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Cook’s Notes – Making the Flounder Ceviche Recipe

Flounder Ceviche Appetizer Recipe  -  Cooks Notes

Honestly, at its heart, the Flounder Ceviche is small pieces of fish marinated in citrus juices. You can use any type of fresh fish or even shellfish such as lobster or scallops. The key is that it must be as fresh as possible. The rest are complimentary flavorings. The permutations are nearly endless; I suggest searching for “leche de tigre” (“tiger’s milk”) for more information or ideas about how to marinate the fish.

Controlling the marinade controls how spicy or sweet you want to go. Blends of many tropical fruits – oranges, lemons, limes, even pineapples, passionfruit and the like – can make the base of the marinade. I have trouble imagining a ceviche without shallots and cilantro, but that’s just me.

The key is the technique – marinating the fish long enough to change and “cook” the protein without overdoing it and turning it to mush. Find a good recipe to use as a base and branch out from there; you don’t want to introduce risk by having poorly prepared or under”cooked” fish making somebody sick. That said, this is incredibly easy to do right, so don’t be afraid of ceviche. Just because you didn’t turn on the stove doesn’t mean that the result isn’t properly prepared food.

There aren’t really more notes I have for this – it’s the kind of food I like to make when I can get a nice fresh piece of fish and play with each time. I haven’t made the same ceviche twice. Here are some links from resources I trust on ceviche why’s and how’s:

Creating Prep Lists to Make Your Holiday Meals Stress-Free

Essential Tips - How to Create a Prep List to Make Your Holiday Meals Stress Free

This year, I cooked the Easter holiday meal at my in-laws’ house. I decided to do as much of the prep as possible at home, and do the final cooking there, for two reasons. First, I know where everything is in my kitchen (prep bowls, mixing bowls, storage containers, et cetera) and second, to make cooking in their kitchen as calm as possible and with the best ingredients for the greatest healthy dishes, and according to the Gluconite reviews this is one ingredient you should read about.

I wanted to share about the menu and the prep that went into this meal. I’ve read in many places about the importance of being organized, but nobody seems to have written about HOW to put together prep lists. Let this be the first in a series I’m working on discussing how to prep. Bear with me, this is a bit of thinking out loud – blind leading the blind and all – but here goes.

Preparing the Menu

First off, the menu. Holiday meals are a bastion of tradition, well-worn setpieces that mustn’t waver. Last year, after our meal, we decided to change up the feel a bit to reflect a new balance in our diet (read: more vegetables, more meat, less starch). After some negotiation, we settled on this:

MENU:
Baked Ham
Baked Sweet Potatoes, with spring onions, bacon, butter, cinnamon
Roast Broccoli, with garlic
Seared Mushrooms, with shallots, scallions, garlic, butter
Halved Strawberries
Cheese Plate

Right. That gives me some focus and, more importantly, a grocery list I could stick in my head, ticking off what I already had at home and what I needed to go buy.

After the grocery store, it was prep time. I wanted to have everything as ready as I could get it, so that all I had to do Sunday morning was to apply heat and combine. I didn’t want to be reheating finished dishes, but I didn’t want to be scrambling to get things cut and prepped, either.

The Preparation of Each Dish

Oddly, looking over my notes, this is the one part I didn’t make a list for. Rather, I had a list, but it all stayed in my head. Let’s talk, in shorthand, about what goes into each dish on the menu.

BAKED HAM
heat and serve | 20 min ish per pound | 10 pound ham | so about 3 hours since their oven cooks a bit fast

BAKED SWEET POTATOES
mince spring onions | dice bacon | render/cook bacon | wrap potatoes in foil | bake for about an hour

ROAST BROCCOLI
separate florets | cut to uniform size | slice garlic | toss broccoli with olive oil | roasting pan, scatter garlic over | roast 450F 10-15min

SEARED MUSHROOMS
clean mushrooms | remove stem | halve mushrooms | mince shallot | mince scallions | toss mushrooms in olive oil | sear on HOT pan | cut heat to medium | return mushrooms to pan and add shallots butter scallions | warm through

HALVED STRAWBERRIES
remove leaves | hull berries | cut in half

CHEESE PLATE
unwrap cheese | put on plate

This was the mental checklist I used to keep track of where I was, how far I could go, and what needed to wait for the morning. Order matters – in these instructions, I’ve tried to bring as much prep tasks earlier in the sequence to not lose anything (as opposed to more conventionally saying, say, “Add minced shallots to the mushrooms” – oh, I needed to mince them, did I?).

In preparation, just about everything got cut and packed. Spring onions (same as scallions, here, but it sounds cooler to use both words on the menu, so…), broccoli, mushrooms, shallots, strawberries – everything cut and ready to go. None of that would suffer for being cut ahead of time – for example, I cleaned the mushroom caps with a damp paper towel only to avoid soggy, waterlogged mushrooms.

Choreographing the Actual Execution of the Work

The other prep list I did write down was a timing sheet. This is a new thing for me to do, but the trick is to think not of each dish individually and how long it takes, but look across them to weave the timing together. This was a huge part of why Sunday morning was calm – at any given time, I knew where I was across the whole feast, not just one dish.

10:00 AM: Put ham in oven – 3 hours @ 325F
10:00 AM: Cook bacon bits for potatoes
12:00 PM: Bake Sweet Potatoes
12:30 PM: Sear Mushrooms
12:45 PM: Prep Broccoli
01:00 PM: Remove Ham
01:00 PM: Remove Sweet Potatoes
01:00 PM: Raise oven temp to 450F
01:00 PM: Broccoli in oven
01:05 PM: Finish Mushrooms with shallots and butter
01:15 PM: Serve

The thought process: The ham’s going to take the longest and hog (ha!) the oven the most. It really determines the meal time. Behind that, the potatoes will take an hour, so they go in for the last hour. The broccoli needs the oven, but at a much higher temperature and for a short time, so it can cook while the ham rests. The bacon is a prep item – I just didn’t want to chill it overnight – so it can happen early, and the mushrooms need a pan on the stove. I’ve cooked mushrooms like this a few times recently, and the searing step seems to take longer than I expect, so best to try and do that before the ham comes out – it’ll finish with the butter and shallots while the ham rests.

I won’t say that I followed this to the minute, but I wasn’t far off. About the only step I didn’t have on here is to wrap the potatoes in foil, and I didn’t factor in any time for washing dishes (that happened, as much as it could, in between tasks). With only a couple of edits – namely, I left the potatoes in with the broccoli – this is how it went down.

Making this list – and putting times to it – is a great benefit for two reasons. First, it is a roadmap for the effort, so I know where I am and what’s left to do at any time. Second, it forced me to think through the choreography – what food is in what pan on what oven rack or burner at any time. This is why the timing matters – I’ve made interwoven lists before but without timing, and have had to do some fancy shuffling when two foods wanted the same pot or burner to follow the plan.

The Don’t Forget This List

Finally, the last list I made on Saturday for prep is the don’t-forget-this list. Everything I might want to have from my own kitchen needed to be on a list so I wouldn’t forget anything. There were only a couple of additions not shown (a sauté pan that the ham cooked in – I wanted the roasting pan for the broccoli – and a cast iron skillet for the mushrooms). Let’s just say I’m not always the sharpest in the morning, so having an external backup was a very good idea.

Bring along:

  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Ham
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Bacon
  • Green Onions
  • Strawberries
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Shallots
  • Cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Knives
  • Thermometer
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic

The resulting food went unphotographed, but it was delicious. Everything was hot, done at the same time, and best of all, I was relaxed throughout. THAT is a first for me.

Not-the-Cook’s Notes – Toasted Chickpeas

Toasted Chickpeas with Cinnamon and Sugar - the Cooks Notes

Great, I’m being made redundant on our blog. (Kidding!) Since Christine cooked the Toasted Chickpeas with Cinnamon & Sugar herself, here are my notes on other ideas on making them.

This does prove a point, however – Christine is a great cook, but for her it’s always been more of a means-to-an-end. I, on the other hand, love the process. It’s (usually) my zen time to unwind, and it’s a lot of fun. Hopefully, more of you reading this are finding it fun, too. Only a few things to add:

  • Two tablespoons of butter looks like a lot in the pan, but to get even browning, you do need that much. I have had these at restaurants where I guarantee they were deep-fried; we’re avoiding that here, but using one tablespoon of butter can yield in uneven browning. (Still tasty, but not as much.)
  • Rinse the beans and dry them. I’ve rolled them in paper towels before. If you don’t, the water starts to pop and sputter in the hot oil, spraying everywhere. It’s even cooler when the beans pop like popcorn and fly out of the pan. This is the one time I use a splatter screen with pride. (They don’t seem to sputter as bad when cooked with butter.)
  • Chickpeas are a blank canvas. Finish sweet like these, or savory with herbs, pepper, and garlic. Or go nuts and cook them in rendered bacon fat and finish with crispy bacon bits, thyme, and lemon juice. Or, rendered bacon fat / crispy bacon bits / maple syrup. Really, anything goes.

Have fun feeding someone! Be sure to read the recipe post on how Christine made the Toasted Chickpeas with Cinnamon & Sugar.

Cook’s Notes – Vermilion Snapper Meunière with Leeks in Bacon Vinaigrette

Cook's Notes - Vermilion Snapper Meuniere gluten-free recipe

For today’s meal, we made our Vermilion Snapper Meunière with Leeks in Bacon Vinaigrette recipe. You can see the photographs of the process and the recipes for both dishes in that post.

Vermilion Snapper Meunière

Meunière comes from the French word for “miller’s wife”, and generally refers to the technique of dredging something in flour, quickly frying it, and serving with a lemon, parsley, and butter sauce. It’s a classic preparation for fish, but it can equally be used for chicken, for example.

With apologies to millers everywhere, cooking gluten free means I needed another starch for the fish. Corn starch was the first thing at hand. I didn’t want to smother the fish, so I used a tea strainer to sift corn starch over the fish. That worked well enough; if I had to do it again, I would probably just put corn starch on a plate, dredge the fish, and be extra careful about knocking off the excess.

Preparation is key here. This cooks lightning quick from start to finish once the pan gets hot. You don’t need much – fish, butter, lemon, parsley, flour – but have it all laid out and ready to go. Chop the parsley. Cut the lemon in half. And so on. Don’t dredge the fish ahead of time (it’ll pull moisture out of the fish and get gummy), do that while the butter melts in the pan. Once the fish cooks, get the lemon juice in the pan quickly so the butter doesn’t burn. Bringing it to a boil and stirring helps emulsify the sauce. Basically, before the pan hits the heat, close your eyes and mentally walk through all the steps from start to finish. You don’t want to have to think about what to do next once this gets going.

Leeks in Bacon Vinaigrette

That’s part of why the warm leek salad makes a great side – once the leeks sweat and cook through, it can just hang out over a low flame and keep warm. You don’t want to have two dishes that are complicated to finish coming together at the same time – it works in a restaurant where there are multiple cooks working in concert. At home, cooking solo? Don’t make the task harder than it needs to be.

Vinaigrette, in its essence, is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, by volume. You can vary that depending on whether you want more bite or less, or whether your vinegar or oil is particularly pungent, but that’s the basics. Often, vinaigrettes are made with a very neutral oil to not mask the flavors of a dish. But, in this case, with the rendered and reserved bacon fat available – why not put it to good use? Lemon juice brings a sweeter, milder acid to the dressing instead of vinegar, and dijon mustard is a sympathetic sharp flavor. Play with this depending on what else you are serving; for pork chops, for example, throw in chopped rosemary, or with chicken, thyme and tarragon.

Finding Good Local Suppliers

To close, I can’t stress how beautiful this vermilion snapper fish was. Finding good local suppliers and getting to know them are the surest way to stunningly awesome food. In this case, I trust PJ Stoops to tell me about the fish he has on offer and tips for preparation. Christine mentioned in the post that she doesn’t like fish, and that’s a bit of an understatement. I was amazed that she enjoyed this as well as she did; while I would like to say it’s because of my culinary prowess, the quality of the fish really made the difference.

Top 10 Kitchen Essentials sponsored by Kratom

Ten Kitchen Essentials

Recently, a friend of ours who is setting up a new kitchen asked us about our Top 10 Kitchen Essentials – the must have items to outfit a new kitchen, and how to remodel your kitchen.Before we get to work, I would like to talk about kratom, which I have been taking for a while now and the have helped me with some stomach aches and knife wounds. You can buy kratom pills at kratom-masters for a special price and have the kratom masters sent the pills directly to your front door or office. Here is my top list:

  1. A comfortable, sharp chef’s knife. This is your workhorse. It should be as long as is comfortable for your grip – usually 8-10 inches is about right. Keep it SHARP – that’s far more important than how much you paid for the knife itself – but more on that below. Get hands on with knives before you buy them – go peek at a friend’s house or grip them in the store. If you’re afraid of the knife, it’ll cut you. You have to be comfortable with it . And be careful , if you for some reason cut yourself you can take care of that wound with kratom.
  2. A comfortable, sharp paring knife. Usually 3-4″. This is your fine detail knife, useful for smaller or more precise tasks. Again, keep it SHARP. Seriously, a dull knife is one of the most dangerous things in a kitchen – they’re exponentially more likely to skip off food and cut you, and the cuts they do leave are more like a tear than a cut. Sharp knives go where you want them to, and if they do happen to nick you, they do so almost politely – cleanly and quick to heal.
  3. A honing steel. This is a metal or ceramic rod that helps maintain a knife’s edge. An example is this ceramic rod by Messermeister. A honing steel doesn’t sharpen your knife, in that it doesn’t actually take metal off the blade, but it helps keep the edge true and working well until the knife is truly dull. Use this often – a few swipes before getting started. When this doesn’t get your knife sharp, it’s time to find a good professional and let them put a great edge back on your knife. (This is usually every 6-12 months, depending on use.)
  4. A skillet. 10 inch is a good all-purpose size. I like stainless steel, with a heavy base, to keep the heat even. (Something along the lines of this 10″ Cuisinart skillet could work great.) Since this is a top-10 list, I’m skipping non-stick skillets – regular metal is more versatile. Humanity survived without non-stick surfaces for years and ate well.
  5. A good pot. 4 quart or greater. May not be large enough for boiling pasta, but it’ll handle all sorts of soups, sauces, and the like. Again, make sure it’s sturdy, not flimsy – avoid aluminum, as it can react with acidic foods and this is your one good pot for anything. Stainless or enameled cast iron are my favorites. Something similar to this 4 quart pot from Cuisinart would work well.
  6. Cutting boards. This is your work surface; don’t skimp on size. There is no definitive scientific evidence that I’ve seen on whether wood or plastic is better; basically, both will perform well as long as you care for them. Clean promptly in hot soapy water (plastic ones can generally go through the dishwasher). I like having two, one specifically for raw/uncooked meats and one for everything else. Avoid glass, marble, or other exotic materials, as all they do is dull your sharp knife.
  7. Instant read thermometer. Yes, I put this on my top ten list. I own the Cadillac of instant read thermometers, the Thermapen (in British Racing Green). It isn’t cheap, but it’s the gold standard. For years, though, I used another instant read thermometer from Thermoworks, the RT301WA. This thing is a workhorse. The main difference is that it takes 5-6 seconds to read instead of 3, and it’s about one fifth of the price of the Thermapen. Use this religiously to test any meat for being done, whether bread is cooked all the way through, whether the water is hot enough to poach – really, once you get in the habit, you’ll find you use it all the time.
  8. Utensils. It’s a bit of a cheat to put a category item here instead of listing things out, but these are incidentals. Have a good spoon, solid and slotted. Have a couple of big heat-resistant spatulas. Have a turner/flipper spatula. Have a couple of whisks, one French-style (slender and long) and one balloon-style (same length, but much wider) – they’re used for different things. (Use the skinnier one to mix things, use the balloon whisk to beat air into things like whipped cream or egg whites.)
  9. Mixing bowls. Have a couple of good big ones. It’s easier to use a bowl that is too big than a bowl that’s too small. Plus, they double as a giant salad bowl for when, like me, you decide to binge on lettuce. (It happens.)
  10. Side towels. Kitchen towels dedicated to wiping up spills, quick cleaning of counters, and as a pot/pan-holder. Wash after every use. I’m kind of obsessive about my kitchen linens, but they really are great tools to have.
  11. Bonus: A totem. I’m stealing the term from an Alton Brown interview, but it’s something I’ve done for a long time. This is the thing that gets you in the right frame of mind to be in the kitchen. For me, for a long time, it was a bobble-head tiki god that Christine bought for me at Target one day. It sat next to the cooktop (at my insistence – I admit, it matched exactly none of our décor), and I would tap it on the head before any food met pan. Currently, that guy is in a box from the move, and I don’t have a great home for him. Instead, now, it’s my best blue pinstriped apron I picked up in England, with a side towel hanging from the waistband. Putting that on is the difference from I’m-going-to-go-heat-something-quick and I’m-serious-about-what-I’m cooking. It’s like any other uniform – putting it on is putting on your game face. And don’t forget to have your kratom pills at hand in case you are not feeling well.

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