Broiled Fish with Grapefruit Salsa

I worked out a lot this week. I worked out a lot last week too. Working out sucks which is why I try to avoid it as much as possible. I truly believe that every single person who claims to love working out must be lying. Sitting on my couch watching trashy reality tv = fun; working out = not fun. I (grudgingly) work out because it’s good for me, not because I enjoy it.

Anyway for some odd reason that even I myself haven’t figured out, I’ve gone from the absolute bare minimum of working out to working out almost every day for the past 2.5 weeks which in turn has left me tired. As much as I hate working out, even I can admit that it’s the good kind of tired, but tired none the less.

I was craving a meal that was light, fresh and bright and was inspired to make some simple broiled fish, in this case Arctic Char, with a grapefruit salsa. This was super simple to make and took very little time and was perfect for my workout weary body.

I did almost nothing to the fish, so there’s no real recipe there, but I did want to share this awesome trick I got from my friend Heather. I used to broil my fish in individual packets, but the last time I was at Heather’s she cooked up some salmon and placed all the filets on one piece of foil and folded it in on three sides, creating a packet with no top. She then loosely placed another piece of foil on top to cover the fish. That way you can easily check the fish for doneness without having to pull apart a packet and without risking steam burns.

Grapefruit Salsa

  • 1 large grapefruit
  • 1 small jalapeno pepper; finely chopped
  • 2 scallions; finely sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon cilantro; torn
  • A few squeezes of honey to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A drizzle of olive oil

Supreme the grapefruit and then roughly chop the segments. Toss into a bowl. Add jalapeno, scallions, honey, cilantro, salt and pepper. Toss together, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Serve over fish.

I really love the tang of grapefruit and the heat of the jalapeno, so I add just enough honey to round everything out, but not to add enough to add much sweetness. If you prefer things a little sweeter just add more honey.

I despise (if I could think of a stronger word I would use it) raw onions, but it you like them you could definitely use finely chopped red onions in place of the scallions whcich would add a nice color contrast.

I served this over brown rice.

Enjoy!

Summer “Pasta” (Zucchini Ribbons with Sauteed Veggies and Mascarpone)

Last night I made one of my absolute favorite meals, zucchini “pasta” with seasonal veggies and mascarpone cheese. If I had to list the top 10 dishes I make, this meal would very likely be on it. Not only is it absolutely delicious, it also speaks so much to how I see food. It uses local seasonal ingredients I bought at the farmers market and it makes the veggies the star of the show. I limit meat consumption not only by eating plenty of vegetarian meals, but also by making dishes where the meat is the guest star and not the main act. This whole recipe uses only 1/4 pound of pancetta for the whole dish (and certainly could be made totally vegetarian). This recipe also represents so much of what I believe about healthy living and eating. Now, take a deep breath and put that frozen “Jenny Craig monosodiumdycalcitride glucolaurelatepathos may contain rat poison, but it only has 2 grams of fat and 100 calories” meal down and listen to me; I used 1/4 pound of pancetta and 2 oz of mascarpone. I used very small amounts of two fairly fatty foods to add a ton of flavor. So I used a little and got a lot, got it? Plus this meal was fresh, natural and had a ton of nutrients from all the vegetables and I’ll take a little real fat over fat-free chemicals any day!

Zucchini “Pasta” with Seasonal Veggies and Mascarpone

  • 4 medium zucchini (I like using 2 green and 2 yellow because it looks prettier)
  • 1/4lb pancetta (optional if making vegetarian)
  • 1 large onion; sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2-4 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes; halved
  • 1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves (or more or less to taste)
  • 2 oz mascarpone cheese

Using a vegetable peeler make thin strips of zucchini, working down all sides until you get to the seeds. Set ribbons aside and cube up the inside, seeded part of the zucchini (You could just discard them, but I think that’s a waste of food and they’re delicious). Set aside.

Cut pancetta in small cubes, then in large saute pan cook over medium high meat until pancetta is crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon remove pancetta to a plate covered with paper towels. Drain then transfer to a serving bowl. Do not discard the fat from the pan, if there is too much fat pour some out to leave you with a couple of tablespoons in the pan. If you’re keeping the recipe vegetarian skip and heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for the next step.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to boil. When water is boiling add salt and zucchini ribbons and cooks for about 5 minutes until ribbons are tender. Strain through colander then set aside in serving bowl with pancetta.

Lower the heat to medium and add onions and cubed zucchini to the pancetta grease with some salt and pepper to taste (go light on the salt since pancetta is salty, if you’re not using pancetta you can be a little more liberal) and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables have softened, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 more minutes.

Stir in cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes just begin to soften and lose their shape a bit, about 3-4 minutes. You don’t want the tomatoes to turn to mush.

Gently toss the sautéed veggie mixture into the “pasta” and pancetta. Stir in the basil. Gently fold in the mascarpone until it’s all melted and the veggies are coated.

Serve with an extra dollop of mascarpone and more basil on top.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

Tips:

I think this recipe might look prettier if you didn’t mix the sauce into the ribbons in a big serving bowl and instead put the “pasta” in your individual bowl and then piled the veggie/mascarpone mixture on top. I put everything in one bowl because space is at a premium in my apartment.

If you keep this vegetarian I might try adding some parmesan cheese for a salty kick. Or if you find mascarpone too bland without the pancetta, you could replace it with creme fraiche, which is a totally different flavor, but adds a great tang.

The Pudding Pledge (Salted Butterscotch Pudding)

Dear Readers,

I invite you to take the following pledge with me.

OK raise your right hand:

I (insert name), being of sound mind, do solemnly swear that I will never buy pudding in a plastic cup or powdered box mix again. I hereby acknowledge that making pudding from scratch is incredibly easy and with very little work I will create something that is far superior in flavor and texture to prepackaged pudding and pudding mixes.

Seriously, once you start making pudding from scratch you will wonder why you ever bought it pre-made before. One of my favorite recipes of all time  is the butterscotch pudding recipe from the no deceased Gourmet Magazine (RIP, may its memory be a blessing to generations of foodies). It’s not overly sweet like butterscotch puddings you may have had in the past; rer it has a deeper, more complex almost caramel like flavor. It’s a tried and true recipe, but after having that amazing experience at Sweet Cheeks in Boston, where they topped their pudding with salted caramel, I decided to attempt a salted version of Gourmet’s butterscotch pudding.

Salted Butterscotch Pudding

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar; tightly packed
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Fleur De Sel
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 2 Tablespoons SALTED butter
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In heavy bottomed medium pot whisk together sugar, cornstarch and Fleur De Sel. Then whisk in milk and cream.

Hey, who you calling heavy bottomed!

Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat; whisking frequently. Then boil for one minute; whisking constantly.

You can see and feel the pudding thicken up.

Remove from heat and whisk in butter and vanilla.

Pour into storage bowl or container.

Luscious

If you don’t want a skin to form, cover surface of pudding with a piece of buttered wax paper. I’m sort of skin neutral, but went skinless this time.

Skin protection, like SPF for your pudding

Chill until cold; at least 2 hours. Serve with extra Fleur De Sel sprinkled on top. Serves 4.

Extreme close up!

Tip: To determine how much salt to use, taste your butter first. Not all salted butter have the same level of salty-ness. I’d also suggest being conservative with your salt in the actual pudding since you can always sprinkle more in after the fact.

Enjoy!

I is for… Iran. Mid East Peace in My Belly

Flag of Iran

I attended a private Jewish day school from nursery school through 6th grade. Every once in a while to celebrate things like Israeli Independence Day or other special occasions we’d have Israeli food. Well, everyone else would have Israeli food while I ate a sandwich.

Israeli food is very similar to other middle eastern cuisine and middle eastern food is maybe even more dangerous to me than Asian cuisine. Between the sesame and lentils, the pistachios and figs, the dates and walnuts; it is a food allergy mine field for me. So, other than a delicious serving of plain couscous I nibbled on the food from my lunch bag while my classmates savored their falafel and humus and halva.

Then last year I stumbled on an amazing Libyan recipe. It was a lamb, olive and carrot casserole (it’s actually the photo in my banner on the top of this blog). I can’t tell you how excited I was to find a middle eastern dish that I wouldn’t have to modify at all to make. I was even more excited that it turned out to be delicious. Still this is recipe was an exception and most middle eastern dishes are still impossible for me to eat.

Another exception is Tah Chin, a baked rice and chicken dish from Iran. I did try to find an Israeli recipe, mostly so I’d have a good story to tell, but didn’t find any that would be safe for me. The Tah Chin though, required no modifications and I’ve been really anxious to get to “I” and try it.

Tah Chin

  • 1 1/2 pounds chicken; cooked and shredded (you can use leftover or store bought rotisserie if you’d like)
  • 3 cups basmati rice
  • Salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 8-10 oz yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (or saffron threads crushed and steeped in hot water)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 2 Tablespoons butter plus more for dotting

Rinse rice a few times until water runs clear. Cover with water by about an inch. Add salt. Bring to a boil uncovered then turn down the heat, cover and let simmer for 6-7 minutes. At this point the rice should be about half-cooked; soft on the outside, but still a bit hard on the inside.

Remove rice from heat and allow to cool a bit for easier handling.

Preheat oven to 350.

In separate bowl beat 3 egg yolks. Add rice, saffron and yogurt and mix thoroughly. You want enough yogurt that the rice begins to bind together, but not so much that the rice is wet.

I love how the saffron turns the rice such a beautiful color

Remove one-third of mixture and set aside. Stir raisins in to remaining two-thirds.

Cut a round of parchment paper and place at the bottom of a 4-6 quart dutch oven. Over medium heat melt butter. When butter is melted coat the sides of the pot as well (tip: use the leftover scraps of parchment paper to spread the butter). Reduce heat to low

Place the rice and raisin mixture in the pot, pressing down so it covers the bottom of the pot. Press the middle down in to a well and place the chicken on top.

Cover with remaining rice mixture and dot with butter. Cover with lid and leave on the stove top for 5 minutes. This will help the crust start to form.

Move covered dish to the oven and cook for an hour and a half.

Place an inverted plate on top of the pot and, using pot holders, flip the pot over allowing the Tah Chin to unmold on to the plate.

Unmolded perfectly

Slice like a cake to serve.

Serves 6-8

FINAL VERDICT: B

I really enjoyed this dish. It looks absolutely beautiful with the rich brown color on the outside and the vibrant yellow on the inside. The texture is also wonderful; crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

Dinner

I kept this recipe pretty basic, but I also saw some versions that called for the addition of sautéed onions with the kitchen and some that marinated the chicken in a yogurt sauce too. Next time I would definitely try one or both of those things to add more flavor, but overall this is a satisfying and comforting dish. This is also a dish that would be great if I was hosting people as the presentation is really dramatic.

BONUS RECIPE

I had some leftover yogurt and I’d recently heard about a savory Persian yogurt drink, Doogh, so I thought why not make a glass to enjoy with my Persian feast. I Googled for a recipe and used it to figure out the proportion of yogurt to seltzer and then just eyeballed the rest of it.

Doogh

  • 1 part yogurt
  • cumin to taste
  • dried mint to taste
  • honey to taste
  • 2 parts seltzer

Mix together yogurt, cumin, mint and honey. Top with seltzer. Stir. Serve Ice cold.

Make sure there’s plenty of room in your glass, the seltzer will fizz up when you stir it

This drink was delicious and so refreshing. Since I know this is supposed to be savory I went light on the honey and this was not at all sweet so it’s not for everyone, but for a savory gal like me it was perfect. As I said above, the Tah Chin would be a great dish to serve for a group and I’d love to serve a big pitcher of Doogh on the side. Maybe one of these days I’ll have to host a Persian party.

I Done Gone Strawberry Crazy!

As it is my deeply held belief that strawberries are the greatest food on earth (and likely in the whole universe), I make sure to buy some every single week when they’re in season at the farmer’s market. Yesterday, at my lunchtime visit to the market, I went strawberry cray-zay! I saw those sweet smelling, luscious red, heart shaped globes of amazingness in front of me and instead of buying my usually pint of strawberries I bought a quart!

Much as I love strawberries and will happily eat them every day, as soon as I was back in my office I knew I’d made a mistake. Stupidly I hadn’t even bought rhubarb so that I could make a quick compote. I have a wedding to attend this weekend and so had no intention of baking either. What to do, what to do?

Then sitting on my couch last night watching Bravo’s Top 20 Real Housewives Reunion Moments show PBS it hit me; Strawberry Balsamic Sauce! It’s incredibly easy to make and really versatile. You can drizzle it on vanilla ice cream or scoop it on a simple pork loin. It’s also super simple to cater to your own personal tastes; add more sugar if you like it sweeter (or if your strawberries aren’t that sweet) or more vinegar if you like more of a tang.

Cooking away

Strawberry Balsamic Sauce

  • About 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Throw everything in to a pot and gently boil for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Yes, it’s that simple and so so delicous. If you’re serving it over ice cream or with pound cake I’d suggest grabbing some fresh basil, slicing into chiffonades and sprinkling on top.

Good on pretty much everything

Enjoy!

H if for… Haiti; Facing Fears and Failing

Alo!

Haitian flag

I have heard multiple times that Haitian food is delicious so I was really excited to cook “H.” I decided to go with two dishes; Griot, a fried pork dish which is probably Haiti’s most famous and Pikliz, a quick pickled cabbage condiment that served alongside most everything in Haiti.

The ingredients for these two recipes are all quite common save two; sour orange juice and Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero) peppers. One of the great pleasures of doing this international cooking project in New York City, and one of the greatest pleasures of living in New York City is that you can get your hands on pretty much anything. I got lazy though. It’s been a really busy few weeks and I just didn’t feel like traipsing the city to get my hands on sour orange juice; instead I used Rick Bayless’s tip of 1/2 cup orange juice and 1 cup of lime juice. Then came time to decide what to do about the hot peppers.

As a spicy food lover I’m always eager to eat a fiery dish, but cooking with one of the hottest peppers on the planet struck fear in my heart. I’m a huge klutz and I could easily visualize myself sitting in the emergency room after thoughtlessly rubbing my eye with a hand that had just held the cut peppers. “No,” I thought, “I won’t let fear hold me back. I will be extra careful and take all the necessary precautions. Bring on the peppers.”

I purchased two Habaneros (there were no scotch bonnets) and a pair of rubber gloves, and blasted the theme from Rocky on my iPod… well ok maybe not that last part. All the Pikliz recipes I found called for 6-8 thinly sliced Scotch Bonnet or Habaneros. 6 to 8! As much as I love spicy food that just sounded insane so I decided to go with just one thinly sliced pepper.

Pikliz

My first mistake was buying rubber gloves instead of latex. The gloves were big for my little hands which made the process arduous. I thinly sliced about 3/4 of the pepper, but by the time I got to the upper 3rd, where the seeds are I was annoyed by the gloves and figured I wouldn’t want to use the seeds (the hottest part) anyway so I quit and threw the thin slices of Habanero in with the rest of the ingredients to “quick pickle” over night.

For the Griot I couldn’t seem to get a consensus on what to do with the peppers; some recipes called for one pepper minced, others used half and some wimpy americanized recipes called for just a couple of dashes of hot sauce. Then there were a few recipes that said to just cut the stem off the pepper and throw it in whole thereby making the dish hot, but not lethal. I went with that one. I did actually cut a few slits in the pepper and, once it was inside the bag I used to marinate, squished it a bit hoping some oils would seep out.

Griot

The vinegar in the Pikliz neutralized the heat in that pepper. As for the Griot, as soon as I transferred the mixture to a cooking pot I could tell there was no heat. Habeneros are so strong that I’d be able to smell the heat. I decided to remove the pepper, thinly slice it and throw it back in to pot. I’d thrown out the rubber gloves after cutting the first pepper so I instead covered my hands with plastic baggies. Again this made chopping cumbersome and again I only chopped as far as the seeds, fearing to do more and again there wasn’t enough heat.

So hear’s a question; can cooking be a metaphor for my life? Is the lesson hear that I should be more open to risk, more willing to take chances? Nah! I think the lesson here is; buy better latex food prep gloves!

Even with the lack of heat, these dishes were both great so I’m going to give you the Pikliz recipe and the recipes as I intend to make them next time.

 Pikliz

  • 2 cups shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 2 Scotch Bonnet or Habanero peppers thinly sliced
  • 4 whole cloves (or a large pinch of ground cloves)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups white vinegar

Place all ingredients in an airtight container.

Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Pikliz will last in the refrigerator for up to two weeks since vinegar is a preservative.

Griot

 
  • 2lbs pork shoulder cut in to 1 inch cubes
  • 1 large bell pepper; sliced
  • 1 large onion; diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic; chopped or crushed
  • 1 scotch bonnet or Habanero pepper; finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 cups sour orange juice (or 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice)
  • 1/4 cup oil for frying

Place all ingredients except oil in a large sealable plastic bag (or bowl) and refrigerate several hours or over night.

Preheat oven to 375.

Transfer mixture to a dutch oven and cook for 1.5-2 hours until the pork is very tender.

Remove pork chunks from pot and place pot over medium heat with the lid off, allowing the mixture to reduce (there’s not much liquid so this won’t take long).

Meanwhile heat oil in medium saute pan and, working in batches, fry pork chunks until crispy and brown on all sided being very careful as the hot oil will splatter. This can also be done in a deep fryer.

Toss pork back in to pot and serve over rice with Pikliz on the side.

I need more pepper, you wuss!

THE FINAL VERDICT: A-

This recipe would’ve totally earned a solid A had I not been so conservative with the peppers. It was delicious.

The Griot is flavorful and the texture of the pork chunks almost reminds me of ribs; browned and crispy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside. The vegetables in the Pikliz remain bright and crisp and the vinegarey bite cuts through the richness of the pork when eaten together.

Obviously next time I make this I’ll add more hot peppers, but other than that I wouldn’t make any other changes. I love recipes like this where you get so much flavor for so little work.

Bon Apeti!

**Remember Haiti is a place that needs your help! Please consider opening your hearts and your wallets. Two organizations I would recommend are Partners In Health and Fonkoze so check ’em out.

G is for… Guatemala: Ain’t Nothin’ But a Cheese Thing Baby

¡Hola

Guatemalan Flag

So the Rangers beat the Caps and are now in the Eastern Conference Finals, the final step before the Stanley Cup! Woo-hoo!  If this was football and we were watching th Super Bowl, I’d make my Game Day Chicken Quesadillas, but because Hockey has a championship decided by a series rather than a single game I don’t really have an occasion to cook . I am still making a quesadilla this week however, but it’s a veryvery different kind of quesadilla.

In this country we associate quesadillas with the Mexican version; a flour tortilla stuffed with melted cheese and a variety of other meats and veggies. The literal translation of the word quesadilla though, is actually “cheese thing,” and throughout much of Central America, including Guatemala, a quesadilla is a type of cake with cheese in the batter. 

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Guatemala is a country that I’m sure I’ll visit one day. My good friend Hans (of favorite cakes list fame) is from Guatemala and I’ve already informed him that he has to take me there. His family still lives there and his parents love me… well ok they only met me the one time and probably don’t remember me, but once they meet me again they’ll surely realize that they love me and be thrilled to have me staying with them, right? As a thank you I can even whip this cake up for them.

Guatemalan Quesadilla  is made using Queso Seco or Cotija cheese which is a dry crumbly Mexican cheese. Because I live in a city where I can get pretty much anything, I had no problem getting the Cotija, but if you can’t find any where you live the good people of the internet suggest using 2 parts grated parmesan and 1 part crumbled feta instead. The cheese, which is crazy good and addictive, does have a similarity to both of those cheeses, but also has this bit of sweetness to it. I would make every effort to find the Cotija before resorting to the parm/feta mix. 

Mayan Ruins

I also found in my research that this cake is just as often made with rice flour as it is with wheat. Two out of the five people who actually read this blog (I’m talking to you Erin and Lisa) are gluten free, but I have no other need for rice flour so I made the wheat flour version. If you try this with rice flour, my research suggests you use 1 3/4 cups rice flour in place of the 2 cups of wheat flour and you MUST tell me how it turns out.

Usually sesame seeds are scattered on top of this cake, but I’m seriously allergic to sesame so obviously a no-go. Other than that I believe this is a very authentic recipe.

 Quesadilla Guatemalteca

  • 1 stick of butter softened
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup full fat sour cream
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Cup crumbled Cotija (Queso Seco) cheese

Preaheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9×13 baking dish.

Cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.

Stir in milk and sour cream.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together over the wet mixture. Stir just until incorporated, do not over mix. Fold in cheese.

Pour in to greased pan and bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes until a cake is very lightly browned and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean

Yields: A LOT!

Of course I started cutting it before I remembered to take a picture

FINAL VERDICT: A- 

OMG this cake is so so good. I am not big on sweet, gooey, frosting heavy desserts; preferring a plainer coffee style cake and that’s exactly what this is. This cake is perfect for a cup of tea (or coffee if you’re a coffee drinker). It’s the type of thing that I could see bringing to a book club or some other afternoon activity that involves people chatting and drinking hot beverages (clearly I’ve never been to a book club). 

The texture of this cake is hard to explain. There’s a bit of texture from the cheese, though you’d never know there was cheese in it if someone didn’t tell you, which gives it a vague resemblance to corn bread yet it is super moist and buttery. I will definitely be making this again at some point. 

Mi Corazon

¡Buen provecho!