Fish Tacos

Good morning! First a few bits of housekeeping. I hope everyone likes the new design! After more than 80 posts and 15 months of writing, I was getting terribly tired of my look, so consider this cutting my curls and getting a new hairdo!

Secondly, I received a question last week about fiddleheads and what they look like. Here is a picture of the fiddleheads I used in the soup. Fiddleheads are “baby ferns”; when a fern grow, they start out as these small cylinders and slowly unfurl into the beautiful feathery leaves you find in the woods.

So, now down to business. Fish tacos. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I have a tendency on work nights to be on the slow side of making dinner. I work in the garden, take a walk, or mow the lawn, so I don’t start making dinner until after 7 p.m. So I really need something quick to fix. I decided to make fish tacos one night and this virtually came together in 15 minutes. So fast, in fact, that I was asked, “Dinner’s ready? Now?!” And it’s hardly a recipe; just cook some fish in a skillet with some spices, place on top of a warmed corn tortilla with some vegetables, squirt some lime juice, and dinner is served!

Fish Tacos

  • 1 pound white fish
  • 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
  • A dash or two to taste, cumin, coriander, and cayenne (or a mixture of all three)
  • Corn tortillas
  • Lettuce
  • Corn (fresh or if frozen, thawed)
  • Chopped scallions
  • Chopped avocado
  • Fresh lime juice

1. Chop or slice the fish into pieces, about one inch in width. In a medium-sized skillet, add a little bit of olive oil to grease the pan so the fish doesn’t stick. When warm, add the fish and stir. Add what spices you’d like to use. I liked the flavorings of all three: cumin, coriander, and just a pinch of cayenne for heat, but you can use whatever spices you prefer. The fish is done when it is flaky.

2. Meanwhile, warm the corn tortillas in the oven at low heat on a cookie sheet. When warmed, add a little bit of lettuce and corn. Add the fish, and top with scallions, avocado, and squirt with fresh lime juice.

Cream of Fiddlehead and Asparagus Soup

I mentioned last week that springtime to me means rhubarb. But there is something else that also means springtime, fiddlehead ferns! These little curly ques of green have a certain flavor I find similar to asparagus. The season is quite short, so I try to take advantage of them as soon as I see them.

Now, there are some fiddleheads that are OK to eat, others are poisonous, so I never take chances foraging in the back field or in the hills and just buy them at the coop. Since I had both fiddleheads and asparagus in the vegetable bin, I thought the flavors would meld well together and decided to make a combo soup one night for dinner.

I first minced a small shallot with a couple cloves of garlic and put it in a Dutch oven with a couple teaspoons of warmed olive oil. I was too busy prepping the vegetables to notice it burned a little, leading me to remember two tips I’ll pass on to you. First off, try to have most things prepped before you start cooking, but if you don’t and you’re sauteing garlic and/or onions and not ready for that next step, add a little bit of water to the pot to slow down the cooking process. You’re not hindering anything aside from allowing the alliums to cook slower.

I added the fiddleheads and asparagus, tossed them with the shallots and garlic, and added some leftover chicken broth and water. A splash or two of white wine and I set it on its way to boil. I simmered the soup for about 15 minutes until the veggies were really soft.

I find both asparagus and fiddleheads quite “woody,” and despite several pulses in the blender, it never became completely smooth. Adding a bit more liquid would help this, but then, I like soup with a little bit of oomph and not completely pureed. Also, on some evenings, I’m impatient. Back to the pot went the soup. I had some half and half that was nearing its expiration date, so I added that, about a quarter cup. I live with someone whose least favorite herb is dill, and it’s one of my favorites, but tasting this it was just crying out for some dill and lemon. I added a half-teaspoon of dill weed, but if I were to cook this for myself, I’d add a full teaspoon. A few squirts of fresh lemon and some salt and pepper and it was ready to eat!

This recipe is fairly simple and easy variations can make it palatable to lactose and vegetarians. For dairy-free, leave out the cream; for vegetarians, vegetable broth or water can be substituted. If you don’t cook with alcohol, you can always leave out the wine, too.

Cream of Fiddlehead and Asparagus Soup
Makes 4 servings, for a light lunch or dinner

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced (or about 2-3 Tablespoons minced red onion)
1 ¼ cups fiddleheads, ends trimmed
2 cups asparagus, trimmed and coarsely chopped
2 1/2-3 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
A couple splashes of white wine (optional)
1/4 cup cream or milk (optional)
½-1 teaspoon dried dill weed
A couple squirts of fresh lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven, add the garlic and shallots to olive oil warmed over medium heat. Saute for a couple of minutes until soft. Add the fiddleheads and asparagus and stir, combining all the ingredients. Add the liquid and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and let the vegetable simmer until very soft. When the vegetables are soft, in batches, puree the vegetables together in a blender or food processor. (*Have patience, it takes a while for these vegetables to be completely pureed.) When the soup is smooth, add back to the pot and add the cream, if using, dill weed, lemon, and salt and pepper to taste.

Greens, Eggs, and Ham

With the warmer and longer days, I’m finding myself gravitating toward lighter dinners. With the shedding of sweaters, long sleeves, and long pants, one might discover a little bit of weight added during the cold, winter months. Or at least I always do. Taking a walk or working in the garden after work, I’m finding dinners of late need to be easy to prepare, yet light, so it won’t add to the ever-expanding mid-section.

I came up with this recipe one night when it was dinner for one, although this can easily be a dinner for two. I don’t know if you could even call it a recipe; it’s a salad with eggs and ham, or in my case, bacon. A toss of a little homemade vinaigrette, and dinner is ready. Veggies and protein in one bowl!

Normally when I buy bacon, unless it’s purchased for a recipe, I will divide into two slices, wrap it in plastic wrap, and stick it in a bag and pop it in the freezer. That way, I have just two slices for recipes like this. Two slices of bacon thaws quickly, so while it’s still a little frozen, I chop it into dice-sized pieces to fry up. I always find if I chop a beloved food smaller, a little bit can go a long way flavor-wise. (Note, if you don’t eat meat, you can easily make this vegetarian by substituting beans for the bacon. Garbanzo or any sort of white bean would be tasty.)

My go-to vinaigrette isn’t really a recipe, I just make it. In a bowl, add some extra virgin olive oil. Add a couple of dashes of vinegar (my favorite is sherry vinegar, but a white or red wine would go really good with this, too). Whisk. Add some salt and pepper. One garlic clove, either minced or through the garlic press. And a dash of Dijon mustard. Whisk and taste to make sure all the flavors blend. Sometimes I’ll add a dash of white wine if I’m feeling like it.

So in a salad bowl, add any sort of green you like. That night I had green leaf lettuce, but a mesclun mix would be great, too. Take one hard-boiled egg and slice in half, length-wise. Add a few sprinkles of bacon. I like to add my dressing once the salad is made, but of course, you can always dress the greens before you add the egg and bacon. Either way, with a small glass of white wine or water, it was a satisfying meal that won’t add (too much) to the waistline!

* * * * *

Also with the burgeoning spring, comes the call for rhubarb. I always buy extra to freeze, so I can have spring all year round! I’ve made cakes and pies, but my favorite way to fix it is by making a sauce. It’s really quick and very simple, no recipe required!

Cut up whatever amount of rhubarb you have into cube, about an inch long. Place in a saucepan with a little bit of water. You don’t want to cover it with water, eyeball it. Bring it to a boil, add more water if you need, and let it simmer. The rhubarb will break itself down, just stir on occasion. When it’s a thin sauce, add sugar. I’ve used honey in the past too, which lends a more complex flavor. I add the sugar by the tablespoon, stir, then taste. I like it sweet-tart, some people like it with more sugar. If you’re interested, you can add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, or orange zest. But I love it just in its unadorned glory, with just a little bit of sugar to offset its sourness. I made a big batch last week and have been enjoying a little bit for for lunch each day. It makes the rain outside seem not so bad!

Swiss Stash

I’m back! A well-rested two weeks, but no rest for the weary, I’ve been cooking  up lots of new recipes to share with you in the coming weeks!

You wouldn’t know it by the weather (it’s been cold and rainy here for what seems like, and actually has been, weeks), but spring has sprung despite the temperatures, with rhubarb, spinach, and other early vegetables showing their beautiful faces after a long winter. Even the farmer’s market has opened! This is a fantastic time to cook, everything is fresh and tastes like spring.

Last fall, I met a friend from Switzerland through an online social website devoted to book lovers. She was coming to Vermont to take part in a weekend book retreat that we also were attending. Being an uncharacteristic New Englander, I offered to pick her up at the airport and drive her down with us.

So after six months of writing back and forth, we finally met. Kats has become my new BFF, she Avis DeVoto to me, Julia Child (with the countries reversed, and apologies to Julia Child, who I am nothing like!). A few weeks before she was to depart, she asked me what I would like in the way of food from Switzerland. I told her what I would want she couldn’t possibly bring overseas: meat and cheese. She asked why couldn’t she? Of course she could bring some along! All I could think of was the old “I Love Lucy” episode where she brought back a big piece of cheese from Italy, wrapping it like a baby and carrying it on her lap. Kats didn’t do that, she just packed it in her suitcase! And like magic, she spent more than ten minutes emptying her ever-shrinking luggage passing me cheese (oh the cheese!), meat (oh the meat!), chocolate (oh, the chocolate!), cereal, bread, spices, olive tapenade, and more. It was my dream come true!

After I took this photo and put everything away, I realized I forgot to add the four-plus candy bars, too! But of course, they already had been opened!

So even though it was late April, I had been freezing with a cold and damp week in the low 50s. I was able to grab a little bit of time one night after work to mow the lawn for the first time this year, and as I traversed row by row, I wiled away the time with thoughts of my Swiss food and what I was going to make. (Any time I want something to go quickly, I’ll think of food, it makes the time go oh so much quicker!) With the weather we’d been having, I could only think of one thing: cheese fondue.

Now for me, cheese fondue brings back memories of the 1970s and my family huddled over our bright red fondue pot with meat and cheese on a Saturday night. I like both for different reasons; the meat was delicious pieces of beef, dipped into a thin sauce, and the cheese wrapped itself around a warm piece of French bread. Frankly, my idea of heaven!

I wasn’t at first sure how I should start this, I knew you just don’t throw cheese in a pan and warm, so I went to the French expert, Julia Child (FYI, I just heard that 2012 is the celebration of Julia’s 100th birthday! I MUST have a party for this!). Her version of cheese fondue is to make a roux with butter, flour, and cream and to add the cheese from there. I wasn’t sure about having such a rich roux plus cheese, so I made a small one, just a couple of teaspoons of butter with enough flour to make a paste, then added a little bit of milk to thin it. From here, I took my cheese, about three cups, one cup or so of Swiss, the other cup was Tête de Moine (literally translated, monk’s head! And I also was given the Girolle for my birthday!) The cheese has a deep, nutty flavor that I thought would mix well with the Swiss. From here, it was just a lot of stirring, adding milk (2%) when needed. A couple splashes of white wine, a clove of garlic crushed in a garlic press, and a few generous dashes of cayenne pepper and it was ready. I warmed a loaf of French bread and just sliced off a few pieces and placed a few spoonfuls of the fondue in a bowl to dip. You can substitute plain crackers too; as my family who ate the leftovers a few days later can attest, it is just as delicious. It’s a very rich meal, a little bit goes a long way, so a simple salad with a little bit of vinegar is a great addition.

So on that very chilly spring evening, my insides were warmed with the fondue and thoughts and appreciation for my new friend. Bon Appétit!