Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chilean Sea Bass with Cream of Wheat

I’m cooking the other piece of sea bass for Jim, but just realized I used up all my brown sugar on the double Sweet Potato and Zucchini Bread recipe. So here we go, I’m getting creative here and substituting a half package of Brown Sugar Cream of Wheat. LOL, I have no idea how this will turn out. I know I’m not telling Jim what is different until after he taste it…and even then, if he doesn’t notice a difference we may keep that secret between you and me.

I marinated for less than an hour, then sautéed in hot oil for three minutes, flipped and put in 400 degree oven for 7 minutes.

Here we go, this is beautiful and crusty on the outside (is that the cream of wheat?) and white and flaky on the inside. When asked how it was, Jim said “Mmmmm….very good!” Yeah Mandy!

Remember all the peeling and grating I did last night? I crammed it all down the disposal along with the egg shells and other leftover food…. Now look what happened. Yuck!

We are heading out for Arlington now, I hope the 1/2 gallon of drano I poured down the drain does the trick. At least its just veggies that are stuck, not concrete. You laugh, but back when I was living in an apartment I was doing grout work on several items and put the remaining concrete down the disposal....yikes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chilean Sea Bass

It was December of 2006 and Jim was driving to Austin from Houston to visit me. I wanted to cook a meal for him that would knock his socks off so I consulted with a client of mine who loves to cook. She suggested I try Chilean Sea Bass and I was terrified of this daunting recipe. I shared our dinner plans with Jim and he said that Sea Bass was his favorite. If I wasn’t nervous before, this made things even worse. Lucky, I got really great instructions from my client and the dish turned out GREAT. I don’t know if Jim stuck around for me or for my cooking. He says this remains one of his top five favorite dinners I have served. Here is what you need for the marinade:

Soy sauce, garlic, chopped jalapenos and the secret ingredient…brown sugar. The brown sugar is what gives the fish the caramelized crust that taste so delish.

I put all this in a small Tupperware and let the fish marinade for a few hours in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 400. Put one part sesame oil 3 parts vegetable oil in a pan. Swirl around and make sure the pain is just coated with a thin layer of oil. Preheat the pan until you can tell it is really HOT! Smoke is fine - only a little. Put fish in pan.

The hardest part for me is to leave it in the pan and do not touch for at least three minutes. You think its burning, you think this expensive piece of fish you just purchased is ruined….it’s not, trust me.

Just walk away and pick out a nice white wine to drink with your sea bass. I chose a crisp Sav Blanc from Trentadue. After three minutes, grab your spatula and really get underneath the fish and flip it over. Immediately place your pan in the oven for about 7-10 minutes. Depending on how well done you like it.

A great way to serve this is on a bed of sautéed spinach. I didn’t have any, so I just ate this petite portion of VERY flavorful sea bass. The brown sugar and soy gave this fish a very crisp crust but the inside of this is completely flaky and buttery. DELISH!

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Bread

You have probably seen the sales in the produce department, zucchini is everywhere and you can find a lot of it really cheap. Last night I sauteed two zucchini to compliment a fish entree. I have two zucchini left in my kitchen that I'd like to use up in another way. Pioneer Woman posted about zucchini cakes that looked absolutely wonderful, but I was having a sweet craving today and decided to make zucchini bread tonight after I saw this post on Simply Recipes. As I continued to research zucchini bread recipes I came across Sweet Potato and Zucchini Bread on epicurious. PERFECT! Jim had bought a random sweet potato recently and I had no idea what I was going to do with it. Here is what I gathered for my potato and squash bread.

2 cups all purpose flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (I used more, then added a pinch of clove and pinch of nutmeg), 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 cups sugar (I used half brown sugar), 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 3 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 1/2 cups grated zucchini, 1 1/2 cups grated peeled sweet potato, 1 cup chopped walnuts (which I didn't have.)
The sweet potato Jim picked out was huge and yielded double what I needed for this recipe, so I just doubled the ingredients across the board and made several different forms of this bread: muffins, loaf and pan.

I began by using my peeler to take the dark skin off of the sweet potato. If you aren't careful you can skin some of your hands as well.
This is what my potato looked like once it was all cleaned.
I started to grate the potato by hand and then realized I had this nifty cuisinart attachment that shredded the potato really fast and painless.
The two zucchini shredded so beautifully using the cuisinart.
Next I mixed the sugar with brown sugar, eggs and added the vegetable oil.

Once smooth I poured the sugar mixture into the veggies. Those beautiful healthy veggies drowned in sugar, eggs and mexican vanilla...yum.

Once this is well mixed I move onto the dry ingredients.

I used whole wheat flour and I could actually taste it in the finished bread, so even though it is healthier, I think next time I would use regular bleached flour. To the dry ingredients I added an extra pinch of nutmeg and clove. Why not?

Mixing the dry ingredients into the sugary vegetable mixture wasn't easy. I added about a cup of dry mixture at a time and then whipped and whipped until combined.

It took a while, but eventually you will get it all incorporated and it will have a really rich and thick constancy.I poured some batter in a small pan, made six large muffins and had enough batter for a small loaf of zucchini bread. I baked at 350 degrees for various times. The muffins finished in 45 minutes, the loaf took a full hour and the small pan took around 30 minutes. These came out really moist with a nice crunchy crust on top. Of course, they are best warm. My dad would probably add a little butter and pop in the microwave.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tapenade Topped Halibut with Zucchini Sauté

My younger brother Brad is coming over for dinner. He is the resident computer guy in the family and is loading a much needed program for me – Photoshop! I was thinking today about what I wanted to make him for dinner. He and I are both doing what we can to eat healthy, so I thought a creative fish entrée with a side of sautéed zucchini would be perfect. I must confess I’m extremely intimidated by cooking seafood in general. When I stumbled upon a snapper recipe from the restaurant Quattro at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston, I knew that tonight was the night for me to take on this challenge. Let’s begin!

I prefer white flaky fish that is mild in flavor, so I choose two halibut fillets from Whole Foods.

This is what I used to marinade the fish: olive oil, lemon zest, salt, pepper, Mediterranean blend spices (sea salt, dried garlic, oregano, chiles, lemon peel)

I dump everything in a zip top bag and let it rest so all the flavors can meld together.

The topper for the fish before we throw it in the oven is going to be this lovely tapenade. Ingredients include a handful of pitted kalamata olives, 1 tablespoon of capers, 1 tablespoon of garlic, lemon zest, ¼ cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons of parmesan, freshly ground pepper, and 1 tablespoon of cognac. I decided not to add the sun dried tomatoes after I took this picture.

After I tossed everything in the cuisinart and blended it together I think to myself that this definitely does not look appetizing, the olives made it a black paste. The taste however isn’t too bad. The olives and capers made it quite salty and I’m not sure I like the parmesan cheese in the mix. Maybe once it is melting on top of the fish the cheese will add a nice creaminess. I think I may only use a teaspoon smeared on the top of each fillet. It’s a potent tapenade! Next I must figure out a way to use up the rest of this concoction in future dishes. Any ideas? Leave me a comment with thoughts.

Sear fish on both sides in a very hot skillet and remove from heat. This only takes a few minutes to get the golden crust I’m looking for.

Next, top the fish with a bit of tapenade and finish baking in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes.

While the fish is baking in the oven, lets prepare the zucchini. I’m going to simply slice the zucchini and sauté in olive oil with a sprinkle of the same Mediterranean spice blend as I used with the fish marinade. I feel like this will really bring the flavors of both dishes together.

I like the idea of doing sauces using pan drippings, so I remove the fish fillets from my skillet and add chopped shallots and garlic.

It looked a little thin so I sprinkled some flour over it. I’m planning on serving a nice napa valley chardonnay from Benziger tonight with the fish so I’m going to spill 1/2 a cup of this chardonnay into the pan to deglaze and simply let it reduce by half while I stir up all the drippings and brown bits. It looks good! The taste test. Aweful! This stuff taste just terrible! Don't know what I did wrong, I was following my gut here and it just didn't work.

The end dish was simple, but very flavorful. The tapenade wasn’t as salty once baked, but provided a nice crust with good layers of flavor on an otherwise mild fish. I think 20 minutes in the oven is too long for the fish though, it just wasn’t as moist and buttery as I would have preferred. It was still delicious enough for my brother and I to eat every bit of it, but I think the long baking time dried it out. The zucchini was a really nice healthy addition to this meal. I purposefully left off a starchy side and opted for a hefty helping of veggies, and they were sautéed until tender crisp – just the way I like them.

The next post will be a delightful sea bass recipe a co-worker of mine passed along. The homemade marinade consist of brown sugar, soy, jalapeno and garlic!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Star Party with Chicken Parm

A few friends of ours joined us on Saturday night for a Star Party out at Canyon of the Eagles. Jim and I had been hanging out at a friend’s pool all day, only leaving me 45 minutes to get home and whip up dinner for five before we went star gazing. I checked the pantry, the freezer, the fridge…it looked like I had all the ingredients for chicken parm.

Here is what you need for Chicken Parmesan:

Boneless skinless chicken breast
Olive Oil
Red wine

I started defrosting five chicken breast by putting them in the microwave on defrost. Then I get my big pot of water on the stove for the pasta. While the chickens are defrosting and water is heating up I diced an onion and threw that into a large skillet of hot olive oil to become translucent. The microwave wasn’t doing the trick, so I put the chickens in a zip top bag and submerged in hot water in the sink. Next, I added garlic to the cooked onions, then deglazed with a cup of red wine and let that boil down to about half. (This is the same sauce recipe I used with the homemade meatballs) The chickens were finally defrosted, using a mallet, I pounded to a one inch thickness. The sauce has boiled down, so I add a healthy pinch of Italian seasoning, 6 oz of tomato paste, one can stewed tomatoes and one can of diced tomatoes. I’m cooking for five here, so I need to make a lot of sauce. Okay, sauce is …done… sort of.

I turn the heat way down, add a lid and stick it on the back burner to simmer while I finish the chicken parm. Next, set up an assembly line for the chicken – flour, egg, breadcrumbs. I use three shallow bowls and first dip the chicken in my whole wheat flour, shake. Dip in my bowl of two beaten eggs that I added a 1/3 cup of milk to. Shake. Dip in Italian seasoned breadcrumbs last and then throw in hot skillet with some olive oil. Brown the chicken one at a time on both sides, about four minutes – then place in baking dish. I put a little sauce on the bottom of the dish, top the chicken with a slice of mozzarella, then add more sauce on top. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes.

During the baking time, I add my spaghetti to the boiling water and set a time for 10 minutes. Once al dente, I drain the pasta back into my large stock pot and pour the pasta sauce on top, mix well to coat. After the chickens are cooked through and my cheese has melted on top, I pull those out and plate up. First a pile of spaghetti, then a piece of chicken. Add a slice of garlic bread to the plate and serve with red wine!

This was a quick and no hassle meal and got all five of us fed and on the road to Canyon of the Eagles before sun set. The Austin Astronomical Society (AAS) host this event in a darkened star field in the Texas Hill Country bordering upper Lake Buchanan.
There was an observatory housing two big telescopes and about 15 more AAS members dotting the field with their personal telescopes, ready and waiting for you to approach them and ask what they were looking at. We saw Jupiter and its three moons. I tried really had to see the red spot on Jupiter, but didn’t. Saturn was amazing – it looked fake through the telescope, like a spaceship in the sky. Through the different telescopes we viewed planets, glowing gas cloud nebulae, star clusters, distant galaxies, and things that were many light years away. The most interesting tidbit I learned was the definition of a light year. I was looking at a star that was 27 light years away, which means that it takes 27 years for the light of that star to reach the earth – what I see in the sky is what that star looked like 27 years ago. Jim was the one who really got into this the most. I planned this event for him and he had a great time. Just talking to these members of AAS was fascinating. We saw a brilliant shooting star and one child explained “I saw a shooting star! I made a wish on it, but it didn’t come true. Wishes never come true…” One fo the instructors from AAS explained if the wish didn’t come true, then it wasn’t a shooting star you saw, it was just space junk burning up.

Next time we go to a Star Party, I would suggest packing a cooler, some munchies and folding chairs. Although they say you need to be there by sun set, you don’t really start seeing the brilliant night sky until 45 minutes after sun set. This is plenty of time to unpack a picnic and lay down under the beautiful Texas sky.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Homemade Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Lucky me, I stumbled upon 99 cent packages of Jennie-O ground turkey at Randall’s. You better believe I snatched up a few of those.

I made dog food with six lbs of turkey yesterday, one batch last a month. Here is a pic of one week of food for two toy poodles.
(See the complete recipe for homemade dog food here)

With one package I decided to make homemade meatballs and use a technique I just read about called flash freezing. Let’s start with the ingredient list for “spicy meatballs.”

1 lb of 99 cent Jennie-O ground turkey, 1 log of Jimmy Dean’s Hot Sausage, half an onion, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, two eggs, bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, basil and flat leaf parsley.

onions make you cry
I start by chopping up the onion really fine and sautéing in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent.

hot mixture
Then I chop up the garlic and the parsley and add it to the onions. Here I add another tablespoon of olive oil because I wasn’t hearing the “sizzle” I like so much. Once it looks about right, take it off the burner and let it cool while you prepare the MEAT!

In a large mixing bowl I dump the sausage – yeah, that looks gross.

Here is everything else I dumped: two eggs, sausage, turkey, cheese and a squirt of basil. I use the basil in the tube because it’s not practical for me to have fresh herbs on hand all the time, especially when I get the urge to make something last minute like I usually get. This is a step up from dried herbs, but not quite as proper as using fresh basil…whatever.

get in there
Go ahead and use your (clean) hands to mix in the onion/parsley/garlic mixture into the meat. Be careful not to overwork the mixture - It will make the meatballs tough, at least that is what I’ve read.

Now for the fun part. If you have kids, I’m sure they would get into this. Lucky me, I don’t…so I get to play by myself while my two dogs drool at my feet. Roll up as many two inch meatballs as you can. I happen to be able to roll 31 meatballs out of this batch.

I put two dozen in neat little rows on a cookie sheet and pop those into the freezer to “flash freeze” them for an hour. Once frozen I will dump them in a ziplock bag and they will stay good for about two months. Next time I want a home cooked meal without the effort I will sauté a couple of these bad boys up and serve them over pasta or on crusty bread for a meatball sandwich with some melted mozzarella on top – YUM!

I reserve seven of the fresh meatballs and that is what I am cooking with tonight. I use the same pan from before with all the onion and garlic and brown bits on it.

brown em
Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil and brown these on all sides. It takes me about 10 minutes total. They will not be cooked through all the way, but you simply want it to hold its structure and get a nice flavorful crust on the outside. Once they are brown all over, pull those off and cover with foil for later.

tomato sauce
Now we make the homemade tomato sauce – you can’t find stuff this good in a can!! The ingredients I’m using are…garlic, onion, basil, olive oil, salt, pepper (all are still on my counter from the meatballs) and I add to it several cans of tomato in different forms. Here I have diced, and sauce. I also have a delish bottle of red wine and manchego cheese. The manchego cheese is for me to snack on while I sip some wine and make this sauce.

In that same grimy pan, I add my ½ chopped onion and another tablespoon of olive oil and cook over medium high heat until it gets golden brown, about 5-8 minutes. Then I added a tablespoon of chopped garlic and a squirt of basil. I stir it together and let it cook for another minute.

food and wine are great together
Now I take a sip of red wine and dump the rest of my glass in there, about a ½ cup. Let this simmer while you fill up your wine glass again. Stir it occasionally, but you want most of the liquid to evaporate, about 3 minutes.

The last step is to throw in a can of your tomatoes. Use what you have on hand. I think the best would be a large can of crushed tomatoes and a can of tomato paste. I only had a can of diced and a can of tomato sauce. I also found some cream in my fridge that was about to expire, so I dumped the last 1/3 cup in there along with a heavy pinch of salt and pepper. Then I turned the burner to its lowest setting, added back the seven browned meatballs and covered this bad boy for 25 minutes.

During this time I boiled water and threw in some noodles to cook until al dente. Once 25 minutes goes by the meatballs are cooked through and very moist. The sauce has melded together and is nice and rich. I spooned pasta into bowls, topped with sauce and added four meatballs for Jim’s bowl.


He is a happy man. I wish I had a picture of his face when I told him there were more homemade meatballs in the freezer…like two dozen more!