Category: seafood (page 1 of 3)

Marko’s Fish House in Madison, Illinois

ChiBBQKing told me that Marko’s Fish House in Madison, Illinois served one of the best fish sandwiches.

I had to see for myself.

Madison, Illinois is a smaller city of approximately 5,400 residents located just across the river near Granite City. Until this day, I had visited neither.

The first two things you should know before heading to Marko’s is that its open Tuesday-Friday and that you need to bring cash.

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Why You Should Steam Your Own Crab Legs At Home

You could pay $30 at a restaurant for a steam pot meal that includes a cluster of snow crab legs and lots of other things that aren’t snow crab legs, or enjoy them at home for far less.

This month, Jake requested crab legs for his birthday. The thought of preparing crab legs at home had always intimidated me, so I never attempted it, even though friends claimed it was really easy. Over the years, I’ve asked people how to prepare crab legs at home. Some suggested steaming. Another friend her mom bakes them in the oven. After reading through this blog post by the Cooking Fishmonger listing six ways to cook crab legs at home, I felt brave enough to just go for it. I love how the post ends with the advice: “Some common sense will help in cooking your snow crab.”

Ordering crab at restaurants is a pricey treat. Sometimes the crab hasn’t tasted so fresh and other times the shells are really soggy. Plus, the amount of crab you actually receive is small. The seafood we’ve bought from our local fishmonger Bob’s has always tasted fresh. All they sell is seafood, so I figure they take extra care to store it and ensure its freshness. Plus, their employees are happy to answer questions about cooking the seafood or storing it in one’s fridge and pack everyone’s order on a big bag of ice with a fresh lemon. I bought two bags (a little over two pounds total) of frozen, pre-cooked snow crab legs for $12 per pound. Frozen crab legs are usually available at most grocery stores and bulk stores like Costco. I see advertisements for crab leg sales from time to time.

At home, I let the frozen crab sit in my refrigerator until dinner time. Then, I cooked (or reheated) the legs by throwing them into a pot semi-filled with boiling water until warmed through. I gave each cluster a gentle shake to eliminate excess water and tossed them with lots of Old Bay seasoning. It was that simple.
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For $26, we both enjoyed a snow crab leg feast with more clusters than we’d ever been served at a restaurant. I found inexpensive crab crackers and pick sets at my local Asian market. Next time I will take my friend Tracy’s suggestion to steam crab legs with beer and fresh lemon. “Why didn’t I try this before?” I wondered.

Have you ever steamed crab legs at home? I’d love to hear about the most recent, new food you tried preparing at home. 

Steaming Your Own Mussel Feast: A Guide For The Squeamish

Steamed mussels are the perfect meal to prepare if you want to feel like you’re feasting like royalty on a dime.

While bowls of mussels cost anywhere from $12.99-$25 at restaurants, they literally cost less than $5 a pound at the nicest seafood shops around the Midwest. Making your own mussels also means that you can ensure that they’re stored properly and cleaned well.

Before I even tried my first mussel, I remember reading about them in Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. He writes:

I don’t eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them.

I purchase seafood the same day I cook it and prefer to visit seafood-only stores like Coastal Seafood in the Twin Cities or Bob’s Seafood in St. Louis. It puts my mind at ease. You know that the fish mongers are experts because seafood’s all they sell! Plus, you might be surprised to find the prices are better, too.

If you examine older recipes for steamed mussels, they might instruct you to soak your mussels in a solution of water and flour to encourage them to purge any grit. Everything I’ve read recently says today’s farmed mussels are mostly grit-free. The Prince Edward Island mussels I bought at Bob’s Seafood were cleaned and de-bearded. This makes the cooking process even more simple.

The fishmonger at Bob’s instructed me to remove the bag of ice from my package of mussels when I got home and store them in the fridge for the few hours before dinner. They do release some liquid, so I recommend storing them in a contraption that allows the liquid to drain away from the seafood. I rigged old take-out containers by poking holes in the lids and placing them upside down inside the container. Then, I placed the mussels on top of the lids and stored them in the fridge for a few hours. Most articles recommend also covering the mussels with a damp cloth or paper towel.

When you are ready to clean your mussels for cooking, your goal is to essentially to remove any debris clinging to the shells and toss any damaged or dead mussels. Details follow in the recipe below. Don’t be surprised if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. I’m squeamish and found this alarming. My advice is to simply press forward. You can do this! You’re so close to a big pot of delicious mussels. 

We’ve ordered mussels everywhere. Our favorite version of all time is served at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. The shellfish are served in the most savory, winey sauce flavored with tomatoes, garlic and pancetta with plenty of charred bread. No one’s got them beat in terms of broth. We’re too far away from Meritage to visit for an occasional fix of moules frites so here’s my best impression:

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Cooks’s Notes: Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Mussels in White Wine. Inspired by the moules frites at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. If you want a chunkier sauce, use diced tomatoes or squeeze whole ones. I used a cheap bottle of pinot grigio and all was well. You could always use a nicer one. Just don’t use something sweet like a moscato or reisling. Ina Garten uses shallots. I thought diced onion tasted just fine. Fresh herbs are always ideal and dry work fine in a pinch, too. 

Ingredients:
3 lb. mussels (Serves two people very generously or three with no leftovers).
Thick cut bacon, about five strips
Butter, four tablespoons
Olive oil, about two tablespoons
1/2 onion, small dice
5 cloves garlic, minced
White wine (I used a $5.99 bottle of Beringer Pinot Grigio)
2/3 cup tomato sauce
Black Pepper
Salt
(Optional) Red pepper flakes
Honey
Thyme
Basil

1. Rinse & inspect mussels. Gently brush them with a cloth or brush under cold running water to eliminate any grit. De-beard if necessary. Discard mussels that are damaged or open. Mussels will open and close slightly. Check an open mussel by tapping on the outside or squeezing it closed. If it remains open, toss. If a mussel that was closed when you were washing it opens a little bit, it’s alive. Don’t be alarmed if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. If you’re squeamish like me, this is kind of freaky. Do your best to forge ahead.

2. In a large stock pot, cook chopped bacon with a little bit of olive oil. When it’s crispy, remove and set aside. Remove bacon grease from the pan leaving the residue for flavor. This can be saved for cooking later. If there’s a lot of debris, strain through cheesecloth.

3. Return stock pot to burner. Saute onions in about two tablespoons of butter and a drizzle of olive oil until softened. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, herbs (if using dried basil and thyme, start with a good pinch of each), black pepper, and a good pinch of salt. Stir until fragrant.

4. De-glaze the pan with one cup of white wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate the brown bits into the sauce. Simmer for a few minutes until slightly reduced.

5. Add the tomato sauce, a good splash of water or low-sodium stock and stir. You want plenty of flavorful broth because dipping bread into the mussel sauce is the most fun part of eating mussels! Simmer until the sauce tastes mellow and doesn’t have an alcohol bite. This will take a few minutes. Add another dab of butter, touch of honey (or sugar) and salt and pepper as needed.

6. Turn up the heat a little bit so that the sauce is boiling and add the mussels. Give them a quick stir and cover. Reduce heat back to medium-low. Steam until the mussels open, shaking the pot every so often so that the mussels on the bottom don’t burn. This should take between 5-8 minutes. Some of the mussels just won’t open, so don’t wait until every single one opens. Turn off the heat and remove the pan when most of the mussels are open. Toss the mussels that won’t open. If they’re cracked open pretty well, we still eat them.

7. Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread for dipping. If you need to wait a little bit before serving the mussels, place them somewhere off the burner with the lid removed. They’ll be OK for a little bit. Overcooked mussels develop a firm, mealy texture. You want them to remain silky and delicate.

When You Celebrate A Birthday At Joe’s Crab Shack

Photography Disclaimer: If you have a low tolerance for lousy phone food photography, avert your eyes after the section about Joseph’s Grill. This post is chock-full of bad phone photos. Pinky-orange crab, yellow-tinted whites, neon cocktails + a blurry, self-gratuitous selfie all bathed in the jarring lighting at Joe’s Crab Shack. I wanted to keep Martha Steward on her toes. Frankly, perfection bores me. If you feel the same way about food blogs, then this post is for you. 

How does one describe my mother-in-law?

Well, for one thing, she really likes themes. Like, really, really likes themes. Theme parties have become such a normal part of Jake’s existence, that he hardly bats an eye at her newest schemes. He smiles as he recollects a childhood of flower parties, color parties, first or last initial parties, and happy pumpkin parties.

On the other hand, my family didn’t give much thought to themes. They took it as far as asking me what I wanted on my birthday cake and possibly finding matching invitations, but no further. It’s no wonder that themes kind of frighten me.

We returned to the Twin Cities last weekend to celebrate Jake’s dad’s big 60th birthday and the theme was “Joe” since his hame is Joe. When I first caught wind of the themed weekend my mother-in-law hatched, I experienced a wave of anxiety. We were supposed to eat at three Twin Cities restaurants with the word “Joe” in their name, all on one day.

The restaurants chosen were Joseph’s Grill, Joe Senser’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack. Until this day, I had never visited any of these places.

We convened at Joseph’s Grill Saturday morning. Dreading two more Joe’s stops later that day, I kept it simple with poached eggs and a virgin Bloody Mary. Jake ordered the Greek Florentine Omelet filled with lamb, feta, tomato, onions, spinach and topped with tzatziki sauce. I’m sure it’s no surprise his entrée was more exciting than mine and, so I kept stealing bites of his lamb. If you go to Joseph’s, try something with lamb.

Joseph's grill collage border Collage

All in all, everyone was satisfied with their first Joe meals. Our server was friendly and served with finesse, portions were large and we were full.

My mother-in-law broached lunch at Joe Senser’s on the drive home and nobody bit. “What about if we just stop there for appetizers before dinner,” she asked? We groaned and arrived at the group consensus to strike on less “Joe restaurant” from the itinerary.

And then there was Joe’s Crab Shack. My first thought was that Joe’s Crab Shack looks like a space ship. Or at least, something can could be seen from space.

Joe's outside

The interior of the restaurant is as festive as the exterior. Bright lights, tropical stuff mounted on the walls and even an in-store gift shop.

Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t waste time with napkins. Each table receives a big roll of paper towels. I was in the restroom when our server introduced himself and reacted with confusion when I noticed the roll. “Who the hell is Andrew and why is his name written on a paper towel?” I asked, before it dawned on me.

Paper Towels watermarked

Andrew did a great job taking care of our table. Joe’s is located near Northwestern College & Bethel. Many of the restaurants in this part of Roseville employ students from these colleges.

Because we were celebrating a special occasion, one of Jake’s brothers treated us to a variety of appetizers. My favorite items were the crispy hush puppies which arrived in a metal bucket along with ranch dressing. It can’t be hip to enjoy ranch as much as I do.

And then there were the drinks. A few people ordered the Category 5 Hurricane, a cocktail with a disclaimer. The menu states that each customer may only order two which is a good rule because the drink’s not only goblet sized, but strong. Plus, there’s no telling what might happen if a drunken brawl erupted at Joe’s. There are just too many mason jars and pointy marlin fish on the walls for anyone to be safe.

hurricane waternarjed

On the other hand, my margarita was weak. I know this to be true because I am the epitome of a lightweight and if I can’t feel a cocktail it’s weaksauce.

Those of us who ordered crab experienced a moment of surprise when servers approached our table to tie paper bibs around our necks. Mine said Hottest Legs Around. I could not complain because at least it wasn’t decorated with an STD joke. The rest of the bibs said things too ridiculous to mention here (nod to Marilyn Hagerty with my use of the word ridiculous).

“Help,” scream my eyes.

Bib watermarked

Of course Jake and I ordered crab at Joe’s Crab Shack. We split a Classic Steampot for two.

I was delighted that our steampot contained two, separate, perfectly symmetrical mesh bags because it meant we wouldn’t have to fight over halfies. Each contained two queen crab leg clusters, a handful of shrimp, one ear of corn, halved red potatoes, and a sausage.

Crab Pot watermarked
Customers can choose from six different flavor options for steamed seafood, but we kept it simple with Old Bay. If you want drawn butter with your crab, you have to request it. Joe’s serves it in small plastic cups that cool quickly into solid masses. I did not let this slow me down.

Jake ate slowly and avoided the “filler” items, hoping I’d leave him some crab. He waited in vain as I ate every single thing in my bag.

Crab Remains photo

The crab legs weren’t particular meaty, but tasted fresh enough, unlike crab legs I’ve ordered at similar (and nicer) establishments that reeked of ammonia. I assumed the sausage would be a bland filler, but found it to have a pleasant snap and flavorful spicing.

And then my father-in-law turned into a bird.

Chain restaurant birthday rituals are their own strange bird. They always seem to involve things like balloons, marching in single file lines, clapping, and singing and this was no exception. Joe’s took the restaurant birthday thing one step further by dressing Joe up as a bird with a styrofoam beak and wings and encouraging him to flap around the dining room. I don’t know if my memory of this incidient is hazy from too many sips of Jake’s Hurricane or a possible retreat into my happy place, but I have this picture so it must have happened.

Bird watermarked

My father-in-law was a great sport.

Joe wasn’t the only birthday boy in the shack. Shortly after, staff led another birthday charge. While they didn’t give the next birthday boy the royal bird treatment, they showered him with a procession of singing and clapping. A birthday celebration at Joe’s Crab Shack is perfect for those who want everyone to know it’s their birthday or tolerate mild form of public humiliation. Everyone else will want to die.

At the end of the evening, Joe declared that this was his favorite birthday of all time. 

The zany restaurant crawl was not made in vain and we could feel confident our dirty-joke bibs were worn with honor. The weekend served its purpose to celebrate Joe and launch him into his 61st year surrounded by family. Someone else’s birthday is never really about us, anyway.

Is Joe’s Crab Shack for everyone? Probably not. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a darn good time.

Becoming The Grown-Up Assistant With Knife: Fish Sticks!

Earlier this summer I reunited with my first, three cookbooks.

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It took me some time and internet research to figure out their titles before I could locate them on Amazon.

I remember pouring over these books as a child. Most especially, the spiral-bound Kids Cooking: A Slightly Messy Manual that came with a plastic set of measuring spoons in primary colors. The books’ recipes aren’t anything mind-blowing for an adult who cooks a lot, but they are priceless for the memories.

Growing-up, my parents weren’t too keen on me experimenting in the kitchen, aside from baking projects. However, I do remember trying a few recipes from Kids Cooking such as the Alphabetter Soup and Frosted Chocolate Conecakes. I made mental checklists of recipes that I wanted to try someday when I had my own kitchen and, now, here I am!

One of these recipes was Home-Baked Fish Sticks from Kids Cooking.

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The legend goes that my mom choked on a fish bone when she was a child which led to her lifelong disdain of all things fish. Therefore, we never ever ate fish at home because the smell would make her feel ill. I grew up thinking I hated fish, too, even though I was fascinated by seafood. It was like a little hate crush.

Someone else’s family vacation snapped me out of my aversion to fish. I traveled with my friend’s family to Livingston, Montana in grade school and tried all kinds of new foods on our epic road trip west. I can still taste my first bone-in pork chop, chicken-fried steak, jumbo prawns sizzled in fondue oil, and crispy, fried shrimp nearly twenty years later.

After tasting that first bite of fried shrimp, I remember realizing, “Well, I guess I do like seafood,” and then I never turned back.

My first childhood cookbook meal was a smash.

Fish Meal Salad

I prepared cucumber-tomato-onion salad with “Snappy Dressing” from Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake! to accompany my Home-Baked Fish Sticks and tartar sauce. Of course, I fiddled with the recipes.

For example, I added a step by dredging the fish in seasoned flour before dipping it in eggwash and bread crumbs. I may have added some garlic to Encyclopedia Brown’s snappy balsamic vinaigrette and chopped onion to the tartar sauce. Afterall, I am my own grown-up with a sharp knife now.

Kids Cooking Collage

Someday when Jake and I have children, I hope we can enjoy these cookbooks together. We’ll be ready to accept our new roles as their grown-up kitchen assistants.

My Take On Oven-Baked Fish Sticks
Kids Cooking’s method of drizzling melted butter over the panko-breaded fish sticks before baking produces a crispy, satisfying coating. While this is not fried fish, it definitely scratched my itch. 

Ingredients:
1 lb of white fish such as cod, halibut or tilapia
1/2 cup flour (or enough to lightly dredge the fish) seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten into eggwash
1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (add more if you run low or they become too mushy with eggwash)
1/4 cup butter, melted
Finishing salt

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400℉.
  2. Set up breading station by placing the seasoned flour, eggwash and panko in their own wide, shallow dishes.
  3. Cut fish fillets into manageable strips. I cut the tilapia fillets in half.
  4. Lightly dredge the fish in seasoned flour, shaking off the excess.
  5. Dip the dredged fish into the eggwash. Allow the excess to drip off.
  6. Coat the fish in bread crumbs. Turn and press the fillets until they are completely breaded.
  7. Place breaded fish in a single layer on a baking sheet that is lightly greased or covered in parchment paper.
  8. Drizzle each fillet with as much melted butter as you’d like.
  9. Optional: Sprinkle each fillet with a little sweet or smoked paprika for extra color and flavor.
  10. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until golden brown and cooked-through.
  11. Sprinkle with sea salt immediately after removing from oven.
  12. Serve with tartar sauce and fresh lemon wedges. I made my tartar sauce by mixing mayonnaise with lemon juice, minced dill pickle, minced onion, pickle juice, salt and sugar, to taste.
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