 15 minutes.  Stir and continue to cook until tender, 5–8 minutes more.

2. While fennel is roasting, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, 4–5 minutes until tender. Add garlic, fennel seeds, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Increase heat to high, add wine and let it reduce for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes,  reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and lemon zest.

3. Remove fennel from oven and lower temperature to 400°F. Pat fish dry with paper towel and season fish with salt and pepper. Place the fish over the fennel, top with tomato-onion mixture and place in oven for 10–15 minutes, until cooked through. Garnish with fennel fronds and lemon zest.

More on