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Eating well in Niagara while stuck in self-isolation, and a new video series by Michael Lowe

By Michael Lowe

Most of us have never witnessed the kind of negative economic and social impact that COVID-19 has dealt us. Massive layoffs, social distancing, and the spectre of financial ruin for some are now a reality that may take years to recover from.

But even with all this turmoil, are there signs of a proverbial “silver lining?”

Niagara food

 One of the most precious commodities is food — we all need to eat. At least one positive outcome of this pandemic is that families are spending more time together — and cooking and eating together.

Just look at social media and you’ll see myriad dishes from your friends who might otherwise eat out. We have taken to the kitchen again. This is nothing new to me — I have cooked practically every day for many years. In these trying times, I felt it was time to share some of tips from the kitchen.

A couple of months before the “Stay Home” mandate, I had begun experimenting baking bread, specifically sourdough bread. The process requires patience and regular feedings of the starter (left, photo above) to yield a crusty, tangy loaf (right, photo above). The beauty of having a nice bubbly starter on hand is that in times like this, when bread yeast is scarce, you can do without it.

Pizza dough, made with the addition of your starter, yields a crust with more texture and umami than traditional dough. One example is a combination of ham, roasted green peppers, fresh tomatoes and ricotta cheese. I paired it with the fruit-forward Cabernet Merlot blend from 13th Street Winery (photos above).

Homemade baked beans are even better when you sop up all that sweet, zesty sauce with cornbread made with, that’s right, some of that lively starter (photo above). The texture of the bread is much better and richer. I added some roasted corn kernels for a nice pop of sweetness.

Something worthy of mentioning when you don’t feel like cooking is the dramatic change in restaurant take-out choices. Restaurants are one of the hardest hit business entities. Operating on already razor-thin margins, they’re doing all they can do to remain a viable food service industry while reeling with uncertainty.

When disposable income is adversely affected, dining out becomes a luxury for some. In response we are seeing take-out menus emerge from restaurants that would never have considered the option before. Thanks to focused, local industry folks like Marcel Morgenstern there’s even a Facebook group posting updated menus from Niagara’s restaurants that offer take out and delivery — click  here.  Morgenstern also spearheaded a petition that brought about unprecedented change in very short turnaround — provincial booze laws now allow alcohol to be included with your take out order. It’s amazing how fast governments are able to act in these times of adversity. Please continue to support our local restaurants whenever you can.

But, if you want to be adventurous in the kitchen, go for it. I even tried making homemade English muffins made with that sourdough starter — they’re way better than store bought (photo above). For many years friends have asked me for recipes, called to ask about wine pairing and sometimes joked that the call was a Food 911 emergency.

With this article I embark on a new method of sharing menu suggestions paired with wines, mostly from Niagara. We’ll solicit ideas from winemakers, local chefs and bring recipes and wine pairings to you via my YouTube channel, Food Wine Niagara, which will be linked from my articles posted on Wines in Niagara.

The debut video (below) was made in the same way I create many of my dishes at home, using just what I have on hand. It shows making fresh pasta in a cream sauce with scallops, paired with sparkling wine from Township 7 winery in British Columbia (see review below). I’ve also included the ingredient list below. Watch for more to come and enjoy your time in the kitchen, and stay safe.

For the pasta (Yield- 6 portions);
• 2 Cups all-purpose flour
• 3 Eggs
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp salt
For the sauce (Yield- 3 portions);
• 2 shallots, finely chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 2-3 ounces dry white wine
• 3/4-1 Cup heavy cream
9 Sea scallops (3 per portion)

The wine

Township 7 Seven Stars “Polaris” 2017 ($36, 90 points) — A traditional method sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay. The nose is fresh with green apple, lemon and a yeasty bread note. Mouth feel is generous and round on the palate with flavours of tart apple and lemon backed up with a lees/yeast background. A great match for shellfish or creamy sauces. (Michael Lowe review)