Archive for February, 2010

Cooking fish is a milestone for me in the land of cooking.

I grew up with a father who did not like fish, not even the smell of it in the house. And since I’ve moved out on my own, I’ve mostly stuck with cheaper meat options (with a goal price point of $2/lb or less – though, yes, I’ve been reconsidering my ethics lately). Also, Philadelphia is not known for its seafood, so I don’t know of a reliable fish monger near me.

But I just happened to be out today in the vicinity of a reputable source of seafood – Ippolito’s – so I stepped in and professed my cluelessness. I did ask for something a little more challenging that a salmon steak, so I ended up selecting a beautiful 18″-ish striped bass. And since I don’t have fish-worth knives at home, I did ask them to filet it for me, but to also include the head, tail, and bones for stock.

Turns out that I only ended up with the meat. I’m a little disappointed, but I suppose that any day I call ahead and go there asking for a bag of random fish scraps, I’ll be able to get them for fairly cheaply… and I wasn’t going back today because it took a lot of looking to find a decent parking spot that wasn’t on a snow emergency route.

So after I did the dishes and cleared a workspace, the first thing I did was open up my packet and fondle my meat. Erm… I mean notice that there weren’t any miscellaneous bits. And then I pulled out only three tiny bones that the store missed. And, yes, my eyes had been right – the flesh felt smooth and supple and there was no fish smell even this close.

So, being an amateur, the first thing I did was to cut the filets down so that one was 4 ounces and the other 3.5 ounces. I did that by trimming off the thinner flaps on the side and down by the tail so that the filets would have a more even thickness. I have no idea whether that is acceptable in formal fish circles or not, but it seemed logical to me.

I then had about 2.5 ounces of very fresh fish to play with.

Ceviche

So I diced the fish finely, slightly less than 1cm x 1cm x .5cm, and I did not bother with removing the skin except in a couple spots where it wasn’t cutting easily.

I added half a jalapeno, minced. And then I added about 2 tablespoons of finely minced red onion. I stirred that about and tasted it.

Oh, right, I was missing the acid – that’s key to ceviche. So I pulled out a lemon and a lime and ending up that I wanted to use the lime. The juice of a whole lime seemed a bit too much after I added it. Hmmm…

I also minced up some fresh flat-leaf parsley (I love the small salad spinner I got for my birthday!). And I added some salt, pepper, and a chunk of gingerj.

Now I think I’ve covered all of the basics of ceviche, but it still wasn’t tasting any good, even after marinating for half an hour. So I started looking around my kitchen – ah, yes, the persimmons.

I diced up one, and even with their odd skin/flesh texture, the persimmon was the perfect answer. Well, I suspect any particularly strong fruit. But instantly (well, with even more salt, too) the flavors came together and the ceviche was tasty.

So I spent the rest of the day googling recipes for striped bass, calling my mother for advice, and seriously pondering the fail-proof parchment method, which showed up in such a timely fashion on my twitter feed.

And then I sucked it up and reminded myself that I had managed to find exceptionally fresh fish, so I’d better just trust my ingredients.

Pan Seared Striped Bass

So I took out a good, thick skillet, and I heated it up fairly high (medium-high, actually, so not as hot as for steak) with a teaspoon of olive oil in the pan.

When hot, I took my nice, even-thickness 4 ounce filet, and lay it down (I put the skin down first). And then I didn’t let myself look at it or poke at it to monitor.

I just waited 3 minutes. And then I sprinkled salt and pepper on the up side, flipped it, and sprinkled the skin side, too.

Ever so slightly more than three more minutes later (I don’t know why I held off, but it seemed right), I served up onto a plate a perfect piece of fish with nice browning on both sides, easy flake, and just oozing juicy tenderness.

I’d say it was as good as the best fish I’ve had in a restaurant. Wow!

I still have one more filet, so I’ll see if I can duplicate my results and call it skill/intuition or if it was just beginner’s luck.

And how did I manage not to poke at the fish? By assembling a salad for the side. This was my second run with this basic salad frame, but the first one was too acidic, so I was more generous this time with the more oily ingredients.

Persimmon & Arugula Salad

Cold parts
2.5 ounces of arugula, washed – and spun!
2 persimmons, cut up and scattered artfully
a dozen dry roasted almonds (unsalted) roughly broken up with a knife
2 ounces of semi-soft mild flavored cheese

Dressing
1/2 tsp brown mustard
1/2 tsp tamarind sauce/chutney
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar

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24
Feb

Fish and Stock Pots

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Equipment, experiments, Food, Kitchen

This is the slightly neurotic backstory to the cook fish story

So I woke up this morning and really didn’t want to get out of bed, but I did manage to barely get out of the house in time to acquire the 20L stock pot a nifty Philadelphia food person had offered on Twitter. I did not do public transportation, nor the brisk walk I had thought might be fun. I drove. But still – pot acquired. And even though I had grabbed a small book I’d made and a bar of fancy chocolate to offer in exchange, I did not remember to hand them over… a bit out of sorts today.

But then I was in the vague vicinity of the one place in all of Philadelphia to get reliable fresh seafood. So I stopped in and made a fool of myself and clearly admitted I knew nothing but would they please point me toward something fun. And I ended up with a pretty whole fish, which I asked them to fillet and give me the bones and head and all so I could make stock.

So I get home and have to look quite hard, but I do find a close-ish parking spot off of the snow emergency route (oh, hey, looks like we’ll probably get more snow).

So I get home and do the dishes, so I’ll have a clear workspace for the fish. And there are a lot of dishes (just because). And I open up the fish, and there are only two lovely fillets – no bones or bits. Grrr.

But I’ve got this weird thing going where I should have left five minutes ago, if I were going to go to work, but I have to get the fish sorted before I leave. No idea why I can’t just shove it in the fridge.

So I trim the awkward bits (not really awkward in the real world, but I was looking to make them smaller, anyway, so that was my excuse for picking on the thinner area) off the fillets and set them aside to dice and make ceviche. And I wrap the now 3.5 and 4 oz fillets back up tightly and back in the plastic bag. Next, I pull out my ice bin and line it with foil before I put in the bag with the fish to approximate the rig Alton Brown had which took up a whole shelf in a decoratively empty fridge.

And then I look at the clock, and I could just put on clothes and grab a cab and make it to work five minutes late… so I start preparing the ceviche. It’s a weird disconnect that happens sometimes, but not so much since I quit being stressed from college. So I called out sick and had a great day of it.

Many of my food experiments are directly the result of instigation from my friend Meghan. And her latest blog post about eggplant sludge, though not attractively named, was also inspiring.

Luckily, another friend had recently gifted me with an eggplant from her organic produce delivery service, which was getting on in days and needed to be eaten quickly in a dish where appearances didn’t matter.

Eggplant and Pasta

In 1 teaspoon of olive oil, I sauteed 1 diced yellow onion and then 3 minced cloves of garlic.

Once the onions cooked to translucency, I peeled the eggplant and cut out any brown spots, and then I took my box grater and just grated it right into the pan.

In reference to my friend Meghan’s post, I’d been chatting with her about whether or not salting eggplants was useful, and there was googling. The end conclusion was that pre-salting doesn’t ‘draw out bitterness,’ but saltiness does counteract bitterness.

So I salted the hell out of this dish. Erm, buy which I mean that I took three chunks of fancy pink Himalayan salt and ground them down into regular powder and added that to the dish such that I was pleased with the saltiness and there was not noticeable bitterness.

I also cut small and added two dried peppers – one cayenne and one other one I dried, which memory tells me was a red jalapeno but could have been something else similar, too.

When it looked a little dry, I peeled and cut in the edible half of the tomato my friend had also given me for urgent consumption.

And then I cooked it until the eggplant was not only soft, but also releasing liquid, then seasoned with a generous amount of cinnamon and black pepper.

Shamelessly (well, mostly shamelessly), I then added about half a cup of jarred tomato sauce. (Yes, I’ve had bad jarred tomato sauce, and I see why you don’t like it. But Classico rarely has off flavors, has a wonderful product as a base for sauces, and I love the jars for reuse.)

Mixed in 4 ounces of cooked macaroni (selected because that box was in front of the queue, but it was a good pairing for the sauce), and that made two generous portions.

Because I’m back on the Weight Watchers wagon, I topped it with 2 thinly sliced scallions and about a teaspoon of freshly grated parmesan.

So please explain to me what to do with this fancy Himalayan Pink Salt.

The crystals are too large to sprinkle on top to finish.

And when you grind it down, it only looks pink next to other salt.

Is it mostly useful in a pretty, transparent grinder and then used as you would regular salt?

Or is there a way to take advantage of the pretty without having to buy purely decorative hardware?

note: This salt was given to me gratis for review by Marx Foods as a result of the entry I made for their free black garlic. There were many more things in the new sampler, too, so there will be several entries mentioning them in the near future.

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22
Feb

Update

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Equipment, Kitchen, weight/exercise

1) As of the wee hours of the morning, I’m an aunt.

2) I did not get the house on which I made an offer – over the weekend, someone else also put in a bid for the house, only full asking price.

3) I have a new laptop. Oddly, it’s still in the box.

4) Made more truffles – for the help_haiti auction. They are getting mailed out today. Made a box to fit them all perfectly, too, and I might be even more proud of that because the little muffin wrappers were ornery and hard to keep squished together and tidy.

5) back on the wagon for Weight Watchers. Over about the 8 months off the wagon (wherein I discovered rudimentary baking), I only gained 11 pounds, so I’m not too badly off. I restarted also to enable my boss’ quest to fit into her pants.

6) have new kitchen toys: a salad spinner (birthday present and something I’ve been pining after for years and years) and a pressure canner

7) While planning for the house, evaluated apartment. With sufficient boxes, I think I could pack up to move in about 4 hours. Maybe less.

8) I’ve lost my apples tree in the back yard to termites and heavy snows. If I’m not moving, I am worried about the summer. I’ve long suspected that the shade from that tree was the main reason I could manage without air conditioning.

9) Okay, now I have to get dressed and mail packages, including one addressed to a brand new baby, probably still in the deeply unattractive stage… though after 12 hours of unproductive labor, there was a C-section, and I hear those babies are supposed to be prettier – at least their head shapes are less silly, but they might still be purple. No idea. No pictures yet.

10) This week, I have to reserve all the side trips and stuff for the Rome trip.

11) I need to call the property manager and ask them to check that my neighbor isn’t dead. (I haven’t seen him for a couple months and for a couple other reasons)

ETA: …erm… actually, he was dead. But they were already/recently aware. /eta

12) I did my taxes. Federal ones have already been e-filed. Now I have to remember to mail in my state taxes. There was a terrifying moment when I thought I owed almost as much to the state as I’d been getting back from the federal government. Then I saw I had entered the state withholdings line with a decimal point in the wrong place. ~whew~! All is well with the world. I requested direct deposit so I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I’d still be at that mailbox when the check came.

18
Feb

giving praise

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Uncategorized

I was sitting here very impressed by a chef on twitter praising one of his prep cooks for cutting up cilantro (because, really, who does that? Giving random praise by name for doing simple tasks well is awesome.)

And then I popped out, and my student worker was running around keeping a whole room full of microfilm users educated and happy – I’d had no idea we were having a rush. So I sent off a note to my boss.

7
Feb

YAY! ~slump~

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Uncategorized

Car found!

It’s suspiciously close to a fire hydrant, but that’s where the city put it, so I’m leaving it there until streets are better.

Fine high, but not as bad as I’d been willing to grit and bear. So I’ll call that a win.

Now to summon up energy for the rest of the cooking I had planned

  • Chana Masala – Done, turned out really well! Wonderful flavor and a spice level that’s just challenging for me
  • bread baking – Done, got it nice and chewy like storebought bead (yes, this was a goal)
  • canning 1 more batch of stock – ETA:Done, now I have a full case of 12
  • and starting a pot of beans and ham hocks

Oh, yeah, and I promised the cat I’d clean her water fountain

7
Feb

snOMG

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Uncategorized

So I gambled and lost. My car has been towed.

Fine, it was a risk I knowingly took because it had been a hellish week, parking spots were scarce and last Snowmageddon I’d moved off the snow emergency route and ended up plowed in and painfully excavating the car for two days while those who’d stayed had it easy. And I figured I was okay with the consequences.

I’m oddly not okay with it. My car getting towed has got me all depressed and doubting my judgment and avoidy. Which is a little disturbing, but I plan to repress all that with further baking.

However, it did throw off my cooking game, and I should not have tried my first ever batch of brownies while iffy. And I apologize to everyone I called at midnight with random brownie questions – even though no one answered and that was confusing because I was pretty sure people would be home. But if the phone ringing frightened you because you thought a relative might have died, I’m very sorry – I just hadn’t noticed the time.

Right, so car has been towed. So I called the hotline for having your vehicle towed from a snow emergency street, and they couldn’t find a record of my car. So they told me I should just go out in the snow and wander about the two intersections where they were taking towed cars. Only these two areas aren’t places that had spots open before it snowed, and I’m a bit confused by the crazy. I don’t want to go out and randomly wander. And then the emergency hasn’t been called off yet, so if I do find my car, then where to I put it? I thought right after the streets were plowed curb to curb, I’d be able to put my car back.

Meh.

5
Feb

Snowpocalypse

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Uncategorized

There’s not a single flake here yet, but I am so rooting for the snowpocalypse. (even though back in my day when we had snow, we just bitched about it a bit and shoveled it)

Even though I don’t get off work until 9pm and will be walking back through the thick of it, I can’t wait. I brought boots to work in a bag.

But I so want a weekend where I can’t leave the house. It probably means that I’ll have to take vacation days somewhere in this month to visit my grandmother during the week, but still. A whole weekend where I can’t go out.

Oh, yeah, I also want the snow to reach New York. Please. So it’s credible I can’t visit (even though I never told her I planned to visit this weekend and even though I warned her my February is crazy busy… it’d be nice to call her for my birthday without her being all disappointed I’m not there). Maybe I’ll even go up for Wednesday and Thursday (Fridays are right out because then I’d have to attend the bridge lessons from hell).

Right, so – snowpocalypse. YAY!

I have plans. I want to make vegetable stock and try canning it in the new pressure cooker.

And last time I saw my mother, she brought ham hocks and chicken leftovers. And I have crazy fancipants dried beans… and there could be soup.

And chana masala.

I bought a lot of carrots, and some is going in the soup (and the peels are going in the stock), but I might also play around with chutneys.

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll try baking something that isn’t bread. There’s a brownie recipe for which I have all the ingredient.

And I could clean. It looks like it won’t be high enough above freezing for laundry until Thursday.

Oh, and I could work more on books. I am missing the official deadline for Fun-a-Day, but maybe I can turn things in on Monday. If not, I’ll have done stuff. And I have some longer term projects to work on, too. La la la.

And a book to read! I’m 3/4 through Spindle’s End

It’s going to be a great weekend! (if it’ll snow as promised)