Canal House Cooking volume 8 is here! Just in time to make good use of the last of Summer's tomatoes. On p. 47, this recipe uses lots of herbs and fresh mozzarella. I'll also grill some swordfish to serve alongside (p. 61) and the Chicken Alla Deavola (p. 69) for Tuesday. If I can manage, I'll sauté some turnips we have languishing in the fridge with thyme and lemon.
I've struggled with pan frying patties for a long time now. They never turn out right. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they fall apart, sometimes they burn to a crisp. So I asked my husband for advice, knowing that he has a tendency to remember everything he reads and that he had a copy of Russ Parson's How to Read a French Fry back when it first came out, in 2001.
My daughter turned five years old yesterday, and what a celebration it was. She had presents from her Grandparents in the morning , singing and candle blowing with a fake cake at school in the afternoon, then dinner with real cake and more presents in the evening. Tomorrow she has another birthday bash (to which we seem to have invited over seventy guests) and still more presents arriving in the mail from her other Grandmother.
Today my three year old son and I visited Sunset Super - arguably our city's best known asian market. We went in search of lemongrass, which Rainbow did not have last week, and curry leaves, which no place I've ever shopped routinely has had any week. I didn't find the leaves at Sunset Super, either, which is about what I expected because they are really more an indian item. I'm not sure where the best indian market is in San Francisco - maybe the Mission?
Those are hot pink potatoes, not miniature salamis.
Way back in the dot-com days I spent most of my evenings at restaurants in San Francisco. One of my favorite memories is the fish and chips at an Irish Pubs in North Beach, though, sadly, I can't seem to remember which one. O'reilly's maybe? There was a big dog - a huge Irish Wolfhound, but I don't think it was Mad Dog in the Fog. And the fish and chips - out of this world! The ones I remember best were a combination of different types of fish - lightly battered nuggets of salmon, cod and something else. But later, when I returned, they had changed. Still magnificent, but more run of the mill - just one fish, slightly more batter.
So Sunset Magazine's "Healthy Fast Food" offering of grilled fish and "chips" caught my eye. Especially since one of the best well loved foods in my house these days is the potato, oven roasted, which is pretty similar to a grilled potato. For the kids, I offered two tartar sauces, one from the recipe, and one from the fridge. I'm not sure which they preferred. With a salad from the garden this one is easy, healthy and a sure bet as far as taste. How can you go wrong with grilled fish and tartar sauce?
Though I have to admit that grilling fish on a rainy evening is dedication. But with a raincoat and towel to wipe rain off the plate, its really not that bad. Get's you out of the house. Had it been a nice sunny evening I would have tried grilling the potatoes, but I wasn't about to wait around and test the doneness of more than one item in the rain, especially an unfamiliar one. So those went in the oven. But those potatoes, well, they were weird.
We get all sorts of different colors in our CSA box - blue ones, pink "huckleberry" ones, yukon golds, yellow finns, and we've grown several kinds in our back yard - rose finn apple is my favorite (I'm willing to bet they were called "rose fir apple" when I ordered them for planting last year). This bag, however, I found at Mollie Stone's, along with yesterday's watercress, because Rainbow really didn't have any fingerling potatoes (long and skinny instead of round). I guess they must be out of season. In the bag they looked normal, but when washed and sliced in half, they were hot pink. Really bright, almost purple. My kids couldn't believe it - and didn't want to eat them. I tried comparing them to the hot pink marshmallow bunnies they love so much, but no dice.
Speaking of potatoes, I used to think it was kind of fun when rogue potato plants would pop up in my garden, due to a little tiny potato overlooked from the previous season's harvest. Until I read the section on blight in Mark Diacono's Veg Patch - one of a series of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (of River Cottage fame) introduced food books. Potato plants that are not from reputable seed potatoes or were planted in soil that grew potatoes within the past two years are much more likely to suffer from blight, which rots the potatoes before harvest and is blamed for the death of 20-25% of Irelands population between 1845 and 1852. So now, I dig out those cute little baby potato plants whenever I find them. And next year I will do a better job of rotating my crops.
Grilled Fish and Chips (adapted from Sunset Magazine, April 2010):
2 striped bass filets (about 1 pounds)
1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes
1 Tablespoons capers
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/3 cup mayonnaise
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 450°. Lay out your fish in a glass dish, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze half of it over the fish. Sprinkle a Tablespoon or so of olive oil over the fish, then salt and pepper it - about 1/8 teaspoon of each. Let the fish marinate while you prepare the potatoes and grill. Wash and slice the potatoes long ways, then toss them in a big bowl with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Transfer them to a cookie sheet, then put them in the oven for 30-45 minutes.
To make the tartar sauce, chop the capers and add them to the mayonnaise, squeeze the other half lemon and add it and the zest to the sauce. Mix until creamy.
About 20 minutes into the potato cooking time, heat up the grill to whatever temperature you use for fish - our grill is particularly wimpy, so I blast it up to high. When the potatoes are done - soft inside and crispy outside - turn off the oven and let them sit inside.
Lay your fish, skin side up, on the grill. Close the lid and leave it for five minutes or so, then check to see if there are nice grill marks on the fish. If so, flip it over onto the skin side. If not, let it cook longer and keep checking until the grill marks are there. Once the fish is skin side down, shut the lid again and come back in five minutes to check for doneness. I think the easiest way is to take a sharp knife and slice into the thickest part of the fish. When it is opaque inside, it is done. Serve the fish right away with potatoes and a salad on the side.
I started building a bean teepee with the kids today. We stuck the ends of some eight foot sticks into the ground, then lashed them together at the top with string. The plan is to plant beans - scarlet runner and trionfo violetto - at the base of each stick so that they climb and make a tent for the kids to play in and beans for us to eat. This will be our third year teepee, though last year's was a bit of a dud.
Of course we didn't finish today, just like years past. But this year I've solved my problem of bean seeds rotten from too long in their pre-planting soak or dry and dead from too long out of it. After soaking them in water for a few hours, we put our seeds in a little plastic cup and covered them with a wet paper towel - pre-sprouting. Now we can take our seeds in and out of the house without planting as often as we want, as long as the paper towel stays damp. And when we finally get around to planting them in the ground, hopefully they'll be ready to go.
Dinner tonight was a really simple soup from - you guessed it - Canal House Cooking. This is a good one to make a few days ahead, because it reheats well. We only had a pound of beets, so I had to sub in an extra potato (neither of which were russet). It was fine, but I think more beets would be better. And I happen to know that waxy potatoes can make things gummy, so stick with a russet if you have one around. Red beets would probably be better too. Our soup was just a bit...pale. Salad was on the side, essentially the same Niçoise-esque item from last week. My kids turned their noses up at the soup, but they did eat the tuna, deviled egg and leftover pizza on their plates.
In other news, I found a wonderful book today while stopping by Crissy Field to check out the early evening light. Its called Back to Basics: Traditional Kitchen Wisdom and is a collection of old school how-tos (garden building, food storing, canning, winemaking, beekeeping) edited by Andrea Chesman, who I don't think I've encountered before. She writes books, and a blog, all about seasonal cooking and making things easy for Mom - right up my alley! Most of her books are about vegetables and grains (read vegetarian) and she has even got one containing 255 recipes for squash. I'm so excited!
However, my favorite part of the book so far - without having read it - are the beautiful watercolor illustrations. I guess they are paintings by Bernard Chau, who is credited as "illustrator" on the copyright page. I just can't find anything in the book that attributes the watercolors to anyone. Is this what happens when you do work for Reader's Digest? On his webpage, I see that Mr. Chau has more images of "crime" in his portfolio than "food". Huh. Well, I guess thats work for hire - the art editor probably just set him up a still life and said "paint this". I suppose I shouldn't be too broken up over it, I can't expect all artists to be Patricia Curtan, can I?
Beet Soup (adapted from Canal House Cooking volume 3):
4 beets (2 pounds)
4 Tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped
rind from 1/4 preserved lemon (scrape out the fruity part inside the rind)
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and bake until tender (1-2 hours). Unwrap the beets, and when they are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins. Coarsely chop the beets and set aside.
While the beets are baking, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they are translucent and soft but not browned, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the potatoes, beets, preserved lemon and three cups of the stock. Cover and simmer until the vegetables are soft, about an hour. For a really smooth soup, let it cool and puree it in small batches in the blender. (Really, you must let it cool. Otherwise it will blow the lid of your blender and hot soup will blast into your face and all over your kitchen. Its happened to me, its happened to the Canal House authors). If you, like me, are a more impatient type who cannot be trusted to wait for the soup to cool, then just stick a hand blender in it for a while and call it good. If the soup is too thick, add the remaining stock in small amounts until you're happy with it. Serve hot or cold.
Voila! Salad Nicoise (or a salad with something for everyone - serves 4-6):
4 oz spring mix salad
1 7oz cans of tuna (chunk light if you like less mercury)
4 to six eggs
cherry tomatos (if they're in season)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt & pepper
For starters, hard-boil the eggs. If you don't already have a favorite way, try this one:
Put the eggs in a pot, cover them with water. Bring the water to a medium boil (thats not wimpy, but not hard enough to crack the eggs). Let them boil for a full minute. Turn off the heat, and let the eggs sit in the water until it is cool. I've been told that adding vinegar to egg water makes them easier to peel, but I haven't tested this. I have found that fresher eggs are harder to peel, so I like to stash some away in the back of the fridge to age for easier peeling. I think too, that aging an egg for a day or two after boiling it makes the peeling easier.
When the eggs are cool, peel them, slice in half and put on each plate. If you have kids who like deviled eggs but not plain old eggs, scoop the yolks out of the kids' eggs and, in a bowl, mix them with a bit of mayonnaise - usually one teaspoon per yolk. Peel and slice the avocados, add some to each plate. Add some olives, then some tuna. Be sure to leave room on the plates for the lettuce, in the middle of all the other items. Slice the cherry tomatoes and plate them too.
Wash and dry the salad, then let it rest in the fridge while you mix up the dressing. In a small jar, add the oil and vinegar, then a big pinch of salt and some pepper. Put on the lid, shake it up. Pour over the salad and toss it. If it seems too dry, sprinkle on some more olive oil. Its handy to keep some in a cruet just for situations like this. Grind some more pepper over it, add it to the plates, and serve. Be sure to put salt on the table for this one - I like to sprinkle it on the egg and avocado.