As autumn draws near, we are already reminiscing about our favorite summer memories, and one in particular stands out from the rest.
We were invited to spend the last Sunday in August with our friends, Tom and Julie Shorma and their children, Maggie and T.J., at the home on Lake Lida they share with Julie's parents.
Tom had recently caught a 24-pound mahi-mahi while deep-sea fishing 60 miles off the coast of Virginia and was eager to share it with us.
In case you've forgotten, Tony-from-Toronto is a city boy to the core who doesn't share Gio's and my affection for the Minnesota lake scene. The forecast for that day was sunny and 95 degrees, and I wondered how Tony would fare as I suspected that Tom and Julie had a secondary motive for getting us to the lake. They are both avid water skiers who are passionate about helping others learn the sport, and I knew they weren't going to let Tony leave without at least giving it a try.
On the evening before our trip, I told Tony we'd been advised to bring our swimsuits.
"Oh, yeah, right," he replied "There's no way I'm going in the water."
I laughed, and told him that not only did I think he'd be going in the water, but I'd bet good money that Tom and Julie had plans for him to water ski. He shot me a dirty look as he begrudgingly packed his swimsuit.
We arrived at the cabin in early afternoon, and the sandy-bottomed lake was so calm it looked like a sheet of glass, perfect for waterskiing. Tom and Julie's speedboat is designed for waterskiing, and even has a boom extension off the driver's side to teach others the sport. Instead of trying to hold a rope behind the boat and having to endure one humiliating face-flop after another, new skiers can simply grab hold of the boom, while Julie calls out instructions to them from the driver's seat.
Up first was 7-year-old Maggie, who began learning to ski this summer. She paved the way for Giovanni, who was thrilled to be up on water skis. The kids made it look so easy, there was no way Tony could refuse to follow their lead.
As he anxiously donned his lifejacket, Tom remarked that this was the first time he'd ever seen Tony nervous. I followed that by saying this was the first time Gio and I had ever seen him in a lake. Tony responded by saying that he hoped he wouldn't be the one to break the Shorma's perfect-record for getting newbies up on skis. Talk about pressure.
But Tom and Julie truly are pros, and before we knew it, Tony was waterskiing, seemingly without effort. I took my turn and was relieved to find that after several years' hiatus, I could still get up on skis. And stay up.
After an afternoon snack complete with RumChata liqueur cocktails and a beautiful pontoon ride around the lake, it was time for the main event. Tom had prepared his mahi-mahi two ways: blackened Cajun-style, and crusted with macadamia nuts.
Both were excellent, but the macadamia mahi-mahi was our favorite. Made with coconut milk as the binding agent, Tom's fish was mild, sweet and perfectly cooked, with a lovely balance of textures between the crunch of the macadamia nut coating and the firm meat of the fish.
We enjoyed the mahi-mahi with Peggy's Fall Vegetable Casserole, a delicious medley of veggies roasted in beef bouillon and butter. This side dish had amazing flavor and even included rutabaga, another first for us.
The food was terrific, but they could have served us hot dogs and potato chips and we'd have left happy.
The hospitality and friendship extended to us by Tom, Julie and their family created a lake experience we will never forget, and may have even changed Tony's mind about "the lakes." I wonder how we'll return the favor.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com
Tom's Crusted Macadamia Nut Mahi-mahi
5 ounces (about 1¼ cups) coarsely ground roasted macadamia nuts
½ cup panko breadcrumbs (Japanese-style breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup butter, melted
Vegetable (or extra-virgin olive) oil, for brushing foil
4 (6 to 8 ounce) mahi-mahi fillets
Sea salt and freshly crushed black pepper
2 tablespoons coconut milk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together the nuts, panko, flour, sugar and butter. Set aside.
Place a piece of aluminum foil on a baking sheet and brush it liberally with vegetable or extra virgin olive oil. Place the mahi-mahi on the foil and sprinkle each fillet with sea salt and freshly crushed black pepper on both sides. Bake for five minutes.
Remove from the oven and liberally brush each fillet with the coconut milk. Divide the nut mixture among the tops of the four fillets, firmly patting the mixture to spread and adhere to the fillets. Return to the oven and bake for five to 10 minutes, until the crust is nicely golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Use a food processor to pulse the nuts until coarsely ground.
Mahi-mahi is also called dolphinfish, but is no relation to the mammals known as dolphins.
We'd brought some garden tomatoes with us, which were served at dinner and nicely complemented the meal.
Peggy's Fall Vegetable Casserole
Serves 6 to 8
1 rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
4 to 5 baby red potatoes, peels left on, cut into quarters
2 cups cabbage, roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into eighths
4 cubes beef bouillon, or 2 teaspoons granules
¼ to ½ cup water
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons (half-stick) of butter, cut into pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place all the vegetables in a nine-by-13-inches baking dish, arranging them in a colorful presentation. Place the pats of butter, bouillon cubes, and black pepper evenly around the dish.
Pour ¼ cup of water over the vegetables, reserving the other ¼ cup if needed. The vegetables will produce their own water, so you shouldn't need more than a half cup in total.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. To check for doneness, insert a fork into a couple different vegetables: if it slides through easily without breaking the vegetable, the dish is ready.
For even cooking, try to keep the vegetable pieces roughly the same size.
There is no salt used in this recipe, because the beef bouillon has its own salt content. Add salt only after serving, if desired.
Ovens vary, so start testing the vegetables after 75 minutes. Don't let the vegetables become so soft that they become mushy.