Fish, cod in particular, is a high- protein, low-fat food. It’s what you do to it that starts making it bad for you.
Like breading or frying it, or both. A four- ounce portion of cod has about 125 calories. That’s it, really. Double, triple or even quadruple that amount once it’s breaded and fried.
But there is something else everyone seems to enjoy at those fish fries that we all love. Clam chowder soup is what I’m talking about. New England clam chowder is the popular choice around here. Not very often do you see Manhattan clam chowder.
The difference is the soup base — New England uses a cream base, Manhattan a tomato base. Without saying more, you should be able to determine that the New England version is usually the heavier of the two when it comes to calorie count.
New England chowder
12 oz. of raw cod, skin removed, with 1/4 cup water or 12 oz. canned clams with juice
2 cups diced potatoes, 1/2 inch pieces
2 Tbsps. butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 tsp. dried, crushed parsley
1 tsp. dried, crushed thyme
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Salt to taste
The cod can be frozen or thawed. Cut into cubes and place in microwave dish. Cover with the 1/4 cup of water and cook in microwave for three minutes or until cooked.
Peel and dice the potatoes. Put in stockpot and cover with water. Boil until tender. Drain. In this same stockpot melt the butter and saute the chopped onions. Add the flour and whisk together into a roux. Slowly add the milk while you whisk.
Cook over medium heat to thicken. Add parsley, thyme, pepper and salt. Add the cooked cod and water mixture. Cook over low heat for an additional 15 minutes. Do not boil because the mixture will break and become thin.
Substitute 12 ounces of canned clams (do not drain) for the cod and water if you desire. It is not necessary to cook the clams separately before adding to the broth.
2 Tbsps. butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
3 cups chicken broth
1 stalk celery
12 oz raw cod, skin removed, or 12 oz. canned clams with juice
1 can (16 oz.) chopped or crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. dried, crushed parsley
1 tsp. dried, crushed thyme
1/8 tsp. white pepper
Salt to taste
In stockpot, melt the butter and saute the onions. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Clean the celery, carrots and potatoes and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Cut the cod into 1/2 inch cubes and add to stockpot along with remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
If you’ve got holiday leftovers, you can use them to make some tasty dessert. Doesn’t a cranberry pecan muffin sound good? Or how about pumpkin Bundt cake made even better using sweet potatoes?
My dad loved strawberries. Growing up, we had a huge patch —more than an acre — and us kids would pick the berries and sell them on the side of the road. At the end of the season, we each got $5 to spend at the fair.
If you find yourself reminiscing about that sweet aroma of strawberries basking in a sun-drenched field, you need to go strawberry picking. And take Dad along.
Thompson strawberry bread
— Recipe courtesy of Thompson Strawberry Farm
2 cups sugar
1 cup salad oil
1 Tbsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup quick oats
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups crushed strawberries
Beat eggs and sugar, add oil and vanilla. Mix in flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and baking powder. Add strawberries and mix well.
Pour into two greased and floured 4-by-8-inch bread loaf pans. Bake 1 hour at 350 F.
— A fun dessert to make for Dad.
2 or 3 quart mold or bowl (use a simple shape Jell-O mold)
2 cups vanilla (or chocolate) wafer crumbs
1/2 cup crushed almonds
4 Tbsps. melted butter
1 qt. strawberry ice cream
1 qt. chocolate ice cream
1 qt. fresh strawberries, sliced
Let the ice cream thaw slightly. Meantime, combine the cookie crumbs, almonds and butter. Press into your mold and freeze. Spread alternating layers of the two flavored ice creams and the fresh sliced strawberries over the crumb crust and freeze.
To unmold, dip the bottom of the mold in a pan of hot water and invert. Freeze until ready to serve. This is great served with a hot fudge sauce. Decorate with additional fresh strawberries.
Pick your own strawberries:
Apple Barn Orchard and Winery, W6384 Sugar Creek Road, Elkhorn. 262-728-3266, AppleBarnOrchardAndWinery.com
Blue Clay Berry Farm, 5154 Wisconsin Highway 50, Delavan. Open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for pick your own. 262-745-3720, BlueClayBerry Farm@ gmail.com
Skelly’s Farm Market, 2713 Hayner Road, Janesville. Pick your own from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. 608-757-1200, SkellysFarmMarket.com
Thompson Strawberry Farm, 14000 75th St. (just west of Interstate 94 on Wisconsin Highway 50) in Bristol. 262-857-2353
Walvoord Farm Berries, 21618 Plank Road, Kansasville. 262-878-0488, Facebook.com/Walvoord-Strawberry-Farm
Sun Valley Strawberry Festival, June 25, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sun Valley Presbyterian Church, 1650 Sun Valley Drive, Beloit. Breakfast, lunch, entertainment, carnival games for kids, raffle baskets and a craft fair. A strawberry cookbook is also available for sale. 608-365-7547, SunValleyStrawberryFest.com
Every few days or so, I get an email or a phone call from someone who needs help with cooking.
Often, all that’s required is a bit of information. In other cases, I’ll confirm that they’re on the right track.
I enjoy these calls and letters because it helps keep me in touch with what real cooks in the kitchen are doing.
Here is a recap of some of the more interesting questions I’ve been asked lately.
The biggest thing people seem to be asking about is the difference between organic, sustainably raised and locally sourced.
Among the things affecting the price of food is the price of fuel, especially for transporting the food from the farm where it is grown to our table. The higher the cost of gas, the more transportation costs go up, and that adds to the price of food. A study by Worldwatch Institute found that food travels, on average, more than 1,500 miles before we put it on our tables.
Locally sourced food is one of the key food service trends according to the National Restaurant Association. Of chefs surveyed, 44 percent said this was the food trend that grew the most in the last decade.
There is no legal definition of locally sourced, so you need to ask how far it travels. For example, farmers markets are a good place to find locally grown food, but ask. Is 300 miles or 10 miles local to you? The local food movement is one in which the goal is to develop the local economy and to create a more self-reliant and resilient food network.
Sustainable vs. organic
Organic farms require certification approved by the USDA. However, organic food can be grown on a large scale and may be shipped miles away.
Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Farms using sustainable practices do not require certification — it’s more a philosophy or way of life. Less (or smaller)almost always is more sustainable. Sustainable agriculture strives to cause no damage to the environment or threaten human health with any of their farming practices, therefore growers try to keep their selling local.
Cooking with fats
Question:I use virgin olive oil for cooking because I have been told that it is stable and does not transform into saturated fat when subjected to high temperatures. Is this true?
Answer: Yes, this is true. All olive oil, not just extra virgin, is more stable than many other oils. When polyunsaturated oils are heated to high temperatures, changes (such as oxidation) can occur, making the fat more harmful.
Butter, however, adds a unique flavor and texture to foods that you may not want to give up. Try replacing half of the butter with olive oil and you effectively will raise the burning temperature as well. This works well for sauteing vegetables.
Saturated fats are most responsible for high cholesterol and are found mostly in foods that come from animals, such as beef or poultry fat, butter, cream and cheeses made from whole and 2 percent milk. Some plant fats also are high in saturated fat. These include coconut, palm and cocoa butter.
Polyunsaturated fats are better and are found in fish, nuts, seeds and such oils as soybean, corn, safflower, canola, olive and sunflower.
Cooking with wine
Question:I’ve found a lot of recipes that call for wine. I don’t want to use alcohol; is there a substitution?
Answer: Yes, there are substitutions you can use, depending on what the alcohol is intended to do in the recipe. For example, in meat dishes, the wine usually is adding flavor and an acid — the acid helps break down the meat tissues and could be replaced with vinegar or lemon juice.
When cooking with alcohol, you need to cook the sauce for at least 20 to 30 seconds to allow the alcohol to evaporate. Because alcohol evaporates at 172 F, any sauce or stew that is simmering or boiling is hot enough to burn the alcohol off.
I’ve noticed that some cooks have decided they don’t want to cook with wine because it tastes funny. The first rule of thumb here is never use any wine you wouldn’t want to drink, and do not use “cooking wine or cooking sherry,” because these typically are salty and have other additives.
What type of cream?
Question: What do they mean when they call for heavy cream?
Answer: Typically, heavy cream refers to whipping cream, although there is a difference in that heavy cream will have a higher butterfat content, which allows it to be whipped up nicely.
Whipping cream is just fine for toppings on pie and dessert. If the cream has to be whipped, you definitely need to use one or the other. Heavy cream is often used in sauces, such as alfredo.
You can reduce the calories by using half-and-half instead. This also is referred to as “light” cream. You will need to add gelatin to give it some body.
Whipping cream comes in pint-size containers in a liquid form and says “whipping cream.”
What is creme fraiche?
More and more, I see recipes that call for creme fraiche (pronounced krem fresh).
This is a matured, thickened cream that has a slightly tangy, nutty flavor and velvety, rich texture. The thickness can range from that of commercial sour cream to almost as solid as room temperature margarine.
In France, the cream is unpasteurized and therefore contains the bacteria necessary to thicken it naturally. In our country, where all commercial cream is pasteurized, the fermenting agents necessary can be obtained by adding buttermilk or sour cream.
It is used as a dessert topping and for thickening cooked sauces and soups; it has the added advantage of not curdling when boiled.
Make your own creme fraiche by whipping together one cup whipping cream and two tablespoons buttermilk. Set aside at room temperature for 24 hours or until very thick. Stir once or twice during that time. Cream will thicken faster if the room is on the warm side.
Stir thickened creme fraiche well. Refrigerate at least six hours before serving. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.
It was Dr. Seuss’ birthday last week, March 2, so I got out his books, all of them favorites of mine, to read again.
Who knew I was being politicized when I relied on others to read me books long before I could read on my own? His words go much deeper than they appear at first glance.
His books make great beginning readers. True to the fairy tale form, they offer simple morality tales for kids. But some of his stories touch on complex social and political themes.
For example, “The Lorax” touches on environmental conservationism and activism.
Seuss wrote “Yertle the Turtle” in reaction to Hitler’s rise to power.
“The Sneetches” talks about racism and discrimination.
“The Butter Battle Book” covers the arms race.
“Horton Hears a Who” is about isolationism.
Lots of serious stuff.
Seuss writes, “If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.”
Now that’s some good advice for the days when you’re taking everything much too seriously. That’s from “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.”
This story is encouraging people to be observant and imaginative. At the book’s start, we are asked to notice opposites: old and new, bad and glad, thin and fat, fast and slow, high and low. Comparison is an easy way to notice differences and uniqueness.
So, what does this have to do with a cooking column? Well, I was going to write about “Green Eggs and Ham” and give you a recipe for Florentine eggs, my version of green eggs, but “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” caught my eye because there are a lot of fish in the supermarkets right now. This is due to the Lenten season, when some Catholics eat fish or seafood in lieu of meat.
We can take Seuss’ encouragement to be observant to heart as we shop for fish. Start with the eyes — they should be clear and bright, not clouded or murky. A whole fish should look shiny,not slimy. Fresh fish flesh is firm and bounces back when you press into it.
And as counterintuitive as it may be, fresh fish should not smell fishy. It should smell like the ocean. A fishy smell means that fats inside the fish have begun to oxidize, a sign of decay and age.
Some people are intimidated by fish and then they make mistakes. But if you remember to get the pan searing hot before you add the fish, you’re halfway to success.
If you are frying your fish, the oil should be 375 F.
Don’t overcook fish. It’s done when there’s just that little bit of translucency left in the middle. Measure the thickest part of the fish and cook 10 minutes per inch.
If you use a marinade, go easy on the salt and don’t let fish marinate too long as it will make the fish soggy.
Blackened red snapper
— Recipe by Mario Batali of The Chew
4 fillets (6 to 8 oz.) red snapper fillets
Unsalted butter (to sauté)
1 lemon (halved)
Cajun seasoning mix:
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. kosher salt
For the Cajun seasoning mix, thoroughly mix together all ingredients.
Season the snapper generously with the Cajun seasoning mix and gently pat into the fish to stick.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add equal parts oil and butter. Once it has foamed and subsided, add snapper fillets (as many as fit comfortably,) skin side down, and cook until nearly opaque all the way through. Flip and cook another minute, then transfer to a platter. Wipe skillet clean and repeat with remaining fish.
Serve with lemon.
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