Friday, October 25, 2013

Fear no Fish!

If you're intimidated by cooking fish at home, there really is no need. It's a relatively simple thing to do, and what's great is that it takes a short amount of time to prepare and to cook. Plus, the health benefits of eating fish makes it worthwhile incorporating it into your weekly meal plans.

We hear a lot about the "Mediterranean Diet" which focuses on fruits and vegetables, lean protein, especially fish, using olive oil for fat and drinking moderate amounts of wine, and many health professionals consider it to be the world's healthiest cuisine. Eating this way can do a lot to prevent disease. Fish is an important component of the cuisine, providing lean protein and the ever-important EFAs (essential fatty acids) that our bodies need to thrive.

When fish is fresh it should smell like salty sea air. It is best eaten the same day it was purchased (or at least within 2 days). After that it loses its freshness and the smelly fishiness starts to set in. Don't push it - fish is not very forgiving. We want flavor, but we don't want THAT kind of flavor.

If you're new to fish or are afraid of the fishiness factor, marinate it. I like making a little "sauce" of olive oil and fresh lemon juice, a little salt and pepper and setting the fish in it for a few hours. You can get fancy and add some fresh or dried herbs to it as well, but that's up to you. Put the marinade and the fish in a heavy ziplock bag and pop it in the fridge in the morning to eat that night. Just make sure to throw away the marinade and not reuse it.

What type of fish to buy? I like the white fish varieties. I am not a gamey meat kinda gal, so the whiter anything is, like chicken and turkey, the better I like it. Go to the fish counter at your supermarket, or better yet, to a fish purveyor or specialty market where they get fresh fish in daily, and ask him/her for a recommendation on what's freshest and the least fishy. Start there. You can always experiment later. Personally, I like halibut, John Dory (an Australian seabass), sand dabs, tilapia, and sole.

Where does your fish come from? Whatever you end up buying, try to avoid farmed fish whenever possible. The potential health hazards in eating farmed fish are being documented more and more. Farmed fish are given antibiotics to keep diseases in check because these fish are confined to living in pools where disease is rampant instead of out in the wild. They are also usually fed an unnatural diet, which passes along into the meat which we later consume (this is actually the case with beef, chicken and every other kind of meat as well, so sourcing your fish, meat and poultry is very important). Check out this website for more information on what types of seafood are best eaten in your region, in terms of sustainability, toxic load, and what should be avoided due to overfishing. The Monterey Bay Aquarium updates their Pocket Guide regularly so you can download it and carry it with you when you shop or go out to eat.

How to cook it? For smaller, thinner fish such as sole or sand dabs, pan sauteeing is best, and for thicker, denser fleshed fish such as swordfish or salmon, grilling is nice. Poaching is another simple way to make fish and you can do that with just about any of them, from the delicate ones to the sturdier ones. Here are two of my favorite fish recipes.
Pecan-crusted Fish with Beurre Blanc

Nuts with fish are a great combination and a nutritional powerhouse of essential fatty acids. Serves 2.

2 fillets of any type of white fish I listed above, about 4-5 oz. per person
salt and pepper
2 oz. finely chopped pecans
1 Tbsp each olive oil and butter
Beurre Blanc (recipe follows)

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Place the chopped nuts on a cutting board or plate and press the fish into the nuts so that they adhere to one side of the fish. Heat the butter and oil in a wide saute pan until very hot. Place the fish fillets in the pan nut side down, turn down the heat to medium and cook for about 4 minutes per side. Turn over and cook the other side. Transfer to warm plates and drizzle with Beurre Blanc or serve the sauce in ramekins alongside the fish if you prefer.

Beurre Blanc

1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar, such as champagne
1/4 lb. cold butter

Combine shallots, wine and lemon in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce until the liquid is nearly gone. Don't let it get too brown, but a little darkening is good for flavor. Cut butter into chunks. Remove pan from heat and let it cool slightly. Remove half of the reduction and save to make another batch. Add a piece or two of butter to the pan and stir steadily with a spoon or whisk until it melts. Return the pan to very gentle heat, adding a little more butter, continuously adding more butter until all of it is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Keep the sauce warm by either leaving it in the pan if using immediately, or transfer to an insulated container for longer keeping.
Variation: add a Tbsp of chopped herbs such as dill, fennel, tarragon, chives or chervil to the finished sauce.

Salmon with Balsamic Onion Marmalade

The acidity of the vinegar and orange juice nicely compliments the richness of the salmon for a nice balance of flavors. Serves 2.

1 red onion
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (can be an inexpensive variety)
2 salmon fillets (about 6 oz. each)
salt and pepper

Peel onion and cut into 8 wedges. Pour 1 tsp. oil into a 2-3 qt. pan over medium-high heat. When pan in hot, add onion and cook, turning once, to lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add orange juice and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce heat, cover, and simmer until onion is very tender when pierced, about 45 minutes. Shortly before onion is done, pour remaining oil in a fry pan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add salmon. Cook, turning once, until fish is opaque but still moist-looking in the thickest part, 7-9 minutes total. Transfer salmon to plates and serve with the onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve alongside an asparagus risotto.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Roasted Squash and Quinoa

Butternut squash
Yeah - Fall is here! My favorite time of year.

The weather has cooled off, the light changes and casts a warmer glow in the late afternoons, the trees are dropping their leaves and new ingredients come into season.

Warm, comforting foods like baked apples, pumpkin bread, fruit pies and hearty soups and stews fill the kitchen with their wonderful aromas.

It's also the best time of year to eat squashes. They are especially good roasted and last year I created this dish, roasted squashes over quinoa, a fantastic, high protein grain.

Roasted Squash over Quinoa

Two kinds of squash: I like butternut and kabocha
Sweet potatoes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Garlic cloves
Freshly chopped rosemary
Red onions
Oil and butter
Balsamic vinegar
Vegetable broth

Cut squashes and sweet potatoes into a large dice and place into a bowl. Sprinkle on some olive oil, salt, pepper, a few chopped garlic cloves and fresh chopped rosemary. Line a cookie sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil and lay the squash on it in one even layer, roasting it for about an hour at 375F degrees. Turn the squash once or twice during that time so that it browns on two sides.

While that's roasting, sauté a large red onion in a small amount of oil and butter. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add a Tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Continue cooking until the vinegar is reduced and syrupy (about 30 minutes). 

Cook the quinoa according to package directions, using vegetable broth instead of water. When it's done, serve the roasted vegetables over the quinoa.

They are excellent together. The nuttiness of the quinoa goes perfectly with the roasted vegetables, rosemary, and onions with balsamic.

Just perfect for Fall.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Curried Meatballs

Meatballs are fun and easy to make and are usually a big hit with kids. But often they can be boring, especially when they're always made the same way: with the typical tomato sauce and served over pasta. I mean, that can be good, but it can get old if that's the only way you ever serve them.

Making really good meatballs isn't rocket science. It's really as easy as just spicing them up the way you like them. That's what makes them so great - their versatility. You can take them into any sort of direction. I also prefer making my own because I know exactly what's in them. Most store-bought meatballs contain breadcrumbs and yeast extracts, which I'd like to avoid. We're also on a low-carb eating plan, so these are perfect.

I've been experimenting with curried meatballs and find them really good. We had them for dinner again last night. You can make a curry sauce to go over them, but I served them with curried ketchup on the side. I found a bottle of it at Fresh & Easy (see photo at right), but you can certainly make your own by taking regular ketchup and adding a bit of curry powder to it. Adds a little zing!

Last night I wanted some caramelized onions with my meatballs, so I started making those first because they take about 45 minutes. Simply cook a sliced onion in a little oil and butter, on low, until the onion is reduced down considerably and is a lovely shade of golden brown. Do NOT burn them!

While your onions are cooking, make your meatballs. Some meatball recipes add an egg to bind everything together. I don't find I need that. Maybe it's if you add the breadcrumbs that you need to add the egg, I'm not sure, but if you want to add it, by all means, do.

Curried Meatballs

1-1/2 lbs. ground beef or turkey (include the dark meat so they stay moist and flavorful)
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. chili powder*
1/2 tsp. garlic powder (or more)
salt and pepper (I used white pepper for a little more kick)

Mix all the ingredients together with your hands, really working the spices into the meat. Form into balls (the bigger they are, the longer they take to cook).

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a wide sauté pan and add your meatballs when the oil is hot. Brown them on all sides, then cover and cook another 5 minutes. Cut one in half to check if it's cooked all the way through. If not, continue cooking a few more minutes over low heat.

Serve with your caramelized onions and curry ketchup.

* If you have a curry powder blend on hand, then substitute that for the coriander through chili powder.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What do I do with THESE?

What do you do with Jerusalem Artichokes? This was recently my dilemma. I had been given a bag of home-grown "sunchokes" by a friend and hadn't the foggiest clue what to do with them, having never had them before.

It wasn't so much a dilemma as it was a challenge, really. I was intrigued - something new to play with. I turned to my trusted cookbooks, but unfortunately found them to be of little help. I emailed friends. They didn't know either.

What was I gonna do next, but turn to the Internet for help?! And lo and behold, a video came forth and gave me soup. Palastine Soup, to be exact. It sounded good. So I made it last night. Very tasty!

Despite their name, Jerusalem artichokes have nothing to do with Jerusalem and aren't even a type of artichoke! Italian settlers in America called the plant girasole, the Italian word for sunflower, because of its resemblance to the garden sunflower (note: both the sunflower and the sunchoke are part of the same genus: Helianthus). Maybe over time the name girasole may have been changed to Jerusalem.

They are knobby little root vegetables that look very similar to ginger. The tubers are sometimes used as a substitute for potatoes. They have a similar consistency and in their raw form have a similar texture, but a sweeter, nuttier flavor. Eaten raw and sliced thinly, they are fit for a salad, as they are typically prepared in the Middle East. Better than boiling them, steaming helps retain their texture. One great way of making them is in soup. Wash and peel your tubers before cutting.

Palastine Soup

1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
Enough Jerusalem artichokes to make several cups worth of peeled chopped veg
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
salt and white pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a soup pot. Add chopped onion and stir. Add your peeled and chopped artichokes and sweat together with the onion for 5 minutes (do not allow the vegetables to brown). Add broth and simmer for about 20 minutes. Use an immersion blender or whirl in a blender to puree the soup. Return to soup pot, and add 1/4 cup or so of cream. Then add seasonings to taste.

By the time I remembered to take this photo, half the soup had already been consumed.

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