Power Bars for The Women’s March on Washington 2017

January 8th, 2017

 

I’m reposting this recipe in case anyone is looking for a good snack to take to a protest march.  I’ll be packing these for my bus ride, leaving Gloucester at midnight, January 21st, heading to Washington, D.C.  https://www.womensmarch.com/

white_house_south_side_2011

Power Bars, nutrition bars, energy bars, fitness bars, meal bars, granola bars.  They come wrapped in many packages under many names.  Athletes eat them; people consider them a smart snack at work, and moms pack them in their kids’ lunches.  How healthy are they, and should we just be baking our own?

Along with fish tacos and caesar salad, fitness bars (the term I’m choosing here) are perhaps one of the foods that could define the 21st century lifestyle, and were probably born in the 1970’s as muesli and granola entered our culinary vocabulary.  Running, biking, workouts, fitness, and the gym became as much a part of our lives as going to the movies, and granola bars got fitter.  Grocery store shelving is evidence of how healthy the industry is, at least in sales.

But what should a fitness bar be?  It’s not a brownie.  It should be low in fat and sugar, and high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.  Most nutrition websites insist, like all prepared foods, we should be looking for a short list of ingredients we can pronounce.  Sugar, even in the form of brown rice syrup, shouldn’t be the first ingredient.  Isolates are promoted as an easy, digestible way to pack in protein, but they are controversial at best, demons at worst.  Soy and whey isolates are manufactured proteins that, because of the process in which they are produced, create a highly acidic environment.  Cancer loves an acidic environment; it’s an easy jump to why isolates are bad guys, but commercial fitness bars are often packed with them.  Also, 90 percent of the soy in this country is genetically modified; all that soy in commercially produced fitness bars, even in the form of an isolate, is a GMO product.

There is a great site called “Fooducate,” which has an app that immediately provides nutritional information for a food.  They have a long, hefty analysis of all kinds of nutrition/fitness bars.  Once quick glance at these sites makes you realize homemade is a much better nutritional choice, if not a good economic one.   Special K Protein Meal Bars, billed as a healthy “meal” bar,” for an example, is filled with transfats, sugar, inulin – not real fiber – BHT a possible carcinogen and TBHG which can cause nausea and delirium, artificial everything.  Fooducate assigned it a D, the lowest score.

I grabbed a Cliff Bar and a Larabar off the shelves, took a bite of each without studying the ingredients, and tasted pure sugar.  In fact, the Cliff Bar’s first ingredient is Brown Rice Syrup, but a further read made me think the bar was all cane syrup and soy, ingredients that repeated themselves in twenty different forms.  The Larabar was nothing but cashews and dates, but it tasted like that.  It was sweet, gummy, and not very satisfying.

I discovered Kate Baron and her Baron bars while working on this story.  Baron is a competitive runner, an organizational psychologist, and a certified holistic health counselor.  When the website “Trailblazer” published her regimen, the crowds demanded the recipe for her homemade fitness bars, something she calls Baron Bars.  I’m now a fan.

Baron is loose with her recipe, but offers a scaffolding.  I made my batch almost exactly as they are written here, using wheat germ instead of wheat bran, and equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg, which was absolutely delicious.  Baron recommends Pumpkin Pie Spice, but I didn’t have any.  I think mace might be a nice addition to the spice blend, too.  She sometimes uses sunflower seeds, and recommends you be creative.  These bars are definitely on the chewy side of a granola bar, but I like that.  Some recipes use straight granola, which has a lot of oil in it, and some recipes have you toast the grains in oil in advance, definitely making them crunchier.  The sweet, toasted taste of granola has its place, but, I eat these bars recognizing the halo of “fitness” that comes with them.  I want a healthy taste, and I don’t want to feel like I’m eating candy or a brownie.  These bars, extremely low in fat and sugar (1/2 cup of each distributed among 20 bars), and have the wholesome, healthy taste I want in something that nutritious.  One bar contains 224 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, and 7 grams of protein.

My best baking test is how well something tastes with a cup of coffee; these are outrageous with a hot cup of French Roast in the afternoon.  For those stronger than I, Kate’s husband, Michael, eats his bars slathered in peanut butter.

 

 

Baron Bars

 

Ingredients

 

4 cups whole oats (not quick-cooked)

1 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

1 1/2 cups chopped almonds (salted or not)

1 cup raisins or any dried fruit you like

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup canola or olive oil

1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon salt (sea)

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until combined.

Line a 12” x 18” cookie sheet with parchment paper.  (Kate says it’s fine to use other size sheet pans here, but you want the bars to be 1/2 inches thick.)  Wet your hands, and press the batter around in the pan to be even distributed.

Bake for until toasty brown on top.  Mine took about 15 – 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and cut into desired size squares.  (Kate is generous; hers are 3” x 5”.)

Place in a tupperware container, and freeze.  This helps the bars hold together, even after they have thawed.  Enjoy right from the freezer or thawed.

 

 

Early Spring Soup, based on Kesakeitto

March 27th, 2013

 

This is a reprint of a recipe I love.  It looks like a painting and tastes like a spring garden.  Based on a Finnish recipe called Kesakeitto, or Finnish Summer Soup, this is a small mound of the most delicate spring vegetables pooled in a broth of hot, fresh milk, garnished with smoked salmon and peas.  My version of the dish crosses the Atlantic and backs up a season; I call it “Early Spring Soup in New England.”

 

Small parsnips, baby turnips, tiny yellow beets, broccoli florets, the tiniest baby potatoes, and a dice of carrots, all cooked quickly in boiling salted water, mound in the center of each bowl.

I looked for the best vegetables I could find.  I chopped the larger vegetables like parsnips and carrots, still looking for the smallest versions of them, into a tiny dice.  If a beet or turnip was small enough, I sliced them into rounds.   Along with a variety of vegetables, I wanted a variety of shapes, not just a pile of diced Birds Eye veggies.  The only vegetable I kept whole were the tiny potatoes.

I found a treasure of root vegetables at a Winter Farmer’s Market, but if seeking freshly dug produce isn’t on your to-do list this week, a keen eye at the grocery store will allow you a beautiful palette in your bowl, and probably a delicious one.

All the vegetables are cooked in boiling, salted water, beginning with the vegetables that make take the longest, (in my case it was the potatoes,) to the vegetables that will cook the fastest, using your judgement.  My order went like this:  potatoes cooked for two minutes, then I added the diced parsnip and carrots, then the beets and turnips, then the broccoli.

Half the deliciousness of this soup is the milk broth, simply the freshest, best milk you can find heated with a tiny bit of sugar and flour, and poured hot over the vegetables.  The thirty-eight Jersey cows at Appleton Farms in Ipswich can take a bow here.

I slit open a few snap peas, and saved the tiny beads inside for a garnish, along with some thinly sliced radishes, and fresh dill.  Rosy chunks of smoked salmon crumbled over the top.  I prefer the hot-smoked chunky kind for this, and used the locally cured Sasquatch smoked salmon available at Willowrest in Gloucester, but Steve Connolly also sells excellent hot-smoked salmon.

 

 

Early Spring Soup, based on the Finnish Kesakeitto

 

serves 6-8

Ingredients

4 cups organic whole milk, preferably local

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1 tablespoon for the vegetables

8 cups of tiny, fresh vegetables:  broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, new potatoes, zucchini, carrot, onion, asparagus tips, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, fennel, radishes,  and especially peas

water to cover

for the garnish:

1/2 pound hot-smoked salmon

fresh radishes, thinly sliced

fresh peas, or the tiny peas from inside 4-5 snap peas

fresh dill, chopped

fresh pepper, use white pepper if you want to retain the whiteness of the milk

 

Instructions

In a large saucepan stir together the sugar, flour and salt.  Slowly at first, stirring to blend, add the milk.  Whisk until mixture is smooth.  Gently heat the milk, whisking it occasionally to keep the flour from cooking on the bottom of the pan. Do not let it boil.

In a separate large pot, bring the salted water to a boil.

Prep the vegetables, peeling the potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips to keep them tender, and cutting all into roughly equivalent size.

When the water boils, drop in the vegetables that will take the longest to cook, like the potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, and then add the lighter vegetables like radishes, peas, and broccoli.  Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon or sieve, and distribute them evenly into heated bowls.  Pour the hot milk over the vegetables but not to cover.  Allow the vegetables to rise attractively in a mound out of the milk.

Crumble the smoked salmon over the top, and garnish with radish, peas, and dill.  Grind some pepper over all, and serve immediately.

 

Gloucester’s Saints

June 25th, 2017

 

The older women, dressed in nice jewelry, holding heavy pocketbooks, begin arriving at the front door as early as 11:30 in the morning.  They take the first seats in the large room, built intentionally for this day, to honor St. Anthony, off the center hall of John and Angela Sanfilippo’s Gloucester home.  The room is lined with folding chairs all facing the broad far wall which is tiered with candles, fresh flowers and shiny vessels arranged to honor St. Anthony, the saint of lost things.

The women’s lined structured faces still bear the lees of being pretty young Italian girls.  The pretty young Italian girls arrive a little later, equally dressed-up, but late because they were at their jobs, and had to wait until noon to leave, or they had to put a baby down for a nap before the sitter arrived. The arriving men – young and old –  go right to the back yard, where the other men are grilling whiting, and already gathered in circled lawn chairs after having set up the tents, tables and chairs.  

In the formal parlor across the front hall, the priest is arranging his robes.  He is extremely tall and thin with dark trimmed hair and beard.  Reaching to fit the robes over his head, he fills the room like a long-limbed El Greco subject fills a canvas, reaching for the skies.  The priest’s expression is kindly and gentle.  He speaks Italian with melodic, fluidity, not the choppy Southern Italian dialect of the gathering crowd.  

Downstairs, Angela, her friends and family are finishing preparing the twenty or so dishes for the feast that will follow the mass.  Sixteen feet of table are completely covered in platters, pots, and bowls, each covered loosely in foil to keep the food warm through the mass.  

 

Angela’s husband and brother are fishermen, as was her father and all her family members back in Porticello, Sicily.  On this table there is freshly caught whiting, monkfish, ocean catfish, haddock, scallops, and squid – breaded and baked, grilled, deep fried, barbecued, chilled in a salad, hot in a chowder.

This is Gloucester, where saints are prayed to, talked to, begged to for everything from lost keys to lost loved ones every single day.  Saints are taken as seriously in this city – heavily made up of Sicilians who came here to fish – as politics and the weather.     

Even if you don’t understand Italian, you know by his affectionate cadence that Father Andrea is not preaching today, but telling the St. Anthony stories, how the saint advised a young prince with paralyzed legs to marry the poor young girl who came alone to church every day and cried at the altar.  The prince married the girl, and walked on his wedding day.   Father Andrea is telling the story of how St. Anthony  raised a murdered friend from the dead to testify against the wrongly accused, and then repositioned the victim in Paradise on his return.  

Angela Sanfilippo has her own St. Anthony miracle.  At nineteen, her father was captured by the German Army in World War II.  Angela’s grandmother didn’t know where her son was or even that he was a prisoner, but she prayed every day to St. Anthony for his return.  Two years later, her son walked into the Sicilian village, and the mother’s lifelong vow to St. Anthony began.    For the rest of her life, although she was a comfortable woman, she went door-to-door in Porticello begging for donations to her St. Anthony’s feast.  At every year’s feast, she laid out her finest linen, china, and crystal.  Her first guests were always three orphans selected from the local orphanage and a monk, allowing the poorest from the community to enjoy the riches of a king for a day.  

Angela came to America as a child with her family, first to Milwaukee and then they settled in Gloucester for fishing.  Angela’s grandmother stayed in Porticello, continuing her famous St. Anthony tradition.  When Angela had her own home she started the St. Anthony tribue on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

St. Anthony, St. Joseph and St. Peter are Gloucester’s saints.  Each saint’s feast day (the day they died, meaning the day they left their humanity behind and became a saint) is almost more important than Christmas and Easter.  The feasts days are like a birthday and a major holiday all wrapped up in one.  Like Angela, the Sicilian people have personal attachments to these saints; they ask them for favors large and small. Their pictures hang on walls and watch over the families like a beloved uncle.  St. Anthony, to this adoring crowd, is right there with them hearing their stories and prayers, laughing and crying, serving himself some antipasti.  At the same time his June death is as big as Christmas.  People in Gloucester travel around to each others homes saying novenas to him, sharing cookies and coffee afterward – for 13 days in advance.  On the actual feast day people take time off from work; they dress in their best; they go to mass, and they cook.   Friends, relatives, local dignitiaries skip breakfast that day knowing that fish from the Gloucester waters will be prepared fifteen different ways for lunch, and not one dish is to be passed over.

Most people imagine that St. Peter, the fishermen’s saint, the saint celebrated at fiesta with greasy pole walking, seine boat races, and amusement park rides, is Gloucester’s headliner saint, but there was a time when the entire city shut down on March 19th for the feast of St. Joseph.  Today, buses take crowds from altar to altar all over the city celebrating St. Joseph.  At Angela’s that day, St. Anthony drew a standing-room-only crowd.

At each saint’s feast, the bread is taken to the altar and blessed.

 

Jose Duarte’s Spring Squid Ceviche

May 25th, 2017

Calamari Season!

While woody Chilean strawberries continue to mock the seasons from their shelves in large chain grocery stores, more and more farmers are tilling local soil. More and more farmers’ markets are setting up on town greens and in parking lots allowing us to purchase local, seasonal food. The principle of eating from the calendar, eating seasonal local foods, has thankfully, at least in some communities, survived big supermarket’s grip.

Not so much for fish.

Rarely anymore does a fish market or the fish counter of a grocery store reflect what is seasonal and local. Most fish markets fill their cases with haddock, cod, Chilean sea bass, tuna, swordfish, and some shrimp and oysters all year long. Almost never do we feel either the absence of a fish out of season or the arrival of a fish in season because there is always Norway, Iceland, and Southeast Asia to fill the gaps. The local food movement is leagues ahead of the fish local movement, but the same principles apply.

In southern New England, late April – early May is squid season, as regular as lilacs. New England fishermen say that when the buds pop out on the trees the squid “come in,” and all the fish follow. Longfin Inshore Squid (Doryteuthis pealeii also known as Loligo pealeii) spend their winters in deeper waters along the edge of the Continental Shelf. Their arrival inshore – they come to spawn – marks the start of spring for those living close to the Nantucket Sound waters. For the fishermen, the squid are like the gunshot in the air declaring the start of the year’s fishing season.

In Nantucket Sound in early May, if the fishermen they aren’t landing squid they are landing fluke with bellies and mouths full of squid.

It’s described as “a sweet time,” because everything is coming in from off shore or coming North. The water temperatures are up. The Cape Cod and Rhode Island boats all head to Nantucket Sound, because the squid have arrived there, and with them everything else.

 

Jose Duarte’s Spring Squid Ceviche

With local spring ramps from the Boston Public Market and traditional Peruvian ingredients, chef Jose Duarte created a May in Boston edition of  “leche de tigre,” the classic Peruvian ceviche classically made with lime, salt, onion and garlic.  The cool freshness, the brightness of the sauce over the creamy squid makes this a winning dish for even squid-squeamish; sweet potato, a sweet, earthy counterpoint to the verdant sauce, confirms the win.  

“In Peru ceviche is cooked, marinated fish,” Duarte says, describing the process of flash scalding the squid as “scaring the squid.”  They are plunged into boiling water for just under a minute, then removed to an ice bath.  

No bow to Peruvian cuisine would be right without Ahi Amarillo, the Peruvian word for peppers, essential in that cuisine.  Peruvians have cultivated peppers for over 7000 years.  Over 300 types of chili peppers find their way into modern Peruvian dishes, but Ahi Amarillo, the Pervuian yellow pepper, is the most familiar.  

Duarte uses Ahi Amarillo Paste and Huacatay –  dried black mint paste, flags of his native land..  Ahi yellow peppers are a medium-to-high heat pepper with a unique fruity flavor.  Haucatay is a fragrant Pervuian herb described as a combination of basil, tarragon, mint, and lime.  They are difficult to substitute, and Duarte recommends you don’t.  The point of this dish is to frame this beautiful local squid in some Peruvian and New England tradition.  Both products can be found in ethnic grocery stores, and in some standard grocery stores with Brazilian ingredients.  

 

 

 

serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as an entree, is easily doubled

Ingredients

For the Squid

1 pound cleaned, skinned squid, body cut into 3/4” rings, legs whole

boiling salted water

ice bath

 

For the Sauce:

4 limes

3 teaspoons ahi paste

1 teaspoons black mint

2 spring ramps or small spring onions (1 ounce)

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only

3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt

 

To Finish:

1/2 small red onion, diced

1 sweet potato, baked, allowed to cool (room temperature), peeled, and cut into cubes

2 tablespoons chopped roasted pecans (optional)

1 sliced radish to garnish

 

Instructions

  1. Clean squid, and cut into 3/4 “ rings, leaving tentacles intact.
  2.  Prepare ice bath beside boiling water.  Drop squid into boiling salted water for exactly 1 minute.  Remove immediately to ice bath.  After squid is cool, about 3 minutes, remove to paper towels and pat dry.
  3.  To make the sauce, put all the ingredients in a blender, and blend on high for 3 minutes, or until everything is highly processed.  Set aside.
  4.  Put squid in a medium bowl, and toss with diced onion.  Add 2-3 tablespoons of sauce at at time, and toss well.  Add more sauce to taste.
  5.  Serve squid in bowls or on small plates, placing cubes of sweet potato around.  Sprinkle pecans over all if desired, and scatter 3-4 radish slices around plate.  

About Frozen Fish:  Freezing can break down the cell structure in a fish.  The frozen liquid expands in the cell structure, slightly breaking down that structure.  When the  fish is defrosted, the water runs out.  Some suppleness is lost because your are left with mostly a connective-tissue like flesh, which results in either a mushy or tough texture.   Charles Draghi

 

 

To Prepare Squid:

  1. Lay your squid out beside each other on a cutting board.  They should be a beautiful gray-white-to pink color with no aroma.  Pick up the first squid, holding the body in one hand, and the tentacles in another.  Give a gentle tug, pulling the tentacles away from the body.  The guts should have pulled out of the body, remaining attached to the legs and tentacles.  
  2. Now you have the body and the legs and tentacles (with guts attached) in two parts.  Pick up the body, and remove anything left inside.  Feel the wider end of the body for the hard, plastic-feeling quill or pen, actually pointy at the end.  Find that, and give a tug.  The pen should pull right out of the body in one piece.  Discard.  
  3. There is a pink outer skin with flaps still on the squid body; simply pull that away and off, and discard.  The wings can be cut off at this point.  Reserve them.  
  4. The tentacle section is a length of parts:  guts (with ink sack within), eyes and then tentacles.  First cut off the tentacles right in front of the eyes.  Feel the top of the tentacles for a hard, white, 3/4” sphere.  That is the beak.  It pulls out easily with your fingers.  Remove and discard.

 

About Squid.

May 23rd, 2017

Longfin Inshore squid spend their winters in deeper waters along the edge of the Continental Shelf.  Their arrival inshore – they come to spawn – marks the start of spring for those living close to the Nantucket Sound waters.  For the fishermen, they are like the gunshot in the air declaring the start of the year’s fishing season.
After squid spawn, they return to deeper waters, retreating from the paths of rapacious striped bass and bluefish; almost all New England fish consider squid a favorite meal.
At night, attracted by the lights, squid will chase small bait fish, also attracted by light, into shallow waters around bridges and piers.  Many squid fishermen fish with lights at night to attract the squid.  Some simply drop glow sticks from the county fair, tied to a leaded weight, into the water.  Jigging this way for squid off docks is a springtime New England tradition, but it is considered very bad manners to leave squid ink on someone’s boat.
“The squid are cyclical but no one can remember the cycle,” Auerbach says.  “Some fishermen will say it’s every seven years there’s a great year, but no one can remember which year was the last great one!”
Fishmongers refer to squid that hasn’t been skinned or cleaned as “dirty squid,” but dirty squid means the added gift of ink, their defense mechanism, famous in Venetian dishes like the ebony squid-ink risotto or pasta.  That pouch lives inside the squid body.  Cleaning squid, look for it in the “guts” that come out of the body when pulling the legs and tentacles away.
Squid have a chitinous quill down their spine that looks like nothing more than plastic trash; it’s almost shocking how convincingly nature has mirrored plastic debris, or the reverse.
Longfin Inshore Squid have a healthy reddish-to-gray cast, but darker red means they are beginning to spoil.  Watch for that.  And squid spoil quickly, which is why they are often flash frozen.
Squid should be cooked with quick high heat to medium rare.  In these recipes Draghi uses a very hot pan and Duarte plunges them in boiling water for under a minute.
Watch the salt.  Squid have seawater in them, so taste the cooked product before adding more salt.
Draghi reminds that squid are a great foil for strong flavors – add calamari to a stew with mussels, or other strong flavored fish.  But they are also great prepared as simply as possible, with just a squeeze of lemon.
Squid ink can be added to sauces or seafood stews acting as a thickener.  Jose Duarte goes even farther, saying that raw squid can be pureed in a blender with a little stock, and used in seafood stews as a thickener.
People say the best tasting squid are the ones in Nantucket Sound and particularly off Point Judith, R.I., because they’ve been feeding on fish that have been eating blue-green algae, which sweetens everything.
The best testament, according to Charles Draghi, on squid deliciousness?
“Squid is the absolute favorite food of striped bass, and stripers have their choice of anything in the sea!”

How To Clean Squid

Lay your squid out beside each other on a cutting board.  They should be a beautiful gray-white-to pink color with no aroma.  Pick up the first squid, holding the body in one hand, and the tentacles in another.  Give a gentle tug, pulling the tentacles away from the body.  The guts should have pulled out of the body, remaining attached to the legs and tentacles.
Look carefully within the guts for an opalescent-black sack.  That is the ink sack.  As you clean, gently remove the guts to one bowl, so that you can later try to contain and harvest the ink sacks.
Now you have two parts:  the body is one part and the legs with tentacles (with guts attached) is the other.  Pick up the body, and remove anything left inside.  Feel the wider end of the body for the hard, plastic-feeling quill or pen, actually pointy at the end.  Find that, and give a tug.  The pen should pull right out of the body in one piece.  Discard.
There is a pink outer skin still on the squid body; simply pull that away and off, and discard.  The wings can be cut off at this point.  Reserve them.
The tentacle section is a length of three parts:  guts (with ink sack within), eyes and then tentacles.  First cut off the tentacles right in front of the eyes.  Feel the top of the tentacles for a hard, white, 3/4” sphere.  That is the beak.  It pulls out easily with your fingers.  Remove and discard.
In the photo you see 5 elements:  starting from the rear of the photo, the body (not yet skinned), the tentacles and legs, the eyes, the guts, and the beak.  Discard the beak and eyes, and reserve the guts to a bowl so that you have the ink. On a plate, pile the bodies and tentacles in two separate piles as you work.  Continue with the remaining squid; you will get the hang of it quickly, and this work should really take just 15 minutes, about a minute per squid.

Seared Squid with Black Olive & Saffron Sauce

May 23rd, 2017

This squid recipe was created by Charles Draghi, chef and owner of Erbaluce in Boston, at last spring’s Boston Public Market Seafood Throwdown, sponsored by NAMA.

Draghi says, “there is nothing I don’t like about squid; they are easier to breakdown than a lot of fish. I love their versatility, and their texture. They have a clean flavor and a creamy texture; it’s almost a latex-y bite, but it’s very pleasant.”

“When squid first come in shore there is a minerally taste to them. Then they start feeding on the inshore fish eating the blue green algae, and they become more flavorful – sweeter and creamier.”

Drag creates here a pungent black olive sauce, made with fresh herbs and one of his favorite ingredients, saffron. For a little added briny flavor, he pours a bit of the liquid collected at the bottom of the bowl holding the squid – a mixture of ink and squid “juice” – into the sauce.

Draghi says this sauce would be equally delicious over fresh grilled sardines, or whole scallops served with the roe. A dense, light fish like halibut or striped bass would also love this sauce, but for striped bass change the olive paste to green olives. Ironically, neutral flavored fish like strong flavors, Draghi points out.

“Halibut and rosemary are a great combination.” Olives, he says, are perfect with fish, and the black olives add an extra smokey flavor.

Uncleaned, squid weigh approximately a 1/2 pound a piece. Don’t rinse the cleaned squid too well; leave a bit of the ink on the surface.

“You want a little flavor of land and sea,” Draghi says.

Last words of wisdom from Charles Draghi: “there is no such thing as too much lemon.”

 

serves 4 as an appetizer Ingredients:

For Squid
1 pound cleaned, skinned squid (5-6 whole squid), body cut into 3/4” rings, legs whole pinch salt
pinch pepper
pinch sugar
drizzle olive oil
juice from 1/2 a lemon

For Sauce:
3 tablespoons black olive paste (tapenade) 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

salt to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
juice from half a lemon (or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar)
dried anise hyssop (or tarragon) – optional
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons juice and leftover ink from squid – the drips at the bottom of the bowl that held the squid

Instructions:

Put squid in a medium bowl, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sugar. Toss well, then drizzle in olive oil, and toss again.

Heat a medium skillet to high heat. Place squid in pan in a single layer, and DO NOT MOVE. (This may be done in stages or use 2 pans at once to cook all the squid.) Leave still in the pan for a good 2 minutes, allowing dark caramelization to occur, and the edges to char.

After the bottom has achieved dark marks, begin to move around in the pan. Allow squid to cook go medium rare, about 3-5 minutes. Squeeze lemon half over all, and remove squid to a platter.

Mix together the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

To serve, place squid on a platter, and drizzle sauce attractively around and over. Serve immediately, while squid is still warm.

Goodbye FFT, hello The Other Cape.

March 9th, 2017

 

 

 

 

Well, it’s ALMOST time for me to say goodbye to Food for Thought. The site will still stand, and I will post the occasional OMG Recipe, the recipe so good I just have to print it, or a really good fish story, but mostly I will be working as managing editor of The Other Cape.

If you haven’t already, check it out. Today’s story is once again about Lila Deluca, the 10-year-old Rockporter competing on this season’s MasterChef Junior Thursday nights at 8:00. The photography is gorgeous, and there is a bonus video in which Lila teaches how to make Slime. Upcoming stories will be on Mayflour Confections, Lynzariums Plant Shack, and Cape Ann winter surfing. Follow us!

Nordur, the Veuve Cliquot of salt

March 5th, 2017

salt nordur

There is enough swoonable romance surrounding Nordur salt to sell it on its story alone:  Nordur salt has been harvested from the same shallow Icelandic waters of Breiðafjörður bay by the same Danish salt-harvesting methods for 260 years.

The Nordur guys – an incredibly photogenic bunch of blond brawny Icelanders – are committed to sustainable production, and use from start to finish only the region’s natural geothermal energy:  to heat the seawater, and then again to heat the open-air pans and to dry the salt.  The first heating process is done in a tank under sub-atmospheric pressures.  The seawater thus boils at a lower temperature without scorching.  The Nordur people claim this best preserves the Breiðafjörður water’s estimable trace minerals.

The resulting pans of salt are hand-raked and harvested.  The azure-tangerine packaging has won design awards.  

salt box

This is the Veuve Cliquot of salts.  It has a feathery lightness, a sweet saltiness akin to English Maldon Salt, which is similarly produced with seawater and raked by hand, but Nordur has more of all those things – more feathery flakes, like the lightest, prettiest snowflakes.  More minerality.  If salt can taste sweet, Nordur does.  Even my husband, unaware of which sodium brand filled our salt cellar, recently seasoned a piece of chicken, took a bite, and commented, “wow! – even this salt is good!”

 

salt with vanilla ice cream and olive oil

 

A bowl of Nordur on the counter called for me to recreate one of our dessert standards:  vanilla ice cream served with olive oil and sea salt.  First discovered in a Jamie Oliver cookbook, this combination is sublime:  two editions of creamy – the ice cream and olive oil –  laced with the sparkling minerality of high quality sea salt.  Simply serve the ice cream in bowls, pour about a tablespoon of fruity olive oil over each serving, then sprinkle with sea salt.  Before you arch that eyebrow, try it.

Nordur makes a wonderful gift; don’t even wrap it, the box is so pretty.  Imported by Prestige Global Inc. who found the salt while combing the world for high quality, healthy products, Nordur can be found at Salt Traders in Ipswich, MA, and can be easily purchased from their website.  

 

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

March 1st, 2017

Mahroussie's chicken

You know Mahroussie Jabba as the smiling brunette of Markouk Breads, creating her warm, paper-thin rounds painted in Lebanese aromatics at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market.  A Gloucester resident of 15 years (Jabba married Gloucester native Richard Jabba 17 years ago), Jabba creates a variety of incredibly high-quality Lebanese products, recipes from her native home in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.  My personal favorite is her Lebnah, rounds of yogurt cheese preserved in olive oil.  Jabba spreads the yogurt cheese on warm garlic bread, or on pita with cucumber, fresh tomato and a little onion or scallion.

M's labneh

I bumped into Jabba recently, and she offered me this recipe from her mother.  The basic love in this dish is much like the Singaporean “Chicken Rice” that I published recently:  poach a whole chicken and then cook the rice in that delicious broth.  The rice absorbs the chicken fat becoming a suave, luscious product, nothing at all like the bland, fluffy, white piles beside the protein on many American plates.  

But, Jabba’s mother adds aromatics – cinnamon stick, fresh rosemary, and bay leaves –  to the broth, along with tomato. The rice therefore absorbs that fragrance; it is almost more special than the chicken.  Jabba told me that her mother also makes variations of this dish, stuffing the chicken in advance with seasoned browned lamb or beef and rice, sewing the chicken closed and poaching it like that.  The chicken and meats are served beside the rice when served.  

Jabba’s mother also browns dry vermicelli noodles in butter so that they are dark and crispy, and then adds them to cook with the rice, creating a lovely texture and color to the starch.  

Sometimes Jabba’s mother adds toasted pinenuts to the dish.

Even this simplest edition, like the Singapore “chicken rice,” strikes a kind of collective, nourishing deliciousness that makes everyone keep spooning out more.

Markouk products can be found all year round at Cape Ann Fresh Catch, 46 Commercial St. in Gloucester, MA.

M's chicken and rice

Fragrant Chicken and Rice from Markouk Bread

Serves 6 with rice leftover

Ingredients

1 3-4 pound chicken

Salt

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups broth

1 can chopped tomatoes (28 ounces)

2 cups water, approximately

1 cinnamon stick

3-4 sprigs of rosemary

2 bay leaves

Salt to taste

2 cups rice

Toasted pinenuts for garnish (optional)

 

Instructions

  1. Salt the chicken all over.  Add the olive oil to a large dutch oven and heat to medium high.  Add chicken, whole.  Turning the chicken often, brown it well on all sides.  
  2. Add the broth, tomatoes, and enough water so that the liquid almost covers the chicken.  Add the cinnamon, rosemary, and bay leaves (tying them together with string makes them easier to remove.)  Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for an hour or until the chicken is almost cooked through.  This, of course, depends upon the size of your chicken.  Err on the side of the chicken being cooked completely through, as it will still be fairly moist cooked in this broth, and you don’t want to serve raw chicken.
  3. Remove herb bundle.  Taste the broth for salt and pepper.  Add the rice to the broth.  Cover again, and continue cooking for 20 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.  
  4. To serve:  Some recipes remove the chicken from the bones, but I was going to serve my chicken immediately and it was very hot.  So I removed the chicken from the rice, and cut it into serving pieces.  Spoon all the rice out onto a platter, and cover with the chicken pieces or the boneless chicken meat.  Garnish with pinenuts if using.  

 

Donkey & Goat wines – favorites.

February 14th, 2017

D & G stonecrusher

Tracey and Jared Brandt, wife and husband winemakers, have created their Donkey & Goat wines the way most of us would want the world to be:  no plastics, all natural ingredients, structure and flavor encouraged from the vineyard’s terroir and soil, not manipulated.  These are “encouraged” wines, not produced.  

I’ve tasted six Donkey & Goat wines now, and can only describe them as uniquely dynamic; each has almost a rascally quality of surprise.   The velvety, unfiltered body and that bold balance of acid and structure just plain startles.  Their inexplicable freshness conjures a French farmer in indigo work clothes crossing a stone courtyard for this bottle of his house stuff.  

D & G box

The Brandts are minimalists:  Donkey & Goat wines ferment using only wild yeast and bacteria in the air and from the aged oak casks.  No additives are used except the tiniest bit of sulphur, far less than other wines.  No fining, cloudiness is embraced.  Like parents uninterested in test scores, the Brandts ignore their grapes’ sugar content, or brix, considered by most a cornerstone in the winemaking process.  The Brandts harvest grapes rather for flavor and variety.  

D & G wines

My affair with these wines started first with Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat, a bottle-fermented style of sparkling wine considered “Champagne’s hip younger sister” http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/07/peak-season-for-petillant-naturel.html.

Pet Nats, short for Pettilant Naturelle, are produced with only the grapes’ natural sugars and no added yeasts, ideal methodoise for the Donkey & Goat minimal intervention style.  We were not just startled but wowed by the deliciousness therein:  ginger and pear inside minerally-bubbles.   (Pet-Nats are considered rougher and thus less expensive than other sparkling wines.  Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat was on the high side for these wines at $45; Pet-Nats generally run from $18 – $28, but the Donkey & Goat Pet-Nat is truly a celebration-worthy bottle.)

“The Stone-Crusher” Roussanne is a beautiful example of an “orange wine,” meaning it has spent fermenting time with the grape’s skins, giving the wine a gauzy orange color and sometimes a cloudy cast, a wholesome “ding” that in a charming way signals the wine’s process.  Stone Crusher’s flinty feel and surprising body recall a bright cider but with the beautiful wine flavors of spice and dried apricots.  I am in love with this wine.  .

The Carignane was bright with a toothsome body, light fruit, and a little pepper.  After tonight I would nick-name it the “Shitake-Firer,” as it sent up flares of flavor around the shitake mushrooms in our dinner.  

“We make our wines for the table, not the cocktail glass,” Tracy Brandt writes on her blog.  I am not a wine writer, so I will leave more descriptions to the Donkey & Goat site, or to Robert Parker, but I can say each of the Donkey & Goat wines I tasted – including the above, “Eliza,” “The Bear,” and “Carginane” were consistently lively, dynamic, and vibrant; they are wines that drive conversation.  One sip, and suddenly everyone is trying to figure out what is going on here.  

Ranging in price from $30 – $50, Donkey & Goat wines are available on Boston’s North Shore in the Salem Cheese Shop and Savour Wines in Gloucester.  

D & G cork

 

Coq au Vin

February 9th, 2017

coq au vin

 

Perhaps the best loved French dish in America, Coq au vin, has become so iconic it needs no translation.  Menus from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon print those three little French words with confidence if not casualness.  

Coq au Vin is classically a stewed old rooster from Burgundy.  If you lived in Burgundy a hundred years ago, and didn’t want to waste a tough old bird that crowed no more, you would cook it in your famous wine.  That’s how the whole dish started.  And there are other versions from other French regions – Coq au Reisling and Coq au Champagne.  But the Burgundian version – with bacon and mushrooms – turned out to be a sublimely famous combination of flavors, something repeated around the world.

There are issues to recreating a French farmhouse dish in modern times, mostly being that it began as a way to cook old roosters.  Few people have old roosters – or old laying hens, also called “fowl” – anymore.   A burgundian grandmere might cook that rooster for hours to ease some tenderness into it, but if we did that to a Market Basket chick we would have rubber poultry very quickly.  The original recipe threaded pork lardons through the tough meat, not to add bacon flavor but as an additional means of tenderizing the meat as it simmered.  

Coq au vin owes its American fame to Julia Child, who included the recipe in her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” published first in 1961 and a second volume in 1970.  In the early 1960’s only the extreme wealthy, some journalists, and academics had traveled extensively to France.  Most Americans were just exiting the great food trend of the 1950‘s:  commercially produced, frozen, canned, prepared meals.  American kitchens had been updated to be clean, sleek labs in which good moms warmed tv dinners in immaculate ovens.  

And then, “voila!”  Julia Child, along with Louisette Berhtolde and Simone Beck, published “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” and suddenly Americans wanted copper pots.  They wanted to understand wine.  The American love affair with French cooking began, and its poster child was coq au vin.

Child knew American cooks would not be using old roosters.  Her recipe calls for a 30 minute simmer of chicken in red wine.  Truthfully, it is impossible to build the levels the true recipe created this way.  To start, an older chicken might be tough, but it inevitably has more flavor.  The dish’s complexity depends upon simmering the chicken for 2-3 hours in that pork and Pinot Noir.  Some recipes call for marinating the chickens in red wine for days in advance, but most chefs confess it does little more than stain the chicken red and make it difficult to brown as it is too moist.  Truthfully, the best coq au vin is made with an old bird – either a rooster or a fowl – that demands long, slow cooking to tenderize it.  The flavor starts with the chicken, and builds in that slow process.

The lardons concept gets adapted in dozens of ways.  Child uses bacon, but blanches it to remove some of the smoky taste.  Others use salt pork or pancetta.  The original lardon intention of adding fat to soften the meat seems to have been lost here when we have access almost singularly to fat, tender chickens.  The modern coq au vin seems to have honestly become a “bacon-flavored” dish.  So be it.

There ARE a few sources on Cape Ann for retired chickens – Seaview Farms, Salt Marsh Farms, Grant Family Farm.  It is truly worth trying to find an old bird, if only for the singular earthy, lusty bouquet coq au vin creates in a long simmer.  If you have your “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” available, by all means follow Julia Child’s.  The recipe below takes the best of many recipes, while adhering to the premise that it’s that old chicken and the wine that matter most.  If you cannot find a rooster or fowl, simply reduce the cooking time to 30 minutes, testing for doneness.  This is a dish best spent preparing on a slow, snowy day, and best served by candlelight (that wine-dark chicken and those bronzed onions!). It’s a dish that proves winter has its blessings.   

 

Coq au vin

Serves 6

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil (to keep the butter from burning)

3 ½ -4 pound stewing hen or roasting chicken), cut in serving pieces

8 ounces good quality bacon, (not smoked, preferably uncured) cut into 1” pieces

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 bottle hearty red wine, ideally Pinot Noir

One bouquet garni (thyme, bay, parsley tied with twine)

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cups chicken stock, more if needed

 

For the mushrooms and onions:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

3/4 pound pearl onions or white 2” onions, peeled and left whole

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

To thicken the sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

 

Instructions:

    1. Melt the butter and oil in a large, heavy stockpot over medium heat. When the butter is hot, brown the chicken on all sides, doing so in two batches if necessary. 
    2. Remove the chicken from the pan and add the bacon. Brown it on all sides.
    3. When the bacon is browned, add the chicken back to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Pour the wine over all. Add the bouquet garni and the garlic, and pour in just enough chicken stock to cover the chicken. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat so it is simmering, cover and cook until the chicken is tender, almost falling from the bone, 1-1/2 – 2 hours.
    4. While the chicken simmers, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. When it is foaming, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are nicely browned, 10 – 12 minutes. Season lightly, remove from the heat and reserve.
    5. In a shallow skillet put onions, 2 tablespoons butter, and water barely to cover.  Simmer until water evaporates and onions begin to brown and glaze.  Continue to cook in the remaining butter until the onions acquire a beautiful bronze color.
    6. When the chicken is done, remove the meat to a side bowl.  DIscard the bouquet garni.  
    7. Blend the last butter and flour in a small bowl to a homogeneous paste.  Add 1/4 cup of the cooking juices into the flour and butter mixture, then pour that mixture into the sauce. Stir it in and let it cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened. Return the chicken to the sauce and rewarm all.  
    8. You can serve the dish two ways:  put the warm chicken in a bowl, generously spoon sauce over it, making sure the bacon pieces land on each serving, and tumble some mushrooms around. Tuck some onions in on the side.  Or, you can add the mushrooms and onions to the whole pot, let the dish sit overnight, and serve all as a warm stew the next day.   

 

Atlantic Pollock – Pollachius virens – and a great winter recipe.

February 7th, 2017

Alaska Pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus) and Atlantic Pollock (Pollachius virens) are two different species.  To compare them is a good exercise in understanding the extremes of the fishing industry.

Alaska Pollock from the northern Pacific, is one of the world’s leading industrialized fisheries with over 3 million tons landed a year.  The poster child for inexpensive, super-plain white fish, Alaska pollock is the fish in almost all commercial fish stick products; it is the fish in “fake fish,” that plastic-feeling, white and pink fish “salad” product you can buy at your grocery store, usually in a section with the smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheels.  If you don’t understand yet how big Alaska pollock is in the world, know that it is the fish in a McDonald’s fillet o’ fish sandwich.  

Trawled with enormous mid-water nets by large corporate fleets, Alaska pollock fills the world’s frozen fish cases with breaded rectangles of cheap protein.   This is the kind of fishing that undermines wild ecosystems and human communities.

Diversity and scale are the answers to much of the over-doing of anything in the world’s economy, be it industrial farming or industrial fishing.  To grow one millions of acres of one crop or fish for millions of tons of one fish exploits ecologies and destroys communities.  Industrialized farming exhausts soil, eliminates hedgerows and the bird life therein, makes seed stores, farm stores, even whole downtowns obsolete.

Industrialized fishing, fishing for millions of pounds of fish stick filler, has the same consequences.  Only the large, corporate fleets can afford this kind of fishing, and these fleets land, process and distribute their fish often on and from their own floating processing factories.  They have no need for the shore-side businesses that once supported the local fishing fleets – the lumpers who unload the catches on the dock, the fish cutters, the businesses that supply the boats with gas, food, and gear, all of which were once integral parts of fishing communities, like the farm stores in agricultural communities.  These businesses offered good, middle class wages which allowed people to own homes in the community and educate their children.  The economics of small farming and fishing built a web of connections that kept communities vital.  With the local fishing fleet gone, there is no need for any of those shore side businesses.  Harbor buildings are vacant, until the whale-watching businesses and tourist-driven agencies move in offering seasonal jobs but no long term sustainability.  

Atlantic pollock is a ground fish, and a common substitute for cod.  Actually a member of the cod family, Atlantic pollock is landed all year round in the Gulf of Maine.  The fish are landed anywhere from 6-12 pounds, providing thick, meaty fillets of a sweet, mild fish.  The raw meat is slightly gray compared to cod, but cooks to a creamy white color, and a thick, beautiful flake.  A sweet, white fish with generous, cooking-resilient fillets, Atlantic pollock are fish any cook – and chefs – can love.

Landed abundantly but not industrially on New England fishing boats, Atlantic pollock are also a fish that a fishing village can love.  These are fish landed on small boats that keep cities like Portland, Maine looking like a fishing town.  They are fish that, if given a reasonable price, an independent fisherman can make a relatively good living selling  And they are an excellent – some say preferred – alternative to haddock and cod, fish that deserve some relief from our appetites.  This is where diversity and scale come in:  if fishermen landed a little cod, a little haddock, and a bit more pollock, but not enough to injure stocks, the prices for all the species they catch would be good, and a fisherman could make a living.  He would pull into the dock, unload, and resupply his boat from the services there on the shore.  Economic connections would be made, and built.  

Here is an unusual, simple, and delicious recipe for New England pollock from Chef Annie Copps. This dish is so sweet, so white, so comforting, it doesn’t taste like a fish dish at all.  Fish dishes are rarely considered wintery comfort food, but this recipe is exactly that.

Baked in parchment, “en papillote,”  pollock retains all its moist, firm character.  Here’s the surprise:  The fish’s light, sweet flavor snuggles right up to the natural sugars in parsnips, turnips, and celeriac.  This recipe calls for a puree of parsnips and potatoes that have simmered in milk, but you could easily replace the parsnips with turnips or celeriac.  For a study in winter white, serve the fish directly on top of the puree.  It may not photograph well, but it is oh so comforting February dining, right from local waters.

Pollock en papillote with Mashed Parsnips and Potatoes

Ingredients

4 pieces of pollock, 1/2 pound each

salt and pepper

olive oil for drizzling

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 2″ pieces

1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces

about 2 cups whole milk

kosher or sea salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

a few scrapes of nutmeg

chopped fresh parsley

Instructions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2.   Place the potatoes and parsnips in a medium pot.  Cover with milk.  (If there is not enough liquid to cover finish with water.  Liquid should JUST cover the vegetables.  Add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender, 15 – 20 minutes.
  3.   Meanwhile, lay out 4 sheets of parchment, about 16″ x 20″.  Fold the parchment in half.  Basically you want to make a heart shape as you did in elementary school, by tracing just one side of the heart shape on the paper, and then cutting along that line.  Open the parchment and you have a heart, just the right shape for each pollock fillet.  Lay the each fillet on one side of each “heart.”  Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.  Fold the other half of the heart over the fish, and crimp together all the edges, basically to seal each package.
  4.   Bake f0r 15 minutes.
  5.   Meanwhile, mash the potatoes and parsnips.  Add a few scraps of nutmeg and adjust seasoning.
  6.   To serve, open parchment gently, allowing steam to release.  Lay a serving of potatoes and parchment on each plate.  Serve the steaming fish beside it, drizzled with more olive oil, or lay it on top of the puree.  Serve with chopped parsley.