Non-Grilled Fish…….

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, I don’t grill as that’s Hubby’s domain.  He’s a propane guy by the way. We do also have a smoker which uses charcoal although that’s such an involved and lengthy process he rarely bothers with it. I take over when it comes to cooking fish stove top or in the oven.

We do a version of pan fried fish sometimes and I have been using almond flour because of lower carbs. My basic problem there is the tendency for sticking to the pan as I can’t ever seem to get the heat right on the first try. I’m about 50-50 on managing without making a total mess. Next up are dishes that I start stove top, then finish in the oven. I seem to have more success there as it doesn’t usually require turning the fish. My issue with that is a having to be really careful not to overcook as I constantly forget how quickly fish cooks. I rarely try to broil fish which doesn’t really make sense as the TV Chef Alton Brown says, “The broiler is an upside down grill inside your house” (or something like that). Perhaps the word “grill” throws me off.

One of the stove top preparations is Everglades style. Two firm fish fillets (mahi, snapper, haddock, hogfish, etc.) 1 shallot minced; 2 Tbs olive oil (lime flavored if have it); 2-3 Tbs butter; 2 Tbs capers, 2 Tbs Key Lime juice (can use regular lime juice); 2 Tbs rum, 1/4 cup chicken, vegetable, or seafood broth.Season fillets with salt and cracked black pepper or favorite seafood seasoning. Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute minced shallots in olive oil until soft (3-4 minutes). Stir in capers, juice, rum, and broth. Melt butter in mixture and stir thoroughly. Add fillets, spooning shallots and capers on top. Cover and cook for four minutes. Remove cover and check to see if fish is flaking. If not, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook for another three-to-four minutes. (You may need to add a little more broth if sauce is thickened to the point of sticking to the pan.)

If we do this only as a sauce to top grilled fish, there is no need for broth and it cooks over medium heat in five to six minutes. That’s 1 shallot minced; 2-3 Tbs butter; 2 Tbs capers, 2 Tbs Key Lime juice; 2 Tbs rum, 2-3 grinds cracked black pepper.


No French Dressing in France….

I’ve written before about me being a “picky eater” according to some and growing up with basic Southern fare in small towns where ethnic cuisines simply weren’t available. Something like pizza wasn’t really on-hand either and that wasn’t something we had at home. In fact, I had my first slice a couple of months before my seventeenth birthday when I was at the summer school in Quebec. It was of course France in my senior year of high school where I was introduced to many different items even though I was no where as adventuresome as a number of my classmates. Our dining arrangements did mean I often had group meals which is how I ate duck and horse. In these cases as you can imagine, I frequently had extra bread or cheese and soup was usually a first course. An interesting note is that vegetable soup in France is not what we generally think of, but is instead a creamy soup of vegetables pureed and cooked with stock. It is delicious. As for salad dressing, oil and vinegar on the table was most likely or a light vinaigrette. They do not have what we call French dressing and I truly don’t know where that comes from. I was also introduced to a few Moroccan dishes. My first Indian curry was on a trip to England. Oddly enough my first time in a Chinese restaurant was much later in Germany as two of my peers discovered I’d never been in one.

German food does tend to be heavier than French, although similar ingredients are used in their preparations and no, I never developed a taste for sauerkraut. I was glad to learn about white radishes. The multiple variations of pork schnitzel were as much a comfort food as you could ask for, too. Germany was also where I truly learned about wines as I was still being a good Baptist when I lived in France.

Might Miss Another Party….

In the scheme of things, this isn’t an overly important point, but it did bring an interesting memory to mind. I’ll start with the main thing.As I mentioned in a previous post, last year was granddaughter’s fifth birthday and the first one she was to have as a “major event”. Our present to her was to be the venue, a popular place with a specific children’s birthday party package. She was inviting people months ahead and then, as timing has it, her March 13th day hit right before the official shutdown. At that stage, however, parents were becoming concerned and most basically told the kids they weren’t going to be comfortable with attending. The venue acknowledged they’d had many cancellations and so the decision was made. The grandparents from Maine did come down and they had a special day which helped take the sting out of no big party. Granddaughter hasn’t forgotten though and apparently the decision again this year is “not yet”. They are looking for something extra special so we’ll see what that turns out to be.

Anyway, reaching way back to when her dad was a baby, as I have explained, his dad was killed when he was only four months old. Single parenting with an infant and being on active duty in the Army came with more challenges than I want to get into. And as often happens when the “needs of the Army” and the “desires of the individual” conflict, it’s not hard to guess who wins. This is how I found myself on the way to a specialized school at Fort Ord, CA in Monterey for almost four months when the child was only ten months old. Most at the school did not have their families with them and since I didn’t really have anyone to care for him for that length of time (as was suggested), they made an exception for me to have him with me. However, being the only single parent, especially with an infant, came with yet another set of challenges. We were divided into work groups and since several of the individuals in our group were also parents, they rallied around to help at least some and those who weren’t parents got into the swing of it. As the child’s first birthday approached, they were startled I said I wasn’t having a party for him. The fact is birthday parties for a one-year-old is for parents and grandparents to have cute photos. Unknown to me, the group decided that wouldn’t do and our “dinner out” that night segued into a surprise party complete with messy chocolate cake and a ride on an indoor merry-go-round. They also gave me a touching framed multi-photo piece of photos one of the guys had taken over the series of weekends as I brought the baby along for times we when went out to lunch. And yes, I do still have that hanging on the wall.

Lesser Known Etouffe……

Way back when, Justin Wilson and Paul Prudhomme were the only two “known” Creole/Cajun TV chefs. Emeril Lagasse of course is the one who attained true celebrity status and opened the way for lots of interest in Creole/Cajun cuisine. In the shortest explanation Cajun is viewed as the more “country” fare. Restaurants throughout South Louisiana and any place that bills itself in that fashion are likely to have a mix of the dishes with no distinction. A popular dish almost always included is crawfish or shrimp etouffee. Unlike jamabalaya or shrimp creole, which are tomato based, etouffee is roux-based and generally served as a thickened dish atop rice. It will be flavorful rather than hot although cayenne can be added for those who like extra kick and hot sauce is always an option.

A little known dish rarely found on a menu is tuna etouffee. It may sound a bit strange, but it is high protein, low fat, inexpensive and the calories and carbohydrates come in with how much rice is used and of course if dunking crusty French bread in it. Also roux-based, it can be thinned to resemble gumbo. So, if you’re in the mood to try something different and delicious, here it is.

Two 12-ounce cans tuna in water; 1 packet brown gravy mix (yes, that’s the quickie way instead of making roux from scratch); 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/2 cup diced sweet pepper (your favorite); 1 stalk celery diced, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper (optional). In the tradition of most Cajun dishes, saute the “trinity” of onion, celery, and peppers in olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add tuna, then fill each can with water and add. Stir thoroughly, then sprinkle in gravy mix and stir briskly until blended. Add salt, pepper, stir thoroughly and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Check every 10 minutes for thickness and stir to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. Prepare 1 cup of white or brown rice in either another pan or use one of the quick microwave packets. If you want a thicker etouffee, increase the heat to medium and stir frequently as you reduce the liquid. Serve over rice in a bowl.


Uplifting Story…..

When I write stories for the community paper, I have a target word count of 450-800 depending on the story. The paper is a weekly and if something isn’t time sensitive, it may get slipped to the following week due to lack of space. There are times when we know the story will “go long” and we make allowances for that. In a few cases, we set up a 2-part story to adequately portray the person/group/subject.

My intent when I went to write about the new Krab Kingz was a regular story of a touch of irony along with the extra difficulty in opening a restaurant under current economic conditions. I’d spoken briefly with the husband half of the couple, but when I was able to sit down with them both, I knew I would need to “go longer”. The finished article is here:

I wasn’t able to include as much as I wanted about how each on their own has been a shining example of achieving the American Dream. They’ve both worked hard all their lives, committed to community and church and always on the lookout for opportunities. An element that adds to this is their personal story of having known each other in their youth and then gone separate ways. Whether one believes in destiny or coincidence, they met again as adults, both single parents and still working hard. (I did not inquire as to what circumstances caused the single parenting – it wasn’t relevant to this piece). They took their time though and allowed a few years before entering into dating and ultimately marrying.

I feel confident they will succeed in this endeavor and can attest to the quality of the food. It’s interesting that they have a “fried” and “boiled menu” and they do recommend if you want fried as carry-out, you come in to order so you can then carry out as soon as it’s taken from the fryer.


Adapting a Flounder Dish….

We have seafood once a week, sometimes more often depending on multiple factors. We mostly grill although there are some stove top and oven dishes we do occasionally. I’ve posted before about the ham wrapped fillets and last night I did a variation of Flounder Imperial. An issue with any fish is of course the tricky part of not overlooking while still having it done. (I am not getting into the whole searing versus cooking here).

Flounder is not one of our local fish, but Hubby picks up the frozen type and to the best of my knowledge, there is no way to grill flounder as thin as it is. This leave stove and oven and again, timing is tricky. With our schedules, I did the grocery shopping last week and picked up an 8-ounce can of jumbo lump crab and one container of Publix lobster bisque. My intent was sort of a “deconstructed” Flounder Imperial. The “Imperial” part means a thin layer of mayonnaise is spread over the crab before baking. Since the point of paying extra for jumbo lump crab is to have the large chunks, that means they will take a little longer to cook than the thin fillets. To prevent the flounder from overcooking I used a two-part approach, although that does require messing up an extra dish.

Crab Imperial: 8 ounces crab meat; 1 Tbs Lea & Perrine’s; 1 Tbs any type mustard; 2 Tsp capers. Gently mix to coat the crab. Place 1 Tbs of butter in small baking dish to melt while preheating oven to 375 (can spray dish with butter spray instead). Put crab mixture in dish and gently spread a thin coat of mayonnaise over the crab (approximately 3 Tbs). Lightly sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crab is hot and top is browned.

I lightly sprinkled the fillets on both sides with a chicken/fish seasoning mix (whatever brand you like or use Old Bay). Poured the lobster bisque into a 12-inch skillet, added some white wine to the container to get the rest of the bisque out and stirred that in. Heated the bisque over medium low to barely a boil. Reduced heat to medium low. Placed the fillets in and spooned bisque over them. Cooked for three minutes, gently turned, spooned more bisque over and cooked another two minutes.

The crab took 15 minutes. Try to time it so both dishes are done at the same time (I was off a little so moved the skillet to the back burner (no heat) while the crab finished. I spooned sauce on the plate, placed the fillets on the sauce and topped with the crab. There was some sauce left in the skillet and I poured that over the fish.

And no, this is not the kind of dish Hubby attempts.


Making Connections….

The phrase, “It’s a small world”, exists for a reason. I’ve previously posted about Robs Rums and how Rob and Robin Burr hold an annual Rum Festival.  In a discussion yesterday, I was explaining how we came to actually meet each other.

For reasons that are not important, when I spun the character of Chris Green off to make a separate mystery series with her as an underwater investigator (Deadly Doubloons, False Front, Georgina’s Grief and soon to be Idyllic Islands), I decided to also have her be a rum enthusiast. When Hubby and I began to spend time in the islands, he took up estate rum and I drink it occasionally. I knew a few of the rums and went on-line to search for a guide to expand my knowledge. This is how I originally found

I introduced myself via email and explained I wanted to reference his site in Deadly Doubloons and future books. That’s when I discovered he and his wife Robin were avid divers and had traveled extensively for dives. It also happened to be close to the time when they were having the annual Rum Festival and he invited us to be their guests. We went, but as happens, they were of course quite busy with the festival and we didn’t have a chance to link up in person. Fast forward several months and a girlfriend and I were having lunch. She said she had some friends she wanted me to meet – Rob and Robin Burr – because they recently relocated from Coral Gables to Redland and with our diving in common, she thought we would all enjoy each other. I explained we “sort of” already knew each other and we did schedule a lunch together not long after that.

The Great Chili Debate….

I was interrupted in posting this, so let me get it done this time.

As I may have mentioned before, aside from grilling, Hubby has a few dishes that are “his” and I do not mess with them.One is chili and as with many such dishes, there are variations and often strong opinions, and that doesn’t count the numerous Chili Cook-Offs. Some are of course community-based often as fundraisers and others are serious with significant prizes involved.

I may also have mentioned Daddy did a lot of the cooking until I began at a fairly young age – like nine – because Mother was often ill. Chili for us was with ground beef, onions, tomatoes, beans, and few seasonings other than salt pepper (red and black) and chili powder. We usually served it over rice and also with tamales. Now, for those familiar with the range of debate it starts with two issues – first is the use of ground beef and second is with including beans. A separate point is use of meat other than beef and I’ll get to that in a minute. Hubby adheres to the practice of no ground beef. He generally gets 3-4 pounds of steak and cuts it up rather than buy packaged pre-cut “chili meat”. He also uses the Carroll Shelby seasoning mix and yes, that is the Carroll Shelby of race car and Mustang fame. If he’s remembered to get them, he picks up a couple different fresh chili peppers. If not, he adds a can of chopped green chilies and we often have dried anchos or another in the pantry. He does use tomatoes of course and beans; sometimes black, sometimes kidney. We go with a medium heat and he adds hot sauce later as his tolerance level is higher than mine.

Okay, a quick word about meats such as buffalo and venison – they do work, but not something Hubby has ever substituted or even blended in. That leads to the recent discussion at his work about “white” or “chicken/turkey” chili. As I understand it, the one proponent in the group was quickly told that while it does include chili flavorings, it did not qualify to be called chili. As you can imagine, the same holds true of his opinion of vegetarian chili. And there may be a chili cook-off occur sometime in the future at the dive shop.

Finding More Ways for Leftovers….

Ah yes, my consistent concern for not having enough food for a group does always lead to leftovers after any gathering. Some can go to neighbors and friends and I’ve about exhausted those avenues. One item I was able to freeze and will use at a later time. Last night was risotto cakes as the side for lamb chops and the remaining shrimp to make it a Surf and Turf. The extra cheeses call for several adapted dishes. Tonight will be the leftover lemon chicken nestled in peppers and lemon sauce topped by Havarti with dill. At some point there is likely to be pork tenderloin flattened, stuffed with sun dried tomatoes and brie and either roasted or grilled. The smoked Gouda will go in sandwiches Hubby has as his default lunch. Hmm, now that I think of it, I need to find a recipe for cheese sauce that can be mixed with either vegetables or soup as the thickener. I have not been successful in just using cheese as a thickener because it has a tendency to clump instead. I know I am missing a fairly simple step because a couple of restaurants around do a roasted red pepper and Gouda soup that is delicious. Since New Year’s Day was on a Friday and we had the traditional meal to include black eye peas, we didn’t order pizza. That means Hubby will be short on breakfast of his usual leftover pizza and can do an egg dish instead loaded up with cheese.

Let’s see – I’ve about covered the bases for that and all the sweets – most of which were presents – have a long enough shelf life to be parceled out over time. It seems as though last year they lasted until about Easter. We won’t have leftovers Wed since it’s Three Kings Day and the spicy Mediterranean seafood stew is what is likely to be on the menu. We generally have that for either Christmas Eve or Three Kings Day. What kind of creativity does everyone else bring to the table during this time?

About Traditional Sweet Potato Casserole….

We have a great local DJ, Doug (Dougie) Hitchcock, on Thunder Country. He does the late afternoon into 7:00 p.m. show and always has tidbits to share as well as good music. Right before Thanksgiving, he said that yes, survey results were that the favorite holiday meal side dish was the green bean casserole. I wasn’t surprised and the friends who hosted this year did theirs with bacon added. That was a variation we certainly enjoyed.

Moving on though to the traditional sweet potato casserole also usually found on the table/buffet line. Notwithstanding our deep Southern roots, neither Hubby nor I are sweet potato fans. We definitely don’t like the usual method of adding even more sweetness to with brown sugar or maple syrup and topping with marshmallows. However, a few years ago Hubby ran across a savory version that included part of a chipotle pepper in adobe and lots of cheese. Now in all fairness, any time you use chipotle, it can be tricky because the peppers vary in intensity of heat. An option is a quarter teaspoon red pepper flakes or leave it out altogether. The rest of the recipe should work if you prefer no heat. I do take a short cut as our Publix has containers of mashed sweet potatoes in refrigerator section.

Step one. Rough chop half a small onion. Peel two whole cloves of garlic. Coat with favorite olive oil or use olive oil spray and roast in 350 oven approximately 20 minutes until caramelized and soft. Mash the garlic with a fork and mix in with the onions. While those are roasting, take one container of prepared sweet potatoes. Follow the directions for microwaving them for 1-2 minutes less than the full time. When partially cooked, place the potatoes in a bowl. Stir in two tablespoons butter/margarine and half teaspoon kosher salt. Add the roasted onions, garlic and spicy pepper (if desired). Stir in 1 cup grated cheese (whatever you like; we use a six-cheese Italian blend). Put mixture into buttered casserole dish and top with grated Parmesan (can use any hard Italian cheese). Baked covered (can use foil) for 25 minutes and check. If top not lightly browned, bake for another 5-10 minutes uncovered.(You may need to add 1/4 milk to mixture before baking if it is really stiff. The butter and roasted onions/garlic should give enough moisture)