Saturday, April 4, 2009

Day 18 - Steamed Fish en Papillote, Caper-Lemon Butter, Roasted Cauliflower, and Roasted Pineapple (Take Two)

Oh dear...

Did you ever notice that when you really want to impress someone, that's when things just crumble to pieces??

I'm here in Florida with my parents. I've made a really big deal about cooking for them. I loved the idea of having them as part of this project, even though my father doesn't quite know what it is I'm doing and my mother has yet to read this blog, despite several requests. (Are you reading this now, Mother?) After some not-so-gentle arm-twisting, my mother finally deigned to let me cook. (I say deigned not because she's such a big cook, but because she thinks if I cook, it's going to mean extra work for her, even though I promise to do the cleanup.) But I convinced her to play along, and she agreed to collect all (well, almost all) of the items on my shopping list.

And when the time came to really dazzle them...?

Of course, disaster.

Steamed Fish en Papillote (p. 215)

FYI, Steamed en Papillote means steamed in parchment paper, in this case with spinach, lemon, and caper-lemon butter.

The one item from my shopping list that my mother did not buy for me in advance was the fish for this recipe. Martha is very specific about what she wants here: firm-fleshed fish fillets (halibut, striped bass, salmon) 1.5 inches thick. No problem, I say, I'll fetch it once I'm there.

Some back story: My ticket to fly down here had me connecting through Charlotte. Given the big delay at Newark for Flight #1, it was unlikely I'd make my connection. And that would mean no cooking. (!!) Cut to me landing in Charlotte doing a Joan Cusack in Broadcast News-ian sprint from the far end of Concourse B to the far end of Concourse C, arriving at my second flight literally as they were closing the door. Very dramatic! I was not going to miss this meal!

My father picked me up in West Palm Beach, and off we went on a quest for 1.5 inch thick halibut/striped bass/salmon. I should probably mention here that I recently prepared a Martha magazine recipe that involved steaming striped bass in parchment, and it came out beautifully, so this was not foreign territory for me. I should also mention that salmon was never a real consideration for this meal. I mean... salmon? We eat salmon all the time, I'm not going to make just SALMON for my parents!

We started at a fish market. Eh. Next to Whole Foods. Double eh. We ended up at Publix's Green Market (their Whole Foods wannabe chain) - more eh! But at that point, I didn't think I could tax my father's patience any further. I knew I had to choose something there. The only thing that was even remotely thick was grouper, about one inch, which was not the end of the world because Martha had left instructions for how to deal with different size thicknesses, i.e. 8 minutes per inch.

I asked the fish guy if grouper was a firm-fleshed fish. And even though he unhesitatingly said yes, I still felt that I had to look it up online, so I got out my phone and did just that. A Google search confirmed that, indeed, grouper is a firm-fleshed fish. So I bought a big hunk of grouper.

Turns out grouper isn't just firm, it's diamonds. My beautiful little packets of fish in parchment were cooked for the "right" amount of time (10 minutes seemed appropriate for the just-more-than-an-inch-thick fish), and although the packets didn't puff up in the oven the way Martha said they would, I thought it would be worse to overcook the fish than to undercook. So out they came, onto the plates, and I cut into them, only to find that they were seriously undercooked. I mean, outRAGEously undercooked. Sushi, undercooked. Argh! So I put them all back in the oven, cute little packets now opened (i.e. ruined, steaming no longer possible), and I cooked them for another ten minutes before they were finally cooked through.

So much for impressing the parents....

Martha, why didn't you say: "halibut, striped bass, salmon, anything but grouper?" That's the last time I'm not listening to Martha, verbatim.

In the end, the fish tasted fine. The flavors were nice, not extraordinary, but nice. I went easy on the salt because I thought the capers would overpower, but they didn't, and it was undersalted. The spinach, which seemed so bulky when the packets were being made, all but disappeared once cooked. (Note to self: next time, overload the spinach.)

Jeff: D
Martha: A

Caper-Lemon Butter (p. 167)

This is another compound butter recipe which served as an ingredient in the fish packets above. I have to say, when I made this, the butter-to-additions ratio seemed off, so I added a little extra butter. There just seemed to be so much "filling" and no binder.

We couldn't find salt-packed capers, and these brined capers, which I thought would be crazy-salty, didn't deliver much salt. A little added salt in the butter might have done the trick.

This butter worked fine for this recipe, but I don't know that it would be useful in many other applications, unlike the herbed compound butter, which gave much pleasure in many different ways.

Jeff: A-
Martha: A-

Roasted Pineapple - Take Two (p. 487)

Success! The pineapple was sweet, the roasting pan did what it was supposed to do, everything worked! And I loved it. I think my parents did, too. It's a great dessert, half-healthy/half-naughty. And the flavors are super.

Jeff: A

Roasted Cauliflower (p. 313)

Leaning on what I knew would definitely deliver, I roasted a ton of vegetables for my parents, including broccoli, shallots, asparagus, and a new one for the project, cauliflower. This is absolutely the easiest and most delicious way to handle vegetables! The only downside is the clean up, i.e. the greasy roasting pan or baking sheet. Otherwise, it's a great crowd pleaser, and it's hard to mess up. (I could have cooked the shallots longer, but otherwise, home run!)

Jeff: A-
Martha: A

In the end, my parents have agreed to let me cook again, pending their menu approval. Phew!

Until we eat again...

Mother and Father Blumenkrantz with their Papillotes!


  1. Jeff- catching up on the backlog of posts. But I think your D grade was probably too harsh, for food that was "nice" or "fine". Sounds like a C- or C, passing, but only average. :)

    Love the blog; love your music and miss the podcast. Thanks for letting us dine with you. :)

  2. Hi Angela-
    Thanks for going through the backlog and posting! It's funny: when people ask me if I've had any cooking disasters during this project, the two things I always think about are this fish dish and the Mango Sorbet. The reason I gave myself such a low grade was that, even though the fish was edible, even tasty, it wasn't served steamed. In the end, it was baked, and that's not the spirit of the recipe. Hence the D.
    Thanks again for writing and for your kind words re: my projects.