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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!! 

Endless Sushi, A Bloody Nose, and Lamb Two Ways

26 Apr

It’s been a busy weekend, to say the least.

It all started last Thursday with one of the best days I’ve experienced since moving to Oregon: Momiji’s all-you-can-eat sushi night.  They were celebrating their one-year anniversary (I remember being just as excited when they posted their Grand Opening sign), and Rob and I definitely took advantage.  For about $28 a person, we were able to order and eat as much sushi, sashimi, and cut-rolls as we wished.  Sounds like a great deal, right?  Well, by itself, $28 worth of sushi is still a whole lot of sushi to eat, and we started realizing this as our bellies quickly expanded.  But did that stop us?  Heck no!  It’s all-you-can-eat sushi, baby!

An hour and $126 worth of sushi later, we rolled ourselves out the door, drove home in a foggy state of fullness, and plopped on the couch to let digestion do its thing.  While, Rob can avidly tell you, I was a kid in a candy store in the restaurant, it’s going to be a long time before I eat hundreds of dollars worth of sushi again (by a long time, I mean, like, maybe a week).

As Good Friday called for its traditional Fillet O’ Fish (and late-night helping of moose tacos – not so traditional), and the weekend rolled around, I was given another opportunity to indulge in fantastic food.  After all, it was Easter weekend.  Growing up, Easter was always a big deal in our house.  My sister and I searched the house for hidden eggs, only just a few years past the point of being “too old,” and my mom would always give us a Cadbury Cream Egg, even though she couldn’t stand the sight of them (it looks like a chocolate covered raw egg!).  So this year, while I knew we wouldn’t be searching for eggs, I thought we could still celebrate the season with great food.

There are certain times when I’m in the kitchen, or when watching one of the many cooking competition shows on TV, and think nothing bad better happen right now.  It’s usually during crucial moments of poaching or toasting or can’t-walk-away-from whisking.  Usually, nothing bad happens.  Usually.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel quite right.  The weather had graciously changed for the better, and I was still a bit sinusy from the past week’s cold.  As I was making breakfast – one of my favorites: poached egg on top of mustardy roasted asparagus with English Muffins – I decided to take a moment to relieve some of the pressure in my sinuses by blowing my nose.  So, with water starting to boil, asparagus almost finished roasting, and the English Muffin nestled warmly in the toaster, I quickly ran to the bathroom.  What followed was the definite oh-bleep moment I had in past times wondered about.  A bad thing had happened at the wrong time in the kitchen.

To spare any of my more queasy readers (and, this is a food blog after all), I’ll skip the gory details just to say that I had a nose-bleed of epic proportions.  Simply, it was gross.  Also a mess.  And as I’m standing over the sink trying not to faint from rapid blood loss, the very familiar ring of the smoke alarm sounds, reminding me that 1) I have very specifically-timed food cooking, and 2) I’m about to burn the house down.  Again.

So with tissue rammed against my face, I ran to yank the over-heating toaster cord out of the wall, push some button on my range hoping it turned off the oven, killed the flame on the stove, and started wildly flapping a towel around the air near the alarm, trying to herd the smoke towards the open back door.  Finally, silence.  With a physical and audible sigh, I made my way over to the kitchen to survey the damage.  The only burned items were some small asparagus spears and a beyond-crisp English Muffin.  At which point a second realization kicked in – oh yeah, my nose was still gushing.

After a rest on the couch, and waiting for platelets to do their clotting thing, I tried breakfast again.  This time with success.

Easter diner was much less dramatic, and much more comfortable.  But it did test my skills in the kitchen. We had Lamb Two Ways: shanks braised in red wine, and a leg roasted with herbs.  Simple spring veg of green beans, asparagus and mushrooms in a simple white wine and butter sauce accompanied just perfectly, with a sweet potato and thyme soufflé to round out the meal.  Dessert was also a hit (that is, after a boil-over of butter and milk) consisting of Almond and Cardamom Rice Pudding with Rhubarb Compote.  With enough Easter candy to go round, our friends, their 2-year old son, Rob and I had a great time.  In taste-testing the two techniques used on the lamb, we preferred the texture of the Roast better, but both had amazing flavor.

So, after an exciting weekend, last night was easy: Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with homemade Tomato Soup.  It was fast, easy, comforting and yummy, so I’ll include it here for you to enjoy.  But while cooking, please don’t hope for something bad NOT to happen – you just might jinx yourself and end up with a bloody nose!  Enjoy!

Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (makes 2 sandwiches) 

  • 4 slices whole wheat sourdough bread
  • 1/2 c Broccoli Pesto (recipe to follow) 
  • about 3-4 slices Pepper Jack cheese
  • 1 slice prosciutto 
  • 1 tbsp butter, divided into fourths 

Broccoli Pesto (makes about 2 cups) 

  • 1 med head broccoli, florets cut off 
  • 4-5 bunches fresh basil 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil 
  • s&p 

To make the pesto, boil water in a small pot and drop in the broccoli florets.  After about 1 minute, strain the broccoli and “shock” them in ice-cold water (this is called blanching – it keeps the bright green color of the veg).  After completely cooled, dry the broccoli as best you can, and add it, plus the basil leaves, garlic, and a pinch of s&p to a food processor.  Add some olive oil to get the blade moving, but then slowly pour in the rest of the oil while processing, until the mixture resembles a paste.  Taste for seasoning, and either use immediately, or store in fridge for 2-3 days. 

To make the sandwiches, spread a layer of broccoli pesto on each slice of the bread.  Add the cheese and slice of prosciutto, and top the sandwich with the other slice of bread.  Butter the top of the sandwich before putting on the grill.  Place the sandwich on a hot grill pan, butter side down, with a weight on top (another heavy pan or heat-proof dish).  After browned on the bottom, butter the other side, and flip, and weigh down again.  After both sides are golden, cut and serve with Tomato Soup. 

Tomato Soup (serves 6) 
Note: this is a very bright, tomato-y soup.  If you enjoy a richer soup, roast the tomatoes for about 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees beforehand, and add cream after blending the soup.   

  • 10 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c fruity white wine
  • 2 c low sodium chicken stock 
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • s&p 
  • grated parmesan cheese for garnish, optional. 

In a large pot, saute the onions in the olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper.  Once translucent, add the garlic, and stir (do not let the garlic burn).  To deglaze the pot, add the white wine, and then add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium, and cover, until tomatoes have popped and given off a significant amount of their juices in the pot.  Add the herbs and the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Then, turn down heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  

To blend the soup, either use an immersion blender, or process in a blender in batches.  Once blended, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, and serve.  

Enjoy! 

Almost Goosed

14 Feb

So it turns out my sickness last week was a bit worse than my initially self-diagnosed cold with sore throat.  Feeling worse and more run-down as the week went on, I showed up to school on Friday with the mindset that it was just one more day till the weekend – I could do it.  But with quite a few independent, but similar, you-don’t-look-good statements, coupled with our secretary mentioning that pneumonia is going around, I realized the germs were quickly beating my stubborn immune system to a phlegmy pulp, and decided to call a substitute and go to the doctor.  Turns out I had bronchitis (better than pneumonia!) and was told to sleep, sleep, sleep.  So that Friday, after eating the last bit of a fabulous need-to-have-any-time-let-alone-when-sick chicken and leek soup, I took some NyQuil at noon, and the rest of the day/evening/night was a mix of drooling sleep and foggy awakeness.  In one of my sleep states, Rob went out and got fixin’s to make Mom’s English Muffin Pizzas (EMPs) for dinner.  How did I get so lucky to find such a great guy?!

After a hacking coughing fit during the night, then a very discombobulated morning thinking Rob was late for work (his duty was the next day), we decided I needed a bit of that Oregon fresh air to clean out the lungs, and brain, a bit.  A simple walk would do just that.

At the lakes next to our house, there are lovely trails, small wildlife, many relaxed fishermen, and one giant goose.  Always surrounded by many mallards and other ducks, this goose is obviously the King of the Lakes, honking and flapping his big white wings whenever anyone threatens the air around his brood.  This goose is enormous.  Turkey-sized.  I’m really not exaggerating and find it hard to adequately express just how absurdly rotund he is (although my mind goes directly to pounds and pounds of delicious goose fat to confit with.  Figures.).

Anywho, we pulled up to a parking pot at the lake right next to His Gooseness, his bleats and honks penetrating our heat-roaring car.  Giggling we walked away to enjoy our moments outside, sans rain.

As we trudged up our last hill, slow and wheezing (well, I was, at least), we spotted him – big, white, and oh so territorial, marking his land right next to the passenger side tire.  As we stepped closer, his head lifted.  Another step, a blink.  Another step, a throaty hiss – his long thin pink tongue sticking out like an old lady’s angry pointy finger.  Tail feathers still planted firm on the ground, he did not stand, he did not flap.  He just blinked his beady little eyes, continually hissing his attack warning.

“Be careful,” Rob kind of giggled as he saw me venturing to reach the passenger door.

“Oh, it’s fine,” I waved him off.  “I can run faster than a stupid goose.”

Well, karma is a you-know-what.  At that moment Mr. Would-Be-Sunday-Night’s-Dinner-If-I-Could-Get-A-Hold-Of-Him screamed/honked, reared up on his skinny webbed feet, and I swear those little eyes squinted and turned fiery red.  Screaming like a little girl, I flapped more than him and ran away, and thus inevitably became  a hacking breathless mess.  Not moving from his spot, Mr. Fatso Goose just sat back down, never once leaving his land.

Goose: 1.  Jill: 0.  Rob: laughing hysterically.

Being sick, it wasn’t a huge foodie week or weekend.  But I’ll include the fantastic soup that helped to heal me the two days prior, thus giving me the energy to take on a goose.  And lose.

Chicken Leek and Tortellini Soup (serves 4 large servings)
** This is a very fresh and tasty soup, plus easy and fast to make – I ate it solely for two days straight (solely by choice – there was fresh Rockfish in the fridge).

  • 1 huge leek (or 2 medium – the leeks up here are amazing), white and light green parts rinsed, cut in half, then sliced into linguini shape.
  • meat from 1/2 a rotisserie chicken, shredded (I roasted chicken legs earlier in the week and used the meat from 3 of them)
  • 4 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 c water
  • juice from 2 mandarin oranges
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1/2 c packaged (dried) tortellini pasta (your choice of filling – I used pesto)
  • 1 small sprig rosemary
  • 3 sprigs thyme
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • s&p
  • Parmesan Regiano cheese, grated, to top the soup

Melt the butter in a large soup pot, and saute the leeks until just soft (season with s&p).  Add the chicken, then the liquids and juices, and the herbs.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 5 minutes to develop the flavors a bit.  Turn heat back up, add the tortellini pasta and cover the pot, cooking the pasta in the soup (depending on the pasta it should take anywhere from 5-8 minutes).  Cooking the pasta in the soup really adds texture to the broth (from the starches), making it thick, different from a French slurry.  Taste for seasoning and remove the sprigs (most of the herbs will have fallen off the stems).

Ladle into large bowls and serve with a fresh grating of Parm. Reg. on top.

Enjoy, even when you are perfectly healthy!!

(sidebar: Happy Valentines Day, everyone!  Rob and I had some amazing food tonight, and a good “man” story – will share soon!)

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