Moqueca, or a Tasty Brazilian Fish Stew

October 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

This year was supposed to be the Year of Ellen Baking, right? Or was it the Year of Ellen Reading? I was supposed to run three moquecahalf-marathons this year, read 12 books, and start the engine on something Big and Awesome. It’s turned out to be more of the Year of Ellen Waffling, and I don’t mean those maple-dripped golden squares on your brunch plate. It’s not been an all-that-great year, and I want it to be over with. I’ve petitioned the International Calendarological Society to just end 2011 here and now, and to get a move on with 2012. Apparently only Popes and Julius Caesar can do that. Officially. You can imagine my regard for “official.”

I’m declaring an end to 2011 as of Oct. 31—which conveniently makes Halloween the equivalent of New Year’s Eve. November 1st will begin a 61-day period known as Daintydays. It’s a time when Dainty and anyone who may have a thread of Daintyness in her/himself says “I’ve had enough of this, and I’m just gonna do ______” (with the blank being nothing that harms others, of course; that’s not very Dainty). Two months. Two months to do what you think you couldn’t by the end of the year. Think on it—we start tomorrow.

What does this have to do with moqueca? Absolutely nothing. Unless “Making the freakin’ best fish stew ever” is that thing you want to do by the end of the year. I first had moqueca at Edwige at Night in Provincetown in 2010. When I heard they were closing for good at the end of the Summer 2011 season, I rushed over for one last order. Last week, we made our own moqueca with a little help from Emeril Lagasse. While it’s no Edwige, it’s still damn good.

Moqueca (Brazilian fish stew)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds  white-fleshed fish cut into 1-2 in. pieces —we used a combo of bluefish (from our Cape Ann Fresh Catch share) and some shrimp
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups roughly chopped tomatoes – we used a 25 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes and gave them a rough chop
  • 1/2 cup fish stock or water
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • up to 1/4 cup hot sauce – recipe calls for Piri Piri, which is a blender hot sauce, but we dumbed it down a bit
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Steamed white rice, as an accompaniment

-Put the fish in a glass mixing bowl with the lime juice. Set aside for 20 minutes and prep the remaining ingredients.
-Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Believe me, you’ll need a larger pan than you expected. Heat up the oil, and saute the onions until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic saute for about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, fish stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine everything.
-Turn up heat a tad and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, add the limed fish, the hot sauce (try half the amount first then add more after afterward) and the coconut milk. Stir it up again and let it heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low and until the flesh starts to flake, about 10 minutes. IF you are using shrimp, add the shrimp separately from the fish, about 5 minutes through that cooking period.
-Remove the cover and sprinkle the cilantro over the fish. Season with the remaining salt and hot sauce, if you so choose.
-Serve with the rice. A nice basmati rice is perfect. Make LOTS of it, you’ll need it.

mocquea - brazilian fish stew

Ahhh ... leftovers.

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Homegrown Food Challenge—Day 4

October 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Day 4 … halfway through our week of eating and drinking stuff as homegrown and as local as possible. How’s it going? Great. In fact, we might have too much food. Well, we’ll make it to the end, definitely.

Okay, I had promised some scintillating breakfasts. Not happening on Day 4. The morning meal, to me, is utilitarian. I know, that’s the wrong way to think about it. You’re supposed to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper. Or something like that. I honestly don’t have the stomach for breakfast until, say, 9 am.

Day 4 was a whole two days ago. Let’s see if I can remember what we had.

Breakfast:
Flat Black coffee. Maine’s Own Organic Milk. And honestly, I may have had an apple. I know it wasn’t much. I was kinda busy and on a role with things, work-wise. Sometimes that happens. Kids, eat your breakfast and don’t be like Auntie Dainty.

Lunch:
Lunch … I have to say what I made for lunch was the best thing ever constructed out of two pieces of bread. Seriously. Some cookbook-writing chef is going to see my delicious creation and will put it front and center in his/her lunch options.

Grilled eggplant paninni with tomato and smoky mayo

It’s a grilled eggplant and tomato paninni with smoky mayo. Recall the smoky mayo originally topped the broiled bluefish on Day 2. Imagine that spread not-too-thinly on two slices of homemade sourdoughish bread. And remember the eggplant on the grilled pizza from Day 3? Lay a couple of those grilled eggplant slices down on top. Add some sliced tomato, top with another mayo-slathered slice of bread. Put a bit of olive oil in a hot cast iron pan. Lay down the sammies. And add some wait to make them “pressed sandwiches.” In this case, I used a very heavy Dutch oven. Grill both sides to a nice crispness. Smoky mayo+grilled eggplant=the world’s perfect pairing. I wanted to share it with everyone and no one all at once.

Dinner:
We still had two bluefish fillets in the fridge from our Cape Ann Fresh Catch share on Tuesday. We did another round of Broiled Bluefish with Smoky Mayo since it was so good on Day 2. And we had a small side salad. See those beans on top? Vermont Cranberry Beans – the best homegrown beans. Ever.

 

Broiled bluefish with smoky mayo and a salad

That was it for Day 4. We won’t tell you if we finish the remaining Topsfield Fair-made kettle corn. We’ll let you think on that.

 

 

De Kas Restaurant: A Hot Table in Amsterdam

May 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

More than a week after lunching at De Kas Restaurant in Amsterdam, I’m still dreaming of the meal. It’s one of the hottest tables in Amsterdam, and no wonder, given its fresh, bright flavors, dedication to locally grown foods and airy environment. And I mean airy environment: The restaurant is under glass in a state-of-the-art greenhouse.

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas is certainly in unique surroundings. The history of the property goes something like this: Back in the 1920s, the parcel of land was home to Amsterdam’s municipal nurseries. All of the plants and flowers used for Amsterdam’s municipal plantings were grown on these grounds and in greenhouses. Over the decades, the nurseries were shut down and the buildings and greenhouses became dilapidated—such a shame! About 10 years ago the greenhouses were scheduled for demolition, but a Michelin-rated chef, Gert Jan Hageman, came up with the idea of converting one of the greenhouses into a restaurant and growing area. The dining room was designed by renowned designer Piet Boon and is lovely. The kitchen is open, and there’s even a chef’s table, where guests can enjoy their meal just steps from the hot grill (honestly, not something on the top of my list to do). And the bar area, while open and visible, is tucked away and is just shady enough for any self-respecting bar fly.

The Piet Boon-designed dining room, with the just-shady-enough bar in the background.

As I mentioned, they believe in fresh, local food. And it can’t get more local than the greenhouse adjacent to the kitchen and the gardens that surround the restaurant. The team also has a farm that produced a great deal of their produce. What they don’t grow and raise themselves is sourced from nearby farms and the North Sea.

The veggie gardens outside De Kas.

The growing area inside De Kas's greenhouse, adjacent to the kitchen.

Enough about that, let’s move on to the food. The three-course menu is fixed; i.e. you are served what they are preparing that day (they do ask if the chef should take into account for any dietary restrictions). And they do offer a wine pairing, which I eagerly agreed to. Can’t recall the first wine, but the second was an unoaked chardonnay from Spain. Tasty!

The meal was fabulous, that’s a given. And beautiful – not something every restaurant gets right. Instead of attempting to describe the meal, I’ll just leave you to enjoy the photos.

First of two first-course salads: Roasted beets and steamed rhubarb over baby beet (?) greens with a pea puree and nasturium flowers.

Second of two first-course salads: White asparagus, turnip and a boiled quail's egg over young lettuce greens with a sauce of some kind (sorry, whatever it was, it was delicious) and sweetpea blossoms.

Second course: Lobster with a bechamel sauce topped with a light frisee salad.

Third course: Pollack over roasted eggplant and cauliflower with a North Sea-shrimp and caper brown butter sauce. (Oh man, was this good.)

First dessert: Pistachio meringue with salt-touched white chocolate ice cream and pansy petals.

Second dessert: Platter of three cheeses with fruit and nut brown bread and a dot of apple-pear stroop (syrup) to the right and a candied cherry (?). Translation of cheese on right is "cheese that sticks to your knife."

While  the municipal nurseries are long gone, the remainder of the property has retained its “municipalness”—it’s now a public park enjoyed by people and wildlife alike.

Children's play area below, and a stork nest with baby on top of the smoke stack.

Fish Tacos Fast and Easy

February 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

Without a doubt, the best fish tacos in Boston can be found at La Verdad on Landsdowne. I am right, people. If you beg to differ, please speak up. But I’ve had my share of fish tacos from coast to coast (actually, only on the coasts), and Ken Oringer’s are tops.

Now, I’d love to head on down to La Verdad every single day and have a plateful of those delicacies, but that’s not possible. And we’re still trying to nail down ingredients and technique to replicate those at home. Meanwhile, to satisfy the fish taco craving, we’ve taken a turn at a Boston Globe fish taco recipe. It’s tasty and pretty darn easy.

Slaw

fish taco

Fish taco with red cabbage and carrot slaw and spicy cream

  • 1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 small lime, juiced
  • handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
  • salt/pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Let it sit for about an hour.

Spicy Cream

  • 1/4-1/3 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
  • zest and juice from half a lime
  • hot sauce of your choice

Whisk together yogurt, zest and juice. If it’s too thin/watery, add a touch more yogurt. Add in a few dashes of hot sauce to taste.

Fish

  • 1+ lb. firm white fish. We use tilapia for our fish tacos. We’ve used cod and that’s fine, too. Tilapia is less expensive. So sue me.
  • evoo/salt/pepper

Cut fish into 1/2-in. pieces and place into a small bowl. Add a swig of evoo – about 1 TBS – and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss. If you want to add another level of flavor, go ahead. The original Boston Globe recipe suggests about 1 tsp of cumin. We tried that. It’s fine. Although it gives the fish an off-putting grey-brown color when prepared.

To cook the fish, we take about half of the fish, place it on the tray that comes with your toaster oven, and just broil it in the toaster oven for about 5 minutes. And that’s it – done!

To Assemble

Heat a whole-wheat fajita wrap (the 8-in. size) in a dry pan of medium heat. Fill with about a third of the broiled fish. Top with the cream sauce and slaw. The first batch of broiled fish will make about three tacos. For a dinner for two, have one each, share the other (no, there’s nothing gross about that), and have a side of something like caramelized onion and mushroom quinoa.

While you’re cleaning up the dinner dishes, pop the other half of the fish in the toaster oven for 5 min. It heats up well for a lunchtime fish taco the next day.

Somerville Winter Farmers Market

February 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

The Somerville Winter Farmers Market has been up and active since January 8th, and why haven’t we been before this weekend?? Maybe because we’re South Enders, and making it all the way over the river and through traffic can be rough-going. Or, maybe it’s been the weather. Or … maybe we just didn’t know what we were going to find. With “farmers markets” you just never know what you’re going to get—sometimes it’s not even food-related, you know? Screen-print shirts, artwork—come on, dude.

We’re happy to say we found lots of food-related stuff in the Armory Building, which is a great place to hold an event like this. Not too big that the vendors get lost. Just large enough to encourage a good traffic flow on the floor. And an upstairs space for overflow vendors and chillin’ and listening to the musicians (Rodriguez someoneorother? Good choice).

Considering the heavens have dumped loads of snow upon us all winter, and spring harvests just seem so far off, it was really refreshing to see farmers and their produce. One farm looks like they have a connection with an organic farm down in Florida—they were selling fresh greens and even squashes that were shipped up from there. Do I have a problem with that? Not really. One cannot live by turnips alone all winter.

The Winter Farmers Market is also way more than veggies. Our first purchases, in fact, were unpasteurized apple cider and maple syrup. And there were seafood vendors, pork/beef producers, wineries, cheese makers, bakeries, orchards and prepared foods chefs in the house, as well. Lots to choose from.

All in all, we were happy with the hour we spent shuttling from booth to booth.

Our bounty from the Somerville Winter Farmers Market

Our loot: scallops, two varieties of apples, maple syrup, unpasteurized apple cider, kale, baby spinach, Rainbow Lights Swiss chard, mussels, two kinds of soft cheese (burrata and fresh mozzarella) two kinds of semi-soft cheese (swiss and hardwick stone), and a watermelon radish. I told Jennifer there had to be at least one thing we purchased that we didn’t have experience with—that would be the watermelon radish. Spicy sweet with a gorgeous dark pink coloring inside (the “watermelon” part), we julienned it and put it on a spinach salad with apple slices and goat cheese with a shallot balsamic vinaigrette. That salad accompanied our mussels last night. Yum. Yum. Yum.

Spinach salad with apple, watermelon radish and goat cheese

Spinach salad with apple, watermelon radish and goat cheese

We’ve also already used the rainbow chard, which accompanied Saturday night’s sea bass and mango cous cous.

Sea bass with mango cous cous and rainbow chard

Sea bass with mango cous cous and rainbow chard

The scallops are our Valentine’s Day meal. Can’t wait for that.

The Goose and The Gallows

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

I grew up on a farm. A real, working farm—one where my parents and us kids poured everything we had into coaxing things to grow from the soil, and cared for our 4-legged and feathered creatures until they were fat enough to fill our chest freezers. On a farm like this, you were clucking back at a chicken one day, and basting it the next.

The big guys—the beef and pork animals—we kept penned up, either in the barn or in the field next to it. Chickens, too, were kept in the barn lest some malevolent creature pay them a visit. The ducks, however, were allowed to roam outside the barn and through our yard. Why? Not sure, really. They weren’t a flight risk—quite literally. They could fly up to the lower branches of a tree if their lives were in peril. But, as for wanting to leave the farm, that was just plain silly—they were quite happy where they were.

Also, the ducks were really more of an accident than a part of our farm’s business model. We happened to find them—a half-dozen little ducklings—trapped in some viney, brambly undergrowth one day near our grandmother’s bungalow. It was a bit of a mystery how they ended up there, especially so when they matured and it turned out they were Muscovy ducks and not some random water fowl. That’s right, we were eating Muscovy duck in the 1970s, long before it became the culinary king.

As will happen when genders mix, we found viable duck eggs, incubated them, and had a nice little gangs of Muscovys wandering our yard for many years.

Now, one summer my mother wished to add a goose to the duck gang. We had never had a goose before, not in the barn nor on our plates. Goose for Christmas, Mom said. A little gosling was added to the bunch.

My mother named her Willeeta. As in, “We’ll eat her.”

Despite the moniker, we never had a chance to eat Willeeta. The curious goose, who was full of personality and quite a delight to have roaming the yard, met her end not by means of an axe. One day we were repaving our driveway with asphalt, and little Willeeta decided to have herself a taste of the hot and gooey black stuff. Within minutes she was foaming at the bill and not long after she was gone.

We never did eat Willeeta. The irony. And, we never did raise another goose and never had goose on our table.

Fast forward 30-some years to last Friday night. Jennifer and I stop in at The Gallows, the fairly new restaurant in the South End. The menu is meat-heavy, and not eating red meat, we’ve not made it a priority to dine there. There’s a bit of a Middle Ages feel to the menu, with mead and boar and such on listings. Drinks with dark-sounding names. Apps called “boards” and served up on small cutting boards. Wenches behind the bar. Men in furs bringing out the meals. Okay, I jest, but you get the idea.

So, considering the story of Willeeta, you’ll understand that when the boards of the day were detailed to us, the goose board did have an appeal to me. Goose prepared three ways: pate, sliced cured breast, and something I didn’t quite catch the name of but it was a type of confit (but drier). Jennifer didn’t feel the same draw as I did to this goose board—having had a horrible experience with duck once, she stays away from fowl other than chicken. But, after relating the Willeeta story to our server, she gladly served up a small serving of the goose three ways. Pate: not for me. Sliced cured breast: very good. the confit-like dish: delicious. Would I have good again? Yes, but hold the pate.

Jennifer and I did share the Ploughman’s Board, which was fish three ways. Smoked salmon – awesome. Cured trout – awesome. And some sort of lobster and red pepper pate was the best of the bunch. Was it lobster or tuna? I don’t recall, but whatever it was, I’ll gladly order it again. The board was accompanied with (not enough) hearty sourdough, a nice robust mustard and something that tasted like the beginnings of tartar sauce but was way more mayo-ey than I think they intended. Stick with the mustard.

As I said, we only really stopped in to check out the atmosphere, grab a drink and quickly peruse the bar menu. We were pleasantly surprised at the non-red meat opportunities, both on the apps and the main entrees. Next time, we’ll do a bit more dining and let you know how it goes.

Trout with Rainbow Chard & Roasted Tomato-Caper Salsa Over Cous Cous

January 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

“One of the best meals you’ve ever made.”

Who doesn’t like to hear that from their partner? It was a seriously delicious meal, I agree. Did I have my doubts while I was cooking? There have been times when I’ve deviated from a recipe—as I did in this case—and it turned out terribly wrong. Terribly. Wrong. I dunno, maybe I have a new confidence in the kitchen. And, I gave myself plenty of time to cook. Rushing never ends with good results for me.

whole trout fillets

Cute lil' fishies

This meal was based on a recipe we saw once on a Food Network program hosted my Michael Chiarello, Lunchbag Swordfishwith Mediterranean Tomato Sauce and Linguini. Except sans swordfish and linguine. Morse Fish Market didn’t have swordfish, but they did have these cute lil’ whole filleted trout. Foodie’s had rainbow Swiss chard on special, especially ideal since eating your greens is a very healthy thing. And, last deviation, no one needs linguine when whole wheat Israeli cous cous makes such a nice side dish.Oh, wait – the last deviation: There was absolutely no lunchbags used in preparing this meal.

I did stick pretty close to the “tomato sauce” recipe, but prefer to call it a roasted salsa.

Recipe for Trout & Tomato-Caper Salsa

(the salsa roasts along with the trout!)

  • 3 cups plum tomatoes, cored and thinly wedged
  • 1 tbs chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup or less of minced red onion (my red onion was a bit strong, so I used less)
  • 2 tbs drained capers
  • 1/2 of a large red pepper, chopped (original recipe calls for 1/2 cup roasted red pepper – didn’t have time to roast!)
  • Juice of whole lemon (original calls for 2 tbs – oh well)
  • 4 tbs EVOO
  • 2 8+ oz. whole trout fillets
  • 1 lemon sliced thinly
  • 2 tbs parsley, finely chopped
  • kosher salt & pepper

-Set oven to 450-ish.

-Prepare and combine tomatoes, herbs, garlic, red onion, capers, red pepper, lemon juice and EVOO in a medium bowl. Add a couple turns of a pepper mill. Set aside for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

tomato-caper salsa

The tomato-caper salsa sits for about 30 minutes

-Remove fish heads and tail (and reserve for stock). Rinse fish and pat dry. Working with one fish at a time, season the inside of whole fish with salt and pepper (the two fillets just kinda flap open – easy to do!). While fish is still open, layer lemon slices (remove any seeds you see) and sprinkle with about 1 tbs of chopped parsley. Close up fish. Set aside. Prepare next fishy.

-After tomato-caper mixture has married for about a half hour, place it in the bottom of a rectangular glass baking dish. Salt and pepper fish where they are, then flip them upside down onto the salsa. Salt and pepper them again.

trout over tomato-caper salsa

Trout overtop tomato-caper salsa before it hits the hot box

-Place in the oven for about 16 minutes, checking occasionally after about 12 minutes.

While the salsa is sitting, you can get your ingredients ready for the chard and cous cous so everything is ready to go. Timing is always one of my biggest hurdles!

Recipe for Rainbow Chard and Israeli Cous Cous

For best timing, set liquid for cous cous to boil a couple minutes before putting fish in the oven. And start cooking chard while the fish cooks.

  • 1 1/4 cup (or less by just a tad) boiling water or chicken stock
  • 1 cup Israeli cous cous (it’s the larger-sized cous cous – more substantive, that’s why we like it)
  • 1 small swig EVOO
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch of rainbow Swiss chard, washed and patted dry, roughly chopped
  • a touch of chicken stock
  • salt and pepper

-Add cous cous to boiling water in a small pot. Cover. Let sit until the rest of the meal is complete.

-Add EVOO to a medium sauce pan and turn on heat to medium. Let that heat up a bit. Add garlic – it should sizzle a tad – and give it a good shake or two. Let that saute until fragrant – less than a minute.

-Add chard. Sprinkle in a dash of salt and pepper. Toss it around in the garlic and oil with tongs. It will wilt a bit right then. Add a glug of chicken stock so the chard has something to steam in. Cover. Let cook 5 minutes or until leaves are tender and stalks still have a tiny bit of crunch. If leaves are black-black, you’ve gone too far!

The whole meal came together pretty much at the same time. Yay!

Plating

This is where I learned two lessons. The chard was divided between the two plates, and the fish was placed on top. Next, each plate received a big scoop of cous cous, and that was topped with some of the roasted salsa from the baking dish.

Whole trout with rainbow chard and roasted tomato-caper salsa over cous cous

Whole trout with rainbow chard and roasted tomato-caper salsa over Israeli cous cous

Here’s where that might have been improved.

1) I couldn’t access my chard easily. Remember, the fish still had its skin and was filled with lemon. There was a lot of manual labor to be done on that fish, and placing the fish to the side of the chard would have been better. Had that fish been a skinless single fillet of something else, I think it would have been okay.

2) The roasted salsa was juicy – flavorful, but juicy. I’m not a big fan of juice running all over my plate. Use a slotted spoon!

Overall, a delicious meal. And today I have fish heads and tails in the freezer for a future batch of fish stock – even better.

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