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Notable Nosh: Nasu Eggplant

Nasu Eggplant

I was served the dish you see pictured above a little while ago in Ottawa. It was called ‘Nasu Eggplant’ on the menu (which is rather a redundancy of sorts as ‘Nasu’ is actually the Japanese word for eggplant) and was described as eggplant ‘grilled with shrimp and scallop and served in a sweet miso sauce’. A few Ottawa visits before this last one, I sampled Vietnamese dish that also featured eggplant done with scallops and shrimp , so I was rather curious to try a Japanese style dish with these ingredients by way of comparison. I must say, after reading the description, I was rather expecting something along the lines of a ‘Nasu Dengaku’ (eggplant grilled with a Miso glaze), except with scallop and shrimp as an accompaniment (and presumably grilled the same way). As it happened, what I was received was something completely different…

As you can see, the dish I was served was very nicely presented but, instead of the grilled eggplant slices I was expecting, it consisted of sections of eggplant that had been hollowed out and stuffed before grilling. The filling did indeed contain scallop (and their flavor came through nicely) but the shrimp were not apparent either visually or in the flavor. In addition to these, and not mentioned on the menu, were short-grained rice, and some mushrooms that I am fairly sure were a small Shimeji variety. These last can be very tasty but, unfortunately, there were too few of them in this preparation to add much more than visual appeal.

Anyway, as I say, the dish was very pretty, and the grilling was done well, but the overall effect was a bit lacking. My main disappointment was that there was absolutely no hint of miso anywhere at all. There certainly was no ‘sauce’ to speak of, and I couldn’t detect any miso flavor in the eggplants themselves or the filling. Indeed, there was an obvious lack of saltiness that I had to remedy with a little splash of soy. It’s a shame, really, that the execution of this dish was a bit of a failure, but, overall, I can say that I am glad I tried it as I thought the idea was excellent and one I could have a great deal of fun playing around with at home…

Notable Nosh: Grilled Octopus

 

Grilled Octopus 1

I have featured Octopus in several ‘Notable Nosh’ posts in the past, as well as including several dishes in restaurant reviews, but this particular offering  that I enjoyed at Brothers Bistro in Ottawa deserves a special mention. In that same city, I have eaten grilled Octopus at both Greek and Portuguese restaurants before (and these are cuisines that make Octopus a specialty), but the Bistro effort you see pictured above really outshone them all.

Firstly, the actual grilling, in this case, was done to perfection. I often find that grilled octopus is over-cooked in many establishment, chiefly, I believe, from cooking too long at too low a temperature. The taste isn’t especially diminished thereby, but the texture of the meat usually suffers badly. Here, the outside of the single tentacle was charred in many places, adding to the overall flavor, but the flesh within was delightfully chewy with the ‘elastic’ bite that makes octopus a pleasure to eat.

The other aspect of the dish that makes it so deserving of mention was the unique flavoring. The meat was served with fingerling Yukon potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a house-made chorizo, and all were bathed in a lovely ‘vinaigrette’ made with Tamarind and Mint. I was almost going to forego octopus on this occasion (despite it being  a favorite) as there were some other interesting selections on the menu I wanted to try as well. However, the idea of using mint with octopus seemed so (doubtfully) unusual that I couldn’t resist giving it a try.

Happily, the pairing turned out to work very well indeed. First of all, the chorizo, which was more in the form of ‘loose’ sausage meat rather then dense slices, made for a nice umami counterpoint to the marine flavor of the octopus, and it wasn’t the overly hot-spicy as I half-expected it to be. As for the sauce, the Tamarind gave the overall dish a lovely sweet and sour quality (which went especially well with the potato too), while the mint flavor blended with it perfectly to the point that it took me a few seconds to even be able to identify ‘mintiness’ as an individual quality. I am not sure what variety of mint was used (peppermint, possibly) but it was added with a deft touch and the overall effect was excellent.

 

Snow Peas with Chinese Sausage

Snowpea and Sausage 1

The sweet, apple-like quality of Chinese Preserved Sausage is often paired with more robust green vegetables such as Gai-Lan, or green-beans, but I think it also works nicely with the more delicate crispness of fresh snow-pea pods. You could, of course. Increase the amounts over those used here and serve everything as a larger entrée dish as part of a Chinese meal but it is quite rich and I conceived it as more of an appetizer, or a small offering served in a series of dim-sum type dishes… Read more

Notable Nosh: The Lobster Roll

The Lobster Roll 1

One cannot visit the maritime provinces without sampling the fresh lobster and, at the very least, a lobster roll is in order. The best of these I ever had was at Connolly’s Lobster in St. Andrews, New Brunswick some forty years ago,  but unfortunately, I have not tasted their match anywhere since. On my recent visit to Charlottetown, PEI, I scouted out likely places to try a local effort but so many seemed to try to ‘improve’ on the basic theme with citrus aiolis and the like. I wanted just the original chunks of lobster in plain mayo and, after a lengthy search, I found one at the Lobster on the Wharf.

The version here is served with a wide range of sides (Connolly’s only came with potato chips, which was all you really needed) and I chose potato salad and coleslaw. The roll itself was actually pretty decent (at least as compared to most),  and they are generous enough with lobster to give you a good meaty taste instead of the vague tease you usually get. Was it as good as the Connolly’s version? Well, sadly not… The restaurant of my youth sat beside what was then the largest lobster pound in the world and they could afford to stuff their rolls with the choicest tail meat, rather than the bits the restaurant didn’t use for other dishes. This was a close second maybe, but like every lobster roll since, it inspired more nostalgic longing rather pure enjoyment. Ah well….

Notable Nosh: Water Buffalo Sausage

Water Buffalo Sausage

I don’t exactly have a ‘bucket list’ of animals I want to eat, but I do like trying new things whenever I can.  There are some things I have read about and long wanted to try (snake comes to mind), but there are others whose possibilities as a dinner feature have never occurred to me before. Accordingly, when I came across sausages made from Water Buffalo at the Brother’s Bistro in Ottawa a while back, I was both surprised and intrigued.

The sausages in question are a dry cured variety made with Water Buffalo meat and cranberry (which are just visible as tiny brown flecks in the sausage, if you look carefully enough). Alongside the thin slices I was served, there were some nice crispy herbed-bread triangles, creamy Dijon mustard, and a selection of pickles in the Italian Giardiniera style that featured onion, carrot, asparagus, and Garlic Ramps. All of these accompaniments would be terrific alone, or with each other but, unfortunately, they were not well paired with the sausage…. Read more

Experiment: A Meat and Veggie Roast

Meat and Veg Roast 1

I almost can’t credit the fact that it has been over four years since I first wrote a post about Roast Vegetables. Since then, I have revisited and played around with the basic technique scores of times but, of late, I been combining meat and vegetables in the same roasting pan so as to produce ‘one dish’, full meal combinations. As with stews, or ‘slow cooker’ meals, the idea is to capitalize on the melding of flavors but, here, we get to exploit the unique caramelization effects of cooking using a dry, and high, heat…

I don’t have an actual recipe for you today… rather my post just details one particular combination I put together for a particular meal one evening.  In future posts, I want to develop the idea and document my experiences but I am really interested in this style of ‘one-dish’ cookery so I would really love to get feedback from readers in the form of dishes they have tried themselves.

Anyway, read on to see what I did here… Read more

Notable Nosh: Supermarket Seaweed Salad

Supermarket Seaweed Salad 1

I think this is the third or fourth time I have come across a pre-made seaweed salad in our local supermarket, lately…  Each time it has been offered in one of those plastic, clam-shell containers alongside the infrequently appearing sushi selection and I was pleased to see something new and relatively exotic for this part of the country.

The salad looks very much like similar ones I have been served in restaurants down south, right down to the somewhat neon quality of the bright green shreds. It wasn’t until I started eating the salad that I saw that there are two types of seaweed used (in addition to the clear strips of Agar added for texture); the first, I am almost certain, is Wakame, while the second, which appears in much smaller amounts and is a considerably darker green, is almost certainly Kombu. By the way, the extreme bright green of the Wakame is unlike anything I have seen on a beach, or even when reconstituting Wakame at home, and I have read that dyes are used to produce the color. This is somewhat odd, to my mind, as the natural color of the real article is actually a very pleasant bright green anyway…

The salad is very delicately dressed with what I take to be a very light splash of vinegar (rice vinegar I presume), and just a hint of sesame oil. The combination of these produces has only a mild presence and the nice fresh flavor of the seaweeds is allowed to come through. There is a garnish of sesame seeds and chili flakes as well but the former merely adds texture while the chili is barely noticeable. I must say that I rather thought that the texture of the salad, after being prepared well in advance and allowed to sit, would be a bit soft and maybe even slimy but it was actually very good indeed. The seaweeds had just the right bite, with an interesting contrast made with the agar strips, and the overall effect was very pleasant. I wasn’t expecting a great deal but I think this was every bit as good as many versions I have been served in restaurants.

Notable Nosh: Chinese Beef Burger

Chinese Beef Burger 1

I have been playing around with a little ‘snackie’ sort of dish I tentatively call ‘Shanghai Sliders’, which is essentially a tiny little steamed ‘burger’ made with Pork. I was therefore interested to come across the sandwich you see pictured above at small Chinese restaurant in Halifax, where it was actually called a ‘Chinese Beef Burger’ on the menu, and was described as ‘Beef Shank in Nang with Sweet Bean Sauce’.

I pretty much guessed that the ‘Nang’ was the same thing as ‘Naan’ and this turned out to be the case. Indeed, it turns out that ‘nang’ is a variant on the name common in the Xinjiang region of western China. The meat was clearly from the shank, or shin, which, when red-cooked (as I believe this sandwich meat to be), is often served cold on Chinese appetizer platters,

Anyway, the whole thing was pretty good and the meat nice and tasty. The sweet bean caught me by surprise a little bit because, at the first bite, I actually could have sworn that they had used mayonnaise  on the bread (which wasn’t the case at all). I usually like lettuce on sandwiches and burgers but I didn’t care for it here and I took it out after second bite. There was nothing wrong with it all, I just found it interfered with my appreciation of the meat. I also enjoyed the naan and I think I shall use it for sandwiches more often in the future.

Black Bean Shrimp and Scallop

Black Bean Shrimp and Scallop 1

The Salted Black Beans used in Chinese cuisine are often used with chicken but they also pair very nicely with shellfish. Here, I have stir-fried them along with shrimp, scallop, and sweet green bell peppers, with just a very simple sauce. The result is very tasty and the process extremely simple… Read more

Review: Claddagh Oyster House

131 Sydney St., Charlottetown, PEI, – Website

Claddagh 1A

Date of Visit: July, 2016

The Claddagh shares a building with The Olde Dublin Pub, which I visited earlier in order to enjoy oysters for a buck apiece. The Claddagh is downstairs from the pub and it offers a quieter, more refined dining experience. The Old Dublin is a really enjoyable, if raucous, place to visit, but the food at Claddagh truly makes it well worth the visit… Read more

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