Tag Archives: Fish

Why-Not Pizza

Mixer Closeup

I knew I’d be alone for dinner last night, as she was having a dinner meeting with some people on the committee for her big summer event. The cats would be home, too, of course, but I’d be cooking only for myself. When I’m going to be home alone–which isn’t all that often–I try to make something I like that she doesn’t. Brussels sprouts were an obvious choice, but they’re not in season.

By the time I finished a rehearsal at which my kids were frustratingly unfocused, I considered just having a bottle of wine for dinner. But I knew that wouldn’t happen, not least because I wanted to be able to drive to meet her late-arriving train–and I had work I wanted to do for which clear-headedness was a good idea. So not wine, or at least not just wine.

We’ve been trying to eat from our pantry as much as possible. She reminded me the other day of a couple of tins on the top shelf, so I decided to use those. They were smoked oysters, which I had on a pizza a long time ago and really enjoyed. I’ve made that pizza many times over the years, and if it was never quite as wonderful as that first time, it was always pretty good.  I knew it was something she wouldn’t want to share, so it was the perfect choice. I knew I had an open jar of marinara sauce and plenty of cheese.

I stopped at the market on the way home to pick up pre-made pizza dough. I could have made dough from scratch, but I was trying to speed things along; if the oven was internet-equpped I would have sent it a “preheat” command. While my off-line oven warmed, I gathered cheese and sauce (and mushrooms, for good measure) from the fridge, and cleaned some broccoli to steam as a side. (Yes, pizza and broccoli. I wanted something green, and remember that the object was a dinner she wouldn’t want to share.) I pulled down the cans from the top shelf and opened them into a strainer.

The tins weren’t smoked oysters after all.  They were octopus and squid. (Well, at least now I had a dinner she really wouldn’t want to eat.) As for why I had tinned octopus and squid in the house, it probably had to do with thinking, “Well, I like oysters, so why not?” I like smoked oyster pizza, so why not try octopus and squid?

The dough stretched into a beautiful thin round. I topped it and slid it onto the hot pizza stone. I set the timer, fed the cats, and headed to the office. In almost no time I’d recorded a pretty good vocal part for the demo I was working on–but then I realized a measure of accompaniment I’d wanted to cut was still in the track. It didn’t take long to get rid of it and stitch back together the vocal part to make the transition seamless. By the time I finished, I figured the timer was about to go off, so I happily saved my work and went upstairs.

That’s when I realized I’d set the timer on the microwave oven, which isn’t nearly loud or insistent enough to get my attention. It had beeped and then went silent, not being smart enough to alert me again. If I had an internet-equipped microwave, maybe it would have sent me a text message: Your pizza is ready. Oh, and by the way, it’s in the OVEN, not in the microwave.

It was overdone, but not too far gone. The outer crust was too crisp, but the rest of the pie wasn’t destroyed. I let it rest on the counter for a couple of minutes while the broccoli steamed in the microwave, then sliced and plated pizza and green thing.

Octopus and squid can get terribly tough if it isn’t cooked properly. The tinned varieties are already cooked, so I was really only reheating them. I didn’t do much damage. Perhaps if I’d gotten the pie out of the oven sooner, it would have been a little less chewy, but it was far from awful.

As for my “why-not” pizza, the real question is, “why bother?” I’ll have the leftovers for lunch today, and then I won’t make it again. There are lots of things I prefer to put on pizza–and lots of pizza toppings she enjoys sharing. If I go to the tinned-fish section of the market again, it’ll be for tuna. Cooking for one–even eccentrically and somewhat experimentally–is fine, but cooking for us both is better.

This waveform is not of me saying, "Damn! I burned the pizza!"--though that would have been clever.

This waveform is not of me saying, “Damn! I burned the pizza!”–though that would have been clever.

It’s Just a Day

No birthday-feast-at-home cooking means the kitchen stays tidy until the real photographer arrives.

No birthday-feast-at-home cooking means the kitchen stays tidy until the real photographer arrives.

Our birthdays have passed.  I worked ridiculous hours on hers, and she worked a very long day on mine. On both, we spent what little “free” time we had working on the house, since the real estate photographer was scheduled to visit this morning.

Of course, the Creator of the Universe having an occasionally wry sense of humor, that didn’t happen. The photographer quit his job yesterday, and the company he worked for didn’t tell our realtor–so there she was, first thing in the morning, setting out the jars of lemons and the sale-bait throw pillows. I’m hoping that neither cat sheds a single hair between now and the rescheduled appointment–and hoping that the agency keeps the new photographer happy long enough to get the job done.

On her birthday, we had great burgers on the way to the theatre. She dropped me off at the theatre for the matinee, went for a hair appointment, and came back to see the evening show.

On mine, I left my studio to meet her train, and we went for a Japanese performance-art dinner at a restaurant on the way home. We had the place almost to ourselves, which was fun in its own way. We got the chef’s undivided attention–as well as all the flying broccoli.  We oohed and ahhed over the onion volcano, and tucked into speedily grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, vegetables, fried rice and noodles.

In both cases, we got home and finished our chores too late and tired for cake, but we can have cake another time. Life is sweet without it.

It would be nice to have an entire day to ourselves, to celebrate, or maybe just to sit.  It would be nice to think that’s how we can spend our birthdays, but that’s not the way it is yet. Or maybe ever. But a birthday–it’s just a day. A celebration can be deferred so long as the event isn’t forgotten.

While replying to birthday messages this morning, I saw this recipe I’d written up and posted to Facebook years ago.  I don’t think I forgot to cook the fish, or if there wasn’t time for it, or just decided not to. It could be an unconventional belated birthday feast sometime.  Or maybe

Not the Special at Ocean Grill

My meat-and-potatoes Dad would be pleased that I can feed myself, but probably would shake his head at this one.

Pierce a spaghetti squash (about 2 lbs.) all over with the point of a knife.  Microwave on high until tender (about 15 min.)

In a heatproof measuring cup or bowl, soak a handful of dried mushrooms in a cup of boiling water.

Film a skillet with olive oil and set it over medium-low heat.  Sweat in it:

3 shallots, sliced thinly

1 t garlic, minced

1 rib celery, sliced thinly

After a few minutes, add to the skillet

1 carrot, diced

Clean and remove the tough stems from

1/2 bunch collard greens

Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid; slice them and set aside.  Strain the liquid to remove any sandy bits, then pour the liquid into a saucepan over medium heat.  Add to the liquid:

1 envelope bonito flakes (or 1 T miso)

1 t soy sauce

Stir to combine, and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Cut the greens into thin strips, add to the saucepan; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until the greens are tender but not mushy (about 8 minutes).

While the greens are cooking, add to the skillet:

2 T tomato paste

1 t balsamic vinegar

the sliced mushrooms

Stir until combined. Then remove half of the vegetable mixture to the bowl of a food processor and puree.  Add a little olive oil and some of the greens liquid to thin the puree if necessary.  Return the puree to the skillet and stir to combine.

Slice the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, then use a fork to separate the flesh into “spaghetti.”  Salt and pepper the squash to taste, and add a little butter (or olive oil, if dairy is forbidden).

Top the squash with the greens and vegetable sauce.  Sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese (or soy substitute).

The tilapia that was supposed to perch atop a mountain of vegetables?  Serve that another day.  Maybe with the leftovers, if there are any.

Not a bit of clutter in sight. Mostly because we're not home long enough to do anything but sleep...

Not a bit of clutter in sight. For the moment, anyway.

Perch, Pouch, Poach

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I spent most of the weekend perched on a bench. I wasn’t made to sit out a game while the rest of the team played for the championship–although there’s almost no team sport in which that wouldn’t be an appropriate place for me. It was a very busy rehearsal and performance week: performances of a school play I directed and accompanied, Palm Sunday masses at the church where I’m the music director, and rehearsals for a musical at a theatre a few miles north. Everything went well, if not perfectly.  The kids were pleased, and so were their parents; the masses went off without any significant hitch; rehearsals were productive. Lots of time on piano and organ benches, though. By the end of it all, I could not have been more fried if the baptismal font had been full of peanut oil.

Meanwhile, she barely perched for a moment. Now that the last of the major renovations are complete, she’s been working on the house: re-setting rooms where work is completed, making lists of small things yet to be done, storing items we won’t need while the house is on the market, and making the closet transition from winter wardrobe to spring clothes.

(Of course, that last item may have been tempting fate; it snowed this morning.)

Amid all this musical and domestic activity, there wasn’t much time in the kitchen. We took a visiting collaborator out for dinner after the show on Friday–nothing fancy, just a quick bite at a diner before her train back to NYC. I brought home Awesome Burgers after the show-and-church extravaganza of Saturday. It was time for Sunday dinner before we knew it. Daylight Saving Time had kept us going on our afternoon chores until mid-evening. Fortunately, we had a plan. (And, even more fortunately, her afternoon errands had included a trip to the market so our plan could be executed.)

Salmon Pouches with Cilantro-Lime Rice

Preheat oven to 400F. Toast 1 cup white rice in a dry saucepan; add 2 cups boiling water and 1/2 tsp salt. Cover and keep on low heat for 20 minutes.

Rinse and trim 3/4 lb. green beans. Place a third of the green beans in the centers of 3 12-inch pieces of aluminum foil.

Lay on top of the beans a 4-oz portion of salmon fillet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a little dried dill. Add a thick slice of lemon. Gather the foil and fold each pouch to seal. Place pouches on a low-lipped pan or cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

While the fish is in the oven and the rice is steaming, zest a lime, and heat 1 tbsp oil in a small skillet. Rinse, dry, and chop some cilantro–maybe a quarter-cup.

When the oil is hot, sauté a cup of grape tomatoes until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Lower heat and stir in 1 tsp dijon mustard; stir to combine, then remove from heat.

Remove pouches from the oven and rice from the heat.  Quickly toss the lime zest into the rice and re-cover. Wait 5 minutes, then open the pouches and fluff rice with a fork. Stir in the cilantro, and a little lime juice to taste

Serves two, with leftovers for somebody’s lunch.

IMG_0040

I probably should have opened the leftovers-pouch when I plated the others; the other portions of salmon were more pink and the beans a brighter green–very spring-like. These are probably a little overdone, but they’ll still taste good.

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Cilantro-less rice.

She was so excited about seeing fresh herbs at the market that she bought mint instead of cilantro.  I didn’t add that to the rice, but she put it in a pitcher of rooibos tea.

Rooibus

“But I was supposed to make you dinner,” she said. I reminded her that she had made lunch. And done the marketing. And arranged the flowers I’d been given after the shows. And all manner of other making-the-house-beautiful chores that are much more challenging for me than spending some time in the kitchen. She could do the dishes if she wanted to, but with the fish in pouches cleanup was a snap.

I’m a fan of big, meaty fish steaks much of the time, but this salmon came out sweet, delicate, and very tender. It was the perfect, gentle dinner at the end of a weekend so busy there hadn’t been much “end” at all. This week will be just as hectic, but we’ve built in a break to see a friend’s show on Wednesday night. Tickets are already bought, and we’ve already got dinner plans: no last-minute fuss. Like a little pouch waiting to go into the oven. IMG_0039

Date Night Fish Tacos

“How would you feel about cod?” I asked, looking at the market’s specials.

“Go for it,” she replied.  “Crispy?”

Then, before I’d had a chance to reply, “Oh! Let’s try the cod the way we did that one time with the beer batter and crackers, then break it apart as the base for fish tacos!”

I may have smirked a little. “So batter and bread the fish, and then put it inside a tortilla?”

We were using iMessage, so she couldn’t punch me, but she did stick out her tongue.  Or at least her typing indicated she did.

I liked the idea of fish tacos–I always like the idea of fish tacos–but thought there might be a way to let a little more of the fish’s flavor come through. But lots of Californian fish tacos are made with breaded fish. Many chicken sandwiches are made with breaded chicken. And no Bayou restaurant would serve a Po’ Boy made with unbreaded shrimp. There are mysteries in the universe, I guess.

I picked up the fish, along with a pineapple (also a weekly special) and some other vegetables. If we were having fish tacos, we were going to do it right.

By the time her train arrived, I had assembled salsa and slaw to accompany the fish. We detoured on the way home to look at holiday lights; I would have shown her photographs of them, but my phone had crashed in the middle of the running route where I’d seen them. While she tried on some new clothes that had arrived in the mail, I set to preparing the fish–a bit of a risky proposition, considering that the fashion show was a lovely distraction from a skillet skimmed with hot oil.

The slaw was a little wetter than I meant it to be, and so the tacos were a little sloppier. Still, we both had seconds, so the mess didn’t seem to deter our enjoyment.

A drive to see Christmas lights, a fashion show, and–in her words–“freaking awesome, exquisite” fish tacos. Not a bad night in the suburbs. Continue reading

The Best Sauce

It has been one of those weeks.

For a project with “dinner” in the title, there has been a whole lot of no-dinner-cooking at the Country House.

I missed a train on Monday–by moments!–and so had to drive into New York in order to get to a meeting.  She met me after, and we drove home together, but by the time we arrived, nobody much wanted dinner. (It could have gone entirely the other way; we might have wanted all the food there was, and then some.)

We both worked late on Tuesday, and had had late lunches; again, no dinner-making.

Wednesday was a theatre night; last weekend, I realized that she’d never seen a long-running musical written by two friends of mine, so we went to see it; we met for a bite on the way. I took a photo of our dinner, but the meal hardly seemed like writing about. The food was fine; the show was delightful.

She worked really late on Thursday in order to take a train that arrived just in time for me to meet her after choir rehearsal. I made us a snack to eat while watching a little TV before bedtime, but it wasn’t a real meal.

On the way to a slightly-later-than-usual train this morning–which she’d decided to take after working late four days in a row–we decided that we were going to stay in this evening.  No theatre, no movies, no trips to furniture stores, no visiting friends; a night at home. She asked for “something light.” I’m glad I asked her to be more specific; given that direction, I might have made a big green salad. She had in mind some white fish; perhaps some rice; and maybe green beans or asparagus. It sounded like a plan to me, so I stopped at the market on the way to meet her evening train.

The menu was her idea, so she started cooking.  (Also, I couldn’t do much in the way of meal prep, since she had me sticking my head under a towel with a bowl of steaming water and herbs to clear a stuffy nose. I was, however, able to look up fish-baking time on my iPhone.)

30 minutes at 375ºF later, there were two perfectly-baked tilapia filets, each topped with a sprinkling of Old Bay seasoning and a lemon slice.  There was a pot of nutty rice, fragrant with thyme. There was a hot skillet, into which barely-steamed asparagus had been tossed with a little olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.  Fancier than a peanut butter sandwich or a bowl of ramen noodles, but it seemed not at all elaborate. It was just right.

Or maybe we were just hungry.

It’s said that hunger is the best sauce, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a physical need for food; the best sauce might be the desire to have a quiet dinner at home, at a decent hour, with some pleasant music playing, and the best possible company.

We cleaned our plates.

Tilapia, rice, asparagus. A glass of juice. Nothing more is required.

Tilapia, rice, asparagus. A glass of juice. Nothing more is required.

Spicy

She chose the fish for Friday dinner.  Well, she and the fishmonger chose together.  She named a price point and asked what was freshest. “You like spicy?” the fishmonger replied.  She said yes, and came with two beautiful catfish filets, practically sparkling with paprika, cayenne, and who-knows-what-else.

The fishmonger was not kidding.  This was some seriously spicy fish.  The fragrance it gave off while I cooked it was remarkably pungent.  I made some tartar sauce from sweet and dill pickles, sour creme and mayonnaise to balance the heat. I went back for seconds–of the sauce.

We trust our fishmonger a lot.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t buy pre-seasoned fish; it would be too easy for an unscrupulous merchant to use strong spices to disguise fish that was a little past its sell-by date. Even so, I think I’ll suggest we season our own catfish next time.

We drove into New York on Saturday evening, but this wasn’t Date Night.  She went dancing with some old friends. They weren’t out clubbing–this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around–but instead attending a big folk dance gathering in a church hall.  (Yes, there are church halls in New York City.)

Meanwhile, I was helping to host an evening celebrating the impending wedding of a friend and collaborator.  Our evening wasn’t wild and crazy, either: we went for dinner at a great Indian restaurant (the groom-to-be’s favorite cuisine), then to an all-you-can-play pinball center.

Although it wasn’t a bachelor party at some strip club, the evening had plenty of spice.  One variety of curry listed on the menu was called phall; it came with the following description:

An excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor!

So, of course, we had to try it.

For our customers who do this on a dare, we will require you to state a verbal disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this curry. If you do manage to finish your serving, a bottle of beer is on us, as is a certificate of completion and your picture in the (P)hall of fame.

Nobody in our party was crazy enough to attempt a full portion of  phall; we just asked for a side-order to share. Even so, we left far more in the bowl than we ate.  As with the fishmonger, this description was true to its word.  It was painfully hot.  Unpleasantly hot.  Ridiculously hot.  According to calculations done by a blogger specializing in Indian food, phall is 500 times hotter than tabasco sauce. (By my quick math, that’s 498 times hotter than any food needs to be.)

Having tried a little phall with a great deal of rice and some nan and knowing I’d not want to do that again, I wondered if it might be more useful as a condiment than an entree. A few drops added to some of my goat saag did indeed make the spinach-based curry sing with warmth.  I was careful: more than a few drops, and the song would have been a scream.

The boys finished the evening with milkshakes at Baskin-Robbins.  Dairy helps extinguish the burn from spicy foods. We maybe should have gone for ice cream before pinball. (She had a shake, too, after dancing for three hours, on the same principal as a runner uses chocolate milk as a recovery drink.) None of us made it into the “(p)hall of fame,” but none of us cared. Sometimes, knowing when to walk away is the smartest thing anyone can do.