Over the Labour Day long weekend, I spent a wonderful Sunday evening with my pal James, hosting a group of our friends together at my home to our famous “Italian Night”.
For the past three years I always look forward to March and September when my dear friend James returns from Italy to Canada for a short visit; we have a semi-annual standing ” Italian cooking date”, a tradition which has a very special place in my heart.
Cooking and sharing with family and friends is the most beautiful way to celebrate relationships and bring people together.
That night we talked, we laughed, we cooked, we learnt and we shared; the memories we created together are priceless…
To my friends who joined us this time (you know who you are), it was great seeing you all and catch up, Grazie! And to our dear friends who missed the gathering this time (you also know who you are), we missed you.
To my dear friend and teacher James, I look forward to our next “date” in March, hope to continue this wonderful tradition for many years to come and one day we will be able to cook together in Italy…Alla Prossima…xxxooo
Remember the most important ingredients you will need to create a beautiful meal….Patience + Love + Kindness + Gratitude
Bagna Cauda: an aromatic “hot bath” for fresh vegetables and bread
Have you ever had Bagna Cauda? It is a dish originally from Piedmont, Italy.
Fresh market vegetables, both cooked and raw, are dipped into a flavourful warm sauce, made of anchovies, olive oil, garlic and butter, enjoyed with scrumptious chunks of bread; this makes a wonderful sharing and wine-pairing dish for any dinner gathering, particularly during Fall Harvest Season.
I’ve only had this dish in restaurants twice here in Vancouver, once a few years ago enjoyed a Japanese “miso” version at Rajio (Izakaya on West 10th Avenue in beautiful Vancouver), and most recently a beautiful rendition at Osteria Savio Volpe.
It sounds very good already right? The even better part, it is not difficult to make.
The key to make a beautiful bagna cauda is having the freshest ingredients and you are already halfway there; the rest involves a lot of meticulous cleaning and chopping! Oh one more thing… a fondue pot will be handy to keep the sauce warm. I actually didn’t have the pot, so I just heated up the sauce right before dinner starts so it was ready to go when we were ready to eat!
I have roughly based the sauce recipe on Epicurious; for my version I have reduced the quantity of the butter and anchovies (trying to be more health conscious by reducing the fat and salt intake). Once you type in “Bagna Cauda”, you will be able to find many different versions for this classic Italian recipe (see alsoFood52 detailed write-up on its background and recipe).
Ingredients for dipping sauce: 1/2 cup – 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature), 6 – 8 cloves of garlic (chopped), 8 – 10 anchovies fillets.
Preparation: Blend the anchovies, garlic and olive oil in the blender until smooth.
Pour mixture into a medium saucepan and over medium low heat, cook the sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the garlic becomes fragrant, you must pay lots of attention garlic burns easily, you don’t want to brown it. Before removing from the heat, stir in the butter until blended nicely.
Taste and season with pepper (if you like) and sea salt (if necessary, remember anchovies are quite salty).
Serve raw or cooked vegetables and bread; I prepared a tray of fresh vegetables (picture below) purchased from the farmer’s market: a selection of beans, tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, cauliflower and peppers.
Stringozzi with Peas, Pistachios and mint sauce
We put all our friends hard at work this time making Stringozzi together!
Stringozzi is an Italian “peasant” pasta, the shape of the noodles resemble shoelaces; all you need is water and some finest Italian “00” flour (we used “Caputo 00 flour” – see Saveur’s magazine article)
The noodle making process involves everyone’s participation; our “pasta master” James mixed the flour and water and we help a little to knead the dough. The dough is then put in the refrigerator to rest (wrapped in plastic wrap tightly, rest for about 30 minutes to an hour). We then take turns pulling the dough until it smooth (this is the most physically demanding part) and you can feel the “elasticity”. When the dough is ready, we cut into small pieces and divided it amongst our group to “roll” out the pasta by hand. We have to sprinkle a little flour on the noodles when we gather them together to keep them from sticking together. The noodles are actually quite delicate and a bit chewy, my friends said they resemble a little like ‘handmade’ udon.
Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water to cook the pasta, the noodles actually cook quickly (just a few minutes) and you have to stir a little while cooking. Do not “crowd” the pot by putting too much noodles all at once.
When the noodles are cooked 3/4s of the way through, transfer to the large pan already filled with the sauce of your choice, toss gently together and let the noodles to finish cooking through. Please DO NOT toss out the pasta water, you will need to use it to adjust the thickness of the sauce.
My friend James created a “pesto” sauce – a mixture of sweet gorgonzola, peas (we used frozen), basil and pistachios, all blended together smoothly in the food processor. The sauce was transferred and cooked in a very large pan, use the pasta water to adjust the thickness of the sauce, when pasta was almost ready toss them into the pan and mix well, let the noodles cook through.
In the past we have created Stringozzi all’amatriciana (click to see recipe on Serious Eats – Tomatoes (preferred San Marzano), guanciale, red pepper flakes, wine and pecorino romano cheese ) which is one of my all time favourite.
Unfortunately I don’t have a specific quantity for this pasta recipe; I came across a general recipe which is very similar to what we have created on this blog: Madonnadelpiatto
If you are ever interested in learning how to make pasta, my dear Italian friend Peter (Pastaboy) is a wonderful teacher, click on his name for more details.
Here are the snapshots of what I have been cooking at home this past month! Recipes coming very soon.
For the time being you can find my other updates and pictures with description posted on Instagram (@mygoldenapron).
I would also love to hear your feedback so feel free to send me an email (email@example.com) or drop me a line through Instagram (OO).
Picture above: Sake Kasu Miso Sable Fish with Mixed vegetable (burdock, turnip leaves, lotus root and broccoli) rice: the dried burdock, turnip and lotus root are from Japan, I found them at a local Japanese store).
Nduja spaghetti Bolognese (with basil sausage from Oyama sausage and Co) : Remember Nduja, the spicy sausage spread ? I added to my Bolognese recipe to spice things up a bit !
When Japanese meets Italian: Roast shio koji organic chicken, cauliflower broccoli penne pasta in lemon parsley herb drizzle, garnish with crispy kale bits and lemon zest. It is very easy to make the herb drizzle: chives, parsley, lemon juice, grated lemon zest, extra virgin olive oil, drizzle of honey and pinch of sea salt.
Pan fried spot prawn with Thai red curry (store-bought paste, added fish sauce, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves) served with lentil quinoa turmeric rice: since spot prawn season is over, you can substitute with other prawns/shrimp available for this dish).
Faux Unagi Donburi (Rice bowl): Orange roughy turned into unagi; baked and glazed with homemade unagi sauce, scrambled dashi egg with green onions, on a bed of turmeric (just a touch) fresh peas and carrot rice, garnish with crispy kale bits (my current favourite garnish in place of seaweed)
Disclaimer: All ingredients are non-sponsored purchased at some of my preferred vendors in Vancouver, BC. Pictures are my own and dishes are my creations based on what I have learned through cooking classes, reading cookbooks and research.
With no expectations and no set plans for the time being…
I took each day as is…reflect, cherish and enjoy..
Come What May…
Playing Tourist in our own town: Vancouver Foodie Tours’ Granville Island Market Tour, Stave Falls and Sewell Marina’s Sea Safari
Have you ever walked around in your own city as if you were a tourist? My hubby and I love doing this in Metro Vancouver especially during the spring and summer season! As our beloved city is growing rapidly, very often we are very surprised by how quickly it changes, how much there is to see, and how little we actually know about our hometown.
For the past 3 years we are very fortunate to be participants in the Destination BC’s Tourism Challenge program ; every year over 20,000 tourism industry participants are invited to experience Vancouver and BC region to enrich their knowledge in order to share their experience with visitors from around the world.
Since the end of April, we had such a blast going around town and took part in some activities/tours which I think even locals would enjoy…
Vancouver Foodie Tours’ Granville Island Market Tour:
A fun, informative and tasty Sunday morning spent with 14 others and our wonderful tour guide Tracy at Granville Island Market, making stops and sampling tasty bites at Edible Canada, JJ Bean, Terra Breads, Oyama Sausage and Co (charcuterie 7 types), Benton Brothers Cheese, #1 Orchard (Apple) , Granville Island Tea Co (their famous chai tea) and Lee’s Donuts (freshly made!).
We were introduced to these wonderful local vendors and see the best they have to offer, at the same time we were learning a bit about the history and establishment of the Public Market. I often attend cooking classes and this is my second food walking tour (first one back in September 2016 in Halifax)! Thank you Tracy and Vancouver Foodie Tours for the wonderful experience!
Sewell Marina’s Sea Safari: Beautiful Howe Sound – sights and sound of the sea
Sewell Marina’s Sea Safari is very enthralling guided tour: Boarding the 30 feet rigid and sturdy inflatable boat at beautiful Horseshoe Bay, we took the 1630 tour (last one of the day the Circle Tour) and spent 2 hours soaring through the stunning Howe Sound waters, taking in the beautiful scenery (Anvil Island, Gambier Island, Lions Bay, Mystery Falls, Christie’s Islet, Bowen Island just to name a few), admired the mighty coastal mountains and enjoyed the sightings of wildlife (bald eagle, seals), all from a safe distance !
Our tour guide Casey was very friendly and knowledgeable, we were also blessed with beautiful weather and the seas were calm…overall a truly exceptional experience!
BC is truly stunning and I am proud to call it my home.
Driving on our own: BC Hydro Stave Falls, Kilby Museum (at Harrison Mills, BC) and Bridal Falls
Did you know Canada’s first free cooking school of its kind held a five-day electric cooking demonstration at the Vancouver Hotel from May 03 to 7 in 1926? This is one of the cooking “trivia” I just learned from our trip to BC Hydro Powerhouse at Stave Falls. This 100-year-old power generating facility is also a National Historic Site of Canada, where visitors can tour the generator facilities and browse through the museum where you can see old versions of home appliances. I was so excited to see the old cooking elements (the fancy models have a “dish warmer” above the stove) and learning about the history of cookery, certainly a bit geekish…
The facility is in pristine condition, the dam is majestic, and down by the lake there is a beautiful camping site, so you may want to spend a little more time to explore the area.
From Stave Falls we drove another 45 minutes to visit Kilby Historic Site (another stop for the challenge). Located at the junction of Harrison and Fraser Rivers, it is a historic site of a once thriving community. It felt as if we were travelling back in time to the early 1900’s, the highlight was going through the General Store Museum, learning about the history and listening to fascinating stories told by their knowledgeable volunteers. Did you know back in those days people can order groceries by mail? That was the “primitive” version of internet! There is also very simple gift shop / restaurant on site where they offer pies, soups and sandwiches; the egg salad sandwich was very good and I had it with a hearty vegetable soup, it all felt very rustic and homey.
We drove another 30 minutes from Kilby to Bridal Veil Falls, Chilliwack BC; we figured we were already out there so why not drive further? This is the first time seeing Bridal Veil Falls up close, last time four years ago on the train travelling to Jasper, Alberta. We took the 15 minute hike (a little longer for me and that moment I decided I must get back into shape!) through the beautiful woods; it was almost at the end of the day so it was not crowded at all. The fresh air within the woods and the sounds of the waterfall
There are so many dining options available in Vancouver and sometimes we forget the older established favorites…we just returned to Pear Tree with our friends for birthday celebrations. Although it is a bit out-of-the-way, the food is very fresh and unpretentious, and the service is truly attentive and exceptional. Once again I ordered their vegetarian menu (you can ask for the menu) and asked the same old question from two years ago: is it really vegetarian? For sure it will not take me another two years to dine at this fine establishment again.
Deconstructed Afternoon Tea at Wild Sweets: “an affair to remember”
I revisited Wild Sweets with my dear foodie friends one Sunday afternoon for their “Cocoa Bean to Chocolate Afternoon Tea”, their 13-course afternoon tea is a very unique and “hands on” affair. All courses came “deconstructed” with detailed explanation presented by Mr. Dominique, each item includes a cocoa bean to chocolate element, all served with a chocolate tea infusion. Their take on this old tradition is very refreshing and modern filled with wonderful surprises, I felt I was taken “back in time” to secondary school days experimenting in the science lab. We had the most wonderful 2 hours assembling and styling the delicate treats, it is definitely an “affair” to remember.
Thank you very much to Dominique and Cindy and their staff for this wonderful learning experience!
Booking for this event is available online through their website:
My dear friend James now resides in Casperia, Italy and comes back to Canada to visit his family twice a year. Whenever he is in town, we always get together to cook an Epic Italian Dinner at my home. We always have the best time preparing all the dishes together for our friends, I hope in the near future someday I will be cooking with James, a truly wonderful teacher, in Italy..
James always introduce a tasty and authentic Italian element to our dinners: I rarely use already processed sauce or paste, however I am willing to make an exception for James! And here comes “Nduja”: a spicy cured pork salumi spread originally from Calabria, Italy.
When using nduja, a little goes a long way, the smell and taste reminded me a little of chorizo sausage (without the distinctive smell). We used it as the base for the sauce, cooked together with a little olive oil, white wine and minced garlic; then we steamed the clams in the sauce, finished off with grated lemon zest. Toss in “al dente” spaghetti (nduja is already salty so be light handed with salt when boiling pasta) and Voila! The flavors melted together and lifted the pasta dish to a different level, and the sauce tasted even better on the next day.
James was such a sweetie and got rid of all the clam shells!
The bottled version is available at Bianca Maria, a quaint Italian food store on East Hastings; the sausage version is available at Oyama Sausage in Granville Island; give it a try and tell me which version do you like better?
Always cook with love and thoughtfulness, and eat with your love ones (quote Peter Ciuffa “pastaboy”)
Beautiful sea bass from Brian’s wonderful Seafood City at Granville Island, nduja sausage from Oyama Sauage and Co., romano beans from Granville Island Market.
I checked out the sweet and rustic Baker and Table bakery cafe at East 48th Avenue and Fraser, it was wonderful to meet the owner Ms. Hitomi who provided really wonderful and friendly service.
I really enjoyed the organic chicken with cashew pesto sandwich and the cheesecake for dessert; I also purchased the tasty white bread (whipping cream incorporated) which was “pillowy” soft, I used to make thick toast at home for breakfast. She does accept special cake orders, I returned the next day and purchased a delicious strawberry shortcake and enjoyed it with my friends on our Epic Italian Dinner Gathering. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook for menu information and updates.
Baci Baci Kissa Tanto in Chinatown: Memorable Dinner and Superb Service
One rainy Thursday night after a long and hectic day at work, we decided to head to Chinatown and got in to Kissa Tanto (it was around 8 pm) without any reservations!
The experience left us speechless: the dishes (our favorite was the lasagna of the day (picture shown) were filled with interesting elements of Japanese and Italian flavors, a combination which I personally enjoyed a lot.
The service (I believe our server’s name name is Celina) was very attentive and superb. Love their retro decor and ambiance: Kissa Tanto, thank you for a memorable dining experience.