01 September 2015

Blackened Fish, the Yankee Way

When I was a freshman in college, the most exotic meal I tried was blackened catfish.  I had never heard of, let alone tasted, anything so vigorously seasoned at that point in my life. It was cooked by our token Southern professor, who probably got a real kick out of watching us dairy-fed Midwesterners poke at the dark slabs of fish, hoping it wouldn't burn our mouths too terribly.  I loved it, and that was my introduction to the magical world of Southern dishes.  

I still love blackened seasoning, but I don't do the ten pounds of butter or the frying so much.  I also think catfish is kind of a pain, with all those stupid bones to pick around.  So, here's a quick, healthy, and easy way to try to recapture some of the weird wonderfulness that was Dr. Hearne's blackened catfish back in 1993. You'll excuse me, I hope, if it's not as authentic as a Paula Deen recipe, but I promise it won't give you diabetes. 

Blackened Broiled Tilapia

Serves 4

1 pound tilapia fillets
olive or canola oil

Blackening Rub:
3 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon garlic powder

In a medium bowl, combine all blackening ingredients thoroughly.

Line a broiler pan with foil and add 2 T olive oil. Brush it over the foil in any area that will have fish.
Rinse and pat dry 1 pound of tilapia. Brush with olive oil. Cover the fillets with the spices and rub it in (both sides).

Place fish on broiler pan, then broil about 4 inches from heat for about 5 minutes on each side, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

*If you decide to drop this onto the grill instead, which is delicious, don't bother with the liquid smoke.

28 August 2015

Minty Fresh Peas

I was making this side back in May when I had my first crop of fresh peas in the garden.  Now that it's August, the next round is starting to appear and I'm almost ready to pretend those first tender days of summer vacation are upon us. You can do this with frozen peas that have been thawed, too, or you might be able to find some fresh locals at your area farmer's market.

This is a very simple, light side or snack, which goes well with some glasses of dry Riesling and grilled tofu or salmon.  If you wanted it to be the main event, you could easily toss it with some fresh cooked jasmine rice (in which case I would amp up the amount and variety of herbs) and top with some slivered almonds.

Minty Fresh Peas

Serves 4 as a side

2 lbs. fresh peas (already removed from pods)
2 radishes, quartered and thinly sliced
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a small frying pan, heat about a teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the radishes along with a sprinkle of salt and sauté, stirring constantly, until radishes become tender and the red outer edge turns more pink.  Toss in the peas and continue stirring, just until barely heated.

Remove pan from heat and add the juice and lemon zest, chopped herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.  Drizzle with a little extra olive oil if desired and serve.

25 August 2015

Ways with Chimichurri Sauce, or how to use all that parsley your neighbor gave you

Chimichurri sauce is delicious!  When you get sick of pesto (really, at some point you will), try this Argentian cousin, which is not only herby and garlicky, but pleasingly citric and spicy, as well. My favorite recipe is below, but I encourage you to experiment with different herb combinations and sour components (swapping the vinegar for lime juice, for instance, is also really nice).

This sauce is traditionally applied to steak in Argentina, but it's so good, you'll want to put it on and in everything.  Some of my favorite uses are below.

Basic Chimichurri Sauce

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
3 garlic cloves
1/4 cup oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate for up to three weeks in an airtight container, or pour into an ice cube tray and freeze individual portions as flavor bombs for soups and pasta.  

Uses for Chimichurri Sauce

  • Spread over grilled steak, chicken, or white fish
  • Mix with mayo (or not) as a sandwich spread
  • Toss with pasta and fresh steamed vegetables
  • Mix generously into hamburger or salmon patties
  • Saute with vegetables and beans and serve over rice
  • Add a bit to scrambled eggs
  • Stir into red sauce for pasta
  • Spread on a bagel with cream cheese and top with thinly sliced onion and tomato
  • Add to soups
  • Stir into mashed potatoes
  • Use as a taco sauce
  • Toss with black beans for a side dish
  • Stir into plain Greek style yogurt as a dip for crackers
  • Use as a pizza sauce and top with tomatoes and cheese

21 August 2015

Thoughts on travelling with ease

My view of D.C. at NFA.

I went to D.C. over the weekend, but I barely got to see any of the city at all. Don't worry, you don't need my advice on what to see--just Google it.  We're so super proud of our Abe Lincoln statues here in America. And I hear the zoo is good, but zoos make me sad. 

I was attending the National Flute Association's annual convention, which involves long days of sitting in over-air conditioned hotels with crappy acoustics and rashly paying too much for coffee in the lobby when you run into friends between concerts. The only tour of the city I got was on the Metro between my (much cheaper) hotel and the Rockefeller-style hotel hosting the convention, and the best meal I ate was at a long lost friend's apartment the night before I caught my flight home.

While I always try to carve out a little "tourist" time when travelling for work (like I managed to do recently before my concert in L.A.), sometimes it doesn't work out that way, and then the adventure comes in the form of the journey itself. And there is a sport to travelling, no matter how you plan to fill your time when you get there. So I thought I'd spend this blog post sharing the habits I always try to live by when preparing to travel. 

Pack your meals for the plane. You can see evidence of my sandwich-making, above. There are several reasons to pack your food like a cheap Midwesterner, among them include being able to eat when you want (even if the plane is still sitting on the tarmac), eating what you want (instead of pretending those honey-roasted peanuts are hitting the spot again), and of course, saving some money.  Those $14 sandwiches in the airport are never very tasty, which merely adds insult to injury.

  • Breakfast: a bagel with cream cheese and some thinly sliced fruit or veggies smacked together like a sandwich.
  • Lunch/dinner: a sandwich or wrap filled with hummus or guacamole and copious veggies, or spring rolls made with leftovers and drizzled inside with a little hoisin sauce + handful of nuts.

Pack snacks for when your sandwiches run out. It's going to happen, and you can't keep cream cheese cold for that long. In a pinch, nuts, dried fruits, granola-ish bars (I like Kind STRONG--the roasted jalapeno is amazing--and Larabars, personally), and some tea bags and instant coffee (I appreciate Starbucks most when all I have at my disposal is those Via pouches) will keep you caffeinated, proteinated, and full enough to make it to the next ramen shop.  You can easily make instant oatmeal with a coffee pot in your hotel room if there's no breakfast provided, so throw some of those in, too. Why pig out on a boring, huge breakfast when you could save room for an amazing chi-chi dinner later?

Make plans to use public transportation whenever possible. This is still not possible across most of the U.S., but if you are headed to a city with some kind of Metro system, Google it, map out your trips, and get comfortable with it before you head to the airport.  It's a cheap, environmentally friendly way to see a city, and it might be the most comprehensive tour you'll get.  Ride the bus through neighborhoods you'd never find out existed in travel guides; sail past the city and take in every building of the skyline on the train without ever having to look away to avoid hitting a car; study all the details about the people who live in the city, from neighborhood to neighborhood, like average age of the passengers, friendliness level, standard costumes, etc. You'll also contribute to ridership stats, which is how cities continue to receive funding to keep those amazing services going, and isn't figuring out a train timetable less stressful than navigating rush hour traffic in uncharted territory?

Utilize your smart phone. Your phone is your GPS, your directory, your television, and so much more when you're on the road. Make sure you've got as many charging options as possible--car charger if you're driving, wall charger, and solar charger or external battery pack for times when you are nowhere near an outlet. Bookmark sites pertaining to the place you'll be visiting on your browser, like a city's official visitor information or restaurants you know you want to visit. There are also great apps that I regularly use when I'm away from home; my top picks are:

  • Southwest/United/whatever airline you are flying.  So much easier to check in and get updated info about your flight. 
  • Hotels.com / Air Bnb / whatever you are using for housing. 
  • Gas Buddy helps me search for the cheapest gas in the my area wherever I am, if I'm stuck driving. 
  • Yelp is my favorite review site for finding out about local restaurants.
  • Open Table allows you to make reservations, read menus, and read reviews from diners.  It's not as comprehensive as Yelp, but once you've found a place on Yelp that looks interesting, it's worth checking to see if you can make a reservation on Open Table, as you'll collect reward points that will eventually lead to a gift certificate. l
  • The Metro app for the city you're visiting will be perfect for getting to know the system quickly, and you can just remove it wen you're home. 
  • Google Wallet, which I'm just getting into, really is a handy way to avoid carrying cash or cards that can get stolen, dropped, etc.
  • Tourist Eye by Lonely Planet (I know, how very 90s of me) allows you to find out what's in the area and it somehow magically works offline. 
  • Google maps isn't even an app, is it?  I have to use this constantly, as I have no sense of direction. 
  • Kindle, because I like to read before bed.

PS--Here's a cute little news segment on the flute dorkfest (I say this lovingly) that brought me to D.C.