Monday, May 28, 2012

Sea Robin Fish Cakes

Rick and Annalee went fishing for the first time this year. Rick's hand still hasn't completely healed since he smashed it last August, so fishing was out for a while, but he was ready to give it a try. It wasn't looking awfully nice in the morning, but after a downpour, it brightened up and was just gorgeous the rest of the day. So, around 5:00 pm, Rick and Annalee got their fishing poles out and trooped on down the street to the beach. I decided to tag along just to see if the fish were jumping. I was hoping if they were biting we'd have some nice fresh fish for dinner since I hadn't done much planning yet on what to eat. We live only 1,000 feet from the beach, and as we walked down we reminisced on all the times I dragged the girls down to the beach in the wee hours of the morning so they wouldn't wake Rick up, since they woke up with the crack of dawn and he was often working 100 hour weeks and needed his rest. Or how the priest at the local Catholic Church would walk the mile from the church down to the beach carrying a huge wooden cross, while parishioners followed along behind. He would give a short sunset service followed by refreshments (someone would drive down with containers of coffee and tea, and assorted goodies) while the kids would take an evening swim. We made a habit of being down there on sunset service evenings because it was such a wonderful experience, no matter your religious affiliation. I was sorry when that tradition ended. And, of course, we remembered all the "old timers" who would wander down each evening and sit on their overturned buckets, holding their poles, waiting for the fish to jump. We would always arrive to find everyone staked out at their favorite spot on the beach, or standing at the top of the stairs for a better view, joking back and forth, watching and waiting. Then you'd hear a shout, and the fish would be jumping, and everyone would start casting. When we first moved here 31 years ago, Rick and I weren't savvy about a lot of things. Mr. Mattson, our neighbor (whose father-in-law built our house in 1929 and from whom we bought the house) took us under his wing. He passed on a lot of his knowledge of fishing to Rick. Mrs. Paccione, our neighbor on the other side, would catch these tiny little fish then stick her fingers in the gills and rip the heads off, tossing the bodies into a bucket to bring home, batter, and fry up. The girls would pop them in their mouths like candy. She taught me how to make fish head soup, which didn't go over well (although it was pretty good), because we kept trying to find the eyeballs. Most all of those old timers are gone now and I miss seeing them all sitting on their buckets. Fishing at the beach is still a popular past time, but it lacks some of the color and camaraderie it had back then.

Annalee casts off
Anyway, we were in luck. We were barely there -- maybe 10 minutes -- when Annalee caught a good-sized sea robin. We used to throw sea robins back until someone told us that they were actually pretty good eatin', just ugly looking and a huge pain to clean. Shortly after, Annalee caught another. Rick kind of shrugged and said she could always out-fish him, but I think he really wanted to catch one, too. By then, though, I figured we'd be eating fish, so I took off for home to get dinner going. I made some German potato salad and a zucchini corn soup because Annalee had been craving that. Then I got the ingredients ready to make fish cakes. Since sea robins are hard to clean, the meat gets kind of shredded during the cleaning process, so we usually make fish cakes with them, although battered and fried nuggets are good, too.

I forgot to take a photo of the finished fish cakes, but I did take a few not very good photos of Rick and Annalee fishing. Oh, and Rick caught himself a fish, too.

Rick and Annalee fishing
Sea Robin Fish Cakes
• 1 lb. sea robin, picked free of bones, chopped
• 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
• 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
• 1/4 cup mayonnaise
• 1 egg
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 teaspoon spicy mustard
• 1 teaspoon lemon juice
• 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• flour for dusting

1. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, except for the flour. Shape into patties then dredge in the flour.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet. When oil is hot, carefully place fish cakes in pan and fry until browned. Carefully flip the fish cakes and fry on other side until golden brown.

We ate our fish cakes on toasted English muffins with everyone's personal combination of mayonnaise, horseradish, ketchup, and relish. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Backyard Foraging

The last month has been pretty eventful. Rick and I had two duo gigs; the band had three. We did lots of driving, too. Two weekends in a row we drove four hours down to the Philadelphia area and then home again in one day, getting in around 3:00 a.m. each time. The following week Rick and I drove almost as far, but up into Connecticut instead. All the shows were fantastic. Thankfully, we followed that with two local shows within a half hour of home. Besides performing, my "regular" job has basically come to an end. I was busy busy busy all month designing the last issue of the newspaper I do and I'm just finishing up some loose ends. I've been having a hard time coping with the loss of the job, so to keep me occupied Rick set me up in the copper jewelry business. I had gone outside one day and gotten in his way while he was doing his copper bowls -- and having loads of fun (working with the copper, not getting in his way) -- so he bought me wire, hammers, mini anvils, etc. He was super kind and thoughtful, knowing I was unhappy and worried and needed to keep busy. Anyway, I set my etsy shop up last weekend and sold four shawl pins so far. So, in a bit of shameless self promotion, you can check out my newest endeavor, which, to stay in keeping, I named Cacklin' Hen Designs.

Another noteworthy event this past month was the start of a local farmer's market, just up the street from us. Annalee was approached to participate to sell her handmade soap, so we all go up with her to sell all our handmade items -- Rick's copper bowls and spindles, Erica's crocheted and knit items and hand dyed yarn, and my woodburned boxes and copper jewelry. Annalee's soap is the runaway hit, but it's kind of fun to be up so early every Sunday and interact with the community as they come to shop. I can't wait for the participating farmers to have a bit more produce, though. It's a little too early to have much variety. Then I can shop for whatever we don't grow while I'm there and skip the grocery store.

Rick has our garden planted. We dragged his father (visiting from San Diego) out to the Pumpkin Patch last Friday to buy whatever plants Rick hadn't started indoors. He then spent Saturday planting the garden. It's awesome. I love this time of year when a newly planted garden holds such promise. (Thank you, Rick, for your hard work!) And while we're waiting, we forage on our property. We cook and make salads with dandelion and radish greens (and the radishes, too, of course), and we flavor dishes with the wild garlic growing all over the yard. My herbs are all flourishing, too.

So, I suppose, life is really good and I should quit whining. What more could anyone want than food made from ingredients foraged in your own yard? Rick sent me a link for Wild Garlic Soup by Georgia Pellegrini. She's got great photos of wild garlic and step-by-step instructions on how to prepare the soup. I made a few adjustments since I didn't have fennel or sherry. I also added onion and threw in some greens from our yard, which made it have a bit of an escarole taste. I left some of the vegetables and potatoes unblended so the soup was a bit chunky instead of totally smooth. Rick mashed the chunks in his bowl so the soup was smooth :the way it was meant to be," but I like soup to have something that needs some chewing action. Either way, it's really tasty.

This was my variation. For the original recipe, visit Georgia's site. I always change things around to suit what I have on hand.

Wild Garlic Soup

• 1/2 cup wild garlic, cleaned, green stalk snipped, outer layer peeled, and root removed
• 2 celery stalks, chopped
• 1 onion, chopped fine
• 2 cups potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks
• 1 cup (or more) foraged greens
• 4 cups vegetable stock
• 2 tablespoons + 1/4 cup olive oil
• 1 pinch cardamom
• 1 pinch cinnamon
• 1 pinch cayenne
• 1/4 cup white wine
• 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
• Salt and pepper to taste

1. Blanch the garlic for 3 minutes, then drain and set aside.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pot and saute the onion, celery, and garlic until soft and translucent. 
3. Add the potatoes and vegetable stock and simmer until potatoes are tender.
4. Transfer 2/3 of the vegetables to a blender and puree on high for 2-3 minutes. In the last 30 seconds, pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil into the blender in a thin steady stream. It will get all nice and creamy.
5. Pour the contents of the blender back into the pot. (Georgia recommends straining it here to remove the woody fibers from the garlic. I skipped this, and probably will again, but there were a few woody fibers in the soup. Oh, well.)
6. Add in the greens. Simmer to wilt. (Add greens earlier if they need more cooking -- but don't blend -- or cook separately and add in here.)
7. Add more water or vegetable stock, if necessary, if too thick.
8. Mix in the cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne, and white wine. Add salt and pepper to taste.