Six Feet Under

We have cooked hardly anything lately–we are buried in some potentially life-changing decisions. Good decisions, but ones requiring a lot of thought.

So–we’ve gone out nearly every night. On Tuesday, we visited Six Feet Under, a seafood restaurant located across from Oakland Cemetary. (The name alone is worth the visit.)

The food there varies wildly in quality. The catfish is wonderful, as are the catfish tacos, and you can’t go wrong with their steamed seafood and raw oysters. (Until you get that stray raw oyster with salmonella or E. coli or whatever it is that Fred got in London on our honeymoon, but as the mantra of Six Feet Under says, “Life Is Short. Enjoy Every Day of Livin’ It.”) The seafood quesadilla includes overcooked spinach that just ruins it. I don’t care for the okra, which is fried whole and is too large and stringy.

But you don’t really go to Six Feet Under for the food. You go there on a warm night to sit on the rooftop deck and look out over the dead, and be glad to be alive, and be glad that you have a wonderful husband who brings Kierkegaard with him to a restaurant, just in case.

World’s Worst Wine–and Great Fish

In March 2007, Julia Moskin reported in the New York Times that cheap wine worked just as well as expensive wine in recipes where the wine is cooked. Last night, I put this theory to the test with what is easily the World’s Worst White Wine, pictured below.

Fred received this as a gift from a Hungarian acquaintance about two years ago. It tastes like a cross between apple cider vinegar and Blue Nun Riesling. It has been sitting in our refrigerator, opened and unloved, for approximately a year.

(Please don’t ask me why I kept it. I can’t explain it. It’s the same impulse that causes me to save soap from hotel showers while I spend $30 for a bowl of cereal and coffee in the restaurant.)

Thank goodness I hung on to it. Last night I took a risk and poached some beautiful trout in the contents of our underappreciated friend. The result was tender, flaky fish in a light, balanced, sauce, with no trace of either vinegar or Blue Nun. Even better, we got to drink more of  the expensive bottle we received as a wedding gift.

Look at how our dear old companion, the longtime tenant of our refrigerator, hovers proudly over his creation:

Poached Fish in White Wine 2007 2

(Don’t tell him that I think a big part of the success was the fresh-squeezed lemon juice).

Here is the recipe. My new motto: Cook with crappy wine!

Trout Poached in White Wine and Herbs (serves 4)

4 large trout filets
1/2 stick butter
2 onions, thinly sliced and divided into rings
2 tbsp. snipped fresh chives
2 tbsp. parsley (I cheated and used dried)
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
3/4 cup white wine (really, any kind will do!!)
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

Melt butter on low heat in large skillet. Turn heat to medium, add 1/2 of onions and saute until translucent. Put trout filets over onions (they can overlap a little). Generously salt filets. Place remaining onion, chives, parsley, and peppercorns over fish. Bury bay leaves between filets. Mix together wine and lemon juice and pour over fish. Add enough water to cover. Bring to boil, uncovered, then reduce heat to medium low. Continue to simmer, covered, until fish is just cooked–check after 5 minutes and continue checking every 1-2 minutes.

Here is a photo of the trout happily sauteing in the pan:

Poached Fish in White Wine 2007

We served this with a salad of baby greens and raw kale. It’s very quick and a nice side for the fish. This amount would make a small side salad for 4 people–increase amounts if you would like more.


1/4 c. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. brown mustard
1/4 tsp. salt

Whisk together dressing ingredients. Pour over:

2 cups baby greens
2 cups raw kale, stems removed, torn into bite-sized pieces

Top with:
1/2 c. fresh grated Parmesan

Toss, salt to taste, and serve.

They Did the Cauliflower Mash

You may remember a few years back, as Americans writhed in the merciless clutches of low-carb diets, that many restaurants took to featuring mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. Ever on the trailing edge of the latest culinary trend, and desperate to use up the remains of some cauliflower that had been sitting forlornly at the bottom of the vegetable bin for days (okay, OKAY WEEKS!! I ADMIT IT!)–as I said, eager to use up my cauliflower, I decided to try mashed cauliflower for myself. (And for Fred, of course.)

There was only one tiny problem with my cauliflower. Mashed cauliflower worked in restaurants because cauliflower, like potatoes, is, of course, white. But, in the same spirit that had prompted us to buy cranberry beans, we had purchased two heads of cauliflower that were, respectively, purple and orange.

I don’t think you need a picture to imagine what came out, and really, I didn’t want to take one. All I can say is that it tasted wonderful, but next time definitely go for the ordinary white cauliflower.

Mashed Cauliflower (makes 4 modest servings)

1 head cauliflower
1 onion, minced
4 large cloves garlic (add more or less to taste)
8 tbps. butter
1/4 cup half and half, milk or cream
Salt to taste

Cut cauliflower into large chunks. Fill bottom of pot with water to about 1/2″. Put cauliflower in pot, salt, and stir. Cover and cook on high heat for about 10 minutes. Continue to cook on medium low heat until cauliflower is very soft.

In the meantime, melt 4 tbsp. butter in skillet. Saute onions on medium heat in butter until soft. Turn heat to low, add garlic, and cook for about 1 minute. Turn heat off.

Drain cauliflower. Add onions and garlic, 2 tbsp. butter, salt, and half the half and half. (I loved typing that!) Cover and let sit until butter melts. Mash with electric mixer until blended. (Best to turn the mixer on low speed for that.) Add more butter and half and half until mix is desired consistency. Salt more as needed.

Feed to your kids and watch them gobble up cauliflower like it was candy.

Why There’s the Internet

Two minutes after finishing the post on cranberry beans below, I thought, “Why not see what the Internet has to say about this?” Here’s what I discovered:

“Cranberry beans are rounded with red specks, which disappear on cooking. . . . According to the USDA, the American ‘cranberry bean’ is the same bean as the Italian ‘borlotti’ and, as a matter of fact, a large percentage of the ‘borlotti’ beans sold in Italy are actually ‘cranberry beans’ imported from the U.S. Another name for this bean in the U.S. is ‘French horticultural bean’. If you can’t locate cranberry beans, an acceptable substitute is the pinto bean, and a second (but not as close) substitute would be red kidney beans.”

Someday, I will learn to read instructions.

Not as Cranberry as We Would Have Liked Beans

We discovered these cranberry beans at the Farmers’ Market recently. Since we had never seen them before and they looked weird, we of course had to try them.

At first I thought we would end up with a big bowl of something that resembled alcoholic green beans–you know, little splotchy red faces staring up at you. You can see why from the picture below:

But when I did a taste test, I realized that the hulls resembled a cross between the bottom of my running shoe and a celery stalk. So it dawned on me that perhaps these were beans that were meant to be shelled. And lo! look at the beautiful beans in there!

And how gloriously speckled and . . . and . . . cranberryish they were when they were all hulled, waiting to be cooked.

Thinking it would be better to keep things simple, I decided just to cook them in salted water and then figure out where to go from there. I boiled them for a minute or so, then turned the heat down to low for about 45 minutes until they were tender. My heart went thump-a-thump as I lifted the lid to see the final result. What possibilites for beautiful presentations would reveal themselves! How wonderful it would be to have those little red speckled beauties nestled in a salad–maybe even with dried cranberries!

But, as is so often the case, my fond hopes were dashed. Cooked, the beans looked like . . . navy beans, white beans–every other ordinary bean you’ve ever had. They tasted like . . . beans. If you pinned me down I’d say they’re a cross between a pinto and a lima but certainly not a navy and cranberry (as I’d hoped).

I’ll serve them in a salad with olive oil, tuna, and salt. Just like I do with navy beans.

Hulga’s Vegetarian Collard Greens

Hulga’s comment on the kabocha squash post, asking for a vegetarian collard green recipe, deserves its own post.

Hulga, here’s what I do.

Vegetarian Collard Greens (makes 4 -6 cups)

Get enough collards to fill an 8 qt. stock pot. Rinse and dry. Remove stems (if desired) and tear or chop into 2 – 3″ pieces.

2 large onions, chopped
6 – 8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. sesame oil, or 1/8 c. sesame oil and 1/8 c. chili sesame oil
1/2 c. water
Tabasco sauce to taste (omit if using chili sesame oil)
Salt to taste
1/4 c. white or red wine vinegar

In 8 qt. or larger stock pot, saute onions in sesame oil on medium heat until translucent. (If using chili sesame oil, saute in regular sesame oil and add chili oil after onions are cooked.) Add garlic and stir. Add collards and water. Salt well. Cover and cook on medium heat, stirring collards occasionally, until collards are just wilted. Add Tabasco and vinegar. Continue cooking, covered, until collards are soft (or whatever consistency you prefer)–I cook mine at least 3o minutes. Correct seasonings and serve.

As much as I hate to admit it, I like these just as well as their porky counterparts. Enjoy.

As for the kabocha squash: It’s not in season here either. It’s been sitting on my countertop since February.

And the Pork, You Ask?

Perhaps avid readers will recall that in an earlier post I mentioned that we had pork chops on hand for future use. Perhaps you wonder, “What tasty concoction did she come up with for those?”

Well, dear readers, our pork chops were not all we had hoped. I fried them in the lard, and while the lard did produce a fine texture (Joey, I restrained myself from using the word “lovely” there just for you)–the spice rub left a great deal to be desired. (For the record, it consisted of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Might have worked with some chipotle pepper thrown in.)

So, hoping to redeem the sad bits of pork hanging around in my fridge, I tried chopping up the leftover chops and putting them on a pizza. But in case you were wondering: pork, carmelized onions, olives, fresh oregano, and cheddar cheese do not go well together. The pizza wasn’t bad–just not . . . great.

Plus my utter incompetence at making a pretty pizza was, once again, made painfully obvious:

Can someone tell me how to get burned cheese off a pizza stone?

But Then There Was the Kabocha Squash

So I didn’t get my turkey fat. But–bonus for your vegetarian kids, Cheryl!–I did make a lovely side dish with kabocha squash, pictured below.

Kabocha hails from Mexico and is probably closest in appearance and taste to acorn squash. Since the beauty of yellow squashes (I don’t think that’s the plural but it’s a lovely word, isn’t it?)–since the beauty of yellow squashes is that they are practically interchangeable, you don’t even need to have kabocha squash for this. Pumpkin, butternut squash, or acorn squash would do nicely.

Yellow Squash and Potatoes (serves 4-6)

2 kabocha or acorn squash, or 1 butternut
2 large baking potatoes
2 large onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
6 tbsp. butter
1/4 – 1/2 c. half and half
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Cut squash in half and remove seeds with spoon. Brush with olive oil. Roast, cut side down, for 30 minutes or until very soft.

While squash is in oven, peel and quarter potatoes. Cover with salted water in large pot. Cover and cook on low heat until soft.

While potatoes are cooking, melt 3 tbsp. butter on low heat in small skillet. Increase heat to medium and saute onion in butter until translucent. Turn off heat, add garlic and cayenne pepper, and stir until mix is coated with pepper.

Scoop squash out of shell and place in bowl. (If there are any hard spots remaining, add to potatoes in the last few minutes of cooking.) Drain potatoes. Add squash, onion mix, butter, 1/4 c. half and half, and plenty of salt and pepper. Mix with electric mixer until consistency is that of mashed potatoes. Add more half and half and seasonings if needed.

Why No One Cooks Turkey in the Summer

I send Happy Mother’s Day greetings to my mom, who will be glad to know that once again, as always, she is right.

This time, she’s right about turkey. She simply puts her roast turkey in extra heavy-duty aluminum foil and cooks on low heat. But instead of consulting my mother, as I should have, in my inaugural turkey-roasting, I turned to Cook’s Illustrated. They tell you to brine the turkey for 4- 6 hours, which is already too much work. (You’d think I’d have learned after last month’s Cornish Hen Incident.) But I soldiered on, brining the turkey, roasting it in a V-rack on unbearably high heat without foil in an uncovered pan, turning and basting about four times.

It was tender and tasted fine, and it did produce a crispy skin. I give it that. But emerging from the oven, the turkey sat there primly in its V-rack, viruously hovering over the unseemly fat lurking on the bottom of the roasting pan. My mother’s turkeys are earthier birds, lolling about indecorously in a sensual bed of grease. Grease you get to eat when you go to pick the meat off the bones. Grease I did not get to eat yesterday.

Probably just as well, as I could barely squeeze into my pajamas anyway.

Summer Turkey

I’m back from a fundraising trip to Nashville (for the seminary, and not, unfortunately, for me).

And now, in May, with the temperature around 85 degrees, I am going to cook a turkey. And I have never cooked a turkey before in my life.

I will post results as they come in.