Covid-fatigue. Election fatigue. Looky, looky––the country’s in free-fall! I’m sick of reading about it–the words I type, are embarrassed to add to the cacophony. To stay mentally well, we need to create our own distractions. Stop the noise, right?
So pour me another glass of wine. You say the bottle’s empty? Open another while you’re up from the couch. Flash to tomorrow–searing hangover. Wasn’t clarity the objective?
Then, dip into dry mix.
Fry fillets in peanut oil that’s at a 350 degree temp until golden. (Skillets on stovetops work too!)
I read a suggestion that one way of fending off the blahs is surfing the internet for a jazzy new mask.
Seriously? I’ve been a card-carrying member of the pro-mask camp since March, but don’t get my jollies shopping for them.
Much of what use to bring me pleasure–friends, travel, restaurants, theatre, the gym—has been hacked off my list.
Praise heaven, there are books, writing, music, cooking and the natural world to satisfy. And–with the kids working remotely–our immediate quarantined fam is spending more time together. There’s much to be grateful for, after all.
During the pandemic, we’ve migrated from Ann Arbor to the great woods and waters of Northern Michigan. Of late, we’ve been searching for good vibrations–a bit of retro beach boy vibe.
We served this with wild mushroom risotto and a simple tossed salad
A few days back, we had a fish fry on the beach. My son-in-law may be fine with just a hat and swim suit in mid-forty degree weather, but I am bundled head-to-toe. The secret, I’ve found, to living life comfortably up here is having the right gear. It’s called survival–we have Lake Michigan beach parties in January.
Food always tastes better when someone else is doing the cooking, so I’m thrilled when the kids take the reins.
The top four Great Lakes fish are arguably walleye, perch, trout, and whitefish. Of these, walleye and perch are my favorites for frying, and these are the two we used.
For our beach fry ingredients, my son-in-law used a pre-seasoned box product he found at our local grocery, Shore Lunch. It was less hassle than my favorite recipe for fried fish, Nut-Crusted Walleye, which could have been substituted for the Shore Lunch .But I wasn’t the cook. And this boxed concoction, I confess, was quite delicious.
So stay safe and well, friends. These months will soon be history!
BOOK NEWS GIVEAWAY!
As you may know, I’m one of the host authors on Blue Sky Book Chat, a book club group on Facebook. Until November 8, ten of us authors are each giving away a book. If you win the random drawing, you may have enough reading material to get through the pandemic!
If interested, use this link to participate. You’ll see the page for the giveaway. You enter on the condition you sign up for the free, no strings, we hate spam as much as you Blue Sky Book Chat newsletter. There’s also a link for you to join Blue Sky Book Chat if you’re not already a member. Don’t forget to answer the three simple questions that are required that basically insures that you’re a nice person who enjoys literature (-:
My kids gave me an Instant Pot for Mother’s Day. Both passionate cooks, they told me they couldn’t imagine life without the contraption. But, to be honest, I rolled my eyes when opening the box—the last thing I need is another kitchen gadget cluttering my counters.
That’s until I spied a yogurt button on the panel. I can make yogurt with this thing? I’ve never tasted a yogurt in this country that was anywhere near as delicious as the yogurts consumed on my overseas travels. So, I purchased an heirloom yogurt starter culture from Greece, rolled up my sleeves and have been making yogurt bi-monthly since. I love the stuff. Even if I make nothing more than yogurt, this gadget has earned its place on the counter.
And then along came tomatoes. Too many, too fast. How much freezer space do I have? Maybe this Insta-thing can speed up the process I use for making the marinara’s I freeze each year. So I read dozens of Instant Pot marinara recipes…
…experimented a bit and holy smoke––have I died and gone to heaven? Honestly. The following no-recipe recipe yielding about 16 cups of delicious sauce is a cinch and could be adapted to stove top cooking:
Use the sauté feature on the pot for sweating aromatics–onion, carrots, celery–in fats such as EVO, bacon drippings or a neutral oil, depending on type of sauce. (For the clean simplicity of a classic marinara, just stick with onions sweated in olive oil, tomatoes and dried Italian herbs.)
Deglaze with about ½ cup of red wine or stock and reduce.
Stir in about 16-18 cups of cored, quartered tomatoes, skins, pulp, seeds to fill most of the pot. (I used about 18 small to medium-sized tomatoes.) You may want to stir in chopped garlic at this point—I’ve found the sauté feature runs hot and will burn garlic if sautéed with the onions in the beginning.
For Italian marinaras, stir in a couple of bay leaves, three Tablespoons of your favorite Italian dried herbs and a solid pinch of red pepper flakes. (See paragraph below for other suggestions.) This recipe yields a thinnish sauce, which I often prefer (pasta starches thicken it up) and is perfect for tomato-based soups.
For thicker marinaras, before pressure cooking, flatten 14-18 ounces of tomato paste on the top of the tomatoes with a spatula. Don’t stir the paste in with the tomato mixture or it may burn.
Close the lid and set the steam release knob to the sealing position. Press the Pressure Cooker or the Manual dial and adjust to 20 minutes. I let the steam naturally release for several hours when the cooking time is over, mainly because I’m ready to be out of the kitchen at this point.
After the marinara is cool, remove the bay leaves (if using) and stick an immersion blender into pot–whiz everything together. (A food processor also works but it involves more cleaning.) Add kosher or sea salt and additional red pepper flakes, to taste. I haven’t felt the addition of sugar necessary, but many add a bit of sugar to taste, at this point.
In essence, marinara is a classic study in simplicity. But outside my dreams, I don’t live in southern Italy––Michigan winters are long, and Richard and I enjoy variety.
Zucchini (salted raw and drained on paper towels) and cooked farro were added to this batch.
To date, I’ve made and frozen classic marinara; marinara with chopped olives, anchovies and capers; marinara seasoned with saffron and fennel (for anticipated fish stews and steamed mussels); beef and bacon marinaras for paparadelle; I’ve tossed (uncooked) sliced zucchini and farro into my classic version and I made a Southwest version (think enchilada casserole) with corn and chipotles. See why I needed to save time? (-:
The most time-consuming part of the above exercises has been getting most of the water out of the zucchini before adding to the completed marinara–especially since I don’t thicken the sauce with tomato paste.
A Spicy Thai Eggplant Marinara with Coconut Milk and Lemon Grass is next on the docket. How thrilling to be able to thaw a container of such bliss on a frigid January eve!
Beneath these pics I’ve included a favorite song that always reminds me to soak in the essence of this beautiful golden month:
This recipe makes about 16 cups of marinara.
Salt raw zucchini and drain on paper towels until a good bit of the water is removed.
After cooling, whiz the cooked tomatoes together with an immersion blender.
I believe in choice, my choice of potato salad being no exception. This choice is gut-driven and deeply personal.
The egg-rich salad insisted I use local eggs.
My grandmother made a simple potato salad that accompanied her fried chicken and hickory nut cake to our family reunions in Selma. She made that same salad when a tragedy befell a friend, the bowl of love left quietly on their porch.
My mother made the same salad that followed me through youth. I assumed that rightfully there would always be a Tupperware container of this piquant, cold, soul-satisying potato salad tucked into a corner of the fridge.
Pushing the yolks through a sieve is a technique I’d long since forgotten.
And, like so many things that one takes for granted, I only realized its importance in times of crisis, when it was gone. I knew the mayonnaise was made from scratch, but that’s about it. It was a taste, amongst so many other tastes, that I thought I’d lost forever.
I’ve tried to fall for other potato salads. Like a woman wandering the streets unattached, despondent, never attaching herself to a man because of the haunting ghost of a past lover –I’ve never tasted a potato salad worthy of my passion.
Making a mayo by hand is easier than you’d think..
Through the years I’ve blogged about other family’s favorite potato salads–A Tale of Potato Salad, my friend Susan’s family recipe for German Potato Salad. It saddened me that attempts to recreate my own family’s bare-boned, deceptively simple potato salad were failures. Of late, I need my very own tater salad more than ever )-:
Opening it and thumbing through the recipes, I nearly cried with delight, especially when seeing their recipe for potato salad. This had to be the one! Chef Peacock was raised in my era about three hours south from where I grew up in Alabama, and Chef Lewis in Virginia. Close enough.
They put egg yolks through a sieve, and stirred it into the mayo giving the salad an egg-rich, velvety mouth feel–just like my family did. I’d forgotten that technique. As expected, their mayonnaise was homemade and emulsified with a whisk–not a blender. For that satisfying depth of piquant flavor, they used lemon juice AND apple cider vinegar–I’ve only used lemon juice in homemade mayo.
The times call for a throw-back dinner.
Out of necessity, I made a couple of changes to the recipe but it did not affect the final salad. Out of dry mustard, I used good Dijon, instead. (Trader Joe’s has a delicious, authentic Dijon, made in Dijon, France, of course.) I also used half of the onions as I was making the salad a day in advance to eating. Raw onions bloom in recipes if not consumed on the day they are made. (Recipe below.)
During this crazy era we’re inhabiting, my taste buds are on full throttle nostalgia. I served the salad cozied up to a grilled Delmonico. Hubby and I don’t often eat beef these days, and when we do, we don’t mess around. Here’s my absolute favorite way to grill steak.
What screams more of old-world steak house accompaniments than a classic Wedge Salad? Of course, the salad is constructed atop the backbone of the least nutritious salad leaves available, with gobs of blue cheese dressing and chopped bacon piled atop–be still my heart–but that’s what makes it so delicious.
A fine bottle of Cab and, oh yes, my dreams were pandemic-free, filled with generous hugs, family reunions and ghosts from the past.
A Scotswoman to the core, her books are set, primarily, in her mother-land, this being no exception. An Amazon review:
DIGNITY AND GRACE is the atmospheric, heartwarming story of a young woman retracing the steps of her mother’s last journey, on which she uncovers long buried secrets and difficult truths about the people she loves. Ragsdale confronts the emotionally charged issues of a tragic death with sensitivity, courage, and forgiveness.
This recipe is adapted from THE GIFT OF SOUTHERN COOKING’s recipe for Potato Salad.
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