Roasted Carrots and Cabbage

Roasted Carrots and Cabbage with Rosemary

Easy and quick, this roasted pan of veggies is as fun to design as it is to eat. When peeling or slicing onions and cabbage do not pare off the core or stem end which holds the piece together when turning over halfway through the bake to expose all that caramelized deliciousness.    

2-4 tbsp olive oil

5 large carrots, peeled and cut into 4-5 inch sticks

6 cabbage wedges, core attached

1 small onion, peeled, quartered with core attached

10-12 cherry or grape tomatoes

4 garlic cloves, peeled or not

Rosemary, dried or fresh, de-stemmed

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Chili pepper flakes 

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a rimmed baking sheet. 

Arrange carrots in a line down the middle and place 3 cabbage wedges above and below.  Scatter over with onion, tomatoes, garlic cloves and rosemary.  Sprinkle liberally with salt, freshly ground pepper and chilli pepper flakes, if desired.  Drizzle remaining olive oil on top. 

Bake on the top rack for 15 min, flip veggies over and return to oven until golden brown and fragrant, 15-20 more minutes.

 

Stir-Fry Success

The key to a great stir-fry lies in a few ground rules.

Number One: Don’t even think of turning on the heat and pulling out your wok if all your veggies and proteins aren’t prepped.

Number Two: Rely on a quick marinade to make proteins sing.

Number Three: Stir-fry pork, beef, chicken, seafood or tofu after you have stir-fried your perfectly chopped veggies. Keep the two separately stir-fried and mix it all together at the finale.

What makes stir-fried veggies so deliciously tender-crisp? Even size. Chop each carrot into a match-stick or uber-thin slice, preferably on a slant. Cut every broccoli or cauliflower floret as if identical. Shave off slices of Napa, green or purple cabbage.

If cutting veg isn’t your thing, you can go for bigger pieces, just make sure they are all the same size to ensure even cooking. Onions, bell peppers and bok choy stems stir-fry effortlessly if cut into equal-sized quarters or eighths. Green onions taste great cut into two-inch pieces. So do leeks. Green beans, snow and snap peas simply need stems removed.

Whether it is tofu, ground pork or sliced beef, all will taste better if they are marinated in soy and sherry for at least 10 minutes. I keep half pound portions of pork tenderloin, flank steak or boneless chicken thighs tucked away in my freezer. All are easier to slice thinly when partially frozen and can defrost fully while marinating.

A tablespoon of corn starch in a marinade will help thicken a stir-fry’s essential sauce. Nobody likes an oily stir-fry yet many stir-fry beginners add too much oil to the equation. The trick is to heat a dry wok on high heat (preferably gas) add oil (preferably a neutral organic one) and swirl it around to cover the wok’s sides, then start tossing in ingredients, very quickly.

Said ingredients must be ready within reach from the stovetop, including water or stock, essential for steaming vegetables once the wok gets dry, a phenom that happens within the first few minutes of your average stir-fry. Splash in half a cup of water or stock, put the lid on and let your stir-fry cook itself, gradually adding veggies starting with the longest-to-cook ones.

Seasoning is essential to taste and rare is the stir-fry in my kitchen that doesn’t contain freshly grated ginger and garlic. Because they are grated and cook in an instant, these seasonings can be added into the protein’s marinade or tossed in at the very beginning, stir-fried for just a few seconds before adding longer-cooking, bigger pieces of veggies such as onion, cabbage, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy stems, Gai lan stems, chayote or kohlrabi.

The last thing I might throw into a stir-fry is sliced leaves, bean sprouts, snow peas or freshly chopped herbs. In the case of this recipe, I tossed in whole basil leaves just before sliding the entire event on to a big white platter.

Stir-Fried Pork with Peppers and Black Bean Sauce

Serve this on steamed rice or noodles.

1/2 lb/200g pork tenderloin, thinly sliced against the grain (or firm tofu)

1 Tbsp corn starch

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp cooking sherry or wine

1/2 tsp sambal oelek *optional

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup neutral oil, divided in half

1-inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated

2 cloves garlic, finely grated

1/4 cup fermented black beans or 1 tbsp Lee Kum Kee black bean and garlic sauce

4 green onions, sliced into 2 inch pieces

1 small red onion, cut into eighths

2 bell peppers, thinly sliced

2 cups green beans, topped and tailed

1/2 cup water

8 leaves fresh basil or mint

In a medium bowl, combine sliced pork and corn starch. Add soy, sherry, sambal oelek, sesame oil, sugar, black pepper and set aside to marinate at least 10 minutes.

Heat wok on high. Add 2 tbsp oil and swirl around the sides. With a large Chinese spatula/shovel stir-fry ginger and garlic for 30 seconds, add black beans, green onions, red onion, bell peppers and green beans. Stir and cook until wok gets dry, add water, drizzling around the sides of the hot wok, stir until combined. Put the wok lid on. Wait until veggies are tender crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to platter.

Return the same wok to high heat, add remaining 2 tbsp of oil, swirl around sides. Add marinated pork or tofu, stir fry until golden brown, adding a tablespoon or more of water or stock if wok gets dry. Add reserved vegetables and fresh basil or mint. Stir to combine. Transfer to platter and serve immediately.

Chinese Steamed Fish

As we usher in the New Chinese Year today, let’s eat fish!  Not only is fish a fine food to eat on Friday (especially if you’re Catholic) but if you’re speaking Mandarin, fish (鱼 yu) symbolizes prosperity, because  yu is a  homonym for surplus.

Steaming is a healthy and delicious way to cook fish creating a sumptuous sauce to spoon over rice.  Moreover, steam heat is gentle yet fast.  Cooking is done in 8-10 minutes.  Once your fillets pass the flake-test,  you can leave your fish covered in the steamer and it will stay warm while you set the table or finish stir-frying some Chinese greens like bok choy or gai lan.

Chinese-style steamed fish

1 lb/450 gm       sea bass, cod, salmon, haddock, tilapia or halibut fillet, cut into 4 pieces

Sauce:

2 TBS    black bean and garlic sauce OR 2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp      toasted sesame oil

2 TBS      water

2 TBS      Japanese mirin or cooking sherry

1 three-inch knob ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks

3 green onion OR 1 small leek, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 TBS      fresh coriander, chopped

Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Place fillets in a heat-proof dish that will fit inside an aluminum or bamboo steamer. (Or, create your own steamer by placing a rack set in a large skillet.)

Using a spoon, place an equal amount of sauce on each fillet. Sprinkle over with ginger matchsticks and green onions or leek.

Bring several inches of water to boil in the steamer. Wearing oven gloves, place the dish with fillets into the steamer.

Cover and steam 8-10 minutes on high, or until the fish flakes at the touch of a fork and is opaque in the middle.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve over steamed rice.

© 2015 Madeleine Greey

Finding Spot Prawns

It was the Insulation Guy who got me started on the Spot Prawns. He’d just removed his gloves to down a glass of water and was looking around my kitchen, sniffing out my latest exploit, staring at rows of hot and boiled jam jars clicking shut in BerNARdin burps.

“You like to cook?” he asked.

I laughed.

“Lucky living here, then! All the blackberries you could eat in a lifetime. I’ve got a secret spot where there’s so many I can fill the back of my pickup truck in an hour.”

Classic.  Every foodie forager on Vancouver Island seems to have a fabulous tale like this. Insulation guy had barely taken a breath before he started in with more.

“And the Spot Prawns… well geesh, they do a huge run, right over there,” he said, pointing out my kitchen window. “Near Salt Spring. We haul out hundreds during the season.”

“How?” I asked.

“We drop traps and pull ‘em up!”

He licked his lips and rubbed his hands together, savouring the thought.

“It’s like manna from the heavens.”

I didn’t see Insulation Guy again but kept thinking about those prawns. Yes, I braved thorns as big as nails and picked buckets full of blackberries, but we had neither boat nor trap to pull any semblance of seafood from the ocean.

Then our friend Dan motored into the Ladysmith marina wearing his trademark grin and aviation sunglasses.  We were off to spend a night at their cottage on DeCourcy, a nearby gulf island where everyone has a generator and a heart-stopping view of the surrounding mountains.

“The tide is low,” yells Dan over the boat’s motor. “So, we’ll just wave at Annabelle and the kids as we pass by the cottage then park the boat around the back.”

Low and high tides, undercurrents and water depths are the common language of any BC boater and Dan loves every drop. Whenever he’s behind the wheel, he’s smiling ear to ear. No matter if the boat thunks and crashes against oncoming surf or the wind slaps like an ice-cold face cloth, he’s blissed.

“My friend John lives over there,” he shouts, pointing to a rocky outcrop barely larger than a hockey rink.

“And this place? Bill built this. Incredible, isn’t it? And all by himself!”

I can barely see the outline of a structure. We are whipping by another stony outcropping. Rocks. Trees. Water. Land of the adventuresome. Dan is a great guide knowing every nook and cranny, not to mention all the locals and their stories. But it’s lost on me. The boat’s motor is loud, and wind is whistling through my ears, until I catch a fragment.

“You pull what?” I ask.

“We pull our prawns right over there. We’re having them for supper!”

I’d heard tell of Spot Prawns in Toronto, decades back, when trendy chefs first jumped on this wild, BC treasure. Once or twice I’d seen them dancing inside live tanks in Chinatown, looking more like insects than fish. But it was on Dan’s boat where I learned the little critters walked into baited traps plunged at least 200 feet below, the rope’s end marked in the choppy waters by a bright buoy.

One hot summer day we went with Dan’s family for an exciting “pull” as son Hogan tugged the cage trap out of the water, grabbing the rope hand over hand, predicting (or boasting) a good haul of “at least 60”.

Hogan guessed it right but took no interest in the gruesome act that followed: On-site head removal. His nine-year-old sister Naomi was a seasoned pro, twisting them off briskly with each snap of her wrist, tossing dislocated craniums into the sea over her right shoulder as her left hand dropped  still squirming, headless prawns into a pail of sea water at her feet.

Dinner was an intoxicating feast of lime and cilantro marinated shell-on prawns, flash-fried for two or three minutes until perfect pink by chef Annabelle in the kitchen her father had designed, every wall another floor-to-ceiling window overlooking DeCourcy’s rocky coast and glistening sea below.

Once Insulation Guy and Dan’s prawn pull had whetted our addiction, David and I began to search for more sources.  We went on a road trip to French Creek Seafood Ltd and gasped at the price of their retail prawns, double the easy $20 cash asked by the First Nations fisherman with a freezer chest in the parking lot. Closer to home, we scoured the commercial fishing docks at Cowichan Bay and came upon a boisterous, beer drinking bunch just finishing a day’s work.

They had nothing to sell, yet were full of empty promises, “Tomorrow. Same time!”

(Nada. We were dumb enough to return.)

Prawn-duped time after time, David and I finally met our culinary saviour. Bugs.

I won’t tell you his first or last name or where he pulls them… or how. After four, newbie years on V.I., we have come to learn some of the island’s food codes.  We abide faithfully, if we want to stay sated.

Once in a while Bugs’ unidentified wife hands me a parcel the size of a basketball, tightly taped  in a sheet of foamy PVC then she winks. These prawns are headless and packed in solid ice, all curly and brown-pink. They take a few hours to thaw in my sink, surrounded by water in a silver bowl.

Photo by Emma Barrett

It’s an easy shelling endeavour when both David and Krystal dig in to help. I suggest leaving tails on but am quickly out voted. The shells are surprisingly prickly, a reminder of their wildness, like blackberries. Each have bright white spots on the first and fifth abdominal segments, according to BCprawns.ca and a translucent red-orange carapace with white stripes on the thorax. And this fun-fact: Every spot prawn starts life as a male and transitions to female in its fourth year- a piece of trivia worth dropping among LGBTQ circles these days.

Spot Prawns have 10 pairs of legs, five for swimming and the rest for walking, all of which come in handy when escaping an octopus, one of their biggest predators. Human predators, whether it be recreational harvesters like Bugs or eager eaters like me can eat prawns raw or cooked. Many prawn aficionados insist on cooking in the shell to enjoy a moist and juicy feast. There are dozens of ways to prepare this delicacy but we all agree on one vital standard: the shorter the cooking time, the better.

Photo by Emma Barrett

Which leads me to stir-fries and the wisdom of Cantonese cuisine when it comes to seafood. Think freshly grated ginger, cooking wine, a little garlic and fermented black beans. These babies have a salty bite and depth of flavour that magically enhances each sweet Spot Prawn mouthful. Luckily, Lee Kum Kee in Hong Kong bottles black bean and garlic sauce and it’s easily sourced in most supermarkets. But user beware. Fermented black beans from a bottled garlic sauce or in dried form can overwhelm. Start small. You can always add more afterwards when tasting for seasoning.

Oh, and another thing — Never ever divulge more than the code name of your Spot Prawn supplier on your blog unless you really want to express deep gratitude to Bugs, in a local Vancouver Island kind of way.

madofood.com/…inese-braised-pork-belly/ ‎

Spot Prawns in Black Bean Sauce

The trick to a great stir-fry is to cook the protein and vegetables separately, combining both at the finale with lots of built-in sauce.  BC Spot Prawns or shrimp are juicy and firm when quickly flash-cooked but toughen and dry out with every crucial minute of over-cooking.  Serve this over steamed rice or rice noodles. It also works as an Asian baozi filling.  Serves 4.

2 tbsp  neutral oil, (ie canola, sunflower, safflower)

2 yellow onions, cut into 1/8ths

3 sweet bell peppers, green, yellow, red, tri-colour, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 tbsp neutral oil

2 lbs Spot Prawns or shrimp, shelled

3  garlic, finely grated or pressed

1 inch pc fresh ginger, finely grated

2 spring onions, cut into 2-inch chunks

1/4 cup sherry

1 tbsp black bean and garlic sauce OR ¼ cup fermented dried beans

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 cup stock or water

¼ cup chopped fresh coriander

Heat oil in a large wok over high heat, add onions and peppers and stir-fry at high for 3-5 min or until seared and tender.  Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Using the same wok over high heat add oil, garlic and ginger. Stir fry for 30-60 seconds, add spot prawns, cooking until just done. Use spatula to create a well in the wok, add sherry, black beans or sauce, soy and stock or water.  Stir 30 seconds, incorporate spot prawns and reserved vegetables. 

Serve immediately, garnished with chopped coriander.

Kale Winter salad

Kale winter salad


Whenever I find leftover cooked vegetables in my fridge, I like to incorporate them into a salad. Squash pairs beautifully with baby kale and apple gives this crunch. Toasting the pecans and seeds makes it even better!

6 cups baby kale
1 cup chopped apple
1 cup roast squash (acorn, butternut or kabocha), broken into bite-size pieces
¼ cup dried cranberries

Dressing
¼ cup olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp honey
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp Dijon mustard
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

2 tbsp pecans
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

In a large salad bowl, toss kale, apple, squash and dried cranberries.

In a small jar, combine dressing ingredients, close with lid, shake to emulsify and taste for seasoning.

Pour over kale and sprinkle over with pecans and seeds.

Halibut Cheek Curry made with Cow-Op Love

Every day, we count our blessings to be living here in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. This is a food zone and an agricultural oasis. Our neighbours have farm stands, cows amble in nearby pastures, tractors slow down Herd Road traffic and grapes course through vineyards framed by mountains and mist.  Bounty-filled farmers’ markets can be found all over the valley  but during these pandemic times, lines are endlessly long due to Covid protocol.

Luckily for those of little patience, we can shop online at the wondrous Cow-Op where an incredible catalogue of local items, from kale to duck liver paté to garlic seed bulbs are posted for purchase.

Due to the immediate freshness of these orders, local vendors update the site weekly with prepared, frozen or just-harvested items which go live on the site every Thursday until midnight Monday.  Orders can be picked-up in Duncan and Victoria, or delivered.

Once we’d picked up our first order, David and I were hooked. Thursday trips to Hope Farm in Duncan were a charm. The farm is littered with ramshackle chicken yards and coops, mountainous rows of kale and Brussels sprouts and a large, empty, funky old barn where we pick up our order.

In June, we walked off with a box spilling over with luscious heads of green butter and red oak lettuce from Lenora Bee Apiary and Farm, bags of freshly milled rye, Einkorn and Neepawa flours from True Grain and small bundles of chèvre and Tomme de Vallée from Haltwhistle Cheese Company.  After sourcing my order from freezers and refrigerators scattered through the cavernous barn, a Cow-Op staff pointed to a tray of heirloom tomato starts on the ground nearby.  “Take me home” said the sign and I walked away with a slightly forlorn, but not forsaken Mountain Merit  heirloom tomato seedling that is still producing on my back porch.

While Thursday afternoon Cow-Op pickups have become the highlight of this foodie’s week, I don’t always remember to put in my order by the previous Monday night deadline.

Last week I not only remembered but found food goddesses by my side as I gently defrosted a package of frozen Halibut Cheeks from Drift Meat and Seafood.

I had curry on the brain. It started with stained fingers after grating fresh turmeric then ginger. Fragrant wafts of onion and garlic filled the kitchen, heightened by whole cumin and fennel seeds thrown into the mix.  I found two ripe Mountain Merit tomatoes and another opportunity for my tomatillos that are growing like a rash through my beds right now.

Even though I’ve de-husked a hundred this fall, each and every tomatillo makes me smile.  Once their papery wrapping is off, these little green orbs have a sticky coating that adheres like glue until rinsed off. Tomatillos taste like unripe, green tomatoes with a twist of lime, perfect for these soft halibut parcels infused with the flavours of the Cowichan Valley. Thank you Cow-Op for bringing it all to the table.

Halibut Cheek Curry

Inspired by my purchase of frozen halibut cheeks at the Cowichan Green Co-op, this curry is also perfect for tilapia, sole, spot prawns, shrimp or scallops. The trick to great seafood is to cook it ever so lightly until just done.

2 tbsp coconut oil

2 tsp whole cumin seeds

2 tsp whole fennel seeds

¼ tsp cayenne

1 large onion, chopped

1 tsp ground turmeric or 2-inches fresh, finely grated

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 inch fresh ginger, finely grated

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

4 tomatillos, chopped

2 fingerling or small potatoes, chopped

1 cup water

4 halibut cheeks, aprox

1 tsp salt

Freshly ground pepper

¼-1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large saute pan at medium high.  Add cumin, fennel and cayenne, cook 1 min. Add onion, turmeric, garlic and ginger and continue cooking until the onions soften.  Add tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil then gently simmer, covered for 10-15 min or until potatoes are tender.  Add more water if the sauce seems dry.  Add fish and gently simmer/poach covered until just cooked, about 3-5 min. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with chopped, fresh cilantro.