Fresh Fish

I love fish.  I do not know how that happened living in Kansas.  It is not like there are very many likely sources for wonderful fresh fish.  The Arkansas River is polluted and there are usually yearly warnings about not eating anything you catch in the river.  

There are stocked ponds with walleye and bass and catfish.  I can remember eating fried catfish with my grandmother, caught just a little while before out of a farm pond, until I almost burst!  I have an even earlier memory of fried smelt in Minnesota, but most other early memories revolve around canned tuna and salmon.  You remember:

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It could have been Bumble Bee or Starkist, but this was what we ate more times than not, if you don’t include fish sticks.  Salmon patties, or tuna noodle casserole, tuna salad for sandwiches or tuna pasta salad were staples.  I still enjoy eating them.

I have no idea where my love of fish came from.  In the middle of “beef” country, I could easily eat fish three or more times a week if I could afford it and had the time to prepare it.  A few years ago, a fresh fish market opened in Wichita.  One can buy fish at the local grocery store.  Some have quite large “fish” markets, but most of the fish is “previously frozen.”  They are finally not stocking as much farmed salmon, but it takes some dedication to find out whether or not it is farmed or where the fish comes from.

The Seafood Shop opened in 2008 and I was in their door the second day they were open.  When I host a special dinner they will special order fish for me.  Their case is filled with fish flown in fresh.  The exception would be the shrimp, although occasionally fresh shrimp is in the case.  You can ask and find out how sustainable, country of origin, whether or not it is factory farmed (not ever in my experience) and “smell” any of the fish to check for freshness.  They have several types of fresh oysters, usually P.E.I. mussels, plus some entrees they have prepared to take home and cook.

Truthfully, the cost per pound is higher, but in my experience the flavor in unmatched.  My schedule doesn’t permit me to cook more than two or three times a week, so cooking good fresh fish once a week is worth every penny.  Since the serving size for my husband and I tend to be 4-5 ounces, I can enjoy wonderful fish without much guilt.

Each time I go in with an open mind, then decide what is for dinner by what is in the case. I can make roast some Irish salmon with braised brussels sprouts and roasted sweet potatoes, purple potatoes and onions.

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Or in the summer I can grill some Coho Salmon and serve it over a large green salad.

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Or  grill some Ahi Tuna, shrimp, red pepper and red onion and serve over Asian Green beans.

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I particularly love the summer months when I can go to the Farmer’s Market or my garden and find fresh vegetables to go with the fresh fish.  The colors, the scent, the taste makes each meal seem like a feast.

I have become more committed to finding the freshest ingredients.  Supporting a business like the Seafood Shop helps small and local businesses, plus the added benefit of getting exactly what I want.  I wish I lived in a place that had a Farmer’s Market open all year, but when our Markets are open, I shop there as much as possible.  My shopping becomes as much about the relationships I form with the business owners as about the food.

Living intentionally, shopping intentionally, cooking intentionally and eating intentionally is a deeply spiritual and religious exercise.  For me it means paying attention: mind, body and spirit.  Cooking and feeding myself, my spouse and others connects me to them.  The relationship I share with business owners connects me to to them.  Paying attention to the money I spend, the places I spend it and on what I spend it speaks to the values I wish to hold and long to live out.

 

 

 

Grown-Up Comfort Food

My husband Andrew is not feeling well.  He had an awful cold a few weeks ago, recovered with a bit of a lingering cough and then …. guess what?  The nastiness has returned.  He has a horrible, nasty cough and just doesn’t feel well.

I want to cook.  It is what I do when I have an evening off, but what to cook when he doesn’t feel well?  He has never been a big macaroni and cheese fan, but when you substitute beautiful cheeses and add lobster, he is in for the taste test.

Late February is not a bad time to buy lobster, especially since Valentine’s day has passed and grocery stores don’t want them filling up their frozen seafood sections.  I am not saying it is “cheap”, just a bit more affordable than during other times.  Next time I make this, I think I will make a “seafood” mac and cheese and add shrimp and maybe some crab as well.  It was wonderful as it was, but it wasn’t “filled” with lobster, even I don’t have that kind of budget.

I bought two 4 ounce frozen lobster tails.  I thawed them and wrapped them in foil and baked them in the oven at 375 degrees (350 in the convection oven) for about 15 minutes.

They came out looking like this:

ImageJust pull the meat out of the shells, once it is cooled

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Rough chop and save to add to the mixture later.

Get a pot of water boiling, I was making enough for two and since my ramkins are small, I had enough for four.  I set aside 4 ounces of cavatappi pasta, you could use elbow or penne.

ImageI added it to about a quart of boiling salted water

ImageCooked for about 11 minutes until al dente and drain.

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I then grated 3 ounces of Gruyere cheese and 2 ounces of sharp white cheddar in my food processor.  Fast and easy:

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I set that aside and began the white sauce that would serve as the base.

First I chopped about 2 tablespoons of red onion in a small dice.  I would have used a shallot if I had one.  I didn’t, so I used red onion instead.  I also diced one garlic clove.

ImageI added that to a skillet with two tablespoons unsalted butter.

ImageI sauteed them at a very low heat until soft.

ImageI then added white wine, about 1/4 cup and cooked it down.  Then I added two tablespoons flour.

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It is important to get the “raw” flour taste out by cooking the flour/butter mixture until bubbly.  Once this is done I added 1 cup warmed milk.

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And whisked until not lumpy.  You may need to add more depending on how much milk the flour/butter mixture takes.  I ended up adding about 1/4 cup more.  Once the milk is incorporated I added the gruyere and cheddar cheeses.

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Once the cheese is melted, then the pasta and lobster is added, salt and pepper to taste.

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Finally I added freshly ground nutmeg.  I know that sounds odd, but it really does make the mac and cheese lovely.

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When I make it again, I will add hot smoked spanish paprika.  A little kick would have been lovely.  You could use cayenne or chipotle, but hot smoked spanish paprika has been my go to spice for a little kick for some time.  I don’t like a lot of heat, but this really is lovely.

I made some fresh bread crumbs.  I took off the crusts of some whole wheat sour dough I had, cut it in chunks and popped it in the food processor.  You can use any bread you want, you just don’t want to use already “baked” bread crumbs.  They will cook and crisp in the oven.  I added one quarter of a cup to 1/2 tablespoon of melted butter

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Stirred it up.  I used it to top the mac and cheese.

I then filled four individual ramekins:

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ImageTopped them with the bread crumbs

ImagePut them in a 375 oven (350 for convection) for 30 minutes.

ImageWhile they were baking, I put some home canned green beans on the stove, made a red wine vinaigrette ( 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, salt pepper) poured it over fresh green lettuce, red tomatoes and topped with Point Reyes blue cheese.

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I pulled the lobster mac and cheese out of the oven

ImageCreated a plate with the mac and cheese and green beans and it was dinner:

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I served this with a lovely “sushi wine”.  It was the perfect combination of crisp and clean with the thick and creamy and decadent Lobster mac and cheese.

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The meal was wonderful.  I grew up with Velveeta Macaroni and cheese.  I still love it.  I am not ashamed to admit it.  This is a grown up version.  The lobster was so sweet and the cheese combination was amazing.  Next time I will probably add some shrimp with it to extend the lobster a bit.  I canned the green beans this summer and the lettuce I have been growing on my front porch.

I find great joy in growing, preserving and cooking my own food.  The sense of balance I receive makes all the time and effort worth it.  When I open a “can” I can smell the summer and remember the picking, the snapping and the heat of pressure cooker.  When I wander to the front porch and cut lettuce leaves with 13+ inches of snow on the ground I am amazed at how happy all that green makes me.  I don’t always have enough for a salad, but when I do, it is fresh and fabulous.

My husband loved the macaroni and cheese.  He ate every bit and since I had planned on two servings, but ended up with four, we have planned leftovers for tomorrow or Sunday.  Another salad, maybe some roasted vegetables and dinner will be served again.

We eat to live, but also eating is a foretaste of a “banquet” where all will be loved, accepted, fed and satisfied.  Each time I cook and can offer comfort and compassion I feel like I have been part of a sacred moment. In the gospels Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered,” and “eat and drink in remembrance of me.”  In the midst of the season of Lent, I am grateful to remember and to give thanks.

Snow Ice Cream

When my children were small, they longed for snow days.  When the snow came, they always wanted to make snow ice cream.  Now conditions in Kansas were not always the right kind of conditions for making snow ice cream.  There needs to be a LOT of snow and the fluffy kind.  Every two or three years, the conditions would be perfect for snow ice cream.  Conditions that look like this:

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Piles and heaps of nice snow, deep enough you don’t have to worry about dirt or anything. At this point pristine, at least as pristine snow can be in 2013.
Back to the children, we would get a big bowl and set it outside so the snow could “fall” into it. Usually we were too impatient, so we also lightly scrapped “top” snow up into the bowl. You need about 8 to 12 cups.
Some of you might remember these cookbooks, I have had them since 1979, a gift. They held recipes and helpful hits from bygone times….

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Volume 2 has the snow ice cream recipe as you can see from the hand written note on the front. Here is the recipe:

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Hoping I have not broken any copyright laws, this is a terrible recipe! I never used eggs and it has way too much sugar. Instead we used about 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and probably 1/2 cup to 1 cup of milk. Truly it was a “process”. The ice cream, however was wonderful. After playing outside (and some of us shoveling snow) it was such a treat with a cup of hot chocolate and made all the sweeter because it just couldn’t be made very often. The snow that has fallen across Kansas created that kind of snow over the last two days. There have been several folks that have posted snow ice cream recipes including one that used 1 teaspoon of vanilla and a can of sweetened condensed milk. Regardless of the recipe, snow ice cream is truly a fun food item that is just not available very often, at least in Kansas. Some of my favorite memories revolve around food. Making cookies with my children, or with my grandchildren, holiday meals, special moments highlighted by something that tastes fantastic or tastes like home. Snow ice cream is one of those foods for me, as well as one of the memories I hold close. Getting cold and wet, making snowmen and snow angels, throwing snow balls and then coming in and having the ice cream. The milky sweetness of the snow ice cream is the taste of innocence, joy and childhood. It comes with the sound of long ago laughter. As I watch the snow fly again, in what appears to be one of the five biggest storms Wichita’s recorded history, I am grateful for those memories, those tastes, those sounds and the remembered joy. One taste not only takes me back, but makes me smile in this moment and grateful for the time this snow storm has slowed down my life for a few hours. I can taste the sweetness of grace and see the goodness of God in the midst of snow.

Centering and Cooking

I often find my center in cooking.  The french word “chez” means “at the home of” or “with or among.”  “Chez Cindy” is what I often use when I have a gourmet meal in my home and I title the menu that way.

For me, cooking means being at home or with friends or family.   I love how when I step into the kitchen, I feel the chaos of my life fall away and a calm and centeredness fill me.  Chopping, mixing, sautéing, grilling, baking all help me focus on what is in front of me and not get lost in all the craziness of my life.

Often my “job” my “ministry” does not result in results that are easily measured.  Cooking, however, immediately connects me with the food I prepare and with the people who eat it.  If I have paid attention, what I create provides satisfaction for both body and soul

My hope for this space is to connect body and soul, spirit and mind.  I have come to believe that food feeds me spiritually, physically and mentally.  I am not a chef, but I am one who truly enjoys the interplay of food, faith and fun.  I hope and pray that this space will invite you to do the same.