Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halibut with Barbecue Tomato Sauce and Polenta

The recipe for the "sauce" on this fish dish was super intriguing to me. Honestly, I wasn't sure it would work. But I fixed it last weekend for some friends and family and it was a big hit. I adapted it slightly--the grape tomatoes the original called for really didn't work well. So I used a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes I had on hand. And it has uses far beyond topping fish. It's a fresh take on more traditional barbecue sauce that you could serve alongside pork (maybe even on a pulled pork sandwich), chicken or grilled vegetables.

Halibut with Barbecue Tomato Sauce and Polenta
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
Serves four.

1 pint grape tomatoes (I added a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, and will simply substitute for grape tomatoes in the future.)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Four 1-inch-thick halibut steaks (6-8 ounces each) (To save money, use any white flaky fish. Mine was delicious with orange roughy fillets.)
4 slices center-cut bacon or black pepper bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Cooked polenta to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast until charred, about 15 minutes.

Season fish with salt and pepper and olive oil and roast in oven at 400 degrees for ten minutes or until done.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook for 3 minutes. Drain off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, brown sugar, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Add the tomatoes.

Top the fish with the tomato sauce and serve with the polenta.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Superfast Japanese Salt and Sugar Pickles

I don't think I knew it, but the Japanese are into pickles. (I know because it's been in magazines and on Martha Stewart!) Now apparently, not the kind of pickles that this Southern boy is used to. Like bread and butter pickles. Or even pickled beets. The Japanese version is simple, simple, simple. Vegetables sprinkled with a sea salt and sugar mixture that pulls out some of the liquid and crisps them quickly. And the sugar has the added benefit of taming some of the radishes' heat.

(Note: This would be a wonderfully simple snack to take to work. Put the prepped veggies into a tupperware-type container and pack the sugar/salt mixture in a baggie or smaller container. When ready to eat, throw the sugar and salt on top of the veggies, put the lid back on and shake a bit. Let sit for ten minutes and then enjoy.)

Superfast Japanese Salt and Sugar Pickles
From Food & Wine.

1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 very large radishes, halved and sliced into thin wedges (1 1/2 cups)
2 thin daikon radishes, sliced crosswise 1/8 inch thick (1 1/2 cups)
2 Kirby cucumbers, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick (1 1/2 cups)
2 pounds seedless watermelon—rind removed, flesh sliced 1/3 inch thick and cut into 2-inch wedges (Blog note: I didn't use watermelon...sounded too complcated.)

In a small bowl, combine the salt and sugar. Arrange the radishes, daikon, cucumbers and watermelon in separate bowls; sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of the salt mixture over each and toss. Let the pickles stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Summer Squash Casserole summer is over. But even though we can't get fresh yellow crookneck squash at the farmers market (or out of your own garden, you overachiever), that's no reason to stop eating veggies. In this day and time, you can get fresh (even organic) vegetables year-round. So hit the grocery and make this casserole anytime you want. Thumb your nose at Mother Nature. We're having squash...even in January.

With the stuffing mix angle, you could even stir things up and serve this as a part of your Thanksgiving feast!

(Note: Use fat-free, low-sodium soup and fat-free sour cream and this casserole is pretty healthy...except for that pesky stick of butter.)

Summer Squash Casserole
From Southern Living magazine.
Serves 8-12.

1 1/2 pounds yellow squash
1 pound zucchini
1 small sweet onion, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup grated carrots
1 (10 3/4-oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (8-oz.) container sour cream
1 (8-oz.) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
1 (8-oz.) package herb-seasoned stuffing
1/2 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°. Cut squash and zucchini into 1/4-inch-thick slices; place in a Dutch oven. Add chopped onion, 2 tsp. salt, and water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and cook 5 minutes; drain well.

Stir together 1 cup grated carrots, next 3 ingredients, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt in a large bowl; fold in squash mixture. Stir together stuffing and 1/2 cup melted butter, and spoon half of stuffing mixture in bottom of a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Spoon squash mixture over stuffing mixture, and top with remaining stuffing mixture.

Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown, shielding with aluminum foil after 20 to 25 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Oat Bran Applesauce Mini Muffins

I really need to get back on the program. I've been working out faithfully, but not eating well at all. Corny dogs at the State Fair. Late night Whataburger runs. And Sonic onion rings for a snack yesterday. It's all adding up...around my waist.

So it's back to my plan. I know how to do it. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Eating six meals a day. Revving up the metabolism. It's worked before.

And here's a recipe that I made today to start things off right. These yummy double-bite muffins are packed with healthy ingredients and easy to grab when I don't feel like cooking an egg or even making whole wheat toast.

I have to admit that I thought that these might taste like mini bales of hay as healthy as they sounded. But they're wonderfully moist and very flavorful.

Oat Bran Applesauce Mini Muffins
From Martha Stewart Living.
Makes two dozen mini-muffins.

Vegetable-oil cooking spray
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 ounces dates, pitted and chopped (1/2 cup)
1 cup wheat bran
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon old-fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 2 mini-muffin tins with cooking spray. Place applesauce and dates in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mixture is reduced to 1 1/4 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Spread in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and let cool completely.

Transfer to a large bowl, and stir in bran, buttermilk, egg, honey, ginger, and vanilla. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, flaxseed, baking soda, salt, allspice, and 1/4 cup oats. Stir into bran mixture.

Spoon batter into prepared tins, filling to the brims. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon oats over muffins. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of 1 comes out clean, 21 to 23 minutes. Let cool completely in pans on wire racks. (Muffins can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crispy Black Bean Cakes with Sour Cream and Avocado

This recipe came from an interesting article in Food & Wine magazine (my favorite!) on "Canned Bean Cuisine." Recipes that demonstrated ways to "gussy up" canned beans into something more substantial, more delicious, and...dare I say it?...more gourmet. An interesting option was spinach salad with cannelini beans and shrimp. But I was most intrigued by THIS idea...crispy, creamy pan-fried cakes with a Southwestern twist. And, honestly, they turned out even FAR better than that. So good, in fact, that they're on the short list (probably topped with a spicy grilled shrimp) for an upcoming wine pairing dinner...with either a creamy Chardonnay or a tangy rosé. But, I digress...on to this wonderfully delicious and easy to fix recipe.

Crispy Black Bean Cakes with Sour Cream and Avocado
From Food & Wine magazine.
Serves four.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
1 small onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Two 15-ounce cans black beans, drained
1 1/4 cups plain dry bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
Sour cream, avocado, scallions and lime wedges, for serving

In a medium skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat just until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Scrape the onion mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 1/2 cups of the beans and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped but not smooth. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl. Mix in the remaining whole beans and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper. Form the mixture into twelve 1/4-cup patties, about 1/2 inch thick.

Put the flour, beaten eggs and the remaining 3/4 cup of bread crumbs into 3 shallow bowls. Dust each black bean cake with the flour, tapping off the excess. Dip the cakes in the egg and then in the bread crumbs, pressing so that the bread crumbs adhere.

In a very large skillet, heat 1/8 inch of oil until shimmering. Add the cakes and fry over moderate heat until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve the black bean cakes with sour cream, avocado, scallions and lime wedges.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mustard Green and Sweet Onion Frittata

Here's another recipe in the parade of hors d'ouerves I've been testing. It's easy enough and can be made a day or two ahead. It reminds me of the traditional Spanish tapa tortilla espagnola. So I added a little garlic pepper to mayonnaise to serve alongside, much as a traditional Andalucian taverna might serve some aioli alongside your tortilla and cold copita of sherry. The frittata can be served warm, at room temperature or cold.

(Note: I substituted collard greens since my grocery store was out of mustard greens. They still add plenty of a nice bite--and actually I wonder if the mustard greens would make the finished product overly bitter. But whatever greens you use, make sure you chop them fairly finely if you're planning to serve this in canape-size bites. Otherwise, you end up with lots of bits hanging out...not the most attractive presentation.)

Mustard Green and Sweet Onion Frittata
From Food & Wine magazine.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds mustard greens (or other greens), stems discarded and leaves fairly finely chopped 16 large eggs, beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large ovenproof nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat until golden brown, 10 minutes. Add the greens and cook until wilted.

Season the eggs with salt and pepper and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour the eggs into the skillet and cook over moderate heat until the bottom and sides begin to set. Lift the sides of the frittata to allow the uncooked eggs to seep under. Continue cooking until the bottom is set and the top is still runny, 3 minutes. Sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top.

Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for about 8 minutes, until the center of the frittata is set. Slide the frittata onto a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pecan Cheesecake Pie

Pecan pie is sacred at Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house. I'm always supposed to bring it, but NEVER allowed to experiment. Not even a splash of bourbon for richness. And I was almost banished permanently from the county for bringing one with chocolate as a major part of the recipe.'s the Better Homes and Gardens recipe that's required. Just eggs, butter, corn syrup, sugar and pecans. Nothing else. Period.

But I have a devious plan for this year. I tore this recipe out of last year's Southern Living. Finally got around to trying it last week. It's delicious. Creamier than the traditional. But just as full of pecan flavor. It's what I'm taking to the Thanksgiving feast this year. Whether they're ready for it or not. Shhhhhh...don't tell my mother.

Pecan Cheesecake Pie
From Southern Living.
Serves eight.

1/2 (15-oz.) package refrigerated piecrusts
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs, divided
3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
1 cup light corn syrup

Fit piecrust into a 9-inch pie plate according to package directions. Fold edges under, and crimp.

Beat cream cheese, 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and salt at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture into piecrust; sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans.

Whisk together corn syrup and remaining 3 eggs, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla; pour mixture over pecans. Place pie on a baking sheet.

Bake at 350° on lowest oven rack 50 to 55 minutes or until pie is set. Cool on a wire rack 1 hour or until completely cool. Serve immediately, or cover and chill up to 2 days.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sauteed Corn, Spinach and Green Beans

This is one of those "duh" recipes. Something that we all could come up with...but we didn't, did we? I keep frozen veggies on hand at all times, but hadn't ever thought to put this particular combination together. And of course, Martha's minions make it really delicious with the addition of thyme and a splash of vinegar. It's an easy and healthy side dish. (And hearty enough that we made it the centerpiece of our all veggie meal the other night.)

Sauteed Corn, Spinach and Green Beans
From Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.

Serves four.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 box (10 ounces) frozen corn kernels
1 box (10 ounces) frozen cut green beans
5 ounces baby spinach (equivalent to one pre-packed container in produce section)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
coarse salt and ground pepper
2 teaspoons white-wine vinegar

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add corn and green beans, and cook until green beans are warmed through, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add spinach and thyme. Cook, tossing, until spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in vinegar; season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms with Bread Crumbs

I'm already testing appetizer recipes for the upcoming party season. From our Halloween shindig in a couple of weeks straight through to New Year's, I fix lots of nibbles and snacks for a variety of occasions. Here's one that's a keeper. It's easy to assemble and can be made ahead. And each little bite is packed with flavor with nice contrasting texture.

(One note: I thought the browned cremini mushrooms got a little dark and looked a bit unappetizing. One of my guests disagreed, saying she liked the contrasting colors of the mushrooms and the goat cheese. Regardless, I might use white button mushrooms next time.)

Goat Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms with Bread Crumbs
From Food & Wine
Makes 24 pieces.

24 large cremini mushrooms (1 1/2 pounds), stems discarded
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, plus one 3-inch sprig of rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
6 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut into 24 pieces

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a bowl, toss the mushrooms with 3 tablespoons of the oil and the rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to a baking sheet, rounded side up. Roast for about 30 minutes, until tender and browned around the edges. Let cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

In a skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Add the rosemary sprig and cook over moderately high heat until the leaves are crisp, 30 seconds. Drain on paper towels, then strip off the leaves. Pour off all but 1 teaspoon of the rosemary oil and reserve it for another use.
Add the bread crumbs to the skillet and toast over moderate heat until golden and crisp, 2 minutes. Stir in the fried rosemary leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Gently press a piece of goat cheese in the center of each mushroom, sprinkle with the bread crumbs and serve.

Note: You can stuff the mushrooms a day ahead and refrigerate. Before serving, let come to room temperature and sprinkle with the bread crumbs.