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Cooking with Myra: Childhood boating memories

By Victoria Advocate
Jan. 10, 2012 at midnight
Updated Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:10 p.m.

Ahi Tuna Steak with Black Pepper Crust and Pearl Couscous with Olives, Zucchini ribbons and Roasted Tomatoes

Ahi Tuna Steak with black pepper crust

This cut of tuna is best enjoyed medium rare and the spicy pepper crust is perfect for this fish.

11/2 tsp salt1 tsp ground coriander1/2 tsp paprika1/4 tsp cayenne pepper4 (6-oz) Ahi steaks, about 1 1/2-inches thick (ask for "sear" or "sushi" grade if cooking medium rare)4 Tbsp. fresh coarsely ground black pepper2 Tbsp. vegetable oil1 lemon, quarteredIn a small bowl, combine the salt, coriander, paprika and cayenne pepper. Lay the tuna steaks out on a plate, and sprinkle the spice mixture evenly on both sides. Then coat the tuna on both sides with the black pepper, and gently press it in so that it adheres to the surface, being careful not to smash the flesh.

Place a thick-bottomed frying pan, or cast iron skillet, on medium high heat, until very hot. Add the oil, and sear the tuna steaks for about 2 minutes per side, or until desired doneness is reached. Serve with fresh lemon.

Pearl Couscous with Olives, Zucchini ribbons and Roasted Tomatoes

For roasted tomatoes and dressing

2 pints red grape or cherry tomatoes (11/2pounds)3 large garlic cloves, left unpeeled1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil1/4 cup warm water1 tsp. fresh lemon juice1 tsp. salt1/4 tsp. black pepperFor couscous

2 3/4 cups chicken broth2 1/4 cups pearl (Israeli) couscous1 Tbsp. olive oil1/2 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and chopped1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley1/4 cup chopped fresh mint2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme 1 zuchini, sliced in ribbons

Roast tomatoes and make dressing: Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Halve tomatoes through stem ends and arrange, cut sides up, in one layer in a large shallow, 1-inch-deep baking pan. Add sliced zucchini and garlic to pan and roast in middle of oven until tomatoes are slightly shriveled around edges, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on a rack 30 minutes.

Peel garlic and puree with oil, water, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup roasted tomatoes in a blender until dressing is very smooth.

Make couscous: Bring broth to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan and stir in couscous, then simmer, uncovered, 6 minutes. Cover pan and remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes.

Spread couscous in one layer on a baking sheet and cool 15 minutes. Transfer couscous to a bowl and stir in remaining ingredients: dressing, roasted tomatoes, zuchini ribbons and salt and pepper to taste.

Do ahead: Roasted tomatoes, dressing, and couscous can be made one day ahead and kept separately, covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

I served the couscous with a side of rice papadum, which is found at India grocery stores in Houston. Papadum is best described as an Indian cracker and is served with chutney. The shape is beautiful once it is cooked.

Israeli couscous is a toasted pasta shaped like rice or little balls. Outside of Israel it is known as Israeli couscous or Jerusalem couscous. It resembles pearls and therefore is also known as pearl couscous.

Last Sunday, Taylor and I traveled to Houston to see our daughter, Hannah, her husband, Ben, and our son, Miles. Our plans were to get there early enough to attend their church and then go to lunch at a new taco restaurant, Torchey's.

There was a big boat show at the Reliant Center, and Taylor casually mentioned this as an afternoon possibility, much like a woman might say that she would like to drop by a mall to look at shoes. Taylor probably thought I would prefer a mall to a boat show.

We enjoy going to the coast on weekends. I like to look at the water from dry land because I tend to get seasick if I am in a boat. I told Taylor that we did not need a boat, that the best boat is one that your friend owns; that a boat is a hole in the water that you pour money into; and that the happiest two days in a boat owner's life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. He nodded as if he agreed with me on all these truths, but still said that he wouldn't mind going to the boat show to just look. We drove awhile longer before he replied that a lot of guys he knows seem to enjoy their boats.

I am no stranger to boats. Most children who grow up in Louisiana find themselves on boats at a young age. I grew up in a household of females, and we did the usual girl activities, but my dad loved to hunt and fish. Since there were no sons, my father often took me, the eldest daughter, with him on his hunting and fishing excursions.

Dad introduced me to flat-bottomed boats, which could navigate in shallow areas, pirogues, which are used in the bayous for duck hunting, and also the larger vessels that could handle larger waves in open water.

The latter became my favorite boat since I was allowed to take my friends and go skiing on Lake Charles, which is the large lake that borders my hometown with the same name.

If my dad was not using the boat for shrimping or fishing in the Gulf, I was allowed to fill it with teenagers. I am still wondering if that was a wise parenting decision. The only two rules were to never let anyone drive the boat but me, and second, to be able to put it in and out of the water without help.

I can recall many evenings of family picnics on the boat. Occasionally, during the summer months, when the days were longer, we would head for the lake after my dad came home from work.

My mom would pack drinks, and my dad would pick up a bucket of fried chicken on his way home, and we would eat supper on the boat. Most of the time, we cruised down bayous or watched the sun set before going home.

My parents were very safety conscious, and if we were in the boat, we had to wear a life jacket. In those days, these were bright orange canvas and were secured by a strap between the legs and around the waist and then securely tied around the back side of the neck. These were not too comfortable. My parents each got to wear a ski belt which was a soft, thick tube of foam and secured around the waist. I guess they thought we might accidentally fall over while eating our chicken.

My sisters and I all learned to ski during those years of elementary school and junior high. My parents patiently taught each of us to get up on two skis and then drop one off and slalom, which means to ski on one ski. My mom was the "in the water" teacher who bobbed up and down until we would fall trying to get up, and then she would swim over to us and encourage us to try again.

Later, when we were in high school, my dad bought us a used Hobie Cat sailboat. This limited our passenger-friend count to one, and so he probably felt like he was reducing the liability of a ski boat full of kids.

Once, I let my friend steer the sailboat, and she crashed us into some pilings under a bridge, which overturned the boat and caused some minor mast damage. I had to confess this violation of the No. 1 rule, "no one can drive the boat but you," which also applied to the sailboat. My dad was only slightly upset, but it was probably because I went into great detail about how we had to swim to shore since we could not upright the boat. This probably made him feel like I could have died and therefore outweighed the "I trashed the boat" reality.

We arrived at the boat show and entered a gigantic room filled with hundreds of boats and boat parts. I haven't operated a boat in more than 30 years, so I know very little about them.

Vendors lined the walkways yelling out things like, "How much does your boat weigh?" to passersby. That particular guy was selling a lifting system for a boat house.

Other vendors sold lures, fishing poles of every kind, sunglasses, shirts and anything you can imagine you might think you need for a day on the water.

I believe I was on sensory overload after about one hour. We were attending the boat show to learn about the different kinds of boats, and that is exactly the education we received. I had no idea there were so many different kinds of boats.

I am still not sure about the whole idea of having a boat. I love to eat fish, but I'm not sure that I would want to go catch them, especially offshore where the waves are large.

My dad knows a lot about boats, and he advised me that buying a boat would not be a good financial decision, but then added that he looked forward to fishing the next time he came for a visit.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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