Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grilled Whole Trout

Grilling whole fish is so easy. In fact, I think it's even easier than grilling fillets, because getting great results takes so little effort. With protective skin on both sides for sealing in flavor and a handy center pocket for holding in herbs and seasonings, whole fillets make your job really simple.

The ones in the pictures, both raw and in fully grilled glory, are trout. If you buy them already cleaned (meaning guts and most of the bones removed) like we did, all you have to do is open each fish like a book and sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. We also stuffed them with lemons and parsley for a bit more flavor...and because it looks awfully fancy and delicious.

That's our new favorite fish recipe in a nutshell. You'll want to lightly rub the outside of the fish with oil so it doesn't stick to your grill. Then cook them for about 4 to 5 minutes per side over hot coals. This would definitely be pretty enough to serve to friends, AND you can have the fish prepped and seasoned in advance.

Do you ever grill whole fish? I liked the thin, quick-cooking trout, but what other types are good whole on the grill? Tell me what your favorite is and how you season it in the comments.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Cajun Cod with Veggies and Grits

As noted in the last post, Mike and I cooked one meal from scratch in our temporary apartment with virtually no equipment: shrimp n' grits. I knew I'd want to use the grits for future meals, and last night I did the slightest variation on that yummy dish.

You'll be happy to hear that I only made two trips to Whole Foods this week! And the second was mostly to pick up wine, rather than my next meal. After spending $8 on a 4.5-oz. Sockeye salmon fillet at WF on Monday (at least it was tasty--and wild salmon ain't cheap!), I knew I had to stop being lazy and roast my own darn fish. As Cheryl suggested in her comment, I could easily pull off the salmon with chipotle-honey glaze posted right on this here blog.

However, in my quest to do as little as possible with the fewest number of ingredients, I came up with an even simpler solution thanks to my local Dominick's supermarket. Whenever you pick up fresh fish or meat, the lovely staff will either provide a single-use container of marinade or coat your purchase in the seasoning blend of your choice. I went with the Cajun dry rub, and all that remained to be done was pop my fish in the oven (the oven is outfitted with a two-part broiler pan--score!).

I didn't do cheesy grits this time. Although I think shrimp works fine with some cheeses, I tend to shy away from the seafood-dairy combo. I topped it all with sauteed cherry tomatoes, zucchini and garlic. I have to admit, it was better than WF takeout.

So for the next two weeks, I'll try to mix up my grab n' go tendency with some simple home cooking. And I'll try to think of other things to make so I don't have to keep showing you pictures of quick grits (remember, nothing looks all that fabulous photographed on glass plates).

I'm also determined to get to one Chicago's amazing farmer's markets this weekend, but I'm a little worried: seeing things I love that I won't be able to cook the way I'd want to is going to drive me nuts. Yes, I know you don't have to do a lot when you have wonderful fresh ingredients, but don't try to tell me that squash blossoms are just as delectable sauteed in olive oil (make that Pam; I don't have olive oil) as they are stuffed with ricotta and fried. I'm thinking the farmer's market will be a test of my mettle...thank god I can gorge myself on fresh fruit as consolation.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Cod with Lemon-Caper Sauce

I have a perfect "dinner for 1" for you. While just as excellent for 2, this is one of those recipes that requires some bona fide "cooking" action, yet is so effortless that preparing it for your solitary self doesn't feel taxing.

I'll admit that sometimes when I'm alone I just cannot be asked to do real cooking. Leftovers are a godsend, assembling a meal is fine (think soft tacos with leftover chicken), but the prospect of cooking a new dish from scratch can feel vaguely depressing. It's just like, if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If I plan, shop and cook something wonderful, but I'm the only there to taste it, is it worth the bother? Is it rewarding? Is it pleasurable? You're probably thinking that this is all a rhetorical exercise, and I'm about to tell you, of course it's worth it. Of course it's meaningful to nourish oneself. More meaningful than nourishing others even.

But I don't know. Don't get me wrong. You do deserve a nice dinner. A meal for one can be utterly enjoyable, both at home or in a restaurant. Cooking is fun, whether it's just for you or a hoard of guests. Still. Still, there's something that's so much better about setting a plate in front of someone, seeing their enjoyment and feeling your own at the same time. When there's a great experience to be had or a great meal to be eaten, you want to talk about it, share it.

Sometimes I need to force myself to really cook when I'm alone, but I do it, and I'm never sorry. It's nice to have a few recipes in your back pocket that make it easier to get yourself going. This is definitely one of mine.

Cod with Lemon-Caper Sauce
Serves 1 (double for 2)

1 tsp olive oil
1 to 2 tsp unsalted butter
1/2 pound cod, sole or flounder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp capers, rinsed
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil and butter in a skillet on medium-low to medium heat. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned on both sides and opaque throughout, turning once. Remove fish from skillet and reduce heat to low. Add the lemon juice, capers and half the parsley. Simmer 1 minute or until slightly thickened. Pour over the fish, sprinkle with remaining parsley. Serve with steamed vegetables and bread or grains.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Easy Thai Lemongrass Soup (Tom Yum Goong)

Apparently, we're on a soup kick here at A Mingling of Tastes, but don't try to tell me that's a bad thing! This is my simple, anytime take on those spicy, aromatic Thai broths that can seem unattainable to American cooks. You don't need to track down any exotic ingredients or drive around town looking for Kaffir lime leaves. Of course it wouldn't hurt if you did that, but I can't be asked.

Since this is a version of Tom Yum Goong, the big flavor is lemongrass. You can find it in most supermarkets these days near the fresh herbs. You don't have to bother with peeling away the rough outer layers or identifying and chopping the inner core. All you have to do is throw it in a pot with some chicken broth, ginger and chiles and simmer for about 20 minutes to create your soup base. Add shrimp and any other additions you like, and you have a tasty first course or a healthy main dish.

Thai Lemongrass Soup with Shrimp (Tom Yum Goong)
Most similar recipes don't call for ginger, but I love it here. If you have access to fresh Thai chiles, use them in place of serranos. For less heat, just cut the seeded chiles in half and remove them from the broth before serving. A spoonful of Thai or Korean chile paste or fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves (remove before serving) are also nice additions. If you don't have canned straw mushrooms, use any fresh mushrooms and simmer until tender. Canned bamboo shoots may also be added along with the shrimp and mushrooms. Serve with rice, if desired.

Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main dish

1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 to 3 lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths
2 serrano chiles seeded and chopped (see head note)
1 Tbs. Thai or Korean roasted chile paste (optional)
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 cup drained canned straw mushrooms (any fresh mushrooms may be substituted)
Juice of half a lime
Chopped fresh cilantro for serving

Finely chop half of the ginger. To a large pot, add the chopped ginger, the remaining chunk of ginger, the chicken broth, lemongrass and chiles. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add the chile paste if using, the shrimp and the mushrooms to the pot. Simmer until shrimp are firm and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lime juice. Discard the large pieces of lemongrass, ginger and chiles (if you opted not to chop them). Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with cilantro.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Slow-Simmered Calamari with Spaghetti & Spinach

I'm so excited about this recipe because it's the perfect example of how you can build layers of flavor with the simplest ingredients and good technique. And, it's incredibly good!

I can't take the credit for this one; it's from Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes, a new cookbook by Tessa Kiros. The book is gorgeous with tons of photos, and chapters are devoted to dishes from the places that played a role the author's life and family history: Finland, Cyprus, Greece and Italy.

Though it's a different style of organization, I quickly began to appreciate the eclecticism. One of the first things I noticed was the variety of interesting lamb dishes. Considering the regions covered in the book, naturally there are a lot of seafood dishes and Mediterranean flavors as well. This book is also Gourmet magazine's Cookbook Club book of the month for May, so I'm not the only one impressed with Kiros' work! You can see more recipes from the book on the Gourmet website if you register.

I chose this particular recipe because I almost never cook squid. Why, I don't know--it's cheap and easy to find. I do know that you should either cook squid very fast (like over a hot grill or deep fried) or very slow to avoid a rubbery texture. This recipe employs the slow method, and it made me a squid enthusiast.

Simmering the squid along with garlic, chile flakes, parsley, white wine, tomatoes and fish stock in a covered skillet on low heat for an hour creates a supple, tender texture that remains firm, rather than mushy. But not only does time do wonderful things to the squid, it creates deeply a flavorful sauce with a slightly red tint from the tomatoes that melt away in the cooking. My advice is not to omit any of the ingredients--the wine is mandatory unless you have a health-related excuse--and fresh Italian parsley is also a must. Buy a good imported brand of dried spaghetti and make sure it's cooked al dente. With just a few simple ingredients, each one must contribute maximum deliciousness!

Do you cook squid at home? If so, how? If you have a blog, leave a link to your fave squid recipe in the comments or drop me an email.

Slow-Simmered Calamari with Spaghetti
Adapted from Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros
I used Kitchen Basics brand fish stock, which is widely available and lower in sodium than many brands. If you can't find fish stock, use water.

Serves 4

1 lb. calamari (squid)
3 Tbs. olive oil
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. dried chile flakes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley, plus additional for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc, Muscadet, Pinot Grigio)
2 whole canned tomatoes, chopped
1 cup fish stock or broth, plus 1 additional cup (optional; see below)
4 cups firmly packed spinach leaves, chopped
Coarse salt
12 oz. spaghetti

Cut the squid bodies into 1/2-inch wide rings and leave the tentacles intact. Pat dry with paper towel. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chile flakes and two-thirds of the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the squid and parsley and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring often. Season with black pepper.

Add the wine and simmer until nearly absorbed. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 1 minute. Add about 1/3 cup of the fish stock, wait until it has reduced a bit and add another 1/3 cup and let it reduce. Add yet another 1/3 cup, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Check the squid frequently and add water and/or stock to the skillet so there is always a layer of simmering liquid. To keep the sauce from getting too salty, alternate between adding water and stock. If it tastes salty, just add water. When squid is done, you want a thin layer of liquid in the skillet.

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in another skillet on medium-low heat. Add remaining garlic, cook for 1 minute and add the spinach. Cook until tender and season with pepper. Add to the squid during the final 5 minutes of cooking.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Reserve a cup of the cooking water, drain and add pasta to the skillet with the squid. Toss well and add a bit of the pasta cooking water if it is too dry. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately. Garnish with additional parsley.

Review copy of Falling Cloudberries generously provided by the publisher.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Teriyaki Striped Bass with Bok Choy

Don't you love my artfully drizzled teriyaki sauce around the plate??? I'll work on my food styling next time! The other components of this recipe, however, are definitely worthy of your culinary consideration.

They come straight out of the a new cookbook I've been enjoying--Golden Door Cooks at Home: Favorite recipes from the celebrated spa. I have a review copy, so the many photos are black and white, but I don't really need pictures to be excited about these recipes--they sound totally delicious. I interviewed the Golden Door's executive chef, Dean Rucker, a while back for an article, and he was genuinely enthusiastic about sensible, healthy eating where moderation is key. There aren't too many spa tricks in his book (no fake butter or 101 ideas for tofu), just fresh, unprocessed ingredients to create meals that would appeal to anyone.

It's a very comprehensive cookbook from basics to appetizers to meat and fish, as well as chapters full of yummy and thoughtful breakfasts and desserts. There are even some yeast bread recipes. I hate it when cookbooks depict recipes on some kind of gorgeous artisan bread that you know you'll never be able to find! Not the case here.

This happens to be the only "spa food" cookbook I own. If you're discouraged by the idea of spa food, this book might change your mind. I'd equate it more to a gourmet healthy cookbook. The serving sizes are smaller than is typical (4 ounces of fish instead of 6, for example), but the meals don't feel spartan or at all diet-like.

I really want to make the Golden Door's ketchup with juniper berries (even though Mike would think it utterly pointless to make something you can purchase so easily and cheaply). A couple more I bookmarked to try are "Crispy potato cakes with chive scrambled eggs and smoked salmon," and "Parmesan chicken schnitzel with warm potato and garden bean salad and creamy mustard sauce." A lot of long recipe titles in this book...

I think the authors really made an effort make it accessible to home cooks, although a few of the main dishes have multiple components, which may be a lot of work to pull off. That was the case in the teriyaki recipe (it included little sauteed rice cakes make with sushi rice), so I streamlined it and served the fish and bok choy with simple steamed brown rice instead. If you've never made bok choy, it's easy (just blanche and sear) and delicious with the teriyaki glaze.

Now, would it be totally ridiculous to go on a spa vacation just to eat the food?

Teriyaki Striped Bass with Bok Choy
Adapted from Golden Door Cooks at Home by Dean Rucker with Marah Stets
The original recipe called for black cod, which was unavailable. Look for firm white fish fillets or steaks, about 1-inch thick. To serve 2, I used one large striped bass steak, which has a nice amount of fat and meaty, soft flesh. Rucker also suggests Alaskan cod, true cod, or sablefish.

Serves 2

3 baby bok choy, halved lengthwise

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup mirin
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
2 (6-ounce) skinless striped bass or black cod fillets or one large bass steak
Cooking spray
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup sliced scallions, for garnish
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Blanche the bok choy: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the bok choy to the boiling water, wait for water to return to boiling and cook 1 minute (bok choy shouldn't be in water more than about 2 minutes total). Transfer to ice water to stop the cooking, 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to paper towels to dry.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To make the teriyaki sauce, combine the soy, orange juice, mirin and ginger in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until reduced by half. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water; stir in the simmering teriyaki, cook for 30 seconds more and remove from heat.

Season the fish with a very small amount of salt (remember the teriyaki sauce is salty; you can always add more later) and black pepper. Heat an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add the fish flesh side down (opposite where the skin was) and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Turn the fish, remove from heat and drizzle one half of the teriyaki over the top, swirling the pan to thoroughly coat the fish. Transfer to the oven and cook until the fish is just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

To finish the bok choy, heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat with cooking spray. Add the bok choy, cut side down and cook until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and brown opposite side, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to plates, season with a small amount of salt and black pepper and drizzle with remaining teriyaki. Serve with striped bass and sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds if using.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Glazed Mahi Mahi and Barley with Soy-Sherry Shiitakes

This fantastic dish was our Valentines' Day dinner, but it wasn't supposed to be. We planned on steak with a sultry red beet risotto (recipe on the way), but there was a last minute change of plans.

When Mike and I first moved to Florida almost 5 years ago (I can't believe it's been that long!), we decided to take up scuba diving because, well, we could. What's the point of living down here if you don't take advantage of the tropical water temps and year round summer, right?

We've dived near Fort Lauderdale many times now and prefer to dive when we're on vacation in some appropriate locale (Vietnam was especially amazing). But, if we're not doing any traveling, we'll dive close to home every 6 months or so to maintain our skills.

So, due to the warm weather we had last week, we booked a dive trip for Valentine's morning. Although we know this, it's always a shock how much diving just sucks the wind out of you! We got home by 12:30 and all we wanted to do was shower, eat a late breakfast and take a nap. Even after all that, I still felt fairly exhausted and didn't have much of an appetite. So, we nixed the plan for steak and nice red wine and had this lighter fish dish and a little sake instead. Also, being out on the ocean just gives me a taste for seafood--sorry, you lovers of marine life.

This is something I put together on the fly, and I was really pleased with how well it turned out. The Asian glaze is super-simple, and if you need a grain side dish for any reason, this barley is fantastic. The mushrooms soak up splashes of Sherry and soy sauce like little sponges and become infused with flavor. I hope your Valentine's Day was as happy as mine! Now tell me, what did you cook?

Glazed Mahi Mahi and Barley with Soy-Sherry Shiitakes
This is a really nice recipe for two, but you can double it to serve four. When I cook with Asian ingredients like soy sauce and oyster sauce, which are often high in sodium, I use little or no salt. You can always add more at the end. Really great sea salt is excellent as a finishing salt because you'll be better able to enjoy the flavor and texture. If you don't have mahi mahi, try another mild fish, like cod or tilapia.

Serves 2

For fish:
2 (6 to 8 ounce) fillets mahi mahi, skin on, about 1-inch thick
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. oyster sauce
1/2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 Tbs. fish sauce
1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil

For barley:
1 Tbs. canola oil
6 scallions, thinly sliced (divided use)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/3 cup mushroom or chicken broth
2/3 cup quick-cooking barley
3 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
6 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 Tbs. dry Sherry

Coarse sea salt, for serving

To make the fish, preheat oven to 400 degrees and coat a small baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and add the mahi mahi; season with black pepper to taste. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and drizzle over fish. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through (recommended internal temp 145 F).

To make the barley, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add half the scallions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Raise heat to high, add the broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in the barley, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes, or according to package directions. Remove from heat and keep covered 5 to 10 minutes.

While barley cooks, heat butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are just tender (if mushrooms are getting browned, reduce heat). Add Sherry and cook until mushrooms soak up all the liquid. Add remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and cook until absored. Season with black pepper and remove from heat.

To serve, stir mushrooms into the barley. Divide barley among two plates and top with fish fillets (remove skin before plating if you like). Garnish with remaining scallions. Offer sea salt at the table in case additional seasoning is desired.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Malaysian Market Noodles

Sometimes when I'm in the mood to cook Asian food, I'm really in the mood for noodles. Maybe udon with mushrooms and oyster sauce, a spicy aromatic soup or pad thai. I flip past recipes of baked fish, chopped salads and rice dishes going through the motions. But the whole time I know the only thing that will be truly satisfying is a noodle dish.

This was the situation last weekend, when we decided we hadn't cooked Asian in a while. Mike wanted to do the cooking, and along with Mexican, Asian food has really turned out to be his forté. We wanted to venture beyond pad thai (and I was in the mood for something with more heat), so we settled on this. It's the same idea as pad thai, but more heat than that sweet and sour flavor that characterizes pad thai.

According to Christina Arokiasamy, it's the type of lightning-quick noodle stir fry you would typically find at markets (or maybe food courts) in Kuala Lumpur where she grew up. We adapted her recipe in The Spice Merchant's Daughter, with our own twists like a few handfuls of spinach and a bit of molasses instead of sweet soy sauce, which we couldn't find (Arokiasamy suggested that they have a similar flavor). To make it a substantial meal, we added fresh chorizo in lieu of the Chinese sausage, which is often included in this type of dish.

The result was addictively delicious. I like this dish easily as much as pad thai--and that's saying something! Adding the extra veggies was nice, and I don't think chorizo has ever spoiled a dish. Just get all your ingredients ready first; the cooking is quick. Of course, you can add as much or as little heat as you want. We didn't have any hot fresh chiles, but crushed red pepper did the job nicely.

Malaysian Market Noodles (char kway teow)
Adapted from The Spice Merchant's Daughter by Christina Arokiasamy

Rice noodles are often cooked by soaking in hot water, but I prefer boiling them in salted water just like spaghetti. Cooking time depends on the noodles you're using, but it usually takes about 5 minutes. Taste and cook until al dente.

Serves 3 to 4

8 oz. rice noodles (sometimes called pad thai noodles)
2 fresh chorizo sausages, sliced
1 Tbs. canola oil
2 large shallots, sliced
8 oz. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbs. molasses
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup bean sprouts
2 cups spinach leaves
chopped fresh chives for garnish

Cook rice noodles according to package directions or boil until al dente. Drain, rinse and set aside. Cook chorizo in a large skillet on medium heat. Transfer to a paper towel to drain and leave about 1 tablespoon of fat in the skillet. Add the canola oil and shallots; Cook until soft. Add the shrimp and garlic and cook until shrimp is opaque; season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium low.

Whisk together the soy sauce, molasses and crushed red pepper. Add the noodles and soy mixture and toss well. Add the eggs and toss vigorously with noodles until eggs are cooked, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the beans sprouts and spinach and toss well. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately, garnished with chives.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia

What a week. I've been wanting to post this recipe for days now, but I needed a weekend to finally get to it. I try not to work on weekends unless I absolutely have to. I will, however, do "fun work." I'll develop recipes because my husband is around to taste them (and we do have to eat). Sometimes I catch up on tedious work chores like making invoices and scanning contracts (This does not qualify as fun work--I loathe scanning). And I'll also blog, which happily does fall into the category of fun work.

Naturally, it's fun to tell people about a great recipe. When something is easy, healthy and really good, I can't ask for much more. I've recently come around to the idea of "crusting" things, although the word has kind of an unappealing ring to it. What else would you call it? It's not "breaded," and "coated" isn't evocative enough. "Crusting" on the other hand is rather descriptive and can apply to nuts, seeds, spices, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, anything.

I'd done some nut crusting in recent months, but I hadn't tried anything with cornmeal, an ingredient I always have and love to use in baking. I wanted to do something different with tilapia, as well. It's an inexpensive, readily available and agreeable fish, but it can be disappointing if you don't watch how you cook it. Crusting it in cornmeal and roasting it (and quickly running it under the broiler to get that nice deep browning on the crust) resulted in very moist fish with a crisp, sort-of-like-fried exterior. I know it all sounds basic, but I really like this preparation.

The topping is canned artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes quickly sauteed with some garlic and Limoncello. I really liked using the liqueur here, but since you're probably more likely to have white wine on hand, I wouldn't hesitate to make that substitution. Lastly, don't be intimidated by the crusting process. Yes, you have to get 3 plates/bowls dirty, but it's quick, easy and delivers a very tasty payoff.

Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia with Lemon Artichoke Topping
As always, use stone ground, whole grain cornmeal. Medium grind provides a nice crunch, but a fine grind would probably be good in its own way. I would imagine that coarse grind would be a little hard on your teeth, but it's up to you. Other veggie toppings would be nice here, by the way--I considered grape tomatoes sauteed with garlic and scallions too.

Serves 2, but you can easily scale up as needed. The amounts of flour, egg and cornmeal you need for crusting are not precise.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
1/3 cup medium stone ground cornmeal
2 tilapia fillets
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 artichoke hearts (from a 15-oz. can), drained and quartered
1/4 cup Limoncello or white wine
6 to 8 sun-dried tomatoes, patted dry and sliced
1 to 2 Tbs. lemon juice
Fresh chives or parsley for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 and coat a foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray. Put the flour in a wide, shallow bowl, season liberally with salt and pepper and mix well. Beat egg in another bowl and put cornmeal in a third bowl. Dip a fish fillet in flour and shake off excess. Dip quickly in egg, then in cormeal, turning fillet to coat well; place on baking sheet. Repeat with remaining fish. Bake 10 minutes or until nearly cooked through. Switch on broiler and cook until top crust of fillets is lightly browned and crisp in spots, and fish is cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until it begins to color. Add artichokes and stir gently to heat. Add Limoncello and simmer until reduced by about three-quarters. Add sun-dried tomatoes and heat through. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Remove from heat and toss with lemon juice to taste. Serve over fish. Garnish with fresh chives or parsley if desired.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Quick and Easy: Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

I’m back from a long, fun weekend in New York City. We did tons of walking, including across the Brooklyn Bridge on a gorgeous sunny afternoon (needed to burn off those dim sum calories!). We also saw a well done exhibit at the Whitney museum on Alexander Calder, which I’d highly recommend.

I won’t bore you with more details, except for my three favorite food things on the trip:
1) duck prosciutto, and espresso-flavored Amber beer at Vintage Irving (plus a fantastic firm goat cheese). Sorry, that was 3 already.
2) Lamb with pita-yogurt sauce at Limon, the best Turkish restaurant ever (that it’s tiny, quiet and BYOB makes it even better).
3) Bacon-Caramel Pumpkin cupcake at Batch (and the lemon-yuzu was great too).
Oops, make that 4: fried baby artichokes at Morandi. No batter, no breadcrumbs, just lemon juice.

Now, it’s time to cook a few healthy meals after all that eating out, and gear up for Thanksgiving. This recipe accomplishes the first goal. It's so easy. Considering how tasty it is, the easiness defies logic. I was craving that fishy, salty je ne sais quoi flavor you get when you mash a few canned anchovies into your garlic when starting a sauce—the way you do for spaghetti Puttanesca. You’d never know it was anchovies, but the depth of flavor is wonderful.

Anyway, I didn’t want Puttanesca; I wanted something simpler. Then I though of just adding good, olive-oil packed tuna to prepared tomato sauce. I got exactly what I was hoping for. I enhanced the plain sauce with sautéed garlic, and added my tuna. It was the perfect amount of sauce to thoroughly coat the spaghetti without making a pool of watery red. Fresh flat-leaf parsley is mandatory for some herbal freshness, and that’s it.

You could eat the pasta just like that, but I latched onto the seafood theme and put fat, seared scallops on top. I love cooking scallops now that I know the secret to a good, golden sear: completely dry scallops (drain them, use a paper towel, do whatever it takes!) and plenty of oil in the pan. Unfortunately, you can't get a great look at the sear in that photo--Mike went crazy with the cheese! Restaurants probably use ample butter and/or oil to get that beautiful caramelization, but you really only need a couple tablespoons of fat unless you pan is enormous.

Now, I’m trying to decide what kind of Thanksgiving side dishes I want to try this weekend. Are you breaking with hallowed tradition and trying a new recipe this year? Is there something new that intrigues you? Let me know, and I’ll see if I can possibly work it in. I haven’t cracked open most of the November issues of all the food magazines, so I’m in for some fun research!

Spaghetti with Tuna-Tomato Sauce and Seared Scallops

The tuna makes this pasta a viable meal on its own, but it is also a really nice base for scallops, shrimp or steamed mussels. If the sea scallops at the market are really huge, you only need 3 per person; otherwise buy the greater amount. I can’t stress enough the two keys to golden, caramelized scallops: making sure they are completely dry and using enough fat in the pan. The sauce takes about 2 minutes to put together after you drain the pasta, so finish the scallops just before it’s time to drain the spaghetti. You can cover them with foil to keep warm, if you like.

Serves 4

For spaghetti:
3/4 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1-8oz. can tomato sauce
1-5oz. can tuna in olive oil, gently drained
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For scallops:
2 Tbs. olive oil
12 to 16 fresh sea scallops, thoroughly patted dry with paper towels
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside. Reduce heat to low and add the oil to the same pot you cooked the spaghetti in. Add the garlic and cook until golden, stirring constantly. Add the tomato sauce and flake the tuna into the pot. Add the hot spaghetti and stir until nicely coated with sauce. Remove from heat and season with pepper. Serve with a handful of parsley and grated cheese.

While pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large, heavy (to maintain even heat) skillet on medium-high. Season one side of scallops with salt and pepper and place in skillet, seasoned side down. Sprinkle more salt and pepper over the unseasoned side and cook without moving the scallops until deep golden brown. Turn, and cook opposite sides until color is deep golden brown and scallops are just barely cooked through. They can be slightly pinkish in the center, but over cooking makes them rubbery. You can slice one to check until you get the hang of it. Serve over spaghetti.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tilapia with Orange, Almond and Olive Gremolata

As a consultant, Mike travels every week to a client site. He leaves painfully early Monday morning and comes home on Thursday night. Sometimes, he has a two-leg flight and doesn’t get back until 11:30 or midnight. Some lucky weeks, he gets back around 7:45, so I get to plan a nice dinner!

When he’s away, Mike either eats out with colleagues, trying to stick to semi-healthy menu items or gets room service, which is usually a club sandwich. By the end of the week, he’s craving healthy, homemade food. That’s fine with me, and that’s what I would be cooking anyway.

As I’ve mentioned, I have been on a soup kick lately, but last week I wanted something different. I had seen this recipe in Wednesday’s New York Times food section, and writer, Melissa Clark, couldn’t sing its praises (or its compatability with Campari) enough. After reading over 600 words on her enhanced interpretation of gremolata—the Italian condiment of garlic, parsley and lemon zest, often used to finish Osso Bucco—enhanced with juicy orange, good olives and roasted almonds, I was ready to give it a try.

I tend to cook fish fillets simply. Salmon, with its stripes of healthy fat, hardly needs more than salt and pepper when roasted. So, it was nice to do something that looked a bit more special, yet was as easy as a fish dish should be. All you do is mash some orange zest into a chunk of butter, spread onto firm white fish (I replaced her striped bass with very economical and delicious tilapia) and roast. Then you top it with the gussied-up gremolata.

I could have eaten the gremolata by itself, by the spoonful. The almonds and orange pieces were nice additions, though the combination of almonds and olives was not quite as transcendent as Clark suggested in her article. The citrus butter sounded like a good idea, but it didn’t do much to flavor the fish—I think it mostly rolled off in the oven. The very pretty gremolata topping provided plenty of flavor, but to me, the two elements--fish and relish--just didn’t mesh as well as I would have liked. But, if the gremolata appeals to you, try it! It’s easy to toss together, and I think it would be good with chicken, pork or even pasta, now that I think about it.

I didn’t do anything different really, so here’s the link to the original recipe. It’s nearly always worthwhile to try something new, and there tend to be more hits than misses in cooking. What recipes have you tried lately that sounded delicious, but just didn’t fly on (or maybe I should say, "off") the plate?

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Crab Cakes with Green Mango Salsa

Does anyone make crab cakes at home anymore? I don't think I've ever ordered one in a restaurant, but I know they are usually one of the most popular things on the menu. When I worked at Legal Seafoods, they were a perennial bestseller, appearing in, I believe, three different guises on the menu--appetizer, salad and main course. Everyone loved the crab cake.

I never order them, because there are so many things that can (and do) go wrong--too much bread, soggy crust, not enough flavor. And just because someone claims to use 1/2 pound of jumbo lump crab meat in every ginormous cake, that is no guarantee of flavor. So, since I have to admit that a good crab cake can be awfully tasty, we make them ourselves every once in awhile. Crab cakes are also an excellent excuse to make mango salsa--the luscious fruit has a natural affinity to the sweet crab meat, and a little lime makes everything sing.

I adapted the crab cake recipe from one I learned in a cooking class I took several years ago. It was all about fish, and I learned a lot, including some great ethnic recipes and a killer smoked trout dip. The mango salsa has no special secrets, but I will say that green mangoes or mango that aren't yet soft and ready for eating make the best salsa. You still get a little tartness to go along with the fruit's disarming sweetness, and the cubes of mango hold their shape better. I've suggested ingredient amounts for the salsa, but exact quantities aren't important as long as your proportions give you the flavor, heat level and texture you want.

Crab Cakes
Best quality canned crab meat is great in this recipe, but never buy the imitation stuff. I'd like to tell you what it's actually made of, but I'm a little afraid to find out. Old Bay is a seafood seasoning blend often sold by the fish counter in supermarkets, or with the spices; it contains salt among other spices, so none is added to the recipe. If you want to check your seasoning (which I'll often take the time to do with these kind of recipes), fry up one miniature crab cake first and add extra salt or spices if you like.

Makes about 6

2 tsp canola oil, plus 2 tbs
1/2 onion, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten, plus one egg white if needed
1 pound crab meat
4 to 6 tbs Panko or breadcrumbs
1 tbs mayonnaise (light is fine; I use canola mayo)
1 tbs Old Bay seasoning
2 tbs chopped fresh cilantro, or parsley
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

For serving: Green Mango Salsa, sour cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat 2 tsp of the oil in a skillet over medium-low heat and cook the onion until soft. In a large bowl, combine the egg, crab, 4 tbs. panko or breadcrumbs, mayo, Old Bay, cilantro and onions; mix gently with your hands or a large spoon, leaving large chunks of crab intact. Try to form a patty, and if the mixture does not hold together, add additional breadcrumbs and/or the additional egg white (the recipe varies depending on the crab and its water content).

Form 6 crab cakes, cover and chill for at least thirty minutes or up to several hours (the purpose is to help the cakes stay together, but I have skipped this step before with no problems). When you're ready to fry, place the flour in a shallow bowl and dip each cake in flour, shaking off excess. Heat about one tablespoon of oil in a skillet over high heat and add half the cakes. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Repeating with remaining cakes, transfer to oven and bake 10 minutes or until cooked through. Serve immediately with salsa and sour cream.

Green Mango Salsa
In Thailand, a common street snack is unripe mango slices dipped in a mixture of sugar, salt and hot ground chile, and that combination partly inspired this salsa. Use a chile powder with flavor you like, whether it's mild or hot and smoky, such as ground chipotle. If you don't like heat at all, try smoky paprika.

1 green or underripe mango, diced
1 to 2 jalapeno chiles, diced (seeds optional)
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tbs chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground red chile powder
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Drizzle of olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lime, or to taste

Combine all ingredients. Serve right away or let salsa sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes so flavors can blend.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Shellfish with Roasted Cauliflower, Raisins and Olives

This is a really tasty main dish that I made awhile ago and have had on my list of "blogs to write" ever since. It does that sweet and sour thing I like so much--think about eggplant caponata, the relish made with vinegar and raisins. Like caponata, this dish also has olives, which provide the saltiness that makes the sweet-sour combo really work.

I came up with this because we had half a bag of scallops and half a bag of shrimp in the freezer taking up valuable space. You could just as easily make this with all shrimp or all scallops. It's an awfully nice "in-between" dinner too. It's warm and satisfying, yet not heavy, with vibrant flavors that embody neither summer nor winter. Cauliflower is always somewhere to be found in the produce department and becomes addictive and yummy when roasted. Just do the roasted cauliflower portion of the recipe (add some curry powder along with the chili powder, if you have it), and you'll have an incredibly tasty side dish.

I've been cooking a lot of new things recently, but none are quite ready for the blog. I'm after the superlative lemon bar, which for me is at least 2 parts lemon layer to 1 part shortbread layer. I like the lemon to be a little bit jelly-like, not too creamy or starchy due to too much flour. I have a crust I like, but it's the lemon part that's tricky. If you have any ideas or recipes, send them my way.

Shellfish with Roasted Cauliflower, Raisins and Olives

This is delicious served over garlicky brown rice: In the saucepan that you cook your rice in, saute 2 to 3 cloves minced garlic and 3 or 4 thinly sliced scallions in olive oil and butter; add chicken broth and bring to a boil; add rice, salt and pepper and cook as usual.

Nonstick cooking spray
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 to 1 1/4 pounds total large, shelled shrimp and sea scallops
1 medium red onion, chopped
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
16 kalamata olives, chopped
1 generous tablespoon capers, drained and roughly chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 375. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray; arrange cauliflower on baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Sprinkle cauliflower with salt, pepper and chili powder and toss well to coat; roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. Transfer to a large, shallow serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook shellfish until opaque, about 1 to 2 minutes per side (shrimp may cook faster than scallops); season with salt and pepper. Add shellfish to dish with cauliflower.

Wipe out skillet with a paper towel and add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook until soft and light golden, 6 to 7 minutes. Add chicken broth, olives, capers and raisins; simmer until slightly thickened and reduced by a little over half. Add vinegar, stir to combine and add to dish with the cauliflower and shellfish. Toss gently, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Asian Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp

Sake is a really good thing. I haven’t touched the stuff in four years because of one bottle that was so unpleasant I didn’t bother with it again until last night. For the past year or so, Mike and I have been feeling uneasy about our aversion to sake. We love Japanese food, and we were sure there had to be something good about an alcoholic beverage beloved by so many people around the world. It was silly to miss out on all the fun.

Mike was traveling for work last week and enjoyed some lovely sake at a sushi restaurant with co-workers. That was it. We decided it was time for us to get over our fear of sake. And it gave us an excuse to make maki rolls which, incidentally, we hadn’t done since we bought that last bottle of bad sake about four years ago. We wanted a dry sake meant to be served cold, which we picked up at Whole Foods Market for $11. It was great! It was far from flavorless, yet very neutral like vodka without any harsh sting--sake usually has an alcohol content around 15% like a strong wine.

Our maki rolls, made with smoked salmon and cooked shrimp--nothing fancy--were great too. Unfortunately, I sort of burned some of our sushi rice, so were left with a bit of extra seafood. Before we even finished the maki rolls, I was dreaming up what I would do with the leftovers for breakfast.

Even though runny, fried eggs are my gold standard, I immediately thought of creamy scrambled eggs with Asian seasonings, shrimp and cilantro. Since I can’t even remember the last time I made scrambled eggs, I checked Mastering the Art of French Cooking for advice. Since I’ve gotten that book, I’ve used it on several occasions to find the best technique for basic recipes--all the recipes I’ve referenced are so well detailed with methods that work so well, I honestly wonder why everyone doesn’t do it Julia’s way.

The eggs were exactly what I was hoping for--soft and creamy with the subtle saltiness of tamari soy sauce (naturally fermented, wheat-free soy sauce) and a bit of fish sauce balanced by the richness of sesame oil--mere drops are all you need here. We had leftover Brussels sprouts from last night too that I sautéed with seasoned rice vinegar, sugar, fish sauce and tamari (there's no limit to the tastiness of Brussels sprouts). Fantastic breakfast! And it was all thanks to sake. Too bad there was none leftover--we had to settle for coffee instead.

Asian Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp
From Julia Child’s master scrambled egg recipe, I learned you mustn’t add anymore than one teaspoon of liquid for every 2 eggs. She, of course, uses cream, but I substituted Asian flavors for this dish. When it comes to shrimp, I’m a little snobby about never buying pre-cooked shrimp--they’re so easy to cook yourself--but pre-cooked would do fine in this recipe. Tamari, a naturally fermented, wheat-free soy sauce has mild flavor that is more than just pure salt. It’s available in many supermarkets now, and I definitely recommend it in this recipe where you want delicate flavor. I made this for breakfast, but I would love to eat it for dinner too.

Serves 2 (doubles easily)

4 eggs
1 tsp. low-sodium tamari soy sauce (I like the San-J brand)
1/2 tsp. fish sauce
1/2 tsp. water
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cooking spray
1/2 tbs. butter
3/4 cup cooked, medium shrimp, cut into 2 or 3 pieces each (or use a combination of shrimp and smoked salmon)
1/4 cup (packed) chopped cilantro
salt to taste
1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil

Add the eggs, soy sauce, fish sauce, water and black pepper to a large bowl and whisk for about 30 seconds.

Coat a large nonstick or cast iron skillet with cooking spray. Add the butter and place over moderately low heat.

Add the egg mixture to the skillet and stir with a rubber spatula. It might take 2 minutes or so for the eggs to heat. When the eggs start to form large curds, stir rapidly, scraping the bottom of the skillet as you go. After about 1-2 minute or when the mixture has thickened a bit, add the shrimp and cilantro. Continue stirring until shrimp is heated through and eggs are no longer liquid, but still soft and creamy. Taste and add a pinch of salt if necessary. When the eggs have just reached the consistency you want, immediately transfer to a plate. Drizzle with sesame oil and serve immediately.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lobster Fettucine with Shiitakes and Sherry Butter Sauce

My husband and I live in a condo with a fairly small, but efficiently designed, kitchen. When we moved in, everything was new and complete with granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and blush-colored wood cabinets. The thing I like best about our kitchen is the open wall with a bar-style counter that lets in light from our huge living room window.

Sometimes, when I’m cooking something simple, Mike will sit on a stool on the other side of the counter and chat with me, usually with a beer in hand. If a recipe only requires one cook, I’m happy to be doing the work--it’s tremendously relaxing and pleasurable. But recently, I learned that I like it almost as much when I’m the one sitting on the other side of that counter.

This Lobster Fettucine was our Christmas Eve dinner. I really can’t remember why, but we decided Mike would do the cooking on this go-round. I don’t mean to make it sound like he never helps in the kitchen. In fact, he’s a great cook with or without me, he makes the best runny eggs over easy, and he really likes cooking for me. I’m sure he’d like it even more if I didn’t always want to get my fingers into everything.

This is one luxurious pasta dish--chunks of fresh lobster meat, mild shiitake mushrooms and peppery arugula are folded into a Sherry butter sauce and tossed with firm whole wheat fettucine. One person can spend about 45 minutes in the kitchen (less if you cook the lobster tails a few hours ahead of time) and make this impressive dish without breaking a sweat. Actually, I don’t know if Mike broke a sweat, but he did a gorgeous job with the recipe.

I flagged it in the 2006 holiday issue of Bon Appetit and came across it again this year when I was making lists in early December of things I wanted to cook throughout the holidays. I like the addition of Sherry to add a boozy bite of juicy red fruit, instead of the usual lemon and butter lobster accompaniments. Slightly bitter arugula didn’t quite fit with lobster in my head, but we love the stuff and figured it just might work. All the flavors are perfect together, and the sweet, tender lobster is not overshadowed in the least by the other strong flavors--butter has the power to unite all things.

I thought this was ideal holiday food, but it may be even more appropriate for that other holiday right around the corner--Valentine’s Day. This recipe is perfect for two, but it should double nicely. It looked like fun to make, but watching the proceedings, glass of wine in hand, could be even more fun.

Lobster Fettucine with Shiitakes and Sherry Butter Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit, December 2006--The original recipe appeared in the "Readers' Favorite Restaurant Recipes" section and doesn't seem to be available on the website.

This dish is so simple that really good ingredients are key. If you keep Marsala on hand rather than Sherry, you can substitute it in this dish (the original version calls for Marsala which is made in Italy; Sherry comes from Spain). Do not (ever!) use “cooking” wine, but rather something you could actually drink. Wine shops sell good Sherry or Marsala for around $10 or less. We use a medium dry Amontillado Sherry. These fortified wines are wonderful to have on hand for making pan sauces or glazes. Once you have some in your pantry, you will find many uses for it!

Serves 2

2 medium lobster tails
5-6 oz. fettucine (we like Bionaturae’s whole wheat fettucine available at Whole Foods markets)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tbs. unsalted butter
6 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
3/4 cup dry sherry
3 cups arugula leaves (about 3 good handfuls)

Cook lobster tails in a large pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Cool, then remove meat from shell and cut into bite size pieces. Lobster meat may be slightly undercooked; it will finish in the skillet.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt generously and cook the fettucine according to package directions.

Melt one tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the shiitakes, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add Sherry, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Whisk in remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time. Stir in lobster and any accumulated juices until heated, about 1 minute. Add pasta and toss well. Add arugula and toss until slightly wilted, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Healthy Seafood-Corn Chowder and Whole Wheat-Herb Biscuits

About a week ago, we could not decide what to eat for dinner to save our lives. The best we could do is decide we wanted fish, maybe salmon. Don’t you hate it when you just don’t know what you feel like eating (and cooking)?

Sometimes when this happens, I try to focus on things that I know will taste great no matter what mood I’m in. For me, if a meal involves biscuits or cornbread, life is good. I really enjoy making these quick breads, and since they go best with warm, comforting soups and stews, you suddenly find yourself with the makings of a delicious meal.

I’ve been wanting to try some biscuit variations after seeing some ideas in the November issue of Food & Wine. I decided to makeover my classic Buttermilk Biscuits with whole wheat flour. I added some herbs and some very good cheese, which is a decadent thing in a biscuit that’s already good and buttery. These biscuits have tons of flavor, and are a very different twist on the classic. I’m going to experiment more with them.

As for the Corn-Seafood Chowder, this was one of those recipes I put together on the fly that turned out even better than I’d hoped for. I remembered making a lighter seafood chowder a couple years ago that really turned out well, despite the omission of heavy cream. I used chicken broth and lowfat milk thickened with just a little bit of cornstarch. the texture is great, there is no raw, floury taste, and I promise this chowder does not have any tell-tale “lowfat” qualities--there's bacon after all. And it cooks in about 30 minutes total because there are no ingredients that require a long simmering time--the shrimp and scallops take just 2 minutes at the end!

Just a quick update on the Cranberry-Almond Crostata: Mike took down the last piece yesterday. This tart holds up just fine if you store it at room temperature, well-covered, for 2 to 3 days. I'm loving cranberries these days! I have a Cranberry-Lemon-Walnut Scone recipe to share soon, and there's a cranberry coffee cake I'm dying to bake!

Healthy Corn and Seafood Chowder
In the past, I’ve found the quality of fresh sea scallops at the supermarket to be somewhat uneven. So we recently started buying frozen sea scallops, and they are consistently delicious and sweet with a firm texture. I like the Whole Foods brand, but try what’s available where you shop--fresh or frozen--and see what you think. A good-quality fresh, dried chile powder is important for this dish because it adds not only flavor, but color. Don’t forget a good fistful of Italian parsley to sprinkle over the finished soup. The crisp, herby flavor is a nice counterpoint to the creamy chowder.

5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
pinch dried marjoram or oregano
1/4 cup AP flour
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups lowfat milk
1 medium russet potato, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups frozen sweet corn
1 tsp. mild chile powder
2 tsp. corn starch dissolved in 1 tbs. water
1/2 lb. medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
3/4 lb. sea scallops, cut into 2 or 3 pieces each
Fresh parsley for garnish

Cook the bacon in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Transfer to a paper towel, leaving about one tablespoon of fat in the pot. Add the onion and jalapeno, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft and lightly browned. Add the garlic, thyme and marjoram and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the onion mixture and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring well to combine. Add the chicken broth and milk. Raise the heat to high and cover until the liquid comes to a boil. Add the potatoes and return to boiling. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes or until potatoes are just tender.

Add the corn, chili powder. Return chowder to a simmer and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Add the shrimp and scallops and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until seafood is opaque and cooked through. Stir in the reserved bacon. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Whole Wheat Herb Biscuits with Comté
I use a bit of dried thyme to punch up the flavor of the fresh thyme, which is sometimes not as potent as I like. If you don’t have fresh thyme, you can use 1/2 tsp. of dried thyme total. Comte is a French cheese similar to Gruyère. Either one is a great choice, as is Fontina.

Makes about 8 2-inch or 6 3-inch biscuits

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
7 tbs. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried marjoram
1/3 cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Add the cold butter and work it into the flour using your fingers to break up the chunks of butter into slightly flattened bits. At this point, the dough will still be very powdery and should not come together. Add the buttermilk, all the herbs and the cheese and stir gently with a wooden spoon just until all the flour is dampened. If you still have a lot of excess flour, add a few more drops of buttermilk until you have a barely cohesive, shaggy mass of dough--do not over mix. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it together with floured hands. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to several hours.

While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the disk of dough on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1⁄2 inch thick. Use a floured metal 2 to 3 inch biscuit cutter to stamp out as many biscuits as you can, dipping the cutter into some flour with each biscuit and placing on the prepared baking sheet. Collect the dough scraps, quickly re-roll and finishing stamping out biscuits. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve immediately with butter.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Fish en Papillote

This is one of the most perfect meals for one person that I know. It's also no more trouble to cook for two or four. "En papillote" means wrapped in parchment paper. You seal the ingredients in a parchment packet and bake, so your meal steams in its own juices. The key is to trust the natural good qualities of the food inside the packet.

I learned this technique in a cooking class I took years ago, but I hadn't done it at home in almost as many years. Mike thought of it when we were trying to come up with dinner ideas recently. We bought some great-looking trout, but didn't cook it that night because we ended up having a late lunch and weren't really hungry for dinner. Mike made it for lunch the following day, but I wasn't in the mood for fish until it came out of the oven looking totally delicious. A few days later, I was on my own for dinner, so I re-created Mike's meal for myself.

I swear, you wouldn't think some vegetables and fish tossed in nothing but a little olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper could develop such great flavor after 25 minutes baking in parchment paper, but it does! I love the combination of carrots, zucchini and purple potatoes I used here, but you can use just about any veggies or type of fish you want. This particular trio of vegetables is good for color, but you could always sprinkle on some fresh herbs before serving to brighten things up. Even though the food is mostly steaming, the vegetables -- being cut so thinly -- still have time to develop a roasted sweetness. If you worry about overcooking fish, this is the fool-proof method for you, because a little extra time steaming won't have that dreaded dried-out effect.

Et voila...here it is after baking. The fish is moist, and the vegetables have enough time to brown slightly and develop flavor. The fish I used here is Kona Kampachi.

Fish en Papillote
This is hardly a recipe -- it's rather a technique -- so give it a try when you're not in the mood to follow strict directions. I'm writing guidelines to serve two people, but the quantities and specific ingredients are totally up to you. If you have a lot of vegetables, use a bigger piece of parchment. If you have a very thick piece of fish, bake a little longer. You can error on the side of caution, because it's awfully hard to overcook using this method.

Serves 2

2 pieces parchment paper, about 15 x 30 inches (or large enough to loosely fold over the contents)
2 small purple potatoes (about 1/2 lb.), very thinly sliced
1 to 2 zucchini, cut into 2-inch sticks
handful of baby carrots (or 2 full size), cut into matchsticks
2 (6 to 8 ounce) fish fillets like trout, snapper, salmon, tilapia, grouper, etc.
olive oil
lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out the two sheets of parchment paper and divide the vegetables between them, placing the veggies on one half of each sheet so you can fold it over to make a packet. Lay the fish fillets on top of the veggies, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Take one piece of parchment and fold the loose end of the paper over the fish and vegetables. Starting at one corner, crimp the paper together, folding it over bit by bit so you create a sealed semi-circle. Repeat with the other sheet of parchment. Place the two packets on a baking sheet and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from oven and place each packet on a plate and serve. Each person can tear open the packets themselves, slide the food onto the plates and discard the paper. You can offer extra lemon or fresh herbs if you want.

Wondering if any other food bloggers like to cook en papillote?

1) Pim of Chez Pim does -- check out the beautiful young ginger that she uses along with scallion for fish en papillote.
2) Gastronomie's Red Snapper en Papillote is a work of art from start to finish -- great photos!
3) Kevin of Seriously Good cooks my favorite fish -- salmon -- en papillote.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Catalan Flatbread with Piquillo Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Anchovies

Spanish food...the love affair continues. I, like many cookbook junkies I'm sure, snapped up Jose Andres' book, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America, soon after it came out. I was familiar with Andres from eating in one of his Washington, D.C. restaurants, and I love tapas. I have to shamefully admit that I haven't used the book much at all. It has a lot of motivating photography, and the recipes are not difficult for the most part. The best explanation I can come up with is that, realistically, an array of whimsical tapas dishes is not the simplest thing for the home cook to pull off.

If you enjoy tapas as much as I do, there are times when you find a way. Many of the recipes in this book could be entrees or sides as easily as they could be lunch or a mid-afternoon snack on the weekend. Tapas is not just about lots of small dishes, but a cooking philosophy of bringing together bold, high-quality ingredients in simple but interesting ways.

These flatbreads involve a homemade yeast dough, but wait--the recipe is formulated with a lot of yeast so it requires just one 30-minute rise. Flatbread recipes, like my beloved pizza dough, are simple as can be, but they do require waiting time. Not this one. It is ready so fast, you'll want to use it for other recipes.

Piquillo peppers are Spanish wood-roasted sweet peppers that pack a nice bit of heat. The come in jars like roasted red peppers (but they're not at all similar in taste), and you can find them in lots of grocery stores and gourmet shops.

For me and Mike, this would be great football watching food, but try it anytime you want something savory, salty and out of the ordinary.

Catalan Flatbread with Anchovies & Piquillo Peppers
Adapted from Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by Jose Andres.

Makes 8

For dough:
2 packets (1/2 oz.) active dry yeast
1/2 c. whole or lowfat milk, gently warmed in the microwave (not scalding)
1 c. plus 3 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt

For Flatbreads:
2 tbs. olive oil
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
20 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 c. piquillo peppers (a little less than a 13 oz. jar), cut into small pieces
16 oil-packed anchovy fillets, halved crosswise
6 oz. Manchego cheese, grated (about 1 c.)

Stir the yeast into the warmed milk and let it rest for 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt to a food processor and pulse to combine. Pour the yeast mixture into the food processor and process for 1 minute, or until the dough is well-mixed. Remove the lid and cover the bowl of the food process with plastic wrap. Leave it in a non-drafty place to rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the olive oil to a large skillet, preferably cast iron or nonstick, and heat to medium-low. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasional for 15 to 20 minutes, or until caramelized--very soft and brown. Season with salt and pepper once they start to soften. If the skillet gets too dry before onions are done, add 1/2 tablespoon of water to prevent them from burning. Remove from heat and set aside.

Coast two baking sheets with nonstick spray or line with parchment paper. When the dough is finished rising, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 equal balls. Flatten them into an oval with your hand, then use a floured rolling pin to roll them out into long thin strips, about 10 x 2 inches. Place them on the baking sheets as you go.

Prick each flatbread two or three times with a fork. Divide the onions and olives among the flatbreads. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked in the center and lightly browned around the edges. Top with the piquillo peppers, anchovies and Manchego. Sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper on top and return to the oven for 2 minutes. Serve hot.

And a few more intriguing flatbread recipes from food blogs I heart:

1) Parmesan Skillet Flatbread from Je Mange La Ville.
2) Arabic Flatbread Pizza--a cheesy cultural hybrid from Morsels & Musings.
3) Ana Sortun's Flatbread with Spiced Chicken and Pistachios--No wonder I love The Wednesday Chef--she constantly writes about the kind of food I love, and she's into Ana Sortun!
4) Rosemary Pears on Flatbread with Mozzarella from Acme Instant Food lucks divine.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Shrimp n' Cheesy Grits

Shrimp n' grits (or anything n' grits) is a southern thing. While I have to thank Southern cuisine for the combination of the recipe's two main ingredients, the similarities pretty much end there.

If you haven't tried grits before, now is your chance. It is a lot like polenta--in fact, sometimes it is hard to know the difference because of the various "quick" and convenience products you can buy. Hominy grits are made from cornmeal soaked in an alkaline solution to add nutrients. Masa harina, the cornmeal used to make tortillas, is made in a similar way. Polenta and corn grits do not get the alkaline treatment. By my observations, grits have a fluffier, "grittier" texture than polenta which is typically more smooth and pourable. I like quick-cooking polenta, and for grits I use Quaker Quick Grits (white hominy grits), not instant. I have also used finely ground masa harina as a substitute for both of them.

Now that I've done my best to make your head spin over the true nature of cornmeal products, I will get back to this recipe. Once you are past the southern roots, you'll see it is healthy (and low-calorie), super-quick to make (20 minutes, max) and very satisfying (the grits are flavored with Boursin cheese--mmm). Buy peeled and deveined shrimp, so all you have to do is pinch off their tails. I have made this with chopped tomatoes (both red and green, actually), but it looks so much prettier with the grape tomatoes. I also like their sweetness. Combining them with sauteed garlic and scallions results in an incredibly flavorful pan sauce for the shrimp.

This is one of my go-to dinners when I want something healthy and fast that does not involve feelings of deprivation. After the antipasto platter and tenderloin carpaccio salad I ate last night, that's sounding like a pretty good idea.

Shrimp n' Cheesy Grits
Adapted from a long lost copy of Shape magazine.
I am not giving exact quantities for the grits and chicken broth in this recipe because it will vary depending on what cornmeal product you use. Follow the package directions and make enough for 4 servings (it never hurts to make extra--they are addictive).

Serves 4 (cut in half for 2--leftovers don't hold up very well).

1 1/2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
salt and pepper
low-sodium chicken broth
Fast-cooking grits (like Quaker Quick Grits)
8-10 scallions, finely sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved crosswise
1/2 cup (4 oz.) Boursin Light cheese spread (Alouette cheese is also good), garlic and herb flavor

Add 1 tablespoon of the olive to a large skillet and heat to medium. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook, turning once, until done, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with any juices to a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the chicken broth to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the skillet and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the scallions and cook, stirring often for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more, or until the tomatoes are slightly wilted. Stir in the shrimp and remove from heat.

You can start the grits while you cook the scallion-tomato mixture, or you can wait until the veggies are done and give your full attention to the grits. You should have them finished in 7 minutes or less. Use the package cooking time as a guide, but most grits thicken very quickly. If they don't taste done, add more liquid (hot water is fine) and keep stirring. This is how I do it: Using a whisk (this is the best tool to avoid clumps), pour the grits into the boiling chicken broth in a slow stream, whisking as you pour. Whisk constantly and turn the heat to the lowest setting as soon as the liquid starts bubbling again to avoid hot, splattering grits. Keep whisking until the mixture starts to thicken. When you reach a thick consistency, stir in the cheese. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you like. Remove from heat. You can cover the grits to keep them warm for a few minutes if you need to finish the rest of the meal.

Spoon the grits onto four plates and top with one-fourth of the shrimp mixture. Serve immediately.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Corn and Shrimp Pizza with the Best Whole Wheat Pizza Dough Recipe

Recently, we got a pepperoni pizza from Papa John's for dinner. Mike was craving it, and we never order pizza. Our dial-for-dinner days ended when I bought a food processor and figured out how easy it was to make my own crust. Since then, I've just about perfected the recipe, experimented with all sorts of toppings and never looked back.

There's nothing wrong with good old fast food pizza, and I will admit that Papa John's was much better than I thought it would be--I love when thin slices of pepperoni get a little charred around the edges. With the weekly coupons we receive in the mail, I don't think we will let years go by this time before calling the Papa again.

So, has all the time and effort I have spent making my own pizzas been a waste? No way! Here's the thing: the pizza I make and the Papa John's takeout-or-delivery version are two totally different foods--apples and oranges. Papa John's satisfies a craving for nostalgia, taking me back to eating pizza and drinking soda (a special treat!) on Friday nights when I was a kid, or in college on the way home from a bar. My homemade pizza on the other hand represents the way I like to eat now: nutritious, fresh, topped with the flavors and ingredients that I love. You just can't get a pie topped with arugula, figs or sauteed shrimp from the Papa.

The recipe here is one of the favorites that we seem to go back to when we want something different. It is perfect in summer when corn is flavorful and crisp right off the cob and cherry tomatoes are sweet and inexpensive. This is my standard crust recipe, but I often substitute different flours depending on what I have. All-purpose flour will work and so will whole wheat pastry. You could do this with only white flour, but all whole wheat would probably be a little too intense and heavy.

As often as I make pizza, I've only written about it once on the blog. This fig, caramelized onion and prosciutto pizza is one of my favorite meals (the dough recipe in the fig post is essentially the same, but I have simplified and streamlined the directions in the updated version below). Make it now when fresh figs are in season.

One more note on homemade pizza: it sounds a little daunting to proof yeast and measure flour yourself, especially now that you can buy pizza dough in many grocery stores. I promise that once you do this two or three times, it will be the simplest baking you can imagine. It becomes second nature--something you'll start to fit into your day like taking out the trash or defrosting a chicken. You can do it the night before or if you are at home during the day, make the dough at lunch time and let it do its rising while you go about the rest of your life. Active prep time for this dough is 10 to 15 minutes, including cleanup. Even if you're on a first name basis with the pizza delivery kid, I'm betting you will get addicted to your own homemade creations after a couple of go-rounds.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
This recipe makes enough for two pizzas, each one serving 2 to 4 people, depending on how hungry you are and what else you’ve got going. The dough is thin with a chewy, slightly crisp texture. I love that I can make dough once and freeze half so that my next pizza is as effortless as defrosting the dough. My method for measuring flour by volume is to fluff it up, then lightly spoon it into measuring cups without packing it down or shaking the cup causing it to settle. I always eyeball the oil and honey measurements. This recipe could also be made by hand or in a stand mixer.

1 1⁄4 c. warm water
1 tblsp. granulated sugar
1 package dry yeast
2 c. whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat Flour)
1 1⁄2 c. bread flour (I like King Arthur Bread Flour)
1⁄2 tsp. salt
1 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for coating the bowl
1 tblsp. honey

Pour the water into a bowl, add the sugar, then gently stir in the yeast. Let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes or until the yeast forms a foamy layer on the surface of the water. Meanwhile, add the flours, and salt to a food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to combine. Add the olive oil, honey and yeast mixture. Process until the dough comes together, forming a ball. This should only take about one minute. If your ingredients get stuck, you may need to open the lid and move them around a bit so they can come together properly. Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and lay a kitchen towel on top. Let it sit in warm, non-drafty place until the dough doubles in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured cutting board and knead for 1 to 2 minutes. Divide the dough into two equal balls. Let the two balls of dough rise for the second time on the cutting board, covered with a kitchen towel, for an hour and a half. Knead each piece 2 or 3 times, then proceed with the pizza. At this point, you can also refrigerate the dough in a Ziploc bag to use within 24 hours, or freeze it to use within 3 months.

Another option, especially if you are making the dough before bed or in the morning before work is to let it rise for the second time in the refrigerator, well-covered, for at least 8 hours, after which you can knead it for a few seconds, transfer it to a Ziploc bag, and keep it for use that day or freeze it. Always bring the dough to room temperature before rolling it out.

To make the pizza: Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of cornmeal on a large rectangle of parchment paper. Flatten one ball of dough into a disk, place in the center of the parchment paper and roll it out with a flour-coated rolling pin to form a large oval, about 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle more cornmeal around the border of the dough, if desired. Cover with your toppings to within 1/2 to 1 inch of the edge. Use the parchment to lift the pizza and place the parchment directly onto the pizza stone in the oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cooked through (the bottom of the dough should just barely take on some color). Transfer pizza to a cutting board, discarding parchment. Let it rest for 5 minutes, cut and serve.

Shrimp and Corn Pizza
Note: special equipment that I use for cooking homemade pizza is parchment paper and a pizza stone. The directions for rolling out the pizza are repeated here so that both recipes may be used independently.

1/2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 lb. medium or large shrimp, shelled and deveined
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 tbs. coarsely ground cornmeal for dough (optional)
1 cup grated fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh corn kernels, cut from 1 to 2 ears
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved (just under 1 pint)
1 red bell pepper, cut into very thin strips
6 scallions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 500 degrees. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp, season with salt and pepper and cook until opaque, turning once, 2 to 3 minutes total. Transfer the shrimp to a cutting board and chop into 2 or 3 pieces each.

Sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of cornmeal on a large rectangle of parchment paper. Flatten one ball of dough into a disk, place in the center of the parchment paper and roll it out with a flour-coated rolling pin to form a large oval, about 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle more cornmeal around the border of the dough, if desired.

Top the dough with the cheese, corn, tomatoes, shrimp, bell peppers and scallions. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper to suit your taste. Use the parchment to lift the pizza and place the parchment directly onto the pizza stone in the oven. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until cooked through (the bottom of the dough should just barely take on some color). Transfer pizza to a cutting board, discarding parchment. Let it rest for 5 minutes, cut and serve.

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