Monday, January 31, 2011

There Goes One Tasty Dish!

Some things just don't look that tasty.  My mother always said you can't judge a book by it's cover. Actually my mother never said that.  She usually said things like "That looks terrible, I'm not eating it." or  "That looks like the dog vomited on your plate Honey.".  She was brutally honest like that.  Perhaps it's where I get my lack of social filters from.  Things just pop out my mouth and before I know it I've offended everyone in the room.  Oh well, at least you always know where you stand with me. 

So yeah, anyways, the delicious Salmon Stuffed Portobello Mushroom I made won't be taking home any beauty awards but it sure the hell would kill at Taste Olympics.  I roasted a fresh fillet of sockeye salmon, removed the bones, flaked it off the skin, and mixed it with chopped celery, scallions, bacon, fresh dill, a little smoked paprika mayonnaise to bind, salt & pepper, and a bit of Italian breadcrumbs.  Rip out the mushroom stems and stuff away.  Stick them in a 375F degree oven for about 30 minutes until the mushroom is cooked through and the salmon is golden.  You can use canned or smoked salmon as well, just make sure you adjust the seasoning.  I served it with a baby spinach salad tossed with Italian giardiniera and more bacon because that's how I roll. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Welcome to Cajun Country.

When I was a kid I remember sitting in front on my television on Saturday afternoons. While all of the other kids were outside running around like sugared-up maniacs throwing rocks at each other I was sitting on the floor of my wood paneled and brown shag carpeted family room with one of my mothers aprons on watching The Cajun Cook on PBS.  "I gar-un-tee!" I would yell along with Mr. Justin Wilson trying to mimic his wild Cajun "whoops" and pretend like I was ripping the heads off crawfish for a big pot of invisible gumbo.  My mother would come downstairs and stare at me blankly, shake her head and roll her eyes, and then walk right back the stairs to where she came from.  

I don't have a Cajun bone in my body.  Perhaps it's the simple but serious flavors of the cuisine that speak to me.  In fact, I think that Cuban Food (which also has some Creole roots) is pretty similar in a lot of preparations.  Not to mention the French in my blood.  Unfortunately the one time I drove through Louisiana  I was a vegetarian.  What a shame.  No étoufée, no seafood gumbo, not even some boudin balls.  Very sad indeed.  I did however get to taste some seriously authentic gumbo z'herbes (green gumbo with lots of tasty winter greens).   Nope, that trip saw plenty of voodoo shops and drunken frat boys but barely any tasty food.  Back in the day, it was really hard to eat out as a vegetarian and going on a road trip was perilous.  You thought you might starve to death until you came across a grocery store and made some janky meal in the car.  Hmmm, let's see, I bought a can of beans, some bread, and an apple.  "Not again!  We had your bean and apple sandwiches yesterday."  No ma'am, it was eat at your own risk in those days.  Vegetables didn't exist in the South back then.  It was all fried meat with a side of bacon and gravy. 

I couldn't get my hands on any fresh crawfish but I was really in the mood for étoufée.  I decided to make it with prawns instead.  I'm sure some Cajun grandmothers make the same substitution.  Deep and rich in flavor and the filé powder really adds some deepness.  Put the film Southern Comfort in the DVD player, make yourself a sazerac cocktail, and cook this meal.  I gar-un-tee it'll knock your socks off.

Prawn Etoufée

6 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded & diced
4 scallions, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons dry sherry
2 tomatoes, diced
kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, tt
1 tsp filé powder (if you can't find it don't worry about it)
1 ½ cups shrimp stock (water, shrimp shells, onion, celery, simmer 30 minutes)
1 lb. large prawns, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
steamed white rice for serving

1. First make a roux.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, to make a medium roux.
2. Add the onions, celery, bell peppers, green onions, garlic, bay leaves, cayenne, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the sherry and tomatoes and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the stock, add the prawns and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice & stir in the filé powder.
4. Adjust the seasoning, to taste. Serve over rice.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's a Fish Party.

Debbie: Duke, let's go do some crimes.
Duke: Yeah, let's get sushi and not pay.

I love that scene in Repo Man.  Or how about this one from The Breakfast Club:

John Bender: What's in there?
Claire Standish: Guess? Where's your lunch?
John Bender: You're wearing it.
Claire Standish: You're nauseating.
John Bender: [pointing to Claire's lunch] What's that?
Claire Standish: Sushi.
John Bender: Sushi??
Claire Standish: Rice, raw fish, and seaweed.
John Bender: You won't accept a guy's tongue in your mouth, and you're going to eat that?
Claire Standish: Can I eat?
John Bender: I don't know. Give it a try.

I remember the first time I ate sushi.  I was a vegetarian so all I could eat was a cucumber roll and some pieces of tamago (Japanese Omelet).  I remember liking it but I'll admit I was quite frightened by the damp slabs of raw fish flesh my counterparts were devouring.  As time went by I started eating meat again and really got a taste for sushi.  I still have a problem with certain Japanese textures (jelly and slimy are not my friends).  I love a good spicy tuna roll and as far as nigiri sushi goes I really love salmon, tuna, eel, and cooked shrimp (ebi).  Yeah yeah, not too adventurous but for someone with the gag reflex of a newborn kitten with a two pound hairball and strep throat I do what I can.  I love fish there are just certain textures I can't do.  I wouldn't last two seconds on Fear Factor.

K and I decided to have a little sushi party so I bought some beautiful sashimi grade tuna and salmon.  We also got a few bottles of my favorite sparkling sake.  Sushi rice is fairly simple.  Wash some calrose/sticky rice until the water runs clear.  When cooking rice the ratio is 1 cup rice to 1 1/4 cup of water.  Let it sit in the water off the heat for 10 minutes.  Turn on the rice cooker and let it cook or if you do it in a pot bring to a boil then turn it down to low heat and cook for 18 minutes.  Let it sit for 10 minutes after cooking off the heat. To make it sushi rice cool the rice down in a sheet pan and gently stir in a little bit of rice wine vinegar, sugar, and salt (2 cups rice, 1 Tbsp vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt).  The you can make rolls, or nigiri sushi.  Buy some nori seaweed sheets, sesame seeds, and some wasabi.  To start place a bowl of water next to you and dip your hands in it to keep the rice from sticking to them and everything else near you.  On a sushi mat (order on online if you don't have a local Asian grocery) lay down a piece of toasted nori, spread a thin layer of rice to about 1 inch from the opposite edge, lay a strip of whatever you want on the side closest to you (ie: chopped up spicy tuna, cucumber strips, hot dogs, whatever), and tightly roll up into a little cigar.  Slice with a sharp knife and eat.  I like dipping them in soy sauce and wasabi and if that makes me a dumb American who doesn't do the traditional way things should be done I say this.  I'm not Japanese so shut up.  I'm pretty sure the authenticity police aren't going to lock me up and throw away the key for this tragic  offense.  Rules are for fools.  It's not too hard to do once you figure a few things out.  Make sure you drink some sake when rolling sushi as this definitely enhances how much fun you'll have.  Also, make sure you wash your hands because nobody wants to eat a dirty tuna roll.  I know I don't.