One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, BLUE FISH (And Lard)

Despite the cold that FRED GAVE ME no matter what he says to the contrary, I did manage to make some fish yesterday. We bought some blue fish at the farmer’s market–just seconds ago, I learned that they are cannibals, so even vegetarians don’t have to feel guilty about eating them.

Unfortunately I really don’t have a particularly original or interesting way to cook them, but they were good. The filets are small–two per adult are a pretty good serving.

6 blue fish filets (1 lb.)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Hot pepper to taste (I used 1 diced cherry pepper)

Mix lemon juice, garlic, and hot pepper. Salt and pepper filets on both sides. Put filets, skin side down, on jelly roll pan. (I always called this a “cookie sheet” until someone told me a cookie sheet technically did not have sides). Pour lemon juice mix over filets and let sit for 15 minutes. Put oven rack on top shelf. Turn broiler on high. Cook fish for 5-6 minutes or until just cooked through.

I think you can cook any fish this way and life will be good.

Oh–and the lard. You can also put melt two tbsp. of lard in the bottom of a large pot, add about 1/2 cup water, 1 lb. fresh asparagus, and salt and cook on high heat until the asparaus is steamed. Unfortunately this is not vegetarian except that it involves a vegetable.

But a note to my vegetarian friend: Sesame oil and garlic will give you the same smoky feeling as bacon. It’s not a substitute, but I’ve found it to be a satisfying alternative.

Ragu a la Claudia

Ragu, as you know, is NOT the jarred spaghetti sauce you got in your school cafeteria in the 1970s, or that your mother–and now maybe even you, if you have children–opened up to pour on spaghetti a la East Tennessee (i.e., cooked to mush).

But what IS it? There are about as many recipes for ragu as there are internet sites. In short, though, ragu is a meat sauce with tomatoes and finely chopped vegetables served over pasta. I’ve seen recipes with lamb and pork and sausage as well as beef. Too many recipes claim to be authentic even to list here, but I’m proud to say that this one is fairly close to the one from the Italian Culinary Institute (or so the web site claims) and that of the great Mario Batali.

I guess this one has some authenticity because it comes from Claudia Mantovani, an Italian friend from Milan.

Fred would eat this every day if I were willing to cook it.

1 lb. ground beef
Olive oil and/or butter for sauteeing
1 minced onion
2 – 3 minced carrots
2 stalks minced celery
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. “magic cube” (Claudia’s word for “beef bouillon”–I use Better than Bouillon, which does not come in cube form)
2 bay leaves
1 can tomatoes (Debate rages over whether or not to use whole or crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce or paste. I’ve tried it all, and except for the paste, it works. And Mario likes the paste, so that probably works too.)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. cream (half and half will do)
Grated fresh Parmesan

Saute onion, carrots, and celery in olive oil and/or butter. Cook about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until soft. Add beef, breaking it up as you cook it, and cook until just brown. Add tomatoes, vinegar, bouillon, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cook, half covered, for about half an hour. Add cream. Cook another half hour or more. Serve over spaghetti or linguini. Top with Parmesan.

Bare Butts and Barbecue

I have not forgotten this blog–have merely fallen headfirst into the vat of work, which this week has involved travel to Birmingham (the one in Alabama) and back.

Birmingham might be my second choice of places to live besides the ATL. It has some surprisingly progressive and funky elements (at least the parts I’ve visited). And it also has


in his bare-butted glory.

And barbecue, but I didn’t get any this trip. If anyone has information on the best barbecue in Birmingham, I would be deeply grateful.

Still No Cooking, But . . . .

. . . . I did receive some interesting recipes from Martha Jones in Elberton, Georgia. Martha is a member of the church where Fred preached a couple of times over the last few months. She’s a retired home economics teacher and has written a cookbook, “Martha’s Favorite Recipes.”

The recipe that most interests me? Prune Cake. Prunes are unfairly maligned, too long associated with elderly relatives with digestive difficulties. If you don’t believe me, check out the very brief Wikipedia entry on prunes, which mentions the recent campaign to rebrand them “dried plums.”

So in keeping with the wishes of the Prune Council, or Dried Plum Council, or whoever wants us to think of prunes properly as the delicious, rich, tasty things they are, here is Martha’s recipe:

Prune Cake

1 c. cooking oil
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 c. buttermilk
2 c. flour
1 c. chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. all spice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. chopped prunes

Mix oil, sugar and beaten eggs. Sift flour, soda, cinnamon, all spice, and salt. Add alternately with buttermilk, mixing well after each addition. Stir in prunes and nuts. Mix and pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13″ pan (pan may be greased with Bakers Blend Cooking Spray). Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, cool, and pour topping over cake.


1/4 c. margarine
1/4 tsp. soda
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla

Place ingredients in saucepan. Mix and let mixture come to a boil. Pour over cooled cake.

Our Empty Existence

I have not cooked since the lentil soup of Sunday. They keep wanting me to WORK at my job. What is with these people???!!!

So–in compensation, of sorts, here are some images from recent days for your viewing pleasure:

The Pollinated Yard Sale

Lardy Biscuits

Our Newly Redecorated Study, or One More Excuse for a Cat Photo

Lentil Soup

With the temperature being an absolutely ridiculous 42 degrees yesterday, there was nothing more to do than make soup.

And read Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which I was supposed to read for my book club two months ago. Let’s just say I skipped the meeting. But now I’m working on one of our next items, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it’s so dreadfully, horribly serious that I had to turn to something fun.

But back to the soup. Fred miraculously did not finish, or even come near to finishing, the steak he ordered at Feast on Saturday night, so it ended up in the soup. I felt a little guilty throwing a lovely steak into a lentil soup, but it was either that or overcook it.

For the recipe I’ve added more meat–there really was not quite enough leftover steak.

Beef and Lentil Soup

2-3 tsp. olive oil
1 lb. beef, cut into 1″ pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 carrots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 quarts water
1 can unsalted tomato puree
1/2 – 1 cup white or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive in soup pot over medium heat. Add and cook until just tender.

Add onion and saute until translucent. Add carrots and saute about 10 minutes.

Add garlic and stir. Add remaining ingredients, stir, turn heat to high, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until lentils are soft, about 1 1/2 hour.

And now–back to my day job.

And Speaking of Hens . . . .

When you have to move things out of your mother’s house when you’re 41, you really get the chance to go back in time. Dig up old memories. Like my fourth grade 4-H chicken project.

Here’s the story, in my own fourth-grade voice:
Story of My Poultry Project, Activity or Special Recognition Program: (In the story tell about things learned, satisfactions experienced, and difficulties encountered this year in this project. Tell what was done with assistance and without. Emphasize accomplishments achieved this year.)

“I received chickens this year, and I’m glad I did. They were so cute when I first saw them. But after a while they became a lot of work.

“Where they were to be kept was a problem at first. But my grandfather built them a coop out in the dairy barn.

“My grandfather was a big help in raising my chickens. When I sometimes forgot to feed them, he would do it for me. And he also put a new light bulb in when the old one broke.

“I lost about twenty of my chickens. One day the door was left open and many of them got away. And about five of them got stuck under the light bulb and suffocated.

“However, I think it was all worth it. I exhibited my chickens at the county poultry show. Compared to some of the chickens at the show, mine looked pathetic. I received a white award [this is the 4-H equivalent of saying, ‘hey, you showed up, so we have to give you something’] and my chickens sold for $25. [Note: The other chickens sold for about $25 each.]

“Raising poultry was a good experience for me. It taught me how to be more responsible. I had some tough times, but I’m sure glad I did it!”

Those poor Cornish hens didn’t have a chance.