Archive for July, 2007

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How To Slay

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

There is almost nothing that the internet cannot teach. Want to learn how to play guitar? lose weight? speak elvish? repair a barbeque? prune a tree? drive a stick shift? cook a hot dog using LED lights? In my case, I take advantage of this all-knowing, all-seeing, teacher to learn about cooking and, most recently, how to clean and filet a fish.

On purpose, we recently bought a whole, uncleaned pacific red snapper at the market. When the seafood counter lady asked us if we wanted it cleaned and scaled and we said “No, we want to learn how to do it”, she gave us a funny look. Why wouldn’t we want her to take care of the messy parts, with the proper fish-innard-specific impelements that she had, rather than take it home whole and clumsily use the internet to guide us through the process using makeshift tools? Now, we have learned that the answer to the cleaning and scaling question is “yes, thank-you”.

At any rate, we took him home and decided to turn him into Pan-Fried Red Snapper with Chipotle Butter on Pecan Barley Salad. As so often happens, I was the one designated to do the ruthless work involving seafood; previously, I was the one who lost the coin toss and had to slay a live lobster with a chef’s knife before it got sauteed. Though this snapper was dead, and had been for awhile, he still resembled the swimming creature he once was. My first step was to wave him around in the sink for while, playing with the fins and gills and determining how he might once have moved. Then one of the spiky fins jabbed me and I lost interest in playing and was more motivated to filet him.

cimg6696-320.jpgAfter some initial searching online, this project divided itself into two parts: 1) scaling & cleaning, and 2) boning (shouldn’t it be “de-boning”?). I’m impressed with how many people have taken the time to publish the directions on how to do the first bit, and I found a great one, with pictures, on ehow. The bit about “slitting from gills to vent” was a little vague considering my knowledge of fish anatomy is also quite lean, but the internet once again helped me solve that problem (and provided a brief description of what a fish is, in case that, too, was beyond my scope: “Fish are animals that are cold-blooded, have fins and a backbone”). After making a mess using the back of a knife to scale the fish in the sink, and then having to use a surprising amount of effort to ‘slit from gills to vent’, I closed my eyes and dug around in there to get all the squishy bits out. Marc could barely watch. Sammy watched with great interest.

On to the next step, boning. Again, ehow guided me through this process and my favourite part of their instructions was the beginning where it listed the Things You’ll Need: ‘a fresh fish’. I think the word “mangled” best describes what I did to this animal- did I mention that I have no boning knife? Two almost entirely boneless filets were indeed produce, but they were wee and there seemed to be a fair bit of flesh left on the carcass. But I accept that this is a skill with a learning curve so am relatively satisfied with my first fish butchering.

cimg6705-320.jpgAs for the meal, I’m not sure it really did the snapper justice. The chipotle butter was a little too overpowering for a white-fleshed fish and the barley salad a little too mild. This didn’t stop us from consuming every last drop of melted butter but I doubt we’ll make it again. Similarly, I doubt the cleaning and/or scaling will happen again any time soon, but fileting seems like something I should know so I’ll practice. And if ever I hit a snag, I know my ubiquitous teacher will bail me out.


Thursday, July 5th, 2007

The fireworks started on July 3rd. Just past twilight, there was a distant exhibition that we could see from our living room window distracting us from “Rome” on HBO. This, I later learned, was the annual Point Richmond fireworks display and which triggered a bunch of other people in the area to start setting off their own. For a few hours that evening, we could hear random fireworks in the neighbourhood and this extended all the way through the day and evening of the 4th, punctuated by the campus clocktower striking noon to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner.

Our original 7/4/7 plan was to make a pseudo barbeque dinner- pseudo, because we have no barbeque, a situation which simply must be remedied. We didn’t go with the classic ribs ‘n beer with apple pie, rather, Marc picked out Barbecued Pork Sandwiches with Pickled Red Onion and Eggplant Caprese with Grilled Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette. Both of these recipes called for grilling which meant that our wee George Foreman grill would be called into service. Later in the afternoon, though, we decided to extend the menu to include Lime-Basil Margaritas and, because we buy so many strawberries now that they’re in season, some strawberry shortcake for dessert.

Both Whole Foods and the Berkeley Bowl were packed on July 3rd when we went out for groceries and we came to understand it was because everything would be closed on the fourth. This made our inspired little menu additions perhaps a bit risky, given that we didn’t have tequila or cointreau for the drinks or any form of cream for the dessert. But there is always someplace open on the holidays, and in our case, it was the Andronico’s down the street; I love it when a plan comes together.

The “starter” of Lime-Basil Margaritas turned out to be exceptional. We tampered with a recipe for Chile-Pineapple Margaritas (yikes) and concocted a brilliant, refreshing, barely-hinted-basil drink. Just so I don’t forget, for a yield of two: 2T. cointreau, 1/2c. tequila, 3-1/2T. fresh lime juice, 3T. basil-infused, 1:1 simple syrup, mountains of ice.

cimg6781-320.jpgThis smoothed the way for the “barbequed” pork tenderloin, which had been soaking in the flavour of smoked paprika for the previous hour. Marc finished baking the ciabatta he had started earlier in the day for the buns and I pickled the onions in orangey vinegar. While the sandwiches were manifesting, we remembered to make the caprese which was a dead simple job of grilling a bit of eggplant, laying it down with sliced heirloom tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella, with a topping of a quick grilled-tomato vinaigrette. As a stretch, I suppose this salad could qualify as a yankee-themed “red, white and blue” meal because of the red of the tomatoes and the white of the mozzarella on the blue plates, but the best representation of this theme was the dessert.

cimg6791-320.jpgI threw together some pre-margarita biscuits to be the bottom of this classic version of strawberry shortcake. I think every other time I’ve tried this dessert, it was made with white cake and Cool Whip™ which doesn’t even come close to the true incarnation. Plus, strawberries, when they’re fresh and not picked under-ripe and shipped across half a continent, taste so much better. I added a little balsamic vinegar to the strawberries and sugar mixture, which juiced itself into a pulpy, perfumed compote and put a bit of extra-high-fat sour cream into the chantilly. Piled up high, these shortcakes were a fantastic celebration of American-ness and a perfect opener for the fireworks over the bay.


The Sandwich That Landed on my Keyboard

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

photo-2.jpgBaking fresh ciabatta started the morning well and set me up to make a wicked sandwich for lunch. Taking a cue from the balsamic and dijon glazed ham, I finished the carmelized onions with balsamic vinegar and dijon before taking them off the heat. I picked up the grocery store’s featured parrano cheese, which they described as a Dutch cheese in an Italian style. Tasted like cross between gouda and swiss to me. Stacked up with leftover baked ham and pan grilled, it was a melty, salty sensation.

Jan’s away for the weekend with the camera, so I thought to use the iSight camera in my MacBook to document the meal. You can see where this is going. I, more concerned about the angle of the camera than the angle of the plate, watched the screen in horror as the sandwich slid off the plate, out of the camera shot, and onto my keyboard. Like looking in a true mirror, I wasn’t quite able to coordinate and tip the plate to avoid disaster. Did I mention I fried it in butter?

In anycase, the keyboard seems to be fine except Sammy keeps staring at it and slobbering.