Thursday, December 8, 2016

Get to Know Your Shellfish

Shellfish are festive, which is why so many people eat it this time of year. But not many people know much about it -- the main questions we get are "Is it wild?" Or "Is it fresh?" Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I'll go through the various shellfish species and tell you what you should be looking for, wherever you're shopping for shellfish.

Shellfish are basically shipped 2 ways: Frozen (pre-cooked or raw) or alive. Shellfish tend to be more perishable than fin fish, so here's how most of the shellfish we sell arrives:
SHRIMP: Frozen at the source, either PDV (peeled and deveined) so it's ready to cook, or EZ peel, with the shell still on, but split down the back with the sand vein removed. All of our frozen shrimp is raw, and needs to be cooked before eating. We don't  regularly sell the shell-on shrimp with the head still on, because nobody eats the heads, so why pay for it? We do bring it in for people who have a recipe that calls for it, but most people prefer their shrimp headless.
     We go through hundreds of pounds of our cooked cocktail shrimp every year during the holidays. We cook both farm raised and wild shrimp, but most of what we sell is farm raised. We don't source our shrimp from certain areas of east Asia, because we don't feel that we can trust how the shrimp is handled or what they feed it. Our shrimp is mainly from small farms in Indonesia, an industry vital to the local economy. We cook it fresh daily, with our own blend of spices. It's delicious.
     Grocery stores very rarely cook their own shrimp - they buy shrimp that was cooked on a boat or in a factory and frozen, probably months ago, and thaw it out.
     Our PDV Gulf shrimp are wild, and also delicious, so if you just have to have wild shrimp, we have those, too.
KING OR SNOW CRAB LEGS, CRAB MEAT: Crab is so perishable that it's pretty much all cooked right on the boat, then frozen. It is occasionally possible to get cooked crab legs that haven't been frozen, but since they're all pre-cooked anyway, it makes little difference. Crab legs just need to be re-heated. I thaw mine out first in the fridge over night, then I put them in a large roasting pan with a cup of water, cover the pan with foil, and steam in the oven for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. I serve them with herb butter and lemon or our Lemon Dill Sauce.
     Crab meat also comes in cans - we get the restaurant-quality lump crab meat that needs to be refrigerated, a much higher grade of crab meat than the stuff that's packed to be kept on your pantry shelf. We don't recommend canned crab meat that doesn't require refrigeration.
LOBSTER TAILS:  Lobsters are nasty creatures that can't be farmed because they would kill and eat each other. That's why they put those rubber bands on their claws in lobster tanks - to keep them from lobstercide. We get ours from 2 sources, the northern US and Canadian East Coast, and off the coast of northern Australia.
    Once endangered, fishing regulations have helped the resource rebound -- females caught in traps get thrown back to reproduce, the males land on your dinner plate. Lobster tails are frozen right after harvesting, and are shipped raw, so they need to be cooked, not just warmed up.
     Our North Aussie tails are harvested by aboriginal farmers off the coast of Darwin - they consider their lobster fishing areas sacred, and manage the fishery very well.
SCALLOPS - SEA OR BAY: Sea and bay scallops (the smaller ones) are deliciously sweet in many recipes, but are the most confusing of all shellfish. They can be shipped and sold "fresh," but the packers are allowed to add chemical salts to the scallops, so that they hold their moisture and are preserved. This gives the scallops a strange, metallic taste, not very pleasant. The frozen, or "dry pack" scallops are the ones to buy - they don't contain chemicals.
     Scallops are harvested wild, which is very damaging to the sea bed, or they are being farm raised, like oysters and mussels. In this case especially, farmed is better for the environment.

Other shellfish that's very perishable ships best alive, which means that you have to kill it in order to eat it. In fact, if it isn't alive when you cook it or serve it, you generally shouldn't eat it.
OYSTERS: We pretty much always have our East Coast blue point oysters, by far the most popular with our customers. The taste is sweet, they're not as hard to open as some varieties are, and you can eat them just as they are, or with a dab of cocktails sauce or a squeeze of lemon and a little hot sauce, or like the French with vinegar and shallots,. During the holidays, we get requests for other oysters, like Kumomotos from Washington State, and Malbec's from the East Coast. Pretty much all oysters are raised these days, because that allows the farmers to know that the water they come from is clean. They're raised in tidal waters, and the oyster grow on ropes that you can see at low tide -- if you ever get the chance to go to an oyster farm, it's quite a sight.
     The exception to the rule is our shucked oysters, which we sell by weight. These are meant to be cooked, not eaten raw, but it's much easier than shucking them when they're for stuffing or scalloped oysters, or any other cooked oyster dish.
NB: Anyone with auto-immune issues should be very careful about eating any uncooked seafood. 
MUSSELS: Like oysters, mussels these days are almost all farmed, which is a good thing. I remember the days of de-bearding the wild mussels, an onerous task. They often contained sand and grit, not the most pleasant experience. Now the farmed mussels are easy to prepare, just rinse in cold water and drop them in a pot with your cooking liquid of choice. And everybody gets to eat with their hands. Just provide lots of napkins and crusty bread to soak up the broth.
CLAMS: Like much of our shellfish in the US, stocks were horribly over-fished for years, threatening the resource, along with the problems brought by massive development along our shores, and with it massive pollution. The aquaculture operations that have grown over the past couple of decades are helping to preserve the wild resource, and provide us with a wonderful product. About 80% of our US clams are ocean raised. Unlike oysters and mussels, clams don't attach to ropes, they burrow into the sand, and have to be dug up.
SOFT SHELL CRABS: Only available in the spring and summer, when blue crabs are molting, these little guys are shipped alive. They die when we clean them for you, right when you buy them, and should be cooked (or frozen) within 24 hours. These are one of the tastiest treats from the sea. They make a super great sandwich! Once cleaned, you cook and eat the entire beast. Because they've been over-harvested in recent years, supplies are less available due to restrictions, and prices have gone up.
LIVE LOBSTERS: Ours come from the northeast coast of the US or the southeast coast of Canada. They should be live and kicking when you drop them into the pot, but if you get one that isn't very
lively and dies, it's OK to cook it right away, refrigerate it until you want to eat it, and just drop it in the pot with the others at the end, to warm it up. We will also cook your lobsters for you --
all you need to do is warm them up in the oven, or eat them cold - tastes great, either way!
Check out our various How To videos (cooking lobster tails, opening an oyster etc.) by Clicking Here: Shellfish Videos. Our lobster tail cooking video has over 1,000,000 views!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Damn Cups...Finally!

My Great Grandmother Stemwell was a German immigrant living in Milwaukee, and her English wasn't very good. My dad, who had moved to Chicago, suggested that she listen to the Cubs games on the radio to help her language skills. Milwaukee at that time (late 1930s) had no major league baseball team, (the Brewers were a minor league team then), so lots of people up there were Cubs fans because they could hear the games on WGN radio.
     By the time I knew my great grandmother, her English was pretty good, but I didn't learn until later years how the Cubs had helped her. She became a die-hard fan, listening to every game. When my dad would call her he'd ask her how she was, and she'd invariably reply "Terrible, terrible, the damn Cups, they lost again."
     We all became Cubs fans, my younger brother Billy in particular. He loved going to games, and was a follower of Billy Buckner - he'd moved out west to California, but watched as many games as he could on WGN, the first "super station. " He was glad when they started playing night games at home - made it much easier for him to watch. I lost my little brother 8 years ago, sadly because of a medical condition that was totally curable but his insurance didn't cover the test he needed and he died before he could see his daughters grow up and his beloved Cubs win a world series. I bought him a brick outside Wrigley, we go and visit it whenever we go to games.
     My dad was a Cubs fan from his Milwaukee days, and would have loved seeing them win it all. He was great friends with John Allyn, who owned the White Sox in the 1960s and early 1970s, and he was also friends with Jack Brickhouse, with whom he played golf occasionally. We would go to the White Sox games and sit in the owners box at Comiskey, but it was never as much fun as sitting with the Cub fans in the bleachers at Wrigley. One time, when I was 18 and working a summer job up in Michigan, I'd come home for a family funeral and was flying back to Petoskey on a Tuesday morning. John Allyn wanted my dad to play golf, but he said he was taking me to the airport and couldn't. So Mr. Allyn said "I'll fly her and Marge (his wife) and Nancy (my mom) in the Sox plane, then you can play golf with me." So I, a huge Cubs fan, had to fly to Michigan in a plane that said Chicago White Sox on it. Hard to live down.
     Watching the playoffs this year nearly gave me a coronary. The guys didn't make it easy, for themselves or for their legion of fans. When Kris Bryant threw the ground ball to Tony Rizzo at first for the last out of the World Series, I had tears running down my cheeks, and I said, incredulously, to my husband, "they won!" How much my great grandmother, my dad and my brother would have cheered -- I'd like to think that somehow they were watching, perhaps through me or my children who were also glued to the TV. I honestly didn't think they would win it all in my lifetime -- thank you, to the Ricketts family who spent the money to get a great team, and to the players who played their hearts out.
     Grandma Stemwell would have to change their name, from the Damn Cups to the Great Cups, or the Super Cups - or probably she'd still call them the Damn Cups, but she'd be beaming from ear to ear.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Memories of State Street

I grew up just a few blocks from the Burhop family in Glenview, and my mother, a friend of Vern and Janis Burhop, would call Vern at the State St. store and he would bring home her seafood order, even dropping it off at our house. I only remember going to the State St. store once as a child, when I thought it seemed very big and the men in white coats and brimmed hats behind the counter seemed quite intimidating.
State St. fish counter c. 1960
    In the 1970s, when I started dating Jeff Burhop, he took me down to see the State St. location, both in the front retail space, and in back, where the thousands of pounds of wholesale seafood was moving in and out. Whole tuna, giant turbot, cases of shrimp and lobster tails.
     I loved it -- it was amazingly Dickensian, a mostly wooden building, with each room on a different level, making it hard to move things around except through human muscle power. There was a fleet of green and white Burhop delivery trucks that parked outside, and virtually every restaurant in town, if you asked where they got their fish, would say Burhop's, even if they didn't. Known for their quality and honesty, everyone wanted to claim that their fish was the best, hence from Burhop's.
     The owners of the building, the American Medical Assoc., also rented out the top floor of the building to a health club. With great regularity, someone up there would leave the showers on until there was a flood and water would come through Burhop's ceiling, causing enormous, expensive damage. Burhop's had to take them to court to get repairs done, and finally the AMA made the decision to sell the building. That area of Chicago was getting more and more built up, and it was assumed that the new owners would tear down the old building, so Burhop's had to move. A new location for the wholesale was found near Elston Ave., much newer and far less interesting, but easier to keep clean. What was Burhop's for about 50 years became the Weber Grill Restaurant. The retail store was moved to the corner of LaSalle and Chicago, and was dubbed One Fish Plaza.
     By this time, Vern had retired very quickly, because of health issues, and two new partners bought him out, joining forces with Jeff and his brother Jim. This became a period of extreme change -- the new partners, one a lawyer, the other in real estate, had grand ideas but little experience in seafood, retail or wholesale. Jeff and Jim, who had the experience, were basically not consulted or their advice was ignored about many of the changes that the new partners made, and the result, along with other influencing factors, was the closing of the wholesale side of the business.
     Many restaurants went out of business owing Burhop's large sums of money for seafood, and then the owners would open a new restaurant a block away and want Burhop's to deliver fish. Competitors would sell fillets of west coast flounder which they were able to sell very cheaply, and call it genuine Dover sole. Chefs who should have known better were fooled.  Too much money was being lost, so Burhop's wholesale was shuttered, and the focus was put on expanding the retail.
     Up to seven retail locations by the mid 80s, the decisions made by the new partners came back to bite us. A couple of the locations turned out to be extremely bad choices, and were shuttered after sizable losses. One Fish Plaza was closed after the building was sold, leaving Burhop's with no Chicago store for the first time in almost 60 years. Two more of the suburban stores closed, leaving Glenview, Wilmette, Hinsdale and Highland Park. The Highland Park store, in an out-of-the-way location, closed, and then the remaining three stores were sold to pay outstanding debt. Jeff had left the company a year before it was sold, his brother after the sale. Glenview and Hinsdale were bought by a former Burhop's employee, Phil Kulin, and Wilmette was purchased by the owner of the Plaza del Lago shopping center, Joe Moss.
     Two years later, Jeff put together a deal to buy back Hinsdale and Glenview, which he owned until the Glenview store was closed last September. The extremely high rent was just too much to make the store successful. The last family owned store, located in Hinsdale is now for sale, as there is no one in the family to take it over.
     For 90 years, Burhop's has stood out as the premier purveyor of fine seafood in the Chicago area -- as we look to retire, we hope to find someone who can continue the legacy. We have loved going to seafood shows and visiting wineries and wine tastings, meeting our many "foodie" customers, and enjoying the best seafood in the Chicago area in our own dining room. There is much to commend being in the seafood business!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fish for those back to school blues

Recently I've run into a number of people sending off their first child to college - that's when it generally hits moms & dads that things will never quite be the same at home. The house gets quieter, the errands get fewer, though remaining kid(s) can expand his/her/their demands to fill the void. Don't worry - your college student will come back during the holidays, and it will seem like they never left. You'll breathe a sigh of relief when they go back to college.
     For parents who have littler ones going back to school, there will be more time during the day for work (and play - grown-up style). But most households these days have two working parents. So how to cope?
     As long as you have kids at home who are going back to school, life changes when summer ends  I was a "working mom," part time when the kids were very small, 2 days per week, then full time when they were around 10 and 11. I was lucky, I worked very close to home, and could do my shopping during lunch, take it home and put it away and be back at work. I could also call my husband, and ask him to bring home fresh fish several times a week - that was a real bonus. I was close enough to "pop in" on a regular basis, to make sure the kids were following the rules, e.g. no friends over when we weren't home. This was pre-cellphones, so monitoring their whereabouts was more difficult than it is today. Both kids often went to friends' houses after school, ones where mom was at home, and were very good about calling to tell me where they were. Here are some tips from my own experience to help you keep things running smoothly:
     1) Talk to your kids about "the rules" and why you have them. I think children respond much better to rules that are explained rather than Mom and Dad just laying down the law.
     2) Breaking the rules should have consequences - otherwise, there's no point in having rules.
     3) Eat together as a family every evening as much as possible - that's when you can tell each other what you all did during the day.
     4) Eat healthy foods - too many people in this country give their children fast food for dinner - like a pizza or fried chicken in a bucket - because it's easy. It's no wonder we have an epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the US - the expression "you are what you eat" has more meaning than most people realize.
     5) Incorporate seafood into at least 2 meals per week - fish is brain food, you can Google it, and kids' brains need a lot of nourishment as they develop. Our kids started on fish when they were babies, one of their first solid foods. We had a baby food grinder, and they got pretty much the same food we did, because we eat a lot of healthy food. Fresh fruits and vegetables, organic if available, lots of fish and occasionally some lean meat.  And our kids are definitely both brilliant (no prejudice here)...
     6) Talk to your kids quietly when you put them to bed - read the little ones a story. We used to play "The Goodnight Game," where the kids and I would share things that happened during the day - we'd each tell each other one good thing and one bad thing that happened, and one thing that we liked about each other. It was amazing what I learned about my kids during those quiet moments. And about myself. The other advantages to this - our kids never ever complained about going to bed, and they were always well rested for school. Our babysitters used to remark about how great it was to sit for kids who would cheerfully go to bed when told it was time.
     Enough sleep; good food; explained, enforceable rules; family togetherness time. Nothing hard here! Kids grow up incredibly fast - it will fly by. Take the time to make it good for all of you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dog Days Dining - Beat the Heat

August can be a very hot and steamy month. That's why some people pack up and head for Maine or Canada, hoping for a cool breeze.
     If you're stuck here, like I am, and you still have to cook, here are some easy meals that everyone in the family will enjoy.
1) Something on a bun.
There are so many tasty seafood items that you can serve on a bun - salmon burgers, crab cakes, a rare piece of grilled tuna, a piece of grilled mahi mahi, a piece of sauteed tilapia - there are many choices. Fire up the grill, get some nice soft buns (we like the pretzel buns we get from a local bakery, really tasty) and then top your fish with something yummy. Our stone Ground Mustard Sauce goes wonderfully with salmon burgers and crab cakes, tuna is great with Stonewall Wasabi Grill Sauce, mahi and tilapia are tasty with some of our Creamy Coleslaw on top, or make it really healthy with a heaping spoon of our Pico de Gallo or Tropical Salsa.
2) Tuna Salad & Melon or Tomato.
Pick up some nice ripe melons from the market, get about 1/2 pound of tuna salad per person (we have two, Crazy Cranberry and Nutty Tuna, both delicious with melon). If they're small melons, just cut in half and fill the center with salad. Bigger melons, cut a large wedge, or for kids, use a sharp knife to remove the melon from the rind and cut into smaller pieces. Set it on some mixed greens, maybe add a toasted English muffin or crusty bread, and dinner is served. You can also use a large tomato the same way - cut the tomato into 4 wedges, not going all the way through, and heap the center with tuna salad. Yummy, easy, healthy.
3) Kebabs.
We always have salmon and shrimp kebabs, but if you call and place an order, we'll make tuna, swordfish, scallops, just about any meaty fish, into a fresh kebab. They look tasty, they cook in a few minutes on the grill, all you need to add is perhaps a little marinade and some rice or roasted new potatoes. Or make your own -- 1 lb. of most fish will make 3 kebabs - cut into chunks and stack on a skewer with some fresh pepper and onion slices - colorful and tasty. Swordfish kebabs marinated in our Tahitian Marinade are amazing, and oh so easy.
These are just a few ideas - come on in and we'll suggest more!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My favorite summer salad, from Nice

Days after 9/11, the fish husband and I were in the south of France, and little local fire and police stations were all holding blood drives for the people of New York. It was incredibly touching, and it made me quite angry when we were told by our government that the French were no longer our friends and we had to change the name of French fries and French toast. Spare me. These people were lining up to give us their blood.
     Now the events this past week in Nice reminded me of that experience, so I looked for ways to help and found this recommended web site:, with the added suggestion of a donation to the French Red Cross. I made a donation, and then I made a Salade Nicoise.
     This wonderful summer salad is great for summer entertaining, because you can make it all ahead of time, and because most of the ingredients come from your local farmer's market, just like they do in France. The recipe is on our web site  I cheat a little, so that I don't leave so much cleaning up to do -- I boil the potatoes in a pan that's large enough to allow me to drop in the eggs to hard boil after the potatoes cook for 15 minutes, then a couple of minutes later I drop in the green beans to cook. Potatoes total cooking time is about 20-25 minutes, eggs 8 minutes, beans 6 minutes.
 I grill the tuna for about 3 minutes total -- 1/2 lb. of tuna is enough for a salad to feed 4 to 6 people. As you can see from the photo, we like our tuna on the rare side. (The potatoes are under the tuna. I use small round multi-color ones.)
     A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of dining with friends at Ravinia, where I ordered a Salade Nicoise, and it contained no potatoes, only a ton of chopped lettuce and some canned tuna. There were a few olives and a couple of beans, but it's supposed to be a potato salad! A really good one.
     The French are obsessive about their food, and the result is some of the best food anywhere in the world. They are also basically very nice people. It makes my heart ache to think of the terrible events of Bastile Day in Nice, and how terrified everyone must have been. My Salade Nicoise is a very small way of honoring them. The city of Nice and all of France is in my heart, they have suffered some horrible attacks in the past year, by a group of people who would have us believe that killing innocent strangers will somehow make us sympathetic to their cause. It's not working.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Friends, Fish, Summer Entertaining

I love entertaining in the summer, because I can get so much great produce from the farmer's market, and because I can cook the main course outside on the grill, leaving a lot less to clean up. Here's my recipe for a great summer dinner party:
1) Put together a menu that won't require you to be in the kitchen cooking instead of enjoying a glass of wine with your guests.
2) Set up a beverage bar/table, with multiple choices - wines, beer, non-alcoholic choices (ice tea, lemonade, juice, soda etc., glasses and an ice bucket. We like to start with a sparkling wine, even if we're in shorts - it's just more festive.
3) Start with some easy finger foods - cocktail shrimp, spreads and crackers, baby carrots, fresh salsa and chips - all easy to eat, easy to serve. People can just help themselves.
4) Make your side dishes ahead - for a green salad, wash and drain your lettuce and put it back in the fridge. When I put the salad together, just before serving, I add fresh chopped herbs from the garden, usually some avocado and a sprinkling of fresh berries. Herb roasted potatoes, rice pilaf dishes or cous cous make great summer sides, and you can buy them already made from us or make your own and refrigerate the night before. Bring to room temp before serving, or if appropriate, warm up in the oven, not the microwave.
5) If possible, spend some time outside -- we do drinks and appetizers on the deck, then move inside for dinner when the mosquitoes come out.
6) Fish as a main course cooks really quickly - I've recently done shrimp kebabs (marinated the shrimp in a garlic basil marinade) and fresh wild salmon, grilled and then brushed with some of our Mustard Green pesto.  We LOVE our Weber gas grill - turning it on is so much easier than making a charcoal fire, and you can control the temperature. If guests are sitting outside, you can carry on talking to them while you cook. Other entree ideas include any of our kebabs, any of our fish fillets or steaks that are suitable for grilling, salmon burgers or crab cakes. You can also do a lobster or fish boil out on the grill - you just need a really big pot. We have recipes on our web site,
7) Keep dessert light -- our Key Lime pie is great, but I also often just do something like cookies and fresh fruit, or a little later in the summer, my fresh peach cake (made with buttermilk) which I make the morning of the party, after I get the peaches from the market. I serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt.
8) Put fresh flowers on the table, and use real plates and utensils and cloth napkins - unless you're eating outside in a park somewhere, there is no need for disposables. You're just creating more garbage when you throw away all your plates, napkins and utensil. Plus it's a lot nicer to eat off of a real plate. I have a ton of cloth napkins in many colors, I get them on sale, and they make your table look nicer and your guests feel more special.
9) Invite compatible people - it's rarely fun to have people with wildly varying political or religious views sitting across the table. Unless, of course, you're Bill Maher and your dinner theme is politically incorrect.
10) Most important of all - marry a guy who's willing to do the cleaning up. After 38 years, my guy still does the dishes, and I absolutely love him for it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Fish on a Bun & Fireworks for the 4th

There are generally family traditions that we all do every year on certain holidays. Because so many people grill out on the 4th, they tend to gravitate towards hot dogs, hamburgers and brats - just throw 'em on the grill, and if they get over cooked, no one seems to notice.
     Question: do you know what's in those hot dogs etc.? Read the ingredients on a hot dog package - you may want to sit down first.
     I know we're in the fish business, so people expect us to serve fish for every holiday, but when we offer an alternative to the fish items, as we did for our daughter's wedding reception (a backyard barbecue - it's what she wanted, and it was great) - 75 people chose the seafood, one chose the chicken.
     For barbecues, there are many options -  kebabs are both protein and veggies on a stick, plus there are salmon burgers and crab cakes for serving on a bun, and many of the meatier fish, like tuna, halibut, salmon, ono, mahi mahi, Chili bass etc. can be served on a bun as well -- just have us (or your local fishmonger if you can't get to us) slice the fish a bit thinner for steaks and in portion size for fillets. Fish should not be just left on the grill unattended - it cooks very quickly, much faster than beef or chicken, and in the case of tuna, you just want to cook it about a minute per side if the steaks are cut thin.
     Our stone ground mustard sauce is amazing with salmon burgers and crab cakes, and on all of the fish mentioned above. I also like to put some of our creamy coleslaw on the bun, yummy with all fish I can think of, or a slice of farmer's market tomato and some fresh greens.
     Put everything out on the table and let people build their own sandwiches - healthy, delicious ones that won't clog their arteries. In our family, our kids always chose seafood; if you train them right, your kids will too.
     So you can certainly stick with the buns, just make a better choice about what you put on it!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Doing something seafood-special for Dad on Father's Day

Our dads have been gone for many years, but I always think of the many Father's Days when Grandpa R (my dad) got his favorite dinner - grilled salmon. My dad was an avid fisherman, going up to the Minnesota/Michigan border every summer to brave the mosquitoes and eat fresh fish for lunch every day - shore lunch. That's where he was when he died - on his annual fishing trip. I'm guessing it was part of his plan to stay there forever. We brought his remains back, but his soul is paddling a canoe out on a lake in southern Canada.
     We are always amazed by the number of men who shop with us, and many of them we've found are fishermen as well - they know what fresh fish looks and tastes like, so we're especially pleased to count them among our customers.
     So what ideas do we have for the dads out there? Here are some things that the kids can help with that will please Pop no end:
Treat Dad to some of our crab cakes topped with a fried egg - or scramble some eggs and add some bits of hot or cold smoked salmon and some fresh chives. These are simple dishes that the kids can help with, whisking up the eggs, serving them to Dad.
Kebabs - all ready to cook, either on the grill or in the oven, just brush with oil and marinade. We always have salmon kebabs, and usually shrimp, but we can make almost any meaty fish into kebabs for you - tuna, mahi mahi, ono, swordfish, halibut - then serve with one of our cous cous or rice dishes on the side.
Grilled Fish: Our recommended fish for the grill include salmon (wild salmon is in and it's beautiful - both king and Copper River sockeye); Alaskan halibut, ono from Hawaii, ahi tuna, mahi mahi, marlin, swordfish, Chilean sea bass and more - ask us for suggestions. We have a good selection of marinades and grilling sauces to go with. Just add a salad and one of our prepared side dishes, and everyone is a happy camper.
     Our rule of thumb for grilling fish: 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measuring at the thickest point over medium high heat (around 400 degrees). Since wild salmon is less than an inch thick, it will cook in less than 10 minutes - don't overcook! And make sure your grate is scraped clean before you put the fish on - you don't want a lingering taste of hamburger.
Softshell Crabs: These are a little trickier for the kids to help with, but they're great on a bun for lunch or dinner - just dust with seasoned flour and saute for 2-3 minutes per side. I like them on a toasted pretzel bun topped with some of our fresh coleslaw and a little of our Stone Ground Mustard Sauce. Let the kids prepare the buns, you plop the crab on it.
Salmon Burgers: We make these fresh on a daily basis from the trimmings of our fresh salmon. When we fillet a fish, there are always bits that we trim off. Some of it goes to the local smoke house for hot smoked salmon, and the rest becomes our tasty burgers. We use a unique blend of seasonings to make them extra tasty - great on a pretzel bun with lettuce and tomato or our mustard sauce and coleslaw.  These would be great for lunch of dinner - and a whole lot healthier than the other kinds of burgers that involve cows.
Lobster Tail: If Dad is particularly deserving this year, treat him to some lobster tail! We have them from Australia and Maine, and they can be cooked on the grill or in the oven - ask us for cooking directions, or watch our Lobster Tails 101 cooking video - half a million views! Click Here to see all of our cooking videos.
King Crab Legs: Another shellfish treat, these are already cooked, all you need to do is thaw them out and serve cold on a salad or warm them up in the oven or on the grill. We put ours in a roasting pan with a cup of water and cover with foil. Thawed legs will warm up in 15 to 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
Every dad has a favorite seafood - treat him to what he loves because you love him!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Greats for the Grate - what to grill from the sea

My rule of thumb for fish on the grill is firm fish that can easily be turned without falling apart. The ones I do most often: salmon, halibut, mahi mahi, ono, tuna, swordfish and marlin. Or kebabs - shrimp kebabs are a family favorite, especially done in the garlic basil marinade found on our web site. I generally add a marinade or grilling sauce, but not always. I also like to rub the fish with olive oil and a spicy rub - just enough to add flavor without overpowering the fish or my taste buds. I love to top the fish with one of our fresh pestos or salsas.
     The pesto I generally add to the top of the fish during the last minute of cooking, the salsas I add to the plated fish. I take the salsa out of the fridge when I start cooking, so it can come to room temperature - you don't want to put ice cold salsa on hot fish.
     Our recommended cooking method is the same, regardless of the type of fish - 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measuring the fish at the thickest point, cooked over medium high heat.
     We switched from a charcoal grill to a gas grill two years ago, and I couldn't be more glad. Charcoal is messy,  and I think less healthy than cooking over gas. It's easier to control the heat, the clean-up is simple, and so far the fish has been amazing. And our dog loves it -- when I cook salmon on the grill, I do flesh side first, then turn to skin side down. When I take it off the grill, I can slip the spatula between the flesh and the skin, leaving the skin on the grill. I turn off the fire, and as soon as it's cool enough, Archie gets to eat the skin. He LOVES it, his omega 3s for the day.
     This Saturday, from 11 - 2, our chef Jaime Castilan will be doing a grilling demo in front of our Hinsdale store, offering free advice and free samples to all who come by. He used to do this in Glenview, he had quite a fan club, now he's doing it in Hinsdale for the first time this Saturday. We hope he draws a crowd!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mother's Days Past

This is the first year when I am the oldest mom in the family. My dear mother-in-law was with us until this past December, 101 years young. For decades, she was the one we feted on Mother's Day, though my kids and husband always made a pretty good fuss over me as well.
     Until about two years ago, we would bring Grandma over to our house for brunch, which generally involved scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and chives, a glass of sparkling wine and orange juice, and her favorite croissants from a neighborhood bakery. This was an easy meal for my husband and kids to prepare, so I could enjoy myself as well.
     Then the past two years, it became easier for us to go to her, enjoying a meal at her senior living facility.  Her face would light up up when she saw us, she could never get enough of her family. And because she was always a ray of sunshine in our lives, we were always happy to oblige.
     I learned so much from my mother-in-law - about how much better it is for those around you if you don't complain all the time -- I came from a family of complainers, and frequently have to bite my tongue.  She made us feel her gratitude for every minute we spent with her.
     And, of course, I learned a lot about cooking fish from her - Grandma's recipe for Scalloped Oysters was the hit of Christmas dinner last year, we had it in her memory, and not one scrap was left. She knew how to poach, grill or bake just about anything from the sea - if I ever have the time, I'd love to put together a cookbook from her recipe file.
     I treasure every memory I have of my mother as well, who suffered from Alzheimer's and sadly left us mentally a few years before she died, in 1996.  I want very much to remember her before she got sick, all the years when she would drive over to see us, bring us gladiolas from Hepner's, and provide free and frequent babysitting services. My mother was also a great cook, though she featured a lot more meat than fish in her menus when I was young, more fish after her eldest married a Burhop.
     My mother and my husband's mother were friends and volunteers together, doing good works through their church, for the Illinois Children's Home and Aid Society, and working at Bargains Unlimited in Chicago, now gone due to a lack of available helpers. Theirs was a generation when wives did good works in the community to get out of the house and make a difference - now most women have jobs, so volunteers are harder to find. I learned early on, from my mother and then from my mother-in-law, that there's always time to volunteer, even when you work full time, and I've always found the time to give back, like they did.
     So thank you to my moms, for all you did for me and for my family for so many years - I miss you both so much. Make every day Mother's Day for your mom while she's still here!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Chilean Salmon fall prey to alga bloom - effects ripple through the industry

Chile is the world's second largest salmon exporter, only Norway ships more. Because of the recent El Nino and global warming, ocean temperatures have risen by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius. When this warmer water is added to the runoff from Chile's many cattle operations, it makes a great environment for algae, which can kill salmon. 

According to industry representatives, over 23 million fish have already died, a loss of $800 million to the Chilean economy. So far, 37 of the more than 500 fish farms have been affected. "There are so many dead fish, they could easily fill 14 Olympic size swimming pools," according to Jose Miguel Burgos, a government official.

Chances are that the algae bloom will spread in the warming waters, which will take even more fish off the market. The result will be pressure on competing salmon markets in Norway, Scotland, Canada and elsewhere, plus on supplies that are wild caught. When such a big player is affected this dramatically, the increased demand in other markets will undoubtedly send up prices.

So be prepared for higher salmon prices this summer - environmental problems can easily filter down to our pocketbooks.  

In the Southern Hemisphere, Chile is entering their autumn, and I'm sure their salmon industry is praying for an early winter. Perhaps they should do a better job of controlling run-off from cattle. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What kind of customer are you?

We have some of the most wonderful customers in the world - especially our old Glenview customers who drive down to Hinsdale for their fish - that's total dedication!
     The difficult thing for anyone who has to deal with the public on a regular basis is letting go of the bad ones. You can have 100 great customers, and one total crab, and the crab memories hang on forever.
     Recent example - we had a sale on ono (wahoo) that was very popular, and by Saturday afternoon we were almost totally sold out. A customer who wanted ono but hadn't called ahead, was very upset that 1) there was so little left, and 2) that the 4 remaining pieces weren't "uniform." She wanted four portions that all looked exactly the same. She ended up buying something else, but complained loudly about her disappointment.
     One wonders if she's ever noticed what a whole fish looks like. To get only pieces that look the same, we'd have to throw away over half the fish. It's not what the fillets look like in any case, it's what the fish tastes like, and ono is delicious. Something the size of a cow you can get more uniformity. A fish, not so easy.
     We buy fresh fish, and we want to sell out, so that we can order new fresh fish the next day. Stores that buy tons of fish and keep it in the back cooler to fill the fresh case aren't really selling fresh fish when they get to the bottom of the pile. We always tell our customers that if they want something special, they should call and place an order and we'll put what they need aside for them.
     Having spent more time in the stores the past few years, I understand both the desire to make the customer happy, and in some cases, the inability to please some people no matter what you do.
     I remember once in Marshal Fields (obviously a while ago) a woman was demanding her money back on some towels that she had obviously washed in bleach and ruined. The sales clerk (and everyone else) knew this woman had ruined her own towels, but the clerk took them back and refunded the woman's money. The customer was spectacularly rude, and the clerk amazingly patient. As the next person in line, I made it a point of being super nice to her.
     For a big company like Marshal Fields, two returned towels were not a big deal. For a small company like ours, when someone leaves their fish in the car in a heated garage over night, or in the summer in a very hot car, and then brings it back because it's "bad," that's a different situation. We've had this happen more than once.  Sometimes, when you wreck something, you need to take personal responsibility. Then next time, remember to take the fish out of the car. And we're always happy to give you a bag of ice.
     Dealing with the public every day is a tough job - we'd love to be perfect, but no one is that good - we certainly aim to please everyone who comes to us, and are very upset with ourselves if we somehow fail. If a complaint is legitimate we do everything we can to rectify the situation. And sometimes we have to grit our teeth and make the customer happy, even when they're totally off base. Everyone has a bad day now and again, and we never know what might be going on in someone's life that's making them miserable. We just wish that there was a way to cleanse ourselves of the misery of dealing with the grouches.
     Ask yourself, what kind of customer are you?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fishing for Spring

The El Nino oceanic current system seems to have brought us fairly mild winter and an early spring -- nice for us, maybe not so nice for the fish, especially on the west coast. Or at least not the ones that like cold water. According to Ryan Rykaczewski, Nereus Program alumni and assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, and an expert on El Nino: 
"In the tropical Pacific, the trade winds typically blow along the equator from the east to the west, from Central America towards Asia. These winds stimulate the upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich waters along the west coasts of North and South America and along the equator in the eastern Pacific. In contrast, the waters of the western Pacific are typically warm. However, during El Niños, for reasons that are not well understood, the trade winds weaken or sometimes even reverse direction. That weakening of trade winds inhibits the upwelling of cold water, and waves of abnormally warm water slosh towards the coasts of North and South America. During the biggest El Niño, in 1997 and 98, the surface waters were about 2.5 degrees warmer than average in the eastern Pacific. Over such a large area, that’s a lot of abnormal heat."
The warm water loving fish, like tuna, swordfish, ono (wahoo) and mahi mahi, come closer to shore on the US west coast, making them easier to catch, while the cold water fish (think wild salmon and halibut) find it less thrilling - their food supply is damaged by the warm water, and they can be affected by algal blooms caused by the warming waters. The food fish love to eat, largely Peruvian anchovies, die off in El Nino conditions, affecting the viability of not only fish, but all kinds of sea mammals and birds as well. 
     So while we're enjoying a lovely warm spring, the salmon and halibut will be swimming further north, looking for colder waters. This could mean lower supplies and higher prices on the cold-loving fish, perhaps a break on the warm water guys. 
     As basically the last wild food that we eat, some of us (you know who you are...) need to get over the idea that all farmed fish is bad - if we want the resource to last, we need to have other viable sources for our seafood. In fact, the only organic fish available is raised - because we don't know what the wild fish have been eating, there's no way to say its organic. We trust our sources for our raised fish - we love wild fish too, but we want some of it left for our grandchildren! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Phishing scams - not fun

This week we received a phone call at the store from someone claiming to be from ComEd, and that they were shutting off our power in 45 minutes for non-payment of our bill. So the staff called me in a panic. Fish doesn't last very long with no refrigeration. I had paid the bill by direct deposit, but called the number they had provided to see what was up. Staff told me that the person who called initially had a strong Eastern European accent, but the men who answered the 888 number he had provided had Caribbean accents. There was a recorded message saying it was the ComEd "service cut off department," and if I knew my party's extension, to enter it at any time. It did sound somewhat legit.
     The person I spoke to said that they (ComEd) were changing meters and computer systems, and had no record of our payment. I told him that our bank clearly showed we'd paid and that they'd received it. I must have mentioned the amount, because he instructed me to "get cash" for that amount as they couldn't accept a check or credit card, and that I should go to a nearby Walgreens to make the payment, but that I should "call him back from the parking lot" for further instructions. I said I was not willing to walk around with that amount of cash, and that it sounded to me like some kind of scam. He said the only way to stop the shut-off was to get the cash and go to the Walgreens to buy a cash card. He assured me that any double payments would be credited back to our bank, and that they'd give us a 30% discount on our next 3 months of service for our "inconvenience." (That's one part of the scam I'm sorry isn't true.)
     I went along with him, and as soon as I hung up, I called ComEd, who confirmed that our bill was paid. They recorded all the information I had about the scammers to let their illegal activity investigators know. I let our staff know it was a scam, and instructed them to call 911 if anyone shows up. I also called the local Evanston police department, thinking that they would want to go to Walgreens and arrest the person who evidently would have shown up to take my "payment," but they just said that they don't handle scams. It's theft, so why not?
     The scammers did actually call the store again, threatening the shut off, and the clerk who answered the phone told him that we'd spoken to ComEd, and that if he still wanted to come over we'd be glad to discuss it with him. He told the clerk to "kiss my ass" and hung up.
     I don't know how they got information about our ComEd account, nor why they targeted us - but it was extremely unnerving. I'm sure that they're calling many people, probably focusing on the elderly, and scaring them into sending cash cards to some PO Box somewhere.  Hopefully not meeting them in parking lots.
     I went on line and reported the incident to the FTC - they have a form for you to fill out with all the details of what took place. We didn't give them any money, but I don't know what other information they have about us - they now have our home phone number as well as my cell number, which makes me want to get a new phone number.
     So the moral of my story - don't believe people who call to threaten you with something like this - what I should have done is call ComEd first, not the 888 number that they provided. It would have saved me a lot of aggravation. All the utilities have numbers you can call on your bill, or you can look it up on line. ComEd's billing department told me that 1) Shut off notices come in the mail long before anything happens, and 2) A live person will not call you, you get a robo-call asking you to call ComEd.
     This phishing story has a somewhat happy ending - we didn't give them any money, but they still know stuff about us - I wonder if they somehow hacked into the ComEd computer system. We have to be ever vigilant these days! Computers are a curse as well as a blessing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Getting the love on the table

Although Valentine's Day is a made-up holiday, it's one that can be a lot of fun. For us it's a very special day, because our daughter was born on Valentines Day. She wasn't due until March, but a very bad fall on the ice gave me a bruised tail bone and early labor, and provided her with a fun birthday. A heart cake every year...
     For Valentines Day dinner around our house (now that our special Valentine is married and living in New Hampshire) we usually have seafood, no surprise. We almost always have some oysters, so delicious and fresh tasting. I always think of that wonderful scene in the old film Tom Jones, where Albert Finney and one of his many conquests are slurping down oysters in one of filmdom's most sensuous food scenes. If you've never seen it, you can probably rent it from Netflix. Oysters have all sorts of trace minerals in them, and evidently some of them make you feel sexy. Not making this up, there have been scientific studies.
    Then for the main course, I like to do something simple, like a baked salmon dish or maybe a shrimp dish. Everything cooks quickly, so I don't have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen -- a nice green salad and some of chef Jaimie's garlic mashed potatoes round out the meal. This year I might just get some salmon papillotes or cozies - seems like cheating, but they're so good, and no kitchen mess to deal with.
     Once upon a time I would make crab legs or even whole lobster one year (reenacting the lobster scene from Annie Hall). Because we were often dealing with a birthday party on Valentine's Day for so many years, it became a real treat to have just us for Valentine's dinner.
     When you're cooking for your beloved, it's really nice to set the scene. Put candles on the table, dim the lights, get out the nice china. Some nice music in the background is relaxing for both the chef and the spouse/partner of choice.
     And the wine -- sparkling wine sets a celebratory mood, and it's wonderful with oysters, shrimp, smoked salmon, just about any seafood appetizer. With dinner, if I'm serving salmon, we like to pair it with a light red, a pinot noir or a French Cote de Rhone are great with salmon, tuna, any of the more flavorful fish. With shrimp, lobster or lighter fish, we prefer a fume blanc or unoaked chardonnay. Get out the good glasses - there's only two of you, so even if you use all good stuff, there won't be a lot of dirty dishes to do.
     Valentine's dessert over the years has tended to be something chocolate -- my sweet hubby even ordered some amazing chocolates from France a couple of years, that came in a little wooden box and were beyond delicious. Today we have great places to get wonderful chocolate right around home. I'm not really supposed to eat chocolate any more, a total bummer, so now we enjoy a Key Lime pie for dessert, delicious, not too heavy, and Jaimie makes them so none of the rest of us have to.
     At our house, the person who cooks never has to do the dishes, one of the very best arrangements I ever negotiated in our pre-nup. Our pre-nup did not involve money, only housework allocations. So after your lovely Valentine dinner, if one of you cooked it all, the other should do the dishes. If you cooked together, do the dishes together.
     Then if one of you really wants to watch Downton Abbey, which is almost over (ack!) you should watch together, cuddle on the couch, wrap yourselves in a blanket if it's cold. Because Valentine's Day is on Sunday this year, it's a perfect night to stay in - put the kids to bed early if you have little ones, and make it a special night, just for the two of you.
     One of the truly wonderful things about eating fish for dinner, because it's so easy to digest, when you go to bed you won't feel over-stuffed, much better for romance. A Hallmark holiday, perhaps, but one that you can turn you into a very creative romantic partner. Everybody likes to feel special occasionally.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mardi Gras, Lent & Super Bowl, reasons to serve fish!

We used to go to a Super Bowl Party every year, until the hosts retired to Arizona, leaving us all 4th and long. So for the past few years, if we feel like watching with anyone, we'd invite our neighbors over and serve some Burhop's seafood chili - our chef Jaime created this wonderful chili a few years ago,  and then our son decided to enter it in a big chili contest in Chicago. There were about 12 finalists, narrowed down from many entries. They had a panel of experts, of course, and then droves of people invited to come and eat chili. After tasting them all, the general public, having no idea that they were eating seafood chili, voted ours their favorite. The "experts" placed us second, but we were delighted to win the People's Choice Award, since that's who really counts! When people found out that the chili they were eating - and loving - was actually healthy, they were dumbfounded. Who knew that great chili doesn't have to clog your arteries!
     This year the Super Bowl falls on the same weekend as pre-Mardi Gras celebrations. For decades, a volunteer group I belonged to in Evanston had an annual Mardi Gras fund raiser, always a lot of fun. We had big pans of jambalaya and ettouffee, usually home made to save money. If you're not feeding a hundred, but you'd like to have a Mardi Gras party, you can get get jambalaya, gumbo, ettouffee, dirty rice, oysters, shrimp, crayfish and more from us in Hinsdale -- I'm of the opinion now that if I can get something really good that requires very little work, count me in.
     That said, during Lent (which is amazingly early this year - Feb. 10th), because of family tradition, we always eat fresh fish on Fridays. My dad was raised Catholic, and even though he changed churches, he never stopped his Friday fish habit. So I particularly love our prepared entrees, especially the salmon cozies and papillotes. They're so easy, and so delicious, it feels a bit like cheating. Our kids liked fish any day, which made cooking for them a breeze. One of their favorites during Lent - or any time - was Crumby Scrod.

Crumby Scrod (A Kid Favorite!)
Adults love this one as well -- so easy to do, and very tasty.
Preparation Time: 15 minutes                              Serves 4 
2 lbs. fresh scrod, cod, halibut, tilapia, whitefish or any flaky white fleshed fish fillet
3 Tbs. butter                                    
Salt & pepper to taste 
Soft bread crumbs                         
Juice of 1 lemon             

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Melt butter in a glass or ceramic oven-proof dish. Add lemon juice. Turn fish over in butter mixture to coat thoroughly. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Process two slices of soft bread in a blender to make bread crumbs. Sprinkle over fish fillets and spoon butter over crumbs and fish. Place fish in a pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes. (Cook fish 10 minutes per inch of thickness at the thickest part of fillet). Crumbs should turn light brown and slightly crispy. Reduce cooking time if fish is very thin. Serve with mashed potatoes and any green vegetable you can get your kids to eat! For mom & dad, a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc.  

If you have an easy recipe to share for Lent, we'd love to have you send it to us! I've changed the settings so now it's easy to reply to these posts.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Losing the Holiday Poundage

One of the holiday "gifts" most of us end up with is several extra pounds of cookies around our waistline. It's so hard to say no when someone passes a plate of sea salt dark chocolate caramels...
     So now it's January, and it would be nice to undo the damage. Here's what I do that works for me:

  1. Cut way, way back on the sweet stuff - just get it out of the house. Sugar is not your friend.
  2. Eat more lean protein - fish is the perfect answer. A 6 to 8 oz. serving of baked or grilled fish is easy to digest and makes you feel full without being over stuffed. 
  3. Have lots of vegetables with your fish - substitute carrots and roasted root vegetables for potatoes, though a baked potato with some plain yogurt instead of sour cream can be very satisfying without being overly fattening. Just don't soak it with butter.
  4. Top your fish with healthy, low fat sauces, like fresh salsas. It adds color and flavor without adding calories or fat. 
  5. At least once a week, have a "salad" dinner - a piece of poached salmon on a bed of mixed lettuce with some fresh fruit - slices of clementine and avocado are great on salads. Heap the lettuce on the plate - you feel like you've eaten a big meal, but you really haven't. I usually add a slice of fresh bakery bread or toast, not too evil. 
  6. Eat slower - it takes awhile for the message to get from your stomach to your brain that you've had enough - that's why those of us who eat too fast also generally eat too much. (I grew up in a home where we practically raced each other to empty our plates and leave the table). 
  7. Drink a large glass of water with your dinner. Drinking several glasses of water a day actually helps you eliminate fat from your system. I always forget this, but it really works.
  8. Shun the after-Christmas candy sales. Don't even look at it when you go shopping. 
  9. Go for a walk. I have a Fitbit, which helps me remember to get more exercise. I walk the dog at least once a day (my husband does 2 or 3 more dog walks a day), and I walk with a friend up at Northbrook Court in the winter - they open up really early for walkers to come and be in the warmth. Check with your nearest indoor mall. 
I've dropped 2 lb.s since New Years, hope to make it 10 before Valentine's Day, the next big calorie holiday. My dearly departed father, who depended wholly on my mother's cooking, switched to a candy bar diet when Mom went into a nursing home, and ended up with type 2 diabetes, which contributed to his demise. Repeat after me - sugar is not your friend. It's OK for an occasional treat, but it's addictive, bad for your teeth, bad for your health. 
     Fish, however, is great for your health!! Snack on carrots and apples, eat fish for dinner, take a walk, you'll feel better and look better. Now if I can only stick to my own advice....