Sunday, February 28, 2010

Start as you mean to go on

Mac and cheese. Fish sticks. Spaghetti. Chili. Tacos. Mashed potatoes.

Most comfort foods, the ones your mom cooked, are easy to make from ingredients in your larder. They don't take any longer than it takes to open a box, and they afford you just as much time with your family as any "convenience" food you might buy.

I always get annoyed at the prepackaged food ads that use as a selling point that you'll get to spend more time with your family. I don't know about most families, but my family tended to hang out in the kitchen and on the back porch while I was cooking, or running back and forth from the living room where they were watching tv, or at the dining room table doing homework. What exactly is it that these mythical tv moms are doing with their families instead of cooking? Is it not quality time if the pursuit is other than frivolous? What is it, exactly, that they are saving all this time for? I can't honestly think of a better way to spend time with my family than in a warm, fragrant kitchen, cooking something that my grandmother learned from her grandmother and passed on down to me to teach to my granddaughter. That's called immortality.

Would you rather your daughter think of comfort food as something in a box, or as something with a memory attached? Do you want to teach your granddaughter how to open a box or how to cook?

Would you rather save time, or be immortal?

I thought so.

Fish sticks
Any dense non-oily fish like salmon or tilapia
1/2 cup to 1 cup of bread crumbs
1-2 teaspoons seasoning
1-2 eggs

Use the higher amount for more fish, obviously. The low end works with a little less than a pound of fish.

I tested two seasonings:
• 1 teaspoon orange zest (never throw away an orange rind without zesting it, then drying the zest in the microwave), ground green peppercorns, seasalt, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
• 1 teaspoon garlic flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground sage, black pepper, seasalt

Both delicious

Lightly whip the egg in a shallow bowl. Combine the bread crumbs and seasoning in a second shallow bowl. Cut the fish into 1 x 5 inch strips, pat dry, coat in egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. I tried this with salmon, whitefish, and tilapia. The salmon could be easily manipulated fresh and never frozen. Slice off the skin and then bread it. The tilapia worked best frozen and then lightly defrosted; otherwise it fell apart when rolling. Cooked up beautifully and just as fast. White fish is much too loose, even frozen, and you couldn't get the skin off.

Pan fry, turning once, in shallow oil (a lighter oil like canola or corn); 3-5 minutes max. Drain on newspaper.

Serve with rice or mashed potatoes and homemade cole slaw, with a remoulade or tartar sauce. I think this would be charming at a dinner party, made with tuna or shark.

You will not believe either how easy these are, nor how much more delicious than the frozen kind. This is food that kids will eat. You have to wash an additional 2 dishes and 1 pan, but you have just taught your children how good food can be both to make and to eat.

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