July 26, 2013

Dill Potato Soup with Smoked Salmon (Recipe)

I know what you're thinking.  Well, if you live in the same geographical region that I do, and are reading this post within a week or two of it's initial publication, anyway.  It's hot outside.  Mind-numbingly hot, with whole weeks at a time in the triple digits, which is uncharacteristic for the Northwest.  So what's going on with a potato soup?

Well, it's several different things.  The first is merely a matter of being cheap.  Just as in summers past, our house has expanded to contain guests.  Not Lotus this time, but Grasshopper, his girlfriend, and a pirate.  Potatoes go a long way, and this is Idaho, after all.  We always have them on hand, even more so than other staples like rice and beans.  We've eaten them baked, fried, mashed, and a soup only continues the progression.  The second thing is that we were gifted a bunch of fresh dill by my mother-in-law.  Our first instinct was to pair the fresh dill with fresh fish, but then our minds returned to the first point.  I still wanted a classic pairing, and dill and potatoes go quite nicely together.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly in the setting I've described, this soup doesn't require the use of the oven.  Just one burner on the stove, and only for half an hour.  It might not be actively cool like a gazpacho or raw food, but it seemed like a good plan for feeding six people on a budget on a hot day.

I started by roughly chopping six large potatoes.  I don't ever peel potatoes--most of the nutrients are in the peel, and their texture doesn't bother me, even in mashed potatoes--but be sure to give them a good scrubbing before cooking to get all the dirt off.  This went into a stock pot along with a large onion and two celery stalks, also roughly chopped, a head of garlic (peeled and crushed), a quarter cup of finely minced fresh dill, 1/4 cup of butter, five cups of chicken or vegetable stock, and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then simmer until the potatoes are tender, about forty minutes.

Once the potatoes are done add twelve ounces of evaporated milk along with two tablespoons of lemon juice and two tablespoons of olive oil, adjust your seasonings to taste, and puree the soup in batches in a blender or, if you're lucky enough to have one, blend it with an immersion blender.  Divide the soup into six bowls and top each with a teaspoon of minced fresh dill and a quarter cup of thinly sliced smoked salmon.  I didn't have any on hand, but if you don't want to use the salmon or want to be especially decadent, you could also add homemade croutons of rye bread.  So there you have it, a simple potato soup--perhaps out of place in the middle of summer, but truly worth eating when you are trying to save time, money, and effort.
 

July 22, 2013

The Kilted Dragon (Review)

It isn't often anymore that I get to just go out for a few drinks.  The children are at that awkward age where they can't really spend the night at home by themselves, but babysitting them consists of more than watching a Disney movie and putting them to bed at 8.  Besides, I've always been what you could call "frugal," if you wanted to be kind.  Drinking in public doesn't make good economic sense, and before you point out that the same could be said of dining, I have to say they don't have the same level of upside.  But I am always tempted to make an exception for craft beer, and when the purveyors of that beer also make an appeal to my frugality?  Consider me sold.  
That's exactly what happened last week with the Kilted Dragon Brewery (9115 West Chinden Blvd, Garden City, Idaho 208-254-2012).  They had "kegs to blow."  They needed a place to put their newly brewed beer, but several kegs were sitting around almost but not quite empty.  The solution was a sale, announced through Facebook, Twitter, and probably other outlets as well.  Two dollar pints and eight dollar growler fills of the selected beers.  I'd never tried Kilted Dragon before, so despite my cold I called up my best friend and we made a plan to meet up after work.  He lives just up the hill from their shop, and he'd been trying for months to convince me to go.  I arrived first, and since it was still pretty empty, I was able to get my pick of tables, which was nice considering that the large windows on the western wall were letting in a searing block of sunlight.  I hid in the shade and started with what I considered to be the safest bet, the Knuckle Dragger Porter.  It was everything I hoped for and more.  Rich, malty, and strong, it almost derailed this blog post.  I knew I had enough money to try one of 
Not so much a bar as a brewery with a tasting area, you can see
behind the curtain as you drink. 
each of the beers on special and tip out the waitress, and that was it.  But with each sip of the wonderful porter I considered deleting the pictures I'd taken and simply drinking Knuckle Dragger the entire time I was there.  It was about this time my friends arrived, however, and after talking to beer geeks about beer I realized I could not hide behind one variety alone, especially as I'd never been here before.  I moved on to the Blue Steel IPA.  It was a pleasant beer, but one with an interesting flaw--it didn't, at least to my palate, taste like an IPA at all.  We passed it around the table and agreed it seemed more like a Heffewiessen.  It wasn't bad, not in the slightest.  It just didn't have the strong hop flavor I was expecting.  It's flavor seemed to cry out to be paired with lemonade, which is something I've said about no IPA ever.          
After that, it was time to try the Bonnie Heather Amber.  This was a pleasant beer, and seemed ideal for drinking in mass quantities.  It had a crisp finish that seemed to taunt the heat of the outdoors.  

The last of the beers being featured that day was the Highland Honey Blonde (the Frost Bridge Scottish Ale was drained before I arrived, and I arrived early, which must be a testament to that particular brew's quality).    It was a tasty beer, and while it seemed to lack the alcohol punch of the others, one thing really stood out to me.  Lots of beers profess flavorings, but never have I seen one so honest.  Every drop of the Blonde resonated with the taste of honey.  While I'll stick with the Porter if I'm looking to get drunk, little bells went off in my head while drinking this beer, and you shouldn't be surprised if you see a dessert recipe pop up with this sweet drink as a star ingredient.  

While the Porter was the star of the sale, my favorite beer that I got to try was the one I had last.  It was almost time for our party to disband; several of our number were already gone.  I'd bought all the beer I'd planned to buy, and my wife was on her way to retrieve me.  But I still had an empty glass in front of me, so my friend slipped up to the bar and got a pint of Hand & a Half Stout for us to split.  What a wonderful beer.  It was chocolaty and thick, just thoroughly delicious with a roasted accent (what I'd later learn was Sumatran coffee) and a bit of spice in the background as well.  At the last beer festival I went to, I got to try some mole beers, and there was a similar element to Hand & a Half, but while those beers were good (well, some of them), they were a bit heavy handed in getting across their mole theme.  With no promise of heat on the label, Hand & a Half was allowed to be subtle, and the balance was just right.  I can guarantee that at the end of August when it's time for my birthday and the question comes up of what I'd like to get snockered on before going to see "World's End," I'm going to go and get myself a growler of Hand & a Half.    

I've talked at length about the beer--with good reason, as it's the star of the show--but perhaps a few words about the establishment itself are in order.  Kilted Dragon is a small tap house, but it is arranged in a very open manner, and I always felt comfortable, even as it started to get busy.  Everything is clean and comfortable.  Better yet, they have shuffleboard!  One of my favorite bars used to be the Iron Gate, which was located in the University Inn on the corner of Boise State's campus, but that  lovely institution was bulldozed in the name of progress, the place where I spent my wedding night now an economics building.  Every time I went there, I'd spend hours playing shuffleboard.  I decided to keep my cold to myself and not touch it this time around, but seeing the beautiful table in the corner of Kilted Dragon is a selling point that will help keep me coming back.  Another would be their dedication to entertainment.  We happened to be there on a quiet night, but the Kilted Dragon's event page is filled with bands, food trucks, and more.  This is important, because it helps to offset the one negative I have to say about the Dragon.  It's location stinks.  Maybe not in the affordable rent department, and I understand that's pretty damn important, but as for coming in on a regular basis for drinks?  It isn't really close to any major neighborhood, so walking there isn't an option (though it's not too terribly far from the Greenbelt by bike).  More importantly, there isn't a whole lot going on as far as neighbors are concerned.  There are no restaurants, no theaters, nothing but a Wonder Bread outlet store, a gym, the Garden City DMV, and a gas station.  If you wanted something to do while you sobered up, or something to keep your DD entertained, it's not there.  I credit the owners for realizing this and making the effort to import those things to do and eat, as it is sorely needed.  Maybe eventually they will expand to a more formal pub and eatery like another up-and-coming Garden City brewery, Crooked Fence, just did, but in the mean time it is good to see they are aware of their handicap and actively working to mitigate it.  Speaking of the owners, they were both on site during my visit, and the one who wasn't busy brewing was out being social and greeting guests, even challenging them to shuffleboard.  That's nice, and adds to this community feeling that is seeming to develop in the "new" Garden City (maybe it's even time to begin retiring some of my meth jokes).  Despite being off the main drag, the Kilted Dragon is well worth your business if you like good beer.     

UPDATE:  It's not often that a little guy like Catfish's Dishes gets a scoop, but the kind folks at Kilted Dragon liked my review and decided to pass along a bit of insider information.  The sale I attended is about to become a regular thing!  Every Wednesday they'll be having keg blowouts, with $2 pints and $8 growler fills.  So now you don't have to wait for some magical sale to find out that what I've been telling you is true, just drop in on a Wednesday and you'll get to try this great beer on the cheap.  
                                         





July 12, 2013

Orange Tofu with Rice (Recipe)

I questioned whether or not to lump this under the "Other People's Recipes" banner, as it was greatly inspired by this recipe that I found on the internet.  I wasn't seeking an orange chicken recipe that emulated Panda Express, but it seemed to be quite popular.  Not only did it show up at the top of the search engine results when I began exploring what goes into orange chicken, but most other faux-Panda recipes seemed to emulate this one.  It was a great place to start.  The flavor profile was excellent.  But not immune to changes, and more importantly; despite the high notes the recipe was hitting, it is terribly written. 
The first thing you're going to want to do is make your orange sauce.  In a small bowl, mix together 5 tablespoons each of sugar and white vinegar, 1 1/2 tablespoons each of soy sauce and orange juice, and a tablespoon of orange zest.  Set the sauce aside.
Trysta is always eager to help in the kitchen.
The perfect accompaniment to a dish like this is always rice, and you'll want to get it started at this point.  3 cups of water to a cup and a half of rice makes a just enough to serve this dish to six people.  Next, you'll want to begin slicing your tofu into bite sized pieces.  Since the recipe I was adapting called for two pounds of chicken, I used three twelve-ounce packages of extra firm tofu, which I sliced in half down the middle both horizontally and vertically before chopping.  Since once things get cooking, you'll also want to prep all the vegetables you'll be using at this time:  one head of broccoli and a red bell pepper (these are optional, as there aren't typically vegetables in orange chicken, but I find that having them adds more substance to the dish) as well as the base of our flavor package: two garlic cloves, a red jalapeno, and a tablespoon of fresh ginger, all minced, and a quarter of a cup of thinly sliced green onion (the white part).
Once you have our mise en place, you can make your batter for the tofu.  Everything comes together pretty quickly at this point.  Mix together an egg with two teaspoons of salt and some freshly ground pepper.  
Now stir in a half a cup of cornstarch and a quarter cup of flour.  This will get really lumpy and hard to stir.  The recipe I am modifying leaves you at this point, with unworkable clumps of nothing.  The commentary on that site showed me that a lot of people decided it worked better mixing the flour and cornstarch separately of the egg mix and dredging them that way, but that's not what we're going to do here....this lumpy mix is still perfectly usable, it just needs a bit of liquid love.  
Stir in liquid until the lumps gain the consistency of a thick pancake batter (about half a cup of liquid).  You can just use water, but I wanted something that complemented the orange flavor without being overwhelming, and used the juice of a freshly squeezed grapefruit (hence the pink chunks in the picture above).  

Heat vegetable oil in a pan, deep enough to cover a piece of tofu, to medium-high heat.  Once the oil begins to bubble, cook the tofu in batches--my twelve inch cast iron was able to fit them in four groups--so that they brown evenly, don't clump together, and don't cool the oil too rapidly (which will cause them to get logged with oil). 

As you begin frying your first batch of tofu, you'll want to get two more skillets going over medium with just a tiny bit of oil to keep things from sticking--I simply used cooking spray, or you could use a non-stick pan if that sort of thing doesn't bother you.  
In the first goes the fresh veg, to be cooked down until they are soft but not mushy.  Give them just a pinch of salt as they cook, but other than that we want to emphasize their natural freshness.
 In the second pan, we have our garlic, ginger, and red jalapeno.  This pan requires a bit more attention than the other vegetables, as it will be providing the flavor punch for our dish.  Saute the ingredients until the peppers begin to soften, but before the garlic starts to become brown and bitter, about 2-3 minutes.  Then add the green onions, and cook for another thirty seconds.  Add a tablespoon of mirin, and cook just until it evaporates, then add the orange sauce.  When it begins to bubble--which won't take long--add an additional tablespoon of cornstarch that has been dissolved in a cup of water, and a teaspoon of sesame oil.
Meanwhile, you should have a pretty good pile of golden brown tofu bites.  Drain them on a paper towel, then toss them in the orange sauce until each piece is thoroughly coated.  Put the tofu and vegetables on the rice and top with the green part of the green onion, sliced thinly.  Makes six large portions.  















June 20, 2013

Yet Another Post about Returning, or; "Don't Call it an" Apple and Sausage Risotto

OK, I guess before I get into the recipe, there is a bit of bookkeeping to perform.  Yes, I abandoned you, and yes, I am back.  Unlike previous absences, it wasn't a case of allowing myself to get distracted and then suddenly realizing I'd forgotten to post for three months; I left on purpose.  If you read the last post (I Like Mine Bloody) you'll know that I was attempting to crowdsource a horror film through Kickstarter.  I thought it would work.  My friends and I aren't the most experienced crew, but I felt like our theme was sound and our stills were good.  It just wasn't meant to be.  People were giving already rich people their money to make stuff.  Or pumping money into the pockets of a guy who wanted to make a "how-to" guide for date rape.  A half hour horror movie starring a violinist and a stand-up comedian only caught the attention of a few people, and in a Catch-22 situation I didn't have the funds to create a bigger promotion.  Now, "Checkmate" isn't abandoned, but it's definitely on the back burner, to be worked on in incremental bits with my own money.

So I'm back.  But I think it's important to state that I have a new take on what I am doing here.  Part of the reason I stopped writing Catfish's Dishes apart from the time commitment I was expecting to have elsewhere was that it had started to become work.  I had gotten caught up in trying to be a "real" food blogger.  What does that mean?  It means I felt like I had to post twice a week.  Not once--I was trying to cultivate interest and make sure that passing readers came back.  Not three times--if I cooked something interesting or went out somewhere new, I should save it to take the pressure off when I needed content later, never mind that it was something that interested me now.  And forget the actual writing; the biggest issues were with self promotion.  I've always put my blogs up on Facebook for my friends and family to see, but I became focused on getting hits and (hopefully) ad revenue from people clicking on links.  I got a Twitter account and a Google + too.  I'd begun spending just as much time sharing and up voting and repinning my blog pictures on Pinterest as I did writing.  And speaking of those pictures--I had a little digital camera, but it sucked.  So I started taking pictures on my phone.  They still mostly sucked.  I assure you, it's no iPhone.  Then my parents gave me a different digital camera.  This one sucked less, although I still had issues with lighting, with not having a selection of different plates and locations to photograph things.  Things were looking up.  Then that camera died.  And that phone.  Now I have a crappier phone, which takes crappier pictures.  Another thing to be self conscious about.  However, I had a revelation the other day.  This revelation was far more important than the time that was freed up by not working on a movie.        

I don't care.  I am glad that some of the people who have enjoyed the writing on this blog are outside of my circle of friends and family, but that doesn't mean that I need to pander to them.  A lot of you have told me how much you enjoy this blog, both as an insight to what I am cooking and as a conversation; who am I to think that it's not good enough?  Who cares how many hits I have?  Who cares if I can't give away a Kitchen-Aid mixer every month to drive traffic?  When only five or twelve people read "Catfish's Dishes," it doesn't mean that the blog is worth less than when I get a hundred hits; it merely means that the people reading it actually care.  The other week, I went into the kitchen to make dinner, and I hadn't done any grocery shopping yet.  The ingredients I had to work with were less than optimal.  But there was some corn meal sitting out, and I remembered that I'd tried to make polenta once, with less than successful results.  I decided to give it another try.  There was left over blue cheese from some burgers we'd had, and I decided to mix it in with the last corner of a block of cheddar, and see how that came out.  But certainly, cheese and polenta weren't an entire meal.  We had some canned peas, which my daughter dreads.  But what if I modified it?  I cooked them in garlic and olive oil and rosemary, then threw it all into the blender with more oil, lemon juice and cashews.  A pea "pesto."  Still not complete.  We had a bag of onions that was going to turn if it wasn't used soon, so I sliced up several of them and caramelized them in butter.  I made a circle of pea pesto in the center of each plate, then topped it with a circle of the blue cheese polenta, and then piled each of them high with richly browned onions.  It was delicious, sure, but also completely unique.  I felt great, and then it hit me.  I had no measurements.  I had no pictures.  And I wasn't going to be able to tell anyone.  Luckily, we were feeding guests, but I still wished I was sharing the details with my friends online.  So here we are. I'm not going to promise to post twice a week, or even weekly.  I'm still going to share my links on social media, but once they are out there, I won't worry about who does or doesn't see them.  I will post the best pictures I can take, and if my crappy camera serves up crappy images, I will just put that much more detail into my words and hope that you get what I am going for.  All that matters now is that I cooked some faux-risotto the other night, it was pretty dang good, and I'd like to tell you about it.    

Now, I'm going to try and trim my speech just a little, since I know I already wrote a blog's worth of words before we even got to the food, but there is still a bit of back story here.  I have a friend who I only know from the internet.  Technically, we went to the same elementary school, but he was a couple of grades lower and whether we ever met in person as children I really can't recall.  Anyway, we met on the school's alumni page back in the days when Myspace was a thing, and we had some pretty great conversations.  It was decided we should meet, but he lived in Oklahoma at the time.  Then he went through some stuff, I went through some stuff, Myspace REALLY went through some stuff.  A couple of attempts to hang out failed.  But now he lives near Boise, and seeing he was in town, I tried to arrange a meet.  Didn't happen.  The Pabst Blue Ribbon I was drinking led to unclear communication, and by the time I got off work the next day he was already ready to head back to his hometown.   

I was devastated.  Well, not devastated, but bummed out.  I was a little bit sad that my friend and I were still unable to connect.  But I was also upset that I wasn't going to get to show off.  I was going to make chicken and risotto.  Now I was going home to a house that had an abundance of leftovers.  The realist in me knew I should probably just eat those.  They were good. (In fact, Wife swears that the slow-cooker chicken wings I made Saturday were worth a blog post in themselves.)  But I didn't want left-overs.  I was going to do this thing!

Except the chicken never got brought down to thaw.

And we didn't have an onion.

Or wine.

(Or even Parmesan cheese).

So don't call it a risotto.  It may pretty much use the same techniques, but don't do that.  (Anyway, I'm saving "Apple Risotto" for something else down the road.  A dessert.  But that's in the future).

Here's what I did.  First, I put the stock on the back burner to heat.  You want to bring six cups of chicken stock to a hot and heavy simmer, nearly boiling but not quite.  You will be adding it to the rice in increments, and it is important not to cool the risotto...er...whatever...off as you are cooking it.

Once you've got that going, it's time to prep the apples.  While you often add your vegetation to risotto at the end, the apples are serving the role of onions, which flavor the whole dish.  I went with two medium Fuji apples, diced small, and four cloves of garlic, minced, which I put in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat with three tablespoons of butter.  Sautee the apples in the butter until they are soft and warm throughout, and toss them with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Once the apples are ready, add two cups of short-grain rice.  Many recipes are particular about the variety, but I have found that as long as I am patient and focus on the technique, substitutions aren't an issue in this regard, apart from the grain.
You'll want to stir the rice pretty frequently to keep it from getting scorched, but what you are looking for is the majority of the rice to start to take on a golden brown toasted color.  When you are satisfied/worried that you are going to start burning things, it's time to add some liquid.

Before we start to incorporate the stock, we'll want to add wine.  Well, usually.  The wine is absorbed into the rice and helps to flavor it.  Since I didn't have any, I went with apple cider vinegar; it would add some of that same tartness, as well as helping to contribute to the apple flavor.  Add 3/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and stir until it has evaporated.  (Note:  If you just can't bring yourself to put vinegar into this rice you are about to eat, consider omitting the brown sugar listed later in this recipe--at least taste the rice without it before adding, as it only exists because the vinegar lacks the sweetness present in wine).

Once the vinegar/wine is gone, it is time to begin adding stock.  Add a cup, and stir until it is absorbed by the rice.  Then do it again.
This is why risotto is so luscious.  As some liquid penetrates the grains of rice, the starch in turn joins with the liquid it is cooking in.  Even after just adding two cups of liquid, you can see the change happening.  You will also notice that the stock isn't incorporating as quickly as it had before.  Add two teaspoons of freshly grated ginger, and begin adding the stock in 1/4 cup increments instead.  Stirring constantly is a bit of an overused term when it comes to cooking--very few dishes I have encountered have actually required constant stirring--but you definitely can't walk away.  You'll want to keep stirring and adding stock until the rice has become al dente (fully cooked but with a bit of bite; not mushy).  Although the liquid will be thick and creamy from the starches, the rice should still be individual, not clumped together.  As you are finishing up, add one kielbasa sausage sliced into rounds on a small pan set to medium heat.
 Once the "risotto" is fully cooked, salt and pepper it a second time.  If you used vinegar instead of wine, you'll also want to add two tablespoons of brown sugar to make up for the lack of sweetness in your choice of acid.  Stir in two tablespoons of butter and cover, allowing the risotto to sit while you finish cooking the sausage.  When the meat is cooked, stir it--along with any drippings--into the rice.  Serve warm.

This dish serves six, but even without some of the classic risotto touches (like a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan alongside the final bit of butter) you're better off feeding a group of four and setting some aside for later.  Both savory and sweet, it's hard to stop eating, and the left overs are great both hot and cold.







May 17, 2013

I like mine bloody...

One could probably hope I was returning to form with an article about steak, but alas, I am sorry to disappoint.  This post is just to let those of you who still appear to be coming here on a fairly regular basis--though a good number of you, I am certain, are spambots, from all the new comments I have about sex cams--that Catfish's Dishes is on a temporary hiatus while I attempt to work on a short horror film called "Checkmate."

Want to keep reading about food?  Then I will continue to plug Macheesmo.  That guy has the goods.

Want to see what I am up to?  Go to my film blog or check out my Kickstarter campaign.

Thanks for all of your support.

-John