Oysters à la maison


We just returned from our yearly camping weekend to Lund, our favorite spot here on the west coast at the end of highway # 101. We always go the Laughing Oyster restaurantfor the great food, music and view of Okeover Bay. A provincial campground and recreational shellfish marine park is right next door and we waitedfor low tide and then joined the king fishers, herons, eagles, ducks and seagulls and some other scavengers like us, all feeding off the freshly uncovered bounty along the seashore. In a matter of minutes we picked our daily allotment of hand sized oysters. Once shucked they’re as big as an egg yoke.  We also checked the DFO site for red tide, which is a paralytic shellfish poison and  invisible.

We met a local who looked at our bucket full of oysters and wanted to know how we intended to eat them. I consider myself an experienced oyster-shucker from several years of picking and proudly told him so. It’s a grimy, tedious job and these big babies are tough to open.

He shook his head and said: ‘Just put them into boiling water for a minute and they’ll open up by themselves. Now they’re also pre-cooked and no mess to deal with. It’s the only way unless you’re one of those crazies who eats them raw.’

The best advice I ever had. I did exactly that and these big fat oysters just popped open and practically fell out of their shell. Other times I also shucked them fresh and froze them, a dozen to a small container.

Then I looked for recipes on the net. It seemed everyone had a different idea for Oysters Rockefeller. The original recipe was a serendipitous invention by chef Jules Alciatore at Antoine’s in New Orleans ano 1889. He was short of escargots and replaced them with the plump local oysters, baked in their shells. Somebody said they were as rich as the Rockefellers and the name stuck.  Jules took his original recipe to the grave and left it therefore wide open to create them a hundred different ways. It dawned on me that oysters are really a personal thing and you’re  free to create your own recipe. Bread them, smother them, cover them, bake them.Here is my simple version of the legendary Oysters Rockefeller recipe. 6 each is a meal, half of that is an appy.

Place shucked oysters (or pre-cooked) on a half shell on a cookie sheet. (I don’t use the original shells because they are full or barnacles and embedded rocks. Instead I collect the sun bleached half-shells where the local Oyster Bar chucks them onto the beach and I sterilize them in boiling water.

Mix up creamed spinach, onions, garlic, bread crumbs and some Tabasco or hot sauce. Spread mixture over oysters.

Top with pre-fried bacon pieces

Sprinkle with grated Gruyere cheese

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes then broil on Hi for 1 minute

Serve the oysters on the half shell or just by themselves

Goes well with a butter lettuce and/or potato salad

You’ll feel as rich as Rockefeller when you eat them

Serve with any wine you like but goes best with a white wine or bubbly

 

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Swiss Rösti

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Rösti is an all time favorite ‘poor man’ left-over recipe and is served for dinner or lunch – never for breakfast – in most Swiss homes and restaurants, including the high-end gourmet palaces like the ‘Dolder Grand’ or the ‘Kronenhalle’, usually as an accompaniment to seared calf liver or ‘Zürich Geschnetzeltes’which is scalloped sirloin in a cream sauce with mushrooms. 

 Here is how it goes:

Boil half a dozen whole potatoes (yukon or white) until cooked (ca. 15-20 min)

drain water and let the potatoes sit for a couple of days (2-4) on top of the fridge or out of the way, no need to refrigerate

 Now the potatoes are firm and easy to peel, then grate or shred them into fettuccini sized strips

heat 2 tbsp of bacon fat or butter in a frying pan  (cast or stick-free)

add the shredded potatoes, turn over two or three times on high heat

turn heat down and let sit for a few minutes (2-3)

gently mix a couple more times

now leave it alone and let it cook on medium heat for ca. 8-10 min, until the bottom is brown and crisp

Cover the potatoes in the frying pan with a plate and flip the whole works over so the Rösti comes to rest on the serving plate with the crisp, browned side up

You can also add bacon cubes and/or finely chopped onions to the mix but fry them first before adding the potatoes

When I was a kid I always garnished the Rösti with a couple of fried eggs over top and my mom insisted on a green salad on the side

Rösti goes well as a side dish with veal stroganoff (or Zurich Geschnetzeltes) sausages or pork cutlets or seared calf liver or just green salad.

 

Pizza Bbq

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         Who doesn’t like pizza ? Nobody. It’s the ultimate universal meal or snack and ranks in popularity right next to bread and chocolate.

         Here is an easy recipe for home made pizza which tastes so much better then anything you order in a restaurant or that comes in a cardboard box. And it’s soo easy to make and so adaptable to your personal tastes and likes. Just look in the fridge.

         If there is some left over spaghetti sauce or salsa, maybe half a jar of pesto, some mozzarella or marble cheese, tomatoes and onions you already have all it takes to build a basic pizza. Add any other ingredients you have, like olives, mushrooms, garlic, any kind of peppers, spices and if you like a meaty pizza add ham, salami, pepperoni or my favorite, prosciutto.

         Of course there is no pizza without the base and here is how you can really impress yourself (and your guests). Make your own dough! Do you have flower in the house? How about some salt and maybe a packet of east? That’s it. Just add water and a bit of olive oil.

         Of course the real secret to the perfect pizza is where and how you cook it. Nothing is easier and soo perfect. Not everybody has a pizza oven but almost everybody owns a bbq ! It helps if you have a round pizza stone on which to bake your pizza. I’ve used 12” tiles from the building supply (clay or granite, some tiles will crack from the heat) and they worked just fine.

 Here is how you make the dough for one large  delicious pizza:

3 cups (450 gr, 1lb) flower (unbleached white or whole wheat)

1 tsp  yeast (you can skip the yeast if you want a really thin crust)

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp olive oil

add some rosemary

1 cup (2.5 dl) warm water

mix and knead by hand, form into a ball , cover it with a tea towel and let sit at room temp for a couple of hours

roll it out into the size and shape you like

sprinkle some corn meal on the stone (helps to prevent sticking) and lay out the dough, curling up the edges.*

Spread the sauce, salsa or pesto. Next comes the grated cheese, be generous and cover the whole dough, then add whatever else you want over top of the cheese

Heat the bbq tp to 500° (hot !) and slide in the pizza.

Have a look after 12-15 min. It’s ready when the edges go brown and the dough is stiff. Check it by lifting it with a spatula. Watch you don’t burn it.

Oh, so delicious !

Merlot (from the Okanagan) will go great with any pizza !

 

 

Quinoa Chocolate Cake


Here is a recipe from our friend Ruth that will challenge your taste buds as well as your incredulity because you will not believe that this delicious cake with the yummy chocolate icing is not made with wheat flour. In other words it’s a gluten free, super tasty chocolate cake.

2/3 c. (150 ml) white or golden quinoa

1 ⅓ c. (340 ml) water

⅓ c. (90 ml) milk

4 large eggs

1 tsp. (5 ml) pure vanilla extract

3/4 c. (170 g) butter, melted and cooled

1 ½ c. (375 ml) white or cane sugar

1 c. (250 ml) unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ tsp. (7.5 ml) baking powder

½ tsp. (2.5 ml) baking soda

½tsp. (2.5 ml) salt

Preparation:

Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the covered saucepan on the burner for another 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow the quinoa to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Lightly grease two 8-inch (20-cm) round or square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Combine the milk, eggs and vanilla in a blender or food processor.

Add 2 cups (500 ml) of cooked quinoa and the butter and blend until smooth.

Whisk together the sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add the contents of the blender and mix well.

Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans and bake on the center oven rack for 40 to 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan before serving. Frost if desired. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze up to 1 month. Serves 8 to 16

Chocolate Avocado Icing:

2 large ripe avocados, room temperature

1 c. agave

3/4 c. coconut oil

1 ½ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla extract

⅓ – ½ c. warm water (I used coffee)

Blend avocados, agave, and coconut oil together in the food processor until smooth. Slowly pour in warm water.

Add cocoa power and vanilla and blend slowly. Process until smooth.

Now that’s a cake that you can eat for breakfast, lunch and desert.

Lasaka (Casserole)


Lasaka describes a combo casserole between Musaka and Lasagne. It is a vegetarian dish, which leaves a lot of room for improvisation. Tomato sauce can be replaced with salsa or spaghetti sauce, spinach with peas and Mozzarella with Monterey jack cheese. It can be prepped ahead of time and stashed in he fridge until you put it in the oven.

Ingredients:

1 round eggplant or 2 long (Japanese) eggplants

flour

2 eggs

bread crumbs

tomato sauce (or Salsa and hot sauce if you want to add heat)

1 purple onion

2 tomatoes

peas or spinach

ricotta cheese

Mozzarella or Monterey jack cheese

always add garlic, salt and pepper

 

Peel and cut eggplant into quarter inch slices

Dip slices in flour then in beaten egg and then in bread crumbs

fry in olive oil until golden brown

sauté onions in olive oil or butter

Place one layer of fried eggplant slices in baking dish

spread onions, ricotta cheese, tomato sauce or salsa, spinach or peas

repeat with second layer of everything

cover the whole dish with slices of Mozzarella or Monterey jack

add a top layer of sliced tomatoes

sprinkle with oregano

Here is deviation for carnivores: I call this Halasaka

add a layer of Black Forest ham before you layer on the cheese.

 

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, serve hot and be gracious when the compliments and accolades start pouring in.

It’s delicious heated up the next day.

Wine: Cab Sav or Merlot or if you can find a Greek red wine

 

 

 

 

Psycho Salsa


My friend Dave developed this recipe and called it Psycho Salsa because he was crazy about it. He parted with it only grudgingly but I have decided to share it because it is too good to keep to myself. I have altered a couple of ingredients, and so can you, but the basics remain true to Dave’s original.

Here goes:

3 large roma tomatoes

1 medium purple onion (or white)

2-3 jalopeno peppers

4 chile guajillo (nueve Mexico) peppers (these are dark red, dried peppers)

2 chile arbol (red, long, skinny, dried, hot)

4-6 garlic cloves

1 hand full chilantro

1/4 cup balsamic vinigar

 

Blend until smooth then pour into pot and bring to boil

turn heat off and add salsa fresca for texture:

one diced roma tomato

some purple onion and chilantro

chop it all finely together

let cool

 

Now you’re ready to dip or slather it on anything you like:

eggs, pasta, quesadillas, pizza, hamburgers etc.

The Art of Cooking


“You can’t just put the pot on the stove and then walk away!” Clare unceremoniously admonished me very early on in our relationship. “You can’t cook and write a letter all at once.”

“Why not, the water boils by itself,” I answered, put in my place, feeling like you know what.

“Because you need to stir the noodles otherwise they turn into a clump of glue and you also need to watch the beans which don’t take as long as the pasta. Cooking is not just heating up a bunch of stuff. Cooking is, playing, feeling, tasting, experimenting, spicing and above all: timing !”

“Timing,” I said, feeling confident once again, furtively glancing at my watch. “I’ll set the timer to exactly what it says in the instructions. No need to watch the clock, dear.” Looks of exasperation were my just reward.

“Timing relates to everything being ready together. You cook the potatoes and the meat together, have the salad washed and prepped and make sure it’s all ready together.”

It took a while but I finally figured it out. As I slowly fell in love with cooking Clare gently stepped away from the stove, leaving me in charge of the kitchen. I gathered recopies from my mom, my sister who is to this day a gourmet cook and I also started to invent my own dishes and discovered a latent talent to improvise. I became especially good at leftover cooking, probably as much from necessity as design. I can whip up a salad out of a tomato, a leftover baked potato, some onions, a half dozen olives and some oil and balsamic vinegar. I concoct pasta sauces and pizzas out of garlic, bacon and basil or peppers, tomatoes, salami and cheese. Anything goes in my kitchen now and I dare anybody to call me an idiot while I soak the old bread under the water tap and then re-bake it in the oven. It will be just like fresh from the bakery. Which reminds me of a proverb my dad quoted every time we kids wrinkled our noses about the day old bread.

“Old bread is not hard but no bread is hard!” I guess you had to be in the war to appreciate not just the finer things in life but also the ordinary.

I also discovered that cooking is like lovemaking – both require passion, playfulness and attention to details and both go better with music. A slow stew simmers along to the blues, a sizzling steak cooks fast like rockn’roll and enchiladas turn out better with Latin rhythm. I listen to a lot of Lila Downs while chopping tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. For soups I prefer a little reggae and salads go well with country music.

In cooking, as in religion, there are commandments, meaning there are definite do-not-do’s or cardinal sins. I only adhere to three of these:

# 1: Do not overcook unless it’s a stew

# 2: Do not drown unless it’s a soup

# 3: Do not serve cold unless it’s a salad

There are exceptions. For example: you cannot overcook eggplant and there are occasions like parties where cooked food like salmon or roast can be served cold. And there are cold soups like gazpacho or warm salads like potato salad.

The main thing about cooking is that somebody appreciates the results. That’s why cooking is what brings people together, what builds memories and no celebration is complete without food. Lucky for me Clare is the most appreciative benefactor or my cooking skills. She always compliments me, never complains and always eats what I concoct. Happiness is good food and sharing it with the people you love.