In the past, HG enjoyed mackerel in its traditional marinated form, often found as an entree in Paris bistros and modest French eateries in New York’s West Side. Other than that, mackerel was an unknown food for HG — a mystery fish sometimes spotted in lurid tins in the dusty shelves of the supermarket. Little did HG know that he would one day meet Exquisite Maiko and sample her deft way with this fish, a fish that is found in abundance in the seas off Prince Edward Island. Yesterday, EM visited the fishing port of Naufrage and came away with a gift of a dozen mackerel pulled from the sea just hours before (Yes, the fishermen gave EM the fish for free because the catch is so abundant and there is no market for fresh mackerel on PEI. Go figure.). Last night, EM served the mackerel in three different forms: As thinly sliced sashimi on a platter beautifully garnished with slivers of tomato, scallion and ginger. As tataki, finely chopped and mixed with rice vinegar and other flavors and then topped with scallions and nori. As then as filets, grilled simply and consumed with a bit of soy sauce and sriracha. In addition, EM cooked some Mapo Tofu, tofu in a spicy, ground pork sauce. Sensational. Prince Edward Island is far from Japan but EM has made the HG/BSK kitchen into a tiny corner of culinary Tokyo.
Mussels are a significant part of the Prince Edward Island economy and a significant part of HG/BSK’s cuisine when they are in residence on the gentle green Island. Mussels steamed with onion, garlic, white wine, clam broth and parsley was on the menu last night. Gifted Daughter Lesley did the preparation and added her own touch: Chunks of hot and spicy Chorizo sausage. Made the dish memorable. Lesley preceded this with something she had enjoyed many times while living in Venice with her family: “schie” (tiny, baby shrimp) with soft, white polenta. Lesley reproduced this using the flavorful Newfoundland fresh water shrimp (purchased from the By the Bay Fish Mart in St. Peter’s) and stone ground grits. Demanding Lesley complained the American grits were not as smooth as Venetian polenta. No complaints from HG. Lesley had gently heated the shrimp with a nice mixture of white wine, olive oil and garlic. A sprinkling of hot pepper. HG found the shrimp married happily with the grits and did not pause before going in for a second…nay, third helping.
Dogs. These wonderful animals and their odd food habits have beguiled HG for many years. Some fifty years ago, HG had his first pet, a standard poodle named “Peaches.” (No pets for HG during the Great Depression. They were an avoidable luxury). Peaches ate everything in sight. He was naughty. He devoured a scrumptious whipped cream cake baked by HG/BSK’s Swedish au pair. HG had to chase the canine scoundrel to retrieve dinner after he plucked a sirloin from the barbecue. His toilet habits were deplorable. Nevertheless, Peaches was much loved. Peaches was followed by “Sassafrass,” a sweet Golden Lab. Sassy always ate his dinner with good appetite, glanced around, and then ate the dinner of our excellent blue-eyed cat, Starlight. Starry forgave him and they remained civilized companions. In Colorado, the HG/BSK dog was “Bobo”, a 150-pound Newfoundland. A gentle, intelligent giant. Bobo’s black coat shone because he ate so much olive oil-infused left over pasta. Bobo also loved stale baguettes. He would have a few nibbles and then bury the loaves. Archaeologists of the future will be confronted with this puzzle. Today, HG spent hours with “Pippi”, the delightful dog who is the ornament of Gifted Daughter Lesley/Profesore Massimo R.’s family. Pippi is a charming girl, part Cavalier King Charles, part poodle. A delightful, sensitive responsive companion. Pippi and HG shared a delicious pasta fritatta prepared by Lesley R.. Pippi licked HG’s fingers in appreciation. The little lady is a fan of good Italian cooking.
During the 50’s and 60’s, one of HG’s favorite New York restaurants was Al Cooper’s located in the Garment Center at 130 W. 36th Street. It was a steak house and its sirloins were on a par with those served at the great Christ Cella, the place which started “Steak Row” — that proliferation of bovine-centric eateries in the East 40’s. While Christ Cella catered to admen, P.R. professionals and sports figures, Al Cooper’s (because of location) was the favorite of fashion big shots. That’s where Christian Dior dined when he was in New York to meet with his U.S. affiliates. The majority of Al Cooper’s customers were Jewish so the restaurant had a number of down home Jewish treats on its menu: superior chopped liver and gefilte fish. During the spring and summer there was icy borscht plus fruit and vegetable dishes smothered in rich sour cream. HG usually ordered a Cooper specialty: A super thick cut of very tender boiled tongue served with superior creamed spinach and English mustard. A delicious dish that HG has never encountered in any other eatery.
Folks who forage for mushrooms are notoriously secretive. When they find a productive mushroom patch they keep the information to themselves. Strangers (and even close friends) find it best not to pry. HG contemplated this as Gifted Daughter Lesley set out to the Prince Edward Island Farmers Market in a quest for mushrooms. She returned with excellent chanterelles and oyster mushrooms as well as supermarket bought shitake and cremini varieties. She sauted these in olive oil with reconstituted Italian porcinis, chopped fresh garlic (plucked from the earth hours before being sold), chopped onions and lots of thyme and sage from the herb garden. This was served over Garafolo (HG’s favorite pasta brand) pappardelle. A true taste of Italy. Ah, if only The Good Fairy of Italian Cuisine had made an appearance and showered the dish with thin shavings of fresh white truffle, HG would have been transported to a heavenly clime. But, as it were, HG made do with second helpings of Lesley’s sublime dish.
This Prince Edward Island summer it has been a pleasure to both watch the preparation (and finally to eat) some of the variety of dishes in the repertoire of Exquisite Maiko. The food is Japanese but not ultra traditional: western influences pop up here and there and EM’s inventiveness adds unique layers to all of her dishes. Suffice it to say, there are many surprises. One night, HG presented EM with a thick filet of salmon. Usually, HG prepares this in the French bistro style–unilateral. That is, sauteing it skin side down without turning. Not EM. First, she cut the salmon into a dozen bite size pieces. (EM is not beguiled by the American practice of serving great haunches of roasted or broiled meat or overly large pieces of fish). The salmon pieces got a quick sizzle in corn oil and were then gently poached (in sake and a tiny bit of soy sauce) on a bed of slivered red peppers, carrots and onions. Accompanying this was a salad of cherry tomatoes and cucumber. What made this salad extraordinary was the play of textures. The cucumber was cut two ways: Into the thinnest spears imaginable and into thicker batons. The cherry tomatoes got a quick plunge into boiling water and were then peeled. It all made a marvelous meal but not easy to duplicate unless you have EM’s knife skills (which resemble those of a surgeon). On another evening, a neighbor presented us with some mackerel pulled from the sea earlier that day. HG had hopes of EM’s incomparable mackerel sashimi and sushi. Didn’t happen. EM examined the fish closely and determined they had been kept in water for too long after the catch. Still very edible but not quite right texturally for raw eating. So, EM fileted the fish, rinsed the filets in cold water and then dried them very carefully in layers of paper towels. They were then grilled for a few moments and served under a cloud of freshly grated daikon radish. Soy sauce and Japanese pepper were added. This was served with a salad which, once more, highlighted EM’s knife skills. First, EM made some super thin crepes made entirely of eggs. These were cut into uniform, matchstick sized pieces. A cucumber and slices of black forest ham also received the matchstick treatment. Transparent noodles were cooked, quickly chilled and rinsed unitl room temperature. (A light dressing of rice vinegar and soy sauce was added). EM placed equal sized mounds of cucumber, ham and egg on the bed of noodles. It made a pretty sight. Among the elements of EM’s approach appreciated by HG is EM’s lack of fear of high cholesterol animal fat. EM recognizes that fat is flavor. And, since animal fat is not found very much in the Japanese diet, EM pulls out all the stops when preparing a dish dependent on a fair amount of fat. This was the case of the oxtail broth/stew EM prepared on a recent stormy, unseasonably cold evening. The broth, long simmered, was clear and punched through with the flavor of black pepper; the surface glimmered with slicks of unctuous fat — just enough to make the broth savory yet not greasy. Of course, the perfectly beefy oxtails were rimmed with a juicy layer of fat. As HG writes this, HG eyes EM across the room: What other wonders does EM have up her kimono sleeve?
Birthday dinner for Gifted Daughter Lesley R. Simple and classic. Two big platters of dozens of Colville Bay oysters (the best in the world, attests Oyster Maven HG), a classic Prince Edward Island treat. Served on the HG/BSK deck overlooking the sea. Late sun. A gentle breeze. Cold beer and white wine. Perfect. Went indoors for steamed lobster. This is how HG does it: Two and 1/2 inches of sea water in a big pot. Bring the water to a boil. Put in the live lobsters. Return to a boil, cover the pot and let the lobsters steam for 18 minutes. Take them out. Let them “settle” to room temperature. Devour. The lobsters were accompanied by freshly made cole slaw and herb-flecked potato salad plus sliced tomatoes and crumbly feta. Before the lobster the birthday group knocked off some first-of-the-season corn on the cob served dripping with butter. Dessert was locally baked butter tarts. Laughter, love and many small gifts for the lovely birthday lady.
Gentle, green Prince Edward Island is known for many things: Warm ocean waters, beaches, Anne of Green Gables, mussels, potatoes, oysters, lobsters. Well, there is one more thing that should be added to that list: Very superior alcohol. The Myriad View, founded in 2006, is located near the town of Souris and overlooks scenic Rollo Bay. Myriad View describes itself as an “artisan distillery.” SJ discovered the place, while visiting the Colville Bay Oyster Co. a few weeks ago and bought some of their “Distilled Strait Gin.” This is what the label copy reads: “Crafted by the slow distillation of our purest grain spirit. Distilled through our unique blend of eight organic herbs and spices gathered from five continents. Sophisticated, elegant and smooth. For Gin lovers everywhere.” Yes, the prose is a bit flowery but it is not an exaggeration. HG is not a gin lover but Myriad View’s gin is unlike any HG ever tasted — wonderful bouquet of wild herbs and juniper reflected in extraordinarily complex, lush flavors. HG does not sully it by using it in cocktails. Drinks it over a bit of ice as an after dinner digestif. SJ reports that when he tasted the gin at the distillery and remarked how wonderful it was, the bee-hived woman behind the counter responded — in typically under-stated PEI fashion: “Well he (the distiller) does love his gin.” And Myriad View is not a one-trick-pony, HG’s pre-dinner drink is Myriad View’s Pastis. Some ice and water creates the desired cloudy effect and HG drinks it facing the sea and feeling like a character out of Marcel Pagnol. Pure Provence. Myriad View also crafts vodka and rum but HG will ignore them. Moderation has come late to HG.
When HG was growing up in The Bronx during the Great Depression, nothing was ever wasted. All left over vegetables and their peelings, etc. went into an improvised soup that HG’s mom enriched with meat and chicken scraps and their flavorful bones. Left over fish was chopped with onions and celery (plus Hellman’s Mayonnaise) to become fish salad. Stale challah (egg bread) was used for very good French toast. Stale rye and pumpernickel (White bread of the Wonder and Silvercup variety had no place in Mom’s kitchen) got the roller pin treatment to make breadcrumbs (no food processors in those days). Fruit past its prime was mixed with dried prunes and cinnamon. Then stewed into an acceptable dessert fruit compote. Little HG looked forward to Mom’s treatment of left over boiled (or mashed) potatoes. They were mixed with fried onion and beaten eggs, formed into pancakes, fried to a crisp and devoured (happily) with sour cream and black pepper. Last night, BSK made smashed potatoes — boiled Prince Edward Island potatoes chopped roughly with scallions and hot chicken broth. On this rainy afternoon, HG found the left overs in the fridge. Mixed them with a beaten egg. Formed them into little patties and fried them in corn oil. Dusted them with sea salt and smoked pepper. Greek yogurt accompanied. HG was a kid again.