Thursday, March 17, 2016

Satyricon Polenta

Back in the 90s when I was a musician, I used to work new band night at Portland's now-defunct Satyricon nightclub, watching the door and checking IDs on Mondays, which was new band night. it was about $35, and part of my payment also included a meal from the restaurant next door, Fellini's. I always enjoyed my Monday night shift because I looked forward to a menu that featured some creative and delicious Greek food. Fellini's wasn't a fancy place, not your typical Greek restaurant. It was haunted by the bands that played at the Satyricon, the friends of people who worked in both spaces, local punks and goths who needed a drink or a bite to eat, and a bevvy of other types, all enjoying the very informal setting, loud music, and general alternative atmosphere. You could come and go between the club and restaurant, which was great if you needed to duck out between bands for  some possibly shorter drink lines, or maybe get something quick to eat between band setups or (sometimes) during a particularly uninspiring musical set.

The menu at Fellini's had a lot of the stuff you'd expect to see on a Greek menu, but I only really remember one; my favorite, their polenta appetizer. For around $4, you got three thick wedges of lightly fried polenta topped with fresh diced tomatoes, chiffonaded basil leaves, all drizzled in olive oil and generously sprinkled with feta. It was so good and was the perfect dinner for a night filled with loud (and not all that great, mostly) music When I quit working there, and then left Portland not too long afterwards, I forgot about one of my favorite dishes, since there was so many different and new types of food to explore in my newfound home here in Seattle.

Around 2008 or '09, FaceBook became the most prevalent way people were re-meeting friends from their past, and I was no exception. Through the grapevine, I tracked down some of the people I knew and worked with from the old days, and with that came memories and stories of the music I heard and made, jokes told, drinks and conversation and laughs had. And it hit me that I had not had that polenta appetizer in quite some time; but I didn't know where to get polenta or how to make it, and at the time I just didn't think to look it up anywhere online. When I found that it was sold in stores, I bought some and tried to make it, but failed miserably. Just recently, I decided to try again.

So I got this stuff. I actually chose the sun-dried tomato version. Polenta is quite plain on it's own, and the previous time I tried to make it, I just couldn't salt it enough so that it tasted right. The sun-dried tomato version is much better.  This stuff is available at pretty much any grocery store, usually around the deli section, and costs about $3-4 and change.

So cut this bad boy out of its tube (it will slide out in one piece), and then turn it into 1/2-inch slices. One of these should give you 8 of those pieces. 

This next part is the part I'm still terrible at, but I plan on trying again. A bit of veggie oil in a pan, and what you want to do is make it crispy on the outside and warm on the inside. Chances are high that if you've ever been successful at making a grilled cheese sandwich, you'll be right on track. My history with grilled cheese sandwiches is a short and messy one. The first time I tried to fry polenta, there were a lot of crunchy black bits involved. I almost met the same fate tonight, but managed to turn the heat down and salvage dinner.
I know, the light in our kitchen is terrible, it looks like I'm frying bologna or olive loaf. Eight pieces feeds two people if you're doing dinner, or four if you want more of an appetizer. 

The rest is easy; I shook a bit of salt and pepper over the polenta itself, then halved a bunch of grape tomatoes (they looked nice at the store; Heirlooms would probably be absolutely incredible in this dish), ribboned up my basil leaves, and piled that on top of the four slices, then gave it a generous helping of crumbled feta cheese. Absolute heaven. 
This is a very easy dish to make, so long as you're more clever than I am with frying (medium heat would probably work, and did, after I got a talking to from Tom, who is by far the handier of the two of us with frying pan cooking). This is much closer to the real thing than my last attempt, and is a nice piece of a summer not yet here, and many gone by. Lots of fond memories with this dish, as simple as it is. <3 p="">

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cod Fishing in Puget Sound

I try to get out and go fishing at least once a week if at all possible. My friend Patrick has a boat, so he and our friend Jim and I are the Sunday crew (a different group goes on Saturdays), and we go out for, well, whatever Patrick says we do. Lately, it's been ling cod.

Ling cod is a time-consuming and labor-intensive catch. Cod don't like spoons or spinners like salmon do; they're far pickier, maybe a little smarter, and prefer live bait. The live bait of choice is usually sand dabs. Sand dabs can grow to a size that is worth catching and eating, but there are a lot of smaller ones, and those are the ones we go after. We spend about an hour or so catching dabs and putting them into a giant bucket full of water. You want a good 10-15 dabs, just in case; they can wiggle off the hook, or be swiped off the line by predators other than the elusive cod, so it's good to have several on hand. Ideally the best size is around the length and width of an adult human hand, a little larger. They're dumb as rocks, so they'll take a bite of anything you lower into the water, but there is a specific kind of bait we use. It's this stuff that sort of looks like a flat sponge (I cannot remember what it's called, exactly)- you cut it into smaller pieces, toss it on the hooks, and lower the line into the water until your line weight hits bottom; they bite in no time.

After we got a bucket full of those little fellows, we sped up to an area off the south shore of Whidbey Island called Possession Point, strung the dabs on our hooks, and lowered the lines into the water.
I don't know how long we were out there before I finally had a tug on the line, but Jim noticed the rod bending and thought I was caught on something. He pulled the rod out of its holster, and realized that he had just set the line in the fish's mouth, and told me to come and get my pole. So I started reeling up what felt like a 50lb weight. With Patrick manning the net, we pulled this fellow into the boat...
He was 36" long, which is 3" below the legal limit of 39". He was full of snapping and teeth! Jim took the liberty of bopping him over the noggin with an aluminum bat kept on board specifically for that purpose. And everyone who gets a catch - especially the first of the season - has to have their picture taken, of course! Excuse the lack of makeup, bed head and sloppy dressing; I have to get up early to make it to the marina, so looking good is not high on my list of priorities.
They are fearsome and strong creatures.
I took him home and put him in the fridge for a while. My filleting skills are still under development, so it's easier to get the meat off the bones after rigor mortis has set in. I don't mean to be morbid, but it's the mean truth of the matter. I took a few more photos of him with my regular camera and then one more of his awesome little fishy face.
Then I started in on the filleting. Rubber/latex gloves are a good idea for this job, because they give you more of a grip on what is a very slippery fish. Take the fillet knife and place it at an angle right behind the pectoral fin and gills. Slice down and toward the head until the knife hits the spinal bones. Once this is accomplished, you want to turn the fish in a direction that will make it easy for you to run the knife down along the spine all the way to the tail.
Repeat with the other side, and you should have two nice fillets.
Since my plan was to use one fillet to fry into fish and chips, the skin had to be removed. This is a delicate process and there really isn't anyway for me to describe it, since today was the first time I've ever had to do it, myself. All I can say is that you need a really sharp knife and some patience. If you have both of these things, you will be able to cut the skin away from the flesh without damaging the flesh too badly. I think I did ok for my first try.
That is a regular-sized dinner plate. It made enough fish for myself and two of my friends that came over for the event. Tom didn't have any because he has a lifelong hatred of our friends from the sea, but he was a trooper and fried it up for us, using a deep fryer normally reserved for hot wings. Frying fish may taint the fryer, but he was willing to take the chance, and I did not try and dissuade him. He made a beer batter out of Guiness, flour, Cavendar's Greek seasoning, a little Lawrie's seasoning salt, and black pepper. It was amazing.
And with the chips!
Shush, I love ketchup.

It's not really cooking or recipes, but I thought it might be fun to do a blog entry following a food from its source to its final destination on a plate. Sea to mouth in about 7 hours; you can't get much fresher than that.

If you have FaceBook, you can "like" Patrick's page here. He shares recipes and photos of his adventures on his boat, and he's an all-around cool guy. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Kale Summer Slaw

Spring is here in Seattle, and for me, that means eating as many things as we can possibly put on the grill. But what do you do about sides? Grilled corn on the cob is wonderful, as are grilled or roasted vegetables, and you can always go for the cool, refreshing green salad or coleslaw. But lately, I've been trying to get as much kale in my face as possible.

In the past, I have used kale in the Irish dish colcannon, or simply steamed it or braised it like collard greens. But Tom and I were recently at a friend's house, and she used this leafy green raw, chiffonaded, in a vinegar based slaw of sorts. It was wonderful, and very summery, so I decided to try my hand at my own version. I also get easily attached to new food, and want to eat it as often as possible until I get burned out, so I made quite a bit of this this evening. You can alter the recipe to suit your own needs and mouths to feed, but this was what I made this evening for dinner and lunches at work to come:

I head kale, spined, and chiffonaded
1/2 small head red cabbage, sliced thinly as slaw
1 red bell pepper, matchsticked
2 large carrots - cut in 4 sections, cut those in half, and matchstick
1 bag Craisins - I love dried cranberries, but you could use gold raisins, or simply add a little sugar to the dressing.
A good half cup or so of sunflower seeds

salad oil
rice vinegar (or your favorite, but I find rice vinegar to be the most crisp)
A good, seedy brown mustard with the seeds left whole. I used Maille Old Style Dijon
Dried oregano
Onion powder

Cut all vegetables as instructed above and add to big bowl (leave yourself room to toss in dressing). Combine dressing ingredients. I eyeballed mine, as I am wont to do, and probably wound up with about a cup and a half of dressing, give or take. Combine all ingredients and let sit for at least 30 minutes so everything can get nice and married, and enjoy with your favorite grilled meat. Great alone as well. Kale is so substantial, it makes a great meal on its own. You can also change up ingredients and mix flavors in your dressing. I made this last week with pinto beans and a cumin-based Southwest style mustard dressing that was just great. Give it a shot, and be creative!

Monday, March 19, 2012


When I was out on the east coast at my sister-in-law Kate's house for Christmas, she and her boyfriend Jeff (who is Puerto Rican) made us red beans and rice with tostones. I had never had tostones before, nor had I had the sort of red beans and rice they made, and it was all delicious.
Last night was the season finale of The Walking Dead, and the weather was awful. Tom and I were going to have a friend over and make some chili and watch the show, but when we were in the grocery store, I found some nice looking green plantains and decided that I was going to give tostones a shot. The last time I wanted to do this, the plantains at local markets didn't look so hot and were squishy to the touch; but these were like the ones Jeff made us, so I decided to give it a shot. They were surprisingly easy, but they are a step-by-step process, so here we go...

First, cut the plantains into discs. Jeff cut them straight across, but since there were only three of us last night, Tom thought two bananas might be too much (they weren't), so I cut them on a bias, thinking it might enable me to make fewer or larger tostones. I probably would not do this again. It works, but they are a little more difficult to deal with when frying than a simple disc-cut banana piece.
You want to cut the discs with the peel on, then make an incision with the knife through the peel just down to the banana flesh; this will enable you to peel the woody covering off the banana. As you can see in the photo above, plantain peels are pretty stiff; if you've never worked with them before (and I hadn't prior to helping Jeff cut them up), it might come as an initial surprise.
After you've got all your peels off, take a nice non-stick frypan and put some cooking oil in it. I used a light vegetable oil, probably about 1/4" in the bottom of the pan. This is where the work comes in. Get the oil nice and hot and put your plantain pieces in.
Plantains do not have a lot of water in them, so don't worry too much about grease spatter; you can actually put them in by hand if you choose. Cook them on one side until they're golden, then flip them over and do the same on the other side. I overcooked them  - our burner is a little twitchy - and while it didn't mess them up too badly, there is a reason it should be golden brown and not brown. This is a little too brown:
Something about two shades lighter than this would have been fine.

Once they are cooked on both sides, take them out of the oil (turn the oil down a bit) and drain them for a few moments on some paper towels. If you have a tostonera, that is great. They sell at Amazon for varying prices, and can be very useful. Jeff had one, but I couldn't find one like it, so I just used one of our tea dishes and a plastic measuring cup. Put the fried banana disk on the plate, put the bottom of the measuring cup on the banana, and press down slowly until the plantain is smashed but not pulverized - the idea here is to make sort of a massive chip out of it. Like so:
Yeah, they would have looked much better had I not cut them on the bias. The other problem I found with frying them to this color is that the outside forms a crust; so when you smash them, the risk is run that they might fall apart. These look like they are squishy and soft inside, but they are not. Plantains are very starchy, so they hold their shape.

Once all your plantains are mashed, they need to be refried. Turn up your oil again, and put the now-flat bananas back into the oil. Repeat the process on both sides as before:
If memory serves, after the second fry, Jeff just shook some salt over the top of them. I chose to experiment, and used a seasoning called Old Bay. It should be available in the spice aisle pretty much all over, and is commonly used to season crawfish, corn, and potatoes when boiling for a fish fry. You could use a variety of seasonings, really; a fried plantain has the consistency and flavor of a soft potato chip, but it does taste, well, plantain-y. Try it for yourself, it's a wonderful accompaniment to any sort of spicy stew or soup, and tastes really great with guacamole (a restaurant in our neighborhood serves them that way).


Monday, March 12, 2012

Apple onion slaw

This last Saturday, I went to some friends to watch the last few episodes of the 3rd season of Misfits (if you haven't been watching it, you're missing out), and have dinner. One of the sides was a salad made of apples and onions that my friend Jenny whipped up. Very simple recipe with two different kinds of apples, a red onion, and filberts (or as the rest of the country calls them, hazel nuts), and a simple oil/vinegar dressing.

Tom is grilling some steaks on this gray Seattle day, and we thought that the salad called for a repeat. I did a slight amount of embellishing as is my wont, and here is my recipe:

1&1/2 Honeycrisp apple, cut in fourths then sliced very thinly
1&1/2 Granny Smith apple, see above
1/2 cup filberts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 red onion, cut in fourths then sliced very thinly
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Lemon pepper

The apples could probably be grated with a course grater, but I chose to cut them by hand. The filberts should be put in a small zipper bag with the air pushed out, then crushed. I used a metal soup ladle for this job, and the process was somewhat satisfying. I added just enough olive oil and vinegar to coat things thinly, and salt and pepper to taste. The idea is to have a slaw-esque sort of salad that goes well with meat.
Here is a decent iPhone photo of the end result:
This would also make a great side for pulled pork sandwiches or any sort of barbecue, really. Super simple, super fast. Thanks, Jenny!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Grain Salad Variation

I have been trying to eat healthier lately, and part of that is going to include reducing the amount of meat in my diet - but I love vegetables, so this sits well with me. My parents are both (retired) medical professionals, so healthy food was introduced to my brother and me at very young ages. Eating healthy is not difficult, it it delicious, and here is one variation on a salad that will prove it.

My mother has a quick and easy tabouleh recipe that to this day - even though I've had tabouleh in a few different countries and from many different restaurants and delis - is still my absolute favorite. The beautiful thing about this recipe is that not only is it easy to make, but you can put a variety of vegetables, spices and beans to suit your own personal tastes and still come out with something delicious. I even have measurements this time, so hold onto your hats!

1 cup bulgar wheat
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly
4-5 large radishes, halved and sliced thinly
8-10 small sweet peppers, halved and sliced thinly (these often come in large bags with yellow, orange, and red peppers assorted, and they are wonderful!)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup salad oil
1/2 cup rice vinegar or lemon juice (I would use lemon juice, but we didn't have any, so rice vinegar is a good substitute)
Salt, black pepper, and onion powder to taste

Put bulgar in the container you plan to make the salad in, and pour two cups of boiling water over it. Let it sit for about an hour, and go watch a movie.  Chop up and add everything else, mix well, and let sit overnight, or for at least an hour before serving (overnight is best, as everything has the chance to gel nicely). What you come out with will look something like this:
It makes a nice summer salad, and if you like, sprinkle some feta or cotija cheese for a bit of dairy to round everything out.

Friday, January 27, 2012

White bean dip with cilantro and jalepeno

It's pretty much what it sounds like!

About a week ago when it was really snowing here, Tom and I went to a friend's house down the street for dinner, to try and escape the cabin fever that snow in this city causes. Before dinner, my friend Monica pulled out a store-bought white bean dip that was amazing, and looked simple enough to make, so I tried it today with excellent results.

You'll need a food processor, two cans of canellini beans, a bunch of cilantro, and a jalepeno. Open and drain the beans, and rinse them. Your mileage may vary, but I am not a fan of the nasty water-and-preservative mix inside most canned beans, so I rinse mine until they don't foam anymore. Put the beans into the food processor, and slice the jalepeno into chunks - nothing fancy, I just cut mine into about four pieces across the pepper - and toss that in as well.  I used half of a large bunch of cilantro, rinsed well to get the dirt out, and tore that up into the mix, then added enough olive oil through the top of the Cuisinart to help the blade emulsify everything.

Add spice to taste; cumin, chili powder or cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper should do it. I also tossed in a few shakes of a product called Pico Limon, which is a Mexican spice mixture with some dried citrus added. You'll wind up with something that looks vaguely like pesto:

It took me about 10 or so minutes to make, and is a pretty close substitute for the store bought stuff. In the future if I have more time to make it, I might cut up and sautee' another jalepeno or even a serrano and put the chunks into the mixture, then let it sit overnight for a little extra texture and flavor. Or maybe even a few scallions or half a yellow or red onion diced up raw might be nice. Enjoy!