Posts tagged ‘seafood’
Fancy meals do not always have to be rich and heavy, as proven by this fantastic Friday night treat. Pasta and steak dishes always seem to corner the market on romantic meals, but I dislike the heavy “food coma” feeling that they often leave you with. My favorite choice for a date-night at home is seafood, since they often are quick to prepare and do not feel so weighty. This meal was again inspired by an appetizer I enjoyed on our honeymoon, where the chef perfectly seared tiny bay scallops and served them over a spicy and delicious eggplant salad. While this does not perfectly recreate the fantastic eggplant salad I enjoyed, it improves on the scallops with larger sea scallops that seem to melt in your mouth when cooked properly. If you are new to scallops, Alton Brown has a great basic tutorial that I love. Scallops can be a little pricy and turn rubbery very quickly if cooked for too long, but are worth the cost when prepared correctly. For your next stay-at-home date, try out this dinner!
Scallops with Roasted Red Peppers and Spicy Eggplant
6 vegetable servings, scallops vary depending on amount
For the Red Pepper and Eggplant Salad:
3 large red bell peppers
1 large or 2 small (about 1.5 lbs) eggplant
8 oz baby bella mushrooms, quartered
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red chili flakes
2-3 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
For the scallops:
1/3 to 1/2 lb scallops per person
2-4 tbsp butter (depending on lbs of scallops)
Preheat the broiler in the oven. Half the red peppers and remove the stems and seeds. Lay cut-side down in a shallow baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in the oven for 15-18 minutes, until peppers are soft and the skin is charred. Transfer immediately to a large plastic zip bag and let cool for 10 minutes. Submerge peppers in cold water one at a time while removing the skins. Peppers can be prepared one to two days ahead of time, if desired.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Roughly dice peppers and peeled eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Quarter the mushrooms. Mix all vegetables in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and red pepper flakes, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, stirring every 15-20 minutes, for 45-55 minutes, or until eggplant is at desired consistency according to your preference.
When the vegetables are roasting, rinse and pat dry scallops. Preheat a cast iron or heavy skillet over medium heat. Add butter and allow to melt. Add scallops, searing for approximately 2 minutes per side. The skillet should be hot enough to create a browned curst in a short time. Squeeze lemon half over scallops and remove to serving tray. Serve with eggplant and pepper mixture with brown rice.
When it comes to meat and fish, my family often falls prey to what seems to plague much of White America. We only eat certain cuts of certain meats, and most definitely avoid anything on the bone. This is especially true of seafood. When my husband asked my mom if she would be willing to try a new way of eating fish, she told us, “Only as long as I don’t have to look my dinner in the eye.” I used to whole-heartedly agree with my mom, and was repulsed at the market where the fish seemed to stare back at me, daring me to eat them. Now, I have learned how delicious (and sometimes fresher and more economical) whole fish can be. I have come a long way from my first whole fish experience in Croatia!
When it comes to this method of cooking fish, it all starts with the quality of the ingredient. I am lucky enough to have found two great local fish markets (Keyport Fishery for anyone in the central NJ region and New Deal Fish Market for anyone in the Boston area). My husband is the expert in our house when it comes to choosing fish, but he has taught me a few basic rules. First, the smell of the fish really does tell you if the fish is fresh. While there will always be a mild fishy aroma, it should not smell unpleasant or so strong you can smell the fish at a distance. You can also tell a lot about a fish (or at least the freshness) through its eyes – they should be clear and in tact. Lastly, we have found it helpful to call the fishery the night before or morning of to ask about what fish they have gotten, or are expecting to get, fresh that day. Getting there early can ensure you get the best selection from what they have.
For fish preparation, I prefer to have the fishery help me out. Most good fisheries should be able to gut, scale, and take the fins off the fish before sending you home with it. This saves a lot of prep and mess, and ensures that you don’t ruin the beautiful fish you just worked so hard to pick! When planning how much fish to buy to feed your guests, remember that a bit of fish weight is made up of the head and bones. A 1.5lb fish will generally feed one hungry person, in our experience, and generally runs $8-$12 per pound, depending on season and type of fish.
Our favorite fish to prepare whole is Bronzino, also known as European sea bass. However, we chose a beautiful Red Snapper for this dinner. We wanted to prepare a special Caribbean-inspired dinner as a thank you to my parents for watching our dog, and Snapper lends well to island flavors. The fishery had just received whole snappers that morning, so we got choice pick. The fish were HUGE, and we walked away with the baby of the bunch – a 5.5lb beauty. First, we scored the fish diagonally to help infuse flavor. We then rubbed the skin and inside of the fish with garlic, allspice, thyme, salt and pepper. While we usually pan-fry whole fish to get a nice crispy skin, there was no skillet big enough for this guy. We created a foil boat and cooked our fish in a bit of canola oil on the grill over high heat for about 25 minutes, requiring a bit more cooking time since it was so thick in the middle. At the end, we spooned a bit of the boiling canola oil over the skin to make it crispier.
The result was spectacular. Not only was the fish beautiful, but it was also tender, moist and delicious. Since we had the whole fish, we got to enjoy the most tender and most underused parts (my favorite are the cheeks). Our dinner was rounded out with coconut rice and Brazilian style Collard greens and finished with grilled pineapple, all complimented by Antiguan style Rum punch.
We combined a few recipes and resources to make this meal happen, listed below if you are interested in trying this out! We have deemed Fridays to be “fresh fish Fridays” to take advantage of shore-living while we can, so hopefully some more great meals are to come!
Question: Are you a whole fish fan? Do you have any tips to share for choosing or preparing the perfect whole fish?
As you can tell by now, I am jumping around my trip’s timeline. Instead of progressing between places, I decided to share snapshots and stories of my favorite part of each place that I visited. Back to Italy, where I split my time between my friend’s house in Bologna and our adorable rented room in Vernazza, one of the five towns of Cinque Terre. My friend picked Vernazza because it is the only town with a harbor, which we figured would make for the best beach destination. As soon as we arrived, we changed into our bathing suits and headed to enjoy the waters of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. While we were swimming, we were surrounded by tiny fish, likely the small anchovy that the region is famous for, and the rocks were covered in tiny mussels. While soaking up some sun on the rocks, we were passed by a baby crab, and harassed by the biggest sea gulls I have seen in my entire life. It was so cool to be surrounded by such amazing wildlife!
After a day in the sun and heat, there is nothing better than a great dinner to end the night. We asked around for a recommendation of where to go for dinner, and the apartment owner’s husband recommended his favorite place for seafood. He obviously has great taste! This restaurant had some of the best food I have ever eaten. We started off with a sample of five small seafood dishes, the highlights of which were lemon anchovies and a warm octopus salad.
Anchovies, usually very salty and definitely not something I am prone to eat
often ever, are actually an amazing and delicate fish when not so heavily salted. They are so fresh in this region, most likely straight from the ocean to the table in the same day. That makes all of the difference! The sample contained the classic salted version, which were still quite tasty and so much less salty than what I expected. However, the unexpected highlight for me were fresh anchovies in a light lemon sauce with bits of fresh tomato. The lemon was so fresh and really let you appreciate how flavorful the anchovy itself is! What a great surprise.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the warm octopus salad, which honestly freaked me out when they first presented the plate. The tentacle still had the suction cups on it, and it was bright purple and looked like it was straight out of the ocean. But that was what made it so great! The octopus was really tender, which can only be accomplished if it is really fresh and cooked perfectly. It was served with potato wedges, olives and fresh herbs, giving it incredible fresh flavor. This alone made the whole appetizer worthwhile!
For dinner, I stuck with the seafood theme and ordered a pasta dish with mussels and tiny clams in a red sauce. Not always a fan of shellfish, I was a little nervous about if I would like my dinner or not. However, I had heard rave reviews about the region’s shellfish, and figured that they would be incredibly fresh since I had seen them coating the rocks earlier in the afternoon! All I have to say is best shellfish ever. The clams were tiny and really tender, and the mussels were perfect with a twirl of fresh pasta and a bit of red sauce. I was in food heaven. My plate was literally clean by the end of dinner, both because of how good the food was and because of our waiter’s insistence that we clear our plates. His games got us a free round of drinks by the end of dinner, so we weren’t complaining!
The food continued to be amazing in Cinque Terre. Other highlights of food that I enjoyed in my time there were a sandwich with prosciutto and fig, fresh foccacia, and a bowl of pasta with real pesto. Did you know: Pesto originated in the Liguria region and is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle (hence pesto!)? Fun fact! I brought home some trofie pasta, the regional specialty, and hope to make my own pesto to go with it sometime this week!
I am back from vacation and, after a month of traveling, it certainly feels great to be home! I have one more week to relax before school starts, and then it is back to the grind! It is crazy how fast a summer will fly by when you are having so much fun! But before I reminisce about a vacation that is not quite over, let me recount one that is!
My family has been vacationing in Cape May, NJ for decades. Some of my earliest family memories are from these beaches, or from the campground that we have always gone to. The Depot is not really that special – the sites are small, there is no pool, the bath houses are basic, but this place holds a special spot in my heart. We love it because it is only a mile from the beach, so we can throw our chairs and towels on our backs and bike to the beach. I remember days when we used to have three campsites, with sand toys strewn everywhere and family dinners that stretched late into the evening. Now it is just my immediate family left in NJ and we have matured past the days of sand toys, but some traditions have not left us. We still stop at Duckie’s Farm Market for corn (for more than one dinner), still go to Sunset Beach to marvel at the concrete ship and search for diamonds, still walk the beach with distance measured by space between piers, and still sing that old song “On the Way to Cape May” even if no one knows the words. This trip was filled with many more family moments, and reminders of family moments from the past.
A highlight of this vacation for me was the food! In celebration of my mom’s 50th birthday, we enjoyed dinner out on the town, twice! The first was a girl’s night out to Bella Vida Cafe – right down the street from the campground with a menu that boasted a number of vegetarian/vegan options. My mom and sister had been eyeing the restaurant with me in mind for the whole week before I joined them at the beach. It was such a fun foodie find! In a town filled with seafood dishes, their options all had a fresh, flavorful spin, be it through a fruit salsa or some sort of unique glaze. Plus, it had so many vegetarian options that it was hard to choose what to eat for dinner!
I settled on the Island Style Christina – rice and beans with plantains and fresh mango-pineapple salsa. So many great flavors that reminded me of my time in the DR!
My mom and my sister both chose the Coconut Encrusted Grouper, of which I stole a bite or two. It was delicious, but accurately described by my sister as a little too sweet. Not too much to stop everyone from clearing their plates though! We finished off our night on the town with window shopping, which usually drives my dad crazy. Good to have a girl’s night out once in a while!
Birthday celebration part 2 – a day trip to Lewes, DE. My mom has always wanted to take the ferry that runs between Cape May and Lewes, but has never gotten around to doing so. We decided that her birthday would be a perfect time to do this! Lewes is a tiny town with a much different feel from its sister. It is smaller, more quaint, and less crowded than Cape May – perfect for a day of exploring. We filled the afternoon with more window shopping (Dad was drug along this time but put up without complaint – a birthday present in its own right!). My favorite store was Lewes Gourmet, from which I purchased a cinnamon grinder and a jar of No Sugar Added Beach Plum Jam. Beach plums are a tiny fruit that grow wild in the marshes, usually too sour to eat but make great jams! After tiring ourselves out with shopping, we sat down for a late lunch/early dinner (linner?) at The Wharf. We enjoyed sitting out on the water, and chose the restaurant for the location and not the menu. Shouldn’t have been fooled by the plastic chairs and patio furniture – the food was absolutely excellent.
We enjoyed Thai-stlye calamari for an appetizer – definitely not your ordinary calamari! It was lightly fried and then drenched in a sweet and spicy chili sauce with jalapeno peppers. I savored every bite!
For my meal, I enjoyed an Ahi Tuna Salad – a seared tuna steak served over Romaine with edamame, peanuts, wonton strips, and a light peanut dressing. It was possibly the best salad I have ever eaten.
My parents enjoyed the crab cake sandwiches, the option I almost got. The crab cake was huge and was all crab and no filler, but I enjoyed my meal too much to even try a bite! They both loved the sandwich, though!
I had so much fun trying fresh spins on seafood in places I wouldn’t expect. There is always a good foodie find, even in small beach towns! And what better way to celebrate a birthday than with great food at the beach?
Full disclosure: I am still on vacation! I got home from Europe, did a few loads of laundry, and hopped in my dad’s car the next day to meet my mom and sister at our favorite beach. We are camping in Cape May, NJ for the week to celebrate my Mom’s 50th birthday. This again has left me away from the blogging world and the kitchen, but normal posts will return soon enough! Until then, another story from my trip!
Life in a beach town has a much different rhythm. You wake up with no alarm, check the heat and humidity on the front porch before deciding to go running, and lazily stroll to the market to get your food for the day. You stop at the bakery for fresh bread, a street-side stand for produce, a butcher for meat, and another stand for fish. Most places are open all morning, but the fish stand is only open from 7am-10am, which we found out the hard way on our first attempt. They have buckets on ice filled with the catch of the day, and they sell out each morning. I couldn’t tell you what any of the fish at the market were that day because their names were all in Croatian, but you basically could not make a poor choice. All of the fish looked very similar – some just a little longer or shorter, thinner or fatter. We chose 3 medium-sized fish, figuring it would be the perfect ratio for individual portions without the tiny, dangerous bones.
After a day on the beach, we made a pit stop at an Internet cafe to get a little background in fish filleting and cleaning. Seriously, what did one do before Google? I read about how to take off the scales, which fins to remove, and how to gut and wash the fish. With a basic plan of action in mind, we headed home to start on our feast.
I sat out under the outdoor shower, fish and a few
sharp knives in hand. Realizing I didn’t quite have the proper equipment, I began to improvise slightly. I used a dull knife to take off the scales, a slightly sharper knife to get the fins, and a spoon for the insides. I decided against taking the bones out, figuring I would end up with lump fish meat instead of fillets. I was more than a little grossed out and will admit to a few girly freak out moments, especially when I was under attack from a swarm of bees (who knew they liked meat?!) But I got the job done! I finished rinsing them off and carried them inside.
I cut up some lemon wheels and stuffed those with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs inside of the fish. I then created a bit of a steaming device – I put a larger frying pan on the bottom and covered it with a slightly smaller pan on top. I let the fish cook for a few minutes on each side, watching what was left of the skin melt away in my improvisational set up. Once the fish was flaky and white, I took it away from the heat. I cut off the head and tails, and served what looked like beautiful fillets of fresh fish!
Alongside, I mixed some fresh tomatoes and cucumbers together with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper for my take on a traditional Eastern European salad. I also steamed up some cauliflower, and Azra made her version of her mom’s potato salad (some raw white onions, cooked potato slices, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper). The dinner was fantastic! The fish was tender and flaky, and it was easy enough to avoid the bones. The lemon and herbs perfectly enhanced the flavor without overpowering anything. And our volumes of veggies on the side were a nice fresh addition, and were especially appreciated after a severe lack of veg in Bosnian cuisine (more to come on that!) We fully enjoyed our 4th of July fish feast, but it might be a long time before I am running to fillet fresh fish again. I am willing to try almost anything once when on vacation, though!
Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I was finally able to relax. I laid in the hammock, I sat in the sun, I went in the pool, I spent time with my family, and I even read a book for fun! I had started Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story a month or two back, but would only get a page or two before passing out each night as the end of the semester ramped up. I finished the 3/4 of the remaining story yesterday, and it was so inspirational! Ben Carson is the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, and has the remarkable and rare “true American story.” He was born to an uneducated, single mother and raised in Detroit, overcame learning problems and hard life circumstances to become a world-class neurosurgeon. Not only is his story compelling, but he also has some incredibly interesting patient stories as well. Definitely a great summer read if you are looking for a book!
What better way to end a relaxing day than a lobster feast? My dad was the lobster chef while my mom was the grill master. I took care of the indoor work, carefully avoiding the lobster pot to the best of my ability. I know that the squealing is simply air being released from the shell, but I still lose my lobster appetite if I hear that right before my meal. Alongside of the lobster, we grilled up some fresh corn and asparagus. I kept the seasoning on everything simple, preferring instead to let the flavor of the lobster shine. I squeezed a fresh lemon over the asparagus spears and generously ground some black pepper, sea salt, and garlic powder for good measure. To make grilled corn, we simply pulled out the fine corn hair from inside of the husk, but left the husk on. We then soaked the corn in water for 5 minutes to make sure the husk wouldn’t burn, and then put the corn on the grill for about 12 minutes (6 minutes each side.) The corn picks up so much great smoky flavor from the grill and the husk that most of us didn’t even need butter! To go along with the lobster, I made a lemon-butter dipping sauce. I find that straight butter is too heavy and overwhelms the lobster, so I added 2 juiced lemons to 2 1//2 sticks of melted butter to add a little fresh flavor. Everyone except my dad was a huge fan (but we have outlawed him as a crazy ;) )!
The flavors of this meal were simple, fresh and delightful. The only utensils necessary were lobster picks and crackers, since even the asparagus spears could be eaten as finger food. Good thing we were eating outside, where we could hose down ourselves and the table! Obviously, this meal was a huge treat!
To make the most of those special lobsters, my uncle instructed everyone to save their shells. He sweated some minced garlic, onions, carrots, and celery in white wine (we were out of sherry) – fancy people call this a mirepoix. This is the basis for any good seafood, poultry or vegetable stock. Then, he added the lobster shells and covered it with water, brought it to a boil, and then cooked it down for about 2 hours. Next, he strained all of the ingredients through a colander, and then through a cheesecloth to remove fine particulates. Now, you can use this lobster stock to make either bisque or lobster sauce for pasta. Since the family has been drooling over my fresh pasta posts, we decided we will use this to make a sauce… stay tuned for the results of our little experiment!