If you happened to be in my house and heard me slurring together a long stream of loud and nasty words from the attached garage, you could correctly guess the freezer door had been left ajar and certain preciously-stored food stuffs had begun to defrost. (Or that a mouse had chewed a hole in something like my best bag of coffee.) Now I’m not dumb and my memory is intact; I always lock the freezer door after grabbing a pack of burgers or a quart of soup. I learned the hard way during Covid’s scarcity months that’s the only foolproof method to insure everything remains at 0 degrees F, which is where you need long-stored food. Somehow in the previous day or two, I had turned the key but perhaps didn’t push the door closed tightly. Luckily (phew and phew again) most things were still hard as a rock, but there were a couple of packages of –sigh– thawing meat and fish out toward the front of the middle shelf. 3 boneless heritage pork chops were tossed into the fridge for another night, but 2 good-sized tuna steaks needed nearly immediate cooking. Had I planned on fish? Did I have anything to go with it? Well, I’d better because there was going to be tuna for dinner.
Both my mother-in-law, Lorna Morgan, and my good friends Sue Hall and Audie Dunham are known to occasionally have popcorn and wine for dinner. After all, why not? Popcorn is healthy and full of fiber; wine is made from fruit, isn’t it? (Wink, wink.) There’s no reason we can’t swap in snacks or appetizers for meals once in a while, but if you’re really hesitant, I’ll write you a note. The last Friday Fish of the season, Cheesy Crab Spread, is one of those dishes typically served before a meal (and it is an easy starter), but that also totally works instead of a meal —particularly if you serve it with some raw veggies along with some whole grain chips or crackers. Great on a day when there’s no time to cook or on a hot day when even the stove refuses to work. It mostly whirrs together in the food processor in just a minute or two (use an electric mixer or a wooden spoon if you like) and before you’ve poured your wine, dinner is ready to go. It’s also perfect to take to an Easter potluck or the first picnic of the year because it’s made ahead and travels well. Is it just me or is it always hard to think of an appetizer? Keep this one in your back pocket and you’ll know just where to look when you need one.
For Hot Cross Buns and Easter brunch ideas, scroll down to bottom under LIFE GOES ON.
No matter what kind of fish or seafood you’re cooking, there are two basic secrets to its success. #1 Don’t overcook it. #2 You need a great sauce. I mean, think about it. Even everyday sorts of fish or seafood like fried shrimp or fish and chips come with a sauce you just have to have: cocktail sauce for the shrimp and tartar sauce for the fish. Right? This is also true of fish cooked by chefs in upscale restaurants, though the sauces may (or may not) be a tish more sophisticated. Sometimes butter and/or lemon are all that’s called for, as in Sole Meunière, which is not much more than thin and floured sole fillets cooked in–yes– butter and lemon, then sprinkled with, what else? Parsley. Simple is as simple does. And the dish has been top drawer famous forever! No matter the fish, it is often the sauce that counts.
That’s especially true in my quick Friday Fish for this week, Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato-Sweet Pepper Salsa. Everyone knows pico de gallo and other sorts of Mexican salsas often made with cilantro and jalapeños, but a fresh tomato salsa (salsa only means “sauce”) without those two ingredients and with sweet peppers, tiny ripe tomatoes, parsley, green onions, and lemon, orange, or lime is something different. That difference is smile-worthy because instead of being overwhelmed by large-scale flavors, this mild fillet is enhanced and freshly seasoned by what is almost a baby salad garnish — which takes the dish over the top to my tastebuds.
You adore clam chowderbut your cupboard is full of tuna. It’s ok; I’ve got it covered. You can still have chowder–with tuna!! Does it work? Yes, yes; it totally does. And is it yummy? It definitely is. I thought about making chowder with canned tuna for a long time before I did it, but now that I have, it’s in my playbook for good. Tuna Chowder is easy, inexpensive, and even qualifies for what we’d call, “Cheap Eats.” This version adds some tiny ditalini pasta for fun and texture, but if you don’t like it, just add extra potatoes and you’ll be fine. Last time I cooked shrimp, I saved the shells in my freezer and was able to make a fast shrimp stock to bolster the flavor of the chowder. (Buying fish stock is above my pay grade at $3 a 15-ounce can. You can make it, though.) Vegetable broth is ok, too, and is better when spiked with a little clam juice, which is sold right near tuna at the store. Even chicken broth works in a pinch.
If you’ve followed the blog for long (THANKS!), you’ll know that I’m a midwest girl. Born to southern parents who moved north for work during the depression and settled in Chicago, I grew up with nearly all of the basic northern Illinois culture. That meant lakes or even the Kankakee River on the weekend with the whole fam, a Polish for a special lunch out whenever I could and Italian Beef or thin crust pizza (yes, thin) the rest of the time, tobogganing at Palos Hills in the winter and riding the rollercoasters at Riverview in the summer, visiting Marshall Field’s at Christmas, shopping German bakeries for coffeecake and bread, vacationing in Wisconsin and Minnesota (more lakes/more beer), and so on.
When I was a junior in college, I shared an apartment with three other women. Someone had the great idea of splitting the cooking chores and proposed each one of us would cook dinner one night a week for all four us, Monday – Thursday. Too many people went away or home on the weekend to worry about any of the other days. We didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about cooking, but gave it our best and were thrilled that we came home to a cooked dinner nearly every school night. Might have saved a few bucks, too. I have no idea what I made, but one roommate, Jan Jellinek, often made her mom’s famous TUNA MELTS. Now this wasn’t a diner-style grilled hot tuna and cheese sandwich, but instead was tuna salad with maybe cheese on a bun and heated in the oven for what I remember to be 45 minutes. That had to have been waaaay too long, but that’s my memory. (The oven’s a lot faster than skillets if you’re making several melts.) I married the next summer and Jan’s TUNA MELT was on our newlywed menu fairly often. It slipped off the weekly rotation somehow after we made a move or two, but 48 years later, I’ve never forgotten about it.
This week is the start of my once-a-year FRIDAY FISH series. Since 2015, I’ve each spring been posting six fish or seafood recipes, one for each Friday in Lent, the season of thoughtful observance leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Whether or not you follow any sort of faithful journey, you can still get some new ideas for cooking fish–who doesn’t need those? For grins and giggles — I think some of these meals qualify as fun— and to see what’s happened in other years, click on FRIDAY FISH in the topics cloud or type “Friday Fish” into the search box. To give you a few ideas, I’ve included in this post photos and links for some favorite FRIDAY FISH posts from the last couple of years.
It’s easy to avoid cooking fish or to cook it as simply as we can possibly figure because we’re unsure of our fish-cooking abilities. Or maybe fresh fish isn’t so available and feels expensive — especially in a land-locked state. Perhaps there’s a fear factor involved or we wonder, “Is fish really good for us?” How fast does it go bad? When is it done? How do I not overcook it? So we go with grilled wild salmon once a month in good weather. Salt, pepper, lemon. Air Fried fish and chips might be a step up. A pound of shrimp for Christmas Eve. Truth to tell, fish is good for us, is readily available nationwide (even if frozen), and is the original fast –and easy — food. Lots of people order fish from restaurant menus, but hesitate to cook much at home. Want to change that at your house?
Like many of you, I have probably for most of my life made tuna salad pretty much like my mother did. A can of tuna, a few spoons of mayo, one chopped hard cooked egg, a little onion, pickle and celery and — Fanny’s your aunt — hot weather lunch was served with little or no stove time. Over the years, though, as my cooking developed, so did my tuna salad. One year I was shocked to see that a happy little bit of lemon zest had slipped into the mixing bowl by “mistake.” Whoa! Another time a dab of perky horseradish became a sudden, but happy addition. Soon, though not always, cucumbers/fennel/carrots/bell peppers joined the party along with a good healthy spoonful of Dijon-style mustard, cornichons leftover from a wine and cheese event I catered, and —wait for it — a big splash of red wine vinegar. The biggest change was the consistent use of salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper, along with the occasional herbs, no matter what else I dumped in. Why didn’t I ever season my tuna salad before? (Mom, you didn’t tell me.) Of course I often ate it on toast, but sometimes I went with the old school ladies’ lunch counter lower-carb style: spooned into the middle of a quartered tomato, hopefully ripe. Other weeks, I thinned it out and ate it scooped up with potato chips or Triscuits (HELLO, TUNA DIP!!) — Triscuits being one of my most unknown addictions. (The rye were the best, but they discontinued them–sob, sob. Now I’m even more stuck on the organic thin variety. Try them and see. Nope, I’m not on Nabisco’s payroll.) After a while, my tuna salad was never the same twice in a row. Who knew what would happen next to my trusty, inexpensive summer fun food? And, by the way, how did we come to eat so much tuna fish??
If you’re a longtime More Time reader, you’ll have seen more than your share of caprese salads on the blog. While I’m not as addicted as it might appear, I’ll admit I make several during the warm months and…they are definitely photogenic. I mean. Red. Green. White. The colors are made to go together and not just in the garden or at the table. For instance, how many countries boast flags in those colors? Ok, I checked. Here they are (scroll down a while!). You have to admit, though, that this is actually a salmon salad; it just happens to be nestled into asparagus, greens, and yes, ok … caprese around the edges.