Archive for January, 2012

24
Jan

review – Grill Fish (west philly)

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in ethics & ecology, Food, restaurant, Review

I was very excited when I saw that the Lai family was opening up a new restaurant close to me. I was excited because it was named Grill Fish.

Now there were dreams and fantasies in my head about the coming restaurant. In my head, this would finally be a convenient local source of exquisitely fresh fish (which is rather rare to come by in Philadelphia). Possibly, it would even be affordable. But just the name – Grill Fish – evoked images of the freshest fish, being treated very minimally, grilled all luscious and healthy.

Honestly, there’s no way I was going to get my wish.

But City Paper reviewed their opening, and it sounded like things would possibly be pretty close to my dreams. So exciting!

So I went there this weekend. And I’ll say right now that the food was very good.

But my dreams were shattered. For one thing, the chalkboard with the fresh special of the day? Had not been changed in the five days since the review.

And I realized that I hadn’t read the menu closely enough, and while I thought that under each protein there was a list of 5 or 6 ways it could be prepared, instead they were all ingredients in one dish.

And the two dishes we ordered were fried, not grilled. And so, not showcasing the freshness of the fish.

Right, but how was what we ate? Excellent.

We started off with the Grilled Squid appetizer. And it was exactly what I wanted the rest of the restaurant to be. Tender, mild squid melted with no resistance – and there was a strong note of char from the superficial seared grill marks. The citrus sauce was excellent, and it was a delightful start.

I ordered the Tilapia, which came with a tomato sauce. My dining companion’s comment on the sauce was that this would make an excellent stew, and she was not wrong. Having the sauce over the fish, did soggy the bottom of the light breading, but the taste was excellent and the overall texture mixing crisp crumb coating with a thin layer of mild fish. As much as I enjoyed it, I loved the side of greens even more – but then, I’m a sucker for greens, and these were very tasty.

My dining companion ordered the fluke. Hers was presented with the sauce on the side, so she had a nice, crisp coating all the way through.

We skipped dessert – because I would have liked some of the Vietnamese desserts from their restaurant next door, and caked just seemed off. (and unpriced. If your desserts and daily fish aren’t going to have a price in the menu, then my opinion is that it should be on the board, too)

I should go back and order the whole grilled fish, but since it isn’t giving me the amazing freshness I wanted, then I’m not comfortable compromising on ecological impact (though I am willing to do so for amazingness near me that I can afford).

More about ecological impact.

Tilapia: From the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who publish seafood watch and provide seafood pocket guides:

Most tilapia [Glossary] consumed in the U.S. comes from China/Taiwan (frozen) or Central and South America (fresh). Less than 10 percent of tilapia consumed in the U.S. is farmed domestically.

And from the preparation, I’d guess this was frozen seafood… whose likeliest country practices are listed as avoid because of the high level of pollution and because their systems frequently lead to tilapia spreading to local ecosystems and becoming invasive.

Bronzino: is harder to find data on. It wasn’t listed on the websites for either the Monteray Bay Aquarium nor the Good Fish Guide of the Marine Conservation Society – and that was after I found the scientific name on the Food52 message boards, Dicentrarchus labrax. Having gained prominence starting in the 1990s, I had first heard of it as a fairly green fish. Apparently these fish are suited to wide-ranging aquaculture practices, and people have been trying to make them greener because standard practice isn’t all that good. As far as I can tell with 20 minutes on google…

To end on a happy note, I’ll leave you with a TED talk in which Dan Barber talks about falling in love with a fish. (note: I don’t necessarily agree with his objections to the counter-example’s feed)

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Okay, so if you’ll remember from the last soup, I had leftover the liquid drained from a can of tomatoes.

Well, at that enchilada dinner, one of the participants made a pot of rice (with a seasoning packet) and heated up some kidney beans. Her rice came out perfectly, and I took home what leftovers there were.

And reheated them. All classy-like. But I’m telling you about it anyway because I’m proud of having essentially made dinner for free.

Leftover Beans & Rice

First, I wanted to soften the beans a bit more, so I put them in a small pot with just enough tomato liquid to cover, and cooked that for five or so minutes.

And then I went to look around for other flavors to jazz things up.

Oh, yeah, I have a jar of pipian, so I melted about half a teaspoon into the liquid.

And I have some Lime Cilantro salad dressing, which is more like a pesto than a salad dressing, from a local restaurant – so I added a dollop of that, too.

And then I added the rice.

And as everything came to temperature, I crumbled some dried oregano in it as well.

End result – delicious and filling dinner

I also still had about a third of the roasted butternut squash lingering in my fridge. What was I going to do?

So, again, I went poking for inspiration in the other bits and bobs in there. Aha! I had a small container of coconut chutney from take out dosas a friend had brought to my house. I can play with those flavors.

Coconut Chutney Butternut Squash Soup

I diced a yellow onion fairly small, and I cooked it in coconut milk (6.5oz).

I added some asafoetida and a fairly large amount of garam masala – somewhere around a rounded teaspoon. Oh, and 3 cloves of roasted garlic because it was there.

Once everything was aromatic, I added the butternut squash. I also put a Tablespoon of mustard seeds in a dry skillet to heat.

And about a quarter cup of finely shredded, unsweetened coconut.

Like the previous soup, this one also needed some kick, so I added some cayenne pepper. And some black pepper. And a little bit of cilantro. And adding about a teaspoon of brown sugar really made it sing.

Then I thinned the soup out with some vegetable stock.

Once the mustard seeds started to pop, stirred them into the soup as well.

Done! Rich, tasty, and a bit out of the ordinary.

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16
Jan

Mexican Butternut Squash Soup

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in course, dairy-free, dinner/lunch, friendly, Recipe, soup, vegan, vegetarian

Would this soup be made in Mexico? I have no idea. No people or cookbooks provided any support for this claim. But its seasonings and flavor went well with the enchiladas my friends made.

So there I was at my farmers’ market this weekend near the end of the market – and one of the farmers had a box of butternut squash seconds for $1/lb. The tops were going mushy. And I asked the guy how many he thought I could get for $5… and walked away with 6 decent sized squash.

I scrubbed the outsides, trimmed the tops as necessary, split them in half lengthwise with my big knife, scooped out the seeds, and set them to roasting cut side down. It took 2 half sheet pans to roast them all.

Once they were tender, I let them cool a little, and then I peeled them and put the flesh all together in a container in the fridge – purpose to come soon.

Then this week I had 1 friend request vegetarian soups and another invite me over for enchilada dinner. Woo!

Mexican Butternut Squash Soup

Start off with about 4-5 cups of roasted butternut squash and a roasted head of garlic.

I began building the soup with a roux base, so I poured… oh, about 2 Tablespoons… olive oil into my soup pot and heated that up.

Since I wasn’t sure whether I would want to blend the soup smooth, I diced the (1 medium) onion fairly small. Toss that in and cook until translucent.

Once the onions were soft, I sprinkled flour on top until the onions were coated with flour, but none was still dry in the pan (about 2 Tablespoons – if it’s too dry, add more oil)

Then I opened up a jar of vegetable stock and added until everything went smooth and liquid (it took about 1 cup, but I’d been expecting to use more stock).

I added the roasted squash (2/3 of my total… somewhere around 4-6 cups) and I poured in the liquid the squash had released overnight in the fridge.

Cook that a bit until everything is hot and the squash is starting to break down. Meanwhile – drain a 24oz can of diced tomatoes (and reserve the liquid to use either if the soup becomes too dry during cooking or to use in making rice later in the week) and grind 1 tsp cumin, 2 tsp coriander, and 2 tsp ground oregano (or use ground herbs and spices).

And dices tomatoes to the squash. Stir. Break up the squash more every time you stir.

Sift the ground spices into the soup (because whole coriander is ornery in a mortar & pestle YMMV). Add salt and pepper. I added some ground savory, too. If the color isn’t pleasing, you could go for some paprika, but I was pleased with things without.

I added about half of the cloves from the roasted garlic.

Stir, mash, stir.

This soup really came together quickly – about 20 minutes – so I also added the juice of half a lime to encourage it to stay the pretty color it had hit. And I was pleased with the amount the squash had broken down (mostly smooth, with some chunks, no pieces larger than half a teaspoon), so I left it chunky.

What this soup was really missing was spice, but that was a deliberate choice based on its audience, so I took a chipotle hot sauce with me instead.

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