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Tag: food

Lionfish–Just Kill ‘Em & Cook ‘Em

by on May.25, 2014, under Recipes and Food

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for catch-and-release or for just keeping enough fish for dinner.   But then there are lionfish, Pterois volitans, an invasive species threatening to eat juvenile reef fish and take over much of Florida’s offshore waters.

Previously found only in aquariums, these spectacular fish have in recent years invaded Florida’s reefs, raising concerns of scientists and anglers alike.  Armed with highly venomous spines, these fish have few predators with the exception of spear-fishermen.  In fact, the FWC now allows divers to harvest any number of lionfish without a recreational fishing license so long as they are doing so with pole spears, Hawaiian slings, or dip nets.  Lionfish season is open, and lionfish are an excellent choice for dinner.

You’ll have to catch your own lionfish or beg them from a friend.  My friends at Gainesville’s Northwest Seafood found me a few as by-catch from a deep-water grouper trip and gave me a lesson in cleaning them.  I recommend getting some heavy gloves, sharpening your favorite knife, and being extra-careful to not get stuck by one of the fish’s venomous spines.    Also, unless you know the origin of the fish you’re preparing, question your source regarding whether or not it came from a tropical or sub-tropical reef that’s known to hold fish with the ciguatera toxin.  Ciguatera isn’t fun and is certainly something to avoid.  If you’re not sure about the origin of your filets, consider using any other firm white fish for this recipe.

Chef Michael’s Lionfish Ambassador

Michael Ledwith, of Chef Michael’s Restaurant in Islamorada, claims lionfish taste much like hogfish, and that’s why you’ll sometimes find them on his menu.  His “Lionfish Ambassador” recipe makes those small tasty lionfish filets fit for any table.

4 to 6 fresh lionfish filets

1 tbs. butter

1 tbs. canola oil

1 tbs. chopped shallot

1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms

2 tbs. capers

I tbs. key lime juice

1 cup good Chardonnay wine

¼ cup heavy cream

1 tbs. chopped flat leaf (Italian) parsley

½ cup fresh crab meat

In a large non-stick skillet, bring butter and oil to medium-high heat.  Season lionfish filets with salt and freshly ground pepper, then add to oil, cooking for about 3 minutes.  Remove fish from skillet and reserve on a plate.  Add shallots to hot skillet; cook for about one minute.  Add mushrooms and capers; cook about 2 minutes.  Add the wine and lime juice and simmer on medium heat for about 4 minutes.  Finally, add the cream, crab meat, parsley and the fish filets and simmer until the fish is fork-tender.

This recipe serves 4 and is best accompanied by grilled vegetables and a glass of whatever Chardonnay is left over from the recipe.

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Redfish On The Half Shell–A Hunk ‘o Burnin’ Love

by on May.25, 2014, under Recipes and Food

When it comes to grilling redfish fillets with their skin and scales intact, known as “Redfish on the Half Shell”, there’s no better recipe than the one given me by my fishing buddy and Cajun chef, Joey Landreneau.  The tough hide of skin and scales ensures a barrier from the high heat necessary to quickly cook the fish while keeping the meat tender, yet firm.

It’s important to not over-spice redfish.  For me, blackening this fish with a heavy coat of spice does nothing more than cover up its nutty flavor.  Save your blackening spices and technique for species that don’t have much flavor, like tilapia, and use Joey’s simple one-hour marinade. Use a half-cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and the juice of a lemon for two upper-slot redfish fillets.  You can add a light sprinkling of Cajun spice at the grill if you like the flavors it imparts.  Just don’t overdo it.

Luckily, redfish freeze fairly well if vacuum-bagged with a Zip-Vac, or similar device.  I don’t recommend months of freezing, but keeping one or two from a few weekly fishing trips will soon get you enough to feed a family or small dinner party.  Allow one fillet per person.  To prepare, put the fillets in a shallow baking dish and pour in the whisked-together marinade.  An hour in advance of dinner is ample, but be sure to turn the fillets every 15 minutes or so.  At grilling time, place the fillets skin-side-down and cook uncovered until the top surface of the fish turns white, meaning it’s almost cooked.  Then, finish the cooking by carefully flipping the fillet to the “meat side” for just a few minutes.  Most of the actual cooking takes place with the skin side down and this final touch is mostly to impart color and grill marks.  Total grilling time depends on your particular cooking gear and the thickness of the fillets, but you’ll soon learn to judge doneness by pressing a fillet with your finger.  Too soft means not cooked enough; too hard means overcooked—grilling tricks you’ll learn with experience.

A spicy side dish does go well with this entrée, and there’s nothing more popular at our house than my wife’s red beans, served over rice.  Preparing the beans is at the opposite end of the spectrum of “quick and simple” from the redfish, but I think you’ll soon find it a staple as a seafood side dish—or as a full meal if you manage to freeze some leftovers.

Mary’s Red Beans

2-pounds dried light red kidney beans

1-pound bacon, cut into small pieces

2 large onions, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1-cup celery, chopped

6 garlic cloves, chopped

1-tbs ground cayenne pepper

1-tbs ground black pepper

1-tbs dry thyme

2 bay leaves

1- large ham bone (Try your local HoneyBaked Ham store, where they’re $7.99–and meaty.)

1-pound Andouille sausage (Savoie’s is excellent, and available at many Publix Supermarkets)

Tabasco sauce, to taste

Salt, to taste

In a large pot, cover beans with water and soak overnight.  Barely covering the beans with water is sufficient.

The next day, fry the bacon in a larger pot, then add the onion, pepper, celery and garlic.  Cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are transparent, then add the beans with the water in which they soaked.  Add the spices, ham bone, sausage and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, until the “gravy” thickens.  Be careful to not add too much extra water as the beans cook and hold off on the salt until the end.  The saltiness of the ham may be just enough to suit your taste.  You can add Tabasco at the stove, or at the table.

Serve over white rice either as a side or main dish.

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Eating Well at Punta Gorda–Lots of Opportunities!

by on Nov.12, 2013, under Recipes and Food

Sustainable seafood is big here, as many chefs, restauranteurs and fishermen make their living and livelihood from the bountiful Gulf of Mexico. From the quintessential Florida cracker crab shack where blue crabs pile high atop newspaper covered picnic tables at Peace River Seafood year round, to contemporary dishes that top retro, stainless steel tables set amidst a wash of riotous color at acclaimed Trabue, the dining options in Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands are as abundant as the fresh catch.

An authentic Florida crab house opened by long-time local crabber Jimmy Beall and his wife Kelly just outside Punta Gorda, Peace River Seafood is where the fishermen, crabbers, and shrimpers land their catch. During Stone Crab season the huge crab claws are the number one draw on the locally sourced seafood-centric menu.  Year-round, blue crabs arrive by the crate and are prepared and served up piping hot almost as fast as they come in. Spilling out of tin buckets – all you can eat for $20, 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday – the crabs are accompanied by the requisite wooden mallet, corn-on-the-cob, red potatoes and lemon. Novices take note: friendly expert instruction from the staff will have you crackin’ crab like a local in no time!

Chef Keith Meyer is one of the new breed of chefs planting roots in Punta Gorda.  At Trabue Restaurant, he translates the classic techniques he learned in New York City into approachable rustic, southern dishes. Menu items range from escargot to a bone-in, brined pork chop, and the menu is always chock full of from-the-Gulf seafood such as mahi-mahi, snapper and shrimp. While he incorporates flavors from across the country, Chef Keith’s goal is to highlight locally-sourced ingredients, especially the different flavors that come with each season

To wash down all this local farm (or sea) to table goodness, the county also features a winery and a new craft brew house with tap room.  Catania’s Winery in Englewood offers free wine tastings Thursdays – Saturdays.  While the new (opening Dec. 2013) Fat Point brewery in Punta Gorda is initially offering two craft beers in cans and on tap.

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How To Avoid Fish Grilling Disasters, Florida Sportsman Article

by on Aug.27, 2013, under Recipes and Food

I was once afraid to put fish on the grill.  Not that I was a stranger to grilling all sorts of meats and fowl, but I could almost always count on whatever fish I put on the grill turning to small torn pieces long before it reached the dinner table.  But that was before I received a short fish-grilling lesson from my friend, Chef Jim Hunt, proprietor of Fiddler’s Restaurant in Steinhatchee.

Whether he’s ‘fancy grilling’ with Cajun spices or ‘simple grillin’ for folks who don’t want any extra calories, Jim has a knack for delivering perfectly cooked fish to his customers.  The grill marks are well defined, yet the interior of the fish is never over or undercooked.  According to the chef, his success has a lot to do with the fish species he chooses to grill—and to his patience at the grill.

So not to overcook your fish, be sure to select cuts that are not too thin.  Thin fillets from small flounder and snapper may not work with this technique, but thick grouper fillets or steaks from cobia, amberjack, mahi-mahi, wahoo and swordfish perform well.  A very hot grill is essential to successful fish grilling, as is leaving the fish over the fire long enough to caramelize the surface that contacts the grill’s grate.  If you pull the fish away from the grate too soon, it will certainly stick.   If you pull it too late, it will be burned.  Coating the fish with a thin coating of olive oil helps the process and almost guarantees that your fish will be served in picture-perfect condition.   Just as you’ve learned to judge the doneness of a grilled beef steak, you’ll learn to recognize when it’s time to turn your fish and whether it’s done or not.  An easy way to tell if your fish is ready to turn is to watch its edges.  You’ll be able to see the edges cook and when they’re fully cooked, it’s time to turn.  You can also test by gently lifting the fish fillet or steak with a spatula.  If it comes loose, it’s time to turn.  If it’s still stuck, let it be.  Final doneness is usually determined by the touch of a finger.  Don’t let your fish cook so long on the second side that it’s hard to the touch.  A slight bit of spring-back is usually right.

Perfectly grilled fish deserves a nice presentation. Consider plating your fish in a pool of tasty sauce.  One of Jim’s favorites for grilled fish is his own version of Argentine Chimichurri.  Its fresh spicy flavor adds to that of the fresh fish, but doesn’t cover it up. Add a cool cucumber salad to round out your meal and you’ll soon have all your friends and family begging you to continue in your role as champion of the grill.

Grilled Swordfish with Chimichurri!

Fiddler’s Chimichurri

1 cup (loosely packed) Italian Parsley leaves

1 cup (loosely packed) cilantro leaves

6 cloves fresh garlic

1/2  tsp. powdered cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. Tabasco sauce

2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

Chop the dry ingredients coarsely in a food processor.  Then, with the processor still running, add the Tabasco sauce, red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to attain thee desired consistency.  A half-cup of oil is a good start.  The thicker the sauce, the more intense the flavor will be.  This simple recipe makes enough sauce to serve with 4 8-ounce pieces of fish.  And it can be made a day or two in advance of your cookout, and refrigerated.

Cucumber Salad

I’ve never understood why anyone would want to put sugar into a cucumber salad.  That said; thinly slice some small Kirby cucumbers and a bit of red onion and then toss them with olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Season to taste with salt, black pepper, dried oregano and crushed red pepper.  And NO sugar!

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Garlicky, Lemony, Buttery—The BEST Shrimp Scampi–Sportsman’s Kitchen Archive (March 2012)

by on Aug.16, 2013, under Recipes and Food

Garlicky, Lemony, Buttery—The BEST Shrimp Scampi


Archived, from Florida Sportsman Magazine, March 2012, Sportsman’s Kitchen

Shrimp are likely the most versatile seafood.  According to Bubba Gump, they’re good boiled, fried, sautéed, or served with grits.   They even make good fish bait.  And they’re available year round.  Buy your shrimp from a reputable seafood shop that isn’t hesitant to let you smell their product.  Good shrimp, although likely frozen aboard the boat soon after being caught, don’t have a ‘fishy’ smell and should smell like the waters from which they came.

There’s no comparing properly prepared shrimp scampi to what many restaurants serve.  Shrimp soaked or poached in garlic butter can be good, but there’s more to scampi than just a quick swim through a sauce.  When garlic, shallots, butter and lemons mingle with that of fresh Florida shrimp, the explosion of flavor is hard to describe. Here’s my recipe, along with one for a nice companion Caesar salad:

Shrimp Scampi

3 shallots, peeled and chopped

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

3/4-cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2-1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt

2 cups dry white wine

6 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 -cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Combine the shallots, 4 cloves of garlic and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a mini-food processor or blender.  Process to make a smooth paste.  Pour 6 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining crushed garlic into a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When the garlic sizzles, add about half the shrimp.  Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and sauté until seared, but not fully cooked, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove the first batch of shrimp to a holding dish and sauté the second half.  Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and the garlic-shallot paste to the skillet and cook until the paste is so thick it almost sticks to the bottom of the pan.  Then add the white wine, lemon juice, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt and 4 tablespoons butter.  Bring the sauce to a boil until its volume is reduced by half.  Finally, whisk in the remaining butter, add the shrimp and cook about 2 more minutes.  Don’t overcook the shrimp!

This recipe feeds 4 hungry fishermen if served as an entrée over linguine or fettuccine. Or a few shrimp, each on a piece of thinly sliced French bread toast, make an excellent appetizer.  In either case, garnish the servings with chopped parsley.

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Tender Is The Trout–Sportsman’s Kitchen Archive (February 2012)

by on Aug.15, 2013, under Recipes and Food

Tender is the Trout


Archived, from Florida Sportsman Magazine, February 2012, Sportsman’s Kitchen

It’s been a long time since everyone in Florida had the opportunity to eat fresh seatrout in February.  This year, with the FWC’s elimination of closed months, keeping a few nice trout and eating them fresh from the water is a tasty option.

Seatrout lend themselves to several methods of preparation, but the southern tradition of deep-frying is likely a favorite.   And there’s no reason that fried foods need be greasy.  The use of light cooking oil, like peanut or canola, a simple breading and a hot fire will guarantee results that are crisp, flavorful, and surprisingly healthy.

You’ll have to make the decision whether or not you want to serve your fish as fillets or fingers, known as tenderloins in many areas.  I’d recommend cutting out the bones from smaller fish and then fingering the thick part of the fillet.  If you have big seatrout, picking out the sweet meat under the rib cage is worth the extra effort, so fry the fillets whole. Fillets are probably more appropriate as an entrée; fingers work well as appetizers or in po-boy style sandwiches.

While there are likely as many different types of breading and batters as there are fish in the sea, I prefer a simple coating made from cracker crumbs, plain flour and a dash of Cajun spices.  It’s easy to make and apply–simply dredge your fish in it just as you’re getting ready to fry.

No matter how large the pieces of fish you cook, it’s important that they are put into oil that cooks them quickly.  350 to 375-degrees is the optimum temperature.  If you don’t have a thermometer, simply touch the tip of a ready-to-cook piece of fish into the oil.  If it sizzles, go ahead and start cooking.  As you add additional fillets or fingers, you’ll cool the oil slightly, so it’s important not to cook too many pieces of fish at a time.  When golden brown, your fish is ready to drain on absorbent paper and serve.

If you’re serving your trout in a ‘formal’ setting, consider hushpuppies, Cole slaw and oven-fried potatoes as accompaniments.  This combination will likely earn you accolades comparing you to the best seafood restaurants in your hometown.  A more casual presentation (That means you don’t have to use knives and forks!) is a simple sandwich made with fried fingers, and dressed with lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce.

Finally, remember that whether you serve your fish simple or fancy, the ‘secret’s in the sauce’.  Making your own sauces is a simple alternative to store-bought.  Try jazzing up your cocktail sauce with some hot peppers and remember that tartar sauce ain’t nothin’ but mayonnaise, chopped dill pickles and onion.

Foolproof Seafood Breading

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 boxed stack Saltine crackers (about 70 crackers)
  • 1 tbsp. Cajun spice

Pulverize the crackers in a food processor; mix in flour and Cajun spice.  Makes enough breading to coat about 2 pounds of trout fillets or fingers.

Tangy Seafood Sauce

  • 1 12-ounce bottle Chili Sauce
  • 1 7-ounce bottle Dat’l Do-it Datil Pepper Hot Sauce
  • 2 tbsp. ground horseradish
  • Juice of a large lemon

Oven-Fried Potato Strips

  • 1/2-pound Russet potatoes (per person)
  • Peanut or canola oil
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel and cut potatoes into strips.  Dry thoroughly with paper towels.  Coat a cookie sheet with a light coating of oil.  Arrange potato strips in a single layer.  Bake about 45-minutes, turning strips at least once to ensure browning.  Salt to taste after baking.

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Dress Up After a Hard Day on the Water–Eat at Trabue in Downtown Punta Gorda

by on Aug.15, 2013, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA, Upper Charlotte Harbor

Maybe you don’t want to cook.  Or you’re tired of eating the usual “fisherman fare”.  Maybe it’s time to step it up a notch and try some of the  great, upscale dishes at Trabue Restaurant in downtown Punta Gorda.  Chef Keith Meyers offers fresh and modern American food, and features local seafood and produce.  Here’s you’ll find tasty, healthy and beautifully-prepared entrees and an extensive wine list.  Trabue is the original name given Punta Gorda in 1885 by Col. Isaac Trabue, who purchased the land from British investors.  Trabue, the restaurant, is located at 258 W Marion Avenue, just a short walk from most local hotels.

Trabue is stylish and attracts folks of all generations

Try some seafood at Trabue

A simple salad, and a beautiful presentation

Escargot, anyone?

If they're on the menu, give Chef Keith Meyers' lamb sliders a try!

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Shrimp Landing Restaurant Opens in Inglis/Yankeetown

by on Mar.24, 2013, under Yankeetown and Waccasassa

If you’re traveling north on US19/98 and just crossing the ‘border’ into Levy County and “Natural North Florida”, the first town you’ll hit is Inglis.  Just north of the Withlacoochee River and described by many as the “gateway to Yankeetown”, Inglis is your last chance for a square meal before you get to Chiefland, some 40 miles up the road.  In the past, and during its heyday, Inglis had a few “meat and three” restaurants, namely the Port Inglis Restaurant and Gobblers.  Alas, both have closed, as is the case with the more upscale eatery, December’s*.  Nevertheless, the old “PI” has been reborn as the Shrimp Landing Restaurant, and is a good place to “fill up” in anticipation of your trip north (or to fish at Yankeetown, Waccasassa, Cedar Key or Lake Rousseau)

Don’t think that Shrimp Landing only serves shrimp.  Of course, they’re on the menu in several variations.  You’ll also find fish, salads, burgers and daily specials.  Expect big servings and hearty meals here-at reasonable prices.  They’re open 7 days a week from 5AM until 9PM, making Shrimp Landing a good choice for a pre-fishing trip breakfast or post-fishing trip lunch or dinner.

Shrimp Landing

US 19/98 at SR40, just north of the Withlacoochee River

Inglis, FL

(352) 447-5201

*The old December’s restaurant has been recently re-opened, but I’ve not had a chance to visit it.  Reviews from friends have been good, and I’m looking forward to a meal there soon.  Expect a review, too!

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Points West, Days Nine and Ten, Aspen, Colorado

by on Jun.19, 2012, under POINTS WEST--Two Old Farts and A Dog!

Points West

Days Nine and Ten, Aspen

Unfortunately, the trip west towards the road to Aspen involved driving on I-70 through the Eisenhower Tunnel.  Fortunately, by leaving Denver at 8AM, we avoided rush hour traffic and headed westward, turning south at the road to Leadville.  We’d never taken this route before, as previous trips to Aspen involved snow, and the road over Independence Pass is usually closed during the winter months.  The trip was easy and the sightseeing great.  We saw a few snow-capped peaks as we climbed towards 12,000 feet and the Continental Divide.  Colorado had a warm winter and there wasn’t much snow to melt, and the rivers and streams were low.  I suspect those traces of snow will be gone by June 28th and the beginning of the Aspen Music Festival.

What you see in the car mirror may be closer than you think!

The scenic lookout at Independence Pass was spectacular, but cold.  I also had to give Kirby the Schnauzer a lecture about peeing on the Continental Divide.  I told him if he peed on the east side, it would run to the Atlantic and if he peed on the west side, the Pacific.  He nodded his understanding.

Kirby at Independence Pass. Pee east or pee west?

We arrived at our friends’ home in Aspen in time for lunch and then headed downtown to get some exercise.  The Aspen Food and Wine Festival had just ended so the crowds were small.

The Elks Club Building is an Aspen landmark.

Bob and Marsha live in the West End neighborhood, and I always thought that choice was made with regards to free bus access (at the corner) or the five-minute walk to town and the main ski lifts to Aspen Mountain.  We were more than surprised to find that their house is only three blocks from the site of the Music Festival, the Aspen Institute and Aspen Meadows.

The Aspen Institute--great sculpture in the gardens.

Our walk to those locations was much more fun that window-shopping in town.  Of particular interest to Mary and me was the architecture at the Meadows.  Designed in the 1950s by celebrated architect Eero Saarinen and are amazing, nestled in the forest of aspens.  Every turn was a surprise, including seeing one of an original Geodesic Dome, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller.  Aspen is full of surprises—Bob’s even befriended his new neighbor and fellow cyclist, Lance Armstrong!

Early Tuesday meant another road trip, but luckily Bob was our tour guide and did the driving.  We left Aspen and headed up the road to the Maroon Bells National Park, probably the most photographed mountain area east of Yellowstone.  Bob’s an avid bicyclist and regularly climbs these steep roads on his road bike.  This is a tough route, and not for the faint of heart.  This time, his new Suburban did the job.  Mary, Marsha, the dogs (Kirby and Oscar, the Bearded Collie) and I were thankful.

A beautiful morning view at Maroon Bells National Park

Miles of trees, trees, and more trees!

After a hike and a tour at Maroon Bells and a good look at Pyramid Peaks, we headed up another of Bob’s cycling routes, Castle Creek Road, and ended up at Ashcroft.  This was an original settlement that’s now become a ghost town.  After that, it was a quick trip through Snowmass Village and Anderson Ranch, and then on to Basalt, for lunch at the Riverside Café.  Sitting aside the Roaring Fork River, this is a great place for a lunchtime beer and a smoked trout BLT.

Bob, Marsha and Mary at The Riverside Cafe in Basalt

Smoked trout BLT!

Since all we seem to do is eat, we rested after our visit to Basalt and headed just north of Aspen to Woody Creek, where we had a great “farewell” meal at the Woody Creek Tavern, one of our favorite places here.  What did I have?  More tamales—on my never-ending quest for “tamale perfection”.  These were great—pork, no lard, and a great, hot sauce.

There's nothing fancy at Woody Creek Tavern

Except the tamales! A great ending to a fun visit to Aspen.

Tomorrow, we’re off early for a trip back over Independence Pass and then to visit my New Mexican cousins in Santa Fe.  I can’t wait to see the high desert again!

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