HG has always loved fish cakes but has rarely had good ones (except in London and at the Downy Flake restaurant on the island of Nantucket where they are served with a scrumptious egg sauce). Splendid fish cakes are (happily) turned out by Brilliant Lesley R. And, that’s what La Famiglia Prince Edward Island ate last night with copious amounts of sauteed snow pea pods and Theresa’s Mustard Pickles. Here’s how BLR made them. A modest amount of mashed potatoes was added to two pounds of poached cod. This was mixed with chopped onions, fresh garlic, garlic scapes and parsly. Some beatend eggs bound the mixture. The cakes were fried to crispness and then finished in the oven. Before going in the oven, each cake got a dollop of garlic mayonnaise enriched with some Sriracha. This gave the cakes interior moisture and a bit of heat. Post dinner watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. The spectacle confirmed La Famiglia’s belief in English eccentricity. Engagingly crazy.
Classic summer day on the Prince Edward Island beach. Blazing sun. Calm seas and, thankfully, warm currents. Sun bathing, strolling for beach glass, reading and many sea swims. Paradise. HG was a very hungry old boy when dinner time arrived. HG had his usual exuberant cocktail of vodka and Aperol (the delightful Italian bitters that is a favorite in Venice) as he listened to Mozart and watched the drama of light over the sea in the lingering northern early evening. Exquisite Maiko prepared a big platter of scallop pancakes (chopped scallops, mushrooms, cabbage, bok choy, scallions, flour, eggs and sesame oil comprised the batter). EM also did her signature dish of fresh, lightly cooked sole with fried, crisp garlic chips. This was accompanied by farmers market snow pea pods. As is the family tradition, the meal ended with a cheese platter, sweet butter and a baguette only hours from the oven. There was a nice surprise. Brilliant Lesley R. and husband Massimo had brought back from their year-long Italian stay a unique (and expensive) treasure: Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale Di Modena D.O.P. This is the real stuff, balsamic vinegar that is more syrup than vinegar and produced by a time honored, highly regulated processes in the households of Modena. Italian culinary craftsmanship at its best. The balsamic vinegar sold in the United States (and which has destroyed millions of salads) is some kind of adulterated crap that bears the same relationship to the real stuff that Velveeta does to parmigiano reggiano. Anyway, Brilliant Lesley put a tiny drop on a chunk of cheese and this provided a flavor explosion. Can’t wait to put a drop on a bowl of fresh raspberries. Viva Italia!!
Blustery winds and bright sun on Prince Edward Island today after a night of heavy rain. Invigorating walks by the sea and through the blueberry fields. Exquisite Maiko made a lush Japanese version of Pad Thai for lunch. DInner was a platter of EM’s marinated mackerel with cherry tomatoes and slivers of cucumber. BSK blackened and peeled some peppers. Added anchovies from a crock SJ brought from Brooklyn. Meaty anchovies, not too salty. Much better than the tinned variety. Then, a steaming pot of BSK’s kale, onion, garlic and bean soup enhanced by local back bacon. BSK added chunks of Cajun sausage and Hungarian garlic sausage. Hearty eating. Green salad. Canadian cheeses (a remarkable blue from Quebec) and some PEI plum jam. Watched a very dramatic sunset and so to bed to sleep the sleep of the righteous and the full tummied.
Family R. has arrived — Profesore/Dottore Massimo, Brilliant Lesley, Italian-movie-star-look- alike Sofia. Lots of swimming on a hot, sunny day. And, of course, family feasting. HG and Massimo shucked two dozen oysters. A bowl of EM’s freshly pickled young daikon radishes. Smoked salmon with capers and onions. Exquisite Maiko’s mackerel sashimi. Then a big roast free range chicken. Smashed PEI potatoes enriched with olive oil, chicken broth and scallions. Fresh green beans. Goat brie and ciabatta with red wine to finish. Early bedtime for sun kissed folk.
Quietly, deftly and utilizing the knife skills of a surgeon, Exquisite Maiko turns out family meals that would win her three star Michelin status in France. Her dishes vary from ethereally light and crisp fried foods (like tempura) to juicy and savory (her homemade gyoza) to screamingly fresh and raw (varieties of sashimi, sushi and pickles) to powerfully robust (stews and hotpots). All of these dishes provide visual as well as gustatory pleasure. An EM dish is always a memorable still life. Her recent Caprese salad looked like a Mondrian with its linear precision. Last night showed EM at the height of her powers. Dinner was to be centered around pork belly obtained from one of Prince Edward Island’s Heritage butchers. EM’s rich, savory pork belly in a sweet bonito flake broth takes some effort. It is marinated, then seared (caramelizing the sweet proteins) and finally subjected to a long, slow braise to bring the belly to the height of succulence. It is then refrigerated for 24 hours allowing most of the fat to be skimmed off prior to re-heating. The pork belly was served with hot mustard, soft boiled farm fresh eggs and slightly bitter, sauteed daikon radish greens that were the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the broth — A dish for the ages. This amazing pork belly was preceded by an EM improvisation, two varieties of mackerel sashimi, one flavored with ginger and the other with oil and garlic. Both were accompanied by thin slivers of scallion. The mackerel improvisation came about this way. HG mentioned in casual conversation with the woman clerk at the local liquor store that HG and EM are fond of fresh mackerel. Please note: Mackerel, in order to be good, has to be very fresh. Like bluefish, it is at its best a few hours after capture. The liquor store woman said she and a friend would be fishing on the weekend, would haul up a load of mackerel (regarded as a junk fish on PEI) and would be glad to give us some. Got a call last night that they were pulling into harbor with plenty of mackerel. SJ dashed down and came back with three dozen. With knife flashing, EM fileted the fish just plucked from the sea. The resulting sashimi was a revelation. Better than any tuna tartare (or any other fish tartare) HG has sampled in big ticket Paris, London and New York restaurants. As HG writes, salted mackerel filets are air drying in the sunny breeze. EM intends to grill them tomorrow night. Oh, joy!!
Nice day on the sunny and breezy Prince Edward Island beach. Appetites were well honed. In fact, La Famille HG/BSK was famished. Fortunately, SJ was in charge of cuisine. Wow. The guy really delivered. Earlier in the day SJ picked up some PEI Tamworth (a heritage breed pig) pork ribs from local butcher Lloyd’s Specialty Meats. SJ dry rubbed these racks of high quality pork ribs in brown sugar, cumin, adobo, garlic powder, all spice, thyme, chile powder and crushed chipotle peppers. He then slowly smoked them over white oak. It was the type of BBQ that reached the kind of flavor crescendo that HG had only encountered some years ago at Corky’s in Memphis. No sauce. Just fragrant, super spicy meat. Tennessee/Mississippi cooking at its best. SJ (on the previous day) had made some super chicken broth. Last night, BSK enhanced the broth with chopped kale,white beans and chunks of grilled Cajun sausage. The meal started with mozzarella bocconcini, kumatoes and basil doused in splendid olive oil. Lots of red wine and and a baguette from the talented baker at Cardigan Farmers Market. Yes. Life (if you measure it in culinary delight) can be very good.
SJ, Exquisite Maiko and the dynamic duo, six year old Haru and four month old Teru, have joined HG and BSK on Prince Edward Island. Family fun. Much frolicking on the beach and in the sea. Sand castles, sand fortresses plus ambitious water works. And, of course, when Exquisite Maiko is present there is extraordinary food. Tempura is wonderful stuff but in Exquisite Maiko’s hands it verges on the sublime. Light. Greaseless. Crispy exteriors enclosing lush interiors. Slices of fresh haddock. Scallops from the waters off Nova Scotia. Shrimp. Whole cremini mushroom caps. Cauliflower and broccoli. EM served these delights with bowls of cold soba noodles in mentsuyu broth. The soba was topped with slivers of nori and chopped scallions. Very pungent horseradish and Japanese red pepper mix added some fire. How does EM do it? Just Far East magic.
American provincialism is exemplified by attitudes toward Canada. This vast, greatly diversified country is still viewed by most Americans as an icy wasteland filled with igloos and polar bears. Only a very rare American can identify the Canadian provinces and recognize their geographic and climatic differences; on the other hand, Canadians know a great deal about the United States. However, they are puzzled by the American attitudes toward health care, abortion and gay rights. Many Canadians feel that Americans are perpetually fighting battles resolved by them years ago. Maybe so. In viewing Canadian culinary attitudes, HG is bemused by the love for poutine, a vile cheese curd and gravy substance served over french fries. Canadians also have an unusual affection for Tim Horton’s an omnipresent fast food chain specializing, as far as HG can tell, in bad coffee and stale doughnuts. HG rates it very low. HG does, however, share the Canadian passion for butter tarts. These are delicious tarts that look like mini pecan pies. No nuts but lots of raisins and not overly sweet. HG discovered these tarts at the beginning of his marriage to Canadian BSK. A parcel of butter tarts baked by BSK’s late grandmother arrived and HG became addicted. HG has devoured butter tarts all over Canada. But, the best were those prepared by grandmother Beatrice Page Kent. Curiously, you can never find butter tarts in the United States. Can it be that the crafty Canadians have forbidden their export?
Creative. Fusion. Molecular. Sous vide. Foam. These are some of the techniques and buzzwords used in creating and describing much of today’s cutting edge cuisine. “Piffle and folderol,” snorts HG. Line up all these scientist/five star chefs from Grant Achatz to Ferran Adria with their finest creations and HG, the gourmand will still state, unequivically: The key to good cooking is simple preparations using fresh, locally raised produce (organic, of course), local seafood and local meat and fowl.
Witness last night’s dinner at HG and BSK’s home by the sea on Prince Edward Island. A few little neck clams (harvested that day) steamed in a bit of white wine. A filet of hake (caught 70 miles away) gently sauteed with ginger and garlic. A stir fry of local snow pea pods (picked that morning). Some tiny PEI potatoes from a neighbor’s farm with butter and dill. Finished with a wedge of gouda cheese flavored with fenugreek (a specialy of a magical local woman known as “The Gouda Lady”). This was accompanied by a glass of red wine (sadly not a PEI product) and another local specialty, Theresa’s Pumpkin and Orange Preserves. Were folks eating better in El Bulli or Alinea? HG doubts it.
There’s a snake in very Eden. And, in HG and BSK’s personal Eden, Prince Edward Island, the serpent is the heavy Canadian tax placed on alcohol. This means good wine costs over 20 bucks a bottle and for a guzzler like HG this is prohibitive. So, modest (just a shade above plonk) wine has to be the choice. How to make the tipple drinkable? HG drinks red wine with ice cubes and white wine with ice and soda — a spritzer. For some reason, it works. HG’s pal, Peter Hellman, journalist, author and noted wine authority, would not approve. But, Hellman is a fastidious wine sipper while HG believes in overabundance. A sidebar: Many years ago, Hellman stocked his valuable wine collection in HG’s cool Montclair, N.J., cellar. HG got into the habit, when out of wine, to grab a bottle from the Hellman collection. When the time came for Hellman to retrieve his collection, he found it oddly diminished. For some reason, the friendship survived though many excellent bottles did not. (Here’s an HG post listing Hellman’s books. Moving. illuminating. Entertaining).