Island Feast

As many of you know, we have the luxury of having a family home on Martha’s Vineyard.  We are able to go out to the Island a few times each year and enjoy the company of family and spend some time at the beach.  One of our favorite pastimes (read obsessions) is ocean fishing, and Martha’s Vineyard is truly a fisherman’s paradise.  No matter what time of year, there is always something good to be had from the ocean.  My husband’s parents, who are able to spend quite a bit of time here, also keep a large kitchen garden, so summertime on the island is a time of plenty.

The first day I woke to a beautiful balmy island morning and took my coffee into the back yard to check out the garden.  My mother in Law had emailed me about what was growing, so I had an idea of what I’d find.  What took me by surprise were the giant radishes the size of lemons.  I had never seen a radish grow so big.  I had planted these very seeds when we last were here in May, in a mix with carrot seeds, but they were average, “garden variety” radish, not some monster varietal.  You might remember in my last post a photo of a cheese and radish sandwich on a bagel.  Those tiny radish were from my garden, of which I was formerly proud. What am I doing wrong?  I’ii have to do some research to find out why in my garden they are quarter sized and often woody, but here they are luscious red orbs of crunchy delight.  I picked a dozen, sliced them thinly, and set them in a marinade of rice wine vinegar, sugar and water.

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Despite the neat rows of sorrel, arugula, chicory, and red and green lettuce in the garden, I still felt the need to traipse next door with my basket to the twice weekly farmers market.  I wanted some cilantro, and that was as good an excuse as any to stroll the aisles of farm raised produce, meats, breads and cheeses, as well as handmade soaps, hats and fresh squeezed lemonade.  I was surprised to see the amount and variety this time of year; while my zucchini are just flowering, I found some beautiful 6 inch long ones perfect for the saute pan.  When I asked, I was told they grow them under plastic to keep them warm and to fruit earlier.  I fought down my rising jealousy with the fact that I live in a different growing zone entirely than Martha’s Vineyard, and furthermore islands are naturally more temperate because of the surrounding seas.  In a month I’d be sick of fresh zucchini anyway.   But for now I was happy to have it and bought 8 nice ones to bring home, along with a fresh baguette.

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Later that afternoon we drove to one of our favorite fishing spots, a jetty that juts out into the sea at the edge of a wide basin, With it’s sister across the way, it forms a channel that feeds a big salt water pond.  The structure, as well as the sand beach on one side, provides a great place to fish for black bass, tau-tog, porgy, rock bass, flounder and fluke.  It can occasionally be a good spot for stripers and bluefish, but it’s not reliable enough to count on.  When the water warms it’s a pretty reliable place for scup, and that’s what we went for today.  I’m not a big fan of the littler fish, so I usually make my way around the jetty to the channel and try for the odd striper, but midday at a slack tide is not really the ideal time.  I didn’t have much hope.  After a couple dozen casts, and a nice lunch, I decided walk out to the end of the jetty to see what was going on there.  The boys had long since given up fishing and were napping in the sand when I decided the way to catch my striper was to hook on a huge piece of squid, heave it to the middle of the channel and wait till the big one came along and gulped it in.  Yeah right.  But as I waited, enjoying the warm sun and the breeze off the ocean, I began to notice my line migrate ever so slightly.  My big squid was being nibbled!  I quickly reeled in, changed my big hook for a smaller one, slapped on a tiny mouthful of squid, cast back out and nailed a giant porgy.  I had three more in the bucket before the boys caught on and we had a blitz.  We filleted them on the beach and brought them home to bake over sliced onions, one of the easiest and most delicious ways to cook fish.

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A few minutes in the garden provided me with the greens for a lovely salad.  I chopped the fresh cilantro into it and used the radish marinade mixed with some good olive oil for the dressing.  The baguette sliced up, the zucchini sliced and sauteed with a pinch of salt and the fish baked to perfection completed our Island feast.  A beautiful day and a most memorable meal!

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The Blues are Running!

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One of the highlights of the summer is fishing for bluefish from the shores of Martha’s Vineyard.  Blue fishing is an all day affair, requiring some planning and a bit of commitment.  Each June we load up the car with lunch, snacks, beer, coolers of ice, chairs, rod holders, rods and tackle, towels, beach games and maybe a kite or two, oh, and the kids on top of it all, and we head out for East beach on Chappaquiddick.  To get there we must drive the 20 minutes to Edgartown and queue up in the ferry line to make the short hop to the island off the island.  Once there, we drive until the road turns to sand and stop at the Trustees of the Reservation hut to have them check our sticker.  The Trustees are a statewide conservation organization that manages much of the public lands on Martha’s Vineyard.  Check out their website here for information about this great organization www.thetrustees.org/  They make sure we have paid the price to access the land trust areas, warn us to stay off the roped areas reserved for plover mating, and send us on our way.  From there we let most of the air out of our tires to allow the truck some traction in the deep sand, and off we go, bouncing over the dunes in the back of the pickup.  

Fishing on East beach is a funny thing.  One can cast for hours and never get a bite, or throw in one deadly dick and haul in a fighting blue.  It just depends on if the fish are running.  When they are around, they will hit on almost anything.  Sluggos, plugs, any type of shiny lure. Once one is caught, fisherman up and down the beach run to their rods and the catch is on.  Bluefish are a blast to catch because they are fighters and will regularly take line before you get them to shore.  They like to jump and shake, trying to lose the hook.  Most fishermen use some sort of treble hook to increase their chances of landing a fish. Once on shore, one must use caution unhooking them, as they have very sharp teeth.  Years ago we were taking a picture of my sons after catching some blue fish and, with one of them holding a fish, they both turned toward each other at the same time.  The fish’s teeth raked the eyelid of one boy and cut him open.  He bears the scars to this day.  

I like to catch bluefish as long as we keep are keeping them.  When we decide we have enough for a good feed or two, I’m ready to be done. For a few years I would continue to catch and release them, but they fight so hard and sometimes wear themselves out, and I found I lost the taste for it.  I tried using a single hook, to give them more of a chance, but after awhile I simply decided that If I wasn’t going to eat them, I might as well leave them alone.

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Bluefish get a bad rap as an eating fish, but I’m hear to tell you that, if treated properly, they are one of the best types of fish for eating.  If you have ever bought bluefish in a store, you haven’t really tried bluefish.  They must be eaten fresh, within a day of catching them.  After that they turn from a dusky pink to a sickly blue color and taste oily and, well, fishy.  Furthermore, once caught, they must be bled out and kept on ice.  To bleed them, use a sharp knife right in the middle of the chest up to the throat.  It is a fast way to ease them on their way and it makes the flesh taste better.  Ice them immediately.  If they can be filleted right on the beach, all the better.  The best way to cook the freshest bluefish is right on the grill.  Salt, pepper, skin side down until the flesh is white and flaky.  After that, anyway is a good way.  I have baked it, braised it, fried it and sauteed it with any assortment of herbs and spices.  For a sublime bluefish recipe, check out this link to braised bluefish with saffron risotto.  http://braveapron.com/tag/saffron/.   Leftover bluefish with scrambled eggs is a real morning treat.  Anyway you prepare it, bluefish is a delicacy and one not to be missed in these summer months.  We ate grilled bluefish with summer salad from the garden and roasted sweet potatoes, and finished with a delicate strawberry mousse.  Yummy!

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Another Trout Recipe

ImageThis recipe is for lake trout, usually bigger than stream trout, at least in the North East, and caught deep in the cold bottom of lakes.  Because they are larger they are easier to fillet then the smaller stream trout.  This recipe calls for two fillets about a pound each.  It is also excellent for salmon. I adapted this recipe from one I saw in a magazine.  Served over greens and with fresh berries from the garden, this makes an excellent summer meal.  I have added a dressing recipe for those who like to make their own.  It has a bit of a kick but goes great with the greens and fish.  

Cold Poached Trout on Greens With Peas and Berries

3 cups broth

2 cloves garlic, sliced 

10 peppercorns

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy)

1/2 onion, sliced

1-2 lbs trout fillets

Put all ingredients except the fish into a large saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 5 minutes or so.  Add the fish and cover, simmering about 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.  When the fish is cooked through it should separate easily with a fork.  Transfer to a plate and let cool completely.  Strain off the broth, freeze it to save for later.  The spice makes it great for adding to vegetable soups and the fish broth gives it extra nutrition.  When the fish is cool, flake it lightly with a fork and serve over salad greens such as arugula or baby kale.  Add fresh strawberries and snap peas.  Top with pine nuts or sunflower seeds.  Any fruit, such as grapes or mangos, can be substituted for the strawberries, but they are in season right now in Connecticut.  

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Sorry there is no picture of the finished salad, but we gobbled it up before I remembered to take one! 

Spicy Sesame Dijon Dressing

1/4 cup sesame dressing

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tsps brown dijon mustard

salt to taste

1 tsp hot sauce (more if you like it spicy)

Grilled Fresh trout with onions

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As anyone who lives in the North East knows, a few days ago the weather was unbearably hot and humid.  Very unusual for May and, to tell you the truth, it was making me a bit crabby.  With the hot breath of the sun bearing down on us for so long the boys and I decided to see if our favorite neighbor had opened their pool, but no luck.  It was still sealed up tight, with a thick layer of leaves to top it off.  Discouraged, we headed back home, grumbling and moaning, until we remembered our favorite weekday watering hole.  That is not to say our favorite drinking location, but our best dipping pool and trout sanctuary.  We turned the truck around and headed the few miles down the road to Kent Falls.

Kent Falls is a State Park in northern Kent that in the summer is a very popular picnic spot.  In fact it is the most visited State Park in Connecticut, due in part to the fact that it is so very accessible.   It is right off the state road and has lots of parking, a stream and a wide open field for picnicking.  It’s greatest attraction, however, is an incredibly beautiful series of waterfalls that drop steeply into delectably clear pools perfect for bathing.  The water is cold, sparkling and divine.  There are stairs beside the falls that lead up to the top, with a wire fence that declares in multiple places along the route in very clear language “NO SWIMMING”.  Swimming is permitted, although not legally sanctioned, in the two pools nearest the bottom, and on the average summer weekend day the pool is filled to overflowing with frolicking children and their parents splashing around in the cold water.

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This is usually not a problem for us, as we almost never go on the weekends.  From Memorial Day to Labor Day the park charges a fee to enter on Saturday and Sunday, so we typically stick to afternoons during the week.   On some occasions, though, we have arrived at the park to find the pool occupied with swimmers, and while my children aren’t averse to swimming, they are first and foremost fishermen.  Kent Falls is not a swimming hole but a designated trout park dedicated to fishermen like my boys, so say the park rules.  This become a problem for us when we have come to fish and others want to swim.  We are usually in the minority.  For many years I have counseled the boys about the necessity to work together with others and to compromise, but how do you explain to a child that they can’t do what they want because others are breaking the rules.  How do you explain that if LOTS of people are breaking the rules, than they have the priority?  It doesn’t seem right.  But then again, if you had driven 2 hours to see the falls, and your children were frolicking in the water with a dozen others, and two boys came with rods and told everyone to clear out because they wanted to fish and the law was on their side, how would you feel?  It is a delicate situation and one we try to avoid.

Regardless of that ethical dilemma, when we arrived at the Falls that day, no one was in the pool, and I got to swim in the wonderfully cold water and lower my  temperature and irritability level at the same time while the boys caught minnows in the stream to use as bait.  While I knit in the shade, they proceeded to catch several beautiful trout in a matter of minutes.  We kept three, all about 13″, thanking them for their lives and cleaning them in the bushes.  Below you will find how I prepared them.

Fresh Trout with Onions. 

3 or more fresh whole trout

salt and pepper

olive oil

1 large onion

1 tbs capers

1/4 cup white wine

1 large lemon

After cleaning the trout, salt the inside flesh to taste.  Wrap each trout in tinfoil and set the grill to medium low.  Place each trout on the grill and cook for about 6 minutes a side.

Meanwhile slice onion in half and into thin strips.  Saute the onions in olive oil until sort and beginning to brown.  Squeeze the lemon onto the onions, add the white wine and the capers and saute until the liquid has evaporated. Salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the trout from the grill and open the tinfoil packets.  With a fork gently lift off the skin of the trout and remove the flesh from the bones.  The flesh should be flaky. Place on a platter and top with the onions.  Serve and enjoy!

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What’s for dinner in April?

It’s all well and good to say you eat locally in August, when the bounty of the harvest is just falling out of the garden, but when the cool winds blow through the months of spring, and nary a sprout is available at your local farmers market, if it is even open, what do you eat then?  Daffodils?  Grass?  Here I’ll give you some examples of what truly is available that fits the bill for Local, Seasonal, Sustainable, and you can feel good about what you put on the table.

Spring is the season for cod fishing, and if you live on the Atlantic shore, or anywhere in the North East, fish caught off the Connecticut Rhode Island and Massachusetts coasts are considered local, especially if you catch it yourself!  “What?!” You ask?  Relax.  It’s easier than you think.  Many charter boats go out regularly for cod, and provide you with the bait, tackle and knowledge to fish on your own.  A Google search will help you find one nearest you and the times and dates they fish.  The best part is you might come home with many pounds of cod for the freezer or dehydrator, and with luck you’ll have enough for many suppers to come.  Cod freezes remarkable well, and as it is a firm fish, holds its texture and flavor even through vigorous cooking techniques such as stews and casseroles. Try fresh sauteed cod with saffron risotto, or perhaps baked cod with cream, leeks (you might find leeks overwintered) and new spring green onions.  If you look for cod in the supermarket, ask if it is caught locally, and with rod and reel (line caught).

It’s also turkey season in Connecticut, and many a hunter is anxiously awaiting opening day.  This year my husband has to miss the beginning of the season, and my son, an avid pre-hunter, has asked me to take him out.  Having never turkey hunted before, this is somewhat of a daunting request.  We’ll see how it actually goes.  It would be a miracle if I actually got a spring turkey.  Other good protein sources would be chicken, venison, grass fed local beef and rabbit.  The chickens are starting to lay again with the warmer and longer days, so eggs are always a good choice.  A nice quiche is a perfect light spring meal, especially with sauteed garlic scapes.  Scrambled eggs with local goat cheese, roasted garlic and baby spinach would be delicious.

As for dry goods and staples, this morning I had polenta made from cornmeal purchased from Young Farm in East Granby Ct.  It is called Canada yellow flint cornmeal, and it is stone ground the traditional way.  The corn it comes from is New England open pollinated heirloom variety flint, an “antique” corn that has much higher nutritional value than corn harvested with conventional methods as per agri-business in the Midwest.  Young farm is an exceptional company that produces delicious and nutritious, not to mention sustainable and morally acceptable corn and wheat products, as well as vegetables.  Lean more about Young Farm here.  http://www.farmfresh.org/food/farm.php?farm=2752#profile.  The polenta, with a spot of honey and some of last year’s frozen blueberries, was a fabulous start to the day. We eat it with salt, pepper and butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan when we want something savory instead of sweet.

“Vegetables?”, you ask. Not many, to be sure, but some.  I have started a variety of lettuce in my bathtub, so I can add some micro-greens to whatever organic lettuce I buy at the market.  I have had basil growing in pots since January and that always adds a bright spring flavor to any dish.   Kale seems to be always available, as it lasts throughout the winter.  Cabbage and sweet potatoes, carrots and onions are also over-winterers in the root cellar.  Garlic scapes are coming out of the ground now and it’s almost time for the luscious asparagus shoots, the star of spring.  I have frozen peas and spinach and tomatoes from last year’s harvest and even some acorn and butternut squash.  A lovely squash, kale or spinach soup with some flat bread makes a lovely spring meal. IMAG0262.jpg

As for fruit, we have our trusty freezer with its dwindling supplies of frozen blueberries, peaches and strawberries.  Not fresh, but still great for smoothies and the occasional pie.  I can’t say enough about investing in a good chest freezer.  The simplest way to store meat, vegetable, and fruits is to freeze them as soon as possible after picking or harvesting.  It maintains the vitamins and nutrients far more than canning or other methods, and in most cases keeps the food safe for months or even years.  It is the easiest and fastest way to put up a harvest at its freshest, and to store produce for the winter months.  I have a deep chest freezer that I bought new from Sears for about 350.00, and I store thousands of dollars’ worth of fresh meat and vegetables in it every fall to last through the winter and spring months.  If you don’t have one, or can’t afford a new one, there are several on-line sites where you might shop for a used one for much less.  So much of the excess produce from my kitchen garden goes into the freezer right after picking, and it is such a delight to browse the shelves for a cooking idea knowing that my choices are ripe, delicious, healthful, and clean.

Last night we had grilled marinated venison with sauteed onions.  It was simple, and simply delicious.   I used a shoulder roast and just sliced it into half inch steaks, mixed it with salt, pepper, olive oil and good balsamic vinegar, left it in the fridge of a few hours and grilled it over high heat.  Quick and easy.IMAG0260.jpg

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Contrary to popular myth, venison, if well treated and well prepared, is neither gamy nor tough.  While it has an unmistakable rich flavor altogether different than beef, it is a succulent and delicious addition to our menu.  Miss-treated it can be an awful chore to eat, and I am reluctant to eat venison unless I personally know the hunter and the manner in which it was killed and dressed. More about venison in particular and hunting in general later.  Happy spring!