Fried Tilapia with Zucchini Ribbon Salad

alternate title: Happiness is a clean fridge

We went all out for dinner tonight, but just like all of my recent endeavors the prep and cooking time was less than 30 minutes. It only took that long because mom & I were both in the kitchen at first. Once I got her settled at the table, she was able to prepare the salad and I got started on the fish. Tonight was proof that we’ll do much better once I’m able to build her an island with a butcher’s block, and I’d really like to incorporate a griddle or a teppanyaki table.

The garage is practically sparkling. Mom’s new wheelchair ramp is in place, but we’ll have to rework the door before she can use it. Now the door opens out, thereby blocking travel down the ramp. I’d like the door to open in, but we may just switch the hinges to the other side and leave it at that. Depends how complicated things get.

I’m in über-clean mode, so tonight I tackled the fridge. I moved the shelves around, so now the milk, water, juice, and other tall items are on the bottom. That makes them more accessible for mom, and putting leftovers on the top shelf makes them more visible and less likely to slip into The Great Beyond. I’m pretty good about remembering and finding leftovers, but every once in a while something resurfaces. I found some baked beans tonight that have to be at least a month old. Kudos to me, though, because I neutralized them before they were able to organize a coup.

We may actually move the fridge out of the kitchen on Sunday. We’ve been talking about it for a long time, and we’re finally ready. I’ve got cardboard to line the steel rack shelves in our improvised pantry, so I’ll have to unload all of the shelves anyway. Perfect time to move the pantry, put the fridge in its place, and free up the kitchen for the mega-makeover. All that’s lacking is the cash flow, but that should be coming soon. I’ve even created workspace in the garage, so I can polish up my mad woodworking skillz.

Zucchini Ribbon Salad

1/2 cup diced tomatoes, seeds removed
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/3 cup diced green onions
1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette
1 tbsp basil herb paste
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
2 medium zucchini

When I first tried this at Publix, I thought the zucchini ribbons were some kind of pasta. Above is the Publix recipe, but for the herb paste we substituted 2 fresh basil leaves and about 4 tbsp fresh parsley. We also used feta cheese as a much cheaper alternative to gorgonzola. The flavor is similar, and I would prefer 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cheese. That’s just me. Because of the fresh herbs, our version was much better than the store’s preparation.

Combine all ingredients except zucchini in salad bowl. Cut zucchini into 3-4 inch sections. Cut thin lengthwise “ribbons” with potato peeler. (Peel until reaching core with seeds; discard inner portions.) Add zucchini to bowl, toss to coat, and chill until ready to serve.

Fried Tilapia

2 lbs tilapia filets
approx 2 cups fish fry breading
(1 cup AP flour, 1 cup cornmeal, 1.5 tsp mustard flour)
juice of 1 lime
hot sauce

I’m not a big fan of frying. It’s probably the last thing on my list of cooking preferences, but I love fried chicken and fish. This was surprisingly easy. Tilapia is a very firm fish, so handling it was no problem. We cooked 2 lbs, which equates to 8 filets. You’d think that’s a lot for three people, but we only had two left. The breading can be varied. This was the first time we’d used (or heard of) mustard flour. I found it at the Korean grocer here in Sanford, Young Kim’s Produce. It gave the fish a nice little zing. I would add as much as 3 tsp, but I had to keep things mild for mom’s sake. These filets came out crisp, moist, and a little tangy.

Frying is best accomplished with stations. First you’ve got your fish filets on a platter. Squeeze lime juice over the fish as you’re setting up. It’s a nice addition to the tilapia’s mild flavor. Next station is flour. You can add salt and pepper to the flour if you like, but I prefer to sprinkle salt and pepper over each filet before lightly and evenly coating it with flour. Third station is a milk bath or an egg wash. I added about 10 drops of Goya hot sauce, but I’d recommend about twice that. Dip both sides of the fish in the milk, hold up to drain, and then move on to station four - the fish fry breading. Coat both sides of the fish, gently shake to remove extra breading, and then gently lower the filet into your preheated pan.

I fried these in a shallow pan of canola oil over medium-high heat. I used just enough oil to cover a little more than half of the filet. Fry on each side for 3-4 minutes or until you see golden brown coloring on the lower edges, then flip and fry an additional 2-3 minutes on the other side. My pan is big enough to fry two filets at a time, but you want to be careful not to overcrowd the pan. That would drop the heat, increase the cooking time, and make the fish greasy. The last (but vital) step is to sprinkle a little kosher salt over both sides of each filet once you remove it from the grease. When frying anything, it’s best to salt while the food is fresh from the oil.