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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!!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Swai Fillets with Cornbread Stuffing and Shrimp Sauce

Tonight we have for you another great way to serve swai fish fillets.  Swai is a type of catfish that has a mild, slightly sweet flavor and a flaky texture, and is a very versatile fish to cook.  We have used swai in many dishes such as Swai and Shrimp Creole Chowder or Blackened Swai Chowder, and the results are always delicious.  If you haven't had a chance to try this delicious, inexpensive fish, this is a great recipe to try.

The inspiration for this dish came from basic cornmeal coated catfish.  Cornmeal creates a flavorful breading on the exterior of fish, so I wondered how it would taste on the inside, in the form of stuffing.  My idea sounded possible and tasty, and I knew I was onto something, so I started by baking a batch of cornbread muffins.

Something I always have in my cupboard are a few boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix.  My kids have always loved corn muffins for dinner, and they are super quick to prepare.  Even better, you can add fresh corn or green chilies to them and they make a great addition to a meal.

Once the muffins were cooked, (I ended up with 7 muffins total), I crumbled 4 muffins into crumbs, added some diced greens chilies, melted butter and chopped parsley to make the stuffing.  The stuffing was rolled up into the fillets and baked.  But the bundles needed a sauce.  Something silky and rich and full of flavor. Hmm.

While the fish was baking I made a quick white sauce, added a cup of chopped shrimp and a spoon of lobster base and the results were amazing.  The sauce had this luxurious texture, with just enough shrimp and lobster flavor to make the sauce pop.  When the sauce combined with the fish and cornbread, plus just a hint of green chilies, it created the perfect balance of flavors and a really remarkable dish.

This would be a great meal to serve guests, as it looks very elegant without too much work.  If you cannot find swai fillets you could substitute any flaky fish such as halibut or red snapper.  Enjoy!!

6  Swai Fillets, rinsed and patted dry
2 TB  Butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the butter in a 8 X 8 baking dish and set aside.

Cornbread Stuffing
3 cups  Cornbread Crumbs (from about 4 muffins)
2  oz  Chopped Green Chilies
1/2 cup  Butter, melted
1/4 tsp  Salt
1/8 tsp  Ground Black Pepper
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Parsley

In a medium bowl, combine all 6 ingredients and stir with a fork until the stuffing is evenly moist,  then divide the stuffing into 6 equal portions.  Place a portion of stuffing in the center of each swai fillet, roll the fillet to enclose the stuffing and place each bundle in the baking dish, seam side down.  Spoon a little of the melted butter in the bottom of the dish over each fish bundle.

Bake the fish for 20 - 25 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.  Prepare the white sauce while the fish is baking.

White Sauce with Shrimp
3 TB  Butter
3 TB  Flour
1/4 tsp  Salt
1 cup  Half and Half  or  Milk
1/2 cup  Cooked Fresh Shrimp, chopped
1-1/2 TB  White Wine
1 tsp  Lobster Base

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the flour and salt and stir to combine into a roux.  Slowly add the half and half (or milk) to the roux, adding a few tablespoons at a time and stirring to combine each time.

Heat the sauce over medium heat until warm, then add the cooked shrimp, white wine and the lobster base.  Continue to heat over medium heat and stir until the sauce has thickened.

Remove the fish from the baking dish to a platter and pour the white sauce over the fish. Serve with the extra corn muffins on the side.  Serves 6.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chocolate-Pretzel Bar Cookies

I don't usually do a lot of baking, so when the mood strikes, I try to make something really decadent, and these cookies fit the bill.  If you can imagine a chocolate covered pretzel, dipped in cookie dough batter, then baked to a golden brown, you can only imagine how good these cookies are!
These cookies can be made with just about any type of chocolate chips, my favorite being Hershey's Dark Chocolate chips.  These chips are not as sweet as the chips you find in most cookies, and that distinct dark chocolate flavor is heavenly.  If you're making these for your kids, they might prefer the semi-sweet chips over the dark chocolate, but our family was pretty divided on which one was their favorite.  Or better yet, make two batches and everyone will be happy.  Enjoy!!

2 cups  Flour
1 tsp  Baking Soda
1/2 tsp  Salt
1-1/2 sticks  Unsalted Butter, softened
1 cup  Brown Sugar
1/2 cup  Sugar
2  Large Eggs
2 tsp  Vanilla
12 oz bag  Chocolate Chips (bittersweet, milk chocolate or semi-sweet)
1-1/2 cups  Mini Pretzels or Pretzel Sticks, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, allowing about 1- 2 inches to drape over the ends of the sheet.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda an salt.  In a large bowl, use a mixer to beat the butter and both sugars, until blended and creamy.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla, mixing on low speed.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the batter, then using a spoon, stir in the chocolate and pretzels.

Spread the batter evenly onto the lined baking sheet.  Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until golden.  (The center will still be a bit gooey.)  Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for 5 minutes, then carefully slide the cookie off of the pan and onto the wire rack.  (Do this by lifting the edges of parchment paper at either end.)  Slice into squares and serve.  Store cookies in a sealed container for up to 1 week.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Green Goddess Dressing over Cobb Salad

Tonight we made one of my favorite salads, the Cobb Salad.  This is a classic meal that really comes down to using whatever ingredients you have on hand to make a big, platter-style salad.  Start with a bed of chopped romaine, add any protein toppings you like, such as chopped turkey, ham or cooked chicken, add a few veggies like chopped tomatoes, green onions, or avocado, then a few yummy accompaniments, like crumbled cooked bacon, crumbled blue cheese or cheddar and a few diced hard-boiled eggs.  As many or as few toppings, any way you like it. (Kids love this meal!)

For the dressing we went with another classic that usually does not appear with the Cobb salad, a creamy, herb-infused, Green Goddess Dressing.

Green Goddess Salad Dressing is a restaurant classic created back in the 1920's in San Francisco.  The dressing was hugely popular during the 1960's and 1970's, and could be found on almost any restaurant menu in the country.  Then something happened.  This incredible dressing disappeared from diner menus in favor of ...Ranch!  Ugh.  Don't get me wrong, some homemade ranch dressings are OK, sort of, but they are not something I've ever been a fan of.  Especially the bottled ranch.

This recipe will explain why this dressing had such a huge following, it tastes amazing!  There are dozens of recipes that claim to be the "original".  Some recipes call for avocado or garlic, while others, like my version, do not contain either.  But the ingredients that are consistent are mayo, vinegar, fresh herbs, and anchovies.  Just a few ingredients and 30 seconds of blending time and that's it.  You have homemade dressing, full of bright herb flavors and no preservatives.  This recipe makes about 2 cups of dressing and will keep for 10 days in the refrigerator.

This dressing also makes a great veggie dip.  The kids and I tested this on carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and even pretzels and it was equally amazing on everything. lol  To serve this as a dip, just reduce the half and half in the recipe down to 2 or 3 tablespoons.  It is excellent!  Enjoy!!

Green Goddess Dressing
1 cup  Hellman's Light Mayonnaise
1/2 cup  Sour Cream
2 TB  Snipped Fresh Chives
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Parsley
2 TB  Chopped Fresh Tarragon
1 TB  Lemon Juice
1 TB  White Wine Vinegar
3 Anchovies + 1/2 tsp liquid from the can
Salt and Pepper to Taste
4 - 5 TB  Half and Half

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse several times.  Add half and half, one tablespoon at a time until the dressing is the desired consistency.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chicken, Poblano and 3 Cheese Lasagna

Tonight we found a tasty way to use a few more poblano peppers from our garden.  Although this is far from any traditional lasagna, the combination of provolone cheese, Monterey jack cheese and just a bit of Parmesan gave the lasagna a rich flavor, and it was a surprisingly easy meal to put together.

We used the Dreamfield's low carb lasagna noodles and they tasted great.  The poblano peppers can be roasted ahead of time, if needed, and the instructions for roasting the peppers can be found here.  The process is very easy and the flavor released from the peppers adds a nice pop to the meal.

Since I found them on sale, we used chicken drumsticks, but you could also substitute cubed chicken breasts.  The main benefit of the drumsticks is the dark meat will have much more flavor versus white meat.

Thanks to a generous amount of mushrooms, this dish had almost a stuffed-mushroom quality that I loved.  A nice poblano and chicken taste, with the earthy mushrooms and cheesy backdrop.  So yummy.  This was an instant hit with the family, and I'm sure it will be added to the most-requested list.  Enjoy!!

3 lbs  Chicken Drumsticks, boiled off and meat pulled off the bone
1 TB  Olive Oil
1 medium  Yellow Onion, finely chopped
8 oz  Portabella Mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 TB  Minced Garlic
1/4 to 1/2 tsp  Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (use 1/2 tsp for more spice)

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the onions and sauté 2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet and sauté about 5 minutes over medium heat, until the mushrooms are tender but not mushy.  Add the cooked chicken to the pan, stir and sauté 2 minutes, then cover the pan and remove from the heat.  Set aside while you make the sauce and noodles.

8  Whole Wheat or Regular Lasagna Noodles, cooked al dente

3  Fresh Poblano Peppers, roasted, peeled and deseeded, then cut into strips
1 TB  Olive Oil
2 TB  Salted Butter
1/2 medium  Yellow Onion, chopped
2 tsp  Minced Garlic
1/3 cup  Flour
1-1/4 cups  Chicken Broth
1/2 cup  Milk
1/2 cup  Half and Half
Salt and Pepper to Taste
6 slices  Smoked Provolone Cheese
6 slices  Monterey Jack Cheese
Grated Parmesan Cheese

In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sauté 4 minutes until tender.  Add the flour and stir until fully incorporated into a smooth roux.  Slowly add the chicken broth to the pan, a little at a time, stirring to combine.  When the mixture is smooth, add the milk and half and half to the pan and stir.

Add the poblano peppers to the pan and bring the mixture to a low simmer over medium heat.  Add salt and pepper as needed, then remove the pan from the heat once the sauce has thickened slightly.

Pour the sauce into a blender and pulse several times if you prefer a chunky sauce, or puree for a smooth sauce.  (I did not puree the sauce completely and it was very tasty with little bits of poblano.)


In a large non-stick baking pan, pour a 1/2 cup of sauce and about 1/3 of the chicken/mushroom mixture into the pan in an even layer.  Add a layer of cooked lasagna noodles, then a layer of provolone cheese slices.  Next add another 3/4 cup layer of sauce, and the remaining chicken mushroom mixture.  Add the second layer of noodles, the rest of the sauce and top with the sliced Monterey jack cheese, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn the oven to broil for 3-4 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Enjoy!!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

7 Day Slaw

If you have potlucks or picnics coming up or you are planning a camping trip, this is a great salad option.  Since this slaw does not contain any mayonnaise, it does not require the level of refrigeration that a mayo-based salad would need.  That's also where the name comes from.  Without the mayo, the salad has a refrigerated shelf life of one week, if it lasts that long!

After allowing a little time to marinate in the vinaigrette, at least 2-3 hours for the best results, this slaw is crisp-tender and has lots of flavor from the cider vinegar, with just a bit of sweetness from the carrot and sugar.  We served this slaw with the El Diablo Burger, and it also tastes delicious with Country Style Pork Ribs with Mustard or your favorite BBQ.  Enjoy!!

3/4 cup  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Kosher Salt
2 tsp  Dry Mustard
1 tsp  Whole Celery Seeds
2 TB  Sugar
2/3 cup  Cider Vinegar
1/4 cup  Sugar
1 medium  Onion, thinly sliced
1 medium  Green Pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 medium  Carrot, peeled and shredded
2-1/2 lbs  Green Cabbage, thinly sliced

Place cabbage in large bowl with bell peppers, onion, carrot and 1/4 cup sugar. Toss together and set aside.

In a small saucepan, add the 2 tablespoons sugar, vinegar, celery seed, dry mustard and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, stir, then simmer for 2 minutes until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Remove the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool, about 15 minutes.

Pour the vinaigrette over the cabbage, then add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss the slaw to combine, cover and refrigerate for several hours until ready to serve.  Be sure to toss the slaw a few times while it is chilling.

El Diablo Burger

During our recent trip to Universal Studios, we were excited to find the park was home to one of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurants.  Overlooking the waterway in the heart of the park, this was a great place too cool off, grab a burger for dinner and enjoy the very "festive" atmosphere.

My husband chose the El Diablo burger which included a spicy assortment of toppings including crispy fried onions, roasted poblano peppers, Monterey jack cheese, chili paste, and spicy chipotle ketchup.  Not only did he love this burger, he wanted to recreate it at home.
So that was my assignment.  Try to duplicate this burger, that I never tasted, and get as close as possible to the original.  So the challenge was on and, according to my husband, this was a pretty good burger.

The crispy fried onions were easy, we used French's crunchy onions for that step.  The poblano peppers in our garden were just the right size, and this would be our first chance to use them this season.  We quickly charred the peppers on the grill, let them cool, then removed the blackened skin to reveal the smoky pepper inside.  Then it was easy to slice the peppers open so they would lie flat on the bun.

The chili paste stumped me a bit, but I ended up using Sriracha sauce and just blended it into the meat with a bit of salt and pepper.  The chipotle ketchup was super easy and will be something we will make for many other meals.  Start with plain ketchup, add one chipotle pepper and a spoonful of the adobo sauce the pepper is packed in, then blend for 10 seconds. It's an easy, spicy sauce that would taste great with almost anything. (If you like extra spicy sauce, add two chipotle peppers to the mixture.)

We grilled the burgers until medium-rare, then topped them off with a slice of Monterey jack cheese and the sandwiches were ready to serve.  Everyone loves the burgers, kids included!  For those not too into lots of spice, you can serve the ketchup on the side.  It makes a great dip for the sandwich or even French fries.

There is a bit of extra work involved with this burger recipe, but the results are well worth it.  The ketchup can be made and the peppers can be roasted in advance, which will save some time when you're ready to grill. This is one great burger. Enjoy!!

Chipotle Ketchup
3/4 cup  Ketchup
1  Whole Chipotle Pepper, packed in adobo sauce
1 TB  Adobo Sauce

Add the 3 ingredients to a small blender and puree a few seconds.  Refrigerate until needed.

Roasting Poblano Peppers
Rinse 1 pepper for each sandwich you will be serving.  Place the whole peppers on the grill over medium-high heat and roast 5 - 8 minutes, turning frequently to evenly char the entire pepper.  We also tried this on the side burner and it worked great, too.

Place the peppers in a paper bag and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Remove the peppers from the bag and gently peel off the charred skin. (The skin will come off very easily.) Carefully slice off the top of the peppers, and remove all seeds.  Slice the peppers from top to bottom and lay flat on a plate until needed.

2 lbs  Extra Lean Ground Beef (this will make 6 patties)
1 TB  Sriracha Sauce (or a bit more to taste)
1 tsp  Kosher Salt
1 tsp  Ground Pepper

Combine the beef with the seasonings, form the meat into patties and place on a platter. 

Other Burger Toppings
Sliced Monterey Jack Cheese
6  Deli Burger Buns
French's Fried Crispy Onions

Grill the burger over medium heat until medium-rare, then add the Monterey jack cheese during the last few minutes of cooking.

Place a spoonful of chipotle ketchup onto each bun, lay a poblano pepper on the bottom bun, then add the burger.  The top bun gets a generous sprinkle of crunchy onions and dinner is ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Basil-Dijon Salmon on Red Lentil Puree

Two of my top favorite ingredients to cook with are basil and salmon, so this recipe was especially fun to put together.  This recipe also uses the Basil Cubes from my previous post, but you could also use fresh basil and a bit of olive oil, in place of the cubes.

The inspiration for this dish came from a jar of coarse ground Dijon mustard from Trader Joe's.  The mustard was filled with so many little mustard seeds, just bursting with flavor, I wanted to use them in a special way. 

During the same shopping trip I found a bag of red lentils, which I had never used before.  Lentils are commonly used in Indian foods, and have a very unique, slightly nutty flavor.  They are also used to thicken soups, which I can't wait to try, but since this type of lentil tends to cook down quickly, I wanted to create a puree with them.  A creamy puree, infused with basil. (As a bonus, lentils are packed with fiber, magnesium, iron, B-vitamins and protein, so these little gems are something I'm looking forward to cooking with a lot more.)

So for this dish we combined both ideas.  The salmon was quickly seared in a hot skillet, flipped over and coated with a fragrant basil, Dijon and garlic sauce, and served atop the red lentil puree.  The flavors of the salmon, basil and lentils came together beautifully, with the basil highlighting the whole dish.  This is a really unique combination, and we loved the results.  Enjoy!!

2 tsp  Olive Oil
1/2 cup  Red Lentils
1-1/4 cups  Chicken Stock or Water
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 small Basil Cube  (or 1 TB chopped fresh basil plus 1 tsp olive oil)

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the lentils and stir to coat, then add the broth or water and the salt to the pan.  Cover the pan with a tight lid, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 12 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed. 

**Note: If you like a completely smooth puree, you could blend the lentils at this point using a stick blender, but I liked the added texture of the lentils so we skipped the blender this time.

Add the basil cube (or fresh basil) to the lentils and stir until blended.  Set aside and allow the lentils to thicken until you are ready to prepare the plates.

4 - 6 oz  Salmon Portions, skin on, rinsed and patted dry
2 tsp  Olive Oil

Basil-Dijon Marinade
Basil Cube  (or substitute 2 TB chopped fresh basil)
2 TB  Olive Oil
2 tsp  Lemon Juice
1-1/2 tsp  Coarse Ground Dijon Mustard
1 tsp  Dijon Mustard
1 tsp  Minced Garlic

Place the basil cube in a small glass bowl and microwave for just a few seconds to defrost.  Add the olive oil, lemon juice, both mustards and garlic to the bowl and stir to combine.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the salmon to the pan, skin side up and cook for 3 - 4 minutes or until slightly browned.  Turn the salmon over and divide the marinade evenly between the portions, smoothing the mixture to the edges of the salmon.

Cover the pan and cook for about 5 - 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon fillets.  When the salmon is cooked through, remove the salmon from the skillet and place on a cutting board.  Using a long knife, slide the knife between the salmon and the skin, and remove the skin from each piece of salmon.

Spoon a portion of the red lentil puree into the center of each plate, place a salmon fillet on top of the puree and serve.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Freezing Basil in Ice Cube Trays

Basil adds such a bright, fresh flavor to so many foods, it's always sad when the basil plants start to flower, and then die off as the summer draws to a close.  But fear not, there is a simple way to freeze those sweet basil leaves, and it's as easy as making ice cubes.

Do you remember all of those basil plants I planted a few short months ago?  Well, they are full grown plants now and that means it's time for the first batch of cubes.

We pulled about 8 cups of basil leaves to make this first batch, which will yield a dozen or so cubes when we are finished.  Remove any of the larger stems from the leaves, but the smaller ones are fine to leave on.

Using a food processor, pack the bowl full of basil leaves and drizzle with a few teaspoons of olive oil.  No specific measurement here, just enough oil to moisten the mixture.  Pulse the mixture until the basil is coarsely chopped, then scrape down the sides of the food processor, add more oil if needed, and pulse again.  The mixture does not need to be pureed, just a finally chopped blend.

Spoon the mixture into a plastic ice cube tray, pressing the mixture down slightly.  When you are finished, drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto each of the cubes, then cover the tray with plastic wrap. 

Freeze for one to two hours or until frozen solid, then pop the cubes out of the tray, place them in a plastic bag and freeze until needed.  These will keep in the freezer for at least 6 months, but I've almost always used them up faster than that! lol  The cubes can be added to spaghetti sauce, lasagna, or any dish that calls for basil.   Enjoy!!