Return of the Niners

29 01 2013

I have a confession to make.  If I don’t make it now I’m sure my sister will point it out in the comments, thus shattering my credibility.  So here it is: I didn’t watch football this year.  Not a lot, anyway, and none during the regular season.  But neither did half the media descending on New Orleans this week for a company sponsored vacation masquerading as work.  (Hmm.  Some bitterness in that last statement.  I must make a note to edit it later.)  It doesn’t matter.  My Super Bowl predictions are never based on actual football anyway, but how well I prepare a certain dish from the region my chosen team calls home.  This time it is San Francisco because, well, the Ravens are evil.

So, after I spent a very long time describing an event in which nothing happened, I must make good food and post the results for the sake of the Bay area.  Wait.  Baltimore also has a bay.  Let’s hope the football gods don’t get confused with this one.

I mentioned somewhere in my last post that there are two San Francisco foods that I’ve always wanted to make but never have.  I still have not made sourdough.  But the other one is right up my alley: Cioppino.  See, it’s a soup (Or is it a stew?  It’s my blog, it’s a soup.) and I love soup.  I’ve never made a fish soup before.  Can you believe it?  What kind of food blogger am I?  Oh wait.  Never mind.

ANYWAY, this year I will be taking on the role of Colin Kaepernick, the renegade-but-very-inexperienced quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

WEEK OFF: The 49ers choose their strategy.
I saw two recipes for cioppino that I really liked, and in the end used a little from both.  They both called for many of the same ingredients but some were different, so I took a bit from each to make something I thought sounded good.  Honestly, with the fish it came down to what we could get here in central PA, and what we could afford.  Here be the recipes used for reference:

Cioppino from Saveur magazine

Cioppino from Epicurious

SUPER BOWL WEEK: The 49ers change their strategy.
See, here’s the deal.  Both recipes call for crab.  Dungeness crab, which I found out hails from the Pacific around the latitude of San Francisco Bay.  They also say any Pacific crab will do.  DO YOU KNOW HOW EXPENSIVE THAT STUFF IS IN PENNSYLVANIA?!?!?!?  I’m not doing it.  I live an hour and a half from Baltimore.  The only affordable crab I can get comes from the Chesapeake and, if you haven’t noticed, I really want the Ravens to lose.  So, no crab.  Got it?  Here’s the take from the local market:

Hooray for Fish!

Shrimps, clams, salmon, and scallops.  Thank you, this makes me happy.

SUPER BOWL WEEK: Lots of practice.  Lots of film study.
Making a fish soup, as it turns out, doesn’t take a lot of time.  Fish cook quickly.  The prep, however, does.  Cleaning and deveining the shrimp, cubing and skinning the salmon, and scrubbing and soaking the clams (YES I realize the clams also came from the Chesapeake, leave me alone.)  Also I had to prepare the vegetables. The results of all this prep are seen in the previous picture.  That picture is doing a lot of work.

GAME TIME!  FIRST QUARTER: The 49ers do what they do best, run the football.
I may not have seen a lot of football this year but I know that they run the ball well.  How can you not with Frank Gore?  So this is my equivalent of the 49ers’ running game.  Sweat the aromatics.  But here’s the twist: Epicurious called for onions and garlic, followed by green bell pepper.  Saveur called for more, and I used some but forgot other ingredients.  Wow, going back and reading now what is on their ingredients list I’m kind of sorry I forgot about the celery and carrots.  Anyway, some olive oil met some heat and in went onions, leeks, fennel bulb, garlic, green bell pepper, oregano, and bay leaf.  See?

It's making me hungry just writing about it.

SECOND QUARTER: The game becomes a defensive struggle, with neither offense doing anything interesting.
See, I added in the tomatoes, the stock, the clam juice, and the wine, and let it simmer for a half hour.  It may be interesting to me, and it’s certainly making the house smell good, but it’s not exactly playing with fire like last year.

Yes, it smelled wonderful.

THIRD QUARTER: The Ravens’ defense fails them.  San Francisco scores two unanswered touchdowns.
Well, the clams DID come from the Chesapeake, didn’t they?  Well, they got cooked first.  Shall I predict Ed Reed trying for an interception and instead giving up a touchdown?  Yes, I shall.  Goodbye, clams:

Clams Alive

FOURTH QUARTER: Baltimore’s defense comes up big, but it’s too little, too late.
After the clams are cooked you have to take them out to make sure they are all good, and throw away any that aren’t opened.  In all I only had to discard two clams out of the whole batch so we were very pleased.

Clams Dead

FINAL TWO MINUTES: San Francisco’s offense comes back on the field and puts the game out of reach.
Let’s see, Colin Kaepernick is the salmon, Frank Gore is the scallops, and Randy Moss is the shrimp (it’s funny because he’s really tall).  After removing the clams I put in the rest of the seafood to cook, for about 5 minutes, and when it was done the clams went back in.

FINAL: San Francisco 28, Baltimore 17.
You see that?  That’s goodness right there.  The clams, the salmon, the scallops and shrimp (and chopped basil added at the last minute) were all excellent.  Add in the tasty-but-ugly bread from my previous post and you have yourself a meal.  There were so many stars in the bowl it was hard to pick an MVP.  In the end, though, I’ll pick Randy Moss because he’s “old” (younger than me) and it would be kind of cool.


Also, Jerome Bettis will be elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday.  Go Bus!

The Chowder Bowl

31 01 2008

I decided to make my Super Bowl pick this year based on soup. And since I’m really hoping the Giants win, I chose Manhattan Clam Chowder. My premise was that the Giants’ fate would be the same as my soup. If my chowder is awesome, the Giants win. I will be playing the role of star quarterback Eli Manning. But I’ve never even tasted Manhattan clam chowder, so you can see that the G-MEN were pretty big underdogs. Here’s how the game went:

WEEK OFF: Eli Manning doesn’t like the coaches’ game plan, so he changes it.

My soup cookbook (from the Culinary Institute of America) instructed me to shuck the clams from their shells, reserve the liquids, and cook the clams in the soup. That sounds really hard, so I decided to steam the clams first, keep the stock for the soup, and put the clams in at the very end. But first things first, I had to clean these things. A sandy soup means a happy Monday in Beantown. I saw on to soak the clams in fresh water for 20 minutes or so and then scrub them down. Later I read somewhere else that you should change the water and repeat the soaking process twice, but it was too late by then. So I soaked them in a big bowl:

breathe!  breathe! one, two, three!

WEEK OFF: The Giants lose some star players to injury.

The book called for four dozen clams. That sounds like a lot of clams (just look at how big those clam shells are) so we decide to use two dozen instead. Yes I said “we.” I’d never make such an important decision by myself, would I? In fact I never considered using four dozen clams. After all, I’m a clam expert.

SUPER BOWL WEEK: The Giants go through a week of successful practices.

While the clams were breathing all the sand out of their systems I diced up some leeks, carrot, celery, and red bell pepper.

GAMETIME! FIRST QUARTER: The Giants’ smallest player scores early.

Two strips of bacon. One would think that such a small amount of volume, when compared to the amount of soup prepared, wouldn’t make much difference, but it would go on to serve the soup well. When the bacon was crisped I put in the diced veg and some kosher salt to sweat.

SECOND QUARTER: The Giants start to miss their injured star players. They thought they had enough men. The Giants’ offense stalls, and Eli’s confidence is shaken. The Patriots take the lead.

goodbye clams, hello chowda!

The clams took about 5 minutes to steam open (at least that’s how long I steamed them before opening the lid), and Karen helped me by taking the meat out of the shells. It turns out that the meat does not take up all the interior volume of the clam. I’ll remember that next time. See those beautifully opened clams up there? All those clams in the pot gave us this much meat:

where’s the beef, I mean the clams?

THIRD QUARTER: The Giants’ defense keeps the game close.

I strained the liquid from steaming the clams through 3 layers of cheesecloth (to get rid of any remaining grit). I put it and three cups of clam juice, along with two canned plum tomatoes (seeded and chopped) into the soup pot with the veg. This is the part of soup making that I know how to do, so I started feeling good again.

FOURTH QUARTER: Eli remembers his running game. The Giants start to mount a comeback.

Round about this time Karen said “What about the potatoes?” I look at the recipe and, sure enough, I had forgotten about the potatoes, so I peel and dice up two russets and toss them in and leave it to simmer for about 20 minutes.

FINAL TWO MINUTES: The Giants’ star players return to the field for one final scoring drive.

The soup complete, I put the clams back in just before serving.

FINAL SCORE: A short-handed Giants team in over their heads scores the winning touchdown as time expires. The margin of victory is the score from the first quarter contributed by their smallest player.

23-17 G-MEN!

When all was said and done, the soup was a success. It’s amazing, we really could taste that little bit of bacon in the soup when it was finished. Yes, it would have been nice to have more clams but it came out very nice. Karen made a nice salad and some of her home made Italian bread and that was dinner. Giants win, Eli Manning is the Souper Bowl MVP.

So there’s my pick, Giants over the Patriots. What about you? Who ya got?

Bake & Mark

7 06 2007

To all yuh Trinis out there, I apologize in advance for what you are about to see.

Bakes.  The Naparima Girls High School Cookbook also calls them “floats,” which is a more descriptive name than “bakes” since they’re fried.  And when they puff up (quite spectacularly) in the oil they do indeed float.

Wednesday was Jonathan’s birthday so he got to choose what was for dinner.  Karen gave him some choices and he chose fish.  When the kids say “Yay! Fish!” in our house it means one thing: Bake and shark.  But we don’t have shark available here usually so we use catfish or (even better) tilapia.

Question to the Trinis.  About a month ago I actually saw mako shark steaks at the local butcher / fishmonger.  I thought this meal was prepared with fillets since they’re fried and they’re so thin.  But Karen said the steaks would work.  My inner Trini is coming out so I don’t trust her.  What do you think?

Back to my point.  Karen worked 9-5 on Wednesday so I decided to make the Bake & Shark.  Karen has her own recipe for bakes but I couldn’t find it so I looked in the Naparima cookbook.  It looked easy enough.  I added the flour, salt, baking powder, and a little bit of the water and started mixing it with a spoon.  Horrified, Aliyah took over.  Apparently you’re supposed to use your hands when mixing bread dough.  Who knew?  Aliyah kneaded the dough and shaped the bakes while I seasoned the fish. 

Unrelated side note: The Naparima cookbook has a recipe for green seasoning and it makes a cup.  Does anyone make a cup of green seasoning at a time?  I thought people made 5 gallons at a time to give to everyone in your family.  But I don’t know for sure because Karen’s green seasoning comes from a good friend of her mother.

So I’m supposed to fry the bakes and the fish at the same time, and I’m as good at multitasking as I am with substituting ingredients in recipes.  Aliyah made the first few bakes really small because she knew I’d need a few to ruin before I got it right.  Those things went from white and raw to black and burned in about 15 seconds.  “You’d better turn them now” she says.  Oh well.

It’s not burned, it’s blackened.

Most of the bakes turned out okay, but Karen didn’t say anything about the fish.  I assume that means they were seasoned properly, but I’m afraid to ask.  I did burn myself while turning one of the fillets.  I then overcooked it and then dropped it on the floor when I was taking it out of the skillet. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Two for two

26 02 2007

Could it be that I cook two good dishes in the same weekend?  I’m not supposed to do that, this blog is called “Mark Ruins Dinner.”  But on this cold snowy weekend, and as I was trying to make us all think we were in the tropics, I made two winners.  Please excuse my gloating; I post a lot here about my failures, so I’m enjoying this.

Let me just say that this “Trinidad weekend” was my idea.  I know what you’re thinking; I just wanted an excuse for Karen to do all the cooking, but that wasn’t it.  I made the doubles on Saturday morning and they were a smashing sucess.  Also, Sunday dinner duties fell to me since Karen had cooked so much already that weekend.  So, we’re having a weekend of tropical food, what about the grand finale?

Tuna steaks were on sale at the local market.  Well, they weren’t “on sale,” they were there.  We live a very long way from the ocean, and we take what we can get in the fish department, so I kind of get excited to see cool stuff.  They had these beautiful tuna steaks, wild caught, from Brazil.  I had to get one.  Just one, it won’t be too expensive, and we can slice it up, serve it on some rice with some veggies, and it will be enough. 

I know what you’re thinking.  I was thinking about the flounder as I stood there in the market, debating with myself.  “This time it will be different.  I’ve seen people make tuna steaks on the grill or in the skillet.  I’ve got the perfect cast iron skillet for this.” 

After much searching we found this recipe.  Okay, it’s tuna steaks, grilled, medium rare, and it has a citrusy kind of sauce.  That sounds tropical, right?  Here’s a good thing to consider when trying a recipe for the first time: Read all the directions before you start cooking.  The sauce here is thickened by reducing almost 5 cups of ingredients down to 1/2 cup of liquid.  Start early.

Karen used this recipe for asparagus when we made the flounder last week, and it was so good she made it again Sunday night, with fresh green beans.  The only problem was it needed only 15 minutes to cook, while the sauce I was making took over an hour.  The veggies were delicious, even when cold.

My sauce looked nothing like the picture on the website; it’s obvious to me now that when they reduced theirs they caramelized it a bit, adding some natural sweetness.  I’m not good at caramelizing anything, so I added some brown sugar and said “It’s done.”  I seared the tuna on my new favorite skillet, 3 minutes on one side and 2 on the other:


Served with some jasmine rice and the aforementioned asparagus and green beans, it was very good, and the sauce actually went very well with the fish.  Who would’ve known? 


Hooray for me.