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Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday is for Fish Fingers, Tartar Sauce and Pickle Relish

When I was growing up, fish sticks were on the menu every Friday for school lunch. It was years until I realized the school offered fish on Friday for the Catholics among us. It didn't matter to me why I got them, I always loved that lunch. Probably because I just loved tartar sauce. In retrospect, the fish sticks were awful, breaded and deep fried and who knows what kind of fish was used. But when this recipe appeared, I had to try it.

(I'm pretty sure a few of you have already turned away. Please, though, hear me out.)

I'm going to tell you how to make fish sticks yourself. Tender, flaky, crispy. Not oily. Not fishy. These are superb - a 2008 Food and Wine recipe that first captured my attention, then my derision, then my admiration.

I can hear you already. Potato flakes? Instant potato flakes? Yes. Yes. Yes. Crunchy. Crispy. Delicious. Just give them a try. And don't call them fish sticks, call them fish fingers, as my British friend does. Doesn't that sound better?

Serve these little crisp delights wrapped up in a tortilla, slathered with sriraccha mayonnaise and some chopped lettuce and radishes for an awesome fish taco.

Or serve with traditional tartar sauce, alongside corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes, for the perfect summer meal.

And in the deep of winter, fish fingers, with sweet pickle relish in the tartar sauce and local corn and limas from the freezer turned into succotash - well, that just brings summer right back.

Crunchy Fish Fingers
6 servings
from Food & Wine, July 2008

2# cod, cut across the grain of the fish in 1-1/2" pieces
1 c flour
1 c instant potato flakes
2 eggs

Grapeseed, Safflower or Canola oil

Set up a dredging station with three bowls.

First bowl: 3/4 c flour, large pinch of cayenne, little pinch of salt, a few grindings of pepper
Second bowl: 2 eggs whisked with a splash of water
Third bowl: potato flakes, 1/4 c flour, large pinch of cayenne, little pinch of salt, a few grindings of pepper

Whisk everything up.

With your left hand, put a piece of fish in the flour.
With your right hand, pick up the piece of fish and drop it into the egg, then place in the potato flakes
With your left hand, scoop the potato flake mixture over the fish, then lift it and place on a sheet pan ready to cook.
Repeat this until all the pieces of fish are coated.

Preheat the oven to 225, to keep the cooked fish warm while you finish the rest.

In a straight sided saute pan (or a deep fryer, if you have one), heat about 1" of canola oil to 325°. When it's good and hot, slip in the coated fish. Do not crowd. The fish should be golden brown and gorgeous in about three minutes - turning once.

Transfer to a paper towel lined sheet pan and pop in the oven to stay warm.

Tartar Sauce
keeps in the fridge for a week

Take 1/4 c pickle relish, add 2T plain yogurt and 2T mayonnaise or sour cream, squeeze in a lemon, stir.

And here's a perfect, quick canning project for this weekend.

Sweet Pickle Relish
makes 8 half pints

4 c finely chopped cucumber, peeled and seeded
4 c finely chopped sweet peppers, seeded and deveined - I use Jimmy Nardello, Cubanellas, Banana or Bell
2 c finely chopped yellow onion
4 T kosher salt
2 c white sugar
1.5 c brown sugar
2 c cider vinegar
1 T celery seed
1 T yellow mustard seed

This recipe is so simple if you have a food processor. Just buzz the cukes, peppers and onions until finely chopped.

Cover all the vegetables with cold ice water and the salt and set aside for two hours.

Drain the vegetables, rinse well and then drain in a colander very well. Press against the solids with a large spoon or spatula to get as much water out as possible.

In the meantime, in a large non-reactive pot, bring the sugar, vinegar and spices to a rolling boil.

Add the vegetables and bring back to a rolling boil for 10 minutes.

Fill hot jars with hot relish and seal with lid and ring.

Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Weekend Project: Sour Cherry Pie Filling, Apricots in Vanilla Syrup, Cherries in Chipotle Syrup

It's Friday, and the weekend is upon us. Around here, that means contractor-free days. Not that the guys who've been here every day for the last three weeks aren't really nice, but it is such a treat to walk freely - no plastic door coverings - for a couple of days.

Last weekend, I celebrated the Fourth of July, and three full days without workmen, by canning. Saturday, I had the pleasure of participating in a fantastic Can-O-Rama, hosted by a food52 member - Christine - in her inviting Carlisle, PA, kitchen. Twelve of us gathered with half a bushel of apricots and 28 quarts of sour cherries to "put-up" old-style. 

There were moments that day, looking around, when I thought - anywhere in the world, almost any era, there would have been similar scenes of women gathering with the sole purpose of easing the enormous effort/burden of preserving the harvest.

Apricots and sour cherries are a great example of this. They ripen in two weeks and then they are gone. They are ambrosial fresh off the tree, but retain such a bright flavor when canned, they cry out to be put in jars. 

I love the taste of apricots fresh, but somehow they are even better with a little bit of cooking. I've included the recipe here for raw packed apricot halves in a very light vanilla syrup. These are sweet and tart and are perfect addition to a piece of pound cake, a bowl of vanilla ice cream, or even lowfat yogurt, if you're being virtuous. I've also used them with pork roasts and think they might be an interesting addition to barbeque sauce (I'll be testing that theory later this summer.) Scroll down for the apricot recipe.

Right around July 4th on the East Coast, for several years, I've canned 8 quarts of sour cherry pie filling. I taught the food52'ers all about canning, and divulged my very easy recipe for this pie filling, so now I thought I'd share it here. 

When Thanksgiving rolls around, I'll roll out a pie crust, empty a one quart jar into the crust, cover with another lattice-d crust, et voila - summer in every bite.

Sour Cherry Pie Filling

Sour, or tart, cherries, are available for two or three weeks in late June/early July. They are very delicate and should be pitted and used within two days, but preferably same day you get them.
You will never find sour cherries at the grocery store - you need to make a connection with a farmer/orchard. Once you know when your cherries will arrive, make sure you have all the ingredients on hand, including jars.
Make this pie at Thanksgiving and you will have a very happy crowd.
Makes one 9” pie, or a cobbler, buckle or crisp.

Per Quart:
5 c cherries
1/4 c water
3/4 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t almond extract (optional)

Clean and pit cherries. Pit over a bowl to capture all the juices.
Put water, sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch in a large, heavy pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
Add the fruit, bring to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes. Add extract, stir well.
Funnel the filling into a quart jar leaving 1” headroom.
Wipe the rim clean, add lid and ring, finger tighten
Process in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes.
After processing, remove to a towel, separate the jars and allow them to cool naturally. 
Try not to disturb the jars for 24 hours, then test the seal.

To bake a pie, you’ll need two basic pie crusts. Roll out the bottom crust and line a 9” pan. Pour in the pie filling. Roll out the top crust, and cut into strips for a lattice for the top crust. Pinch the crusts together and make a pretty edge. Place the whole pie in the freezer for 20 minutes, or refrigerate for an hour.
Bake in a preheated 425° oven for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350° and bake another 45-55 minutes until the filling is bubbling.

curious about those pints? scroll down for another quick recipe with cherries!

Apricots in Vanilla Syrup

This is a beautiful jar to give as a gift, if you can bear to part with it. The apricots are delicious over ice cream, pound cake, or used for a sauce to serve with pork or chicken. I just eat them out of the jar, ice cold.

You must use exceptional, perfect, beautiful apricots for this recipe. Buy freshly picked apricots two or three days before canning and allow them to finish ripening in a cool spot (basement? garage?) but not the refrigerator. The scent of them ripening will drive you crazy.

This method will also work for pears or peaches. Consider other flavorings - ginger, star anise, clove, cardamom.

Per Pint:
1-1/4 lbs. perfect apricots
3/4 c water
1/8 c sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 T lemon juice

3-4 additional lemons

Prepare syrup by combining sugar and water with whole vanilla beans, heating gently until the sugar has dissolved.
Wash, dry, halve and pit the apricots. Put them in a large bowl filled with water and the juice of three or four lemons, so they don't brown as you finish the process.
Pack the fruit directly into sterilized canning jars. Pack tightly, without bruising. You can nestle the apricots together, like spoons, to fit more in. The packing is the hard part of the recipe. After processing, the fruit will float to the surface, so try to get as many apricots as possible into your jar.
Pour lemon juice over the fruit.
Pour hot syrup over the fruit, leaving 1/2" headroom.
Wipe the rims of the jars, add lids and rings and finger tighten.
Process in a water bath for 25 minutes.
After processing, allow jars to rest on a folded towel. Try not to move them for 24 hours. Check seals.

Here's another quick recipe if you have any cherries leftover!

Cherries in Chipotle Syrup

3# sour cherries, weight before pitting
2 dried chipotle peppers, rinsed
2 c sugar
2 c water

Make a simple syrup by simmering the water, sugar and chipotle until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to steep for 1 hour.
Pit the cherries and pack into a sterilized pint jar.
Warm the syrup and pour over the cherries, leaving 1/2" headroom. 
Stem and seed the chipotle. Cut into 1/2" rings and place one ring in each jar.
Process for 25 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Remove from processor and allow to cool naturally. 
These are smoky, hot and wonderful cherries. I'm marinating some in maraschino liqueur for spicy Old Fashioneds. And I'll be making a bbq sauce for sure, as they'll be perfect with pork shoulder.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Life with Louie

I have been planning to blog another jam recipe, one that I've made for awhile, and that I just know you'll love. That will come sometime this weekend. But now, right now, all I want to write about is the love of my life, Louie.
This is one cute dog. Seriously cute. Dennis says the dog is a chick-magnet, not that he's got much use for that.
We just took a trip to Marthas Vineyard, by car, with Louie. Is there any better way to get to know someone than to roadtrip together? He was a great traveler. Just slept in the back seat until he had to go, then barked once, maybe twice. He was a perfect gentleman in hotel rooms. 
And, at a dog park, when we found a small frisbee and Dennis tossed it, Louie retrieved and returned with that disc. Huh? A terrier who retrieves? This dog was someone's pet. I don't know what happened to him, or how he ended up with us, but we're sure glad he did.