Of Politics and Poached Fish

May 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm 1 comment

cooked fish filletA thought came to me on my morning walk: From a material perspective, we are only as free as we are self-sufficient – individually or as a nation. The example of a parent-dependent teenager comes to mind. Or the 2010 Census report that 48.5% of U.S. households now receive some type of government benefit.

Of course the huge federal bureaucracy that distributes this largesse relies, in turn, on loans from potentially fickle sister nations to fund its ever-expanding and redundant social programs with their bloated official departments, gargantuan staffing demands, massively costly opportunities for fraud, and vote-buying rebate schemes. Not much peace of mind in trusting such a behemoth of snowballing debt as it teeters on the edge of the fiscal cliff. But I’m exhausted from screeching at that runaway train, so let’s switch rails right here.

A second thought came to me on the heels of that first, rather obvious deduction: Individuals can be very quirky when it comes to the source of their personal sense of security and well-being. I once knew an elderly woman who really needed to have a large stockpile of toilet paper on hand, or she wasn’t entirely comfortable with her situation. For me, it’s an overstuffed freezer and some good leftovers in the refrigerator. Or at the very least, the makings for several good, nutritious dishes that I can plan the week’s menus around.

Not all security blankets are created equal, of course. The tale of the addicted smoker who makes a pajama-clad midnight run to the nearest 7-Eleven because he can’t get through his morning coffee without a nicotine fix does not make for an amusing water cooler anecdote. I also believe that my need for a well-stocked larder makes more sense than my former acquaintance’s tissue fetish. After all, you can get creative with substitutes for Cottonelle, but you won’t have the energy to hunt for that old Sears catalogue without some means of supplying nutrition to your body.

So that takes me back to the self-sufficiency theme. Another progressive proposal popped up in a May 10th New York Times Op Ed Piece titled, “Pay People to Cook at Home.” The concerned writer claims it’s virtually impossible to find time to cook healthful, from-scratch meals, so half of We the People should be paying the other half of We the People to stay home and do just that. Of course this would further require subsidized classes on nutrition and meal planning, not to mention courses in basic cooking skills.

It always tickles my sense of irony that Big Government’s idea of helping people take care of themselves is not to just get out of their way and let them do what they have done for millennia – i.e., hand down traditions and skills from generation to generation – but to establish yet another public assistance program indoctrinating citizens on what they should do and how they should do it. So why am I not laughing?

As for me and my house, we happen to think that even having a garden is within most family’s capabilities and time limitations. If ol’ Black Thumb Girl here is able to raise green beans and tomatoes, then anyone can. The planting and harvesting takes no more time than a trip to the store every few days. You could make it a family activity – something to replace game night when the weather turns warm. But an equally essential piece of the autonomy and well-being scenario for me is food prep. Maybe that’s why I obsess over my own hoard of collected and improvised recipes.

And you certainly don’t have to spend hours cooking to come up with delights from the kitchen. So that brings me to thought number three for the day: a sampling of my experiments with the ample contents of my freezer and refrigerator over the past few weeks. Some ideas for low-effort meals: Oven-Poached Tilapia Fillets with Olives; Honey Balsamic Baked Chicken Thighs; Stir-Fry Beef Strips on Cardamom-Infused Basmati; Baked Salmon “Hash”; and a quick, easy, vegetarian-night meal of Baked Sweet Potato with Black Beans and Tomatoes.

For the tilapia to serve two, round up…

1/2 C thickly sliced shallots 1 tsp olive oil, plus cooking spray
1-14 oz can diced tomatoes 3/4 C dry white wine
1/4 tsp dried thyme salt and lemon pepper to taste
5 small to medium tilapia fillets 20 large green olives, halved

Preheat oven to 400. Coat a large cast iron skillet with cooking spray, add olive oil, and place over medium heat. Sauté shallots until softened, stirring often. Add tomatoes, wine, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium another five minutes; stir in halved olives.

Immerse the fillets in the sauce, then bake for 20 minutes. Serve with cooked orzo, lightly glazed with garlic butter, and a spinach salad.

And for the chicken to serve three-to-four, you’ll need just…

2 TB honey balsamic vinegar 1 TB sesame oil 1 tsp garlic powder 1/2 C chicken broth
1# boneless, skinless thighs

Combine first four ingredients, pour over chicken, and bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Serve with steamed Chinese pea pods and cardamom rice (see below).

The simple stir-fry for four requires…

1/2 tsp onion powder 2 lge cloves garlic, minced
1 TB shredded ginger root 2 TB soy sauce
2 TB rice vinegar 1# sirloin in 1/4 ” strips sliced against grain
2 C sweet pepper strips 1 can water chestnuts, drained
1 bunch green onion, sliced 1 can bamboo shoots, drained
2 C bean sprouts chopped peanuts for garnish

Mix first five ingredients in large bowl. Toss in thinly sliced beef and marinate for 15-30 minutes. Coat a skillet with cooking spray, place over medium heat, and sauté meat for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add next four ingredients, and continue to stir-fry until peppers are crisp-tender. Add sprouts and cover; cook for another 2-3 minutes

At the beginning of this process, start one cup basmati rice to cook in three cups water along with 1/2 tsp salt and 4 cracked whole cardamom pods. Cook at a simmer for 15 minutes, or until water is absorbed. Pick out cardamom before serving rice topped with stir-fry andsprinkled with chopped nuts.

Then there’s the simple salmon…

1 salmon fillet fresh lime
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning* 1 large red potato, cut in 1/2″ cubes
1 TB olive oil, separated 1 bunch scallions 1 sweet red pepper 1 med zucchini

Place salmon in a glass pie plate and douse with a generous squeeze of lime – about two tablespoons. Sprinkle with Old bay seasoning (*or use 1/2 teaspoon each garlic powder and paprika). Bake salmon at 375 for 20 minutes (or wait, and nuke it for three minutes when the vegetables are almost done). Meanwhile, put potato in a small bowl, drizzle with one teaspoon of oil, and microwave for three-four minutes, or until almost fork-tender.

Heat a skillet over medium, add remaining oil to skillet, toss in potatoes, onion, pepper, and zucchini, and sauté until potatoes are lightly browned, stirring often. Serve salmon on vegetables.

Now, to wrap things up, a humble but tasty meatless meal for one…

1 large sweet potato, scrubbed 1 tsp good olive oil
1 small onion, coarsely chopped 2 lge tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp garlic powder 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cumin, as per taste
1/4 tsp powdered coriander 1 C black beans

To really speed things up, you can zap the potato in the microwave for 4-6 minutes, or until tender to a fork-poke, then nuke the topping ingredients until heated through, but if you have time, heat the oven to 275, combine the seven topping ingredients in a small casserole, and bake for 60-75 minutes, along-side the sweet potato. Then slit open the steaming potato and heap on the goodies. Salt and pepper to taste.

Okay. That’s enough thinking for one day. But do have a blessed, well-nourished, safe and secure Memorial Day weekend.

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Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Deborah Ude  |  May 27, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    As I read this, I am breakfasting on toasted bread I made from scratch, no bread machine or mixer involved. The process of making it, the act of eating it… priceless satisfaction! And for supper? A patch of rhubarb is ready for picking…double crust rhubarb custard pie…crust and filling made from scratch…hot from the oven…blissful satisfaction!

    Reply

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About

Recipe. According to Encarta, "a list of ingredients and instructions for making something." The thesaurus offers the alternate terms, "formula, guidelines, directions, steps, technique."

And what is the "something" we are aiming for here? Simply a life of robust good health in every important area - spiritual, physical, cognitive, and emotional.

To that end we offer inspirational real-life stories about PEOPLE OF FAITH AND COURAGE; menus and cooking directions meant to fuel your creative inclinations and your healthy body in the form of MUSINGS OF A MIDWESTERN FOODIE; and ADVICE FOR LIFE from the perspective of those who have lived it to maturity. (Click on the green category tabs at the top of this page to learn more about each section.)

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