You’ll probably be reading this after April first—ye olde “April Fool’s Day.” Did someone put one over on you? It’s been a while since that’s happened to me. Not because I am warier than I was (over the years I’ve often been a victim). No, perhaps it’s because people have given up on the practice these days. We get enough Fools in our lives just by reading the newspapers.
My memories of the day go back a long, long way—to when I was maybe six or seven and my just-younger brother and I exchanged the sugar for salt in the china bowl on the kitchen table. Dad liked at least two teaspoons of sugar in his morning coffee, and where we got the idea for the switcheroo I cannot remember.
This worked all too well and brother Robert and I were over the moon with the success of our stunt, despite a spray of the A&P’s best on our cereal. Mom was also amused. Heck, she did the actual substituting. We repeated this for a few years and Dad, who should have been a Fred McMurray-type actor, did his best to gurgle, run to the back porch, and dispense with the fluid. By now there were two smaller sibs who were in on the stunt and loved every minute of the shtick.
Back to the “Foolishness”
I don’t have to look far for examples of foolishness. While the upcoming elections spur many examples, I’ll not go there. Rather, I’m opening a file folder that I keep in my cluttered, cozy office in my spare bedroom. (Cartoon in the Wall Street Journal: man in easy chair. The lady of the house is scolding, as the room is a mess. “What you call clutter, I call archives” he says. I call that a wonderful line.) I love adding to its contents, and I thought it would be fun to point out some examples before I get to the culinary topic for April.
Here’s a good one: it’s an ad I found on the back cover of Fortune magazine from this past November. The advertiser is Rolex, and it features an endorsement by golfer Jordan Spieth who strides, smiling broadly, toward the camera in his golfing attire. Only problem is, his wrists are bare.
I turned the page in a late December issue of Time magazine to find an ad headlined “have KINDLE will travel.” It shows a person holding a Kindle, looking out a train window. Are we reading or gawking at the view? Although his face is turned away from us, one can tell that he is bearded. e latter almost blends into the fur around the top of his parka’s hood. Unheated train? Unheeded scenery? Unbelievable image.
I swear I read this in Bon Appetit magazine in a headnote above a cabbage recipe: “This Kimchi and Vegetable Soup makes your stomach dreams come true.” And the writer gushed on, “Kimchi should be eaten cold in order to get all of its ‘good bacteria.’”
And while on the subject of guts and gasses, I was browsing through the Penzey’s site on line, an extensive catalog of spices and kitchen tchotchkes, and I caught sight of a fascinating product. What have we here? Why it’s a Sonic Foamer for beer, a small round thing-a-ma- jig that resembles a round base for an Asian vase. You pour the beer into a 20-oz. glass—a heavy one—and set it atop this brewski altar and (I guess) turn the thing on. The product’s claim to fame is that “Ultrasonic vibration excites a beer’s gases to create the perfect foam head and aromatic experience.” All I can say is slainte! (that’s the classic Irish toast.) Myself? I’ll have a dirty martini.
CBS’s Sunday Morning had a feature on collectors of salt and pepper shakers. Amazing. There is even a society of these folk. One collector had special cabinets installed (husband’s a builder) to hold thousands of the little pairs. I wonder if she has these: I note in the newsletter of the Bas Bleu Society (they publish a catalog of books and accessories) that you can have S and P figurines of Mr. Darcy (salt!) and Miss Bennett (pepper!) from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Since I use a pepper grinder I might see if they have a Lot’s Wife solo salt. What next? Perhaps a Jack the Ripper cereal-box-waxed- paper-insert-opener. (Oh how I hate wrenching apart those things and watching the Cheerios fly o’er the kitchen.)
I delve further into the file and here are a couple more pages ripped out of magazines. One had a photo of a cup and coupe-shaped saucer. I looked at the small print in the caption: “Wedgewood & Bentley ‘Riverton’ teacup, $500, and saucer, $400.” I know. I had to take a deep breath after that one, too. Want to see it? Go to www.wedgwood.com. From another “home” magazine (I read the recipe sections) there is a two-page ad for a company named Juliska’s new dinnerware pattern called Forest Walk. What were they thinking? Go check out the design on their Web site and see if you get the same “crown of thorns with feathers” vibe that I do.
Time for a good dinner I’d say, and here is a good choice and one that fits the theme of this issue of Mountain Home.
Fish Fillets with Spinach
This recipe came out of the Corning Test Kitchen circa 1980, and the other day I saw my old friend Chef Jacques Pepin (the best cook on TV for my money) do almost the identical recipe. Yes, it is a classic—delicious and so easy. I’ve slightly updated the original here. If the skillet doesn’t have a cover, improvise with a metal baking sheet.
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable or olive oil
- 2 Tbsp. minced shallots
- Salt (preferably sea)
- Freshly ground pepper
- 4 fish fillets (choose from sole, scrod, trout, or white fish)
- 1⁄2 c. dry white wine (Finger Lakes Riesling is perfect)
- 1 lb. fresh spinach (or use two [10 oz.] packages frozen whole leaf spinach, defrosted, barely cooked, and then wrung out)
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. our
- 2/3 c. whole milk
- 1/3 to 1⁄2 poaching liquid from fish
- Pinch of nutmeg (preferably fresh-grated)
- 1⁄4 tsp. dry mustard
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 to 4 Tbsp. fresh-grated Parmesan or crumbled Feta
- Lemon Slices
- Watercress or parsley sprigs
Preheat the oven to a low setting (200-degrees). Melt the butter and heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet (with cover). Add the shallots and sauté for just a minute, sprinkling with salt and pepper. Top the onion with the fish fillets and white wine, cover and poach just until the fish flakes easily. is should take two to four minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.
Meanwhile, rinse the spinach and cook it quickly in a saucepan, using only the liquid that clings to the leaves. Do not overcook; it should just be wilted. Drain the spinach (blot it dry with paper towels if it seems too wet) and arrange it on a heatproof platter. Carefully top with the fish fillets and save the poaching liquid. Keep the platter warm in that low oven while making the sauce.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add the our and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 3 or 4 minutes. Gradually add the milk (I heat it just a bit in a PYREX measure in the microwave to make things go faster) as well as 1/3 cup of the reserved poaching liquid, stirring vigorously. Cook until the sauce reaches the boiling point and thickens. Add the remaining poaching liquid if it seems necessary. Season with the nutmeg, dry mustard, and pepper. If you don’t have dry mustard just add a dollop from the jar. I like the coarse stuff with the seeds. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Spoon the sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the cheese. Turn the oven to broil and place the fish platter several inches below the element. Broil just until the cheese is lightly brown. Garnish with lemon slices or wedges and watercress or parsley sprigs and serve at once.
Serves 4. Easily doubled.
Fixin’ Fish—No Foolin’
If there is one thing I remember from James Beard’s cooking classes it is this. If you love fish, use this simple guide to avoid the biggest pitfall—overcooking. Jim learned it from the Canadian Fisheries people.
10-Minute Rule for Cooking Fish
This rule covers conventional cooking methods: grilling, broiling, poaching, steaming, sautéing, planking, en papillotte (in a parchment wrap) and baking (at about 400-450-degrees). For microwaving, cut the time to 5 minutes per inch—and check at 4.
* Measure the fish at its thickest point; measure stuffed or rolled fish after stuffing or rolling.
* Cook sh about 10 minutes per inch, carefully flipping it over halfway through. So a 1-inch fish fillet or steak should be cooked for 5 minutes per side. Don’t attempt to flip pieces less than half an inch. Test by flaking with a fork. Temperature should be 145-degrees. Fish should be firm but still moist.
* Double the cooking time for still-frozen fish.
I’ll be back with more foolishness—and a recipe for a “Fool” next month.