For My Mum: Spinach Goma-Ae

Black Sesame Spinach Goma-Ae

Black Sesame Spinach Goma-Ae

What are your rituals when you return to your home town after being away for many years?  I left Vancouver 16  years ago for Toronto in what was  intended to be an 18 month stay while I went to school…and, yet, hereI am still here in Toronto.

There are many things I miss about summer in Vancouver:  running around the Stanley Park Sea Wall, celebrating the end of the Grouse Grind with a beer at the top of the mountain, swimming lengths at Kits Pool, gathering & enjoying great food at Granville Island, picnics on Kits Beach, the Museum of Anthropology (if just to see the amazing Bill Reid sculpture), Bard on the Beach…and the list could go on and on…

But one thing that I always do when I am home for a visit, no matter the time of year, is indulge in a sushi/sashimi feast with my mother.  We may order a big box in to enjoy at home or we may go out, but a visit home is not complete without a big “sushi feed”.

And we always have to include an order of Spinach Goma-Ae – as it my mother’s favourite.  When I came across this recipe recently, I decided to try it out in honour of her birthday a few weeks ago.

Spinach Goma-Ae (for 2 – 3 servings)

1.  Add about a cup of water to a large pot over medium heat and throw in about 440 grams (about 16oz) of baby spinach.  Cover and let cook for about 15 minutes.  Check every five minutes, stir, and remove from heat when the spinach is wilted.

2.  Dump the wilted spinach in a large colander in the sink and run cold water over to stop the cooking process.  Then squeeze out the excess water from the spinach to get it as dry as possible before stage 5 below.

3.  Toast 35 grams of black sesame seeds.  You can use white sesame seeds; black is just so much more dramatic!  And you can use your toaster oven or a small skillet on the stove.  Just make sure that you don’t burn them.

4.  Once toasted, grind them into small pieces: you can use a mortar & pestle or a wee food processor for this stage.  When ground, add about 1 tbsp of sugar and grind in.  Then add about 4 tsp of tamari sauce (you can use soy sauce as a substitute) and mix all together into a paste.

5.  Remove the spinach from the colander to a cutting board and chop up into fine pieces.

6.  Mix the chopped spinach with the sesame seed paste.  Serve cold as a side dish.

 I find that the tamari/soy sauce adds enough salti-ness to offset the sugar but you may want to adjust for taste.  I’ve also tried this substituting green beans for spinach which worked out well: you could also try the sesame seed paste with blanched chard or kale if that is available.

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Celebrating local bounty: Pea Pesto & Prusciutto Crostini

Pea Pesto & Prosciutto Crostini

Pea Pesto & Prosciutto Crostini

We did something different this past long weekend.  We stayed in town rather than joining the mass exodus out of the city, and celebrated Simcoe Day with a few friends in the back yard on Saturday night.  And what fun was had!   All I need to say is that Ontario peaches were a-flambee at 1am…

We decided to focus on local food for the menu so we visited a great farmers’ market near by on Saturday morning.  We stocked up on gorgeous seasonal stuff from the area: corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, zucchini, peppers, eggplant, peas, tomatoes, and pork ribs.  And thus the cooking began…

After the long hard winter and short spring, I really appreciate even more what a pleasure it is to live in an area that delivers such amazing produce.  As they say, “Good Things Grow in Ontario…

Our dinner guests did not know the “locavore theme” but obviously were aligned as everyone brought different Ontario wines to sample…

In addition to bruschetta made from local tomatoes, I also wanted to create an appetizer that used our fresh peas to their advantage.   Here’s my recipe for Crostini with Pea Pesto & Prosciutto:

Pea Pesto & Prosciutto Crostini (for about 20 crostini)

1.  Set your oven on low broil.  Slice a whole wheat baguette into 1 inch thick slices on an angle.  Cover the surface of a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the bread slices on the sheet.  Spray/brush with olive oil and put under the broiler.  After one side is brown (usually about 5 minutes but watch closely as they move from slightly brown to burnt quickly!), remove and turn over.  Spray/brush other side with olive oil and put under broiler for another 5 minutes (again – watch closely!).  When browned on both sides, remove from oven and set aside.

2.  Start about 3 cups of water boiling in a big pot while you shell about 1 kg of fresh peas. Optional: I add sprigs of mint to the water as it starts to boil as mint & peas just seem to go together.  

3.  Add the shelled peas to the boiling water and watch closely.  Remove from heat as soon as the peas are cooked.  Drain immediately & rinse with cold water.  Optional: reserve the mint leaves to add to the puree if you wish.

4.  Set aside a few choice peas as garnish.  

5.  Toast a generous handful of pine nuts in your toaster oven or in a small pan.  Make sure they do not burn.

6.  Using a food processor, puree peas along with toasted pine nuts, a splash of olive oil, some plain yogurt and/or mayonnaise (depending on your taste) and salt & pepper to taste.  You may need to play with these ingredients to get the consistency you want.  Optional: add the mint leaves.

7.  Generously spread the pesto on crostini and add thin slices of prosciutto.  Garnish with reserved peas.

What a wonderful way to start a meal!





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A simple meal of oysters

Oyster Feast

Oyster Feast

Although not everyone is a fan, I love raw oysters.  However, I don’t really eat them often in Toronto as they never seem quite “fresh” enough…but when on an island renowned for its oysters, oh my, time to indulge!

The SO and I just spent a wonderful four days on Prince Edward Island.  The weather was great, we were staying with the SO’s brother in a gorgeous location overlooking the ocean, we were outdoors nearly the whole time and…we ate lobster and oysters every day we were there.

On Sunday, we picked up three dozen oysters – plenty for four people…

Fresh oysters on the half shell, drizzled with some vodka, spritzed with lemon juice and dusted with ground black pepper…heaven!

A beautiful place, good friends, sunshine, an ocean view, wine and oysters.  Does life get any better?

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Where do you find inspiration?

Source of inspiration

Source of inspiration

What feeds your cooking mojo?

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”  Laurie Colwin

I was going through my binder of recipes last night (and let’s pass on the Mitt Romney jokes…) as I try to cull and add every few months to keep it from being too overwhelming.  This is where I store all those recipes I pull out of magazines, newspapers, download off websites (including some of your blogs).  Some I try immediately and mark up with notes, others are just reminders of what I might like to try them in the future.

I also have this weird little pink plastic index card holder box that lives above the fridge…this is where all my family & childhood recipes reside…from the days that we would write out and share recipes on index cards.  I have recipes from my aunts, my mother, my grandmother, and ones that I took the time to transcribe when I was starting out cooking 40 years ago.  When I want to make ginger snaps, bone dust rub or Nancy Drew’s cheese muffins, this is where I head.

And then there are my go-to cook books…those without which I am lost: Nigel Slater, Alice Waters, Jamie Oliver, Mark Bittman, MFK Fisher, and the list goes on.  No matter what, when I stumped for ideas or am inspired by an ingredient but have no idea how to prepare it (sunchokes anyone?), my library will usually toss up an answer.  Although I did realize last night that I have no idea where my “Joy of Cooking” has gone.  This worries me – not that I use it often but it is one of those stalwarts when I can’t find an answer anywhere else.  Just hoping it is residing at the SO’s…

I am old school – as you can tell – I like to cook off printed recipes.  But I do rely on Epicurious when I’m in a store, see an intriguing new ingredient (like raw olives) and wonder what I can do with it.  And of course, all my fellow food bloggers are such an overwhelming source of ongoing inspiration.

So…where do you find your inspiration?




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Zucchini / Courgette: Let’s call the whole thing off!

Zucchini "Boats' with kale, tomato, olives, onion, red pepper  & feta

Zucchini “Boats’ with kale, tomato, olives, onion, red pepper & feta

I have a love/hate relationship with zucchini.  Even when I try to call them courgettes, I am still haunted by the memories of the summer that my mother planted them in the garden….

Zucchini pancakes, zucchini chocolate cake, zucchini fritters,deep fried zucchini flowers, zucchini bread…We were eating zucchini for what felt like years after the harvest came in (freezers are not always a good thing…)

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy zucchini in small doses: grated into an overall veggie mix, deep fried slices with lemon as a pasta sauce, marinated in balsamic vinegar & olive oil and grilled.  It is always in my fridge as a veggie staple. So I thought I’d venture out last night into the “zucchini boat”…

Zucchini Boat (for 1 person)

1.  Slice a large zucchini in half from tip to tail and then carve out the middle (seeds & all until you are close to the skin).  This was an excellent opportunity to use that serrated spoon that I bought years ago for eating grapefruit…until I realized that I don’t really eat grapefruit…

2.  In a microwave-proof bowl: mix 1/4 diced red onion, 1/2 diced red pepper and about 1 cup of diced kale (leaves & stems) and soften for about 2 – 3 minutes in the microwave. (This step could be done on the stovetop at a low/medium heat with a bit of olive oil).

3.  Take bowl out of microwave and add 1/2 large grated carrot, 1 large diced tomato and 100 g chopped kalamata olives.  You can also add what you’ve removed from the zucchini but don’t include the seeds.  Add salt & pepper to taste plus a splash of vinegar (I like cider or red wine vinegar).

4.  Grate 1/4 cup of feta cheese.

5.  Heap the two zucchini halves with the veggie filling and sprinkle the feta over top.

6.  I used my toaster oven to bake at 300 F for 20 minutes and then broiled for 2 minutes.

Although this was filing, delicious and totally met my needs, I have to be honest and admit that I still can’t get over my dislike of the taste of whole zucchini without any type of seasoning.  I loved the filling, the feta topping but the “boat” itself… meh!

If anyone has a wonderful zucchini recipe that they swear by, please share as I so do want to enjoy this veggie as much as possible…although probably won’t be planting it in my garden in the near future…


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A happy detour: Pea, Crab & Goat Cheese Pasta

Fresh Pea, Crab & Goat Cheese PastaEver have a menu plan that goes by the wayside when something better comes along?

That happened to me a few nights ago.  I was planning something for dinner that I can’t even remember at this point, and stopped by the local greengrocer to pick up some fruit & veggies…and then I spied them.  Fresh local Ontario peas!   The season for these is so short that I needed to do a complete course correction (pardon the pun).

So I arrived home with my bounty of peas – now what to do with them?  We had some crabmeat in the freezer so I pulled it out to defrost and used that time to sit out in the garden with the SO.  He made margaritas and I shelled peas.  A wonderful way to ease into dinner mode.

We also had some goat cheese in the fridge so here is what I came up with…

Fresh Peas, Crab & Goat Cheese Spaghettini (for 2)

1.  Shell about 250 grams of fresh peas and set aside.

2.  Start  a large pot of water boiling for the pasta.  Salt the water generously.  A good rule of thumb is that it should taste like sea water.  

3.  Start a generous splash of olive oil heating over medium low heat in a skillet.

4.  Chop up one large scallion and one small garlic clove, and add to the skillet.  Stir frequently until the scallion and garlic are softened.

5.  Add about 250 grams of crab meat  to the skillet and mix with the scallions (I used frozen crab meat as I’m lazy but you could use fresh crab meat if available).

6.  Add about 150 grams of goat cheese and stir until the goat cheese is mixed in.  Turn to low heat depending on your timing with the pasta cooking.

7.  When water is boiling, add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions.  When close to finish, scoop out about 1 cup of pasta water and set aside.

8.  When pasta is nearly done, increase heat under the skillet to medium and stir the fresh peas into the crab & goat cheese mixture.  If the sauce seems too dry, add a few splashes of your reserved pasta water until you have the consistency you like.

9.  Drain the pasta, dump back into the pot and add the crab, peas & goat cheese sauce.  Mix together well and serve alongside with a fresh green salad and a big chunk of Parmesan (with grater so people can add as much as they like).

An easy summer dinner that takes advantage of what the season has to offer.

While the peas are in season, any other recipe suggestions?



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Long Weekend Potato Salad

Long Weekend Potato Salad

Long Weekend Potato Salad

It seems to me that summer long weekends in North America must always include, along with fireworks and mosquitos,  big bowls of potato salad.

We Canadians just enjoyed a day off on Tuesday for Canada Day and tomorrow is July 4th so there is much to celebrate this week as both countries enjoy their holidays.  While I don’t often make potato salad, it just seemed the right thing to go alongside the ribs we had for dinner on Canada Day.

I have been adapting this particular recipe over the last 20 years.  And I felt like it received the highest kudo’s to date on Tuesday when the SO said “I would take this to the Latvians”…huge praise indeed considering the place, in my limited experience, that potatoes in any form hold in Latvian cuisine.

I like a tart potato salad; adding the vinegar to the potatoes right when they finish cooking is a great balance to the wee bit of mayonnaise added right at the end.  Of course, you can adjust your vinegar/mayonnaise balance according to taste.

Long Weekend Potato Salad (for 4 – 6)

1.  Start a large pot of water boiling on the stove.

2.  As this recipe calls for 3 hard boiled eggs, I usually place the eggs in the pot as the water heats up and let them cook before removing from the boiling water to cool.  

3. While the water is heating up (and eggs are cooking), dice about 700 grams of new potatoes.  The size of the dice depends upon your taste, and you can also use larger potatoes.  The main thing to get the pieces to a uniform size so they will cook at the same rate. 

4.  After removing the eggs with a slotted spoon, place the potatoes into the boiling water and cook until fork tender.  Strain into a colander when they are finished cooked.  Shake the colander to get the potatoes as dry as possible and then dump into a large mixing bowl.

5.  While the potatoes are still warm, add a few generous splashes of vinegar.  I use cider vinegar (about 1/2 cup) but white or red wine vinegar would work just as well.  Add salt and pepper and mix everything together.  Remember to stir the potatoes every 5 minutes or so while you are moving through the next few steps to make sure all the pieces are absorbing the vinegar while they cool.

6.  Peel and chop up the hard boiled eggs.  Dice about 100 grams of red onion.  Dice about 100 grams of dilled green beans (you can also use dill pickles or cornichons).   Finely chop a handful of fresh chives if you have them on hand. 

7.  Mix the eggs, red onion, green beans/pickles, 20 mL capers and about 1/4 cup of mayonnaise  into the potatoes.  Mix in the chives, reserving a bit for garnish.

8. Season to taste.  Garnish the top with the remaining chives before serving.

This is one of those recipes that you can play with depending upon your taste and your pantry.  You could add some Dijon mustard along with the mayonnaise, olives instead of pickles, small red-skinned potatoes instead of fingerlings, substitute tarragon or basil in the place of the chives, green onions instead of the red onions….the options are endless and lots of room for creativity.

Regardless, it ultimately comes down to relaxing and making the most of the few summer long weekends we have.  Bon appetit!

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