Fun times on Fish Fry-day

Lent has begun. Like many lapsed Catholics, I still generally keep track of the beginning of the Lenten season and its many holy days even though I no longer follow those traditions.

Still, this felt like as good a time as any to have a fish fry for those who do go without meat on Fridays during Lent. And anyway, I love fish and chips.

Fish fry ingredients.

I’ve generally avoided making it, though, as I’m bad at deep frying since I so rarely do it, and because I’ve not had good luck at finding a good batter. I’d like to tell you that my attempt this week went off without any hitches and I’ll now be doing Fish Fry-days every week, but dear readers, that was not the case.

The nadir was when I spilled hot oil on my shirt (but avoided burning myself badly!) and dropped a fish fillet on the floor. The peak was high, though. The beer batter was divine, my choice to use Alaskan pollock was a good one, and the fish fry was ultimately a delicious success.

Aside from being generally clumsy, I also, uh, tried to do too much, trying a baked fish recipe and a fried fish one on the same night, each with their own side. And doing all this mid-week after a couple of busy, hectic weeks.

But I’m not giving up.

After all, maybe it just was not my week to try new things (she writes as she just spent an hour and a half walking because she still doesn’t know her way around campus).

Fish Fry-day!!!

Here’s what I did, following a Serious Eats recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. cornstarch
  • 1 (12 oz) can beer (ale or lager, I used Hamm’s because I’m classy)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 to 1 ½ lbs. skinless white fish fillets (like cod, haddock, or pollock)
  • Pepper, to taste
  • About 6 c. canola oil for frying
  • Malt vinegar, for serving (optional)

Directions

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, beer, egg, and salt in in a medium bowl, and stir until there are no lumps. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 3 hours.

Begin to heat the oil in a large Dutch oven to bring temperature to 375 degrees over medium heat.

Pat the fish dry with paper towels and season with pepper, and any additional salt as desired.

Once the batter is ready, drop each fillet into the batter bowl. Once temperature of oil reaches 375 degrees, pick up a fillet with a pair of tongs and carefully place in the hot oil (the recipe recommends holding it in the oil for a few seconds but with my coated Dutch oven, nothing stuck if I didn’t hold it), and repeat with as many fillets will fit without overcrowding.

Cook for about 5 minutes until golden, turning as necessary and adjusting heat as necessary, and then use tongs to remove to paper towels to drain. Repeat the process with remaining fillets as necessary until all are cooked.

Serve with malt vinegar and chips, as desired, and enjoy!

Get full ahead of Fat Tuesday

Lent is coming. If you practice that sort of thing.

I don’t, but at this time of year, this relapsed Catholic still can’t help but think of the many holidays and sacrifices (that I’m not making) ahead. But mostly, I think of the Mardi Gras celebrations to come in New Orleans.

Then, I think of the the cajun food that I can enjoy.

Most years, when it’s still cold and miserable in Iowa, I make a hearty gumbo. But I wanted to try something different this year. So, I asked Mom for her popular jambalaya recipe.

Jambalaya ingredients

I can see why it’s so beloved amongst her friend group — it is literally full to the brim with meats and flavors. But like with the cassoulet I made earlier this year, I could not rationalize eating 6 pounds of meat, so I cut some back from her recipe (that seems to come from the USA Cookbook).

The ingredients I used were the same, but my amounts varied quite a bit, except in the rice to broth amounts so I could ensure I didn’t end up with jambalaya soup or dried rice.

It worked out perfectly, even though I made it on a weeknight. There was relatively little swearing, and I’m looking forward to the leftovers as it was still filled to the brim.

Hopefully, the Dutch oven will be empty before Fat Tuesday, which is March 5 this year. (Note: This is a joke. I would not keep food around that long.)

Brimful of jambalaya in the Dutch oven. Nom noms.

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • ½ c. vegetable oil
  • 1 lb. andouille sausage, cut into ½ inch slices
  • 1 lb. chicken breast, cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used more)
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped (I used one red and one green)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 t. dried basil (I used more)
  • ¼ t. cayenne (ha, I used way more, try 2 t.)
  • 2 c. long grain rice
  • 4 ½ c. chicken or vegetable broth, preferably homemade
  • 1 (14 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¾ c. chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat-leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Use slotted spoon to remove and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate or bowl. Add the chicken pieces, and cook until just cooked through, about 5 to 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove and transfer to the same plate or bowl as the sausage.

Add the onions to the to the Dutch oven, and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add in the garlic, celery, bell peppers, bay leaves, cayenne, and basil. Cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the (uncooked rice) and cook, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and add back in the meat. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and then cook covered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Add in the shrimp, and parsley, and cook, covered, for another 5 or so minutes, until the shrimp is cooked through. Adjust the seasons, as necessary, and enjoy!

Sumptuous shrimp scampi to share with your sweetheart

I have a thing about Valentine’s Day, and well, really, most dates in general: I don’t like them. I don’t like to dress up; I don’t like the fancy-pants restaurants you’re *supposed* to go to for special occasions; and mostly, I don’t like the pressure to have a romantic evening.

If they’re your thing, more power to you; make the reservations, and have a good time.

I was lucky, then, to find a partner who feels the same way I do. A restaurant that requires us to feel like we don’t belong is not a restaurant we’re going to, no matter the rave reviews. Advance planning, likewise, isn’t really our thing.

Instead, I usually try to find something special but simple to make for dinner — and yet, I also don’t feel pressured to do so, if I feel lazy or if take-out beckons. In past years, I’ve celebrated the holiday with peanut stew. This year, I found something even simpler and yet also fancier: shrimp scampi.

Shrimp scampi ingredients. They didn’t all fit but they would have if I didn’t buy large quantities of wine and olive oil.

I’d never made it before, and honestly, hadn’t gotten it in restaurants because it’s usually too pricey to justify what it is. But after tasting it, I can see why it’s a go-to fancy dinner order. It’s damn delicious.

It’s also still too easy to make at home to justify the upcharge for having it made for me. There’s few ingredients, and it’s even a one-pot meal. In all, it’s about a half-hour of work. It’s the perfect stay-at-home dinner date whether you have a special Valentine or not.

SHRAMMPIES!!!!

Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. angel hair pasta or similar (I used spaghetti because I wanted whole wheat and I couldn’t find it in angel hair)
  • 1 ½ lb. peeled and deveined uncooked shrimp
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • ½ c. dry white wine (and, let’s be honest, more to serve in a glass on the side)
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ¼ t. red pepper flakes (I used more but we like a little more kick to our food)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter, cold and cut into smallish cubes
  • ¼ c. coarsely chopped parsley, flat-leaf preferred
  • Juice from ½ lemon

Directions

Bring water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Add the pasta, cooking to al dente according to package instructions (between 7 and 12 minutes, depending on pasta type). Reserve ½ c. of cooking water, and then drain the pasta and set aside.

Meanwhile, pat the shrimp dry and season both sides with salt and pepper, to taste. In the same large Dutch oven where you cooked your pasta, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook for about 1 minute. Flip, and then add the wine, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook until the shrimp are just opaque and the wine has reduced by half, about 2 to 3 more minutes.

Remove the Dutch oven from heat, add the butter cubes, and stir until melted. Add the pasta, parsley, and lemon juice. Toss until combined, adding reserved pasta water by the tablespoon, until a sauce forms that coats the pasta. (Don’t worry if you don’t use all the water.) Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Saving the planet one shrimpie at a time

I’ve had a love affair with the deep blue sea since childhood. I blame Matt Hooper. I spent nearly a decade growing up wanting to be him, sometimes I still wish I had.

So, I was especially sensitive to a documentary I saw some years ago, The End of the Line, about the worrisome trend of endangered fish populations and what it could mean to our planet. I’m sorry to say that until I saw that documentary, I assumed that the vastness of the ocean meant a nearly endless supply of seafood. I should’ve read my history books.

The film, however, had the desired effect, as I have started paying attention to Seafood Watch ever since and trying to buy the best, most ethically sourced seafood I can. The stores in Ames were iffy at best, so I checked again and learned that Whole Foods is partnering with Seafood Watch so their fish options rank between best choice and good alternative. (Not a paid ad, but seriously, yay!)

That’s a long way of saying that it took a little more time to find a key ingredient in this week’s recipe, the beloved shrimp boil. Only, you know, in a sheet pan.

Sheet pan shrimp boil ingredients.

It was worth the wait.

The sheet pan shrimp boil is exactly as it sounds — take all the ingredients in your typical shrimp boil, spread it out on a sheet pan, pour on Old Bay and butter, bake, and you’ve got an amazing, and quick dinner. The longest part was parboiling the potatoes to ensure they’re cooked along with everything else.

We have one more pound of EZ Peel (no deveining required!), USA made, and ethical shrimpies, and I’ll be honest, I’m considering making this one again.

So much good stuff all on one sheet pan.

Here’s what I did, mostly following the Damn Delicious recipe, except I wanted the fun of peeling the shrimp:

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. medium shrimp (uncooked, EZ peel or peeled)
  • 1 (about 12 oz.) package smoked andouille sausage, sliced (I get ethical meat too, I recommend D’artagnan sausage, which is sold in some Hy-Vees)
  • 1 lb. small yellow potatoes, quartered
  • 3 ears corn, cut crosswise into six pieces each
  • ¼ c. (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 T. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving (optional)
  • Chopped parsley leaves, for serving (optional)
  • Olive oil, for coating

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a large rimmed sheet pan (I use the spray kind.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook the potatoes until parboiled, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the sausage, shrimp, and corn onto the greased sheet pan. When the potatoes are ready, drain them and carefully spread on top, trying to keep all items on a single layer.

Stir the garlic and Old Bay into the melted butter, and then pour on top of the shrimp mixture.

Bake the mixture for 12 to 15 minutes, until the shrimp are opaque and the corn is tender. Top each serving with parsley and squeeze on a wedge of lemon, and enjoy!