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Archive for January, 2013

Lobster is a nice, sweet meat
(July 2012)
“What about this one?” I say, holding up a not-quite-wide-open shell, soot-black and glossy with curried cream. “Dead before the pot? Or after?”
We’re seated on the second story balcony of a downtown Charlottetown pub. Jazz notes are rising from street musicians on the street below. The air is comfortably cool. And I’ve just ordered my first ever bowl of mussels (to share).
When it comes to a love of seafood, I’m a late bloomer.
Having grown up on mostly landfood, I went from farmer’s granddaughter and butcher’s stepdaughter, to spending my teenage years on the other side of my family tree, as a Seventh Day Adventist vegetarian. If I did eat seafood, Levitical-type attention was paid to whether, in life, the fish had swum with fins and scales.
Therefore, my longstanding aversion to bi-valves and crustaceans has deep and twisty roots.
Now, as I stick a slender fork between two halves of shell and finagle an orange oval of flesh from its once home, I swallow an upwelling of panic and open wide.
“P.E.I. mussels are renowned for having the highest meat counts in the world,” a reader will later tell me.
And?
Because I’d put off trying West Coast mussels every chance I’d ever had, I have nothing with which to compare. But these mussels are sweet and pleasing to the bite. They are meaty, yes, and I conclude that I rather like them.
Given the right setting, I could even see myself acquiring a hankering. Maybe.
But more importantly, this shellfish novice suddenly feels ready to move on from the safer waters of haddock and ahi that started off our week in the Maritimes, and consider other things.
Having eaten mussels, maybe raw Malpeque oysters from Raspberry Point will be next. Perhaps even something with an exoskeleton and pincers and alien-like eyes suspended on waving sticks. Like the lobsters that seem to follow us everywhere we go.
And I do mean everywhere. Including, we’ll later discover, the Departures area of the Halifax airport, where one can have a live lobster packed up to take home in a cardboard carrier that is essentially a pet caddy packed with ice.
For now, however, as we drive towards our next meal, a sign under a set of golden arches makes pull a U-turn.
“McLobster is Back!” the sign proclaims.
And while this certainly is not will not be where I will encounter lobster for the first time! we stop, click, and post photographic evidence on Facebook for all of our friends in the West.
Later, it’s in a salt box of a seaside restaurant in Cavendish P.E.I. where I finally work up an appetite for something the Maritimes is famous for: a lobster roll.
Mounded on a soft pretzel bun, the crustacean meat is tossed in a light mayonnaise dressing, and is firm and sweet and everything (I imagined) it should be.
A perfect lunch in a perfect place. So that, before we board our flight home later in the week, I’ll take a good long look in that tank in the Halifax airport, considering whether I want to travel with a giant sea bug by my feet. And whether, once I get it home, I’ll be able to dispatch it into a pot.
I’ll look at Chefhusband, who will fix me with an are-you-kidding look that lets me know he’s not interested in a lobster pet. And when we take off, we’ll already be planning when to come back, and what to eat when we do.
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P.E.I. Lobster Rolls
1 1/2 pounds cooked lobster meat (4-1.5 pound lobsters)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
flaked kosher salt/freshly ground black pepper
4 pretzel rolls (or other soft artisan buns), split and lightly toasted
melted butter for brushing
Extract meat from lobsters; discard shells or use for stock. Chop meat into bite-sized pieces.
In a bowl, gently toss lobster with mayo, lemon juice and celery. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Refrigerate 10 to 15 minutes, allowing flavours to develop.
Brush cut sides of pretzel rolls with melted butter. Stuff with lobster salad and serve.

 

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By the Bay
(July 2012)
On Wednesday, we drive towards the Bay of Fundy, en route from Halifax to Prince Edward Island.
After stopping to take pictures of salt-sanded outbuildings and fence lines, and wildly-growing wildflowers, we arrive at the Bay’s interpretive centre where we’re reminded to be aware of the shoreline at all times. “The volume of water that will return to the Bay over the next six hours is greater than than all the fresh water lakes and rivers on earth.”
Once outside with this information, I try to imagine what it means. But while my mind telescopes for perspective, I find there is none. It’s simply not possible to gain a sense of such volume.
And so we walk.
We walk down a tree- and berry-lined path.
We walk down and down an encasement of wooden stairs. We hop onto a rock and then down further still, onto another, then another. We step onto the ocean floor, where the high tide markers suddenly rise five stories above us.
I think to myself how it’s possible that, only hours ago, a whale swam through this very passage which is now bare enough to walk on while carrying a camera and a red plastic bucket we use to collect a few rocks, a few shells, and a possible fossil.
At sand level, I pick up tiny hermit crabs that reach around their shells to touch my thumb, then settle them back in their tide pools, wondering about life in such a dramatically cycling waterscape.
Above are knotted ropes that dangle from trees atop stone towers that will become islands by mid-afternoon: lifelines for anyone caught spelunking in sea caves, or simply caught daydreaming.
I find it’s impossible to not imagine being marooned atop one of these islands, and I take a mental inventory of things that ought to be in our backpack should we find ourselves climbing out of the tide to relative safety.
In truth, everything I think of would better fill a picnic basket. And later, as we continue to travel through Nova Scotia, across a corner of New Brunswick, and the circle drives of P.E.I., we’ll discover all the edible items we could ever want to be stranded with.
There will be fresh raspberries and blueberries, and every kind of vegetable, all sold roadside, by an honor system of taking what you want and leaving money in a wooden box.
We’ll discover a gouda farm and more ice cream stands per capita than seems reasonable, even to us. And we’ll find The Maroon Pig, a bakery in Georgetown where the once-mayor/maker-of-sea-glass-jewellery will send us for olive-studded focaccia. The kind of bread that might make a couple of foolish married people imagine an accidental picnic on one of Fundy’s tidal islands.
For now, though, it’s time to be on our way.
And so we walk back across the tidal flats, climb over one rock, then another and another. Up the wooden stairs and back to our rental car, where we set shoes caked with red mud to dry in the trunk, along with a few rocks, a few shells, and a possible fossil.
“Georgetown” Focaccia
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 Tbs active dry yeast
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp flaked kosher salt
extra-virgin olive oil
grape tomatoes and green olives
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Proof yeast in water. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk in olive oil.
In another bowl, whisk together flour and salt.
Add half of the flour to the yeast mixture and stir (with dough hook) on low, just to mix. Add remaining flour. Mix 3 minutes more. Increase speed to medium-high and mix for 8 minutes.
Transfer dough to an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled. Punch down and let rise a second time. Shape into a ball, transfer to a clean bowl. Brush with olive oil and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 24 hours.
Take dough from fridge an hour before baking. Preheat oven to 425F, with a baking stone set inside.
Spread parchment paper on a baking peel and pour dough onto paper. Brush with oil and top with olives and halved grape tomatoes and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Slide focaccia, along with paper, onto stone. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until lightly golden.

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(July 2012)
An Ahi Moment 
In historic Lunnenberg we catch up with tall ships at anchor and fling open the doors to our senses.
There’s a chorus of gulls. Salt in the sea-moistened air. Dense clusters of clammed-up mussels anchored by their whiskers to wooden docks at low tide.
And there is colour.
Along a shore that rises into a gently-sloped amphitheater over the Atlantic, a prism of houses and shops seem to be the creation of a master pastry chef. A fairytale town created from painted sugar cookies, where a kitchen store called Cilantro is green to go with its name. Where a trattoria seems to take its inspiration from nectarines and cream, and an optometrist’s clinic is wild with the colour of strawberries.
For every blue and purple, for every yellow, red, green or aquamarine, there is a natural reference that comes from beach pebbles, wildflowers, sea ice, and sand-washed shards of sea glass. From tree, vine, and cane fruits. From fish scales and heron feathers. Leafy green sprigs and red red mud.
Back at home, our house is a dove-soft grey, and colour sprouts from seasonal planters, taken down in winter. A subtle backdrop that, until now, I was certain I preferred.
Until now, I’ve never supposed I might want to live in a purple house. Although suddenly, I can see myself through the kitchen window of a grape-juice sided two storey, stirring batter to go with wild raspberries that seem to grow along every path-side thicket in Nova Scotia.
I take a hundred pictures. I take a hundred more.
Then, on the docks of this iconic town, we stop for a patio lunch of battered haddock and chips, intended to ease my way into an intention of turning a lifelong seafood aversion into a passion.
This week I plan to work my way all the way up to staring down a lobster.
After scooping flakes of fish out of a heavy cocoon of batter, however, I’m no farther along. And when we farewell what is surely the most picture perfect town in the entire world, I leave it wondering whether the trattoria might have been the better choice.
In Halifax the following morning, we board a boat and set off to watch for whales that do not, this day, decide to watch back.
We know they’re there, however. And somehow just being on the surface of their world helps us better value the depths beneath.
After watching comes a late lunch, and having so far failed to have a seafood moment, we walk up and down the docks and finally choose another ocean-view patio. We order crab cakes, smoked Atlantic salmon and seared-rare ahi tuna encrusted with cracked black pepper and fragrant spices, sliced thin and served on a tomato bun.
With one bite, as the flesh yields to the soft pressure of my tongue, I have what I can only describe as a conversion experience.
If seared rare ahi tuna were my last meal, I would leave this world wanting nothing else to eat.
On the seafood adventurist’s scale, it’s not yet lobster, I know. Or even mussels or raw oysters, which are also on my list.
But for now, as we dip our forks into the ocean, there is nothing but time ahead of us. A week’s worth of diving deeper into the ocean of food that surrounds us.
Seared-Rare Ahi Tuna
1 1/2 pound center-cut Ahi tuna fillet (line-caught)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon coarse black pepper, freshly ground
2 tbsp vegetable oil
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Combine spices and spread out on a plate. Roll fillet in spices, pressing gently.
Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Sear tuna on all sides and remove from heat. Let rest 5 minutes.
To serve, slice thinly using a very sharp slicing or sushi knife. Serve as an appetizer with slices of baguette, or pile slices onto tomato buns (or other artisan rolls), with mayonnaise, sliced ripe tomatoes and baby lettuce.

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1 cup flour
1 1/3 cup beer
2 egg whites, whipped to soft peaks
generous pinch sea salt
freshly ground pepper (several turns of a pepper mill)
1/4 tsp cayenne
4 (9 ounce/250 gram) fillets haddock (or cod)

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Whisk together flour and seasonings. Whisk in beer, then fold in egg whites.

Heat oil to 370F. Dip fish in batter. Lower into oil. Fry for a few minutes, turning over, until crispy and golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season with sea salt.

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1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

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Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla seeds.

Whisk together flour and baking powder.

Blend in half of the flour into butter mixture, followed by the milk, then the remaining flour mixture, until incorporated.

Divide into 5 balls. Place on a floured surface and flatten to 3/4-inch thick rounds. Cut each into 4 triangles and arrange on Silpat-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 400F for 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

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Raspberry Rhubarb Grunt
1 pound rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup golden brown sugar
1/2 cup water
4 cups ripe raspberries
In a wide (9-inch diameter), straight-sided skillet or pot, over medium-low heat, stew rhubarb together with water and sugar, until rhubarb is tender. Add raspberries and cook until juices run.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings:
1/3 cup milk
2 Tbs melted butter
3/4 cup flour
2 Tbs granulated sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs granulated sugar
1/8 tsp cinnamon
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Combine milk and butter. Combine flour, sugar and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to wet and bring together with a fork until combined. Drop by tablespoons onto simmering fruit. Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over dumplings. Cover with lid, reduce heat to low, and let dumplings poach for 15 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream or drizzled cream.

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Cheesecake Sundaes with Black and Blueberry-Rum Sauce
4 cups vanilla ice cream
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup whipping cream
2 Tbs granulated sugar
crushed graham crackers
Using a wooden spoon, beat together cream cheese, cream and sugar until smooth. Beat in ice cream until incorporated. Transfer to an airtight container and refreeze.
Serve scoops of ice cream with crushed graham crackers and black and blueberry-rum sauce.


1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1-2 tbsp cold water
3 tbsp lime juice
1/3 cup demerara rum

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Into a medium pot over low heat, combine berries and sugar. Crush half of the berries with a wooden spoon, then stir until juices run and sugar dissolves.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch with water and lime juice. Add to berries, increase heat to medium. Stir briskly until the cornstarch is cooked and juices have thickened somewhat.

Adjust for acidity and sweetness as desired. Stir in rum and cook a minute longer. Cool and serve.

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