Tastefull Blog: Oysters, Luscious and Local

By Marika Varro, The Convenient Chef

Okeover Organic Oysters has been owned and operated for the last 15 years by Andre Comeau and Chris Roberts. Committed to sustainable farming, their mission is to farm shellfish without harming the environment. They produce oysters of every size as well as “hand-dug” Manila clams. The tray-grown oysters are shipped to Vancouver and from there they are distributed locally and around the world. Oysters are not only delicious, they are also one of the most nutritionally balanced of foods, high in zinc, iron, calcium, selenium vitamin A and B12. As a bonus, they are also low in calories.

We are lucky to live in Powell River where we can just head down to the beach and pick our own, with a licence of course. Fresh oysters can be stored in your refrigerator, covered with a wet towel, for up to 10 days. Do not keep them in sea water or in a closed container. Shuck as close as possible to when you plan to eat them.

Shucking takes practice. You need a sharp knife, a small towel and a dish in which to catch the oyster’s juice, the “liquor” that keeps it alive ooystersnce it’s out of water. It is precious and tastes amazing.

For the best taste, eat oysters raw: squeeze a little lemon juice on the meat (or freshly grated horseradish or your favourite hot sauce for a bit more kick), knock it back, and chew ever so slightly to unlock the flavours. Oysters are also delicious when breaded and pan fried, poached, baked or barbecued. Toppings like cream cheese, bacon or Parmesan cheese also go well with oysters.

Drink what you like with oysters – Champagne, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a buttery Chardonnay or your favourite Townsite brew. Even water can create the perfect marriage. It is possible for oysters to produce pearls when foreign material becomes trapped inside their shells; however they should not be confused with actual pearl oysters, which are from a different family of bivalves.

Naturally occurring bacterium called Vibrio parahaemolyticus can be found in coastal waters during increased water temperatures. Illnesses can be avoided by cooking the oysters a minimum of six minutes to a temperature of 140F. Do not consume oysters or other shellfish during “red tide” (harmful algal blooms) not even cooking will eliminate toxins.

So, are oysters really aphrodisiacs? Research shows that raw oysters are rich in rare amino acids that trigger increased level of sex hormones. Try some yourself to find the answer!
Oysters Rockefeller
(Chris & Andre’s favourite)

4 tbsp. Butter
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1/3 cup Breadcrumbs, Panko
2 Shallots, minced
2 cups Fresh spinach, chopped
¼ cup Pernod
To taste Salt & pepper
Little Hot sauce (Tabasco)
2 tbsp. Olive oil
¼ cup Grated Parmesan
1 tbsp. Parsley, chopped
2 dozen Oysters, on the half shell
Rock salt
Lemon wedges for garnish

1. Sauté garlic in butter for 2 minutes
2. Mix half of the garlic butter with breadcrumbs in a bowl
3. Add to remaining garlic butter in the skillet shallots and spinach, cook for
3 minutes
4. Add Pernod, salt & pepper, hot sauce; allow the mixture to cook down
5. Add to garlic butter-breadcrumb mixture olive oil, Parmesan & parsley, season with salt & pepper
6. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of spinach mixture on each oyster followed by a spoonful of breadcrumb
mixture
7. Sprinkle a baking pan generously with rock salt and arrange oyster on the salt to steady them
Bake in pre-heated 450F oven 10-15 minutes until 8. golden
9. Serve with lemon wedges and more hot sauce on the side

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Tastefull Blog: Little Shrimp, Jumbo Taste

shrimp_convenientChef

As published in the Jan 2016 issue of Powell River Living Magazine.

What is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

The answer depends on where you live. On the West Coast, large shrimp are mostly known as prawns, and the name shrimp is usually reserved for the small cooked and peeled variety.

The exception for that is the sidestripe shrimp, which can also be found fresh here in Powell River.

On the East Coast, shrimp is the common name for all types and sizes. The British call all shrimp-like creatures prawns. The name persists in most British

Commonwealth nations, including India and South Africa.

Shrimp/prawns are crustaceans. They have ten legs like crabs and lobsters, and a shell covering the head and body. Shrimp/prawns live in a variety of habitats ranging from coral reefs to sandy bottoms, but the species that are consumed as food usually live on muddy bottoms and feed on detritus, small plants and animals.

Fresh shrimp

Here in Powell River we are lucky to be able to harvest or purchase fresh prawns and sidestripe shrimp. Shrimp are among the most widely available and most widely used seafood, but most seafood suppliers do not bother with fresh shrimp due to their higher cost and perishability. So take a moment to appreciate the bounty of the Salish Sea, if you’re getting truly fresh shrimp.

Whole raw shrimp/prawns should be stored on ice; their heads tend to blacken after about 48 hours.  Head-off fresh raw shrimp/prawns have a shelf life of about 5-7 days on ice as do truly fresh-cooked shrimp.

Thawing frozen shrimp

Shrimp are best thawed overnight in the  refrigerator. Place the frozen shrimp in a colander set inside a large bowl. The shrimp should not sit in their own juices as they thaw.

There is a quick method if you are in a hurry. Place the shrimp in a colander and run water over the frozen shrimp. Avoid letting thawed shrimp sit in water for a long time; they may become waterlogged.

Cooking and preparing shrimp

The most common error in preparing shrimp is to over cook them. Shrimp should be boiled in well salted water. Small to medium shrimp should be boiled 3 to 5 minutes and large 6 to 8 minutes.

Shrimp can also be broiled, baked, stir-fried,  sautéed, deep-fried or barbecued but; whatever the cooking method is avoid overcooking!

RECIPE

Spicy Thai Prawn Stir-fry

(Serves 6)

  • 3 red chilies (cut into thin strips)
  • 3 cloves garlic (cut into thin strips)
  • ½ -inch piece peeled fresh ginger (cut into thin strips)
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 6 green onions (green part only, chopped diagonally in ¼-inch pieces)
  • 1-1½ lbs prawns (shelled, leaving tails intact)
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 1 cup snow peas
  • 2 cups broccoli florets cut into small pieces
  • ½ green pepper, sliced
  • ½ red pepper, sliced
  • 1 large carrot, thinly sliced
  • 12 mushrooms (cut into 4)
  • 8-12 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced
  • green onions (white part, cut into 1-inch pieces)
  • (Vegetables can be added or substituted to personal preference.)
  • 2 tbsp Thai fish sauce or soy sauce
  • 1½ tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Heat oil in wok, stir-fry chilies & ginger for 2 minutes, add garlic & green onions, fry together until lightly brown & crisp. Remove from wok, drain and set aside.

Re-heat oil in wok, add prawns & stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Remove from wok & set aside.

Re-heat oil, add vegetables, stir-fry until vegetables are just tender.

Add combined sauce, and prawns, stir fry until prawns are cooked. (Don’t over cook prawns)

Sprinkle with the crisp chili, garlic, ginger & green onion mixture.

Serve with Jasmine rice or chilled on a bed of greens.

Garnish with cilantro.

 

Tastefull Blog: Chocolate; Food of the Gods.

Cocoa Beans

Cocoa Beans

As published in the Feb 2016 issue of Powell River Living Magazine.

Ah, chocolate; delicious, decadent, delectable and soothing. So where did this delight come from?

The history of chocolate

The origins of chocolate go back at least 4000 years, which derived from the evergreen. Theobroma (means ‘food of the gods’) cacao tree,. The plant is believed originated in the Amazon or Orinoco basins in South America. The Aztecs attributed its creation to their god Quetzalcoatl who as the legend goes descended from heaven on a beam of a morning star carrying a cacao tree stolen from paradise.

The Aztecs valued the cacao bean so much that they used it as currency. They also used the cacao beans to prepare a thick, unsweetened drink, laced with ground chilies called chocolatl ; a liquid so prestigious that it was served in golden goblets.

The Aztecs created what we now know as chocolate by fermenting, drying and roasting the beans and then grinding the kernels to produce cocoa mass, chocolate liquor.

Although Christopher Columbus was the first to come across the beans around 1502, Herman Cortez is credited with introducing them to the Western World a little over 40 years later. Cortez was fascinated with the Aztecs bitter spicy beverage; however, he was more impressed by the fact that the beans were used as currency. He established in the name of Spain a cacao plantation, where “money” could be cultivated.

When he returned to Spain, he took some of the wonderful beans back to his king.

He had a suspicion that if the Aztecs bitter beverage were blended with cane sugar, it would be more agreeable to European tastes. He was right and the drink became quite the delicacy. The Spaniards mixed the beans with pepper, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon, became the drink of nobility – a secret Spain managed to keep from the rest of the world for almost 100 years.

When the French get hold of it, they immediately acclaimed it as a marvelous aphrodisiac and by adding heavy taxes on it, further enhanced its status as a drink for the rich.

In the 17th and 18th century England, the drink became so popular that many chocolate houses opened up competing against the traditional English pub.

From cacao bean to chocolate

The cacao tree, which ranges from 15-20 feet high, is planted in moist, tropical climates. There are three varieties of the cacao tree Criollo, Forastero and Trinitarios; each grown different part of the world.

The ripened pods shaped like small footballs; in the color of red, orange or gold. They are allowed to ferment in their own heat while developing their flavor and characteristics. When the fermented beans turn to a rich brown color they are ready for drying. After drying they are shipped to chocolate factories all over the world.

Like coffee, it develops its color and the fullness of its flavor when it’s roasted. The degree of care given to the roasting has considerable influence on the quality of the end product; either cocoa powder or chocolate.

The roasted and husked beans, called “nibs” then pass through a grinder and the heat generated by this process causes the cocoa butter to melt and form a fine paste called “chocolate liquor” which gets molded into cakes. At this point some of the cakes go through hydraulic press which removes most of the cocoa butter and become cocoa.

To some of the cakes more cocoa butter added and become bitter chocolate we know as cooking or baking chocolate.

Cocoa butter is a very a remarkable fat, it will keep for years without becoming rancid. There are many pharmaceutical demands for it. Because of this high demand, in inferior chocolate the cocoa butter is replaced by other fat.

The best sweet chocolate is made by combining the melted bitter cake with 35% cocoa butter, fine sugar, sometimes vanilla and milk – depending on the type of chocolate desired. So read your label. The list of ingredients should be short like: Chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin (emulsifier) and vanilla.

White Chocolate

White chocolate was first introduced in Switzerland after World War I. It is more expensive than dark because it contains more of the expensive cocoa butter. It offers a subtle hint of chocolaty taste, but it isn’t a true chocolate because doesn’t contain the chocolate liquor. To purchase white chocolate you’ll have to look for Belgium made like Callebaut.

The North American white chocolate contains no chocolate or cocoa butter at all but is prepared from vegetable fats, coloring and flavors.

 Cocoa powder

Cocoa is pulverized from the dry cocoa cakes which after processing still contain 10% fat for regular cocoa and up to 24%. The Dutch type is the heaviest in fat content.

 RECIPES

 Chocolate Zucchini Cake

  • ½ cup  soft butter
  • 1 cup   sugar
  • ½ cup  vegetable oil
  • 2   eggs
  • ½ cup   buttermilk (or mix ½ c milk with 1tbs lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 21/2 cups flour
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder (Dutch preferably)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp  salt
  • 1 tsp  cinnamon
  • ½ tsp powered cloves
  • 2 cups grated zucchini, drained
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Procedure

  • Cream together butter, sugar, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.
  • Sift and mix dry ingredients, flour, cocoa, baking powder & soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
  • Stir dry ingredients into creamy mixture.
  • Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips.
  • Pour into greased bunt or chiffon pan, or two small loaf pans.
  • Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes, till tester comes out clean.
  • Dust with icing sugar or top with chocolate glaze.

Chocolate glaze

(Makes about 1 1/4 cup)

  • 7 oz  semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tbsp  butter, unsalted
  • ¾ cup  sugar
  • 1/3 cup    strong coffee

Procedure

  • Melt in dbl boiler over hot, not boiling water chocolate and butter.
  • Cook sugar and coffee to thread stage (230F).
  • Pour syrup in slowly, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of the spoon.
  • Pour the glaze over the cake.

 

Chocolate/Cranberry Biscotti

(Makes 24 biscotti)

  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3 tbsp orange juice
  • ¼ cup butter, soft
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¾ cup chocolate chips

Procedure

  • Combine cranberries and orange juice in small pot and heat over med heat until softened.
  • Cream butter, sugar and eggs in a large bowl, add cranberry mixture and stir.
  • Add remaining ingredients except chocolate chips, and mix well.
  • Mix chocolate chips in. Dough will be stiff.
  • Turn out onto lightly flowered surface and kneed xix times.
  • Shape into two 16” (40cm) long, 11/4” diameter (3cm) log and place on greased baking sheet.
  • Bake in 350F oven for 30 minutes.
  • Cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes.
  • Reduce oven temperature to 275F.
  • Cut rolls diagonally into ½” slices.
  • Arrange on same baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.
  • Turn slices over and turn off oven.
  • Let stand in oven for 30 minutes until crisp.

Dip this into your hot chocolate or coffee for a real treat.