Sunday, April 28, 2013

Getting next to a land locked state

Fish Cookery is one of my most popular and most requested classes.
Initially, I was surprised by this but it makes total sense.  Many people in Oklahoma just aren't comfortable with fish unless it's something they pulled out of one of the area lakes, like crappy or bass.  Then, guess what?!  They fry it...I mean, what else are you going to do with it?  Hence the popularity, nay fascination with, cooking fish.  I hear everything from...I have no idea what to do with it to what the Hell is that? to I don't like fish!  Imagine that, taking a class about food you don't like.  Here's the thing...they end up liking it by the time the class is over!  I LOVE that!!
But before we get started...let me get some preaching out of the way.
TILAPIA...stop it!  It is the bane of my existence.  It doesn't make you a bad person if this is the ONLY fish you think you like or can cook or will order in a restaurant but let's examine this tasteless, character-less specimen.  Abundant?  Yes, because it is farm-raised.  Now, in and of itself, being farm-raised is not a bad thing unless the only reason for it is to create tons and tons of it (to meet consumer demand, I know).  People love that sh-t!  You know why?  Because it has no flavor!  It isn't "fishy".  But, wait a minute, it is fish...shouldn't it taste like fish?  Is "fishiness" a bad thing?  I guess it is.  That's another thing we tackle in class...hang on, I'll get to that, I'm not finished with this.  Tilapia is an overly available, tasteless food.  Sustainable does not mean that it has to be uninteresting and uninspiring.  Please don't pay $15 or $20 in a restaurant for it.  Please try something else! I'm finished.
Cooking fish involves basic skills that anyone can learn.  It does not have to be breaded and fried.  In class, we do everything from grilling to sauteing to oil poaching.  But you do need to know your fish before you decide what to do with it.
I recommend finding a good fish monger.  Depending on where you live, you might have one at your local grocery (highly unlikely in Oklahoma, however).  A fish monger is someone who sells fish for a living; she/he eats, sleeps and breathes fish and should be able to recommend what's good/freshest/in season and best cooking methods for it.  For instance, if you buy sole (a fish with a delicate flesh and not "fishy"), it probably is not a good idea to grill it because it will fall apart before you get it off the grill....probably before you get it near the grill.  It needs to be quickly sauteed or baked with a light sauce, something like that.  Also, your fish source should get fish in at least once, if not twice a DAY not a WEEK!  Therein lies the smell factor.  Fresh fish does not smell "fishy"!  You should either smell nothing or the ocean but not old fish.  If you smell old fish, tell the person who is trying to sell it to you that it smells bad and pick something else...maybe the pork chops.  A whole fish should look like you just caught it.  Clear eyes, beautiful skin and NO SMELL!  If you are buying filets or steaks,  treat it like you were buying a piece of meat you're familiar with.  You wouldn't buy an old dry, brown, stinky piece of steak.  Same goes for fish, good color, moist, and not stinky!
You do not have to buy wild fish but if you do, make sure that it is "running" that means in season.  Halibut runs from March to December but Pacific salmon runs mainly in the summer months (June, July) so the rest of the year, you're stuck with Atlantic, typically farm raised, salmon which just does not have the oil content or flavor of the wild varieties.  Also, it is usually colored by the distributor to make it look red like its wild cousins...just sayin'.  I'm just providing information, here.  There are many other wild fish, again, check with your fish monger for seasons.

What you put with your fish is just as important as your fish itself.  Your fish is fresh so don't mess it up with frozen or canned vegetables.  Fresh goes with fresh.  I know you have to shop more often but fresh, seasonal produce is (typically) less expensive and certainly more flavorful and the texture is better than the canned and frozen varieties. Most importantly, do NOT overcook your fish.  That will turn you against fish in an instant!  It will dry out and the mouth texture will be similar to desert sand...just don't do it.  Delicate fish should flake.  Firm fleshed fish should be opaque, nothing more.  And, if you're talking seared ahi, well, that's doesn't mean much more than just showing it the grill or saute pan.

Since I know you're wondering (I'm psychic that way), personally, I like fish with a firm texture and richness, such as, halibut, grouper, swordfish, tuna, and salmon.

So let's look at Candace's five tenets of successful fish cooking:
  • Do not buy smelly fish...that means it's old and should have been thrown out
  • Wild fish should be "running" - that means in season
  • Match fish with cooking method - a sole is not a swordfish
  • Do not overcook your fish - delicate flesh should flake, firm flesh should look opaque
*A final note about shrimp because I can't help myself.  Unless you live on a coast and I mean right on the coast, the shrimp you buy, no matter where you buy it, will have been frozen.  Typically, raw frozen shrimp is just fine out of the freezer case at your local grocer.  You don't need to pay high dollar for "fresh" shrimp from your fish monger...sorry, guys, I love you, but you know this is true.  And, don't buy cooked, frozen shrimp that's just wrong!

Here's your recipe bonus...oh, and the next Fish Class is Thursday, May 16...

Pan Seared/Oven Roasted Halibut

Serves 4

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1½ lb thick skinless halibut fillet (or other mild white fish, like cod), cut into 4 equal pieces
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium bowl, mix the tomatoes, oregano, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper.

Season the fish with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering hot.  Add the fish and cook until it browns and releases easily from the pan about 3 minutes.  Flip the fish, pour the tomato mixture around it and transfer the skillet to the oven.

Roast until the fish is just firm to the touch and opaque 3 to 6 minutes.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

It's the garden update!

 You gotta love Oklahoma weather, NOT!  If I have to cover my tomatoes one more time because there's a freeze warning in the middle of April, I will not be responsible for the aftermath.  It's hard enough to grow things with the typical weather patterns being typical.  You may or may not know but the last threat of frost is supposed to be somewhere around April 5 so the third week in April is kinda pissing me off!  But enough of my little temper tantrum.  As you can see, the beautiful little heirloom tomatoes are doing quite well, thank you.  First picture, here on your right is from April 7 ( a day or two before our first frost warning) and the one below it is from today so they are coming

along and it makes me happy!  I have not planted any killer cucumbers (yet) but I'm hearing that a lot of people (including, Kornell) are having problems getting the cucumbers to sprout.  So I may hold off on those.  Has anyone heard what that might be related to?  I would be interested to know!  Gotta share these little cuties with you, though...take a look at this next picture below on the left.  Sugar snap peas!  Aren't they the cutest little things you've ever seen.  You can sow and grow now and then you can do it again as a late summer/early fall crop.  You must trellis them and I am happy to say that I have lots of those left over from last year's garden.  I love this re-using thing.  Works so great!  I will have lots of sugar snaps to share in my Seasonal Vegetable Class so watch the calendar (hint:  Wednesday, May 22) for the next one.  That also reminds me that I forgot about one of my favorite crops...beets!  How could I do that?  Ummmm...I think I ran out of room but I've got to get me some of them!  I don't have good news on the Brussels sprouts front.  My seedlings are gone so we'll have to give them another try.  Same goes for spinach...oh well, it is gardening and sometimes gambling!  In thinking back to last year's successes (unexpected! and I think I mentioned them in my garden update from two weeks ago) but the sage and the rosemary just have me blown away!  I had to include a pic from two weeks ago and then one from today.  

The rosemary is holding its own but is not nearly as lush as the sage.  On the other hand, I cut the rosemary down to nothing at the end of last year for a lamb class so it has a long way to go.  And, trust me, these two herbs looked like long gone dead at the end of last year.  I had no hope of them returning.  So learn this lesson...don't give up on your plant friends, they will surprise you.  Seems like there should be some kind of life metaphor in there but I don't know...I think plants are much more likely to surprise you than people...

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Get your Asian on....Gangnam style?

 I think everyone knows I have a penchant for Italian cooking, especially, authentic regional Italian...I could wax poetic for-evah.  So!  What is up with this need to go Asian?  I actually love to cook Asian almost as much as Italian.  Fact of the matter, the person I was hooked up with for 20 years didn't like it and would get supremely cranky when I tried to bring it to the dinner table so guess what happened!?  I stopped cooking Asian-style for, yes, 20 years!  Stupid, right?  RIGHT!  So I have been getting my Asian mojo back with cooking classes and various caterings.  As a result, I like to share my knowledge with my peeps so here you go...a few tips on bringing Asian flavors into your food.  First, get thee to an Asian market and spend some time wandering the aisles.  It should smell like old fish when you walk in the door and there should not be anyone who speaks English. You will see everything from the recognizable (soy sauce) to the super weird
(pig uterus, yes, I'm totally serious and no, I don't know what to do with it...yet).  Anywho, you can find almost anything for your authentic recipes and anything to help you add some Asian thang to your cooking.  I rest my case with the pig parts.
Here are my recommendations for making some small inroads into the Asian realm.
  • Fresh ginger.  If you haven't already used this, get some now!  Grated, chopped, sliced, raw or adds the essence of Asia.
  • Fish sauce.  Again, if you haven't tried it, get some now!  I know it smells IS fish sauce after all but used properly, it adds that little umami* that you can't identify in the authentic leaves you asking what is that?
  • Cilantro.  It's not just for Mexican cooking!  It is a critical herb in most Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
  • Daikon.  Also known as a Chinese radish, it is very large, kind of carrot shaped, white tuber that when pickled makes your basic Banh Mi sublime.  Pickling is easy with rice wine vinegar, white sugar and a little salt.
  • Star anise.  Looks like a star, smells like licorice and adds a complex fragrance and flavor to soups and braises.  Short ribs, especially love star anise.
I could go on and on but those are some of my favorites.  I have also included the recipe for my favorite sandwich, a meatball banh mi.  It uses most all of these ingredients and is a true expression of Vietnamese street food.  Speaking of which, Asian Street Food is one of our classes this week.  We'll be making shrimp summer rolls (the top picture) as well as Dan Dan Noodles and more...
Oh and here's the explanation of umami for those of you who have been living under a rock.
*  A savory taste.  Umami is one of the five basic tastes (yes, there were only four when I was growing up, too) with sweet, sour, bitter and salty.  Borrowed from the Japanese, umami can be translated as "pleasant savory taste" or just freaking delicious!  Examples of umami-rich foods are fish, mushrooms, tomatoes and fermented or aged products like fish sauce, soy sauce, etc.
Happy Cooking!

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Vietnamese Meatball Banh Mi Sandwich
Serves 4
¾ lb ground pork
¾ lb ground turkey
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced onion
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar, divided
2 tbsp fish sauce, divided
1/3 cup coconut milk

4 baguettes, split and cut into four inch lengths
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
Sambal (garlic chili paste)
1 – 2 fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced
16 Vietnamese Meatballs, cut in half
2 cups daikon and carrot pickle (recipe follows)
2 cups loosely packed cilantro sprigs (no hard stems)

To make the meatballs:  combine garlic, onion, salt, 1 tsp sugar and 1 tbsp fish sauce and mix.  Add meats to seasonings and mix until just blended.  Do not overmix.  Form mixture into walnut to golf ball size meatballs.
In a small bowl, combine the coconut milk with the remaining sugar and fish sauce.
Preheat oven to 425°.  Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place meatballs on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.  Brush the meatballs with the coconut milk mixture and return to the oven for another 20 minutes until the meatballs are browned and the coconut milk is caramelized.
(Meatballs can be wrapped in foil and refrigerated overnight.  To reheat, place the foil-wrapped meatballs in a 425° oven for 15 minutes.)

To assemble the banh mi:  On a rimmed baking sheet, place the baguette halves, cut side up.  Brush with softened butter and toast until they begin to brown around the edges, about 5 – 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Combine mayonnaise with sambal and spread on the baguette halves.  Cut meatballs in half and place cut side down on half of the baguettes.   Top the meatballs with the daikon and carrot pickle, followed by a few slices of fresh jalapeno, and a handful of cilantro sprigs.  Top each sandwich with the other baguette half.

 Daikon – Carrot Pickle
1 cup shredded daikon radish
1 cup shredded carrot
½ cup rice wine vinegar
¼ cup sugar

Mix vinegar and sugar until sugar is dissolved.  Add shredded daikon and carrot and toss to combine.  Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator overnight.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Here we go again...The Garden 2013

The garden is back!  I was going to say "in da house" but that would be kinda stupid so TA DA!!  Yesterday, Kornell (for those of you who don't know, he's my guy and the reason I have such a beautiful vegetable patch) and I went out to see the Tomato Man's Daughter and I absolutely controlled myself...only bought 8 plants compared to last year's attempt at 14!  Aren't you proud of me?  Lisa (the daughter) is super knowledgeable and can recommend the right plant for the right purpose so I am really excited.  Combine that with the amount of love she showers over these beauties and it's a no-fail situation.  That is, if I can keep the dang critters out of the beds!  I included one picture where you can see the footprints or digging or free-for-all that somebody was having last night after we finished putting everything into the ground.  ARGHHH!!
We discussed the critter issue with Lisa and she said the only way to get rid of the squirrels was a shotgun.  If I see another one running across the top of my fence holding onto one of my beauties...I may be inclined to pull out the firepower!  Anyway, we're going to think positive.  The tomato variety is mostly heirloom with tried and true Oklahoma standbys like the Arkansas Traveler (had to have one of those in honor of my granddad).  So I've got one cherry variety along with a black, green and yellow pinkheart.  She also had an Italian frying pepper that I cannot wait to try!  As you can see in the first pic, I started a fair number of seeds inside.  Those included Brussels sprouts, tomatillos, jalapenos, eggplant, cauliflower and red bells.  Put sugar snap peas into the ground along with pie pumpkins (that's in case Reasor's doesn't have any for Thanksgiving!  Then take a look at my last picture...those are last year's herb holdovers.
 You've got to love that sage!  Can you believe it?!  Talk about beleaguered during last summer!  I held out no hope of seeing anything like that but sage is a hardy perennial obviously...standing in good stead next to it is last year's rosemary.  I really cut it back a lot at the end of last summer so I'm anticipating that it will go ca-razy this year.  And, I was reminded that it does help to water it.

I do have some tarragon, thyme and chives started from seed...we'll see what those will do.  So tales from the vegetable garden begin this weekend.  look for blog updates weekly interspersed with as much wit and wisdom as I can muster in between.  Next week, I'll give you the rundown on Thursday's Blank Canvas competition.  Think happy thoughts...I really want to win!!