Seafood

166/365: National Lobster Day

You just might be clawing your way to the nearest crustacean tank in order to shellfishly enjoy today’s food holiday. June 15 is National Lobster Day!

Now, we’ve already discussed lobster before, so I won’t repeat the same details as before. How about a few fun facts instead?

  1. Lobsters only turn red when they are cooked.
  2. Lobsters have blue blood. This does not mean they’re rich, but rather, they’ve got copper in their bloodstream.
  3. Lobsters were once considered food for the poor, and were fed to prisoners and servants. Nowadays they are a delicacy.
  4. A lobster’s brain is in its throat.
  5. Lobsters hear with their legs and taste with their feet.

Interesting creatures, eh? Plus they can live to a very ripe old age. You know, if they aren’t caught in traps and fed to hungry prisoners first. To celebrate the holiday, Tara and I went to Quizno’s for a lobster and seafood salad sandwich. I had no idea they made such a beast. Good stuff, too!

And now, as promised, I’m going to share a few stories from you, our faithful readers! Thursday was National Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, a day to celebrate your favorite kitchen follies. Tara and I told you about ours. Here’s what you had to say.

One New Years Day I was opening a canned ham (back in the day when the cans were made of metal and you used a key to open it) and I ended up in the emergency room getting 9 stitches in my finger!” This one came from my mom, and I remember that day well. I was 9 or 10 years old. Most traumatic start to a new year ever. I have no idea what we ended up having for dinner that night – probably hospital food. Yum.

My daughter was coming over for dinner and I wanted to try something new, exciting, and different. So, I tried salt-roasted pork tenderloin. When finished, it looked great. But, it tasted like salt lightly flavored with a hint of pork. I couldn’t eat it. Sue couldn’t eat it. Danica couldn’t eat it. The dog couldn’t eat it. I still don’t know what I did wrong, but that was bad.” Courtesy of my uncle Tom, who is quite the gourmet cook – which makes this story all the more surprising.

I cut my hand on a frozen waffle.” Short, sweet, and painful…but I laughed my ass off when I read that. Thanks for sharing, Donna. I hope you were able to leggo of your Eggo fear.

Years ago I made brownies (from a box) for my new co-workers, so they would like the new girl. I am terrible at following directions. The brownies had been in the oven for a few minutes when I discovered that I had left the eggs out. So I took the brownies out of the oven, stirred in the eggs and resumed baking. The next day when my co-workers were eating my brownies, this one mean girl yelled out for all to hear, “Hey, there’s hunks of eggs in these brownies!”. If anybody had to get a hunk of egg in her brownie, I’m glad it was her.” Thanks for the funny story, Marilyn. Two words for the mean girl: karma, bitch.

My family tells a story about the first time I made meatloaf for them, when I was in junior high. Instead of using a teaspoon of pepper (or something), I used a tablespoon, and the resulting meatloaf was too hot and spicy for my bland family’s tongues. However, the next evening, Mom rescued my by crumbling my meatloaf up into the spaghetti sauce; my too-spicy meatloaf made a fabulous pasta sauce.” I bet I’d enjoy your spicy meatloaf, Jonna. I love food with a kick!

And then there’s Wendy, who apparently is so klutzy around the kitchen it’s a wonder anything ever turns out. She had multiple stories to share. “I tried taking cheese sticks out of the oven by grabbing the foil edges and the foil ripped and my hands went up and hit the top burners…..blisters on both hands….on Christmas eve no less!” “Tom: I did that trying to “brine” a chicken. Tasted like salt. That’s all, nothing else.” “When I was in the 6th grade my mom had to work Thanksgiving morning and it was my responsibility to put the turkey in the oven so we could eat when my mom got home. Well I didn’t remove that pack of innards and the turkey was still raw when it was time to eat. To this day I refuse to make turkey in Thanksgiving.”Oh also, when we got our first microwave I put a hot dog in for 5 minutes. Yes, minutes!” Remind me never to accept a dinner invitation to Wendy’s house. Especially around the holidays!

National Lobster Day
Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

136/365: National Coquilles St. Jacques Day

You’ll have to come out of your shell in order to enjoy today’s food holiday. May 16 is National Coquilles St. Jacques Day!

Or, as I referred to it when I first learned of it, National what St. who day?! What can I say, my French is a little rusty. (By the way, considering these are American food holidays, there sure have been a lot of French dishes celebrated. Must be a lobbyist named Pierre working his ass off up on Capitol Hill). Coquille St. Jacques, it turns out, translates to “Scallops St. James.” I’m still not sure how James is the same as Jacques, but then again, I’ve never understood how Dick is derived from Richard, so it’s a moot point. Anyway, once I learned the dish was based on scallops, I breathed a sigh of relief. I love scallops!

St. James was an apostle who, according to legend, once rescued a drowning knight covered in scallops. That dude failed the first rule of Knighthood 101: always remove your armor prior to swimming. No doubt he never lived down the fact that he was attacked by a bunch of fierce, bloodthirsty bivalves. In any case, St. James became associated with scallops, and medieval Christians who made the pilgrimage to his shrine at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain often wore scallop shells on their clothing, or carried them along. The grooves on the shell supposedly represent the different paths the pilgrims would take to arrive at the same destination: the cathedral. When the scallop shell was presented at a church or castle, the pilgrim was allowed to take as much food as he could carry in a single scoop. The pilgrim would walk away with a scallop shell full of oats, barley, or another grain. Or – if he were really lucky – beer or wine.

Coquilles St. Jacques is traditionally made with scallops poached in white wine. They are then placed atop a scallop shell over sauteed mushrooms and topped with poaching liquid, cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs, and broiled until crisp. Pretty fancy! Only, we were plum out of scallop shells. Fortunately, I found a recipe that allows you to use ramekins instead. Whew! It turned out delicious, too. Which is great, considering neither of us had ever heard of the dish before embarking upon this challenge.

Coquilles St. Jacques

Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

130/365: National Shrimp Day

There’s nothing tiny or insignificant about today’s food holiday. May 10 is National Shrimp Day!

Shrimp is the #1 seafood in America, ranking ahead of canned tuna and salmon in popularity. And yet, we should be eating even more, according to the USDA, which recommends 8 ounces of seafood every week. Shrimp have long been a popular and tasty food choice; evidence of shrimping off North America dates back to 600 AD. Native Americans caught shrimp in traps made from branches and Spanish moss, while at the same time early European settlers – who had no idea shrimp were so abundant off the coasts – were starving to death because they couldn’t find enough protein. During the California gold rush, Chinese immigrants began catching shrimp in San Francisco Bay, drying them in the sun, and either exporting them to China or selling them locally, officially kicking off the shrimp industry in the U.S. Shrimp trawling, a technique in which a boat drags a big net across the bottom of the ocean floor in order to scoop up shrimp, resulted in large harvests and revolutionized the industry. Shrimping grounds expanded, and the delicate seafood could now be enjoyed year-round. Shrimp got another marketing boon when Bubba from Forrest Gump waxed philosophically over his love for the crustacean. Suddenly, there were real-life Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. restaurants everywhere. Talk about life imitating art.

I love shrimp, and enjoy it in a variety of presentations. For today’s challenge, Tara and I decided to pick up some fresh-caught shrimp from the seafood counter at Fred Meyer. We marinated it in a Mojito Lime sauce, stuck it on skewers, and grilled it for dinner. Mmm!

Shrimp

Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

119/365: National Shrimp Scampi Day

There’s nothing tiny about the flavor in today’s celebrated dish. April 29 is National Shrimp Scampi Day!

“Scampi” is the Italian word for shrimp, and refers to both a type of shellfish and a preparation. Technically speaking, shrimp scampi translates to “shrimp shrimp” which is pretty redundant, unless you’re Little Caesar’s (“pizza pizza!”). It is essentially shrimp cooked in garlic, butter, lemon juice, and white wine, and typically served over pasta. Shrimp scampi was basically unheard of prior to World War II; during the 1950s and ’60s, many Italian dishes caught on and went mainstream – including scampi, cacciatore, and Sophia Loren.

Shrimp scampi is pretty easy to make, and delicious! I used the below recipe, which I found online and modified slightly.

Ingredients
1 1/2 pound jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley

Directions
Put the shrimp on a large pie pan or plate and pat them completely dry with a paper towel. Arrange the shrimp so they lay flat and are evenly spaced.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the butter to the skillet. When the foaming subsides, raise the heat to high, and invert the plate of shrimp over the pan so the shrimp fall into the pan all at once. Cook the shrimp, without moving them, for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Turn the shrimp over and cook for 2 minutes more. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl.

Return the skillet to the heat and pour in the wine and lemon juice. Boil the liquid until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir the  parsley into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the shrimp, season with salt and pepper to taste and toss to combine.

Serve over the pasta of your choice.

Shrimp Scampi

Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

86/365: National Spanish Paella Day

Spain is the birthplace of bullfighting, foam parties, and today’s food holiday. It’s National Paella Day!

Paella – Spanish for “pan” – was invented by Spanish peasants, who would gather the cheapest ingredients they could find, throw them together in a big pan, and cook them over an open fire. Traditionally, this included chicken, duck, rabbit, and snails. When the meal was ready, laborers would gather ’round the pan and eat from it directly using long, wooden spoons. After awhile, the Spanish were like, “Wait a minute…why are we eating snails when there’s a bounty of seafood available off the coast? What are we, French?!” The recipe evolved to include rice, beans, spices, tomato, and seafood. Mixed paella – incorporating both meat and seafood, along with fresh vegetables, and flavored with saffron – became the norm, and is considered  Spain’s signature dish. It is a popular custom to cook great, big pans of paella at festivals and other public gatherings in Spain. Chefs use enormous paelleras (specialized paella pans) to cook and feed the masses.

They're going to have leftovers for days!

Paella was one of those dishes that looked intimidating when we skimmed over the food holidays before kicking off this challenge. My only experience with the dish was a quick reference to it in a Seinfeld episode. The exchange was brief but memorable.

GEORGE: Ok, fine. It’s going to be very interesting, very interesting if they don’t show up tonight. You know my mother made all this Paella.

JERRY: What is that anyway?

GEORGE: It’s a Spanish dish. It’s a mélange of fish, and meat with rice. Very tasty.

So, with that basic bit of information to go on, I researched recipes – and discovered you can add just about anything to a paella. There were hundreds of recipes to choose from, but I decided to freestyle-it and adapt my own recipe from one I found. The essential ingredients were the same: rice, saffron, chicken, and seafood. From there I could get creative, and that’s exactly what I did. After work I stopped by the grocery store and bought shrimp and scallops. I couldn’t get clams though, and the reason is bizarre and sad. The seafood monger told me their clam supplier in Alaska suffered a tragedy recently: a boat sank killing every crew member but one, and the lone survivor refused to go out clamming anymore (smart dude) – so Fred Meyer is fresh out of clams.

A moment of silence for the lost clammers, please.

As for the paella? It sure looks good in this picture. There was a lot of work involved, and I think it could have benefited from a few changes – more seasoning, the addition of some chorizo, etc. But all in all, it wasn’t bad. Just a lot of work for a Wednesday evening. And one of our more expensive dishes: the tiny jar of saffron alone cost $10. Plus the seafood, chicken, etc….
Spanish Paella
Categories: Poultry, Seafood | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

71/365: National Baked Scallops Day

Three days after celebrating crabmeat, we honor another delicious seafood: March 12 is Baked Scallops Day! Scallops have long been a personal fave of mine (much like crab), so this has been a fun past few days.

Scallops are characterized by a brightly colored, fan-shaped shell. The word comes from the French escalope, which means “shell.” It doesn’t get much more literal than that. Scallops symbolize female fertility; many paintings of the goddess Venus include a scallop shell to help identify her. The scallop shell also symbolizes the setting sun, and Greedy Ass Big Oil Conglomerates (it is the logo for Shell). But we’ll overlook that, since the meat is so damn tasty. Scallops are considered a delicacy around much of the world, prized for their mild, sweet flavor and nutritious properties. In the U.S., we generally eat the abductor muscle, the white and meaty part of the scallop. In other parts of the world, scallops are eaten whole (though presumably this does not include the shell). Scallops are broken down into two different categories: bay scallops and sea scallops. The main difference is in the size; sea scallops are considerably larger, making them a better choice for pan searing. Scallop season runs from November to March, but frozen scallops are available year-round.

I picked up some sea scallops from the seafood counter at Fred Meyer after work. They were $18.99 a pound, which is just a tad pricey, so I asked for 1/2 a pound. Chuckled when I ended up with a whopping 4 scallops. But there are four of us this week, since I’ve got my kids, so I simply baked the scallops as an appetizer, and we had fish (cod) for dinner. The recipe was pretty simple and, as you might guess, delicious!

Baked Scallops

Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

68/365: National Crabmeat Day

There should be a special claws stating that every day is National Crabmeat Day, because the sweet and tender crustacean is a delicious delicacy that we are happy to celebrate today! But I’m just being shellfish. We are fortunate in the Pacific Northwest to have access to Dungeness crab year-round. It’s one of my favorite seafood treats.

Crabs are ocean-dwelling crustaceans dating back to the Jurassic period. Many species live in fresh water, and some even exist on land. It is unknown when humans first realized crab was good to eat. Probably some early homo sapien ran out of saber tooth tiger meat before company arrived, and turned to crab because he was in a pinch. Crabs make up 20% of all crustaceans consumed worldwide. There are a wide variety of preparation methods: popular dishes include bisque, curry, and crab cakes. They can be boiled, steamed, baked, or fried. Some species (such as soft shell crabs) are eaten whole, while other varieties are prized for the meat in their claws or legs (snow crab). In Asia, female crab roe is considered a delicacy. In many countries and cultures, crab is beloved, but the expense makes it a rare treat, so imitation crab meat is substituted. In America, it is typically served in sushi (California rolls) or in crab salad, and is often made with pollock, a mild white fish abundant in the Bering Sea off of Alaska. The fish is skinned and boned, and the meat is minced and artificially flavored. It may contain a small amount of real crabmeat, but all I can say is: what a waste. Nothing beats real crab!

Tara and I are visiting family in Seattle this weekend, which gave us the perfect excuse to head down to Pike Place Market, an enormous public market overlooking Elliott Bay. Open since 1907, Pike Place is famous for its selection of fresh seafood. What better place to go to celebrate crab?

Our philosophy for this challenge was, simpler was better. Dungeness crab is so sweet and succulent on its own, we decided to pick up a couple of crabmeat cocktails. Big chunks of crab and a deliciously tangy, perfectly spicy cocktail sauce – and nothing else. Not cheap at $9 a pop, but you know what? I am declaring this my favorite food challenge so far. It was absolutely delicious.

Food at its most simple and finest: big chunks of fresh Dungeness crab, cocktail sauce, and nothing else. Delicious!

Food at its most simple and finest: big chunks of fresh Dungeness crab, cocktail sauce, and nothing else. Delicious!

Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

24/365: National Lobster Thermidor Day*

We could have taken the easy way out today. There are two food holidays celebrated on January 24th, and one of them is peanut butter. This would have required little effort on our part, but Tara was adamant we make lobster thermidor instead. I’m glad I listened to her, too. One of the goals of this challenge is to try foods we’d never had before. A month ago I’d never tasted curried chicken or hot buttered rum and Tara had never tried Peking duck, and it’s fun to expand our culinary horizons. Lobster thermidor is a complicated dish requiring quite a bit of preparation, but with a few shortcuts – it’s almost impossible to find whole lobster out here, so we had to substitute lobster tails – we ended up with a dish that was very good, and new to us both!

Lobster Thermidor was invented by a Paris restaurant named Marie’s in 1894, in honor of the play Thermidor, a tale of the French Revolution. “Thermidor” is also the eleventh month in the French Revolutionary calendar, occurring from July 19-August 17, and means “month of heat.” You have to love the French language: every word sounds beautiful. Lobster Thermidor could very well have been called Lobster Brumaire (second month) or Lobster  Pluviôse (fifth month). Or, for that matter, Lobster Beret or Lobster Peugeot.

The French sure love cooking foods with shells, but I’ve gotta say lobsters are a lot more appealing than snails. Did you know that they are one of the few creatures that don’t slow down or weaken as they age and, in fact, are more fertile the older they are? Lobsters are the Hugh Hefners of the deep! Like tortoises, mussels, and Quahog clams, they can live for hundreds of years. In fact, some scientists believe that barring injury, disease, predation, and clarified butter, lobsters could in theory live indefinitely.

Somebody needs to invent a pill…

Our poor lobsters were not so fortunate. But boy, were they tasty! Thank you, Rachael Ray, for this recipe utilizing lobster tails. Interesting preparation: you remove the meat from the shells, saute it in butter with onions, shallots, mushrooms, milk and cheese, and then stuff it back in the shells, top with bread crumbs, and broil for about 5 minutes. Dinner was fantastic! And with candles, wine, and jazz records, very romantic. 🙂

Lobster Thermidor

Categories: Seafood | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

21/365: National New England Clam Chowder Day

Today is National New England Clam Chowder Day! When I started researching this holiday, I was confused because a bunch of websites were telling me February 25th is National Clam Chowder Day. Turns out that’s true: in a month we celebrate clam chowder, but today is devoted to NEW ENGLAND clam chowder. Or as I like to call it, “Region Whose Football Team Is NOT Going To The Super Bowl This Year HaHaHa” clam chowder.

Sorry, Tom Brady fans.

There are many different variations of chowder (or “chowdah” as they say in Boston), most of which have the same base ingredients: clams, potatoes, onions, salt pork or bacon, and celery. Originating in Northeastern fishing villages in the 18th century, New Englanders take their chowder very seriously. They look with derision upon New Yorkers who have the audacity to substitute tomatoes for milk in their version (Manhattan clam chowder). And I thought the whole Yankees-Red Sox rivalry was intense. A 1939 bill was introduced to the Maine legislature making tomatoes illegal in New England clam chowder. No idea whether this is still official law. Maybe we should ask somebody from Maine.

Crickets.

Does anybody actually live in Maine? Other than Stephen King, that is?

New England clam chowder is usually served with oyster crackers, a nod to the hardtack (sea biscuits) that were typically served on long ocean voyages. Hardtack was cheap and long-lasting, and usually consisted of nothing more than flour and water. Hardtack was sometimes called pilot bread, dog biscuits, tooth dullers, worm castles, and molar breakers. Can’t imagine why they were scorned by sailors!

Clam chowder is often served in restaurants on Fridays. This is to provide a seafood option for Catholics who abstain from meat on Friday. Though the church loosened their rules some years back, the tradition lives on. I love clam chowder, and have been known to time restaurant visits to coincide with when it was being served.

Tara had the day off today while some of us had to work. Not that I’m bitter much. This was great though, because she had never made clam chowder before and was eager to try.

I sure was.  And even though I was offered recipes from Mark and my mom, I also insisted on finding and trying my own recipe.  I’ve learned that sometimes the easiest way to find a good recipe is to click on a website like www.allrecipes.com, type in what you’re searching for, and go with the one with the highest and most reviews.  Today was no exception.

This particular recipe was easy, rich, and delicious.  At the suggestion of some of the reviews, I made a few modifications; I sautéed the onions, carrots and celery in bacon grease.  We bought an extra jar of clam juice to cook the veggies and potatoes instead of water.  There was some leftover heavy whipping cream (from the bittersweet chocolate ganache a couple weeks ago) that helped thicken the base.  And clams.  Lots and lots of clams.

It’s funny how our palettes change as we mature (I was going to say grow older, but Mark tends to take those remarks personally).  I never cared for clam chowder when I was younger, and since I don’t like potatoes, it was too much work to pick around all the spuds for just a few bits of clam.  Thankfully, we now have a recipe that’s really good and my potato to clam ratio is just right!

 

New England Clam Chowder

 

P.S.  This is a great song to listen to while making your clam chowder.  Enjoy!

Categories: Seafood, Soup | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

7/365: National Tempura Day

January 7th is National Tempura Day, which may seem like an odd choice for an American food holiday. But tempura actually refers to the Japanese method of frying vegetables and seafood, and is not an actual Japanese dish like sushi or udon. In fact, the foods we cooked tonight were all distinctly American (and the side dish, Chinese). But more on that later.

Tempura didn’t even originate in Japan. Jesuit missionaries from Portugal introduced it to the Japanese in the 16th century, while visiting Nagasaki. They also brought over panko and tonkatsu (though the Japanese are responsible for origami, haiku, and vending machines that dispense everything from live crabs to soiled panties). Tempura is derived from the Latin word tempore, which means “time period” and refers to Ember Days, holy days in which Catholics eschew meat in favor of fish and vegetables. Regardless of where it came from, the Japanese took to tempura like a fat kid to cake, dipping everything they could find in batter and deep frying it in hot oil.

We were both excited for this challenge because it allowed us an opportunity to cook an entree. Squirting a dollop of whipped cream from a can is easy, but where’s the fun in that? (Actually, it could have been very fun, if this were an R-rated blog. Sadly, it is not). Neither of us wants this challenge to be too simple. We’ve been looking forward to getting down and dirty with some of these ingredients! So to speak.

By the way, one week in and we are beginning to get a feel for things. We’ve learned some lessons already: preparation is key, and do not take the easy way out. While we’re still finding our rhythm, I think from this point on you’ll start seeing us stretch ourselves a little bit more.

Back to tempura. I’d actually been craving it for some time, and had mentioned making it for Tara a while ago. I’ve owned a deep fryer for years (though using it remains a novelty), and I know from experience that tempura isn’t a complicated dish to make. We picked up a bunch of veggies – onions, mushrooms, yam, and zucchini – and a few large prawns. Those, a box of tempura batter and a bottle of dipping sauce, and we were all set. Tara’s not a fan of white rice, so she suggested we make fried rice to go along with it. Cross-cultural culinary conflict aside, I was game. She said she’d “pick up the packet” from the store on her way home, and I just looked at her. Packet? What packet?? Fried rice is easy enough to make without any preservative-laden help. But I feel I should offer her the chance for a rebuttal here.

Here’s another one I’m never going to live down…  In my defense, I’ve never cooked fried rice and the one and only time it’s been cooked for me at home was just last year, and compliments of my dad.  He did use one of those seasoning packets, along with the requisite diced ham, onions, eggs, and peas.  It must’ve been all those preservatives Mark mentioned that made it taste so good.

On paper, tempura is easy to make. Pour the oil in the fryer, heat it to around 350 degrees, combine the tempura mix with ice water to form a batter (the colder the better – this prevents the batter from absorbing too much oil and leads to a crispier coating), dip, fry until golden brown, and voila! You’ve got yourself something hot, crispy, and authentically Portugese. The reality is a little different, however. You have batter dripping all over the counter and floor and sticking to your arms (where you don’t discover it until later, when it’s good and dry), and the house smells like fried oil for 48 hours afterwards. But at least it tasted good!

Especially when Tara has to clean up the mess.

Tempura

Categories: Seafood, Vegetables | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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