Tag Archives: lemons

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!! 

Cheers

24 Feb


Norm had it right.  He went to a place where everyone knew his name.  He walked in, everyone waved and exclaimed, “Norm!” and he sauntered to his chair so nonchalantly but all the while feeling a slight elation from the comfort of knowing he was accepted.

Or maybe he just really wanted a beer.

Either way, the recognition was evident.

As I was driving home from work today, my little PT Cruiser coughing a little from the unfamiliar snowy weather, I thought about my Cheers – a little bread and wine bar in good ol’ Coos Bay where I walk in and am always greeted with a smile (I’m understating here – this place has the best darn bread and wine I’ve ever had in my life).  One of my good friends was working there tonight, and thinking the variable weather was going to cause people to stay indoors, I decided to stop by to keep her company (and taste some great wine).  Well, she didn’t need the company, as the place was hopping, but I unknowingly did.  Not experiencing a sense of loneliness, I never really realized what I may be missing in the small art of conversing with interesting people.  Tonight I got that pleasure, well after the cafe had locked its doors.

Sitting between a 91 year old woman and an ex-Coastie dungeness/prawn fisherman, I swiveled my head back and forth between the two, soaking in their many, many experiences and stories like a sponge in the desert.  At times, I felt inadequate – what do I know about anything?  I’m just a girl pushing 30 who teaches and loves to cook.  But the softness and warmth of their genuine conversation pulled me in without me realizing it.  As many conversations in our neck of the woods turn to the water, when asked about my own fishing experiences, I talked about fly-fishing in Colorado, casting for hours before catching a measly 12-inch trout.  Which prompted the lovely woman, Jane, to talk about jumping (literally!) off her dock – her dock – to go clamming.  Shovel and bucket in hand.  That spurred our fisherman friend, Henry, to talk about tides and water temperature with such passion and delicacy you would think he was reliving pulling up his first full pot.  I’m sure my wide-eyes gave away my interest; this was so much better than watching reruns of Deadliest Catch.

Meanwhile, the owner’s son, Sam, was prepping for tomorrow’s chowder lunch (the most amazing clam chowder I’ve ever had – and I’ve had a lot of chowder).  I noticed he happened to be slightly distracted and, having overhead him earlier in the night, I simply reminded him of a few things he needed.  And in unnecessary thanks, he brought me a piping hot Rustic French Baguette, crusty and soft, and still smelling like sweet yeast.  I was more than humbled.  The combination of true genuineness and mouth-dropping amazement from Henry and Jane, and the over-the-top generosity of Sam made me feel like the luckiest girl ever to step foot into Coos Bay (did I really just use ‘lucky’ and ‘Coos Bay’ in the same sentence?).  But then I just realized, this is the small town nature – people have fantastic stories (that are simply daily life to them), and when you get right down to it, they care about each other.  I wanted to hug all of them, but didn’t, of course.  That would just be silly.

I did, however, exchange numbers and accept an invitation to go clamming off a private dock, and receive a card to get fresh prawns still wriggling from the shock of fresh air.  And I came home with a beautiful loaf of bread, which I knew exactly how to eat.

Well, eating it plain would really have been the best way, but I wanted to make a “dinner” out of it.  Nothing big, especially since Rob is gone for the night, but something tasty and similar to Henry, Jane, and Sam: exciting, understated, and memorable.  So I made a classic go-to dip, my Lemon Rosemary Balsamic & Oil (actually, it’s one of Rob’s faves – maybe I should have saved it for when he came home!).  I call it a Balsamic and Oil because I really don’t use a lot of oil (compared to your normal oil and vinegar dips), but rather flavor the oil with the vinegar.  “Marinating” the balsamic vinegar with the lemon zest, rosemary, and a hint of garlic, really creates a lot of flavor that hits the mouth all over – tangy, earthy, sweet, and fresh.  I only include a bit of oil to add a touch of fat, giving the dip a smooth feeling, but not enough to weigh down or muddle the other flavors.

With Sex in the City as background dinner ambiance, and my latest issue of Food and Wine as a placemat, I ate way too much bread this evening (which doesn’t help the detox), but absolutely loved every second of it.  I’m so thankful to have a comfortable place where some people know my name, and even more thankful to have learned three more names from walking in the door tonight.

Lemon Rosemary Balsamic & Oil (makes about 1/4 of a cup)

  • 2 tbsp good balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, unpeeled
  • zest 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 1/2 tsp good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 good crack of black pepper
  • Your favorite bread for dipping

Preheat the oven to a high broil.  On an oven-proof tray, heat up the garlic clove for about 5 minutes, until fragrant.  Remove and let cool for a minute.  ** By heating the garlic clove on high heat for a bit, it brings the oils and sugars to the surface of the clove, thus able to be easily pulled into the vinegar.

Meanwhile, add the vinegar, zest, rosemary, and oil to a serving dish.  Take the garlic clove and place it underneath the flat side of a chefs knife, and smash the heck out of it with a firm smack with the palm of your hand to the knife.  The peel should come right off, and the clove should have split apart.  Add the garlic clove to the vinegar mixture.  Let sit and “marinate” for about 10-15 minutes.

Rip (or cut) apart pieces of bread for dipping.  Give a good crack of black pepper over the vinegar before serving.

Enjoy!

*** The Empire Cafe is located in the Empire District of Coos Bay, OR and sells artisan bread, hard-to-find wine, and other homemade goodies.  It’s fantastic.  No, seriously.  Even carb-haters will love it.

What, No Meat?

23 Sep

Fall is an amazing time of the year.  Yes, winter has the gift-giving holidays, and spring is when love and yummy leeks start to bloom, and summer berries cannot be beat.  But there is something about the air – when it is still warm, but you get a cold breeze – that brings in the new season.  It seems Mother Nature likes to play around, alternating between hints of winter and reminiscence of summer.  Like in Southern California when the weather just starts to cool off, and then the *bleeping* Santa Ana winds dry out your skin, hair, and make you want to simply drink water for dinner.  I miss that.

I also miss some of my favorite fall rituals – like checking out the UCI Farmers Market on Saturday mornings for the latest fruits and veg to arrive.  Or, going to Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Williams-Sonoma just to oodle at all the lovely fall things – red, orange, and eggplant purple decorations and kitchen tools begging to be purchased and used all while the house warming faint whiff of the latest Cinnamon Vanilla Apple Crisp potpourri fills the air.  A little much?  Yeah, I know.  But I must admit – I’m a junkie when it comes to fall cooking and decorating.  Did it just so happen that our Newlywed 10% discount at all of the aforementioned stores just coincidentally fell during the fall season?  I think not, my friends.

But, minus the absence of the Santa Ana winds, the lack of commercialized retail stores, and weekend restaurant-abundant farmers markets, there have been other new fall things I am growing to love up in my new surroundings.  Like purple peppers.  Seriously – the alliterating tongue twister is true.  I have never met a Peter  Piper, but there are such things as packs of purple peppers.  And we’ve got some.  Yay!

The farm basket has been plentiful lately, with the end of summer sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, delicate lettuces, and, of course, peppers.  So, inspired by the turning season, and adding a bit of harvest summer/early fall fruits and flavors, over the last few days I have traveled back to my vegetarian days and pulled out the OMG-I-totally-forgot-there-was-no-meat-in-this-dish recipes.  I have had the hankering for fresh, flavorful, main course salads, and both of the ones I provided here left us satisfied (even Rob, who will never turn down a steak with the accompanying fried onion strings and loaded baked potato, loved them!).

I remember wine tasting in a field kitchen at the Honig winery (amazing experience) in Napa Valley and being told that anyone who doesn’t eat meat is crazy – “all the flavor is in meat!”  Not true.  Not all.  One of the things I love about vegetarian cooking is how fun it can be to experiment with getting the maximum amount of flavor out of the ingredients used.  Sometimes, the best taste is just in the genuineness of the food’s raw form.  Other times, it’s realizing that a sharp bite of mustard or very aged cheddar cheese will explode in your mouth with the accompaniment of a bright, sweet Fuji apple.  Or that if you want to add a hint of “What is that?” that a little Agave Nectar, or even the char of a grill mark on lettuce or fruit can bring a boring salad to a whole new level.

My biggest tip for salad lovers: always remember the lemons.  Lemons, when used correctly are not bitter or sour – they are bright and clean and often act like salt, bringing out flavors in different ingredients while humbly hanging out in the background.  Experiment, try it out, have a ball, and make lemonade out of your lemons – or yummy salads.  Oh – and don’t forget to light your new fall-scented candle for ambiance.

Grilled Tomato & Apple Salad with 2-Mustard Vinaigrette  (serves 4)

  • 2 vine ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Fuji apple, cut into eighths.
  • 1 large bunch of arugula (about 1 – 1 1/2 handfuls)
  • 1 large bunch of baby red lettuce (about 1 – 1 1/2 handfuls)
  • 3 slices Muenster cheese
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Olive oil to drizzle
  • s&p

Vinaigrette:

  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp Blue Agave Nectar
  • 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • s&p

In a large bowl, rub the bottom and sides with the clove of garlic.  Mix the ingredients for the vinaigrette, minus the olive oil, in the bowl.  Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking as while pouring, emulsifying the mixture.  Set aside.

In another bowl (or on cutting board), drizzle olive oil, s&p on the cut fruit.  Place the tomatoes cut-side down, and the apples on one of the fleshy sides on a hot grill pan, or outside grill.  After about 4-5 minutes, turn the fruit (if you see that the fruit is starting to soften, but no grill marks are made, then the pan/grill is not hot enough).

Meanwhile, add arugula and baby red lettuce to the large bowl with the dressing.  Cut the slices of Muenster cheese into thin strips and roll into pinwheels (this cheese is soft enough to roll, and stay rolled, when sliced thinly).  Add to the salad bowl.

When fruit is done, sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and add to bowl.  Gently toss to incorporate dressing, and mix salad.  Serve and Enjoy!

Pistachio & Cranberry Couscous with Creamy Lemon Feta Dressing (serves 4)

  • 1 c dried couscous
  • 1 c water
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • salt

Bring butter and water to a boil, and then add large dash of salt.  Turn off the heat and add the couscous and stir.  Cover and leave sitting for about 5 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork, and keep covered.

  • 1/2 c dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 c pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 3 scallions (white and light-medium green, discard tops), chopped
  • 1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • s&P

Dressing:

  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp Blue Agave Nectar
  • 1/4 c fresh Feta cheese, small diced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

To make the dressing, add the lemon juice and Agave to a small bowl.  Add the pieces of Feta, crushing them with the back of a spoon.  Whisk in the olive oil, and s&p to taste (you may find you will need more pepper than salt, as Feta cheese is briny).

To make the salad, toss the couscous, pistachios, cranberries, scallion and herbs in a large bowl.  Top with the desired amount of dressing, and taste for s&p (again, I found I only needed a bit of pepper).

Serve warm over a small bed of lemony greens (greens topped with just a spritz of lemon juice).

Enjoy!

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