Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rock Bass, Fillet-o-Fish, and An Attempt at Southern Cooking

I know that ya'll are gearing up for your 4th of July weekend festivities, but I'd like to take a little trip down memory lane back to Memorial Day weekend for a few moments. That's when my husband went fishing with our backyard neighbor, Anthony, and brought home a whole mess of fish for me to clean.

Here's their haul....all of them Rock Bass. I assume that they call them Rock Bass because they hang out in the rocks. However, I happen to know that these Rock Bass were caught directly in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Lake Eerie. So maybe these are Rock n' Roll Bass? Too cool for the school? Okay, okay, I'll quit with the jokes now.

They reportedly caught about 50 fish that day. Some of them larger breeds of fish, but they only brought home the tasty Rock Bass. Thank goodness they didn't bring them all back to me. I'd probably still be cleaning fish instead of typing this. The cumulative total of my two fish cleaning sessions was 4 hours!

Some of my girlfriends seemed surprised when I told them that I cleaned my husband's catch. "You cleaned them?! I wouldn't even know where to begin." I usually don't share that I'm capable of "cleaning" at least two other species beyond fish. It makes people squeamish. However, if I ever audition for Survivor or find myself stranded on a desert island, it's a skill that might come in handy.

The truth is, I did a lot of fishing when I was a kid. My mom's parents had 3 ponds on their property and my dad's parents lived on a lake. I spent a good deal of time watching my grandmas clean fish and playing "assistant". A couple of summers ago, after we moved to Ohio, my husband purchased fishing poles for himself and my daughter. After a few fishing outings, I decided that I had better brush up on my fish cleaning skills. I consulted my Grandma Shirley. She patiently taught me how to fillet our catch. Then, on a trip to the Smoky Mountains that summer, I purchased a fillet knife of my very own at The Bass Pro Shop. I was set! Then a year went by and those fishing poles collected dust...until this past Memorial Day weekend. Needless to say, my fish cleaning skills had gotten a little rusty again when this challenge was placed in front of me. If you'd like to learn how to fillet a bass, or just need a refresher course, check out THIS youtube video. This guy is much faster than I am!

Lucky me, they brought the fish home completely alive. My neighbor pulled his boat trailer up to our driveway and tossed the fish into my cooler from the live well in his boat. I put them on ice and told them to "chill". Rock bass are spunky! My kids were fascinated as I wielded my knife and the fish flopped about on my cutting board.

Here I am, making a fillet cut.

This is me: Slayer of Fish. Check out my awesome fish monger apron. It didn't help anything. Fish juice still soaked through and made my tank quite stinky. My advice: go vinyl!

Rock bass are bigger than a bluegill, but smaller than a small or large mouth bass. My opinion when it comes to fish is "the bigger the better". I like to fillet mine and to fillet a smaller fish like this is time consuming AND tricky!

Well, clearly not that tricky...I can do it with my eyes closed. See?

Mmmm. I know that I've mentioned how much I love sushi.

With his boat put away, my neighbor dropped in while I was cleaning these. He mentioned that his father-in-law just wrapped his catch in newspaper and put them in the freezer until he was ready clean them. He noted that the newspaper soaked up the fish slime, making them easier to clean later. By this time, I'd been at it for a while, the grill was fired up for burgers and hotdogs, and our cookout guests had just arrived. Suddenly, this was the best idea I'd ever heard! I individually wrapped each whole fish in newspaper, sealed them in a big freezer bag and stashed them away in the basement freezer. I have to admit, I felt a little like a serial killer in doing this.

The next day, we took the fish that I had cleaned over to a friend's house and fried it as an appetizer while they barbecued some delicious ribs. I decided to try breading it a couple of different ways. First, dredged in a seasoned flour.

And also, rolled in Panko.

Then I heated a mixture of oil and butter in their griddle and fried it all up.

It was delicious! We ate it hot, with a sprinkle of salt, right off of plates lined with paper towel. Some of us dipped in tartar sauce. Some sprinkled with malt vinegar, but everyone enjoyed it. The hands down favorite breading? PANKO! It made for a really nice, light, crispy crust.

That was Memorial Day weekend. Today, I grabbed that bag of newspaper-wrapped fish out of my freezer, determined to fillet it for the perfect Southern-style dinner. I've been away from my kitchen for 5 days. I was ready for a project!

It's a good thing...because this was quite a project. I immediately tried to unwrap a fish and get started. Um...the newspaper was stuck fast and the fish was frozen too solid for my knife to penetrate.

Duh. I needed to let them thaw a bit. So here are my 9 fish corpses in their newspaper burial shrouds, coming up to an acceptable cleaning temperature.

Here's one of the Rock Bass pictured with my fancy-schmancy Bass Pro Shop fillet knife. Actually, it cost less than 10 bucks and it does a great job. The thin, flexible blade is what sets fillet knives apart from other kitchen knives.

Here's my first fillet of the day. Free of skin, scales, and bone...just the way I like it. I mentioned that Rock Bass are tricky to fillet, right? Did I mention that they have a double ribcage? My whole goal in cleaning a fish is to get the best product with the least amount of waste. That ribcage throws me off, fish after fish.

Give me back that fillet-o-fish, give me that fish...

After I cleaned them, I rinsed the fillets under cold water, feeling for bones. Then I tossed them into a bowl of salt water...just like my grandma taught me.

I put the fish in the fridge and set about preparing the side dishes for tonight's dinner. I had big plans for a Southern-style dinner.

When it was time to make the fish, I pulled out a recipe for Oven-Fried Catfish from Cooking Light magazine. Marinated in hot sauce and beer, I figured that this would be a way to prepare fish that my husband might enjoy. Plus, it's baked not fried. All of the pleasure, none of the guilt : )

I used Frank's Red Hot and an inexpensive light beer.

Mix half of a cup of each together and then marinate the fish for 30 minutes.

For the breading, mix together cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, and pepper.

Remove the fish from the marinade and pat dry with paper towel.

Dredge the fish in the cornmeal mixture. Place it on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray (I lined mine with foil first for easy clean up)and bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.

Here's dinner. Oven-Fried Catfish, Jalapeno Cornbread, and Black-eyed Pea Salad. I'd like to brag about it, but I can't.

Between 2007 and 2009 we lived just south of Atlanta, Georgia. We decided to take advantage of our new surroundings and visit the sights around our Georgia home. We visited places like Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, FDR's Little White House in Warm Springs, The Road to Tara Museum and Stately Oaks Plantation in Jonesboro, West Point Lake in Lagrange, and of course, Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain, GA. On many of these outings we stopped to sample the local fare: barbecue, fried chicken and catfish, greens, black-eyed peas, cornbread, puddings...and my all time favorite, Shrimp and Grits! Our time in Georgia awakened my love for down-home Southern cooking.

With fish on hand, I decided to go for a Southern dinner to rival those roadside diners that we had visited on our weekend outings. I remembered seeing an article in the July 2001 issue of Cooking Light titled, "Catfish, reconsidered" that featured accompaniments such as Jalapeno Cornbread and Black-eyed Pea Salad. Yesterday, I dug it out of my archives. My first mistake might have been consulting Cooking Light for Southern cooking. It's kind of an oxymoron. Cooking Light....Southern Cooking? I should've known better. I should've consulted Southern Living. And I know that I was working with Rock Bass and not Catfish, but I figured one fresh water fish was as good as the next.

I'm pretty sure that the fish was not the problem here. It was really delicious when fried in oil and butter. Delicate and flaky, not too fishy. But the coating on this recipe was kind of hard and dry. The flavor wasn't great either. I think I was the most annoyed about this failure because I spent all that time cleaning the fish.

And the cornbread? Well, it was just okay. Certainly not inedible, but not out-of-this world either. I couldn't really taste the jalapeno and I wrestled between thoughts of smothering it in honey or whipping up a batch of ham and beans so that I could use it for sopping.

There was one bright spot in the meal: this Black-Eyed Pea Salad saved the day! I enjoyed this salad so much that I'm going to give it a post of it's own tomorrow.

Here's the recipe. Maybe you can improve upon it. For starters, I'd heat a big ol' skillet with oil and fry it. But then, it wouldn't be "light" anymore, now would it?

Oven-Fried Catfish from Cooking Light July 2001

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 fillet)

1/2 cup light beer
1/2 cup hot sauce
4 (6-ounce) farm-raised catfish fillets
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray

Combine first 3 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal and marinate in refrigerator 30 minutes. Remove fish from bag; pat dry with paper towels. Discard marinade.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Combine cornmeal, cornstarch, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge fish in cornmeal mixture.

Lightly coat fish with cooking spray. Place fish on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and bake at 450° for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

CALORIES 296 (27% from fat); FAT 8.8g (sat 1.9g,mono 3.1g,poly 2.5g); IRON 2.8mg; CHOLESTEROL 99mg; CALCIUM 74mg; CARBOHYDRATE 17.7g; SODIUM 361mg; PROTEIN 32.8g; FIBER 1.1g

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dinner Club Italian Night and The Meal Plan 6/28- 7/4

I've been away for a bit. Actually, I'm still away...we're visiting family in Indiana. Since we are "back home" visiting, we were able to join a group of our friends on Friday night for dinner. They've recently formed a gourmet club. Each couple in the group takes turns hosting and when it's your turn to host, you get to pick the theme. Everyone attending is assigned a part of the meal to bring along; bread, appetizer, side dish, etc. Our friends Nick and Chanda were hosting this month and their pick was Italian. I have to say that they did a phenomenal job hosting this event and everyone brought delicious food to the table. It was definitely a fun time and my husband and I hope that our future visits home will coincide with the meetings of "The 20 Year Club".

I thought that I'd share some pictures of the food. Here's the appetizer/drink table.

Let's take a closer look... This is my contribution, the focaccia bread. I may be shopping for another focaccia recipe. This was a little too chewy. The flavor was good, though.

Some baguette slices with olive oil for dipping.

Oh how I love Caprese Salad!

Pretty pink roses.

I can't believe that I forgot to take pictures of my favorite snack on the table, the Risotto Balls! Boy, were those good!

Before dinner, we toasted.

For the main course, Fettuccine with Roasted Chicken and Lemon Cream Sauce. This recipe was posted on this blog courtesy of our host way back in December of 2008. It's good stuff!

And let's not forget the side dishes, Bruschetta Casserole and ....

a Tuscan Squash Bake.

Here's my plate. Of course, I tried everything (some of it twice!) Here you can actually see one of those risotto balls that I forgot to's that thing that looks like a hush puppy on the left side of my plate.

And finally, dessert! My sister-in-law made these cream puffs from scratch! Half were filled with custard and half were filled with a Nutella cream. Mmmmm.

Definitely some good eats! Here's what we'll be eating the rest of this week:

Tuesday June 29th

Drive thru dinner...we'll be on the road.

Wednesday June 30th

Oven-fried Rock Bass
Black-eyed Pea Salad
Jalapeno Corn Bread

Thursday July 1st

Savory Focaccia Pie

Friday July 2nd

Kentucky Grilled Chicken

Saturday July 3rd

Cooking out

Sunday July 4th

The cook out is at our house! Everyone will bring something, and here is what I will provide:
Hot Wings-appetizer
Burgers and Hot Dogs-Main Course
Avacado and Basil Pasta Salad
Raspberry Cream Freeze Pie-dessert
Mini Root Beer Floats-dessert

So...what are you all making for the 4th?

Sorry, no grocery list this week. I accidentally left my recipes in Ohio. : )

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Focaccia: Four Ways!

I made focaccia bread for the first time ever this afternoon! Sure, I've made an easy version of mini focaccias found HERE...and when I worked in the deli in college we baked focaccia bread...after we took the dough out of the freezer the night before proofing, baking, and bagging it. But I've never rolled up my sleeves and kneaded, shaped, and topped foccacia from scratch. I'm so glad that I did! Focaccia is pretty fun to make and versatile in what you can top it with. I went with caramelized onions, olives, roasted garlic and parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and red onion and rosemary. My house smells gloriously of fresh baked bread, garlic and rosemary as I sit here typing. Mmmmm.

So, who is going to eat all of this focaccia? A group of our family and friends at an Italian dinner tomorrow night! I'll definitely take pictures and post about it next week. The fact that we will be attending this dinner is just plain lucky. On Tuesday, I was talking to one of my Indiana friends and informed her that we'd be in town this weekend for a wedding. "When are you coming in?" she asked. I answered, "Friday...why?" She told me that a gourmet club formed by a group of our college friends was holding their first ever dinner on Friday night. The theme: Italian. I'm so excited to see all of our friends, catch up, and see what everyone brings to share. What luck! What timing! The hostess emailed and suggested that we bring the bread. Good call, since I'm not sure that my tiramisu or tortellini alla panna would have weathered the 5 hour drive very well. Right away I pulled out my copy of The Best Ever Italian Cookbook and flipped to focaccia.

The recipe called for 1 recipe Basic Pizza Dough, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and coarse sea salt. I had to flip back a few pages to find the pizza dough recipe. Once I'd gathered the ingredients for that, I realized that I had a blank canvas to top as I pleased. Yay!

Here's how I made the focaccias:

I know that this picture looks like I made myself a nice cup of Chai while I was mentally preparing to make the bread, but really it's my yeast proofing in a cup of warm water, stirred with a pinch of sugar.

Actually, it's 4 cups of yeast proofing because I quadrupled the recipe. I believe that 16 people are attending the dinner. If we have extra bread at the end of the night, we can eat it throughout the weekend while enjoying the lake at my in-law's house.

Once the yeast has dissolved and started to foam, add it to 1/3 of the flour and a teaspoon of salt in a mixing bowl. You can stir this with a spoon, but I opted for my mixer.

Once combined, add in another third of the flour and mix or stir until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If you're not using a mixer, at this point you can turn it onto a floured surface and add the remaining flour as you knead. I put the dough hook on my mixer and added the remaining flour as it mixed. Does the following picture look a little ominous, or is it just me? Like Captain Hook is about to make some focaccia...

After a little time with the dough hook, I still turned the dough onto my pastry mat and kneaded it for a couple of minutes until it had that "just right" smooth and elastic feel.

Then I plopped the dough ball into a lightly greased bowl, covered it, and kept it someplace warm until doubled...about 50 minutes.

To determine whether the dough has risen enough, poke two fingers into the center. If the indentation remains, it's ready. Punch it down...

And transfer it to a pastry mat or lightly floured surface and knead it for another 3-4 minutes.

Brush a large, shallow baking dish with a tablespoon of oil and use your fingers to press the dough into an even layer, 1 inch thick. I failed to read this instruction and just looked at the picture provided which showed the dough covering the whole baking sheet. Consequently, my focaccias turned out MORE crispy and LESS soft and chewy than I would have liked. Cover the pans and let rise again for 30 minutes.

While the dough raised, I prepared my toppings. I started the onions caramelizing in a couple of tablespoons of oil.

I took out the roasted garlic that I purchased from my grocery store antipasta bar. I've roasted my own garlic in the past, you can check it out HERE...but I was trying to make this a project that I could fit into my daughter's purchased garlic was a great shortcut.

I sliced up the cloves.

Then I grabbed for the olives. This is an Italian blend of olives, also purchased from the antipasta bar. I had lots of samples while choosing this blend...

I cut them in half.

Oh, and there was the King of Parmesan... the Parmigiano-Regianno cheese. If you’ve never used Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before, you’re in for a treat. Parmigiano-Reggiano has a sweet-nutty flavor and crumbly texture that is a favorite of both cheese lovers and connoisseurs. This cheese has significantly more flavor than regular parmesean, so you can use less of it and conserve calories. Good thing, because this retails for 18.99/lb. Pictured below is $6.46 worth of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Whenever it's time to re-stock my supply of this cheese, I take a chunk out of the deli cooler and have the nice girl at the cheese counter cut it down to an affordable size for me. Try it sometime!

I cut a small chunk off of my already small chunk of cheese and popped it into my Pampered Chef Cheese Rotary Grater. I feel like I'm on The Olive Garden staff everytime I use it. All of the fun and none of the fuss of pre-bussing tables, doing side work, and being extra friendly to people for a couple of bucks + tips.

By the time I rounded up my toppings, the focaccia had puffed up and it was time to give it "dimples". Use your fingers to press rows of light indentations into the surface of the dough.

Then brush with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, apply toppings if desired, and sprinkle with a little coarse salt. Here's the olive focaccia.

The caramelized onion....(Note: I stirred a teaspoon or so of crushed rosemary into the onions before spreading them onto the dough)

The red onion and rosemary.

I grated cheese over this one...

And the roasted garlic. Again, I added rosemary and cheese. Can you tell that I really like rosemary on my focaccia?

They all baked (two at a time, of course) in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes until golden brown. Here are all of my focaccia cooling on racks in our dining room. I could just dig in!

Here's a closer look at the baked version of each of these Italian flat breads:

The caramelized onion.

The olive.

The red onion.

Abd the roasted garlic.

I stacked them all up in my Wilton Ultimate 3-In-1 Cupcake Caddy and Carrier. Who knew it would work so well for focaccia!?

Sealed up nice and tight and ready for the 5 hour road trip!

Here's the recipe:

Focaccia from The Best Ever Italian Cookbook


1 recipe Basic Pizza dough, risen once
3 tablespoons olive oil
coarse sea salt

Basic Pizza Dough


1 package dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp. salt
3 to 3-1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1. Warm a mixing bowl by swirling some hot water in it. Drain. Place the yeast in the bowl and pour on the warm water. Stir in the sugar, mix with a fork, and allow to stand for 5-10 minutes until the yeast dissolves and begins to foam.

2. Use a wooden spoon or mixer to mix in the salt and 1/3 of the flour. Mix in another third of the flour, stirring until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

3. Sprinkle some of the remaining flour on a smooth work surface. Turn dough onto surface and knead it working in the remaining flour a little at a time. Knead for 8-10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. OR switch to the dough hook attachment on your mixer and mix until the flour is incorporated and the dough forms and smooth ball. Knead for a couple of minutes on a smooth surface.

4. Lightly oil a mixing bowl. Place the dough in the bowl. Stretch a moistened, wrung-out dish towel across the top and leave it stand in a warm place until the dough has doubled in volume, about 40-50 minutes.

For Foccacia:

1. After punching dough down, knead it for 3-4 minutes. Brush a large shallow baking pan with 1 tablespoon of oil.

2. Place the dough in a pan, and use your fingers to press into an even layer 1 inch thick. Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare toppings, if using them.

3. Just before baking, use your fingers to press rows of light indentations into the surface of the focaccia dough.

4. Brush with remaining oil, add toppings if desired, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until just golden. Cut into squares or wedges and serve as an accompaniment to a meal, or alone, at room temperature.
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