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By learning about basic ingredients and how to use them, you can create simple, quick and delicious meals your family will love!!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Salt Crusted Whole Red Snapper

During our journey to the Gulf we picked up a beautiful Whole Red Snapper.  It's been years since I've cooked a whole fish and this was a bit of a science experiment, so I was a little nervous about the end result.  My main worry was the fish would be salty.  Alton Brown used this same method on Sea Bass so we thought it was worth a try.

When the fish is encased in salt, the mixture becomes a sort of hardened shell, like an adobe oven while it cooks.  This holds in all of the juices and flavors and delivers a moist and perfectly cooked fish, with no salty flavor.  I can't wait to try this with a larger fish.  The Sea Bass or even Salmon would be a great choice next time.

1 Whole Red Snapper, cleaned
1  Lemon, sliced
Lemon Pepper or other seasonings of your choice
Optional:  Fresh Herbs of Your Choice (dill, parsley, etc)
6 cups  Kosher Salt
3  Egg Whites
1/3 cup  Water

To prep the fish, sprinkle the inside cavity with lemon pepper and arrange the lemon slices and herbs so they fill the fish.  (We just used the lemon slices and the taste was amazing.)  Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the salt, egg whites and water.  Blend by hand until you have a mixture that holds together well.  You want a consistency that sticks together like a snowball of salt.

Place a 1/2 inch layer of the salt mixture on the bottom of a foil-lined pan, forming a bed for the fish.  Place the fish on top of the salt bed and scoop the remaining mixture onto the fish, pressing lightly to encase the whole fish, but not packing it.  Smooth the top of the salt to make sure there are no spaces for air to get in.

Bake at 450 for about 25 - 30 minutes depending on size and thickness of the fish.  Check for an internal temp of about 130, remove the fish from the oven and let rest 5 minutes.

Using a large spoon, tap on the outside of the salt crust and crack the shell.  The shell came off easily in 2 pieces.  Discard as many large salt pieces as you can, then brush off the fish using a pastry brush.  The skin peeled back easily to reveal a moist and juicy fillet.  Using a spatula, remove the top fillet to a plate, then the center bones can be removed in 1 long piece, then the remaining fish can be transferred to the plate. 

Served with clam shells and fresh steamed asparagus, this was an awesome piece of fish. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hendry Block 28 and Blocks 7 & 22 Wines

I always like to mention that I do not have any affiliation with this winery or any others.  But I do like to share a great find like this with my readers.

We recently purchased several bottles of Hendry 2007 Block 28 and 2007 Blocks 7 & 22 Zinfandel wine, and these have quickly become my favorites.  I'm not a wine expert by any means, but we do enjoy trying new varieties of wine, especially Old Vine Zinfandels.

The Block 28 is deep ruby red in color and will pair well with grilled beef, pork or lamb.  It was delicious with a grilled New York Strip steak and Grilled Tomatoes with Mozzarella.  It would also be great with a hearty winter stew. 

The Block 7 & 22, also a deep dark ruby shade, is slightly sweeter but has a great peppery spice that worked well with a roast pork loin. The flavor is so bright it would also be excellent with seafood.

The Hendry Winery is located in Napa Valley and they produce several red and white wines.  Be sure to check out their selections here.

How Do You Cook Swai Fillets?

Swai is the new fish in town. It has started to appear in markets throughout the country and is a great bargain at about $3 - $4 per pound. First, a little fishy info.

Swai (rhymes with "why") is also known by the names Basa, Panga, or iridescent shark, but it is not a shark at all. Swai is farm-raised catfish from Southeast Asia. It can be found as individually frozen boneless fillets in 2-pound packages, which makes it very convenient if you only need 1 or 2 fillets.

With a mild taste and texture, Swai can be cooked using similar methods used for Tilapia. It has no fishy smell and the fillets cook up solid, so it lends itself to many types of recipes. It can be pan-fried with blackened seasoning, oven-baked with panko crumbs for a healthier twist, or even grilled on a grill pan over a bed of fresh oregano. I'm also thinking it would be great in a chowder once the weather cools off.

The bonus to this yummy fish lies in the nutritional numbers. At just 90 calories for a 3 1/2 oz portion, it is low in cholesterol and high in protein at 13 grams.

So if you find this fish in your markets, buy some and experiment a little. The delicate flavor works great with stronger spices and seasonings, so use your imagination and enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Grilled Chicken with Red Pepper Sauce and Pasta

I love cooking with roasted red peppers! This brand of Piquillo peppers is packed in water and a bit of salt and no oil!  Low in calories and high in flavor, the pureed peppers are a nice change from regular tomato sauce and contain over 140% of your daily allowance of vitamin C.

2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, sliced horizontally into thin fillets
2 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Minced Garlic
Salt and Pepper
1  Large Jar (33 oz) Roasted Whole Red Peppers, marinade reserved
1 1/2 tsp  Dried Italian Seasoning
4  oz  Cream Cheese (regular or low-fat)
16 oz  Whole Wheat Pasta, cooked and drained
Fresh Basil Leaves (optional)
Grated Parmesan-Romano Cheese Blend for Garnish

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and saute until golden. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, add to skillet and grill until cooked thru and juices run clear.

Using a blender, puree the roasted red peppers, along with 1/2 cup of the reserved marinade.  Blend until smooth, then add the Italian seasoning and cream cheese and blend again, adding more of the marinade if a thinner sauce is desired.

When chicken is cooked thru, pour the red pepper sauce over the chicken fillets and heat over a low to medium heat.  Tear basil leaves into small pieces and add to the sauce. Heat 3 - 5 minutes until basil has slightly wilted and sauce has warmed, but do not boil the sauce.

Place a serving of pasta on each plate, then slice a piece of chicken and place atop the pasta. Top with a generous ladle of sauce and a sprinkle of parmesan-romano cheese and a sprig of fresh basil.  Serve with a side salad and a glass of Chianti. Enjoy!

Serves about 6. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pasta Salad

This pasta salad is quite versatile and can be made with regular or whole wheat pasta.  We have tried it many ways over the years and it's always a hit in the summertme. You can also mix and match the veggies with what you have on hand, such as adding blanched broccoli or asparagus.

1 lb Pasta (Use bow ties, penne, rotini, fusilli or shells;  regular or whole wheat)
1/2 lb Thick Cut Bacon, cut into small pieces
1 Cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
6 - 8 Radishes, cleaned and thinly sliced
3  Hard-Boiled Eggs, chopped
1  16 oz bottle  Parmesan Vinaigrette Salad Dressing, chilled (or use caesar, buttermilk ranch, another favorite; vinaigrette flavors work great)
2 Green Onions, finely chopped

Cook pasta in a large pot according to package directions, cooking until just al dente.  You don't want the pasta fully cooked or mushy.

Drain the pasta in a colander and allow to cool; return the pot to the stove.  Add the bacon to the pot and cook until slightly crisp. Drain the bacon pieces on a paper towel and let cool.

Add the cooled pasta and bacon to a large bowl, and add the rest of the ingredients.  Combine gently with a spatula, sprinkle with a handful of fresh chopped green onions and chill 1 hour before serving.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mid-Summer Garden Harvest

Found a few goodies waiting for us when we arrived home from vacation.  We weren't sure if anything would survive these crazy hot temperatures, so these were a pleasant surprise.  The tomato plant was labeled as a Big Boy, but these appear to be heirlooms.  They are meaty and creased more like an heirloom.  Either way, they are delicious.  The peppers are Tam (mild) Jalapeno peppers and at about 3" long, they do pack a punch.

I'm thinking maybe a small batch of salsa and some Grilled Tomatoes with Basil are in our future.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What Would You Like for Your Birthday Dinner?

If you ask most kids this question, you would get a variety of answers from McDonald's to delivered pizza.  When I asked my daughter the same question, she replied "Let me go look at the website!".  At the ripe old age of 11, she is fortunate to have a "sophisticated palate".  She will gladly choose salads  or any type of seafood over burgers and pizza any day.  Which is exactly why her answer worried me.  I feared her answer might result in multiple trips around town to find ingredients that may or may not be available in our tiny town. So I silently hoped for something simple!


After a conference with her sisters, she announced her decision, Grilled Shrimp Po' Boy sandwiches.  YES!  Pretty simple and straightforward. But they didn't want the recipe on the website, they had something else in mind.  They wanted "Daddy's Shrimp" in the form of a Po' Boy, and with a guacamole-style sauce. Hmm.  Since my husband's shrimp recipe has been highly classified (until now), he was my co-chef for the night.

Shrimp and Marinade
1-1/2 lbs  Raw Shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Minced Garlic
1 tsp  Sriracha Sauce
1 tsp  Balsamic Vinegar
1 tsp  Chopped Fresh Basil
1/4 tsp  Cayenne Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine.

After cleaning and deveining the shrimp they went into the marinade for about 20 minutes.  Then we skewered and grilled them to perfection. 

The Guacamole sauce was pretty simple:

1 Avocado
1/2 cup  Mayo
1/2 to 1 tsp Chipotle Pepper (start with a/2 tsp and adjust to taste)
Juice of 1 Lime
1/4 tsp  Kosher Salt

Puree the sauce in a blender until smooth.  This is a very versatile sauce and would be great on a grilled chicken sandwich.

The grilled shrimp went onto sliced French baguettes and were topped with sliced tomatoes, romaine lettuce and a dollop of avocado sauce.  Truly yummy with a bit of spice, this will surely be a favorite for more birthdays to come.  Enjoy!!