February 14, 2007

Oh, The Weather Outside

is Frightful... and predicted to get far worse before it gets much better! Today is most definitely a chowder day. And best of all, we have this dual-fuel stove with gas burners on top and an electric oven. If the power goes out - and it probably will - we've got it covered! I've always made traditional New England chowders, milk- or cream-based, potatoes and onions, fish or clams, and maybe some tried-out salt pork. Those are the recipes I included in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book, good, faithful standbys.

But last fall on a visit to my friend Nancy's, I had a fish chowder that was just excellent. Nancy, who is a super cook, shared the recipe with me and I've made it many times since. First, I'll give you the shared recipe, then I'll tell you how I usually modify it...you didn't think I could really follow a recipe more than once, now did you!?

Fish Chowder

1 1/2 lbs. fish, cut in small pieces
2 TBSP butter
1 or 2 leeks, thinly sliced, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 # yellow potatoes, peeled, diced (about 3 medium)
2 carrots, diced
4 c fish stock*** or chicken broth
2 ears fresh corn kernels
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1 TBSP chives

Melt butter, cook leeks about 8 minutes. Add garlic, cook another 1/2 minute. Stir in potatoes, carrots and stock. Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes. Add corn, cook five more minutes. Stir in cream, add fish and simmer. Chives on top.

*** FISH STOCK Nancy also introduced me to an invaluable product I'd never seen before: Knorr's Fish Bouillon. In cubes just like chicken, beef, or vegetable bouillon, it adds great depth of flavor. Not easy to find in the stores, but worth the hunt.

Now, I seldom have leeks in the house when the chowder mood hits, so I used lots of chopped onions, then more garlic and whatever kind of potatoes I have on hand. Instead of the fresh corn, I use a generous cupful frozen from our garden last summer. Ahhhh, then there's the cream. I just can't do it! I may use a can of evaporated milk, or any leftover half-and-half. This chowder is very filling, and (without the heavy cream) it offers low-calorie, high nutrition comfort food. It's doubly delicious with homemade English muffins... see the recipe in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book.

Having enjoyed this fish chowder many times now, I'm ready to experiment a little further, making it with clams on this snowy, blowy winter day. I think I have just enough spinach and a few mushrooms, maybe a sprinkling of pecans, for a little salad too. Let it snow, let it snow...


February 11, 2007

What Exactly IS Romantic??

Ahhh, that heart-shaped holiday is coming! Candy, cards, flowers, dinner out...what's your definition of romantic? I'm sure it changes for each of us over a lifetime, that candy conversation heart slipped to you in fourth grade replaced by the single red rose (from "one who knows a love that grows") in high school to perhaps an engagement ring sometime later. Perhaps your most valued valentine is one a small child created for you with far more love than artistry.

I have to admit right off that I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day - or for that matter, Mother's Day - in their current commericial incarnations. But this year Bert has truly won my heart all over again. We went smelting!

The rivers have finally frozen enough to allow the shacks to be dragged out onto the ice. We had a two-man house about 8' x 8', pretty rustic, one fishing canal called the race hole, lots of jigs and lots of bloodworms. A tiny woodstove battled the wind howling down the river and the huge gaps around the door, keeping us...well okay, parts of us warm at any given moment. I am not in the least bit squeamish about digging and baiting worms for regular fishing season, but there's something about the bloodworms that I really do NOT like. But part of fishing is baiting so after Bert does the first round, I'm on my own with the little bits of bait.

Along the side of the shack over the race hole is a pole the lenght of the shack and from that eight lines hang with lead weights and one or two hooks each. After baiting, you unwind the lines until the weight hits bottom then you re-wind to the depth-off-bottom where the fish are hopefully biting. We were fishing on an incoming tide so as the water rose, we dropped our lines a bit with each re-baiting. It wasn't the best - or the worst - fishing we've ever had, enough bites to keep it interesting with a couple of dozen smelts to take home.

Is it cold out there on the frozen river? Of course! Mostly though just your feet get really cold when you're in the shack. But getting out to the shacks can be downright... nippy! Then after you've stoked the woodstove, you shed a few layers of warmth, settle in with a thermos of coffee and some snacks, and you're ready for fishing. The shacks are close together so you hear how the fish are running for others on either side of you. It's great fun when there's a family next door because the kids always seem to have such a good time. Friday we went for the afternoon, but we've gone most often at night, the winter night sky sparkling clear, the stars twinkling just brilliantly as the tide begins to turn and we begin to make our way back to shore.

Some tides are slow - whether incoming or outgoing - but on some tides you just can't pull the smelts in fast enough. Buckets and buckets full. Then comes the next challenge, for me at least...giving those smelts away to those who appreciate them. I don't. (Remember that I am usually only a catch-and-release person!) Bert always fries up "a fine mess" dipped in cornmeal, and luckily, we do know folks who are always eager for any fresh smelts we have to share.

Ahhhh, a frozen river, bloodworms, the howling wind... now THAT'S romantic!