Fish Taco Affair

By Mary Ann Ebner

When it comes to lost loves, I’ve always believed in leaving them right where they belong — in the past. But not when it comes to forgotten food flames. There’s no need to agonize over why or how I drifted away from a delicious and meaningful dish. Unlike forgotten love, recalling that favorite meal presents the opportunity to bring the lapsed lunch back to the table.

Fish taco affair

Fish taco affair

My romance with fish tacos is a love that I share with my husband. He deserves credit for making taco night part of our courtship ritual along California’s Central Coast when we were engaged. We’d go on a run from Monterey to Pacific Grove and work up an appetite. We found ourselves often savoring fish tacos, either in Pacific Grove, or on Tyler Street in Monterey, at least a couple of nights each week. But not just any taqueria would do. We played favorites. Fish tacos had replaced sardines in this fish town — once a sardine canning capital — and they provided the perfect mix of flavor and filling.

Why make them at home when The Fish Wife or its younger offspring, Turtle Bay Taqueria, could source the ingredients, prepare the meal and do the dishes in a commercial kitchen?

But somewhere throughout our journey, after we left California and moved five or six more times before landing in New York’s Hudson Valley, we let the relationship with the spicy grilled whitefish topped with fresh crunchy salsa and finished with zesty lime fade away.

It was our 2014 trip to Costa Rica that took us back to our love affair with fish tacos. Definitely not a California Baja fish-fried crunch of a taco, but the ones we sampled near Arenal and Manuel Antonio rekindled our affinity for this lost symbol of our courtship and set our sons’ hearts ablaze with a great taste they could appreciate. Served primarily with fresh corn tortillas slathered with a curry mayonnaise, our favored variation in Costa Rica was anchored with flaky grilled white fish, smothered with tomatoes and topped with cilantro.

Making them at home is now a family affair. Everybody helps out, from whipping up a curry sauce to grilling the fish. It’s a fast and fresh option for hopeless romantics of the heart or the discriminating palate.

Recipe — Fish Tacos

Yield: Makes 8 generous servings.

1 to 1 ½ pounds flaky whitefish (I’ve been reaching for tilapia lately though swordfish is a treat.)


2 large whole tomatoes (chopped)

1 onion (chopped)

¼ cup olive oil

1 bunch fresh cilantro (chopped)

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 cup mayonnaise

1 avocado (pitted, peeled and sliced)

1 fresh lime

8 corn tortillas (mix it up with flour tortillas if you prefer)


Fold together diced fresh tomatoes, chopped onion and cilantro in mixing bowl. Add a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Dust fish with remaining olive oil and grill over medium heat to your liking. If grilling’s not an option, broil or pan-sear fish to cook through.

Mix curry with mayonnaise; add a splash of freshly squeezed lime juice. Set aside. Warm tortillas on stovetop or in microwave and make your own fish tacos immediately by dressing tortillas with curried mayonnaise and filling with flaky fish and salsa. Serve with avocado slices and lime wedges. Rice, beans and fruit make perfect sides.




Neighborly zucchini rounds

On the receiving end of your neighbor’s zucchini harvest? Try quick zucchini rounds like these from one of Warwick’s generous gardeners in the Hudson Valley.

Slice zucchini in thick rounds. Generously salt and pepper. Top with red sauce, whatever shredded cheese is on hand and pepperoni slices. Bake 15 minutes at 375 in preheated oven.


She likes bread but it doesn’t like her — GF for Sadie

By Jane Manaster

I always thought gluten free was a fad or a demand for attention. Now that we find our 6 ½ -year-old granddaughter is a celiac, the issue takes on a personal and more serious relevance.

We know wheat, rye, and barley are to be avoided, rice and corn are OK so it’s not difficult to work things out, especially as Sadie is a trooper and taking it all calmly, without expecting (or getting!) special treatment.

sweet bread

She likes bread …

We must avoid the bulk food bins in natural food stores as gluten can drift mysteriously from one bin of flour (whole wheat, stone ground, spelt, rye, etc.) and cause bad bouts of tummy trouble.

Even a year ago, searching the grocery shelves for gluten-free products was tiresome. Today the problem has evaporated. It is no longer a problem to find clearly labeled items from cake mixes to pasta to frozen or home-delivered pizza and, of course, gluten-free flour that tastes just fine.

Prices are still higher, as they are for kosher foods and other special dietary items but “seek and ye shall find.”

My Mom’s best friend was a celiac and lived to the age of 95, probably just by saying with English spirit, “I like bread but it doesn’t like me.”

I’ve baked banana bread and chocolate chip cookies, following the more practical online recipes, not the ones with ten or more ingredients. I pack a slice of the bread or a pair of cookies in snack-bags then a larger freezer bag ready for school lunch or camp. Appreciative comments have been gratefully and gracefully accepted!

© 2014 Jane Manaster. All Rights Reserved.



Shortcake shortcut

Berries are back in the Hudson Valley. Petite wineberries, a not-too-distant relative of raspberries, are in bloom.

Time to harvest ...

Time to harvest …

Harvest now or lose them to hungry deer (or your nearest pastry chef/neighbor who may be sourcing fresh and local). If you haven’t been beaten to the bushes, get picking and try your day’s take with this easy shortcut on berry shortcake.



Shortcake shortcut

4 cups fresh berries (rinsed)

2 cups crushed pretzels

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels

whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350˚. Melt butter in an 8-inch baking pan in oven. Crush pretzels and layer in pan of melted butter. Cover with chocolate morsels. Bake 15 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Cut into four servings. Top shortcake with berries and a dollop of whipped cream.

berry threeberry shortcakeberry four

PuraVidalicious Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto

Gallo Pinto

Costa Ricans rate near the top with their hospitality and capacity for comfort. The pure life of “pura vida,” the greeting and spirit shared throughout the country, isn’t simply a marketing catch phrase (though it seems as if the tourism trade has claimed it), but a philosophy to seize the day with a certain degree of nonchalant enthusiasm. An appreciation for easy living has helped ramp up Costa Rica on travel destination routes, and the beauty of the diverse natural environment and its amazing number of species of the Central American country draws visitors from around the globe. We met travelers from the UK to China during our recent family tour where we savored the landscape, wildlife and Costa Rican cuisine.

If you go, take your appetite to indulge in the puravidalicious local food. Sample a taste of Costa Rica with this no-frills take on Gallo Pinto, a signature dish we encountered everywhere. The simple creation of rice and beans started each day with a high-protein foundation, not dressed up yet prepared with care.



Gallo Pinto

1 pound bag black beans, soaked overnight in water

5 cups water for beans

1 medium sweet onion, diced

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

12-15 sprigs fresh cilantro, chopped

2 cups medium grain white rice

3 cups broth or water for rice

2 teaspoons salt

Twist of fresh ground pepper

After soaking beans overnight, drain, rinse and place in large pot of water (at least 5 cups). Simmer beans 3 to 4 hours. Drain, reserving 1 cup of liquid.

Sauté onions in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil until lightly caramelized. Add chopped cilantro, broth or water and rice. Add salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, covered, until rice softens, about 25 minutes. Add additional vegetable oil to pan and fry rice mixture, turning evenly. Fold in beans. Gradually add reserved liquid from beans. Stir. Serve immediately with eggs, tortillas or toast, and fresh fruit.

Yield: 10 generous servings


Coconut macaroons – tested and tasted …

Try this no-nonsense recipe for macaroons from trusted friend and guest blogger Jane Manaster. Welcome back to The Cookery, Jane.

A Dessert for Passover

By Jane Manaster

Florence Greenberg was the English equivalent of Joan Nathan, today’s maven or expert in American Jewish cookbook authors. Both, in their time and place, have supplied recipes for everyday and the special dishes pertinent to the festivals and holidays.

They belonged to different generations and while Joan Nathan appears on television and writes vividly illustrated books, the 1947 first edition of Florence Greenberg’s Jewish Cookery Book mostly derived from her column for the weekly Jewish Chronicle. It was sparsely illustrated with black and white advertisements for kosher products and now outmoded kitchen equipment and became an instant wedding present, usually from mother to daughter or daughter-in-law. I still treasure my 7th edition copy though the pages are stained and the book itself disintegrating from constant use.

Recipes are straightforward, even making the Passover gefilte fish (relished or abhorred at the traditional seder table) a low-tech procedure. Florence Greenberg didn’t have to resort to the older practice of keeping a live carp in the bathtub until preparation time, but nor did she fuss about which fish had to be chosen.

Passover meant forsaking flour and certain grains for the 8-day holiday. Matzoh, a near-tasteless flatbread, and crushed into matzoh meal for cooking, were the replacements. But Florence Greenberg simplified further. Her recipe for coconut macaroons dispels the idea of failure for even neophyte cooks and translates easily from ounces to cups.eggs



Coconut macaroons


½ pound desiccated coconut

5 ounces caster sugar

2 eggs

U.S. translation

Shredded coconut; it was all unsweetened then. Desiccate is the correct spelling! Granulated white sugar works fine. Eggs were eggs, sizes unspecified


Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugar and eggs first (this wasn’t an instruction: commonsense dictated). Stir in the coconut and mix well. This is sticky so wet the hands often to form into pyramids; the recipe makes about 20. Place on greased baking sheet (no parchment paper then, it was called ‘greaseproof paper’). Bake until lightly browned.

And that’s it!

Jane Manaster is the author of Pecans: The Story in a Nutshell.

© 2014 Jane Manaster. All Rights Reserved.



Spicy devotion

20140303-203501.jpgI thought I was I lucky enough to have a friend who keeps me well stocked with my favorite Middle Eastern blend of allspice: She knows what’s cooking in my kitchen. Then I received a spicy gift box of Penzeys from my gardening inspiration. That welcome surprise was followed by a spice selection by mail from my favorite spice girl in St. Louis … more Penzeys including the kicky Balti seasoning. And the fresh zahtar that recently found its way home here in the Hudson Valley was hand carried from Lebanon and shared by one who can quickly identify zahtar wannabes. Thanks to all that, I’m on a new flavor trail with friends who know how to share the simple formula for preserving food and friendships. Keep those fresh spices on hand.