I think it’s safe to say that summer is finally making its way to Northern California. Last week’s wild winter storms are but a distant memory, the sun and warmer weather taking their rightful place just in the nick of time. After such a prolonged cold season, however, even the slightest warm up can seem a bit extreme. Such was the case this week when we finally got our first taste of 90+ degree heat.
At first the warmth felt absolutely delicious on my skin, and a wide grin spread across my face in the realization that winter was over at last. Then I came home from work. In the time it took to walk up the stairs and unlock my door, the sun had moved approximately 27 times closer to Earth and turned my little apartment into a 1-bedroom oven. It was stuffy & hot, and the poor cats stretched out on whatever cool spots they could find, their wide eyes narrowed into perturbed glares as if were my fault that heat rises.
That’s the only drawback to upstairs living: The EZ Bake Oven Effect.
There’s always a slight period of adjustment for this sort of thing, though. We haven’t seen temperatures like these in over 280 days (not that I’ve been counting), so they’re easy to forget. And since this is my first summer in the new apartment, I’m still working out my options for staying comfortable. Over the past week I’ve studied the effectiveness of my small, incredibly loud A/C unit, traded out the heater for the box fan, and experimented with different window coverings to keep the sun out during the day.
And I’ve stopped using my oven.
My dear, sweet oven that had been my whole-house heater for most of this year isn’t so dear or sweet right now. Which sucks, because I was enjoying getting more comfortable with the art of baking. But when it’s in the mid-90′s and all you have is one window A/C unit that’s more noisy than cooling, the oven can be a formidable foe.
This posed quite the dilemma earlier this week when I decided I must have crispy baked tilapia. I had a couple filets left and had prepared a killer strawberry salsa that I knew would be fantastic on top of the fish. When I realized I still hadn’t replenished my panko crumb supply, I figured I could always go the non-crispy baked route. But the idea of turning on my oven – even for just half an hour - seemed five ways wrong.
Not wanting to go the sauteed-in-butter or pan-fried route, I racked my brain for healthier cooking methods for my fish that didn’t involve the oven. And then it hit me: poaching! I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before, but poaching my tilapia was the perfect solution: it’s quick, extremely healthy, and wouldn’t heat up the air my dinky A/C was so desperately trying to cool.
Since I didn’t have wine (my go-to poaching liquid), I made my own little poaching concoction using vegetable broth, lemon juice and a few herbs. The results were phenomenal. I made sure not to overpoach (I didn’t just steal my mom’s Julia Child cookbooks for looks!), so the fish was tender & melt-in-your-mouth moist, without being mushy. It was further enhanced by my strawberry-pineapple salsa: a vibrant, colorful melange of ingredients that’s the perfect accompaniment to any firm, mild fish. Tilapia, mahi mahi and even salmon would taste fantastic with some of that salsa spooned on top.
If you have wine or fish stock on hand, or if you prefer to poach in olive oil (which I hear brings an interesting depth of flavor to the fish), feel free to use one of those as your poaching agent. But if you’re really strapped for cash and don’t even have broth in the house, don’t worry; you can still make a nice poaching liquid with water, salt, and a few dried herbs.
To further cut costs, get those berries (and cilantro!) at the farmer’s market, or take advantage of any sales your local grocery stores are holding right now. Most stores are pushing berries of all kinds during the first half of the summer, so you’re bound to find some awesome deals. Putting all these little tips to work will help you make your own healthy dinner for a tiny little price tag. Let’s check out the recipe!
Poached Tilapia with Strawberry-Pineapple Salsa (makes 2 servings; total cost per serving: $3)
For the fish
2-4 small tilapia filets
1 c vegetable broth
1/4 c lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 t dried thyme
1/4 t dried tarragon
Salt & pepper to taste
For the salsa
1 c chopped fresh strawberries
1/2 c chopped pineapple (frozen or canned is okay)
1/2 small red onion, chopped
2 T cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 c key lime juice
Salt & pepper to taste
1. Prepare the salsa by combining all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Toss everything together until completely combined. Cover and set aside.
2. In a deep pan or skillet, combine the broth, lemon juice and herbs, and bring to a simmer. Carefully place the fish in the liquid, making sure that the fish is completely covered by the liquid. Simmer gently until the fish is opaque and just begins to flake (about 5 minutes). Carefully remove the fish and set aside.
3. To serve, place 1 or 2 filets on a plate. Spoon a generous amount of salsa on top, serve with a nice salad and enjoy!