Garlic Lemon Grouper

It’s Lent, it’s Friday, so it only seemed appropriate to have a fish recipe.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a bowl, combine:
1-2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
(can substitute white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon brewed soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon
a few good grinds of fresh black pepper
(about 1/2 teaspoon)

Whisk ingredients and drizzle in

1/4 cup olive oil. Whisk until thickened. Rinse a

1 pound grouper filet– head-end

Cover fish in sauce and marinate at room temperature at least 10 but no more than 25 minutes (more than that and the lemon juice will seviche-cook the fish and make it tough). Drain and reserve marinade.

Put fish on greased broiler pan 5-8 inches from top of oven. After 10 minutes, turn off oven (trust me here!) and turn broiler element on high. Broil about 5 minutes more, until garlic flecks are golden brown. Remove from oven.

While fish cooks, heat small saucepan. Make a roux with

2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon flour

Add reserved marinade and allow to simmer and thicken. Remove from heat and add a dash of lemon juice to “brighten” the sauce.

Serve fish with sauce! You can also add the pan drippings to the sauce
for a roasty flavor.

Why marinate at room temperature? Because it promotes even cooking of the meat. It also shaves time from the cook time. As far as food safety, if the fish is spoiled after 10 minutes at room temperature, it was spoiled already!!

Grouper is a very mild fish, so it can be overwhelmed with strong flavors. Have the fishmonger give you a filet that doesn’t smell like fish and is from the “head end” of the fish. The tail is tougher meat. As for the smell, any good monger will know why you want to smell it. It’s better to feel a little weird smelling raw fish than to serve bad fish to your guests! Ask what’s good today before you buy the grouper- it could be old! This recipe will work with any whitefish.

Prep time: 10 minutes (5 for marinade, 5 to make sauce)
Total time: 30 minutes

Taste [rate 4]
Ease [rate 4]

Easy Chili Powder

Do you buy chili powder? STOP!! You can make it very easily and just wait until you see the cost:
2-3 dried chipotles
2-3 dried red chillies (dried cayennes will work too)
1/4 cup whole cumin
10 black peppercorns
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Heat your smallest skillet over medium high heat. Add the cumin and peppercorns. Roast, stirring frequently, until the aroma hits your nose or you see one wisp of smoke (usually takes 3-4 minutes with a nice hot pan). Remove from heat; pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool.
Using a coffee grinder, grind the dried chipotles until chunks are nearly powdered. Some whole seeds will remain. Add and grind the chillies. Add the cumin, peppercorns, and salt; grind all ingredients until powdered. This mixture will remain fresh for 6 months sealed in a dark, cool place.

This is my recipe built by trial and error. It only takes 10 minutes! Don’t increase the salt because it can oversalt the final dish if you use more powder to adjust the heat level of the dish. Salt is added to this recipe to adsorb oils and absorb moisture. This recipe is smoky with balanced heat (not my usual eyebrow-scorching heat level). Use only two of each pepper if you prefer mild.

By buying ingredients at a local ethnic grocery, this recipe costs 7 cents/ounce plus energy to heat the skillet. The cheapest powder at my grocery is 49 cents/ounce. That’s SEVEN times more! In addition, this stuff is so much more delicious that you will wonder why you didn’t switch sooner! Make double batches and use it for chili, fajitas, salsa, and cornbread. A coarser grind makes a great grill rub for flank steak or spareribs.

As for cleaning the coffee grinder, I use this method for lots of seasonings, so I have a dedicated grinder. If you don’t, just wash the lid thoroughly, then buzz the grinder with some baking soda and/or stale coffee.

Do NOT use a nonstick skillet for this, as it can produce toxic fumes.

Cost: $0.56
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Taste: [rate 5]
Ease: [rate 5]

Coconut Rum (For Me Grog)

I was bottling my homemade coconut rum (from Midwest Supplies) last night, and this tastes wonderful. I’m going to be making some homemade grog from it, plus it’s great on the rocks or in a smoothie.

The process is long and involved and requires much more attention during the fermentation. Add sugar to water, boil, cool, add yeast. THEN, rack after three days, monitor fermentation, add packets A and B, wait another day, add packet C, blah, blah, blah, until finally I’m on packet F. Six extra steps! I think I’m too lazy to do it again, even though the end result is delicious.

However, it’s not as clean and bright of a tropical flavor as I would like, and despite following all of the directions, it’s still cloudy. I did multiple rackings and filtrations to rid it of the carbon haze, but no luck.

So, as a chemist in my right mind, I’m thinking that it would help if I distilled that stuff before adding the coconut flavoring. I am woefully aware of the laws of our country that forbid distillation of alcohol by the private individual. But why? I brew my own beer all of the time. It certainly isn’t a safety issue, so what is it?

I would think that even the religions that prohibit alcohol use would be delighted if this were legal. Well, not delighted, but not unhappy either… every beer I brew of my own is money the alcohol industry doesn’t gain. As a political conservative, it appeals to my desire not to pay the large “sin??? taxes levied on certain industries.

So what’s the deal? And, in a country where counties fight to STAY dry counties, is it a hopeless case for me to lobby?

I’m annoyed.
Taste: [rate 3.5]
Ease: [rate 0.5]


While many people think that fruitcake is disgusting, that is because they have been eating the tripe made in a grocery store- or the kind with that sticky, food-coloring soaked, preserved fruit that looks like gummi worms. Talk about gilding a lily.

Real fruitcake, the good stuff, is delicious. It’s baked low and slow, it’s more fruit than batter, and best of all: it’s soaked in alcohol. I have a mister filled with apple brandy and Maker’s Mark that I use to mist the cake daily. For even more infusion, place a shot glass in the hole in the middle of the cake and fill it with bourbon. As with all recipes using alcohol, don’t use the cheap stuff: if you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it. Now, I’m not using my George T. Stagg in the cake, but Maker’s is a decent whiskey that I drink on the rocks.  Here’s a picture of the fruitcake we made for our dad.

As for the recipe, it’s a family recipe. My father had a fruitcake made by my grandfather Maxey that lasted for years with proper preservation. My sister and I lamented that the recipe was gone forever. Then, for my sister’s bridal shower, our aunt gave her one of my grandmother’s cookbooks that had been unused for 15 years. My sister was very excited just to have the cookbook. Then, while turning the pages and poring over recipes, a slip of notepaper fell to the floor. It looked like a grocery list of dried fruit in our grandfather’s handwriting. Then we realized what we had: The Maxey Fruitcake Recipe.

Making the fruitcake is an annual tradition now, and we double the recipe to have enough for everyone. Serve thin slices with fresh whipped cream and Crème Noel (or egg nog if you prefer).

Oh wait… I never gave you the recipe… And I shan’t! The recipe itself is now a treasured and closely guarded secret. But Alton Brown has a great recipe that’s a close approximation.

Asian Spiced Fried Turkey by Ming Tsai

My parents were out of town for Thanksgiving, so I invited everyone to my house on Saturday for Fakesgiving.

The recipe I used is an adaptation of Ming Tsai’s fried turkey recipe. The only hard part is cutting the turkey into pieces. Now, I buy whole organic chickens and routinely cut them into pieces or debone them completely, but part of that involves popping out the leg joints in order to cut the leg. Doing that to a turkey that is four times the size- that joint is strong! I recommend wearing long rubber gloves not only for bacteria protection, but also for grip on the fingers and forearms. You’ll need the extra leverage!

I adapt the recipe by what I place in the brine. This time, it was the requisite salt, sugar, at first, but I lower the concentration in half. After two days, I changed the water and added chinese five-spice, reduced salt but no sugar, and a lemon and an orange, halved and squeezed into the brine before adding the fruit. This brining is for one day.

The frying is easy if the oil is kept very hot- under 350 and the pieces are soggy and greasy. To avoid this issue, allow the pieces to come to room temperature before frying, and only add one piece at a time. I work clockwise around the pot: add a piece, remove the one clockwise, and so forth. By adding one piece every five minutes, the oil never has to dip too far in temperature, but the pot is still full.

It is a lot of prep work, but it’s really delicious and not hard to prepare the day of the event.