Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How I learned to love fish: summer on the grill with fish packets

Plate full of summer
This summer I have come to love fish on the grill. I haven't always loved fish, but I've been determined how to cook it properly (which means in ways I'd love) and voila! I've mastered a way I love eating it.

I've tried a few different techniques, but continue to come back to my favorite, easiest and most simple way: grill them in foil pouches, topped with chopped vegetables and herbs. There are so many reasons why I love doing it this way, the main one being that once you do all of the prep (chopping, seasoning, wrapping) you're done except for the grilling part. You can do this mid day or early in the evening, then 20 minutes before you're ready to eat, turn on the grill and you'll have dinner in no time. (Think perfect dinner party food, busy night food, etc.)

Another reason I love foil pouches for fish grilling is there's really no oil involved, and no dreaded sticking of fish to the grill.

And finally, the flavors are really fantastic. But how could I leave out the beauty of the plate? Look at that plate: full of color and summer gorgeous.

I've varied the vegetables and herbs, depending what's growing in the garden, lingering in my refrigerator vegetable bin, or at the farmer's market that day.

About the fish: I use tilapia or salmon, mainly because I haven't done a ton of experimenting with different fish, and I'm still learning. Tilapia is a mellow fish, and available at my local grocery store (New Seasons) who only sells sustainably harvested fish. I've also used the flash frozen fish from Trader Joe's and it's great for this purpose as well. One filet per person works just fine for foil pouches. Lightly rinse your fish filets and using paper towels, pat them dry.

About the vegetables: Chop a variety of vegetables in different colors into bite size pieces (1.5-2 inch cubes approximately): red bell peppers, green and yellow zucchini, mushrooms, sweet onions, peas, green beans, fennel bulb, cherry tomatoes....any combination will work, just use what's available and in season.

About the herbs: Fresh herbs I love include tarragon, basil, oregano and thyme: they all play lovely together, but using just one is fine too. Passing freshly chopped basil at the table is a bonus flavor punch: save some from the packets for passing at the table. Chop fresh herbs and have as a little pile ready for assembly.

fish packet: fish + pile of veggies, herbs

About assembling: Heavy duty foil is good for this purpose, though regular foil will work fine, too. Pull rectangles of foil long enough to be folded over and sealed: about 16 inches is right for the pouches I make. Spray lightly one side of the foil with canola or olive oil non-stick spray. You don't have to do this, but I recommend it. Salt and pepper each side of your fish. Place on foil, closer to one side than the other--remember you're going to pull one side of the foil up and over at one point. Pile on 1-2 cups of the chopped vegetables. Sprinkle the pile liberally with chopped herbs, salt and pepper. A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime on each pile is great at this point. Fold over the foil, and crimp/fold up the edges of the foil, just like if you're making an empanada or calzone. If you have extra chopped vegetables, bonus! Store them in the fridge for a veggie scramble tomorrow morning.

fish packet enclosed

At this point, you're done until it's time for dinner. You can keep these in the fridge until you're ready, or get right to grilling.

About grilling: Preheat the grill, getting it nice and hot. We use a gas grill, and set the packets over medium heat for 12-18 minutes. The variation depends on if the foil packets have sat in the cold refrigerator for the afternoon or not. Don't flip the packets while they grill or anything: just let 'em grill. Set the table, enjoy a glass of wine, take in the ease of summer evenings and check in with your garden. Before you know it, dinner's done: one grill packet per plate, pass any extra fresh herbs and you're good to go. Easiest summer dinner ever. And look at you. You just made fish on the grill. Go do it!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Super fresh summer: the simplicity and joy of tomatoes and basil

In the depths of February, or March, I sometimes find myself daydreaming of specific pinpoints of summer....the sensation of a warm breeze on a bare arm, flip flops, simply being outside all of the time....but always on this list are warm weather flavors, especially tomatoes and basil.

This year we are having the most success growing basil than ever before. In the past, we've failed miserably at it, with basil limping along and not growing much or quickly going to flower. This year? I waited until mid July to plant basil starts, and once they went into that whiskey barrel, off they went. I'm simply pinching the top leaves for every harvest, and the plant rewards me with more and more every time. Basil needs warmth, and that means to simply wait until our cool Pacific Northwest summers kick into gear. Patience.

The other evening I lived one of those wintertime daydreams for summer. In my flip flops and with Wink by my side, I ventured into the garden to harvest a few things for dinner. We had a guest that evening, and a fresh baguette and mozzarella in the house. Cherry tomatoes and basil were easily gathered, and I couldn't but help take a photo.

Fresh picked appetizers

Simplicity of joy, yes. But to live the daydream, however small or huge it may be, is always rewarding, and to enjoy that moment for exactly what it was, made me smile.

A few moments later? We had this:

What became of those tomatoes and basil

Simply splashed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a few grinds of black pepper and a pinch or two of fumeƩ de sel, the simple ingredients combined to fulfill a winter's daydream. We gobbled them up on the back patio, made a toast to summer, and drank in the warm moment. Oh happy summer.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Back by popular demand: custom canning labels

Okay okay okay: I've heard you! I've reopened my Etsy shop to provide you with customized PDFs to use for your canned good products.
Yum Apricot Jam
As you may know, the story about these goes like this: I'm a graphic designer. I preserve food. I couldn't stand the canning labels or options I saw out there, so I made my own. Of course, I photographed my canned goods and shared the photos on my blog. I got more questions about my labels than about my canning prowess. People wanted their own. I said what the heck, and made them available on Etsy.
Apricot and Raspberry Apricot Jam in the Kitchen
My canning labels have now been written about in The Oregonian, shared on a kajillion blogs and newsletters, and most recently, featured in the new book We Sure Can! I thought I'd retire them after a bumper crop of customized PDFs last summer, but I'm still getting e mails from folks, so there you go. My shop is open and if you would like customized PDFs for you to print out and cut out at home to then tuck under the rings on your standard canning jars (regular or wide mouth are available), order away.
Pear Chutney
Happy canning! And most importantly, beautifully labeling! (Doesn't all of that hard work deserve to be labeled beautifully?!)