About this Blog

As I go into my second year blogging about cooking and eating locally, I am thinking more and more about my own heritage. Why is cooking and eating locally sourced food important to me? What values am I honoring by doing this and how were these values instilled in me.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Soup for a Snowy Day

Around 5:30 am on Tuesday morning,  I awoke to the sound of the telephone ringing.  It was a robo call from the public school announcing a snow day.  At first I rolled over and went back to sleep for another hour and then I got up and went down to our living room to watch the snow fall outside the window.

I love snow days...even though we've now had three in the space of 10 days.  Perhaps I feel this way because I no longer have to commute to work, but even back when I worked at a full-time job outside the home, I still appreciated the kind of full stop a good snow storm can provide.

As I sat enjoying the cascade of snowflakes falling outside the window, I thought about how I would now need to rearrange my plans for the day and the week.  Part of this was to decide what I would make for lunch and dinner since my son would be home and I would have additional kids to feed.  (I  provide back-up care for working mother's in my neighborhood.)  Fortunately, my freezer is still pretty well stocked with food I had preserved this summer and fall.  For lunch, I pulled out a sauce with meatballs and for dinner, squash soup.

The squash soup recipe I use and have adapted over the years comes from Dr. Andrew Weil and was published in an article in Body and Soul Magazine now Whole Living Magazine at least three or four years ago (unfortunately the issue date is not on the page of the magazine I tore out and keep in my three ring binder of magazine recipes).  This soup is one of my son's favorites.  I like the creamy texture of the soup which requires no dairy as well as the sweet, savory, spicy flavor that is so warming on a cold day. 

I have included the original recipe below though I confess that I no longer follow it.  I always use butternut squash as I find it is the easiest to peel and to get the most uniform chunks.  I tend to use whatever apples I have on hand.  This summer there were plenty of Macoun and Macs, so I believe one of these varieties is what ended up in the soup.  In addition to chili powder, I have added both dried basil and marjoram to batches I have made.  From time to time, I have added ground cumin seed which I think balances the sharp heat of chili powder with a more subtle, smokey warmth.  I also generally add cinnamon, another warming spice, that compliments the sweetness of the apples and squash. 

This year I was very fortunate to be able to make this soup using only ingredients (other than the cumin and cinnamon) which I received from our CSA.  By the time we were getting squash in our weekly share, I was making batches of vegetable broth in an effort not to waste the abundance of veggies we were receiving and unable to consume quickly enough.  Instead of chili powder, I roasted fresh chili peppers along with the squash, onions, garlic and apples.  I also included heirloom basil...the kind we received was a purplish color rather than the typical green. 

Roasted Winter Squash and Apple Soup

1 large winter squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), such as butternut, buttercup, or kabocha, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tart, firm apples (such as Macoun or Granny Smith), peeled quartered and cored
2 tablespoons olive oil
Course salt
Mild to medium chili powder
3 1/2 to 4 cups vegetable broth

Preheat over to 400 degrees F.
In a large roasting pan, combine the squash, onions, garlic, apples, and oil; toss to coat.  Generously season with salt and chili powder.  Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until the vegetables are fork-tender and lightly browned, about 45 minutes.
In a food processor, combine half the vegetables and half the broth; puree until smooth, and transfer to a medium saucepan.  Repeat with the remaining vegetables and broth.  Heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if soup is too thick, until heated through.  Season with salt and additional chili powder, if necessary.  Serve immediately.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Okay, so even I can get grossed out

So, the picture to the left is what I was faced with on Thursday evening...well, we didn't really come face-to-face, I only had the tail.  Our weekly CSF share from Cape Ann Fresh Catch was Monk fish and we received a hefty tail. 

When I opened the bag to rinse off the fish, what I found was a speckled brown, headless fish with slimy skin hanging over a large hole where the head and internal organs used to be. A white spine bone, about a quarter inch in diameter, ran the length of the tail.

The recipe we received was for Monk fish Piccata which called for 1/2 inch monk fish tail medallions.  Now my mistake was that I didn't research monk fish when I discovered I was going to have to cook it.  This is one of the challenges of finding out the morning of what you'll be picking up later that afternoon.  I try to cook the fish within a day of pick-up, so that means Thursday night is fish night at our house...whether I am ready or not...and I was definitely not ready.

So, as I laid the fish tail out on the cutting board and tried to wrestle off the skin and the slimy, gelatinous membrane between the meat and the skin, I found myself wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into and whether I should just toss the whole disgusting thing right into the garbage and call for take-out.  I don't like to waste food, so I powered through.  After I got through cutting away the skin and the membrane, the flesh that was left reminded me a little of the consistency of swordfish and was about the same color and texture.

I prepared the monk fish according to the recipe and popped it in the oven.  I served it with a pilaf of pearled barley, butternut squash and kale.  Let's just say it was not my finest meal.  I overcooked the pilaf while I was fussing with the fish, so the pilaf reminded me of the gelatinous membrane I had just removed from the fish.  The squash was too mushy instead of tender and the kale had lost it's bright green color.  The fish came out of the oven tender, firm and flaky.  My medallions were probably a little larger than the 1/2 inch called for in the recipe so it took a little longer to cook.  Needless-to-say, we ate very late for a week night and I was disappointed to bring a less than satisfying meal to the table at such a late hour.  PJ took one look at the whole thing and refused to eat.  I didn't argue asking him to take three bites of pilaf and then I made him peanut butter crackers.  Peter ate two helpings of the Monk fish Piccata and commented how it reminded him a little of salmon.   I wasn't sure how I felt about the fish after my experience preparing it.  One of the difficulties I had trying to figure out whether I liked the flavor of the fish was that it was covered with breadcrumbs and Romano cheese.  The consistency of the fish held up well as medallions, but I think I would have enjoyed the fish more if it were not so heavily dressed.

Since I am committed to sticking with our CSF, I decided I'd better come to terms with monk fish as I am sure this will not be the last time I find its tail in my bag.  So, I did a little research.   

The monk fish is a bottom dweller found in Western Atlantic waters and is known by other names such as goose fish, angler, all mouth or frog fish.  Based on the photos I ran across in my Internet search, the monk fish appears to be mostly mouth and tail.  It is not attractive at all, though as I was rinsing the fish off, I thought that the tail and fins must look beautiful in the water as they were long and, other than the spines, soft and feathery.  According to Zeuscat.com,"The only edible portions of the monk fish are its muscular tail and its liver. The tail meat of the monk fish is delicious: dense, sweet, and very similar to lobster tail meat in both flavor and texture. Like many fish, monk fish is an excellent low-fat, low-cholesterol source of protein and B vitamins."

After reading that the tail meat is similar to lobster, I decided that the next time I would try a simpler preparation so that I could decide for myself...maybe a butter wine sauce with fresh herbs.  Through my research, I discovered that Monk fish can be braised, fried, steamed, broiled or grilled.  Whole tails should be braised or poached.  One blogger for the New York Times advised that to avoid having the monk fish meat become tough it needs to be kept moist when preparing. The blogger suggested a recipe to sear the tail meat and then finish the preparation in a sauce.  Jamie Oliver has a lovely recipe for monk fish in a black olive sauce with lemon mashed potatoes that I may try the next time. 

Besides how to cook the fish, I also wanted to find out if there was an easier way to remove the skin and membrane from the meat.  EHow had great instructions for removing the skin, deboning and removing the membrane.  Basically, it is pretty simple and straightforward if you have a good sharp knife. 

So, the next time I find a monk fish tail in my bag, I will be better prepared both to cook it and savor it.