Laura Foley at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Store

I’ve known The McGinnis Sisters – Bonnie, Sharon and Noreen – for a long time, so I was so excited to get out to their Mars store yesterday to see them and to attend the first of their new Brunch and Learn Series. The  speaker was Laura Foley Ramsden, owner of the Foley Fish Company, who has 30 years’ experience in the seafood industry.

Laura Foley shares her knowledge at McGinnis Sisters in Mars

The lovely Laura showed the group how to prepare easy recipes using her seafood and answered lots of questions about proper cooking, sustainability and nutritional quality of our finned friends. Laura, of course, knows how to prepare fish and her recipes where easy and tasty. My seafood cooking skills need some work and today I really learned a lot about cooking fish and about seafood, in general.

Nothing fishy here. Just fresh seafood with a just caught flavor.

Here’s a summary:

1.  Laura suggested cooking fish to  medium rare to avoid changes in flavor and texture that are unappealing. Medium rare.  I hope my better half is reading this because he prefers his seafood overcooked. And it annoys me. (Can you tell?)

2.  The Foley Smoked Salmon was truly buttery and tender.  Laura told us that most smoked salmon is frozen, thawed, then smoked and frozen again, lending it to that tough, kind of stringy texture that’s so familiar to me and my fellow salmon addicts.

3.  Laura prepared a luscious Sauteed Geroges Bank Sole with Tomato Vinaigrette.  She reminded us that all varieties of  sole are actually flounders. News to me.  The sole we had today was  yellowtail flounder. (Hey, I once caught a pile of these in the Florida Keys. No really, it was a giant pile.)

3.  The Foley Fish Company doesn’t own a fishing fleet. It buys directly from the boats, so they can purchase the best of the best.  The company has no use for fish that are caught when the boat is first out at sea, those at the bottom of the boat and have been there for days.  The fish we ate today was so mild that I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t eat it. No fishy taste or smell at all in the sole or even the shrimp and crab.

4.  “What is scrod?”,  a guest asked.  Foley says  scrod means “little”, so it’s basically a classification of size.  Her company sells scrod cod, scrod pollock, scrod haddock  .   . . you get the idea.

5.  The best swordfish is caught in late August, September and October because the fish swim north from the Gulf (where they spawn) and eat all sort of yummy fishy things that add flavor to the flesh.   And the swordfish population is back, so it’s okay to eat it again!

6.  As the controversy over farmed vs wild salmon continues, Laura Foley tells us that 40% of wild salmon is actually started in a hatchery. And that  the way the farmed salmon is harvested and tested  is super important. Just because it’s farmed, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be consumed.  Investigate where your food comes from and how it is treated.

7.  And what about those little charts that tell us what areas are overfished? Foley said those charts don’t really tell the whole picture.  It depends on the species of fish and the specific geographic region.  Go to and click on The Limits of Fish Lists for more information.

Warm temperatures are not a friend to fresh, raw seafood. Just a reminder.

I think the key is finding a fishmonger that you trust.  Ask questions. Ask more questions. Know what you are eating.  And provide feedback to the store where you purchase your seafood.

For info about the next Brunch and Learn at McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores’  Mars location, go to




Phillip’s Seafood In Atlantic City

Any day spent with either of my daughters is a perfect day to me, but yesterday really was a winner. First of all, I was at the Jersey shore, where waking up to squawking seagulls and the sweet smell of syrupy pancakes from the breakfast place across the street  is part of my morning routine.  Heavenly.   And to make things even better, my Philly based offspring  agreed  to  drive down and join me for a cooking demo at Phillip’s Seafood in the glitzy  Pier Shops at Caesars in Atlantic City. Our family first ate at the  Phillip’s restaurant at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor many moons ago, and we’ve  enjoyed the chain ever since.   So when I read about cooking classes at their NJ outpost on a foodie blog called John and Lisa are Eating in South Jersey, I really wanted to go.  Three  classes were offered this spring.  I missed the first two, but luckily was in town for the third.   (The next series will begin in the fall.)

Executive Chef Paul Drew was our instructor and entertainer for over two hours.

Executive Chef Paul Drew

He showed the six students how to select,clean, filet, stuff and prepare fresh fish, something that always intimidates me a bit at home. Maybe because I live in Pittsburgh and the words “fresh” and “fish” don’t always go together??

Crabmeat Stuffed Flounder with Imperial Sauce

Wow, there sure was a lot of eating going on. After some dim sum appetizers, we then tasted Crabmeat Stuffed Flounder with Imperial Sauce, Tandoori Salmon,  Pan Roasted Red Snapper with Roasted Shallots, Garlic and Tomatoes and Grilled Barramundi with a Citrus Marinade and Grilled Asparagus.   Actually, tasted is the wrong word. Over-indulged is more like it. Each dish was about the size of an regular dinner entree.  The food kept coming and coming. And it was all delicious. After we cleaned our plates four times over, the grand finale was scoop of tropically sweet mango sorbet accompanied by fresh mango “chips.”

Mango Sorbet with Mango "Chips" minus a bite or two!

The perfect ending.   The class also included a wine pairing, with friendly General Manager Brian Fountain informing  us about the vino selections.  The whole event was orchestrated by the completely lovely and very accommodating Corporate Director of Marketing, Michelle Torres. As a bonus, we all went home with the most wonderful swag bag.  I’m keeping the contents a secret, but believe me, this was one super goodie bag.

The Phillip’s folks can arrange  cooking class “parties” for small groups, too.  What a great way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other special occasion.  If you’re in the area, pay them a visit, either for one of their classes or just for a great meal at one of the coolest locations in Atlantic City.