I was digging around some old photographs yesterday and came across a photo of a family halibut fishing trip from 3 years ago. It was the first time I had ever gone fishing, unless you count the time at Montreal’s Atwater Market when I was really young, where I hooked a trout from a tank with a toy rod. The halibut experience was different, needless to say, and more thrilling than a plastic pool of water and a Bugs Bunny reel. I had never seen a halibut outside of a grocery seafood section, so was surprised and a little mortified when a massive, prehistoric-looking beast latched onto our line off of Vancouver Island. I felt like Quint from Jaws on board the Orca and the fish’s violent thrashing on the surface had me jokingly humming the dramatic “dah duh, dah duh,” much to the annoyance of others. It took two grown men (while I watched) to slowly reel the creature aboard.
From that fishing expedition I had nearly a year’s worth of frozen halibut. After six months, my appreciation for this “chicken of the sea” was waning from over-indulgance, so I started giving some away to friends or bringing large slabs of fish to BBQs. I haven’t caught any fish since, but my appreciation for halibut has been renewed.
Inspired by some delicious west coast catering from Bruce’s Kitchen restaurant at a Saltspring Island wedding last weekend, I decided to make this halibut dish served on a bed of kale, apples and polenta. I only recently discovered the wonders of kale and polenta, but plan to use these more regularly as a healthy and hearty side dish. Polenta is not fussy at all to make and is a nice replacement for the traditional mashed potato side dish. Continue reading
Portobello mushrooms are still foreign enough to me that I usually pass them by in the grocery store without much consideration, like kumquats or celeriac. I’m sure I’m not alone, as the cashier gave me a quizzical look when she peered in the brown paper bag at check out, unsure of its contents. I’m trying however to be bolder in the kitchen and to seek out new items in the produce section that would normally seem daunting. Fennel root and jicama, here I come!
Although portobellos have been strangers to my countertop in the past, I actually do like mushrooms; I eat them raw, toss them into risottos and stir fry’s and always admire the striking orange chanterelles in wicker baskets at fall markets, flecked with earth and dew. Portobellos (or Portabellas, if you prefer) are large, meaty and extremely versatile; and although they are reminiscent of the large toadstool from Alice in Wonderland, they are really just overgrown, brown crimini mushrooms in disguise.
I ate this dish for lunch, but it also makes for an excellent appetizer and visually-appealing side dish. There’s a lot of garlic here – the recipe calls for an entire bulb – but don’t cancel your evening plans just yet (although do make sure you have mouthwash on hand). The honey weakens the bite of the garlic, as well as adds such tremendous sweetness and flavour once cooked that the act of consuming it almost feels sinful. If I were a smoker, I would probably have lit up as soon I relinquished my fork…it was that pleasurable. Instead, I washed the dish down with a glass of our family’s home-made dessert Riesling wine, accompanied by a local Saltspring Camembert so fresh that it literally oozed with creaminess the moment I cut into it.
This recipe is so simple you’ll want to make it every week. The step that takes the longest is waiting for the oven to preheat to 500 degrees F. The ingredient quantities listed make enough glaze for 6 mushrooms, but I wouldn’t necessarily reduce quantities if you bought less than six mushrooms. I actually made more glaze than I needed and refrigerated the remainder; it can be used up to two weeks later for other delicious purposes, such as drizzling on vegetables (especially asparagus) before grilling or baking and also for marinating chicken.
There is something to be said for having comfort food to help get through the dreary and cold winter months. I’m not talking about Rocky Road ice cream or Oreos and a glass of milk, although that would probably work too. For me, what comes to mind is Campbell’s Tomato Soup and grilled cheese for dipping. Maybe it’s the rain or the lack of Vitamin D from Victoria’s cloudy climes, but I’ve been feeling particularly lazy and uninspired this past week and in desperate need of comfort food. I’m ashamed to admit that I had peanut butter and jam sandwiches for dinner three days last week and then bacon and eggs another time, which is very unlike me. So I’ve decided that something homey, healthy and relatively easy would be on the menu tonight to propel me through this next week on the right note.
Although tasty and inexpensive, Campbell’s soup was a little too easy tonight, so I tried to pull together something homemade that tasted close enough. I also love grilled cheese and have recently started putting a dab of pesto in the middle for some extra kick and have been experimenting with different cheeses to venture out of my Cheddar comfort zone. I didn’t have any regular pesto on hand, but at the back of the fridge was a jar of homemade pesto made from nettle plants that a friend from Saltspring Island had given me as a gift. For serving, call me crazy, but I get real enjoyment out of dipping my grilled cheese into the soup and then taking a bite of it when it’s warm and soggy. The perfect Sunday meal for eating while curled up on the couch in front of the TV. Continue reading
I don’t know what it’s like where you come from, but here in Victoria, British Columbia we have seen some strange health trends over the past few years (Vancouverites, I know you’ll agree): a cult-like obsession with yoga and form-fitting Lululemon pants, a substantial market of people who are willing to pay over $6 for a small loaf of organic bread containing enough seeds to keep the local bird population thriving through the winter…and then there is Sushimania, where the health-conscious pay through the nose for rice, seaweed and fish that the chef was too lazy to cook. Although I do enjoy things Japanese – the food, the tea ceremonies, the culture – and have voraciously read the novel Shogun, I have a difficult time paying such a hefty bill for something so inexpensive to make at home. I do that with coffee already and feel guilty enough.
A Japanese friend of mine showed me how to make very basic tuna sushi rolls which take under 30 minutes to prepare and only cost about $5 for enough rolls to plump up a roomful of hungry Victorians. There are many different ways to prepare Sushi, but this is one of the simplest rolls I’ve found, so it’s a good entry-level dish before attempting the preparation of eel, puffer fish or fish roe that pop in your mouth and set off the gag reflex.
Although sushi is relatively cheap to make, you’ll have to invest in a few inexpensive tools and ingredients that should last you a while: Continue reading
Ten days into 2011 and my resolve to eat healthier has not yet abandoned me completely, except for the short-lived Ferrero Rocher that I found in my jacket pocket this afternoon. In addition to starting a 21-day yoga challenge today to whip myself into shape, tonight I also decided to delve into my ancestry for a healthy and creative salad – Fattoosh. I don’t normally get much satisfaction from eating salads; they are too light and unfilling, too limp and without personality, and they always leave me with dressing down my shirt – though this Levantine dish which sounds liked a sneeze makes other salads wilt in shame. The ingredient list for this salad reads very much like that for its close relative, tabouli (also recommended), except Fattoosh uses romaine lettuce, ground sumac for tartness and hardened pieces of pita bread crumbled in, originally conceived as a practical use for stale bread besides using it as a middle eastern frisbee.
Sumac is an ingredient that is hard to come by here in Victoria – at least I haven’t found it – though you may be in luck if you live near a middle eastern grocer. Sumac always makes me think about an ill-planned entrepreneurial endeavour from my high school days, when my best friend Jon and I ground up the fuzzy red berries from the sumac tree in my backyard, rolled them up in cigarette paper, and sold them to our grade 8 friends under the brand name “Smacs”. They tasted pleasantly sour and fruity when inhaled, though the trend never caught on with our peers. I wouldn’t advise trying this at home, but I do highly recommend that you add this spice to your kitchen collection for the purpose of cooking. If you can’t find it, I’ve added a variation to the recipe using lemon zest, which tastes close enough. Continue reading
Like the stuffed grape vine leaves, the stuffed squash, Koosa, is another Lebanese favourite. My mother’s first vegetable garden this year on Saltspring Island was almost wholly devoted to growing this unique vegetable. The recipe can be done with regular-sized squash or zucchini, although this family recipe has always traditionally been done with small, pale green or summer squash.
15 small squash (or other squash), hollowed
1 Lb. lean ground lamb or beef
1 cup rice
1 can of tomato juice (4-5 cups)
Juice from 2 lemons
1-2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper, cinnamon and allspice Continue reading
Tabouli was one of the first salads I ever ate when I was young. My grandmother, or Sito in Lebanese, always had a heaping bowl of it ready-in-waiting whenever we dropped by, like her tin of Peek Frean cookies that never seemed to deplete in stock. At every holiday dinner or event at the house of a relative, tabouli was also featured on the menu. To a child, the salad represented a colourful and visually appealing ensemble of greens and reds; as an adult, it is a healthy and tasty alternative to other side dishes.
Every weekend I now make a bowl-ful of tabouli that lasts me for several lunches and dinners during the week; and although it’s probably getting old and tiresome, I typically bring tabouli to every potluck I’m invited to. It’s different that the usual potato salad or nanaimo bars that I used to bring, and is just so easy to make – 15 minutes…and voila!
Note that there are many different ways to make this salad – each time is usually different for me depending on what I have in the fridge. Continue reading