Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fish Tacos

Sorry it has been a couple of days since I last posted. Things are going to be a bit sporadic for the next few weeks. For those of you that don't know, my final day at my desk job was last Friday and on Monday I went to work learning to drive a barge. 

Remember how I mentioned I was an honorary assistant harbor master as a kid? When the Fish King gave up being the Harbor Master he retained many of his contacts and began a seasonal marine services business. On Monday, David and I started apprenticing under the Fish King with the ultimate goal of assuming all responsibilities of the business. 

April and May is "ramps and floats" season. In a nutshell, we are un-winterizing dock systems. During the winter, floats are stored on beaches or on a ways system. The ramps are stored on the dock. At high tide we haul the float into the water and hook it up to the wharf. 

Float on Ways

The season is short and brutal. We can't start until the winter storms are over and we have to be finished before our customers get bitten by the summer bug (which usually happens as soon as we have more than two days of warm sunshine in a row). Our window is further shortened by only being able to work at high tide. If that wasn't hard enough, we also require large high tides (at least 9 feet). 

So this is where I have been and where I will be for the next few weeks. This is why things may be a bit sporadic. I am soft and squishy after spending 4.5 years at a desk and 6 hours of hard physical labor on the water tuckers me out. That being said, I bring you fish tacos.

Baked Haddock Tacos

Frying fish is delicious, but messy. This recipe removes the mess but leaves the crunchy awesomeness. I kind of made it up as I went, so don't exactly have measurements for everything.

- 1 filet of haddock cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 egg beaten (two, depending on the size of your filet, I was running out of egg at the end)
- flour (maybe a cup or two)
- panko (about two cups)
- sour cream (about 4 oz)
- 1 chipotle chili in adobo sauce (you can add more if you like things spicy)
- 1 lime
- small head of red cabbage
- soft tortillas
- shredded cheese (we used a pre-blended "mexi-cheese" but decided we should have used the fresh mozzarella we had in the fridge)
- A bunch of fresh cilantro

1. I tend to be a wreck in the kitchen. I am really trying to work on getting everything thing prepped and ready before I need it. Having your assembly line set up is key when coating anything in a crumb or batter. Lining everything up in the right order also helps prevent cross contamination.
Raw fish on cutting board to the left; flour; beaten egg; panko  

2.  Moving from left to right, coat your fish pieces in flour then dip in egg and roll in panko.

3. We pre-heated oven to 375 F and baked for about 10 minutes and then broiled for another couple of minutes until the nuggets were golden brown. We decided, in the future, we would skip the baking and go straight to broil. Little nuggets of fish do not take long to cook. 

4. While the fish is cooking, chiffonade (chop into thin pieces) the red cabbage.

5.  In a food processor or blender, combine the chipotle chili; sour cream; a handful of chopped cilantro; and juice from a quarter of the lime.   

*Note: I have never used more than a couple chilis out of a can at one time, luckily they freeze well. If you pack them flat in a zip lock bag, they freeze soft and can be broken apart easily for future use.

6. Slice the remaining lime into wedges. Chop cilantro. 

7. That's it. Serve and enjoy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Food Photography

Taking pictures of food, how hard can it be?

Hah! Hard as hell is the right answer. Think back to your Facebook feed and remember the last time someone posted a picture of some sort of homemade meal. Chances are it was something they had put a lot of time and effort into making and had enough pride in their accomplishment to want to share it with the world. Chances are, because food photography is hard, it looked like unappealing slop by the time it was uploaded to the internet. Go ahead, go take a minute to scroll through your news feed and see if you can find any pictures of food taken by one of your friends that makes you want to invite yourself over to dinner. I'll wait here.


So how did it go? Maybe you have more skilled friends than I do, but I'm gonna take a wild stab in the dark and guess that you struck out. Now, I am not here today to rag on people taking pictures of food. Not at all. Because I am one of them. Today, I am going to share with you some of the things we have learned about photographing food.

David and I have been taking a lot of pictures lately two main reasons:

  • I am blogging and using social media to promote my family's various businesses and pictures are the best way to catch the eye of a potential reader; and
  • I am developing an online shopping cart for Gurnet Trading Co. and products don't sell online very well with out photographs. 

So, in an activity that has had a steep learning curve and many failures, here is a list of lessons we have learned thus far.

1. Invest in a large memory card
For every picture that we have deemed to have "potential" for future use, we have taken dozens of throwaways. This is one of the best and worst things about modern digital photography; we have the luxury of taking hundreds of photos to make sure we have plenty to work with, but then we have to painfully sort through the images and discard the garbage.

Unless you are pro, a real artist, or have that magic eye; you're not going to get a worthwhile shot on your first attempt. We took more than two dozen photos of a damn Shrimp Pesto Pizza and even still we weren't pleased with the results.

2. You're not close enough
Get so close that you think you must be too close and then get closer. Unless your subject is the chef, food needs to be shot macro style. You have to be able to see the texture and subtle variations in color to make it interesting and appealing.

Take these Brussels sprouts. Same sprouts. Same cute little piles. Same camera. Same everything. You tell me which one looks more interesting and appealing.

 3. Get low

The angle of approach is critical. We have found that you have to get low, almost even with the food, in order to have a good result. If you take a picture from above, you loose the depth of your subject, making it look flat, even if you have gotten close and maintained the texture.

Notice how the right angle can give even a flat food like pizza depth.

4. Equipment and technique matter

With some things, the quality of what you start with can make up for your own inexperience and equipment. For example, if you start with good fresh seafood you can pretty much slop it on a plate with no skill and a mediocre recipe and it will still taste great. Skills and equipment become more important when you are trying to dress up a product that was less than adequate to begin with.

Or take dogs for an example. When they are fluffy little fuzzballs a bark is cute and jumping is just a way for them to be adorable and get love. As they get older these traits get harder to over look and you have to train them and improve their skills, lest they become a "bad dog."

This is not the case with food photography. It doesn't matter how great your subject is, how much effort was put into it, and how fabulous it is; a bad picture will make it look like crap.

Look at these hand made sweet potato raviolis. I spent all day making them and they were absolutely delicious. They looked amazing and we were so proud of them. I took this photo a couple of years ago with my phone.

Now look at this hamburger. We spent maybe 15 minutes on this meal. You can even see that I didn't even bother to take the time to make sure it was round. Better technique with a DSLR will clearly results in an oddly misshapen hamburger beating out home-cooked love shot with lousy technique and a point and shoot.

These are four lessons that we have learned over the last few weeks. Stay tuned for our continued misadventures in photography.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lazy Dinner

Part of my goal with this blog is to demystify seafood. Over the years I have met many people who are afraid of seafood, either because they do not know what to do with it or because they have had a bad experience. Well, I am here to tell you that seafood is neither scary nor difficult.

Seriously, I am not the cook in my family. Ask my brother about my cooking skills and he will relate to the tale of the time I burned myself cooking rice. Ask my husband and he will confirm that for two years he would not let me touch his Wustofs. Even today he cuts some food for me. No, I am not an ace in the kitchen, but even I can cook seafood. 

While I am not a chef and I am hella awkward in the kitchen, I can follow directions pretty well and muddle my way through most recipes to the point that my friends and family actually enjoy my creations. On this blog, from time to time, I will post details of my seafood cooking endeavors. If I can do it, you can definitely do it.     

Baked Stuffed Haddock, Brussels Sprouts, Couscous and Kriek

I am going to start this one off with the acknowledgment that I cheated. If you have ever watched that crazy drunk lady on the Food Network (Sandra Lee), this is a semi-homemade meal.

Step 1: Crap my kitchen is not designed for short people and my baking dish is waaaaay up there. 

Step 2: A nice filet of FAS (frozen at sea) haddock. FAS means the fish has been caught and frozen whole at sea. When the fishing boat arrives in port the fish are thawed, cut and sold to local fish markets.   

We (Gurnet Trading) do not usually cut our own haddock and FAS is what we usually stock. Occasionally, we will get haddock direct from local boats. 

Haddock is our most popular fish and is a local staple. We fry it, bake, and put it in chowders. Locally, it is usually the catch of the day. If you walk into a Maine restaurant and the menu just says fish, you can usually assume it's haddock.

Haddock is a white flaky fish with a very mild flavor. It first gained popularity when cod stocks began to dwindle and it became a cheaper alternative for English fish and chips.

Step 3: This is the part where I cheat. This is my mom's seafood stuffing. This stuff is amazing. It contains shrimp, scallops, crab, maybe some crack. Anyway she sells it in the store, it's all packaged up and frozen. I thawed it on the counter for an hour and then stuck it in the refrigerator for a couple more hours to let it finish thawing. 

Step 4: The stuffing is sticky and it probably could have use a little more time thawing. Raw, this stuff doesn't look terribly appealing, but it's awesome. I promise. 

Step 5: Everything is better with butter. I sprinkled some Panko on top of the stuffing and then drizzled it with some melted butter.  

Step 6: Usually I cheat on the vegetables and open a can of peas or throw something from the freezer into the microwave. But fresh Brussels sprouts are the best. I slice off the bases and peal off the outer leaves.

Step 7: I drizzle the sprouts with olive oil and season with salt and fresh cracked pepper.

Step 8: I baked both the sprouts and the haddock at 350 F for about 20 minutes. I also stuck them under the broiler for the last couple minutes to get the fish golden brown and the sprouts caramelized with a few crunchy potato-chip-like leaves.

Really the hardest part of this meal was the wait, so I popped open one of my home brewed krieks (a cherry lambic beer with lovely effervescence and a pleasant tang) to pass the time.

Oh I also made some parmesan couscous, but that came from a box and really isn't worth more than a passing mention.

Check out the flaky goodness. And the crunchy. So good. If I can do it, you can do it. Yes I know, I cheated and I know your saying "Sarah, you're just trying to sell your mom's stuffing." Yea that is partially true, but one of these days I will make a stuffing from scratch for you. But until then you can stop by Gurnet Trading Co. and pick up some on your way home. Or, better yet, in a few weeks I will put it in a box and ship it to you.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Scallop Dive

We recently acquired a Contour +2 high definition video camera. This camera is a top competitor to the GoPro cameras that all the snowboarders are wearing for Point of View video.

My parents approached me about two months ago about getting a video camera that we would be able to use to capture underwater video. Initially, the GoPro Hero 3 Black was my target. In it's third generation, the GoPro has instant name recognition and is very impressive on paper. However, as I began to do my homework I found a lot of very upset Hero 3 owners. The consensus seemed to be that GoPro rushed its latest model to the market without adequate quality testing. Customer complaints included short battery life (sometimes less than 15 minutes) and freezing up (and the only way to reboot is to take it our of its housing which is not an option underwater).

These little buggers are not cheap, so I opted to go for the lesser known Contour. While it had fewer reviews, it seemed to have much happier users. The overall specs were also very similar. 
The Contour +2 comes with the underwater housing. We bought an elastic strap to go with it, so that we could mount it to our heads as we were diving. 

The overall use of the camera is so simple even the Fish King is able to operate it. That is really saying something. I don't think he has ever even touched a computer, but he has been able to use it successfully. 

On the first dive with the camera, the video came out less than stellar, but at no fault to quality of the camera. There were two main issues with the first dive video:

1. The Fish King is scallop hungry. My mom and brother call him an addict. When he is on the hunt, you can not slow him down and that is his sole focus. This resulted in a jerky video in which no care is taken to show the viewer what is going on.

2. The head strap is too flexible. It does not secure the camera tightly to the head and causes the camera to flap around in the tide (or even worse above the surface). 
With this second video we attempted to correct these problems by introducing a dedicated cameraman (me) and mounting it on a GorillaPod to handhold the camera.

I think you will agree, after watching the video below, that the result is better but we still have some problems. 

The Fish King is still an addict and is difficult to keep up with. As I was trying to get close to a scallop, he would snatch it away. 

I also found that my hand kept reverting to a position that resulted in the camera being held sideways. We ended up with a lot of sideways footage. This is a great learning point for the future. The Contour gives you the ability to rotate the inner camera mechanics without changing the orientation of the actual camera. In future dives, I will rotate the lens 90 degrees so that I can hold the camera comfortably and still get a vertical image. 

Enough about the camera, here are the dive stats: 

Location: Land's End, Harpswell ME
Air Temp: 34 F when the day started, 50 F by the end of the trip
Water Temp: 38 F
Exposure Gear: We both wore neoprene dry suits with thermal underwear underneath
Average Depth: 60 feet
Visibility: 10-15 feet (that's considered good around here)
Bottom Time: 12 minutes

Overall, we have been pretty impressed with the little camera. It has been fun and easy to use. There is a learning curve, especially given the poor visibility and low light conditions found diving in Maine. I can't wait to play with it some more. When the water warms up and the shedders move up inside, I plan to get some lobster footage. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lobster Attack

Taken a few weeks ago, this was our first underwater video taken with our new Contour +2. We were blown away with how clear the video was.

My Bad

So my Sunday deadline came and went. I got a little behind schedule and it will probably take most of the week to get caught back up. I don't have a lot of time right now, but here is a quick run down of what to expect as I do get caught up.

David and I cooked some stuffed haddock on Saturday
Sunday I went diving with my dad and we got some underwater footage and topside shots
Sunday night we threw an epic seafood fest for David's birthday and website construction

Check back soon.

Friday, April 5, 2013

3 Topics to Watch

I have three topics to share today: (1) our trip to another trade show, (2) some interesting lobster news, and (3) a sneak peak at what to expect from Sunday's update.

Another Trade Show
Wednesday, we (David, my mom, and I) took the day off and went to the Maine Restaurant and Lodging Expo in Portland and this is what I learned.

1. Do not eat before you go to a hospitality expo. There are so many tasty snacks to try. Here is a short list of what I can remember eating:

  • Gourmet mushrooms from Vermont (I don't actually eat mushrooms due to my opposition to their texture, but David and the Fish Queen loved them);
  • Multiple types of cheese from Pineland Farms in New Gloucester (if you aren't familiar with them, check them out. They are an awesome local company);
  • Beer from Allagash (my favorite Maine brewery);
  • Various types of soups including a haddock chowder and a shrimp and corn chowder;
  • A breakfast pizza with egg and sausage;
  • A tasty imported brew from the Czech Republic;
  • Sandwich samples loaded up with different meats and cheeses;
  • Ice cream;
  • Pastries in every shape and size;
  • Crab cakes;
  • Various fried things;
  • Haddock tacos;
  • We even walked away with full sized baklava samples in to-go boxes. 
2. There is a lot of bad pizza in the world. 

3. While excellent for the restaurant side of Gurnet Trading Co., this expo was not terribly beneficial for the online shipping part of the business. The Fish Queen did well in getting ideas for her side of the business but I was not very productive, even if it was fun and yummy. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of value added products that would make a nice adder to a box of lobsters.

4. Commercial vacuum sealers are not available in Maine. Of the many commercial equipment distributors at the show, none of them carried vacuum sealers. Keep this in mind, this will not be the last you hear of this topic on this blog. 

Lobster News
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has certified the Maine lobster fishery as sustainable. 

So little is actually known about the ocean, its fish stocks, and its ability to recover from over fishing. There is a lot of debate out there about sustainability certifications and their accuracy. The process is new and not yet proven. It is all well and fine to do the research, develop the plans and say an industry is sustainable, but the real test will be 20 years from now when our kids can still make a living as lobstermen.    

While many people question what sustainability even means, I view this certification as positive for two reasons. One, it will help me market and sell my products. But most importantly, any discussion about sustainability and environmental protection opens up a dialogue, brings awareness to consumers and helps them become more involved in the decisions they make. Regardless of whether or not the label turns out to be accurate 20 years from now, it will make people pause for a moment to think about what they are buying and how that relates to their personal values and interests. 

Expect to see more on certified sustainability from me in the future; but, for now, this is all I have on the topic.   

Sneak Peak
The Fish Queen recently purchased an underwater Point of View (POV) video camera, like those cameras snow boarders are strapping to their heads so we can see their epic fails posted on YouTube. 

Well, last week the Fish King took it for a test drive on his last scallop dive of the season to show you what scallop diving is all about. Here are some clips from the video he shot. You might want to take some Dramamine if you have a tendency to get seasick.   

While we were impressed with the image quality, the videography left something to be desired. Lesson Learned: Do not a send a commercial scallop diver to take pictures while he his working. The scallops will always be priority one, if he even remembers shot quality at all. 

Saturday, I will be diving with my dad and taking video of him. This will allow him to focus on scallops, while I will focus on the video. Hopefully on Sunday, I will post some interesting footage and a full review of the camera. 

Also, David and I just purchased our first DSLR camera and he will be taking topside photos. So keep your fingers crossed for good weather on Saturday.