Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fish Fillets with Pecans

There are many recipes for fish with pecan sauce. Most of them are fairly sweet. This one is different. The only sweetness comes from the pecans. It is intensely savory. The pecans and the mild white fish are perfect together and no added sugar is needed whatsoever. I think the secret is the Worcestershire. It's also very simple and quick. Serve with rice or a baked sweet potato.

Fish Fillets with Pecans
(serves 2; total cost using catfish is $5.60)

2 6-ounce fish fillets such as catfish or snapper
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
a dash of cayenne
¼ cup flour
1 Tablespoon oil
2 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup chopped pecans
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
juice of ½ a lemon

Preheat oven to 200° F.

Place the fish fillets in a zip-top bag. Pour in the milk. Marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Remove fish from bag; discard milk. Dry fillets. Combine salt, pepper, and cayenne. Sprinkle on both sides of fish fillets. Sprinkle both sides of fish with flour.

Heat oil and 1 Tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. A nonstick skillet is helpful but not absolutely necessary. When oil is hot - it will shimmer in the pan - add the fish gently. Let it cook without trying to move it. When it is nicely browned, turn it over and brown on the other side. The average catfish fillet will take about 5 minutes on the first side, about 3 minutes on the second side. Remove fish to a plate and place in the oven to keep warm.

Reduce heat to low. Add pecans and 1 tablespoon of butter. Stir until pecans turn golden-brown. Add Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice, Stir to combine. Pour over fish and serve.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chinese-style Minced Meat Lettuce Wraps

This is a popular appetizer at a nation-wide Chinese restaurant chain. It's not traditional but it sure is tasty. You can use whatever ground meat you like: beef, pork, chicken, turkey, or lamb. I'm sure vegetarian ground "meat" would work too. The flavors are big, making up for any blandness in the meat (or meat substitute). Our recipe makes 3-4 entree portions, so this is a cheap way to get your lettuce wrap fix.

The water chestnuts and the lettuce add a wonderful crunch. It's usually served with iceberg lettuce which gives maximum crunch but any large lettuce leaves will work. Those are green leaf lettuce in the photo.

Nothing terribly exotic here. Hoisin sauce, water chestnuts, and Asian sesame oil are all available at your average large supermarket.

Chinese-style Minced Meat Lettuce Wraps
(serves 3-4 as an entree; total cost $6.75)

16 large Lettuce Leaves Such As Romaine Or Iceberg, washed and patted dry
1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
1 pound Lean Ground Beef
½ medium Onion, minced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
¼ cup Hoisin Sauce
2 teaspoons Minced Fresh Ginger
1 tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1-2 teaspoons Chinese Chile Paste Or Chile Oil, optional
1 8 ounce (5 oz. drained weight) can Water Chestnuts, drained and cut into ¼" dice
3 Green Onions, chopped
2 teaspoons Asian Sesame Oil

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef in oil, stirring often and breaking chunks into small bits. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Cook the onion in the same pan, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar, and chile paste or oil to the onions, and stir. Stir in chopped water chestnuts, green onions,  and cooked beef; continue cooking another 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add sesame oil.

Spoon beef mixture into center of each lettuce leaf and serve.

Notes: Ground pork, turkey, chicken, lamb, or a vegetarian ground meat substitute all work as well as ground beef.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shredded Carrot & Cashew Salad

Here's the third recipe we presented to our Indian Food cooking class. It's nice to have something crunchy to go with the other dishes. I got this recipe from a neighbor. She brought it to a block party and it was so different from anything I'd ever had and so good, I asked for the recipe. She, of course, said yes, but then I said I want the recipe now! Having just met her, I'm sure she thought I was crazy, but she raced home, printed out the recipe, and brought it to me. In exchange, she asked for my chocolate meringue cookie recipe, which I'll post to the blog soon. I think it was a great deal!

Shredded Carrot & Cashew Salad
 (serves 4; total cost is $1.30)

1½ Tablespoons vegetable oil or ghee
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 cup carrots, finely shredded
⅓ cup cashew nuts, toasted
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons yogurt (optional)
⅓ cup red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded (optional)
1 Tablespoon cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)

Combine the carrots, nuts, salt, yogurt, bell peppers in a mixing bowl. Heat the oil/ghee in a small saucepan over moderate heat until it is hot, but not smoking. Add the mustard seeds and fry until they sputter, pop, and turn gray (partially cover the pan, as needed). Pour the oil mixture onto the salad, add the cilantro, and toss to mix.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Indian Spinach & Fresh Cheese

We recently held a class on easy Indian cooking. It would be presumptuous of us to say that this recipe is actually Indian. It's more in the Indian style and it is a tasty version of the Saag Paneer that is very popular in Indian restaurants in the US. We use a Mexican cheese called queso blanco or queso fresco (which translates to white cheese or fresh cheese) as a substitute for paneer. Paneer is made the same way and you can even make it yourself. But, that wouldn't be quick and easy, would it?  Queso blanco is available at supermarkets with a good selection of Mexican products and it comes pretty close to paneer. We found it a bit saltier than paneer, so we recommend you go easy on the salt if using it.

Indian Spinach and Fresh Cheese (Saag Paneer)
(serves 4-6, total cost $8.23)

4 Tablespoons butter
A 1-inch cube of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½-1 fresh hot green chili, seeded and minced
2 10-12 oz. packages of chopped frozen spinach, thawed
½-1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon garam masala (see notes)
1 pound of paneer or queso blanco, cut into 1” cubes (see notes)
3 Tablespoons heavy cream

Heat butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, and green chili. Stir about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add spinach, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon garam masala. Stir to combine. Cover, lower heat to low, and cook gently for 15 minutes. Add paneer. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, and remaining ¼ teaspoon of garam masala. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add heavy cream and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Serve over rice or with Indian naan.

Notes: Garam masala is an Indian spice blend usually made with cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves. Unlike curry powder, it contains no turmeric. It is available at most supermarkets. Paneer is an Indian cheese. Mexican queso blanco (also labeled queso fresco) is the best substitute and is readily available in supermarkets with a good selection of Mexican products.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spinach, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Quiche

Spinach, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Quiche
(serves 8)

For the pastry:
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons ice water

For the filling:
1 box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained very well
1 small jar roasted red peppers (about 1 pepper), drained and chopped into ¼“ dice
1½ cups half & half
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
½ pound (8 oz.) goat cheese log, cut into ¼-inch rounds
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

For the pastry, in a large bowl whisk the flour with the salt.  Using a pastry blender cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Lightly beat the egg with the water.  Sprinkle over flour mixture.  Stir with a fork to lightly blend, then squeeze gently until a dough forms.  Pat into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out pastry to a 14 inch round about ⅛ inch thick. Fit the round into a 10’ deep dish pie plate or quiche pan and trim the overhang. Refrigerate the pastry shell at least 20 minutes. Line the shell with foil and fill the pie with weights or rice. Place the pie pan on a sheet pan and bake until the pastry is firm, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake about 10 minutes longer or until golden brown.

For the filling, squeeze the spinach very dry and spread onto the cooled pastry shell.

In a medium bowl, whisk half & half, eggs, egg yolks, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Arrange goat cheese rounds and red peppers on the spinach. Pour custard into the shell, making sure it seeps through the spinach, and bake quiche about 40 minutes or until just set. Cool slightly before serving.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sauteed Kale

Kale is one of the super foods. Great, but do I want to eat it?

Yes, you do. Kale, of all the super food greens, is the most tasty and most versatile. It's not too bitter. It cooks fairly quickly but not so quickly that it turns to a grey-green mess in a few minutes. It has a great texture, nicely crunchy but not tough.

Kale is great simply sauteed in olive oil with a little garlic. With that basic recipe, you can go in a wide variety of directions. Add salty: olives, anchovies, bacon. Add sweet: raisins, currants, apple, pear. Add tart: some lemon juice and/or zest, a little vinegar-sherry vinegar is my favorite. Add spicy: crushed red pepper, Sriracha sauce, chile paste with garlic. Even, add a little of each! This is a vegetable that can stand up to big flavors and take them all. I have made kale with garlic, currants, sherry vinegar, and crushed red pepper. The picture above is kale with garlic, Asian pear, and crushed red pepper. Play with the flavors and discover what you like.

Kale holds onto dirt, so wash it well because no one likes grit in their greens. Fill a large bowl or your sink with cold water. Strip the leaves off the stems (the topmost part is usually tender enough to leave on) and dunk in the water. Swish it around a bit and leave for 5 minutes in the water. Here's the important part: lift the greens out of the water; don't dump the whole thing in a colander. The dirt will sink to the bottom and by lifting out the leaves, you get the greens without the grit.

Basic Sauteed Kale
(serves 3-4)

1 big bunch of kale, leaves stripped off stems and washed well
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Toss in the garlic slices. Saute for about 1 minute; do not burn. Dump in all the kale. Cover and cook for a couple of minutes. Toss around, cover, and cook for another 5-15 minutes. Great thing about kale - you aren't likely to overcook it.

Season with salt and serve.

Some possible variations (experiment!)
  • Use 1 tablespoon of olive oil to saute a slice of bacon, chopped, and proceed with recipe.
  • Add ½ tablespoon anchovy paste to olive oil when you add the garlic.
  • Add a small handful of olives, sliced or halved, at the end of cooking.
  • Add a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar at the end.
  • Saute ½ tablespoon chili paste with garlic in olive oil.
  • Add a pinch of crushed red pepper or a teaspoon of hot sauce at the end.
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of raisins or dried currants at the end.
  • Add ½ an apple, pear, or Asian pear at the end.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Cheesecake Cupcakes

These cheesecake cupcakes were decorated by my daughter - flags of N. and S. America
Cheesecake is not something you throw together in an hour. It's special occasion fare. A cheesecake feeds a lot of people. It's not easy (though it's not that hard either) to get right. It suffers from image problems because it is really rich. OK, this recipe isn't any less rich but it does make a small amount, good for a small party or a few days of snacking, and the cheesecake comes in little pieces which means you can eat just a little bit at a time. Assuming you can resist them.

There a few tricks to making these, or any other cheesecake.
  • Make sure that all the ingredients are at room temperature and the cream cheese is really soft.
  • Mix the batter until there are no lumps of cream cheese. If your cream cheese and eggs are warm, they will come together better, without getting lumpy
  • Since there is a bit of beating going on, don't try this unless you have an electric mixer. Your arms are going to be exhausted getting this together otherwise.
Cheesecake Cupcakes
(makes 9)

12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 ½ large eggs, at room temperature (½ an egg  is 1 ½ Tablespoons. Beat an egg then measure what you need.)
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

3 Tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300° F.

Line 9 regular sized muffin cups with cupcake liners.

For the filling, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Make sure egg is fully incorporated before adding another. Beat in sugar and vanilla. Divide among muffin cups (about ¼ cup per cupcake).

Bake for 45 minutes or until just set. Do not overbake! They should not brown at all. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. Fill the depression in each cupcake (it will form while cooling) with about 1 teaspoon sour cream mixture. Bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Cool completely. Store in refrigerator. Serve chilled.