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Food for the Sole

18 Jan

I think I’ve mentioned before the different types of “days” we would have that caused kids to rejoice, parents to groan, and school to inevitably be cancelled.  Last year, we had the typical Snow Day.  That was followed in the spring with a Tsunami Day.  In California, we had a Fire Day and occasionally kept the kids inside for recess due to bad air conditions.  I thought that about capped off the tank of the types of “days” causing school closures; that is, until 8pm last night.

Our school district has a wonderfully effective automated alert system used for any type of information that masses of Coos Bay folk should need to know.  However, when I saw “Coos Bay School District” pop up on my caller ID last night, my thought immediately went to what any normal person would feel when work was calling their house way past the 9-5; I’m half-way through dinner, and not enough sips of a drink in to honestly say I couldn’t drive back in to help out with whatever circumstance arose.  But immediately when I answer I hear the familiar automated voice of our Business Director canceling school tomorrow due to, you ready for this, wind.  Wind?  Yes, wind.

Initially, the feeling of ecstatic yay-I-get-to-sleep-in-and-watch-the-Today-Show-!! jubilation came jumping out as I gloated to my husband (and replayed the message on speaker while dancing around the kitchen).  I even called my mom to relay the fun news.  A Wind Day!  I think she even called me a “Lucky Duck.”

But then, as what seems to be happening more and more lately, and at an alarmingly rate, the adult in me kicks in.  Wind?  We live on the Southern Oregon Coast, where hurricane 50+ mph winds is just a stormy winter Tuesday for us.  This was different.  One of the worst storms in years was about to hit the Pacific Northwest, putting Seattle under a blizzard and giving Coastal towns the jolt of a lifetime: 90 mph winds and heavy rain were expected – enough to keep little Siglet from walking in a straight line outside, enough to make us prepare a safe room incase the windows blew out, and definitely enough to close schools.

I know wind – my family had the fortunate experiences of living in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas, all giving us their share of tornadoes – one even on our moving day.  But for some reason, I didn’t feel prepared for this storm.  I know how the Arctic winds howl off the ocean in these parts, and even on a “good” day it can knock you off your feet and chill you to the bone.

When Rob and I went to bed last night, we knew it wouldn’t be pretty.  What neither of us expected was to feel the constant vibrations, shaking, and deafening jolts of winds and rains so harsh and angry that not even earthquakes can compare.  The shaking of an earthquake stops, eventually.  But these gusts of wind just kept on coming with a fast-ball-wind-up to smack our little house daring it to stand a chance.  The neighbor’s forgotten trashcan made hollow noises on the street, like a kid smacking a plastic toy on the wood floor.  The sound of the wind was completely anticipated, yet shocking, like violent waves of an ocean crashing into rocks.  By the morning time, after a night of on-and-off-jolted-out-of-I-finally-relaxed-sleep shenanigans, the wind was more like waves of nausea.

Rob got up and went to work – it was another military realization (for me) that while my profession was put on hold for safety for a day, his was more than expected to perform.  After a power outage that swept the Oregon Coast (Sig and I tried to take a nap in the daytime darkness, but it ended up being last night, round 2), I remembered the thing that Rob and I were so enjoying last night before our wind day preparations began: Dinner.

Our fishmonger had some beautiful Petrale Sole, and I splurged a bit to get some.  Even Rob was excited.  I thought about our usual Sole dishes – Sole Meuniere, Baked Sole, Stuffed Sole, or just plain pan seared with tarter sauce – they all sounded good.  But one thing sounded better: Cioppino.  It was a cold night, we knew a storm was coming, and the spicy warming fish soup just sounded perfect.

And it was.  This might be in the top ten.  I actually didn’t use any other fish that is usually called for in Cioppino because, 1) Rob won’t eat it, and 2) I wanted the subtle taste of the Sole to stand out.  I even left the pieces whole when putting them into the soup to let them delicately break as they saw fit, leaving big fresh pieces the stars among the humble veg and slurpable broth.  Topped with a simple but flavorful tarragon and caper aioli, the flavors were fantastic.

During a day like today, when turning off the outside and getting some sleep was not an option, I was so (so, so, so, so) glad there were leftovers.  Even as I write, the rain is constant and the wind is relentless, but at least Sig is taking a nap by the fire (actually, he’s so exhausted that his head is literally hanging off the edge of the couch… poor guy).  And I got my Cioppino.  Talk about comfort food.  Lucky me.

Sole Cioppino with Tarragon Caper Aioli
(serves 4)

  • ½ lb. Petrale or Dover Sole
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, diced (save about 1 tbsp of the frawns)
  • 1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped or broken up with your hands (discard can juice)
  • ½ c full bodied white wine (I used a buttery Chardonnay)
  • 2 c water
  • ½ a lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • s&p

 Tarragon Caper Aioli
(makes a large ½ c)

  • 3 large tbsp good mayo
  • zest of a whole lemon
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • a couple dashes of Tabasco Sauce
  • 3 tsp capers, roughly chopped
  • 2 full sprigs of tarragon, chopped
  • about 1 tbsp fennel frawns, chopped
  • s&p

 First, make the aioli – combine all ingredients in a small bowl and taste for seasoning.  Set aside (the longer this sits, the more married the flavors will become, which is a good thing). 

For the Cioppino, heat the butter in a large shallow pot over med-high heat.  Add the butter and a pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent.  Then, add in the fennel and celery, a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft.  Add the garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute.  Pour in the wine, and let it simmer and reduce for about 2 minutes.  Add in the red pepper flakes and bay leaves, as well as the juice of ½ a lemon, and pour in the water.  Also, cut the half of the lemon just used into quarters.  Add the lemon quarters to the pot.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cover for about 5 minutes (this is an important step – it really creates a light and flavorful broth). 

After about 5 minutes, uncover the pot and add in the tomatoes, and simmer again, covered for another 5 minutes.  The soup should be chunky, but still have the presence of broth.  Taste for seasoning. 

Add in the whole Sole pieces – really nestle them into the soup, and cover again for about 3 minutes, until the Sole is cooked through.  Since Sole filets are very delicate and thin, they cook fast and will start to naturally break apart in the soup. 

Ladle into big bowls, and top with a dollop of the aioli.  Inhale the spicy, herby, sea-watery scent, and Enjoy!! 

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Smells Anything but Fishy

14 Apr

When my husband and I first started dating, within one of our first conversations, he told me that he didn’t eat fish.  Period.  I would be lying if I said a this-is-never-going-to-work thought didn’t cross my mind.  After all, fish is the main protein in my diet!  And I’m a cook!  What are we going to eat at dinnertime?!  But that thought quickly vanished within the same conversation hearing about what he did like to eat and realizing he had a pretty good palette.  Plus, he’s really cute.

Since then and many, many meals later, Rob’s taste for food has drastically grown and he’s even asking for things he originally hated (i.e. beets).  He’s taken a liking to fish (yay!) but he’s still pretty adamant about not eating shellfish (being a Marine Science major, he says he knows too much about them to eat them.  I absolutely love shellfish, so I don’t ask what he knows).  So as seen in past posts, whenever I decide to indulge in Oregon’s finest shellfish, I usually do so when Rob is out flying that little orange helicopter over volatile seas.

As mentioned in my past posting, I passed on cooking my Cioppino last Friday due to the prior crazy work week.  But knowing this week was going to be another hectic ride (we just finished parent conferences), I knew I couldn’t put off my Cioppino yet again.

So on Saturday, after locking ourselves out of the house, waiting for the locksmith (at least it was sunny out!), visiting the pet adoption agency to see if we could add a 4-legged member to our little family (sadly, our doggie bed still lays cold in the garage), Rob and I made our way to Charleston to buy some of Oregon Coast’s finest: fish.

While our fish monger piled pounds of steamer clams and medium-sized tiger shrimp onto the scales, I could sense Rob’s jaw start to tense.  Shellfish.  Eww.  Because I was making a “white” Cioppino with veal and pork sausage rather than the standard chorizo, I opted out of the muscles – not that it made Rob feel any better about the meal he was about to endure.  The only white fish available that day was some beautiful Dover Sole, which happens to be Rob’s favorite, so despite its delicateness we dared it to stand up to the bold flavors, and planned for its accompanying role in the stew.

Then it was on to cooking.  Cioppino is not a hard dish to make, it just has a lot of ingredients which can make it seem overwhelming.  I am usually pretty good with my mise en place, so after the chopping and set up, bringing everything together as a piece of cake (or a bowl of stew!)

We shared the Cioppino with some close friends, and with a dollop of Lemon Aioli and a chunk of artisan crusty bread, we communed with gobbling and slurping and clanking clam shells into the shell bowl.  Except for the occasional shrimp sneaking its way over to my dish, Rob ate, and thoroughly enjoyed the light, fresh, homey, and slightly spicy fish stew.  The dinner smelled amazing while cooking, tasted amazing while eating, and we were all truly amazed at anti-shellfish boy scarfing it down.

Please don’t be intimidated by the ingredients here; Cioppino really is as easy (if not easier!) to make as most meat stews, and so, so satisfying.  If you can’t find veal and pork sausage, use whatever hot, medium, or mild meat combination you love.  Just adjust your salt and pepper flake seasoning.  If I can get Rob to eat fish stew, then I’m sure you’ll love it!

Cioppino (serves about 6 with leftovers) 

  • 2 lbs fresh shrimp 
  • 1 1/2 lbs steamer or razor clams
  • 2 lbs any mild white fish (Dover Sole, Halibut, Rockfish, even Tilapia will work here) 
  • 4 c fish stock (low sodium) 
  • 2 c dry white wine (Pinot Gris works well) 
  • 1 lb veal and pork sausage (or any sausage of your choice) 
  • 2 c whole tomatoes, strained and hand-crushed 
  • 1/2 large white onion, finely diced
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, finely diced
  • 5 large stalks celery, sliced 
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more or less depending on how spicy you like it) 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p 
  • chopped Italian parsley, for garnish
  • Lemon Aioli, recipe follows 

Lemon Aioli (makes about 2 cups) 

  • 2 c good quality mayo (or make it yourself!) 
  • zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 5ish drops of Tabasco sauce
  • a pinch of s&p 

Start browning the sliced, or unencased sausage in the olive oil in a large dutch oven over med-high heat.  Once browned, remove from pot and set aside.  Add the onion, leek, fennel, and celery, some s&p , and saute until soft and translucent.  Add the garlic, and then deglaze with the white wine, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan.  After about 3-5 minutes, add in the tomatoes, the browned sausage, and fish stock.  Let come to a boil.  Once boiling, add the crushed red pepper and bay leaves, and bring down to a simmer.  Simmer covered for about 30-45 minutes.  

While stew is simmering, clean the shellfish – peel and devein the shrimp, and gently scrub the clams.  If any clams are broken or open, discard (unless it is just slightly open – then hold the clam firmly between your thumb and first and middle finger and tap the clam on the counter top.  If the clam closes, it is still alive and able to be cooked and eaten.  If it does not close, then discard).   Also, cut the white fish of choice into large chunks, similar to the size you would use to make fish and chips.  

Add the fish and shellfish to the pot, cover, and check after 5 minutes.  NOTE: if using a heartier white fish, like Halibut, add the white fish first to cook for a few minutes before adding the shellfish.  When the clams have opened and the shrimp are pink and opaque, the stew is ready to serve.  

Serve in big soup bowls, garnish with parsley, and a large dollop of Lemon Aioli.  

Enjoy! 

(Sorry about the lack of pictures; we got carried away with the cooking… and the eating!)

No More Turkey

1 Dec

Ok.  There comes a point where the yummy leftovers really do become: urgh-leftovers, again?  We needed a change.  With just bits and pieces of Thanksgiving food still sitting in the oversized and, now, underfilled refrigerated storage containers, Rob and I have been craving a change.  Especially a healthy one.

But creating healthy, yet creative, interesting, and tasty dishes can sometimes be tricky and require some thought.  No one wants to eat twigs and berries (and I’m not referring to cinnamon sticks and blueberries, cause those are just darn delicious).  And many tasty proteins are not the leanest.  So while chatting with a great friend yesterday, I expressed my Tryptophan slump.  What should I make that healthy, easy, and comforting?  She lead me in the direction of her go-to fish dish she and her husband love.

With my new found inspiration, I drove the long and winding 2-lane road in the cold, cold rain to pick up the freshest fish Coos County has to offer.  When I got to the city of Charleston, a teeny, tiny Fishermen’s town, I was met with bright lights on the beautiful boats, a reminder that one of the finest seasons was upon us – CRAB season!  Today, December 1st, is the first day of the new crab season, and last night all the crab boats were parked like LA cards on the 405 freeway just waiting to get underway.  Their crab pots were expertly stacked and loaded, and seagulls were acrobatically dive-bombing hoping to get a rogue scrap of bait.  In a couple of weeks, the finest, sweetest, Dungeness Crab will be available to devour, no butter needed.  Saliva-inducing crab aside, last night’s fish goal was Dover Sole.

I had originally planned on using Halibut, but it is out of season, and the only Halibut available had been previously frozen (there’s nothing wrong with previously frozen fish, but in this area, if you can get something fresh, it’s better to take the bait.  Ha!).  So seeing these beautiful , uncloudy, thin filets of Sole, I went for them.  I also splurged for a piece of in-house smoked Chinook Salmon that an uncanny flavor cousin only to bacon.

While paying, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a younger couple asking to taste a piece of smoked Sturgeon.  Sturgeon?  The prehistoric fish of modern culinary confusion?  I, of course, strike up a conversation seeing the opportunity to ask the question that is usually directed at me in these parts, I ask, “Are you two visiting the area?”

A super nice couple, they explain they are from Chicago (which explains why they are a super nice couple) and on a road trip seeing as much as they can of the U.S.  My first inclination was to ask if they were lost, being that Coos Bay isn’t exactly a national sight to put on the Bucket List.  But as the guy started singing, “On the Road Again,” I couldn’t help but smile and say, “That’s really cool!”

After giving some tips on where to go for dinner and what to see at night, and a reluctant negative response to their question about whether the rain would top, I made my way home.  Hopefully wherever that couple is today, they fondly remember their Southern Coastal Oregon experience, and hopefully enjoyed the Sturgeon.  :o/

Getting home, I channeled Gen (my friend with the fish idea) and proceeded to bake this lovely, flakey, buttery fish.  I added my own twist by using chili and lime, and topped the filets over super-roasted sweet red onions and fennel.  We had some leftover Pinot grape Rose wine from the weekend, which paired perfectly with the heat, citrus, and caramelization.  Everything was so delicious and healthy, and so not anything like turkey.

Tonight will be another light dish, and Gen’s idea definitely pulled me out of my recipe slump.  I’ve already started conjuring up a healthy bunch of light ideas to relieve the holiday food-hangover.  But it probably won’t last long – Christmas is only 25 days away!  Bring on the sugar cookies!

Chili Lime Crusted Dover Sole over Caramelized Red Onion and Fennel (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. Dover Sole filets
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 c Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of 1/2 lime, save other 1/2 for garnish and/or to drizzle over cooked fish
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  On a sheet tray, mix red onion and fennel with 2 tbsp olive oil and s&p.  Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring twice, until caramelized and browned.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, melt butter, and add Panko bread crumbs, red pepper flakes, garlic, and lime juice.  Stir over med-low heat until bread crumbs are coated and slightly browned.

In a baking dish, pour the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, and layer the Sole on the bias over each other, completely filling the dish.  Sprinkle the lime zest over the fish with a bit of s&p.  Pour the bread crumb mixture over the fish, and place into same oven as the roasting veg.  Bake the fish for 15-20 minutes, until flakey and bread crumbs are browned (Note: the fish will shrink a bit and let off juices, so the fish will slightly braise in its own liquid, keeping it really moist).

Serve fish over a pile of caramelized veg, and squeeze a bit of lime over the top.

Enjoy!

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