I don’t know if Marcel Proust was a cook, but he certainly understood the link between food and memory; how a bite of something can take you back in time.
I felt this link keenly on my most recent visit to Qualicum Bay on Vancouver Island, a place that has become a home away from home. We walked out around noon from our rented beach house for a stroll along the shore. It was low tide, and as we walked in the direction of Denman Island we stopped by a rocky outcrop on the shore. I had been disappointed because this time of year doesn’t yield the bounty of beach oysters like the fall season, but lo and behold, we spotted some large oysters on the rocks and in the water and kept on seeing them as we explored further on the outcrop.
I cracked open a beautiful, big oyster as I balanced between rocks, slurping the cold, juicy meat. The saltwater took me back to early morning outings in Jamaica, when we would go diving with our boatman. The taste of the brine brought back the feel of the Caribbean and the lightness of floating in water, but I was still aware of the moment, perched on the rocks in Qualicum Bay, staring out at the snow-capped mountains across the cold water; two worlds intersecting in my mind.
I went after some submerged oysters, showing off some hard-won yoga skills. I pushed up my sleeves, got into a one-armed plank position and knocked an oyster off the side of a rock and picked up another from the seabed. We ended up gathering a nice collection and enjoyed the spoils that afternoon with a few fresh ones on the half shell, spritzed with fresh lime.
To my dear readers: I hope you’re having a wonderful holiday season.
I’d like to share a very easy recipe of roasted bone marrow. This was featured in our Christmas Eve dinner, along with prosciutto-wrapped wild salmon and baba ghanoush. It was an incredibly delicious and relatively light meal.
I used to eat bone marrow when I was kid, and lately it’s become a fine-dining trend. The first time I had it at a foodie restaurant was at Michael’s Genuine in Miami. I had it again recently at Nightingale, the newest restaurant by the celebrated Vancouver chef David Hawksworth.
You can create your own high-end experience at home by simply going to your local butcher and asking for bone marrow. Our butcher had a stash in the freezer. We defrosted the bones on Christmas Eve, placed it on a baking tray, and roasted it for 20-30 min. (or until the marrow is visibly cooked; try it at 400 deg. F). You can scoop out the marrow with little spoons. We ate ours on toasted naan and sprinkled honey vinegar and chopped celery on top for a bit of acid to contrast with the richness of the marrow (hubby’s great idea; he also cooked this dish). The flavor is intensely buttery and addictive.
On a recent night, I wanted to eat at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, The Fat Badger. It was a Monday night, and the gastropub turned out to be closed on Mondays.
What to do?
It had been snow storming that day, so we didn’t want to walk far. I remembered Kingyo, a Japanese izakaya, was on our list to check out, so we made our way to Denman St. Usually there’s a line out the door, but the snowy day had turned into a rainy evening, which might have kept a lot of folks at home. A good situation for us because we had our pick of seats and a very attentive, helpful waiter. He prevented us from overordering and made sure our dishes were well paced.
I was most impressed with the mackerel sushi. I could tell the chef had either blowtorched the outside of the fish or seared it, which coaxed out the lovely natural unctuousness of mackerel. Mackerel has a bad rep because it’s thought of as being too fatty, but that’s what I love about it: that richness. The chef prepared the sushi with a special sauce, and the waiter asked us not to use soy sauce so as not to take away from the intended flavor of the dish. We obliged and agreed that it was very good on its own indeed.
I want to call this a tapenade, but that wouldn’t be the right term technically. A tapenade characteristically has olives, capers, anchovies and olive oil. This spread is based on Kalamata olives and mushrooms.
Slather it on toasted baguette slices for a snack, a light meal, an appetizer or a side. Its full of veggie goodness, as well as flavor.
1/2 bottle of pitted Kalamata olives, drained
1 small pack of white or crimini mushrooms
olive oil to taste
garlic powder to taste
aged white cheddar to taste (optional)
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
1 Roma tomato, sliced
coriander or parsley
Grind the ingredients in a food processor until you get desired texture (chunky, medium coarse or fine). Serve on baguette slices and garnish with the tomato and coriander or parsley.
I was introduced to pierogies when I lived in New York City. I was just beginning to learn how to cook back then. I saw a small pack of pierogies at the supermarket, and I bought them because they were an easy meal that I knew I could embellish with additional ingredients.
We saw a big bag of frozen pierogies at the supermarket here the other day, and, like in my NYC days, I made a meal out of them by adding ingredients to transform them into a more interesting dish. The peas and banana peppers give the dish color, and the bacon infuses flavor.
1 large pack of precooked pierogies (defrost if frozen)
1/2 large onion, sliced
1/2 bag of peas (defrost if frozen)
4-5 bacon strips, sliced
banana peppers chunks, sliced
aged white cheddar to taste
sour cream or Greek yogurt
Saute the onions until they soften, then stir in the peas and bacon. When the bacon is cooked, add the pierogies, banana peppers and cheddar, then cover. When the cheese melts, stir thoroughly. Serve with sour cream or yogurt topping.
Enchiladas are basically burritos lain side by side and topped with tomato sauce, cheese and sour cream. What takes them to the next level is finishing them off in the oven.
A couple notes about the sour cream if you want to be creative: You can make your own by beating a bit of white vinegar into cream, or you can substitute with Greek yogurt.
For salt in this dish, I like to use soy sauce because it’s more potent and flavorful than regular table salt.
4-5 large flour tortillas
1/3 large onion, sliced
1 pack of ground beef
1 can of black or red beans, drained
ground cumin to taste
soy sauce to taste
cheese to taste (I prefer aged white cheddar)
tomato sauce or paste to taste (I prefer marinara)
Saute the onion in a large skillet, add the beef and beans, and keep the heat on until the beef cooks. Mix in the cumin and soy sauce toward the end of cooking, and melt in the cheese.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the beef mix is cooked, use it to fill each tortilla. Roll the tortillas and place them side by side in a baking dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the tortillas, garnish with cheese, and cook in the oven until the cheese melts (about 5-10 min). Serve with sour cream and fresh lime if desired.
I really like Xian noodles for their size, shape and texture. We found a bundle of frozen noodle packets at a local Asian supermarket (T & T) that look like Xian noodles; wide and thick. All they need is a sauce and can be served vegetarian or with a protein such as chicken, beef or pork. I use chicken here, some veg, and a sauce that incorporates salt, sour and sweet notes.
4-5 individual packs of frozen noodles
6 chicken thighs, chopped
leaves of 3 bok choy stalks, chopped
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup black vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
cayenne powder to taste
garlic powder to taste
To create the sauce, heat up the soy sauce, peanut butter, black vinegar, brown sugar, cayenne and garlic powder in a sauce pan and stir into a thick paste. Add more of certain ingredients to taste if needed.
Bring water to boil in a pot and defrost the noodles in the water, then drain them.
Saute the chicken separately, and when it’s cooked add the bok choy leaves, noodles and some sesame oil, and stir in the sauce little by little until you get the flavor concentration you desire.