Saturday, June 28, 2008

More Figs

We did another 8 pints of fig preserves today. That makes 25 for this season.
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Friday, June 27, 2008

Fish Tacos - with Corn Meal

Okay, I know. Here we are blogging about fish tacos again. Well, it's like anything else that's good; it's worth revisiting. I may have hit on the "Power Taco" tonight.

Like before, I cut the fish into little-finger size strips (Thinner than that really. Let's say a SMALL little finger.) Instead of making up a beer batter, I seasoned the fish with onion & garlic powder, black pepper, Nu-Salt, Chef Paul's No-Salt Magic Seasoning, and some Old Bay. Then I sprinkled on corn meal, and stirred to coat the fish evenly.

Not satisfied with that, I decided to whip up an egg wash. I beat one egg. Then rather than dipping the fish in the egg wash, I just added the egg to the fish and stirred to evenly coat. Then I stirred in yet more cornmeal.

I fried the fish strips up in hot corn oil; drained on paper towels; then built tacos out of whole wheat tortillas spread with mayo, a dash of hot sauce, and a tablespoon of finely chopped cabbage.

I think I'm in love.

Oh, did I mention that I love music?
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Fig Preserves Again

We did another 10 pints of figs last night. I'm getting pretty good at this. I didn't make nearly as big a mess as I did the first night. That makes 17 pints in 2 nights, and we still have a couple of dozen left over from last year. I'm thinking all the priests at church should get a pint. And an extra for Sharon T.
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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fish Tacos

Long ago in a small-town mission church in Arkansas a priest (who is now a bishop) told me about the CASE method: Copy And Steal Everything. The following is from the San Francisco Chronicle. For a look at how WE do Fish Tacos here in our household, go here and here.

South to North: Baja meets bayou in a fish taco

Jacqueline Higuera McMahan, Special to The Chronicle

Fish tacos, much like margaritas or salsa and chips, are one of those Mexican entities that changed as soon as they crossed borders and became popular.

A legend then developed that they had to be made a particular way to be authentic - or as authentic as mass marketing could make them. Part of the legend associated with fish tacos is that no one could get the recipe for the "secret sauce" always drizzled over the genuine dish.

The first time I ate a fish taco was during a snorkeling trip to Isla Mujeres off the Yucatan Peninsula 30 years ago with my husband. The two guys running our small boat caught a sea bass, and cooked it on a remote beach over an improvised grill made of crisscrossed green palmetto sticks.

Our fingers were our utensils as we broke off pieces of fish nicely charred around the edges, wrapped them in warm corn tortillas, squeezed on fresh limes, and even added droplets of the lethal-looking homemade hot sauce. I'll always remember this as one of the best meals of my life. Even the sand tasted good.

A few years after the beach-grilled fish, I was told in San Diego that the only fish taco to have must be deep-fried in a casing of beer-batter and doused with that infamous "secret sauce" that Baja vendors used and actually turned out to be mayonnaise thinned out with water or milk and maybe a tiny bit of vinegar.

Who would have expected the "secret sauce" to be more complex than plain old mayonesa? After all, the popular fish tacos were cooked in shanties and in makeshift deep fryers and then hawked along the beach.

Now I have come to a compromise with my fish tacos. I still love a grilled piece of fish and am always trying to approximate the Caribbean taste over a wood fire (lacking palmetto sticks) when we have the time.

But I have found that by dusting chunks of firm fish with corn flour (not cornmeal) and sauteing them in a small amount of oil, I can have golden pieces of fish to wrap in warm corn tortillas - a delicious alternative.

Using corn flour is a Cajun trick I learned in New Orleans. It adds more delicate crustiness to the fish without the mess of beer batter and deep frying.

Good salsas are a must. Aficionados of Baja-style fish tacos also insist that no lettuce is allowed inside fish tacos. Only shredded cabbage, seasoned or not. You need the crunch. This is one rule I agree with, but hold the "secret sauce."
Halibut Fish Tacos

Serves 4

Use any firm fish like rock cod or sea bass but halibut fillets are my favorite. Prepare the cabbage just before the fish is cooked so it does not become too wilted.

* 1 cup corn flour (Bob's Red Mill is good)
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon ground red chile
* -- Freshly ground black pepper
* 1 1/4 pounds halibut fillet, cut into 2-inch pieces to easily fit tacos
* 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
* 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
* 1/4 cup minced cilantro
* 4 cups thinly sliced white cabbage
* 1/4 cup canola oil + more if needed
* -- Salsas (see recipes)
* 1 dozen corn tortillas, warmed just before serving

Instructions: Pour the corn flour out on a large sheet of waxed paper and combine with the salt, red chile and pepper. Dust the pieces of fish so all surfaces are coated. Let them sit on the remaining seasoned flour while you prepare the cabbage.

Just before you cook the fish, combine the mayonnaise with the vinegar and cilantro. Toss with the cabbage. You want the cabbage to be barely moistened but enough to be a slaw. Set aside.

Redust the fish pieces with the remaining corn flour mixture. The damp fish absorbs the coating, so a second coating will help create a better crust. Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fish pieces, a few at a time, and pan fry until golden on all sides, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add more oil, a tablespoon at a time, as needed. Remove the fish to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the rest of the fish pieces.

Bring the golden fish, cabbage, warm tortillas and salsas to your table, and let everyone assemble their own tacos.

Per serving: 515 calories, 36 g protein, 45 g carbohydrate, 22 g fat (3 g saturated), 47 mg cholesterol, 461 mg sodium, 6 g fiber.
Favorite Green Salsa

Makes 1 1/2 cups

This is the quickest green salsa I have in my repertoire but also my favorite. I even use it for sandwiches. This is not a chunky salsa; it should have a hot-sauce consistency.

* 1 pound tomatillos (about 10)
* 1 jalapeno
* 1 serrano
* 1/4 small yellow onion
* 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 2 teaspoons champagne vinegar
* 1 tablespoon light-flavored olive oil

Instructions: Run warm water over tomatillos to help loosen the dry husks. Peel or rub them off and warm tomatillos with paper towel to help remove sticky residue. Place tomatillos in a saucepan and cover with water. Add the jalapeno and serrano chiles. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for just 5 minutes.

Remove tomatillos and chiles to a blender jar (not a food processor). Add the onion and puree. Add the cilantro, salt, vinegar, 2 teaspoons water and the olive oil. Puree to a hot-sauce consistency.

Place in a bowl and serve with tacos. I like to store the remainder in clean, emptied clear olive oil bottles or even Corona beer bottles. I use a whole jalapeno chile (fresh) as a stopper for the bottle.

Per tablespoon: 10 calories, 0 protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 1 g fat (0 saturated), 0 cholesterol, 89 mg sodium, 0 fiber.
Favorite Red-Hot Salsa

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

This is the perfect salsa to add heat by dashes; it's not for dipping chips. I have cut the amount of arbol chiles to half of what is typically used in Mexico but it is still hot. Add by droplets to tacos and sandwiches. I even use it to add heat to freshly chopped pico de gallo if I cannot get it hot enough with the over-cultivated wimpy jalapenos now on the market.

* 10 arbol dried chiles, cut in half, stems removed
* 1 clove garlic
* 2 plum tomatoes
* 2 teaspoons white vinegar
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Instructions: Heat up a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add chiles and toast for just a minute. Do not burn. Remove immediately and set aside. Add garlic and tomatoes to pan.

Toast for 5 minutes over medium heat until garlic is slightly softened and tomatoes are blackened in spots. Remove.

Place arbol chiles in blender jar. Add garlic, tomatoes, 1/3 cup water, vinegar and salt. Puree to hot-sauce consistency. Add more water by the tablespoon to thin to desired consistency.

Serve with your fish tacos.

Per tablespoon: 5 calories, 0 protein, 1 g carbohydrate, 0 fat (0 saturated), 0 cholesterol, 46 mg sodium, 0 fiber.

Jacqueline Higuera McMahan's family lived on one of the last Spanish land-grant ranchos in the Bay Area. She has lived in Mexico and now resides in Southern California, and is the author of "California Rancho Cooking" (Sasquatch Books, 2003). E-mail her at

This article appeared on page F - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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Fig Preserves

We have a fig tree in our back yard. It begins "coming in" around late June each year. A few years ago, while I was home visiting Mother, Sherry took a notion to make fig preserves. Between the Joy of Cooking and several phone calls back to west Tennessee for tips from Mother, Sherry did a great job. Her preserves were wonderful that year, and the next year, I helped her make another big batch.

Yesterday, we made our first batch of this year. We got 7 pints, and could have made more, but that was all we could fit in our big kettle. Harvesting figs twice daily, I'm sure we'll have enough for another 7 pints soon. [Making a mental note - don't fill the kettle to the brim next time.]
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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Fish Tacos in Beer Batter

Our neighbor brings us fresh caught sea trout now and then. They almost melt in your mouth when cooked this way. Other times I've used catfish or ocean perch.


1 lb catfish fillets or nuggets (or other fish if desired; ocean perch works nicely.)
1 cup flour (plus an extra 1/2 cup for coating fish)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup beer
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder (optional)
onion powder (optional)
Chef Paul's Salt-free Magic Seasoning (optional)
oil for frying
8 corn or flour tortillas (We like whole wheat.)
2 cups fresh garden salad (lettuce, tomatoes, jicama, fresh turnips, etc.)
mayo or salad dressing to taste


Cut fish pieces into strips the size of a little finger. Season with salt & pepper and/or other seasonings if desired. Set aside.

Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in medium size bowl. Combine beer and egg; then add to flour mixture. Stir briefly; don't worry about lumps.

Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in heavy frying pan. When a pinch of flour dropped into the oil sizzles, the oil is ready. Roll fish pieces in flour; then dip in batter. Place a few pieces of battered fish into the pan and fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove to paper towel covered plate to drain. Continue until all of the fish is cooked.

Warm tortillas either in the microwave or in a dry skillet. Spread a bit of mayo on a tortilla, and top with fish pieces and a bit of salad. Roll up like a burrito, and serve with plenty of cold beer.

This recipe is simple and delicious. Don't be afraid to experiment with different fish, different salad makings, or more exotic dressings or salsas. I recommend this piece I "borrowed" from the San Francisco Chronicle. Have fun with this delicious treat.
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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Memphis Style Pulled Pork

When I moved away from Memphis, finding real BBQ became a challenge. I stopped in a little roadside BBQ and ordered a chopped smoked pork shoulder sandwich, and they didn't have a clue what I was talking about. "You ain't from 'round here, are ya'?" said an old Gabby Hayes type seated at a picnic table near the counter. Well, I guess I gave myself away. This recipe reminds me of what we used to get at Top's BBQ back in Memphis - only better.


2 TBS Memphis Style dry rub *
4-6 lb Boston Butt pork roast
1 batch of Bobbie's BBQ Sauce


Rub roast well with dry rub. And allow roast to come to room temperature. Rub can be applied night before if desired.

Build fire on the grill. I do mine on a Weber, but use whatever you have. But whatever you use, you must be able to maintain a low temperature and arrange for indirect smoking. I use a method similar to this one. Have plenty of hickory chunks on hand (or chips, if you can't find chunks). My cooking grate has the hinged ends to make it easy to flip up and add fuel without disturbing the meat.

Bank the fire on the far side of the Weber, and position the drip pan on the near side. Place roast over the drip pan (with a bit of water in the drip pan). Sometimes, I put a can of water directly over the fire to maintain humidity in the cooker.

Cover grill so that the upper vents are opposite the fire. Adjust upper vents wide open and lower vents half open. Check every 30 minutes or so, adjusting the lower vents as needed to balance temperature at around 225-250 F. Once the heat has balanced out, you can relax a bit and check less frequently. Add hickory chunks or chips now and then as smoke diminishes.

It takes about 1.5 hours per pound to achieve the desired tenderness. Be patient. You might turn the roasts around every couple of hours if desired to evenly expose all sides to the hot side of the grill.

Continue cooking at 225-250 until interior temperature of meat reaches 180 for at least an hour. Remove from smoker and wrap in foil. Allow to rest for 30 minutes or until cool enough to "work" with either fingers or dinner forks.

[If it's getting late, and you just can't tend to the fire any more, you can move the meat to a crock pot or to a slow oven for finishing out. Here's an account of how I did just that.]

Pull the pork into shreds, and drizzle with BBQ sauce to moisten (several tablespoons - use the reserve at the table).

Serve on toasted hamburger buns with extra sauce and mayo if desired. Top with Memphis Style Cole Slaw. Get down with your bad self!

* We use Chef Paul's Salt Free Magic Seasoning since we're limiting our sodium intake. There are plenty of dry rub recipes out there. Here's an example.
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Friday, June 20, 2008

Vietnamese Southern-style Catfish in a Clay Pot

I haven't tried this one yet, but I grew up on wild Tennessee River Blue Channel Catfish. We used to harvest them ourselves daily off the face of the Pickwick Dam near Savannah, TN. And I'm not so sure about this clay pot business. I'm thinking cast iron.

From Mai Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (William Morrow, $27.50). Making caramel (burnt sugar and water) as a base for a savory dish is a classic Vietnamese technique. Although the dish is traditionally made in a clay pot, "it's also delicious cooked in a regular pot," Pham writes. For a spicier version, add red pepper flakes with the fish sauce.


2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2/3 pound fresh catfish fillets, cut in halves or thirds
1 green onion, cut in 1-inch lengths
4 sprigs cilantro, cut in 1-inch lengths
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place the sugar in a 1-quart clay pot and add just enough water to barely wet it. Heat over moderate heat until the sugar starts to turn brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir once, then add the oil and garlic. Stir for 1 minute, then add the boiling water, fish sauce and catfish pieces. Turn the pieces so they are evenly coated with sauce. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the catfish is firm and almost done, about 5 minutes. Uncover and simmer an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened. (If the sauce is too thin, you may want to pour it off, boil it down in another pot, then pour it over the fish.)

To serve, garnish with the green onion and cilantro and season with pepper. Serve directly from the clay pot.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nikki's Ravioli & Tortellini Salad

My good friend, Nikki Merritt, served this at one of our vestry meetings. It was a hit! Thank you, Nikki.


1 (19 oz) pkg frozen cheese tortellini
1 (19 oz) pkg frozen cheese ravioli
1 ½ cups canola or olive oil
½ - ¾ cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 TBS oregano
1 ½ TBS basil
1 tsp Nature’s Seasoning
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
3 green onions, green parts only, finely chopped

Optional: mushrooms, artichoke hearts, red/yellow bell peppers (chopped), boiled shrimp or chicken (chopped)


Boil tortellini and ravioli according to package directions, less 1 minute. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk oil and next 4 ingredients. Drain and cool pasta. Add tomatoes, onions and any optional ingredients to cooled pasta. Toss gently with dressing and refrigerate several hours before serving.

Note: Salad is best if made one day in advance. If prepared in advance, mix the salad well before serving. You may use fresh, whole tomatoes, broken apart well instead of canned tomatoes.
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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Pizza Tales

Well, finally I got around to it -- after four days of saying I was going to make a pizza, on the fifth day, I did it.

Next time, I'm going to make a smaller but thicker crust. I will NOT try to stretch a quarter of the recipe over one dinner plate. That results in a too-thin crust, which is also too wide to handle conveniently with a spatula on the grill.

Click on the image for a larger view.
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