fish tacos!

Whenever I think of fish tacos, I remember eating them in San Diego, when we met a friend for dinner by the pier. The place was so crowded and noisy that we were almost certain we wouldn’t get a table, but we squeezed between the patrons and managed to find a place to sit. Salty air blew through the windows from the ocean, and the light changed gradually as the sun set outside. I had a great time. It was the perfect place to eat a fish taco.

So it’s a pity that the tacos themselves were pretty forgettable. Fried and battered fish fillets, probably with lots of shredded cabbage, tomato, and sour cream. Nothing special.

But these fish tacos, homemade in Maryland? They’re so much better. They’re everything the San Diego tacos should have been. And when I eat them, they taste like summer and sunshine.

summery fish tacos

These fish pieces are baked, not fried; however, because they’re individually dredged in flour, they still have a nice dry outer shell. (That was K’s idea; I was just going to broil fish and slice it after. This took a little extra time, but it works so much better.) We didn’t have cabbage and tomatoes aren’t in season, but we used pickled vegetables for crunch (another of K’s brilliant brainwaves) and red bell pepper for color. The result is colorful, delicious, and perfect for summer.

You’ll need:
3 tilapia fillets
1 lemon, cut into wedges (a lime would also work)
1 red bell pepper, sliced small (we would have used tomatoes, but they’re not in season yet)
small corn tortillas
sour cream
pickled carrot and daikon radish
cilantro, washed and roughly torn

Prepare a shallow bowl of equal parts flour and cornstarch. If you want, season this with a little cayenne pepper. In the oven, position a rack about 12″ underneath the broiler element, and set the broiler to HI.

Cover a cookie sheet with tinfoil and oil it lightly.

Cut each tilapia fillet in half lengthwise, then slice it into strips, working against the grain where possible. Dredge these strips in the flour mixture, then lay them on the prepared baking sheet.

Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the strips, and drizzle with lemon juice. Stick the pan underneath the broiler until the fish are done. I just break one apart to see if it’s cooked inside. The outsides will be crispy, and the insides will be white and firm. It won’t take long.

On another pan, stick some tortillas inside the oven to toast. Don’t let them overcook; you want them to be warm and just starting to crisp, but still flexible enough to bend. If you forget they’re in there, you’ll have tortilla chips in no time. (In which case, I suggest making some guacamole.)

To assemble a fish taco: layer fish strips, bell pepper, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and sour cream into a tortilla in whatever order you like. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. Enjoy.

spring CSA, week 8

The people at Breezy Willow have been working on an addition to their CSA shed for months, and this week it finally got its grand opening. It’s screened on three sides, so the beautiful fresh air flows in, and it’s big and airy, so there’s plenty of room to circle around and collect veggies, without having to wait outside while the people inside finish up. I love it. It’ll be beautiful in the summer. Maybe a little chilly in late autumn, but we’ll all be bundled up in coats and scarves anyway.

This week’s pickup: sweet potatoes, onions, oranges, zucchini, radishes, spring mix, spinach, green beans, garlic, and bread (Great Harvest whole wheat). This was a “bonus item” week, so we could pick from preserves or cheese (or ask for eggs if we really wanted them). I was tempted by the cherry amaretto jam but I went with “strawberry fields”. It’s spring and I’m really looking forward to strawberry picking.

spring CSA, week 8

The oranges are a real treat, since citrus has been kind of scant this spring. In past years we used to get huge bags of citrus every week, but now the occasional orange or grapefruit is a nice surprise. It seems there was unpredictable weather in Florida and the citrus crop suffered as a result. Thank goodness Breezy Willow CSA is a co-op and other farms could step in to pick up the slack.

I also picked up some sheep’s cheese to try. This is from Shepherd’s Manor Creamery (though now I’m unsure as to whether their name should be “Shepard”, or whether the label is mispelled). RJ’s been talking up the cheese in the weekly email bulletins, so I figured I’d try it. It looks spreadable, like cream cheese. I’ll let you know what I think.

strawberry jam and sheep's milk cheese

Though for $8.50 per small tub, let’s hope I don’t get addicted.

There’s a lot going on this weekend; my alma mater is hosting Maryland Day on Saturday, promising fun and learning for all ages. I’m interested in the research greenhouse and a lot of the engineering displays, and if the kid is feeling perky, we might take him to see some of the livestock. (I usually also love going to the free concerts, but that sort of thing is dicier with a one-year-old.)

Also this coming weekend, Savage Mill (always one of my favorite places to hang out) is hosting their Cherrybration and sidewalk sale. Hopefully the weather stays nice!

spring CSA, week 7

On the table for CSA week 7 (which was last week, I’m trying to get it down before this week’s CSA comes along): Beets with lovely bright greens, spinach, mixed salad greens, green beans, zucchini, grapefruit, mushrooms, eggs, red potatoes, and bread (Great Harvest sourdough).

spring CSA, week 7

The spring mix and the zucchinis got eaten right away. The spring mix from last week had gone kind of slimy and brown around the edges before we got around to eating it, and I had to throw away about a third of it. We’ve learned our lesson: if we get salad greens, we’re eating dinner salads on CSA day! As for the zucchinis, one got sliced and baked in the toaster oven for a quick side, and the others became part of a pasta dish with some Italian sausage. The spinach and mushrooms went into an omelet. The green beans got blanched and served as a side dish. Still haven’t used the beets or their greens, but I just checked on them and they still look good. So that’s all the quick perishables taken care of.

Also, it should be noted that Great Harvest sourdough makes absolutely stellar grilled cheese sandwiches. (We make ours on the stovetop, with generous amounts of butter.)

When I showed up at the farm for the pickup last week, the chickens were out and pecking around. Per posted instructions, I did not enter the barn, but they looked so content that I had to snap a picture.

free range chickens

Now that’s what “free range” is supposed to look like. It does make me a little nervous when I see them meandering close to the cars, but in the almost five (!) years that I’ve been going to this CSA, I haven’t heard of one being run over yet, so they must have more in the way of self-preservation instincts than I give them credit for.

spring CSA, week 6

I think I’m going to call this the year of the bean sprout. I remember one summer we had green beans from the CSA almost every week, until I was sick of beans and out of bean puns (has-bean, bean there done that, etc). Finally a friend suggested just blanching and freezing them whenever they showed up. It restored my sanity, not having to eat green beans all the time.

This year, it’s bean sprouts, week after week. Good thing we’re in the middle of a good bout of stir-fry weather. When it’s hot outside, no one wants to stand over a hot stove, simmering something for hours. Let’s get the pan hot, cook something quick, and retreat back to where it’s cool.

Week 6 of the spring CSA: bean sprouts, Brussels sprouts, a head of garlic, beets, beautiful red radishes, collard greens, mixed greens, grapefruit, rainbow carrots, eggs, and bread (Great Harvest parmesan sourdough).

spring CSA, week 6

Actually I’ve never cooked collards before, but I’m told they’re very similar to kale. Maybe I’ll make colcannon (thanks to AnnieRie, I now know that you can make colcannon with more than just kale and scallions). Or maybe I’ll go leafing (hah!) through the Lee Bros cookbook, considering they’re Southerners and collards are a Southern staple.

I’m noticing that i somehow managed to face the two orange carrots of the rainbow carrot bunch face up in the group photo. Luckily I took a picture of the carrots arranged at the farm:

rainbow carrot assortment

Aren’t they beautiful?

I was reading an article recently – I don’t remember where – that lamented the fact that when we go shopping, we have an entire aisle of cereals to choose from, but head to the produce section and we get to choose between three types of apples, and if you want cauliflower or carrots, you get whatever the store happens to have. I was an adult before I knew that carrots came in jewel-toned colors, or that you could even grow purple or orange cauliflower. When I go to the farmer’s markets in the fall and see all the different kinds of winter squash, in all shapes and colors and textures, I’m like a kid in a candy store. If we filled a store with many different kinds of fruits and vegetables, how wonderful would that be? How many more people would fall in love with food?

(Impractical, I know, both for shipping and storage. But it makes me sad that most people can probably name fifteen different cereals but less than five types of apples.)

spring CSA, week 5

Week 5 of the CSA: even more greens! I’m really loving the mixed greens this year; they’re a snap to prepare and I really value quick meal preparation time now that there’s a kid banging around. One of my favorite quick dinners is actually a salad with a fried egg on top; I like to break the egg so that the yolk gushes down around the salad greens, a rich and flavorful dressing. (People who like their eggs hard-cooked may want to supplement their salad with shredded cheese instead.)

Anyway, we got spinach, sugar snap peas, apples, mushrooms onions, sweet potatoes, oranges, and more mixed greens. I got Breezy Willow eggs this time (hence the colors) and challah from Great Harvest.

spring CSA, week 5

Looks like I get to make spinach and mushrooms again. I’m also thinking about roasting up some of these sweet potatoes and making a quickbread for the kid. He loves starches, and the more nutrition I can pack into bread form, the better.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering how to eat sugar snap peas, Breezy Willow has got that covered:

sugar snap pea instructions

Apparently enough people were asking that they decided to put up a sign.

Easter lamb and naturally-dyed eggs

Evermore Farm is out in Westminster, and their website starts out with the phrase “We’re so glad you found us.” I was glad to find them! They’re at the end of a very, very, very long driveway; after driving for quite some time, I was so convinced that I’d gotten lost that I called the number on the website. I got Ginger, who asked had I passed the first horse farm? Yes? Okay, then just keep going and I’d pass the second horse farm, and they’d be at the end of the lane.

Sure enough, I eventually passed Rockland Breeze Farm and pulled into the little lot at the end. When I got out of the car, I was greeted by the sound of bleating coming from the barn on the hill. It’s a gorgeous little spot, quiet with rolling terrain, and I’m sure the animals love it. Ginger let me pick whatever meat I wanted right from the freezers.

(Epilogue: K grilled the lamb for our Easter meal, using the flavor combinations from Alton Brown’s recipe. It was delicious — great flavors and very tender lamb. First time this year that he fired up the grill, too. I hope we have many good-weather days ahead; I love eating food fresh off the grill.)

As for the eggs: while clicking around for Easter inspiration, I ran across a link that suggested that you could use beets to dye eggs, and became obsessed with the idea. The most helpful link I found was this one off Serious Eats, How to Dye Easter Eggs Naturally. The writer used beets, turmeric, and red cabbage to create beautiful red, yellow, and blue eggs.

It was surprisingly easy. I peeled, diced, and boiled the beets (from week 1 of the CSA: still good!) in a quart of water with a tablespoon each of vinegar and salt. Not sure what the vinegar and salt were for; maybe they helped extract the color? Anyway, I then poured the water through a strainer, which removed the beet cubes, and let it cool. Did the same with some shredded red cabbage to produce a blue dye (the resulting liquid was dark purplish, but paper towels dipped inside came out indigo), and then simmered turmeric* in water (and vinegar and salt) until dissolved. Voila, three dyes.

I dyed both white and brown eggs. The dye was markedly more successful with the white eggs.

I made the green dye by mixing equal amounts of the blue and yellow dyes. The Serious Eats article is also correct in that you have to leave the eggs in the blue dye for a very long time for any color to set. To get that deep blue color in their pictures, they must have left it in for hours. Mine got maybe twenty or thirty minutes in the dye before I got impatient and yanked it out. I was very pleased with the resulting pastels. Looking forward to doing this with the kid next year, when he’s old enough to (hopefully) appreciate what’s going on.

I didn’t waste the beets and cabbage, either; since I only used less than half the red cabbage for the dye, I made the other half into sweet and sour German red cabbage, and mixed in the beets and cabbage from the dyes just before the simmering step. Turned out pretty well.

* The yellow dye recipe used an immense amount of turmeric — 6 tablespoons. I halved the amount and still used the better part of our spice jar. Also, not all the turmeric dissolved, despite my constant simmering and stirring. I think the author may have meant “teaspoons” instead of “tablespoons.”

spring CSA, week 4

Week 4 of the spring CSA may as well have been subtitled “eat your vegetables.” My goodness, what a lot of green. We are drowning in Napa cabbage now. I think it was supposed to be kohlrabi, but they said they had so much Napa left over that they just kept providing it. It’s ok, I’m not the world’s biggest kohlrabi fan.

In this week’s pickup: Napa cabbage, 3 parsnips, 3 grapefruit, white potatoes, spinach, mixed greens, Brussels sprouts, more bean sprouts, a head of garlic, and bread (Great Harvest old-fashioned white).

spring CSA, week 4

Usually I have no trouble splitting the CSA share, but getting a situation like the 3 parsnips is kind of tragic. You want to split equally, but it’s silly to cut a parsnip in half, so we just go 2 and 1. But you can’t make a proper parsnip-centered dish with just one parsnip. Oh well, I guess it’ll be an extra ingredient in a stew or something.

I was really happy to see the Brussels sprouts, though. They’re one of my favorite cold-weather vegetable dishes, and they’re super quick to roast up. I rinse them, trim off all the dried stem ends, cut each of them in half, and toss them with olive oil, roughly chopped garlic, and salt and pepper.

ready to go in the oven

Purists would take off the outer leaves, but if they look good, I just leave ’em.

Then I pop them into the oven (or even the toaster oven, in this case, since I didn’t feel like turning the big oven on) and let them cook at 400 degrees, tossing them occasionally, until the edges are crispy and brown.

ready to eat!

They’re fabulous like this, crispy on the outside and meltingly soft on the inside. I usually give them another sprinkle of salt, just for good measure, before eating. The chunks of roasted garlic aren’t bad either.