Monday, December 30, 2013
I immediately ceded him the task of preparing dinner's brussels sprouts.
First he precisely cleaned the tiny beautiful cabbages and parboiled them until just tender.
"This is the way my grandfather did it," he explained as he dropped the drained sprouts back into the pan where bacon was crisping in a knob of butter. I stirred the decidedly not European cheese grits while he tossed the sprouts in the pot grinding in pepper and sprinkles of salt.
Brussels sprouts have been cultivated in Belgium since 1587. Before the first King James bible, before the Pilgrims set out for Plymouth the Belgians were perfecting sprout cookery. You'd think when a genetic expert comes to cook in my kitchen I'd have been ready with at least a point and shoot camera or iPhone. But, I missed it all. I was too busy ogling my stunning new pre-seasoned Lodge dutch oven a Christmas gift from the man from Belgium and his lady love.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
"You can eat turkey anytime," James reasoned. He didn't feel like ham. He's never really been crazy about prime rib (I'm the one that loves it and I always eat way to much since he only tastes).
"Crab," he said. "Let's have crab."
The holidays fall right in the middle of dungeness crab season and here close to the very waters the boats fish we couldn't think of a better holiday treat.
"What about Christmas eve?" I said.
We started the holiday off with my usual roasted crab recipe. I leave the cracked cleaned crabs to marinate in a mixture of fennel seeds, chili flakes, parsley, S&P, and olive oil for a couple hours and then roast them for about half an hour at 400º. Super easy and messy fun to eat.
"Salad? Potatoes? Vegetables?" I offered.
"I love potatoes but anything else on the table is space I can't use for crabs. James explained his theory on crab eating. "If I eat potatoes I'll eat less crab. If I eat cauliflower I'll eat less crab." Reasonable, I thought. Just crabs . . . and a little bread to soak up the zesty marinade.
"I'm totally crabbed,: James said contentedly. "I'm walking sideways."
Monday, December 23, 2013
"That looks good," James leaned over. "What is that?"
"Scallopini," I said." Do you want that for dinner?"
Now in truth being New Jersey in the 70's that could have been chicken scallopini, francese, marsala or piccata. All similar dishes of thinly pounded chicken breast with quickly reduced pan sauce. I like scallopini's lemon and caper sauce combination (without the egg dip of francese).
I dredged two thinly pounded chicken breasts in seasoned flour (gluten free for our current diet craze) and browned them a mixture of butter and olive oil (2TB and 2TB), about 2 minutes on a side. Setting the chicken aside to keep warm I added 1 cup of chicken broth (if I'd had some white wine I would have done 1/2 cup wine and 1/2 cup broth), the juice of half a lemon and 2 TB of capers. I let the sauce reduce for about 2 minutes then stirred in 2 TB of butter and a sprinkling of chopped parsley before serving the chicken quickly swirled in the pan.
"If you make chicken you should always make it like this," James said between bites.
Not quite an oscar, but good enough for me.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
A couple weeks after our cat Scout passed away James and I both admitted more than once we thought for a moment we'd seen him. James said he missed a cat around the house. Days went by.
"Maybe we should just go look," James said one afternoon. I could see his screen showing a search of kittens available for adoption. "We can just see what's there," he continued and I think he actually believed it. We stopped to make sure the cat carrier was in the car before we left. I knew.
At home James spied a kitten the humane society was calling Aiden. We walked in and the little gangly orange brown youngster was right up front. Minutes later we were in the "meeting room" with Aiden. A little orange blur dashed from side to side, jumped up to a high shelf and declared the cat tube the most fun he had ever had. James played and I watched. Maybe I wasn't ready. This cat wasn't my Scoutty. He was something different altogether and I didn't know how to feel. I looked at him and felt nothing while James fell more and more in love.
How would this cat -- barely more than a kitten, fit into our family of three dogs? James praised his confidence and independent streak. He was no scaredy cat. I veered and cuddled a pair of clingy tortoise colored kittens. They felt sympathetic and needy. James played with Aiden's tail and laughed happily.
"Can we take him home, Honey?" A variety of sensible reasons why he was the cat for us followed. It didn't matter. There was only one answer. I went off to do the paperwork and make a donation to the humane society while James got to know our dogs' new baby brother.
After about 3 days commandeering our small bathroom and making supervised strolls through the house Aiden was ready to run with the big dogs. We tried out names (Radley -- keeping up the To Kill A Mockingbird theme -- Winston, Buster, Henry and many more) while a little orange streak tested his boundaries.
We're back to having an orange cat in the bed. Not quite cuddled up to the dogs but inching ever closer. I was out of town and James declared our new kitten, "Riley." As in Life Of I thought -- appropriate. He started as Riley. I heard James call him O'Riley a couple times and then like the Who song almost everyone (including me) but James thinks is called teenage wasteland there was Baba. Baba O'Riley after a song named for Pete Townsend's musical influences is our new teenaged cat.
He is not Scoutty. He is young and energetic and everything is an exciting new experience to try out. He sits in our chairs, chases invisible mice and makes us laugh. It's different having a youngster in the house. Nothing is safe. Not even my heart.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Walking to my seat past the kitchen ice table not showing off but simply storing the day's catch for hungry customers I spy a telltale bumper sticker -- "Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Imported Shrimp." This somewhat ramshackle plywood (yes even the ceiling) shack isn't the refuge of Sunday fishermen and water borne adventure seekers but home away from home for men (and I suppose women) who make their living on the water, pulling in beautiful fresh fish and seafood.
"What's fresh and local?" I asked my very attentive waitress. Her eyes lit up as she told me today's flounder and sheepshead were "beautiful." She didn't need to inquire, she didn't question. At a glance this experienced waitress knew what the best dish would be. Unlike the other fish camps I visited in the Jacksonville area the staff at Singleton's knows their fish, and how to size up a customer.
Surrounded by personnel from the nearby navy and coast guard bases I bit into supremely fresh basically unadorned sheepshead filet. She was not wrong, this was a beautiful piece of fish of ultimate freshness and highest quality in a plywood shack along the sleepy water.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Clarks menu is huge, but oddly I get the impression fish (unless it's fried) may not be the best choice. Tables all around me were gnawing on gator toes and ribs, followed by prime ribs and fried baskets. Repenting for my last fish camp fried fare I stuck with steamed oysters and grilled trout. Tender local St Augustine oysters and two giant slabs of trout filet. Maybe not the best I've ever had but looking out at the still water with the warm Florida sun on my face, it didn't matter at all.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Whitey's Fish Camp is exactly the kind of place I am always hoping to find. Locally owned, no frills, with homemade specialties worth driving for. Perched right on the water at Doctor's Lake the large gravel parking lot holds not just the restaurant but a bait and tackle shop, boat rental (and launches), RV spaces, campground and -- believe it or not -- a hair salon. I was in love before I ever walked in the door.
Down home cooking for locals and friends.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Despite the one day biscuit and pie vacation for Thanksgiving we are still in the midst of our gluten free experiment around here so these meatballs topped a bowl of beautiful steamed Romanesco cauliflower.
Monday, December 2, 2013
I started with a recipe by Melissa Clark, writer of The New York Time's " A Good Appetite" column. It seemed simple enough, I had a few other chores going and I was just going to follow a simple recipe and make sure dinner was on the table relatively early. I'm not sure where it is I go astray. Dutifully following along suddenly my mind started to wander to the tube of harissa, a North African chili sauce of which I am absurdly fond, in the fridge. Once I'd gone in that direction the simple pot of soup called out for warm spices -- saffron, cinnamon, ginger, coriander. My adapted version was just the right dish for an evening turned cold. Try it at home.
Monday Night Lentil Soup
4 TB olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large shallots, chopped (I could have used two onions but I didn't have another)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 TB tomato paste
1 1/2 TB (or to taste) harissa
salt (about 3/4 tsp kosher salt) and pepper to taste
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 quarts chicken broth
2 cups red lentils
3 carrots, peeled and diced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
In a large pot heat the oil over medium heat until hot and just shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, harissa, and all of the spices (except the saffron threads). Let cook about 2 minutes longer. Add the broth, 2 cups of water, lentils, carrots and saffron threads. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook for about 30 minutes until lentils are soft. Taste and add salt if needed. If desired, purée half the soup with an immersion or countertop blender for a slightly thicker soup with smoother texture (don't go too smooth). Return the soup to the pot, reheat slowly and stir in the lemon juice and 12 of the chopped cilantro, reserve the rest or garnish.
If we weren't in the midst of "clean eating" challenge at home I might have drizzled the top of the soup with olive oil or better yet fried up some garlicky croutons but even on it's own this simple soup got no complaints.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
harissa roasted carrots with chick peas. James doesn't really like cooked carrots (I can't explain it) so I set out to make her spicy recipe with cauliflower (I couldn't resist a few roasted carrots in with the mix). Thomas calls it a side dish but with salad and maybe rice this could have been a great main dish. But, strolling past the fish counter I saw beautiful wild halibut filets. I rarely cook fish but these beautiful steak-like slices (and a best choice from the Monterey Aquarium shopping list) caught my eye. I pan roasted the fish with a sherry vinegar, tomato wine sauce and served the harissa kissed cauliflower and legumes on the side.