Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Hawthornes Continue Their Taste-Testing Study Of Cape Shark At Café Lachine.

 Welcome to Part 2 of a 3-part series.  Previously, we'd had dinner at Café Lachine by invitation from the NC Sea Grant extension program as participants in a consumer taste-testing study for cape shark, or spiny dogfish.  For our first session, please click here.  

 Again, we were allowed rather spartan palate cleansers - unsalted saltines and room-temperature, de-ionized water - so as not to experience any sensory fatigue.  I arrived at Café Lachine already "suffering" from a bit of sensory overload, so I was good to go.

Here are the results from our first Sensory Panel Session:

Tonight, we learned about the biology of the cape shark from Sara Mirabilio of the NC Sea Grant program.

Biologically, sharks are fish.  They are a type of fish. There are bony fish,  belonging to the Class Osteichthyes, also known as teleosts.   And there are cartilaginous fish (including sharks, rays, and chimeras) of the Class Chondrichthyes, which have skeletons made of cartilage.

Spiny dogfish or cape shark do have spines on their dorsal fins and the spines are mildly poisonous.  Their snouts are long, slender, and flat.  They sport a brownish-gray top and a white bottom.  This is quite common in fish and is called countershading - a type of camouflage.  They have little white spots on the side which they lose as they age.  The males run up to about 3 feet long and the females get a little larger - up to 4 feet weighing between 7 to 10 pounds, which will yield about 2 pounds of fillets.  Cape sharks have a late maturation, a drawn-out gestation, and low fertility or fecundity.  The majority of species live 20-30 years, although some have lived 40 years and some have reached 100.  Females reach maturity at 12 years old, males at 6.  Mating usually occurs offshore in coastal waters and it's usually during the winter months.  Fertilization happens internally and the long gestation period is anywhere from 18 to 24 months.  The young are born alive, but they are not completely live-bearers.  They are ovoviviparous, meaning there is internal fertilization, producing eggs that hatch within the body so that the young are born live, but there is no placental connection and the young are nourished by a yolk sac that is connected to them.  A litter can be anywhere from one to fifteen pups, averaging six to seven, and range from eight to twelve inches long.

Cape shark have been known to go as far south as Florida, but generally they are a cold water species.   They are primarily found in the northwest Atlantic from Nova Scotia to Cape Hatteras.  They travel north in the spring and summer for cooler waters, then come south for the winter to hang out in coastal waters, fertilize, and birth their pups in shallower water.

They are mainly bottom-dwelling, called epibenthic, although they've been known to go close to the surface when chasing prey.  They range from near continental shelf waters to depths of 3000 feet.  They can tolerate brackish water, but can't deal with fresh water.  They prefer full salt water.

Despite their small size, cape shark are super aggressive.  They have a reputation for relentlessly pursuing their prey.  The spiny part of their name, as I said, comes from physical spines on the fish.  The dog part of their name comes from the fact that they feed in packs, like dogs, circling their prey as a group, sometimes as many as 100 in a pack.  Younger fish tend to eat crustaceans and small invertebrates.  They eat a lot of jelly fish, shrimp, squid and crabs, though they will go after a fish 2-3 times their size because they are so aggressive.

Cape shark is a great source of lean protein and it's very cost-effective.  They contain a good amount of Omega-3s, ranking right up with salmon and tuna.  They also have a compound called squalamine which has strong antibiotic and anti-cancerous properties.  Interestingly, there has never been cancer found in sharks although there have been known to be cancers in other fish.

Sharks, being near the top of the food chain, are getting all the good stuff, but also all the bad stuff of whatever they're eating under them, called biomagnification, because you're magnifying the effects of different chemicals, such as mercury, as you go up the food chain with higher-order predators.

As for the peeing through their skin which I mentioned in my first post, cape sharks don't have a urinary tract like we do, so they concentrate urea in their blood and through simple osmosis, it's released through the skin.  Because of this, it's very important when a shark is caught to perform proper on-scene handling, not for a health hazard, but for the taste. They need to be gutted and bled at sea.  Getting the blood out of the body takes the urea out and any ammonia taste. 

 Now, on to the menu.
Our first course was New England Style Cape Shark Chowder, the base was a fumé made from cape shark parts, with local andouille sausage from Weeping Radish, potato, roasted corn, and grilled cape shark, thickened with a roux and finished with heavy cream.  Café Lachine knocked this one out of the ball park.   The soup was sublime - smooth, velvety texture, rich, luxurious.  

Our second course was a Smoked Shark Salad Cold Plate with mesquite-smoked cape shark, mixed green salad with fresh strawberries and a poppy seed dressing, pickled ramps, served with crostini.
I liked the smoked shark salad - very delicate flavor.  As for the dressing, I needed more of it.

A third course, our entrée, is a Cornmeal Crusted Cape Shark with tasso gravy, Southern-style green beans in bacon, and caramelized onion.  This was my least favorite, which surprised me, since last time, the fried cape shark was our favorite.  The crust didn't adhere to the fish, I thought it under-seasoned, and I didn't like the texture of the fish.  Too mushy for me. 
And my blood vein wasn't removed.

Looking forward to our third and last session, March 15.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Hawthornes Enjoy Another Six-Course/Wine Paired Dinner At The Saltbox Café.

Welcome to The Saltbox Café
and another one of their wine-paired six-course meals.
Our menu is prepared by Chefs Amanda and Randolph Sprinkle
and Josh Naser.
The wine is presented by Dee of Artisan Wines
and our servers are April and Mike.

Here's a recap of our previous dinners,
in case you missed any:
October 2014, we visited Spain.
November 2014, we visited Argentina.
December 2014, we visited Paris.
February 2015, we visited Chocolate. (Why yes, Chocolate is a country.)
March 2015, we visited Italy.
October 2015, we visited Germany.
December 2015, we visited Japan.
Also in December 2015, we enjoyed a Réveillon Feast.
And again in December 2015, we visited France.
February 2016, we took a road trip to California.
Tonight, we're going to Italy!

It's Italian night at the Saltbox!

We started out with antipasto platters -
a Caprese salad with tomatoes, basil,
smoked mozzarella and olive oil;
marinated olives with sun-dried tomatoes
and a garlic and chili infused extra virgin olive oil;
and a wonderful chèvre and roasted red pepper spread,
accompanied with sliced baguettes.

Our first course is seared beef carpaccio with extra virgin olive oil,
grana padana, capers, and grilled bread.
Grana padana is a cheese created by Cistercian monks
in the 12th century,
and is still made throughout the Po River Valley in Italy.
It has a granular texture and sweet flavor,
and is similar to Parmesan.
This was paired with Guiseppe Lonardi Valpolicella Classico.

This was a dark and stormy wine with transcendent notes of intense luminescence and a lingering finish of soft, full-bodied, massively endowed, Rubenesque roundness.  Vigorous, well constructed. I would call it bosomy.

Our second course is lightly smoked, delicate, sweet bronzino
with grilled asparagus and charred lemon vinaigrette
paired with a bubbly and tickly Marchetti Verdicchio.

The Marchetti Verdicchio was like having lightning bugs dancing and singing on my palate.  I detected aggressive notes of spring along with bitter clown tears with a hint of suspicion and a soupçon of desperation.

Our third course is risotto vongole with baby peas, garlic, and reggiano,
paired with Lovo Prosecco.
In case you're wondering, "vongole"
means it has clams in it.

The Lovo Prosecco was firm, full-textured, and intense.  Crisp and well-focused, but complex.  Drink through whenever the cows come home. 

Our fourth course is roasted loin of veal with rosemary and garlic 
served over a miscela of roasted potatoes and meaty, abalone mushrooms
with a balsamic reduction and porcini mushrooms
paired with Sanguineti Nessun Dorma.

Ahhh...  the Sanguineti Nessun Dorma.   Do I detect hints of forest floor truffle?  Tightly woven, serious, but intense.  Egocentric and boggling.  Big, dense, and muscular, I experienced a dark and rising tide of minerality and carnal flavors impacting the fruit and spices in a thunderous finish.  Strong thrusting overtones.  Best drunk in the street where you have a lot of space.

Our fifth course is slow-roasted boar ragout with pancetta 
and sweet potato gnocchi
paired with Verso.

The Verso was a racy little red which was way too sexy for my glass. Pretentious, yet sensitive, I could down the whole bottle without realizing it.  Reminded me of disco and funk.

Our sixth and last course was a luscious ricotta lemon and almond torta
made with ground almonds
and served with blood orange sorbet,
paired with La Perlina Moscato.

La Perlina Moscato electrifies every taste bud, precise flavors etching themselves into my palate.  Imagine a mountain stream rushing over water-worn pebbles between banks of wildflowers and herbs and you might get a hint of what we're drinking.  Liquid pastry.  We're flirting with perfection.

Thank you, Saltbox Crew,
for another wonderful meal.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Hawthornes Participate In A Taste-Testing Study Thanks To Café Lachine And The NC Sea Grant Extension Program.

Because of my association with the Outer Banks Voice, I was recently invited by Sara Mirabilio, Fisheries Specialist of the NC Sea Grant Extension Program, to be part of a cape shark (spiny dogfish) consumer taste-testing study. Three sessions are being held, February 2, February 23, and March 15.  Wilmington and Morehead City will also be having similar events. 

Rosie and Mr. Hawthorne were there, February 2, with bells on because:
1) It's a free dinner, and...
2) It's going to be at Café Lachine.

Picture from January 2012

Chefs Johanna and Justin Lachine presented a delicious meal at one of our NC Aquarium cooking classes a few years ago, so I was looking forward to this.  I remember the cooking class was on a Tuesday, Johanna had just given birth the previous Friday, and they were opening up Café Lachine the next Monday.  Holy cow!

 Café Lachine is working with the North Carolina Sea Grant Extension Program to come up with numerous preparations of cape shark, or Atlantic spiny dogfish.  This species of fish, Squalus acanthias, is a shark (Its skeleton is cartilaginous.).   Other fish have bony skeletons.   Close to fifty lucky invitees were in attendance at Café Lachine Tuesday evening, February 2, to participate in a sensory evaluation test to provide information on consumer preferences on flavor profiles and cooking preparations.  The second session, we will learn about the biology of the dogfish, and the third session will be about harvesting and fisheries management.

According to the North Carolina Sea Grant Extension Program, "Cape shark, or Atlantic spiny dogfish, is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations. And, the fish is an important part of local fishermen's livelihoods. The entire fish is used, but it is all exported. This project aims to create North Carolina market opportunity for these native fish, which have a sweet, mild flavor, in an effort to bring more value to the fishery."

 At our first session, Sara gave us a briefing on taste-testing science and information on cape shark.  She explained that this fish is an undervalued fish and would help diversify our revenue stream for commercial fisherman and also give you more diversity in your palate. Pretty much 100% of any product that comes from the spiny dogfish, whether it's fillets, fins, or belly, all gets sent overseas, so, according to Sara, it's not something a chef or restaurant would have familiarity with as far as prepping it.  Chefs Johanna and Justin Lachine accepted the challenge and had about 2 weeks to familiarize themselves with the meat and come up with recipe formulations.

We will be receiving an appetizer, a salad, and an entrée where about 3 ounces of fillet will be used in each portion.  Sara then gave us an overview of the actual taste-testing protocol, explaining that we are "citizen scientists," helping them with their market research. We then received sensory ballots.

Over the course of the evening we were not allowed to have any other food or beverages, besides the prepared dishes, and our room temperature de-ionized water and unsalted-Saltine crackers.  This is to cleanse our palates and minimize "sensory fatigue."

Personally, I occasionally like a bit of sensory fatigue.

We were asked to rate each dish on a scale of 1-7 on several characteristics - flavor, appearance, aroma, and texture.  The way this is going to work is any dish that gets a 4 or lower, the Lachines will have the opportunity to reformulate and bring back to us at the next session.  Our feedback and suggestions will help Chefs Lachine to reformulate any low-scoring dishes, otherwise, we will get three new dishes next time.

Our hostess, a lovely woman, Sara Mirabilio, explains the consumer taste-testing process.
I'm sure a better picture has been taken of her, but it wasn't mine.
Also, I don't use flash when I'm in a restaurant and just go with whatever non-ambient light there isn't.

 Rosie also had the immense pleasure of meeting one of her "imaginary" friends on Facebook, fellow bon vivant, Jim Trotman.  His camera was bigger than mine and he used a flash.  The Hawthornes and Mr. Trotman decided to sit in the back, where the troublemakers sit.  I always like the corner of the room, with my back to the wall, so I can survey the vista, plus I'm sure a certain bit of paranoia is involved.  We were a regular Algonquin Table, except there was no booze involved.  Just that damned room-temperature water.  (OK, I'd locked and loaded a few drinks before leaving home.)

Somehow, the three of us didn't process that part about the room temperature, de-ionized water and unsalted-saltines being there for palate cleansing during the actual tasting and I guess we sort of considered them a lame appetizer.  Hey, we were hungry.  Between the three of us, we'd gone through all the crackers and water before we were even served the first course.  When I picked up the last cracker, I unselfishly divided it into thirds, then we ordered more crackers and water.

Here's our first course - an appetizer.  It's a piece of cape shark wrapped in phyllo atop carrot purée with a hint of ginger with tiny diced carrots and green beans.

As I crunched through the phyllo, which is always a welcome feature to me, I bit into the fish.
Hmmmm.   The flavor is fine - very mild and slightly sweet.  It was the texture of the fish that rang a bell for me.  It was soft.  Not flaky.  Not mushy.  Not firm.  But not something I've had before.  I would say, "Not meaty."
All but one of the terms in which I can describe the texture of the fish so far start with, "Not."

OK.  So I was confused by the fish's texture.

I liked the flavor of the carrot purée, but because of texture of the fish, there weren't enough contrasting textures going on here for my tastes.  Flavor is there, but not enough texture for me.  I like a bit of crunch every now and then.

Our second dish is a salad.  Steamed shark (citrus/soy?) over baby greens with a sherry vinaigrette, orange sections, toasted almonds and fried wonton strips. I liked the texture of the dish but the fish is still not what I want texture-wise. I'd like a firmer meat.

I don't know about others, but my salad didn't have enough dressing for my tastes. I like to be more generous with a vinaigrette, less so with a creamy, mayo-based dressing. 

Our entrée is breaded and fried cape shark with an excellent rémoulade sauce and a good, traditional cole slaw.  I think this was the favorite dish of the entire crowd.
Hush puppy disappointed.  Mine was doughy inside.
This was the best presentation of the fish for me. 
Fry anything.  It's good!

Bottom line:  I want to try a thicker cut of cape shark.  I think that might make a difference in the texture.  The fried shark was a thicker cut and the texture was much more palatable to me than the first two presentations, which had thinner cuts.  I need to investigate this.  Unfortunately, I don't have a source yet for cape shark. 

According to Sara:
Etheridge Seafood filleted the fish, then vacuumed-packed them into roughly 4 1/2 pound bags and froze it. Sara explained that they could have gotten fresh fish, but admitted that there are real challenges in shipping fresh - our unpredicatable weather here and a restaurant's inability to rely on delivery of the product and the fact that you don't want to eat dogfish, or any fish, for that matter, a couple of days old.  This is a product that needs to be cut right away and put up properly.  The fish was taken off the boat and immediately cut.  Sara was present when they cut this first batch.  It was immediately vacuumed packed and put into a sub-zero freezer.

More info  (TMI?  I think not.):

The primary thing to realize is that shark urinate through their skin. This also applies to related species such as stingray and skate. They say that smaller and younger shark and related species usually don't have an off taste, but I prefer to treat them all the same. The off taste is that of ammonia. As soon as a shark or related species dies, the ammonia flavor and odor begin to permeate. The urea-like compounds in shark blood will immediately start to break down into ammonia.

And that, to me, my friends, is enough for me to eat frozen shark.

Later, attendees received an e-mail from Sara.  She will be presenting the numerical results of our first sensory session at our next session on February 23. She also plans to provide a brief presentation on the population biology of cape shark, since she noticed some people were uneasy about the sustainability of the fish if more market focus is directed towards it.  Sara wanted to address this issue right away:

First, the project is not about harvesting more fish, but rather, about getting more value for the fish that are harvested.  To explain, fishermen currently sell whole fish to dealers, receiving lately a mere $0.10 per pound.  All the processors are located in New Bedford, Mass., so the dealers truck up north 100% of the whole fish landed in Wanchese.  The dealers have been receiving from the processors lately a mere $0.22 per pound.  All the cape shark meat and products are sold overseas.  New Bedford processors are receiving about $3.00 per pound of processed product.  Quite a value difference! 

For this project, I got Etheridge Seafood to cut cape shark for their first time ever!  I am paying them $3.00 per pound of fillet.  That money stays in the community, bringing more revenue to fishermen, fish cutters and fish houses.  If there were in-state demand for the product, it would give reason for in-state processing capability to arise, and thereby, increase the revenue generated locally off the same caught fish

You should also know that according to the federal regulators, U.S. wild-caught cape shark is a “smart seafood choice,” because it is sustainably managed and responsibly harvested under U.S. regulations.  Restrictive quotas since the declines of the 1990s have kept the total mortality (commercial, incidental and recreational) at low levels.  Here’s an excellent web resource on cape shark:

According to the 2013 stock assessment, cape shark are not overfished and are not subject to overfishing.  I will tell you that scientists project that the number of mature females may decline somewhat in the coming years due to the low number of pups born during the 1990s when spiny dogfish were heavily fished.  So, fishery managers are trying to plan for this now, so that this potential decline does not turn out as expected and result in the stock becoming overfished.

Here's an interesting article by Amy Huggins Gaw on the cape shark in Outer Banks Magazine.

Thanks to Sara Mirabilio of North Carolina Sea Grant and to Café Lachine for an informative, enjoyable, and quite tasty presentation.  Looking forward to seeing you next Tuesday!


Monday, February 15, 2016

Rosie Is Surprised! She Made General Rosie's Tofu.

Rosie had a good day today.  I asked The-Hawthorne-Who-Shall-Not-Be Named would he like me to make anything special for him.  I've noticed his appetites are changing and I really wanted to prepare something he would like.  

THWSNBN:  "Have you ever heard of General Tso's Tofu?"
RH:  "Why no.  I haven't.  But I'll find out!" 

Does anybody really like tofu?  Seriously? 
Now, I have to say here:  I've never had tofu I've liked unless it's been soaking in a hot and sour soup or pho and soaking up all those flavors.  Because by itself, it is tasteless, and hence, pointless, to me.

Hmmmm.   Soaking up all those flavors. 
The hamster wakes up and starts jogging.
You're gonna see the mind of Rosie at work.

In order to soak up flavors, you first have to get rid of the moisture already in there.  And tofu has a lot of water.
So...  what I did was place a 4-ounce piece of tofu on a slanted plate with a weight, an iron pan, on top.  I left it for a couple of hours and let the water run out.  Poured off the liquid, blotted the tofu with paper towels, then sliced it into 1/2-inch cubes. Set aside.

Now let's figure out a recipe here.

General Rosie's Tofu

Once I squeezed out the moisture in the tofu, I wanted to infuse some flavor. The way I see it, tofu's got nothing but texture going on for it.  And it's got nothing with taste going on for it.  I'm changing that.  I'm putting together taste into the texture in tofu!

Marinade for tofu: 
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
3 TB ketchup

3 TB rice vinegar
2 TB Tamari sauce
1 TB hoisin sauce
1 TB mirin
1 TB Thai style chili sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1-inch cube frozen ginger root
scallions, sliced, for topping
toasted sesame seeds for topping

I always keep frozen ginger on hand.  I like to use ginger juice in marinades and sauces and it's hard to impossible to get juice out of fresh ginger.  I take a cube of frozen, nuke it for about 25 seconds, then squeeze it and the juice flows out.  Next, put the ginger in a garlic press and scrape the pulp off for 2-3 squeezings.

Mix all ingredients except for scallions and sesame seeds.

After the moisture has been pressed out of the tofu, slice into 1/2-inch cubes and place in marinade.
Marinate at least an hour.  You want as much of the marinade soaked up as possible.

Next, drain the tofu and toss in cornstarch to coat.  Fry cubes in 325° peanut oil until cubes are lightly browned.  Drain on paper towels.

Pour remaining marinade into a sauce pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and toss fried tofu cubes in marinade.

Serve with rice and steamed broccoli.
Top with sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

 Weight that tofu down and get as much liquid out as you can.
Gather your marinade ingredients.

Nuke and juice ginger.

Blot the tofu.

Dice the tofu.

Into the marinade.

Toss to coat.  Marinate at least an hour.

Drain tofu and toss in cornstarch.

Fry ...

... until golden brown.

Add tofu to heated marinade.

Serve with rice, steamed broccoli, sliced scallions, and toasted sesame seeds.

One might think this was General Tso's chicken.

I never thought I'd say this, but ... I like tofu.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Rosie Makes Decadent Chocolate Soufflés For Valentine's Day.

 When you care enough to give the very best ...
Nothing says I love you better than heart-shaped chicken nuggets.
It's for when you really don't give a crap.

 For your Valentine's pleasure,
I'm making chocolate soufflés.
For you and your partner
and six friends/acquaintances.
Think of it as a Valentine's Day Dinner Party for 8.
And there ya go.

Today, I'm preparing chocolate soufflé, a decadent dessert if there ever was one.  Sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with vanilla ice cream and a raspberry/strawberry sauce, this is a little slice of heaven. 

Now this recipe makes enough for 8 1-cup ramekins, for individual servings.  I suggest you invite enough people over to savor the soufflé at its peak of perfection.  Although they're still delicious deflated.

Raspberry/Strawberry Sauce

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup water
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup raspberries

Mix all in a small sauce pan and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.  Mash to a mush.  Set aside.  Serve warm.

Rosie’s Chocolate Soufflé

Set oven at 425°

8 greased 1 cup ramekins

4 ounces Baker’s sweet chocolate
3.5 ounces Lindt 85% cocoa extra dark bar
1/3 cup hot strong coffee

1 cup skim milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup flour

3 TB unsalted butter
Pinch kosher salt
1 TB vanilla

4 egg yolks, whisked

6 egg whites, room temperature
½ cup sugar


Pour hot coffee over the chocolates and let melt.  Stir and set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine skim, cream, and flour.  Whisking constantly, bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat.
Whisk in the butter, salt, and vanilla.

Temper the whisked yolks.  Slowly pour in a ladleful of the hot milk mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly.  Remember:  You do not want scrambled.  Whisk in two more ladles, then pour the yolk mixture back into the milk mixture, whisking thoroughly.  Stir in the chocolate mixture to combine.

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  Slowly beat in the sugar and continue beating on high until you have stiff shiny peaks.  The definitive test is if you can turn the bowl upside down and the whites don’t fall out.  Yes.  I do it.

When the whites are ready, spoon about a quarter of the whites and stir into the chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Then slowly pour the chocolate mixture down the side of the bowl of the whites.  Lightly fold in, rotating the bowl.

Ladle soufflé mixture into ramekins, placed on a baking sheet.
Put in oven.
Reduce temperature to 375° and bake approximately 24-26 minutes.  After 20 minutes, carefully open oven door and sprinkle powdered sugar over top of each.  Continue baking until done.  Mine rose about 1 ½ inches over the top of the ramekins.  Remove from oven and serve IMMEDIATELY!

Remember, the soufflé waits for no one.  YOU wait on the soufflé.

Upside-down egg whites.

Lightly fold in the whites.

Pour into prepared ramekins.