Tag Archives: Fish

A Leite Dinner

20 Jan

I’ve been thinking a lot about my colleague‘s recent conversion to what he calls “mostly veganism.”

Now, before we go quibbling about his choice of terminology I should tell you that this gentleman is an older, highly conservative Republican, red meat-eating, god-fearing capitalist and that he came to this state not out of any sense of environmental obligation but rather through sports physiology.

But, no matter the route, the destination is the same: A diet that is better for him and for the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about vegetables too and how much I miss them and can’t wait to start pulling them out of our garden again.  This is the season that tries my soul.  I want to eat lots of unhealthy things like beef and pork and cheese and Christina’s Mama’s lemon sour cream pie, while I know I should be eating vegetables and grains and fish.  I want to be planting plants and digging around in the dirt but rather I’m stomping through slush and standing by the sink and staring at the fluffy, puffed-up birds while clutching a cup of tea, absorbing every last hint of warmth from it.

It’s a hard season to eat, and despite the insistence by the journalist and author Tom Standage at the AMNH’s recent lecture on curry economics that at some point getting your food from half-way around the world costs less in terms of carbon than raising it locally in a greenhouse, I still find eating at this time of year difficult.

It was all these complex thoughts that were rattling around inside my head as I was thumbing through David Leite‘s excellent cookbook The New Portuguese Table.  It was a Christmas gift from Isaac’s  mom and had sat sadly neglected on the ottoman since its unwrapping.  But on Saturday morning I was finally able to give it a good look.  And boy is it a beauty. So many wonderful recipes for interesting meats and creative ways to cook fish, but I was looking for simple, vegetable-centric ones.

You need to know about two recipes; a bread and a sauce below the jump.

Paper Fishes

24 Oct

I suffer from intense paper towel-guilt.

Unlike my battle with saran wrap, this guilt stems not from the product’s inefficiencies.  No. My paper towel-guilt is born entirely from my own inefficiencies.  There is nothing I hate more than having to grab the roll of towels, yet again, because I have caused a huge mess in the kitchen (living room/bathroom/dining room) due to my need to act first and think later.

Isaac and I are currently upstate.  We both desperately needed the break–for our sanity and health–and, we needed to get someone in to clean the chimney.  It sounded like the perfect excuse for taking a few days off.  Yesterday, after having to shame-facedly ask the chimney sweep how to start a fire in a wood-burning stove, I set to making a chicken stock out of the carcass of the frankenchicken I had pot-roasted two weekends ago.

Everything was going along swimmingly until it came time to strain the stock.  I pulled out a storage container and my sieve and started pouring… the soup all over the counter top.  Swearing loudly, I set the pot of stock down and grabbed the paper towels.  As I was mopping-up the mess it occurred to me that I would be better off putting the sieve in a bowl with a pour-spout, pouring the stock into the bowl, then transferring it into the storage container.  Apparently there is some truth to that old adage “haste makes waste,” and I’m living proof of it!

But there is one time where I never feel bad about using paper towels, and that’s while cooking fish; especially breaded and pan-fried fish.  I proclaim to not be a big fan of fish, but this is really a load of rot.  I do like fish, just most of the time I don’t care for how other people prepare it.  When I finally give in to Isaac’s wishes and cook fish at home, nine times out of 10 I love it.  And then I get all enthusiastic and say, “I love fish! I’m  going to eat it all the time!” And then I run out at lunch and get a salmon salad and remember that most people cannot cook fish to save their lives.

But there is one person out there that can cook fish, reliably and beautifully, and can translate his recipes into print. It’s Nigel Slater.  I love Nigel, as if he were a favored uncle.  I love the way he thinks and the way he writes and the way he talks about food and gardening and eating, the way his recipes are just so barely recipes, more like sketches.

I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired in the cooking-sense lately.  I attribute this entirely to the credit crisis.  I wake up and work.  I go to work and work.  And then when I get home I lie on the couch and shut my brain off, and sometimes work.  My Google reader is permanently stuck in the 1000+ mode.  I can’t remember the last time I had the chance to really sit down, relax and browse through some blogs, bookmarking recipes I want to try and absorbing inspiration.  But, seriously, after spending 12 hours a day, or more, staring at a computer screen, the very last thing I want to do is get home and stare at one some more.

So, last week, in an attempt to reboot my creative cooking processes, I grabbed Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries and burrowed into the couch.  As always, Nigel provided, amply.  In one of the fall months (I can’t remember which, and don’t have the book up here with me) was a recipe for fennel, pear and watercress salad and another for haddock breaded with tarragon bread crumbs and anchovies.  Though they were part of two separate meals, they sounded like they’d be divine together to me.  And they were.

I made Nigel’s breading mixture a bit more bold with the addition of finely minced garlic, and carried the tarragon into the dressing for the salad, and I used sole instead of haddock because our fish monger didn’t have any.  And the meal was perfect.  After a quick drain on some paper towels, the fish was crispy, moist and utterly delicious.  I immediately wanted seconds, but resisted.  The leftovers were perfect a few nights later, warmed in the oven, and served over a bed of watercress and buttery lettuces.

So, no recipes from me, because they really are Nigel’s and you deserve to hear about them from him, and then take them and run with them and make them your own.  Even if it does involve using paper towels.

The Recipe Tree

14 Aug

Where do recipes come from?

Do they fall, fully formed, from the recipe tree that stands on the middle of the earth, whose branches are so wide that they cover the entire world? Or do they swim about in the oceans, infinitely small, leaping out like a silvery fish to inspire when they feel they are needed? Or maybe they grow in the earth as grains of an idea, ready to help those that are hungry.

I’m not sure, but I know some of my favorite recipes have been an attempt to recreate a favorite meal that I ate while traveling. It’s just such a meal, about 15 years ago now, that first got me into cooking.

I was a junior in high school. Our German class had a sister gymnasium near Saarbrücken that we would attend every-other year for two months at a time. On the years we weren’t in Germany, our German friends would come and stay with us in the States.

My host-sister, Miriam, was a few years older than me, and in my eyes, so cool and accomplished. She had a wonderful older boyfriend (to whom she is now married), who was already in university and had a car. And so, we skipped out on a week of school and went traveling.

We went north, to Köln and Düsseldorf and Aachen and Belgium, and somewhere along the way, I cannot remember where, we ate in an Italian restaurant where I had a plate of pasta that still haunts me. It was simple, a ying yang of white and green linguini, with olive oil, crispy garlic and fried sage, but to me, it was the most exciting thing I had ever eaten.

Up until that point, pasta had always just been pasta. Something that should be covered in cheese or tomatoes. I’m also not sure I had ever thought of sage, at all, before that meal. And crispy, toasted, golden, transcendent garlic? It was too much. I was in love.

And so I arrived home, dressed in black, feeling cooler than cool, and immediately dove into trying to recreate the meal for my family. I think I remember my mom being amused, and I think I remember everyone actually enjoying the meal. From that point on, some of the most treasured souvenirs I’ve brought home from my travels have been recipes, or at least the germs of recipes.

On Saturday I tried to recreate one of the more recent souvenir recipes that I picked up, a pasta dish that I had on Good Friday in Florence. It was farfallle pasta with artichokes and fish. I have no idea what kind of fish it was, and I know our artichokes here aren’t the same, tender, breathtaking carcofi they have there, but when I saw crates full of teeny, tiny, impossibly adorable artichokes at the Greenmarket last Friday, I knew I had to try.

And so I did, with thunderously wonderful results. I used branzino, and braised the baby ‘chokes in vermouth and flavored the whole deal with a fragrant, pine nutty pesto. It was dreamy and delicious and immediately transported me back to that rainy, soggy, impossibly Italian night spent in a steamy, jewelbox trattoria, sitting next to the crotchety old man who ate an orange for dessert.

So, tell me, where do your recipes come from? Are they inspired by travel? By the ingredients you find at the farmer’s market or pull from your backyard? Do you prefer to riff on recipes from magazines or cookbooks? Or are you some kind of recipe evil genius?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, and links if you’ve got them!

Head below the jump for the recipe for Ann’s Good Friday Pasta.

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Whoopie!

1 May

Did you know there’s a season for whoopie pies?

Wind

Neither did I until yesterday. A bunch of my co-workers are obsessed with a brand of packaged “cookies” called “cakesters.” I hesitate to give you a link, as I’m afraid it will only fuel the mania, but, since I can hear you asking, here it is.

They’re so obsessed that they went out and bought a case of the ooey, gooey treats. I find this terrifying. Why? Because I cadged one, and seriously people, these aren’t soft, pillowy Oreos. They’re whoopie pies. And whoopie pies are something I hold very (very) dear to my heart.

Reflection

I’ve long suspected (like, since I was in junior high long) that there is a correlation between Oreos and whoopie pies, and this new development, of the “cakester,” serves, to me, as a confirmation. Growing up, the family that lived at the bottom of the hill in our neighborhood was from Lancaster Co. The mom was a champion baker, and her specialty was, of course whoopie pies. I loved (lovedlovedloved) going to their house because she always had some on hand and because they had a gigantic Old English Sheepdog who was the most awesome dog ever.

So, I can understand my co-workers’ obsession with tender chocolate cookies and sweet, fluffy filling. But only to a point. What I can’t get over is their fetishizing of a product filled with chemicals and high-fructose corn syrup, when as well paid, sentient adults they could be fixating on something worthy. Like the whoopie pies, baked fresh in Lancaster Co., and brought to the Union Square greenmarket a block away from our office a few times a week.

Chelsea

I’m passionate about food, something you’re probably aware of. But what you might not know is that I’m also kind of loud. So it’s easy for me to come across as a bit strident and bloviating (known to some as annoying), especially when I insist on say, harranguing every person that walks past my desk with a “cakester.” “Whoopie pies are better you know!”

Luckily, people still like me despite this minor personality quirk and put up with my abuse, but only up to a point. I could tell that it was time to stop talking and start acting on my whoopie pie assertions.

Shadows

So, despite being desperately late to work yesterday, I dashed into the greenmarket, no mean feat as they’ve changed the layout (p.s. I hate it), and found the stand I was looking for. I glanced around. Meats. Check. Scrapple. Check. Stone-ground corn. Check. Lots and lots and lots of plants. Check. Whoopie pies? Uhhhh… So I asked the guy, “Where are the whoopie pies?” “Oh, they’re seasonal, fall and winter only.”

Whaaaaaa? I had no choice but to believe him. I mean, you can’t argue with someone who doesn’t have whoopie pies. So I turned away, and slunk off to the office with my metaphorical tail between my legs. Getting my co-workers off the “cakesters” just may take a bit more effort than I had initially assumed.

Swoon

But, there’s a reason I bring this up, and that’s seasonality. Who knew that there was a season to whoopie pies, and who knows the reason why? At Pegasus, our favorite Greek-Cypriot spot in the neighborhood, the owner make the world’s best avgolemono, but, much like the whoopie pies, only in fall and winter.

The soup I can understand. So much whisking and standing over a hot stove, no one wants to do that in the middle of summer! But whoopie pies? I mean, wouldn’t the machines and stoves do most of the work?

Saint

But really, the point I’m trying to make is that this is a tough season for eating. The weather can’t make up its mind and the culinary standbys of the past season are gone while fresh, new vegetables that make spring so exciting are only just beginning to make an appearance. It was one of these vegetables that I was obsessing over this past Saturday. Asparagus.

As I lay napping on the couch, I dreamed of supping on lightly pan-roasted asparagus topped with a gently poached egg and pillows of lemon and black pepper flecked fresh goat cheese. Then I woke up. At 5.30pm. In Bay Ridge. An hour’s subway ride from Union Square. It was never going to happen. So I rubbed my eyes, shook the cobwebs out of my brain and snapped to attention. If we were going to have a delicious dinner, I needed to act fast.

Shadows

I roused Isaac, slipped on my shoes and dashed out the door. We headed to the fish monger. Isaac had seen that he had halibut fillets earlier in the day, but they were gone, so we settled on flounder and some colossal shrimp. We ran across the street to the Korean market and grabbed leeks, mint and lemons. They had asparagus, but it was flown in from somewhere that wasn’t upstate New York, so I left it there. I can wait for local asparagus.

Copper

The meal was composed entirely on the fly. I made a quick shrimp stock from the shells and then melted the leeks. I decided pretty late in the game that the dish needed bacon. It was a good move.

This meal is seriously delicious. And the leftover sauce was exceptional a few nights later as a post-work dinner with pasta, a dash of sherry vinegar and a flurry of grated cheese.  And, in it’s way, being based on wintered-over leeks and citrus, it is in fact seasonal.

Flounder Smothered in Melted Leeks

I know it’s kind of a cruel turn, to start with whoopie pies and end with flounder, but I hope that, like my co-workers who put up with my occasional tirades and bursts of vulgarity, you’ll forgive me. It is my birthday after all.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Flounder Smothered In Melted Leeks.

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Love/Hate

23 Jan

Little fish, big controversy.

Pugs On Patrol

Some recent night after work I was watching the Iron Chef battle between Mario Batali and Jamie Oliver, Isaac was reading. “Oooooh!” I said. “Look, Pasta con le Sarda!” “Huh?” “Mario’s making pasta with sardines. I’ve always wanted to make that. I think it’s totally weird that it’s got fish, raisins and fennel in it.” “Pasta? With sardines? I’m sold.”

It seemed like the perfect dish. I love pasta but I’m not so keen on fish. Isaac’s the exact opposite. It seemed like a match made in heaven. And then we started discussing the dish.

This is where the pugs live.  Lucky pugs.

I wanted to change some things around. I didn’t want to use sardines. Where on earth would I get sardines? In Bay Ridge? On a Sunday? Tell me that… So, what do you want to use? Tuna. Tuna? Ewh. Why would you use tuna? Because I like tuna and I don’t really like sardines. Well why on earth would you suggest making something with sardines then? Etc. Etc. Etc.

The discussion never got heated, just testy, but just testy enough to make it seem like a good idea to shelve the dish for a while. So we made spinach pie. Spinach pie. The peacemaker. Who knew?

Cold, Winter Tree

Then, on Saturday, piscine providence provided.

I had already settled on roasting a chicken and making some Asian-esque soup with dumplings from the leftovers as the weekend’s culinary activities, but Isaac came back from the gym with amazing news. Cosentino’s, the local fish market, had fresh sardines.

They were beautiful, shiny, plump, glistening and as fresh as fresh fish can be. They smelled of the ocean and were soft and silky to the touch. Their eyes were so bright and shiny, like they were still chasing tiny krill through the icy waters of the Atlantic. But I couldn’t. Nope.

Tree Lined

I don’t know when it happened or how, but I don’t like fish. Okay, that’s only about 87% honest. I don’t like most fish. I love cod, but feel guilty eating it. And don’t even put a bowl of clams in front of me, because they’ll be gone by the time you turn back around. Tuna’s alright, especially when smeared in mayonnaise and hot sauce and wrapped inside seaweed and gulped down with pickled ginger. I also don’t mind fish on vacation, like in Croatia, where it was all even fresher than the sardines I was staring down. But at home? Not so much.

So I stood there, waffling. I knew how much Isaac wanted them. I knew that they were local, and seasonal. But I failed. I settled on a hunk of tuna and some clams. I could feel the disappointment emanating in waves off both Isaac and the fish guy. The fish guy said he only brought in the sardines when they were exceptional, and that he knew no one would buy them. It felt awful proving him right.

End

I was wracked with guilt on the walk home, hugging my tuna airlifted in from warmer climes. I had just failed miserably as a foodie. I had left the delicious delicacy from the sea back in that store on a bed of ice. And so, I relented. I asked Isaac to go back and get the little fishes, but to make sure the guy gutted them. I hate gutting fish.

The sauce is, as the Naked Chef would say, easy peasy. You cut some vege, cook the vege, add tomatoes and stew. The cleaning of the fish though? Far more than I expected. I figured the fish guy would not only gut them but remove their spines too. Oh no. Nope. He left that for me.

Canon

The first one was difficult, but by the end I had the hang of it. You just insert the tip of a knife under the spine near the tail and drag backwards, pulling out the tail. Then you lift the spine and pull towards the head. Where the spine breaks, you cut off that part of the fish. The ribs will be too big and thick to melt in the cooking process. But this is not a neat procedure. Little bits of fish fly everywhere. You have been warned.

The sauce turned out well, very well in fact, but for me the star of the meal was the pasta. I took a cue from Mario and rather than adding saffron to the sauce, I added it to the noodles. I made pappardelle because I love them, and these noodles might be the ones I *heart* the most in all the world. They are spectacular.

Pasat con le Sarda

The first bite of the meal was, to me, a little too fishy, but by the end I was very happy. It’s kind of a cross between puttanesca and Huachinango Veracruzano, but with more depth and mystery. I’m not sure I’ll ever make it again, even though the leftovers were excellent on some Trader Joe’s artichoke ravioli. It was just too contentious. Too stressful.

Dinner should be delicious, not fraught.

Head below the jump for Ann’s recipes for Pasta con le Sarda and Golden Papparedelle.

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