Once upon a feast

[This week I’ll be featuring another series of East Coast Guest Posts called East Coast By Taste. We’ll be looking at food and cooking philosophies from local chefs and foodies. The first post comes from one of many people I follow on Twitter.]

By Ruth Daniels

When asked about my cooking and food philosophy, the cooking part is easy…use the freshest ingredients, buy local whenever possible, (I’m never going to be a 100 mile diet girl, but I do try), go to as many farmers markets as possible to directly support local producers and cook simple, flavourful dishes.

Photo credit: Ruth Daniels

Photo credit: Ruth Daniels

But that got me thinking about “FOOD” and what that means to me. I must be honest…in my world, everything is connected to food. It’s what brings us together, comforts us in difficult times, celebrates those memorable moments, just plain acts as a backdrop for getting together with family and friends. So a dish, or a meal is not just a list of ingredients, put together as directed, it’s so much more important.

Earliest memories of my childhood centre around the kitchen, the backyard parties with aunts, uncles and 18 cousins, my mother preparing for holidays with my sister and I as sous-chefs (or at least dishwashers and “get me the…” girls, my first dinner party at 16 – Lasagna, Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread and they are the perfect snapshots, better than any old photograph (except for the laugh factor of hairdos and clothes).

Friends and family coming to Halifax for a visit…the first questions to pop into my head…Is there time to head to Digby for the awesome scallops? Can we go to the Shore Club in Hubbards for a real Nova Scotian Lobster dinner? How many nights, how many meals can I prepare while they’re here?

Vacations away….I might not remember the dates, but I definitely remember the meals. My first question to those just back from somewhere….what did you eat?

Moving to Halifax from Toronto, a couple of years ago to be closer to my daughter, son-in-law and (the real reason for the move), babies, I admit to having mixed feelings. Yes, I would be close to family, but, on the other hand, what about all the ethnic neighbourhoods and their foods? What about St Lawrence Market – open every day, all year round? How would I find all my favourite food treasures, so intrinsic to my cooking?

Photo credit: Ruth Daniels

Photo credit: Ruth Daniels

Silly me, nowhere else are there farmers markets like here in Nova Scotia. Not only is there wonderful produce, right-off-the-boat fish and seafood, lovely artisan cheeses, preserves, breads, honey, wine…the list is endless, there’s also a social element that’s missing at most other markets I’ve visited around the world. And there’s time to chat with all the vendors (if you go early enough, that is) who are so proud of what they do…not that other farmers and artisan cheese makers aren’t proud…I’ve just never taken the opportunity to talk to them or go visit their farms.

And not to worry, I’ve found my pockets of ethnic grocers and restaurants so I can make some of my favorite “Toronto” dishes right here.

And here’s a wonderful fusion of Nova Scotia and exotic ethnic flavours that marry so well.

Photo credit: Ruth Daniels

Photo credit: Ruth Daniels

Seared Scallops with Peruvian Parsley Salsa
Salsa from: Herbs & Spices: The Cook’s Reference

Hands-on time: 5 minutes
Marinating time for salsa: 30 minutes
Cooking time: less than 5 minutes
Serves: 2

1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh oregano leaves (½ tsp dried if you can’t find any fresh)
Red wine vinegar, just enough to cover the onion & oregano in a small bowl)
3 handfuls of fresh parsley leaves
1 tomato
Salt & pepper to taste

1 lb/500 g sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
1 tsp or so good olive oil
Arugula leaves (just for yourself as to how much you like per person. Note: some people find this very strong and woodsy, so you might want to do half arugula, half baby spinach leaves)

1. Place the chopped onion and the oregano in a small bowl and pour red wine vinegar over the mixture, just enough to cover. Let it sit for 30 minutes or so and then drain off the vinegar. Chop the parsley leaves to a paste in a food processor. Add to the drained onion/oregano mix.

2. The book calls for peeling and grating the tomato into the salsa, or chop fine. I cheated and added coarsely chopped tomato (with the peel) to the pureed parsley and pulsed a couple of times, then adding it all to the onions & oregano. Taste for seasoning and set aside while you cook the scallops.

In a large nonstick skillet over high heat, add the olive oil and once the pan is quite hot, add the scallops so they do not overlap or touch each other. Giving them space will help them sear and get a little golden on each side. Flip after 2-3 minutes, depending on the size of the scallops, and cook for another minute or two. They don’t take very long and if you overcook them, they just get rubbery.

Plating the finished dish:
Place a bed of arugula or arugula, spinach mix on a plate or platter. Place scallops on top and then generously spoon the salsa over the scallops. Toss and serve.

Ruth Daniels is founder and creative force behind the popular set of food blogs and websites collectively known as 4EveryKitchen and dedicated to food & drink, recipes, local markets, travel and menu ideas. Her cookbook Every Kitchen Tells Its Stories – Recipes That Warm the Heart is filled with more than 100 family favourite recipes with roots in the past made with a fresh new twist for today’s hectic and more health-conscious life style. Ruth also is a regular contributor to Food Network Canada site – recipes & blogs and Ming Pao Gourmet. She lives in Halifax, Canada with her husband and has two daughters who have inherited her joy of all things food.


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