Sunday, November 24, 2013

Theme and Variations: Crisp Sesame Fish with Soy Glaze

flounder, sesame seeds (black & white), dark sesame oil, butter, soy sauce, sugar

One of the reasons Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is such an invaluable resource in my house is because I can use it for something I hate: cooking without planning. At this point in the semester, my mind is full of grading, student crises, and just getting through the next few weeks. So getting out to the Farmer's Market and picking up fresh flounder seemed like a huge accomplishment.  And then dinner time rolled around, and I realized I had absolutely no plans for that flounder, beyond consuming it.

Enter Mark Bittman. How to Cook Everything has never failed me.  I went to the section on "Thin White Fish Fillets," which includes his mini-rant regarding why he's not a big fan of tilapia (who knew?). Almost all the recipes in this section had ingredients that I had on hand, but I finally settled on the "Crisp Sesame Fish with Soy Glaze," which was a variation on his "Crisp Sesame Fish Fillets," which in turn was a variation on his "Pan-Cooked Thin Fish Fillets."  Bittman's Theme and Variations approach allows you to simply restate a recipe in another key, or add a countermelody and syncopation, if you are feeling adventurous! ;-)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Real Simple's "A Month of New Easy Dinners" (October 2013 issue): Seared Fish...

I've taken on the challenge--yes, challenge--of making a "month of new easy dinners" featured in Real Simple's October 2013 issue. Why a "challenge" you ask? Well, the likelihood that I will cook five times a week is slim to none, for starters. In fact, I know very well I won't. So, this means I'll be cooking "most" of the dinners, but I am going to try to plan according to the weekly menus they propose.

Already I've messed with Week One. I'm skipping the "Barbecue chicken sandwich with sautéed corn, edamame, and pickles" largely because a) I can't eat whole kernel corn and b) I'm trying to stay away from too many carbs (read: bread). So, that leaves for week one:
  • Seared Fish with Tomatoes and Garlicky Escarole
  • Lamb Chops and Parsnip Puree with Coriander Brown Butter
  • Crunchy Dinner Salad with Prosciutto, Apple and Hazelnuts
  • Cheese Ravioli with Kale Pesto and Roasted Carrots

So I began "Week One" yesterday with:
 "Seared Fish with Tomatoes and Garlicky Escarole
While the recipe will be available online next month, I won't violate copyright and will just give you the basics here:

tomatoes, red onion, lemon juice, escarole, garlic, fish (I used cod), olive oil, s & p

Basically, you make a pseudo-checca sauce with braised escarole instead of basil. It is easy, healthy, and delicious. My biggest discovery is that I will absolutely need to either overcome my fear of Teflon or figure out the best way to keep fish (particularly cod, halibut, etc) from sticking in my favorite skillet (which, is not non-stick--so, it is "stick" I suppose). If you have tips or ideas--please leave them in the comments section.

Substitutions/Changes: I used SHALLOTS instead of red onion (of course)

Tip: Escarole, like spinach, kale, and other greens, really reduces to nothing when you sauté or braise it, so make sure you have plenty. The recipe calls for 10 cups of torn escarole--they mean it.

Save a little skillet angst, this was a wonderful recipe that I will make again! 4 STARS

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sole, Slaw, and Salad: A summery triumvirate

First, the sole and the slaw:

I had some frozen sole filets in the freezer, and was desperate for a quick and easy recipe, but something a little better than just butter and onions.  Enter Baked Sole with Lemon.  Now, I'm a little wary of unfairly--as I find one particular site on a topic about which I think I'm rather authoritative, to be full of inaccuracies and astonishingly sophomoric given the supposed "credentials" of the "guide."But that is not of great import at the moment as we are talking about food--not this other subject that shall remain nameless.

I really loved this recipe for the good balance of butter and lemon. I made two adjustments (for pragmatic what-I-had-on-hand reasons): shallots instead of onion (a common substitution here at The Lady of Shallots), and cilantro mixed in with parsley. The real annoyance with baking sole (or any other thin, flat fish) is that you basically have to watch it carefully because even a few minutes difference can overcook it. The recommended 30 minutes would have been far too much for my 5 filets (in two dishes). I took it to about 20 and that was almost too much. Overall rating: 4/5 stars.

The slaw--Napa Cabbage and Sesame Seed Slaw--from Smitten Kitchen's Deb Perelman (via NPR), was absolutely wonderful. Complex, but not confusing, and for those of you whose taste buds shrivel upon the mere mention of wasabi, fear not.  The honey and the lime cut the heat of the wasabi, and leave the flavor. To give it a little more Japanese flair, I also added some seaweed seasoning--specifically Mishima's Aji Nori Furikake. I will definitely make this again: 5/5 stars.

Finally:  the "salad" that, really, if I'm honest?  They are pickles.  Yummy pickles, but I certainly could have used more sugar. I accept responsibility for that. Now, "Refrigerator Cucumber Salad" isn't exactly the sexiest name, but given that I can't think of an alternative, we'll stick with that. When she said that she cuts the sugar in half, I tried a happy medium: I cut the sugar in half, but I also substituted half the vinegar with apple cider vinegar--hoping to give it more sweetness. This was not all that successful.  The "salad" is VERY vinegary---but I can call them "homemade pickles" without too much shame. I also used celery seed instead of celery leaf, and chopped shallots instead of red onion--good call. The "pickles" are also more convincing when served in a small ramekin next to a fantastic grilled mozzarella, red pepper, and red onion sandwich! ;-) I'll give the recipe 3.5 stars as I made it, and will try it again with more sugar for a hopeful 4/5.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Summer Cooking: Lemony Orzo, Salmon Skewers, Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Well, I've been gone for a bit, and in the meantime I've been grieving the loss of my mother -- who passed in the beginning of June -- and trying to figure out the best way to get life back on track.  Cooking and eating seems to be a good place as any to start (to say nothing of the fact that I spent a month in LA subsisting off of martinis and snack foods--indulgences of grief).

I've enjoyed using Pinterest for recipes because I am seduced by the photos.  Truly.  But I've started a board of the recipes that I've actually cooked, and I add little mini-reviews.  You can check it out (and follow, if so inclined) here.

Now while martinis and snack foods are simply delicious, my personal trainer is going to make that weird face she makes when she's trying not to call me out on being lame. So, at least I can counter it with the fact that I a) am cooking again and b) eating healthy food!

Below you will see Grilled Salmon Kebabs.  These get 4/5 stars from me.  Next time we make them, I think I will use the spices as a rub on the salmon before it is sliced into pieces.  But they were tasty and paired wonderfully with Martha Stewart's Lemony Orzo. I love orzo and I love lemons, so this was a match made in heaven-5 stars!. She suggests lemon peel, but I will go out of my way for any excuse to use my favorite kitchen accoutrement: my zester! I liked that the zest stayed in with the orzo after cooking, and I think it made it more lemony (although I have not prepared it with peel instead of zest...). But I anticipate making this orzo several times this summer. The salad was also homegrown--a lettuce mix and beans from our patio garden.
We had leftovers, and I hate eating the same exact meal twice in a row, so I added this recipe for Roasted Sweet Potato Skewers with Cilantro-Jalapeño Aioli Dip.  I made a few adjustments.  Notice the lack of skewers below (I prefer smaller pieces of sweet potato) and my "dip" was a little different--more of a dipping sauce.  I substituted plain yogurt for the mayo, blended everything with my immersion blender, and the result was fantastic.  It will be a great dressing for salad, and I even drizzled a bit in the soup I had tonight. 5 stars for the sauce!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Avocado Pesto; Roasted Mushrooms and Green Beans w Balsamic & Parm

In my quest to  lighten our diet a bit, I came across a recipe for "Clean & Healthy Avocado Pesto Alfredo" on Pinterest via The Gracious Pantry. I don't know what possessed me to pin it a few months back, being that the word "avocado" alone should have been enough to make me turn away.  Yes, that's right friends: I'm a native Californian pseudo-foodie who does not like avocados. It happens.
I should say, however, that I adore guacamole, so really it comes down to disliking large slices of avocado. I can handle small chunks.

Moving on. In short, this recipe is fantastic and I would absolutely recommend it for summer! I used a bit more lemon juice, and added some parmesan to the sauce during the blending phase, but no other adjustments. 2 avocados, lemon juice, basil + one immersion blender and it is the easiest sauce ever. I think I'd add a bit more basil next time, but that is really dependent on how much one likes traditional pesto. I served it with Rossi Pasta's Wild Mushroom Linguine and our side was another Pinterest find: Roasted Mushrooms and Green Beans with Balsamic and Parmesan via Kalyn's Kitchen.

For the beans, 450F seemed like a high temp for roasting veggies, but as she says, make sure you use a large enough baking sheet so that you can spread the vegetables around--particularly for the sake of the mushrooms, which retain a lot of moisture.  The higher temp roasts the outside of the beans quite beautifully, but they retained their crunch and flavor. I reduced the cooking time to about 17 minutes.

All of this is delightfully healthy and vegetarian. If you leave the parm out of the beans and the pesto, these recipes are vegan as well (provided you don't serve the pesto with regular pasta, as I did).

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup

So, as part of the Lady of Shallots Get Healthy in 2013 Plan, we are eating vegetarian at least three nights a week.  Tonight's dinner threatened to be too light, but I cut the liquid down a bit to make this soup a very hearty and wonderful meal in itself. I also like that it is seasonal, and if I had been very noble, I would have walked to the Winter Farmers Market this morning in 13 degrees to get local parsnips and carrots. Unfortunately, I sold out and let my husband go grocery shopping instead.

I also apologize for the poor quality photos--I'm in need of a new card reader for my camera. 

I did chop/blend in small batches, and added water in small portions until I had my desired consistency.  If I was serving this as a side, I'd add more water.
I also added parsley and more pepper after I pureed it. Very well-balanced as the roasting makes the parsnips more interesting. Also, I was too lazy to make olive oil toasts, so fresh baguette sufficed.

And...I used my immersion blender for the first time.  I might be in love.

Recipe HERE.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Tuna, Fennel and Bean Salad

Normally I'd make this in the summer, but holiday over-indulgence means healthy eating in January. The cannellini beans here provide just enough texture to make this a reasonable main course. The flavors are really well-balanced and the dressing is the easiest thing in the world: lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  The fennel keeps everything very fresh-tasting, and the lemon extracts some of the "fishiness" from the tuna. Be sure to rinse the beans (if using canned) and drain the tuna.

Recipe HERE

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Memorable Meals: Journeyman-May 2012

This is primarily a cooking blog, but I've decided to start a new feature I will call "Memorable Meals." This will feature the occasional amazing meal I encounter at the many wonderful restaurants here in the greater Boston area.

Our inaugural post features Journeyman Restaurant in Somerville, MA. Initially, the back alley entrance and low curbside profile kept this Somerville's best kept secret, but Journeyman has fast become a foodie Mecca with critical acclaim from a wide variety of sources. The food is prepared so expertly that even the most timid eater will want to step outside the box of culinary convention. The menu changes weekly, so if you are of the "variety is the spice of life" mindset, you will love this place.

We chose the 5 course menu with pairings, which exists in both a vegetarian and omnivore version. A party of two is ideal here, especially if you are both omnivores. I went with the vegetarian version, but found that the staff was flexible in allowing substitutions from the omnivore version.  The menu follows:

ASPARAGUS with soy, century egg
SQUID with fennel, roe (omnivore)
PEA with mint, wheat (vegetarian)
MACKEREL with black bean, rhubarb (omnivore)
EGG with spring vegetables, smoke (vegetarian)
  • paired with a Petite Arvine
We chose to substitute a shared plate for the final course (VEAL/CHEVRE), so we had (at an additional cost), DUCK TWO WAYS with seasonal vegetables paired with Domaine L'Idyll Arbin Mondeuse Noir

Finally, for dessert, BABA AU RHUM, one prepared with absinthe and almond, the other with chocolate and tobacco.  The latter was probably one of the best desserts I have ever encountered. This was paired with a lovely Quinto do infantado Ruby porto

I will try to feature a bit more descriptive commentary about each dish in the near future. Many thanks to our server who humored me when I asked for a copy of the menu and further obliged me by writing down the names of all the wines.