February 11 – February 17, 2019
Monday: Mere’s marinated, grilled pork with tzatziki sauce and pita
Tuesday: Mira Mare Restaurant
Wednesday: Haddock Milanese with Beez and Mere
(We didn’t take many pictures – our apologies – but go to Naples and see for yourself)
Thursday: Arrival of Dana and Duffy and their children, Jimmy, Freddy and Elise For dinner: Mere’s Mac and Cheese, Duffy’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs, Beez’s salad
Friday: Stayed home sick! Beez and I had leftover Mac-and-cheese and hamburger meat with taco sauce. It really works!
Saturday: Back to Pittsburgh – beer and wine and spiced pecans – we were starving but too tired to cook
Sunday: Mediterranean Chicken and Chickpea Soup
“My parents didn’t want to move to Florida. But they turned 60 and that’s the law.”
- Jerry Seinfeld
We spent last week in Florida, hosted by Mere and Hoddy in their spectacular place in Naples. For years, I have maintained that I would never move to Florida in my old age. This curmudgeonliness is part of my whole act and I have played it for all I am worth. And for those who doubted me – I’m approaching old age and I haven’t moved to Florida and I have no plans to move to Florida.
But I sure as hell can see the point, now.
With age comes wisdom, they say. I say, with age comes arthritis and lumbago and a desire to sit quietly in the sun, nursing a gin-and-tonic and nodding off, from time to time. (Don’t forget to put the drink down once the drowsiness begins.)
I’m afraid that this posting is going to be fairly personal and not much about food. We were on vacation – what can you expect? There is a dynamite fish recipe at the bottom of the post, however.
Naples, Florida, or rather, its upscale beach and canal neighborhoods, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Roughly 35% of all the landscapers in America* work there and the result is the most beautifully planted, clipped, mowed, swept and cleanest place in the solar system. It is a bit disheartening to navigate your rented Toyota among a sea of Mercedes, Maseratis, Cadillacs, Jaguars, Bentleys and Teslas. But you’ll get over it.
*Hyperbole, folks. Another part of my act.
If you want to maintain your connection to earthly reality, don’t spend the whole year in Naples. But if you want to ascend from this earth to heaven, every once in a while, I’d suggest a visit.
We attended the University of Pittsburgh Winter Academy last Friday. This is an event where some of Pitt’s top scientists and researchers discuss their findings and the point of their research projects. It is utterly fascinating. It is also geared to giving hope to the halt and the lame and allowing them to contribute money to the research programs that, if they are not aging or declining too rapidly, just might save their lives someday. It is utterly worthwhile, but the irony is impossible to ignore.
What does one do in Florida? Well, one sleeps in, to begin with. At my age, that means not getting up until around 8:00. One then has a cup of coffee and walks on the beach with one’s spouse. This one then drives to the market to pick up the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Naples Daily News. Then there is a shower, a leisurely breakfast – just a muffin most days – and a complete reading of the newspaper, something we rarely manage to do in Pittsburgh. For me there’s usually a bit of business or study and then, magically, it’s time to retrieve Beez from the pool and decide what to do for lunch. Throw in a visit to the gym or a golf game, and the afternoon ends with cocktails at 6:00, a state-mandated watching of the sunset and then cooking or going to one many good restaurants in town.
I suppose the basic point is, that when you’re on vacation, you get to make your own schedule. The focus should be on avoiding any sense of hustle or pressure while somehow maintaining enough activity to keep you awake for at least a few hours each day.
The highlight of the vacation was the arrival of Duffy and Dana and their children, Elise, Jimmy and Freddy. If there are better behaved, more interesting children anywhere in America, adopt them. To listen to a Pitt basketball game with running commentary by Jimmy and Freddy, clad in their ‘Oakland Zoo’ t-shirts is as entertaining a moment as you will have in Southwest Florida. And to spend some time with the beautiful Elise is better than any sunset I’ve seen.
Clearly, cooking was not our focus. Although the pork with tzatziki sauce that Mere made and her macaroni and cheese (based on Ina Garten’s recipe) was as good as anything we’ve had in the last few months. But I am going to share with you what has become a go-to (and simple) fish recipe for Beez and myself. With Lent coming up, you’ll need at least one good, new fish recipe. (Hey, I’m not addressing Catholics here, many, if not most of whom, have given up the fish thing, even during Lent. I’m addressing regular Pittsburghers who, in the days of Italian, Irish and Polish dominance, learned to enjoy the piscine bargains and offerings at our local markets. And, I’m addressing anyone who vacations in a place where the seafood is fresh and plentiful.) Here’s a method for cooking that fish which is nearly foolproof.
Flounder (Trout/Halibut) Milanese
(adapted from Ina Garten’s cook like a pro)
This recipe rhymes with Ina’s spectacular Parmesan Chicken recipe which, if it is not on your regular rotation of recipes needs to be. (You can find it in our ‘Keepers’ list.) We have yet to find fresh flounder for this. So the first time we cooked it, we used trout fillets. In Florida last week we found some beautiful Halibut at the Swan River Fish Company and splurged. Note: The trout will cook in about the same time as the flounder. If you use halibut or a thicker fish, you’ll need to add a few minutes to your cooking.
Timing: 15 – 20 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 6
6 Flounder fillets (maybe 2 lbs. or a bit less). Substitute the fresh fish of your choice, except for very strong tasting or oily fish. I wouldn’t use Tuna, Salmon or Swordfish. Note: the small ‘grey flounder’ fillets from New England are too small – it would take a lot of them to make a meal and that’s too much work.
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 or 3 large eggs
1 ¼ cups seasoned dry bread crumbs – we used unseasoned Panko, maybe 1 ¾ cups.
Arugula or mixed greens
Good olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons drained capers (we used maybe 3)
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (Romano, Grana Padano or Pecorino will also work)
Lemon Juice and a flaky sea salt for serving
Lemon Vinaigrette: ¼ cup lemon juice, ½ cup or less of good olive oil, kosher salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 250 F and put a sheet pan on one of the racks. (You’ll be using this to keep some of the fillets warm while you fish cooking the others.)
Make the Lemon Vinaigrette: Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil together and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper.
In a shallow bowl, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon.
In a third bowl, place the bread crumbs
Dry the fish with paper towels
Dredge the fish on both sides in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess.
Dip both sides into the egg mixture and then dredged both sides in the bread crumbs. If you’re using the Panko, you might have to pat some onto the fish.
If you have some time, let the dredged fillets sit on a rack in the refrigerator.
Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan over medium to medium-high (depending on whether you have high btu-burners). Add 2 fillets, or whatever will fit with good space between the fillets, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. (More time for halibut and thicker cuts). Transfer the cooked fish to the sheet pan in the oven to keep warm. Add more oil and butter and cook 2 or more of the remaining fillets. Repeat until all fillets are cooked.
When the fish is done, toss the arugula with just enough of the vinaigrette to moisten it. Place one fillet each on warmed plates, top with the arugula. Now heat the capers in the skillet for 30 seconds or so and sprinkle of the fish and the salad. Finally, sprinkle with the grated cheese, squeeze some lemon over the fish and sprinkle with fleur-de-sel or Maldon sea salt. Serve hot.