This year, when I began to dream about FRIDAY FISH recipes for Lent, I realized that while I hadn’t run out of fish and seafood ideas after fourteen years of food blogging, I did need to do a little planning to make sure I didn’t get seven special company meals or even five fish sandwiches and two seafood chowders. So I jotted down a few ideas (click on the photo at left), wondering if it made sense to go with one soup, one appetizer, one sandwich, and so on. To even things out a bit. I could have made a list of salmon, crab, canned tuna, cod, tilapia, flounder…and that would have been fine, too. But so far, my little dreaming note has worked, though there are only 5 dishes listed to date. Ok, then. I’ll still be thinking.
Ash Wednesday and Lent 2023: WHY DO PEOPLE FAST?/VOX
The thought of stirring a slew of chopped shrimp into my green chile-pimento cheese was born because there was a bag of frozen cooked shrimp in my garage freezer that needed using. I couldn’t imagine shrimpy pimento cheese could be anything but luscious — also versatile — and at the very first turn, I knew I’d struck gold. Shrimp Green Chile-Pimento Cheese is an easy (if not simple) appetizer or sandwich spread or omelet filling that makes a generous quart so you can freeze a pint for the next time friends come to dinner or when you need something to take in the car cooler to have with crackers and a cold beer in the hotel room. My seasoning leaves you with a brief smiley buzz in the mouth but you can ramp that up by doubling the crushed red pepper or adding Tabasco. To decide on your heat level, think about how you’ll use this cheese. Bread will dumb down the heat if you’re making a sandwich but should you dip it up with celery sticks or cucumber rounds, you’ll witness lots more warmth. Your choice.
I like to cook almost as well as anyone you know, but I also enjoy days when dinner is done and in the fridge, ready to go — especially come summer. (Though I’d admit real summer has yet to arrive in Colorado–no complaints.) Instead of turning on the stove, I can crawl up into my comfy reading chair with its humongous hassock, fall into my latest mystery or sleazy novel, and sip something very, very cold indeed. Typically, and you know this, it’s a pot of soup that has me all comfortably cozy-lazy with the latest Ruth Galloway (Elly Griffiths) or Louise Penny’s most recent Gamache thriller. But recently I’ve discovered a nice stash of protein heavy pasta salad will do the trick just as well. I like to bring a mammoth, heavenly pasta salad to a potluck or cookout (a great one-dish side) or on a road trip, but come hot weather, it’s happy at home right in my kitchen fridge just waiting for me to get hungry. With a little extra meat, cheese, beans, or fish, my salad feels perfect for dinner and leftovers are then easy offerings for lunch. Did I mention they’re whole meal deals? Nothing else is needed. Well, wine.
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??
With as much fish as we’re supposed to eat for health and six weeks of Friday Fish for Lent every year on this blog (this is now our second Covid Lent), salmon comes up pretty often on our menu. Our friend Chris likes to say, “Puh-leeze give me something else to do with salmon!” Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy serving salmon with at least two vegetables — so you’ve seen a few variations on this theme — hoping to eat less carbs or save them for some bread. I also simply want to increase our vegetable intake. Serving a smaller portion of fatty fish or red meat on a bed of vegetables or just to the side is not only a healthier way to eat (more vegetables), it makes the protein appear larger, more attractive, and puts it front and center for its closeup — an old tried and true restaurant ploy. So if it’s not really something new to do with salmon, it might just look and taste better!
“Rutabaga” comes from rotabagge, the plant’s Swedish name, meaning “baggy root.” This is, perhaps, the reason that it’s sometimes called a Swedish turnip or simply a swede. Dense and sweetly earthy, a spheroid that can grow to the size of a human head, with a mottled, brown-and-white surface and a buttery, yellow interior, the rutabaga looks like an overgrown turnip—which it is, sort of, at least on its mother’s side. A reproductive quirk of the Brassica genus allows for uncommonly easy hybridization (see the evidence in your local grocery store: kalettes, the frilly little greens that were 2014’s sexy new vegetable, are a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts). Somewhere, in the misty meadows of Central Europe, a turnip got frisky with a cabbage, and the rutabaga was born. This genetic history was confirmed only recently, in 1935, by the Korean-Japanese agricultural scientist Woo Jang-choon. But, three hundred years before, Bauhin, with his eye for botanical detail, saw to name the plant napobrassica, the turnip-cabbage.
I love salmon and maybe you do, too? Perhaps like me, you still occasionally wonder about what else you could do with it despite your unwavering devotion. You could just want better quality fish or how about a better $$ deal? (More later on that.) There are times I move into the fancy-schmancy or innovative lane — mostly because some uber ripe produce is shooting me dark looks from the counter or it could be I’m dreaming of a company meal even when no company’s in sight. Like lately. I miss friends and family coming for dinner. Most of us do, I guess–even those who don’t like to cook!
I don’t remember eating lentils as a kid. Even lentil soup — on many tables this week as it’s such a pantry-friendly meal — came to me in adulthood, albeit from a much-loved friend and oddly enough during a hot week at the beach on the Outer Banks. If I ate it earlier, I have no memory of the meal and more’s the pity. The “Lentil” I knew was the Lentil of Caldecott Award- winning author Robert McCloskey (MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS) fame since I’m a lifelong avid reader and also trained and worked as a school librarian at one time in my life.
I wasn’t taught to fast as a child; it wasn’t part of our tradition, but was something those interesting Catholics down the street did. I was happy as a clam about that because it meant I got cheese pizza on Friday nights at my Catholic girlfriends’ houses. This was so cool because, 1) to “give up meat” seemed a neat thing (foreign) to me and 2) There was no pizza, aka “junk food,” at my house.
Some days, nothing but tuna will do. Healthy, tasty, already-in-your-pantry canned tuna has solved many a meal dilemma at my house and probably at yours, too. Blast from the past ladies’ luncheon tricks like tuna salad stuffed tomatoes (or Hot Tuna-Stuffed Peppers)