Naturally, not being as rich as Nigella, I won’t be cooking with Champagne, but I might use a toasty cava if I can find one dry enough. A prosecco might be a better choice, given the difficulty of finding a really dry cava in Canuckistan.]]>
This reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s saying, “I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” And gives me an idea for my dinner party tomorrow, which was to have been a picnic until Zeus heard about it and sent in the clouds.]]>
I’m using this pic as inspiration, as tomorrow I’m hosting a dinner party with an Italian theme. And as readers of this blog know, I am no cook. Hell, after 13 years of living in Chinatown where I can get dim sum for $2 a plate and cooked shrimp for $5 a pound, I’m lucky I can even remember how to turn on the stove. I’ll be attempting a puttanesca sauce, which even a lug like me can get right, and if that fails I’ll be attempting to get my guests drunk on Negronis prior to the main course. Antipasti, puttanesca, chopped salad, and cannoli with perhaps a sorbetto for dessert. And lots and lots of wine. Wish me luck!]]>
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI – Official Trailer – Magnolia Pictures from Sundial Pictures on Vimeo.
In the basement of a Tokyo office building, 85 year old sushi master Jiro Ono works tirelessly in his world renowned restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro. As his son Yoshikazu faces the pressures of stepping into his father’s shoes and taking over the legendary restaurant, Jiro – san relentlessly pursues his lifelong quest to create the perfect piece of sushi.
It’s available from Amazon, too,for those who can never get enough visual stimulation.
Thanks to Brett Blair on Twitter for the tip!
And that, my friends, is how I like to start a meal: with a half-dozen exquisite bivalves, a Martini, and a good friend (neither of which latter you can see because well, good Martinis are invisible and so are good friends until you need them).
The Martini, in this case, was Elyx vodka, which my pal Jay Jonestells me is the premium offering from Absolut. Normally, of course, one is all about the gin, but one is curious and from time to time one likes to give vodka a chance. Normally, it’s the booze of choice for those who like to get drunk but don’t like to drink, a key ingredient in Cougartinis, a prerequisite to being featured on DouchebagsLoveGreyGoose.com , and normally I avoid it like the plague. See how tense the thought of such things makes me? I transubstantiated my tenses and persons! One is distraught!
But the Blue Elyx Martini was everything a proper vodka Martini should be: as cold as my ex’s heart, as clear as Fate, as bracing as a letter from the bank. Occasionally one runs across a vodka that actually deserves the adjective “smooth” and Elyx is one of those rare distillates, it was positively Bond Villain-smooth, while at the same time it possessed enough body to assert itself in the company of the two plump, gorgonzola-stuffed olives that lolled wantonly within.
But I was talking about oysters, wasn’t I?
The Kusshi oysters were the smallest of the lot, only about the size of Manila clams which, for someone from Vancouver, was a bit of culture shock on a plate, ours tending more towards the size and texture of a catcher’s mitt. These were delicate of taste and texture, mild like a sea breeze with a slight, lemony sweetness. Best naked.
One senses a theme. Why yes, it has been a long time since I’ve eaten an oyster…and you?
The moderately-sized Joe’s Gold were creamy and rich, and lemon juice was a good foil for those, if you’re an oyster-foiling sort of person.
The Sawmill Bay beach oysters were BC-sized (and you thought everything was bigger in Texas) and honestly unsubtle of flavour. Horseradish time, methinks. Meaty of texture, slightly liverish of taste, these are the kinds of oysters that put my old roommate off oysters: big enough that she could identify the component parts as they slid down her gullet, having deconstructed many a bivalve in high school biology class. Thank GOD in Ontario we dissected fetal pigs; I don’t run across a lotta fetal pigs in the food-and-bevvie-blogging bizness. In any case, they were delicious, briny, and assertive.
I could live off Martinis and oysters, but you’d get pretty bored with the blog, if I even remained sober enough to type it all up, so there was more, much more:
At a restaurant called Goldfish, I think I could be forgiven for sticking with fish all the way through, and so it came to pass that I ordered the Vodka-Cured (was it sick in the first place?) Salmon Pastrami for an appetizer. Or would that be the fish course? In any case, it came after the Martini-and-Oyster course which I always think of as the Monte Carlo Casino With James Bond on Your Arm course. As do all right-thinking people. Having been deprived of our fine Pacific salmon for several months, and fed insipid, pinkish farmed Atlantic fish, I was happy to see that these thickish slices of Sockeye were as sinisterly red as stigmata. As I’m not a mystic, I have to drop the metaphor there; if any of you know how stigmata taste, drop me a line in the comments; there’s bound to be plenty of interest in that sort of thing, at least in certain circles.
Salmon pastrami. We were talking about salmon pastrami. And it was good. I didn’t know quite what to expect of pastramized salmon, but it was to regular smoked salmon as bacon is to regular slow-cooked pork, assertive but neither over-salted nor over-smoked. The peppery arugula salad was a great counterpoint, with a vinaigrette sharp enough to set off the fatty salmon, a sprinkling of fried potato shards for crunch, and some creme fraiche for richness.
Objects in the blog may be huger than they appear. These East Coast scallops (I love it when the manager says “they’re from the East Coast. I KNOW! The East! But they’re actually quite good”) were massive, each almost the size of the palm of my hand, but there was not the slightest bit of toughness in them. They were perfectly prepared and that’s not easy with seafood this thick. Those brown nuggets in the foreground are delicious nubbins of bacon. Yes, yes, bacon has been done to death, but scallops can use the boost in flavour, and this particular bacon was marvelously understated, letting the taste of the meat dominate and bringing a richness and depth to the whole dish that the scallops alone would have lacked. It was served with roasted fingerling potatos, roasted asparagus, and roasted cherry tomatoes, which is the ONLY way to go with cherry tomatoes if you ask me; they’re the Dim Beauty Queens of the vegetable world, but roasting brought out the sweetness and flavours that are usually hidden behind underripe, frosty cuteness. Where was I?
Oh yes, about to rhapsodize about the wine which Jeff recommended for this dish: a white Bordeaux, Château Bauduc 2009 sauvignon blanc/semillon, which is hilarious because my cousin married a Bolduc, although if she gets a discount on this delightful beverage she’s been holding out on me all this time. It’s a buttery, full-bodied wine with moderate oakiness, and went well with both the creamy scallops and the bacon, which is quite a feat if you ask me.
I also had a glass of the Joie, and you’re lucky I can still read my notes from this point on. Joie is one of my favorite wineries, their rose is one of my favorite wines, and some day I will tell you one of my favorite wine stories which has to do with Joie but that’s not today. Today we must put such fripperies aside, as we have one more course to go at the Goldfish Saga. The things I do for you people.
Dessert. Pudding. Afters. Whatever you call it, I haven’t seen much of it since I moved out of my mother’s house at the age of 17. Single women just do not make dessert if they’re not expecting:
a) to seduce someone
b) to have to bring it to a party
and let’s just say it’s been a long time since I’ve brought anything but potato salad to a party. Which explains my love life, but there, I’ve said too much already…
We were talking, or were about to talk, about the Strawberry Panna Cotta on a peanut butter shortbread. Honestly, do you give it ALL ALL CAPITALS or do you recognize the subjugate nature of the shortbread, as a substrate upon which the actual, starred player rests, and lowercase it? I don’t know from capitalization; I’m not German. In any case, howsoever, and whatevs, it was delicious. There was a swirl of balsamic reduction, which catalyzed the volatile elements in the strawberries (and how you dice strawberries that fine, I do not know. Perhaps there is an army of miniature Japanese strawberry-dicing robots somewhere under the counter) and caused the fresh scent to rise, as if we were walking through a strawberry field on a sunny morning. Now, two courses in a row where the main players were round and creamy is perhaps one too many, but je ne regrette rien. Nosiree, je ne regrette strawberry panna cotta pas du tout, no way. The shortbread was beautifully done, although the peanut butter was more theoretical than it should have been. I mean, it was probably safe for the allergic.
And now in my notes I see that I have a recipe for another cocktail . Funny, don’t recall that one…but it does sound lovely. Here it is:
Kiss from a Rose
1 oz Giffard Rose Syrup
1 oz lime juice
1 oz Hendrick’s gin (and no other)
Mix and pour over ice.
Hendrick’s, of course, is made with roses as an ingredient, and I’ve always wanted to experiment with rose water and Hendrick’s. This cocktail is sweetish, but not as sweet as a tiki drink, lightly pink, and rather girly. In fact, it goes down dangerously quickly if you don’t remind yourself it’s a third gin, which explains why this is only coming back to me now. All in all, a beverage suitable for my lifelong dream job, White Rahnee of Sarawak. I’ll sip it on the terrace while giving orders to my Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Meantime, you can sip it at Goldfish in Yaletown, and you can read my good friend Heather’s report of the same meal at Blackbook once it’s up.
The things I do for you people.]]>
And so we’re off.
A recent New York Times article reminded me of a reporting trip I took to New Orleans several years ago. While I was ostensibly in the Big Easy to investigate issues in education, all trips to N’awlins are really at their heart about food. So I ate, and ate, and when I had the weekend off, I rented a car, traveled further into Cajun country and ate some more.
Then, I stumbled across this…
Why, it was the 72nd Annual Shrimp and Petroleum Festival!
As a lover of shrimp and a user of petrol, there was no question that I had to stop and partake.
And so, I watched the crowning of the Shrimp and Petroleum Queen.
I ate some shrimp.
I ate some more shrimp. Fried and skewered, this dish featured a more traditional pairing of oil and crustacean.
At the time, the combined celebration of two key Louisiana industries amused and perplexed. Now the troubled feeling in my belly that emerges as I think about the festival is not merely from too much deep fried fun.
But the people of Morgan City, LA, home of the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary this September, are not letting the recent spill stop them. And who am I to judge? Unless, of course, said judging is of the festival’s beauty pageant, in which case, I’m partial to Miss Louisiana Crawfish Queen, who I believe has the experience necessary to wear the Miss Shrimp and Petroleum crown with style.]]>
Soft shell crab in Florida? Who knew?
Step aside, Maryland. In the Stygian waters of the vast St. John’s River estuary the blue crab is molting.
Although shrimp is caught locally in Jacksonville, in summer it can be soft and lacking flavor. Catfish filet is local as well, and surprisingly good if you don’t mind a few inevitable bones. Soft shell crab, however, is clearly the best local catch.
At Clark’s Fish Camp on Julington Creek, a fry house in the swamp, New York Robert went for the full, bona fide Southern experience by ordering the Swamp Fest Platter, a mixed fry of conch, mako shark, frog legs, catfish, squid, and gator tail.
It’s all good, it’s all fried, and every platter comes with hush puppies.
The insistent flavor of breading browned in corn oil nearly overwhelmed the light scallopy taste of conch, but gator tail survived the fryer with flavor intact. Yes, it does taste rather like chicken, but with chewier texture and, to Mr. Henry’s palate, a brighter and more interesting flavor. (With more than one million in Florida, the alligator is no longer endangered.)
Mr. Henry stopped Robert from ordering the frightful Swamp Cocktail, a boozy brew of vodka, rum, blue Curacao, triple sec, orange juice, sour, and “a splash of Pepsi.” Hooooooo doggies!
There was no need to prove manhood here, however. Local tap water is daring enough.
A stroll along the boat dock revealed several large red-eared slider turtles on the surface of the black water as well as a small alligator toying with a floating wedge of cocktail lemon.
More daunting than the swamp critters or the hundred or more stuffed animals on the walls, however, at the bar a group of ladies in Gator regalia jiggling iced after-dinner drinks snagged Robert in a flirty conversation that, but for the prudent intervention of Mr. Henry, might have culminated in more bona fides than he reckoned for.]]>
When lunch is late, Mother Henry is not at her best.
How do you hurry a mahi-mahi onto the lunch plate? The answer is salt.
Sea salt liberally applied helped the fish thaw. Scouring the fridge for ingredients, Mr. Henry found a bottle of capers, a lemon, and some dried parsley flakes – just sufficient to construct a sauce piccata.
Dredge the salted filet in flour (with black pepper) and sauté to a light brown in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Remove to a serving plate and deglaze your pan with lemon juice, white wine, or both. (Add more butter if you want more sauce.) Add capers and chopped parsley (fresh is preferable), combine briefly and pour over the filets.
From start to finish the whole thing won’t take more than five minutes, so don’t begin until your guests are ready to eat.
The recipe works equally well with filet of veal or breast of chicken. To assure the meat is evenly thin, pound it flat beforehand between plastic wrap.
Capers are a curiosity – immature flower buds cured in brine or vinegar. The best ones are Italian cured only in rock salt. Before using these you should them soak in cold water for a few minutes.
Mr. Henry’s friend Famous Howard lives exclusively on take-out. In his refrigerator there are precious few items, but always a bottle of capers. Howard finds the addition of capers adds immeasurably to the flavor of almost any sandwich.
As a history buff Howard might be excited to learn that capers are mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian story from the third millennium B.C.]]>
As usual the task of pointing out the obvious fell to Little Henry. “This food is salty,” the young one said. Not until then did Aunt Bev notice that since arrival not once had she reached for the table salt. Considering tapas bars here don’t place salt shakers on the table, however, this is not so surprising.
For more than a week it seems Mr. Henry and family have been living chiefly on salt, delicious flaked sea salt conveyed by little fishy vehicles remarkably fresh and completely addicting. Most of these little fishes arrive fried in the lightest of batters. A few come from the grill.
The only way Mr. Henry’s delicate digestion succeeds in vanquishing the fried skins of crunchy baby squid or the dark oils of fresh anchovies is to wash them down with glasses and glasses of cava, local sparkling chardonnay available at Cuines Santa Caterina (smoke free) for a mere three bucks per glass.
Since the Henrys arrived in Catalunya the Euro has risen 9% against the dollar. Extending fiscal principles established by Wall Street and Congress, when discussing money the Henry party prefers to call Euros “bucks” and wait until their VISA bill arrives next month before grappling with subtleties of foreign exchange. Why ruin the vacation spirit?
Tapas are what you eat in Barcelona, by the way. Here one is best advised to forego the sit-down dinner which does not begin until after eight at the earliest, far too late for proper digestion before bed no matter how much cava you may swill. Regardless of the hour, the sit-down dinner is simply not prepared to the same high standards as tapas. Barcelona’s best cooks work behind the bar, not in the kitchen.
Top in the hierarchy stands the fry chef. Exactly how these marvelous little fried tapas – paper thin artichoke slices, tiny bait fish each individually breaded, squid of every size and description – emerge without tasting greasy, heavy or bitter remains an enduring mystery.
At Cerveseria Catalan yesterday the fried artichokes tasted of olive oil, but how can olive oil sustain the high heat of frying without breaking down?
Late Friday night when Mr. Henry left the rental apartment in the old city to seek out an internet cafe that wasn’t too smoky, and by the way such a place does not exist, all at once he was surrounded by hundreds of running college students.
With a rueful smile at the boundless energy of youth, Mr. Henry tried to maintain his footsore equilibrium. Not until a long-haired youth sprinted past with blood running down his face did Mr. Henry appreciate the unsettling fact that he was in the middle of a riot. When police vans turned the corner, sirens wailing, and helmeted police swinging clubs came running down narrow, walled Carrer Montcald, Mr. Henry felt like a player in history, namely, a peasant about to be crushed.
Careful to avoid getting trampled, Mr. Henry ducked into the nearest opening to discover TextilCafe, a lovely snack bar in a beautiful Renaissance palace courtyard directly across from the Picasso Museum. (Cava there is only two bucks ninety….and be sure to order the babaganoush.)
Once the street cleared of riot police, students, and cigarette smoke (every young Catalan without exception smokes cigarettes), Mr. Henry achieved his initial goal of hooking up to the internet only to discover that the Manolosphere in all its glorious components was down, that is, crashed, kaput, off the airwaves, a temporary case of server overload that not even cava could rectify.
Indeed the day had not begun well. Once again Little Henry had pegged it. “This town is sketchy,” the young sage remarked fatefully. Later that morning exiting a crowded subway car Little Henry announced, “Mom, your backpack is open.”
Moments before Mrs. Henry had felt a little tug at her back and had turned to get a look at the likely perpetrator. There were three thieves. When the train lurched the first stumbled forward creating a diversion. At that moment the second opened Mrs. Henry’s backpack and picked the wallet, immediately passing it to the third.
With all the vigor of her 101 lb. frame she sprinted down the platform, reached out and clamped her hand on the thief’s greasy collar. Startled at having been caught, he turned and handed back her wallet with money and I.D. intact.
Shaken but gratified, the Henry party retreated to eat more salty fishes and discuss where in future to secrete family belongings. As cava calmed his nerves Mr. Henry imagined where, had he only witnessed the deed in time, he would have placed the toe of his shoe on the foul miscreant’s hind quarters. Without doubt it would have gotten ugly.
Perhaps not advancing age, jet lag, or that extra glass of cava explain why Mr. Henry’s reflexes are not what they ought to be. Since arrival more than a week ago, he hasn’t gotten one good night’s sleep. Streets in the old city howl all night long. The only quiet hours are in the morning from six till nine.
No, in sum it must be said that Barcelona’s lifestyle is not conducive to good health. But at twelve midnight the Passeig del Born is rollicking.]]>
Thirty years ago when a callow Mr. Henry first set foot here Barcelona was emerging from under Generalissimo Francisco Franco’ heavy boot. Each plaça exploded with folk singers shouting their long forbidden language. If you spoke Spanish in Catalunya, locals frowned.
Now Catalan cuisine has seized the vanguard. Foam overspreads the culinary world. In one day Mr. Henry has already eaten foam crema catalan and foam tempura soy dipping sauce.
As a mark of confidence in themselves today if you speak Spanish badly or Catalan barely at all, locals smile graciously and respond in beautifully phrased English.
Wandering down the Argenteria Mr. Henry found Café El Magnífico, purveyor of estate coffees so rich and so delicate that not only is their name not a boast, it is a sharp understatement. Its natty proprietor, Salvador Sans, launched into an eloquent disquisition on the virtues of drip coffee over the iniquities of espresso. An acolyte of Bostonian George Howell, “god of coffee,” Salvador argued that espresso method’s heat and pressure not only destroys subtle florals and aromatics but also transforms desirable bitter flavors into harsh metallic ones.
Mr. Henry appreciates the opinions of enlightened iconoclasts especially when their opinions bolster his own. For years he had hidden his preference for drip coffee over espresso fearing that to foist unwanted opinions on friends and relations might spoil their after-dinner happiness. No longer. Drippers unite! Take back the aromatics!
In an act of divine mercy deserving of his name, Salvador telephoned his favorite Catalan restaurant, Taverna del Clínic, to secure a table for the Henry party who passed an evening feasting on sea worms with artichokes, whole squid with its ink intact, and braised rabbit ribs no bigger than the wishbone of a quail. Desserts were created by a chef who in 2006 won best chocalatier in the world. Magnífico.]]>