Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Fish en Papillote

Fish en Papillote

Once a year we host a fancy dinner party to celebrate Tom's and our friend Cindy's birthdays.  But this year we also cooked the meal.

The theme was Sea and Salt.  From caviar and smoked salmon on toast points--to mini-lobster rolls---to a beautiful seafood terrine which Tom made--- to finishing with a salted caramel pudding.

Our pièce de résistance was fish en papillote.

The fish is cooked in parchment paper in the oven, where it steams gently.
At the table, each packet is opened and the aromas are a delight.

Since we'd never done this dish before, I reviewed a lot of videos and looked in a lot of cookbooks.

Most suggested making a heart shaped packet of parchment but I decided to make ours into "twists" and tie them with sea kelp, which when softened in warm water becomes workable.

You can pretty much pick any fish and add your choice of veggies and flavorings.  Tom chose cod based on what was fresh at the grocery store.  And I decided on making a Meyer lemon and herb topping over Israeli couscous and asparagus.

Cod with Meyer Lemons and Herbs, Asparagus over Couscous

4 ounce portion of cod per person
12 x 18 piece of parchment per serving
dried sea kelp, softened and cut in 1/2 inch "strings"
1 Meyer lemon, very thinly sliced and more to squeeze
tips of fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
good quality olive oil
1 cup pre-cooked Israeli couscous, al dente (see below)
sauteed shallots
slightly-cooked very thin asparagus, about 4 inches long, 5 pieces per serving

For the asparagus, use the top 3-5 inches of very thin stalks.  Lay them flat on a plate and microwave them for 2 minutes to pre-cook them but keep them bright green.  Can be done well ahead of time.

For the couscous, saute a large shallot in oil or butter, add 1 cup Israeli couscous and stir until toasted but not brown, then add 1 1/4 cups of chicken broth, and a pinch of salt.  Stir, bring to a boil, and cook gently for 9-10 minutes.  It should be al dente and not mushy.  Set aside.  Can be made ahead.

To make each packet, place about 1/3 cup of couscous in the center of the parchment paper.  Lay out 5 pieces of asparagus in one layer.  Salt and pepper the fish well --- on both sides --- then place it on the asparagus.  Splash the fish generously with olive oil, squeeze a little lemon juice on top.  Then place two very thinly sliced pieces of lemon on top.  Add the tips of a sprig of rosemary.

Hold one corner up of the parchment and then gather the paper, accordion style, in one direction, overlapping the paper to seal in the flavors.  When you are finished enclosing the fish, give it a twist to be sure the packet is completely sealed, then tie it with the wet sea kelp "string."

Place on a heavy cookie sheet, and refrigerate.  Can be made 2 hours ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place in center of oven, and bake until the fish feels firm to touch from the outside, about 20 minutes.

This is a very forgiving way to cook fish but looks impressive at the table.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Broccoli Stir-Fry

Stir-Fried Broccoli with Chili-Garlic Sauce

We all know broccoli is good for you.  If you believe everything said about it, it is the wonder vegetable.

It's high in levels of fiber, rich in vitamin-C.  Also rich in vitamin-A, iron, vitamin-K, B-complex vitamins, zinc, phosphorus and phyto-nutrients.    It is touted to help prevent osteoarthritis, protect your skin against the effects of UV light, reverse diabetes heart damage, reduce cancer risk, and detoxify air pollutants in the body.  Impressive!

We try to eat it regularly, but I get tired of plain old, steamed broccoli.

This is a good recipe for adding some zip to an everyday basic.

Stir-Fried Broccoli with Chili-Garlic Sauce
(from Best Ever Cooking for Two)

Serves 2

2 T. chicken broth
2 t. soy sauce
1.5 t. dry sherry
1 t. Asian chili-garlic sauce
1/2 t. toasted sesame oil
1/2 t. cornstarch
1 garlic clove, minced
3.5 t. vegetable oil, i.e., 1/2 t. for sauce, 3 t. for stir-frying
pinch red pepper flakes
12 ounces broccoli florets, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1/8 t. sugar

Whisk together broth, soy sauce, sherry, chili-garlic sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch together in a small bowl until well combined.

In a second small bowl, combine garlic, 1/2 t. vegetable oil, and pepper flakes.

Heat remaining 1 T. vegetable oil in 1 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking.  Add broccoli and sprinkle with the sugar then cook, stirring frequently, until broccoli is well browned, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add garlic-oil mixture and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

Add broth mixture and toss until broccoli is evenly coated.



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thai Chicken with Basil

"Chopped" Thai Chicken with Basil

You can tell by the photos that we are now cooking and eating after it is dark outside.  The sun has been going down earlier and earlier every day.

But, there is still a lot of fresh basil around this time of year, so I thought I'd try this Thai-style chicken dish I found in our new, favorite recipe source:  Best Ever Cooking for Two.  

Make this dish when you have access to a lot of fresh basil.  It is the key ingredient -- the recipe requires a full cup.

The first time I made this recipe it seemed complicated, but the second time it seemed easy.

The flavors are well worth the effort to get out the Cuisinart to "chop" the chicken.

This recipe uses just one chicken breast but makes very generous portions for two people.

Thai Chicken with Basil
(from Best-Ever Cooking for Two)

Serves 2

1 cup fresh basil leaves
2 green or red Thai chilies, stemmed (or use what you can find)
1 garlic clove, peeled
2.5 t. fish sauce
1.5 t. oyster sauce
1.5 t. sugar
1/2 t. distilled white wine vinegar
1 (8 ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 T. vegetable oil
Red pepper flakes

You will need a large non-stick skillet, a mini-food processor, and a small bowl, and a medium bowl.

Get out the mini- Cuisinart/food processor.  Pulse 1/2 cup basil, chilies, and garlic until finely chopped, 10 to 12 pulses, scraping down, as needed.

Transfer 1.5 t. of basil mixture to a small bowl, then stir in 1.5 t. fish sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and vinegar, and then set aside.

Place the rest of the mixture a skillet large enough for stir-frying everything.

Dry off the chicken well with paper towels --- it makes a difference, I learned.  Pulse chicken and remaining 1 t. fish sauce in now empty food processor until coarsely chopped, 6 to 8 pulses.  Transfer chicken to medium bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

(Start your rice now.)

Add shallot and oil to skillet with basil mixture and stir to combine.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until garlic and shallot are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.  (Mixture should start to sizzle after about 1.5 minutes; if it doesn't, adjust burner, i.e., turn up the heat.  I had to.)

Add chicken to skillet and increase heat to medium, at least.  I had to go to high.  Cook, breaking up chicken with a wooden spoon, until only traces of pink remain, 2 to 4 minutes.

Add reserved basil-fish sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly until chicken is no longer pink, about 1 minute.

Stir in remaining 1/2 cup of basil leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until basil is wilted, 30 to 60 seconds.

Serve immediately.

Serve with rice.

Serve with red pepper flakes for those who like more spice.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

More Proof that Green Tomatoes Will Ripen

More Proof Green Tomatoes Will Ripen

I bought these green tomatoes to paint, not eat, because I liked their spidery-looking leaves and their glossy green skins.  
But I had to go away on a trip, and left them sitting in my studio.  
A week later, when I returned, they were no longer green!  I was wishing I had painted them before I left.
And here they are a week later.  Almost completely red and ripe.

They should be ready to eat soon!

So, I'd say, don't compost all of your green tomatoes, bring some inside and let them ripen slowly.

It takes about 3 weeks.

To read what I wrote about ripening green tomatoes before:


Monday, October 6, 2014

New Orleans Inspired Shrimp & Andouille Stew by Tom

New Orleans Inspired Shrimp & Andouille Stew by Tom

Barbara gave me the challenge of finding a way to use a package of Andouille sausage that we had purchased on impulse a while back.  Going to the internet, all I could find for the most part were gumbo recipes.  But...I did find this Andouille stew recipe at that looked intriguing.  It certainly had the look of a gumbo recipe, but without the Cajun spices and some of the other typical ingredients.  Worth a try and only took about 30 minutes to make start to finish.

A word of warning about this recipe.  It calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper.  That is what I used, and it was spicy hot.  I think if I make this again, I will cut that back to no more than a single teaspoon.  A little cayenne pepper goes a long way.


Andouille Stew

Serves 4-6

12 ounce package of Andouille sausage, cut into bite size pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried, ground cayenne pepper (note warning above!)
1 medium sweet potato cubed into 1/2" size pieces
1 package frozen okra
1 package frozen corn kernels
3 cups low sodium chicken broth
16 ounces uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon salt
Chop up the onion and the sweet potato.  Put the sweet potato into a microwave safe bowl.  Add 1/8 cup of water and cover with plastic wrap.  You will microwave these shortly.
Cut up the Andouille sausage into bite size pieces and set aside.
While you are sautéing the onion and garlic, microwave the sweet potatoes for 3-4 minutes until they are soft.  The bowl will get hot, so put a plate under the bowl to ease removal from the microwave oven. 
In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, sauté the onion and garlic together for about 3-4 minutes.
Next stir in the thyme and cayenne and continue sautéing for another couple of minutes.  The onions should be soft and slightly golden in color.
Next add the frozen corn and okra.  Continue to sauté for another 5 minutes or so.  You will need to continuously stir the mixture to insure the onions and garlic do not burn.
Now add the Andouille sausage and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the chicken broth and the microwaved sweet potatoes.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
Finally add the frozen shrimp.  Cook just until the shrimp are cooked, which will only take 3-4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and serve.
To add some additional texture to the stew, I served it over Texmati rice.  I cooked the rice per the container directions and put a scoop of rice into the bottom of the bowl.  I spooned the stew over the rice and then stirred it up at the table.

We both enjoyed the stew that night, and the next night as well as a leftover.  But do monitor the amount of cayenne pepper you add.  Our dish was quite spicy hot even for me! 

But if you do find yourself with a package of Andouille sausage in your refrigerator or freezer, this is a good recipe for it.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins -- again!

Mini Pumpkin Dark Chocolate Chip Muffins

Made them again this week --

So, thought I'd share a couple of tips I've learned since I have made them so many times:
  • 1) dark chocolate chips work the best 
  • 2) 2 cups of chips come in one bag, so you can make a double batch with one bag
  • 3) but there isn't quite enough pumpkin in one can for a double batch, so I use applesauce to make up the difference and they taste just as good if not better
  • 4) make one batch as mini-muffins and the other as regular muffins, and bake them at the same time
You can be done making two batches of muffins in less than 45 minutes.
  • Measure and mix the ingredients while the oven heats up,  
  • 12 - 25 minutes for the muffins, depending on the size
  • and another 10 to let them cool before popping them out of the pan.

This is a stir by hand recipe.  No mixer necessary.  Easy but very tasty.

Pumpkin flavored drinks like beer and lattes seem to be all the rage this fall.

Why not add a muffin to the mix?

Here's the link to the original recipe:  Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hoisin Pork Chops by Tom

Hoisin Pork Chops by Tom

As we are nearing the end of our stay at our lake house, Barbara gave me the challenge of using up as many items in our refrigerator and pantry as possible.  That way we would have less to carry back in a week or so.

We had a guest coming for dinner, so my thought was a marinated meat of some sort that I would then grill.  We have a very old cookbook entitled "The Healthy Barbecuing & Grilling Recipe Book".

Its copyright is 1994, so we have had it for a while.  In it I found what appeared to be a very good hoisin marinade, which became the basis for my marinade.

I really enjoy the boneless thick pork chops that Morgan Market in Penn Yan carries.  That became my meat for the marinade.  Good choice because this combination of pork and hoisin marinade was really good.  I will definitely make this again even if I am not trying to use up ingredients.


Hoisin Pork Chops
(The Healthy Barbecuing & Grilling Recipe Book)

Thick boneless pork chops (one for each person you are serving)

The Marinade
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup white vinegar

At least 6 hours before you want to grill, in a gallon size Ziploc bag, add all of the marinade ingredients.  Close the bag and shake up the ingredients to get them well mixed.  Add the boneless pork chops and swish the marinade over the pork chops to completely coat them. Put the bag in the refrigerator turning it every hour to insure good coating.

Fire up your grill to very hot.

As soon as you are ready to grill the pork chops, turn the heat down to medium or even a little lower. Because there is honey in the marinade, if you keep the grill too hot you will completely char the outside due to the sugar in the honey.

Grill for 8 minutes a side.  My test for doneness is whether the piece of meat is pretty firm when you pick it up.  If it flops, it needs more time on the grill.  You can always use a meat thermometer as well.  The internal temperature should be around 160.

During grilling, periodically drizzle some of the marinade over the meat.
Once completed, remove from the grill and let them sit for about 10 minutes.  We served our marinated pork chops with mashed potatoes, broccoli and green beans.

Our guest loved the meal and particularly complimented the grill master on the tenderness and flavor of the pork chops.  I graciously accepted the compliment!

 --- Tom

Monday, September 22, 2014

Mississippi Mud Brownies

Mississippi Mud Brownies -- 
layers of chocolate, pecans, marshmallows and frosting

A bag of marshmallows, unused this summer, caused me to look for a recipe.  I found this one in a Sunset travel magazine.

I had to cut up the marshmallows -- because the recipe called for miniature ones.  It was tedious but fun.  Had to use cornstarch on my knife and board to keep them from sticking.

Very chocolaty, nutty and super sweet!  Our guest said that it looks like "fancy fudge!" and she thought it reminded her of a holiday dessert.

Mississippi Mud Brownies with  Chocolate Frosting
(from Sunset)

Makes 4 dozen

For the brownies:

1.5 cups coarsely chopped pecans, toasted and cooled
1 (4 oz) unsweetened chocolate baking bar, chopped
3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
3 cups miniature marshmallow or chopped large marshmallows

For the frosting:

Makes 2 cups

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup milk
6 T. unsweetened cocoa
16 oz. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a 13 x 9 pan.

Toast the pecans, then chop coarsely.

Chop up chocolate bar.
Microwave chocolate and butter in a large microwave safer bowl at High 1 to 1.5 minutes or until melted and smooth, stirring at 30 second intervals.
Whisk in sugar and eggs until well blended.  Stir in flour.  Spread batter into a greased 13x9 pan.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.
Sprinkle warm brownies with toasted pecans and marshmallows.

Prepare the chocolate frosting.
Cook 1/2 cup butter, 1/3 cup milk, and 6 T. unsweetened cocoa over medium heat in a large saucepan, stirring constantly, 4 to 5 minutes or until butter melts.
Remove from heat;  beat in a 16 ounce package of powdered sugar and 1 t. vanilla extract at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.

Pour over pecans and marshmallows.  spread to edges.
Let cool 1 hour on a wire rack.  Cut into squares.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cumin-scented Chorizo & Chicken with Black Beans, Peppers and Rice

Chorizo & Chicken with Black Beans, Peppers and Rice

If you like the flavors of a chicken burrito in a bowl like they serve at Chipotle's then you will like this concoction I made last Sunday --- I like to think my dish is better.

It takes advantage of the delicious smokey flavors of chorizo, which is a pork sausage, spiced with paprika, celery seed and chili/cumin spices.

This is comfort food, not fussy food.  Good for a day when it is cool outside and you have other chores to do around the house.

Chorizo & Chicken with Black Beans and Peppers over Rice

Serves 4

1 large onion, white or yellow, diced
3 red or orange bell peppers, seeded and diced
6 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
olive oil for sauteing
salt and pepper
ground cumin, about 1.5 teaspoons
1/2 cup of white wine
1 T. honey
1 can of black beans, drained well
12 oz. chorizo sausage, sliced into crescents (1 package)
3/4 pound of cooked chicken, cut into chunks (1 large chicken breast)
sour cream
chopped cilantro

You will need a large skillet with a tightly fitting cover for this dish.

Chop the onion, heat up the pan and add oil for sauteing, then add the onions.  Add a pinch of salt.  Reduce heat to medium low and let them sweat and cook down --- this will take a while --- about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, seed and chop the peppers.

Peel and mince the garlic.

Open the sausage, dry it off, slice them lengthwise then crosswise, until you have a pile of crescents.

Cut up your chicken in to chunks, set aside.

Open and drain well the black beans.

After the onions are translucent and fragrant, but not browned, turn up the heat to medium high, and add the chopped peppers.  Add a pinch of salt.  Cook until they start to wilt -- about 3-4 minutes.

Add the garlic and sprinkle with the cumin, and cook for a 1-2 minutes, but don't let the garlic brown or burn.

Add the chorizo and turn up the heat to high, to try to brown the chorizo a little without burning the veggies.  You will start to get some nice bits of brown on the bottom.  Keep stirring.

Once it gets dry --- don't let it burn --- then add the wine, and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  Turn the pan down to medium.

Before you add the beans, salt them pretty well --- beans need salt --- then add them to the skillet.

Drizzle the honey on top.  Stir and cover.  Lower the heat to as low as your stove will keep a simmer, i.e., low low.

Let it cook gently for at least 45 minutes -- or longer -- now add the cooked chicken towards the end, so it soaks up the flavors but doesn't get too dried out.

From time to time check to be sure there is enough liquid in the covered skillet-- and add a little more water or wine, if needed.

Prior to serving, make a batch of fluffy Texmati (basmati) rice.  Chop up some fresh cilantro.

Just before serving, taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over the rice, add a big dollop of sour cream and lots of freshly chopped cilantro.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Apple Crisps in Canning Jars

Apple Crisps -- Individual Portions

I first tried this idea with peaches for Labor Day, and didn't get it quite right--too much lemon.  So, I tried again last Sunday, this time with apples and it was a home run.

Making the crisps in individual portions -- in canning jars (or ramekins) --- is the same idea as making muffins instead of a cake.  Single portions make them feel special, yet they are practical for storing/freezing.  Plus they cook faster.

Apple Crisps

12 Servings

Apples, peeled and cut in chunks -- a dozen small or 8 large
lemon juice --- 1/2 lemon -- use judiciously
pinch of salt
cinnamon to taste, about 2 t. -- Vietnamese if you can get it
sugar -- 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on sweetness of your fruit
tapioca pearls -- about 1 T. --for thickening the juices

toasted chopped pecans, 3/4 cup
oats - 3/4 cup
flour - 3/4 cup
pinch of salt
brown sugar - 1 cup
melted butter- 12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling:

Peel and core, slice and chop the apples into chunks.

Squeeze lemon juice on the apples to prevent them from browning.

Add a pinch of salt, and sprinkle 2 t. cinnamon.

Add sugar to taste.  About 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup depending on the sweetness of your fruit.

Add a tablespoon of tapioca pearls, for thickening the juices.

Mix together well but try not to crush the fruit.

Spoon equally into canning jars or ramekins.  Fill them pretty close to the top.  The fruit will shrink down.

For the topping:  

Toast and then chop the pecans.  Let them cool.

Mix together flour, salt, oats, brown sugar and pecans in a mixing bowl.

Melt the butter in the microwave.

Pour it over the dry ingredients -- a little at a time, while mixing together, until you get a homogeneous wet mix.*

*Note:  if your mixture is not wet enough, melt some more butter and add it until you get a mixture like in my photo below.  It should be sticky, not white and dry.
Top each container of apples with the crisp mixture, pressing it in a little to be sure it doesn't slide off during cooking.  (If you have extra topping, cover and store in the refrigerator for future use.)
Place the canning cars or ramekins on a sturdy cooking sheet ---you can line it with foil for spills if you wish -- and be sure there is room around each one for even cooking.

Place in center of a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the tops are crispy brown.

Let them cool.  They will shrink down---
Giving you plenty of room to add a scoop of ice cream on top!