July 17, 2014

CalmDayWe slipped away for a week on Martha’s Vineyard,  and it feels so long ago now that this is more memoir than blog post.

VineyardRosesWhile it might sound like a busman’s holiday, I always make our meals when we’re on a beach vacation. I plan for it, packing a few key things to make cooking easier and more delicious. Because we’re driving, these few things take up very little room.

A cast iron pan
A baking sheet and a few sheets of parchment paper
A couple of zip top bags, large and small
A chef’s knife
A paring knife
Good finishing salt
Pepper grinder
Excellent olive oil
One lovely vinegar
A big jar of granola
Some sort of hot sauce
A good sized hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Coffee and a French press
Simple syrup 

CaptNortonHouseThis time, having planned some meals ahead, and intending to make a birthday dinner,  I included in the cooler 1 pound of homemade Mexican chorizo, some homemade butter and a few wedges of nice cheese. For the birthday cake, I packed organic flaked coconut and bittersweet (baking) chocolate.

Naturally, when we go somewhere for a week, I grab a few jars – crushed tomatoes for pasta, pizza or shakshushka. A jar of jam has a place on breakfast toast, pb&j’s, pan sauce, barbeque glaze and a cocktail. Pickles fit beachy eating, so there is always a jar of something salty.  Pickle relish is great on a hot dog and when mixed with mayo makes tartar sauce. A quart of chicken stock, just because. 

GreenIslandFarmWith those provisions in place, and access to a fish market, farm stand (we stopped to visit Susie Middleton at Green Island Farm for wonderful fresh eggs, kale, lettuce and a walk around the pretty property), a basic grocery store and  a source for liquor/wine, here’s some of how we eat while  on my favorite island.

Breakfast is simple. Granola and yogurt. Bread for toast. Farm eggs.  I usually make my blueberry corn cake at some point. It’s a tradition.

TheBiteLunch is a scavenging affair. While Dennis is happy with leftovers or a wrap of some sort, I go foraging for lunch at Edgartown Seafood grabbing their very generous lobster roll or a dozen steamers.  You can bet I savored a brown bag filled with fried belly clams from The Bite. That moment, the hot salty clam, the smell of the ocean, the blue blue sky – that is my heaven.

Most dinners start at Edgartown Seafood. We depend on this pristine, well stocked shop for local cod, fluke, bluefish. Sometimes there is tuna or swordfish that’s line caught. The lobsters are hard shelled and properly steamed then tucked in a foil lined bag ready to take home and devour.

One night, I was inspired to jazz up Pasta Seca, that delicious Mexican pasta dish from Pati Jinich, adding seared scallops to the spicy chorizo. It was delicious and I plan to do that again and again.

It was Katrin’s birthday, so I made her favorite rack of lamb, the meaty chops from Edgartown Meat & Fish, the perfect half rack trimmed from the full rack by their butcher. I’m always happy to see a butcher. (Dennis had cod.)

GermanChocolateCakeAnd, as seems to have become a tradition for birthdays spent in Edgartown,  I baked a German Chocolate Cake. The classic one. I recommend you do the same. In truth, there is nothing fancy about this cake and because the three cake pans in the Edgartown kitchen are different sizes, not perfect. I’ll tell you a little secret. Even if it’s a homely cake it will be delicious.

BackoftheBoatAt last, the weather broke and Tamar and Kevin brought their fishing boat across Vineyard Sound from their home on Cape Cod. I met them at the boat and we had a wonderful day fishing, catching, releasing and catching again, keeping just enough fluke for dinner. Glorious to see the island from the water.  (Yes, I did barf twice. I consider it a badge of honor.)

OystersThat night we ate so many oysters (Kevin and Tamar have an oyster farm.) These were the freshest oysters ever! So delicious. Tamar has some serious fileting skills and she prepped beautiful fluke for our fish fry. I made roasted potatoes, always welcome. We four spent the next day on dry land enjoying the island.

FlukeFiletWe were leaving the next day, so I cobbled together a dinner with what was left in the house. As it turned out, the Tender Fishcakes were sensational and so delicious, we ate them all before a photo could be snapped.

Two recipes today. To make up for being so absent.


Tender Fishcakes
Serves 4

18 Club crackers or similar butter cracker (Social Something from TJ)
6-8 fluke or flounder filets, about 1-1/2 pounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg or 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/3 to 1/2 cup heavy cream or creme fraiche
1/4 cup chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup grapeseed or canola oil

Heat the oven to 350°F. Break up the crackers and blitz them in the blender or food processor until crumbly. Place the filets in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until just done, about 9 minutes.

Flake the fish into a medium bowl. Add the cracker crumbs, the egg or mayonnaise and add the cream until just moistened. Add the chives. Stir together very gently with a fork. Taste and correct for salt and pepper.

Spread the flour out on a small plate. Add the oil to a heavy sauté pan and heat until smoking. Using an ice cream scoop, measure out the fish, placing the scoop in the flour. Lift, gently form a cake, and flour the other side. Drop into the hot oil and cook until brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Place cooked fishcakes on the baking sheet and keep the cakes warm in a low oven until ready to serve.

Serve with tartar sauce and wedges of lemon. Plan on two or three cakes per person. Leftover cakes can be reheated and topped with an egg for breakfast.

German Chocolate Cake

Classic Kraft recipe fiddled with a bit
Serves 16 pieces because it’s very rich
(Pro-tip: freeze slices wrapped in plastic and then in foil. Thaw as needed.)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate*
1/2 cup water
4 large eggs, separated
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 350°. Butter the bottom and sides of three 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment and butter the parchment.

Melt the chocolate and water in a bowl set over a small saucepan of boiling water. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted.

In the bowl of the stand mixer or with a hand mixer (or by hand God bless you) whip the egg whites until stiff. Scoop into another bowl, wipe out the bowl and set back on the mixer.

Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about five minutes at high speed. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating each until fully incorporated. Scrape the chocolate mixture into the bowl, add the vanilla, and beat until smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the batter, stir together at the lowest speed on the mixer until combined. Alternate adding the buttermilk and the remaining flour mixture and stirring at the lowest speed just until there are no streaks remaining in the batter. Fold in the egg whites until there are no streaks remaining.

Divide the batter evenly between the three pans. Bake until a straw comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool five minutes.

(HERE IS A VERY COOL TIP STRAIGHT FROM THE TOUGH COOKIE GAIL DOSIK) Turn the hot cake rounds out of the pans as soon as possible. Using a serrated bread knife, cut away the dome on the top of the cake, making a flat surface. This will keep your layers stacked up straight and tall. Wrap each layer airtight in plastic wrap while still warm, then wrap in foil. Repeat with the remaining two layers. Freeze the layers for at least three hours, preferably overnight. Remove from the freezer and place in the refrigerator a few hours before finishing and frosting. This makes the cake especially moist and manageable.

For the Pecan-Coconut frosting

1-1/2 cups pecans, chopped
4 egg yolks
12 ounces evaporated milk
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
7 ounces flaked coconut (not toasted)

Toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 7 minutes.

Whisk egg yolks, milk and vanilla in a 3 quart saucepan. Add the sugar and butter and turn the heat to medium. Bring to a rousing boil and cook until thick and golden brown, about 12 minutes.

Stir in the coconut and pecans. Cool before frosting the cake.

To finish, remove the layers from the freezer. Spoon about one third of the frosting on each cold layer, not on the sides of the cake. (The frosting is so rich and so heavy it won’t stay on that vertical plane. It will slide down the cake. Trust me.)

I like to chill the cake for about an hour to set the frosting. 




4 Responses to “vacation tales, tender fishcakes and german chocolate cake”

  1. Sharon Naulty

    Cathy, Great article…..so helpful….can’t wait for your book launch….will see you at a ny signing…enjoy…you’ve earned this….Sharon

  2. Mary-Denise Smith

    How timely! My Baby Brother’s birthday is this Sunday (he’ll be a ripe old 53), and his favorite birthday cake is German Chocolate. I’m gonna send him your blog by way of b’day greetings and a virtual cake (I’m in DC, he’s in LA). The fish cakes sound devine. Thanks!!


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