Braces Off Celebration plus Election Dinner Preview

My older son finally got his braces off yesterday & I planned a celebratory meal based on foods he wasn’t allowed to eat with braces on (but did anyway). Here is my adorable son.

Nate without Braces

I wasn’t going to serve candy apples and LaffyTaffy for dinner so I decided on corn on the cob, nuts & crunchy raw carrots.

For the nuts I made a Pecan-Crusted Cod based on this Pistachio-Crusted Cod from FineCooking.com

Pecan-Crusted Cod
  • ½ cup pecan pieces⅓ cup panko
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan (from the green shaker can, horrors)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 pieces of cod
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 425º. Mix pecans, panko, Parmesan & olive oil together in a small bowl (I forgot the olive oil & just ended up drizzling it over the fish after topping with pecan mixture.)

Line a rimmed cookie sheet or broiler pan with foil & mist with spray oil. Place fish pieces on foil & spread with the Dijon. Carefully cover each piece of fish with the pecan topping. Season with salt & pepper. (This is when I drizzled the olive oil on top)Bake for 10-12 minutes until the fish is cooked through and the topping is crisp & browned.

For the raw carrots I just served a veggie tray with bottled ranch (gasp!).

And, we used our standard method for the corn:
  • Shuck corn
  • Lay out piece of foil big enough to wrap one ear in.
  • Put pat of butter in the middle of the foil.
  • Place corn on the butter.
  • Season with salt & pepper.
  • Wrap up.
  • Repeat for all ears
  • Grill corn (that’s Eric’s job – one of these days I need to learn how to use the grill).

Last but not least, the preview for tomorrow’s Election Night Dinner…..

Election 2012 Dinner Ballot

Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos

My family loves fish. We eat it frequently so I buy it in bulk from Costco (those big bags of individually flash frozen pieces). Then, I just defrost what we need for that night. If you’ve never had fish tacos then you are in for a surprise – they’re amazing. Most restaurants will serve fried fish tacos but I like the fish grilled for several reasons – (1) it’s much healthier, (2) you can actually taste the distinct flavor of the fish, and (3) the smoky flavor from grilling adds another dimension to the tacos.

Eric & I like it with corn tortillas but the boys prefer the flour so I warm up both. There are numerous toppings you can add to your tacos. I like offering a fruit salsa, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage and a chipotle yogurt sauce. You can probably tell after reading through these recipes that I like lots of cilantro and chipotle peppers (which are smoked dried jalapeños). Adjust to your own tastes.

These tacos are a complete meal for 4 but if you want to stretch the fish add a side or two such as rice and beans.

Mahi Mahi & Spicy Chipotle Rub

  • 4 6-oz. pieces Mahi Mahi or other firm white fish such as cod or halibut
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. Chipotle Chile Pepper or to taste
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
The Chipotle Chile Pepper is ground chipotle peppers. It is different from “Chili Powder” which is a mix of chili pepper, salt & other spices; the Chipotle Chile Pepper is spicier than Chili Powder.

Chili Powder on the left; Chipotle Chile Pepper on the right

Mix cumin, oregano, chipotle pepper & salt to make rub. Brush fish lightly with olive oil & sprinkle rub over both sides. Refrigerate up to 30 minutes.

Mahi Mahi with chipotle rub ready for the grill

Grill or broil until cooked through. Flake with a fork into large pieces and place in a serving bowl.

Fruit Salsa

  • 1 c. diced fruit – pineapple, mango, watermelon, peach, strawberry or nectarine
  • ½ sweet bell pepper, small dice – red, yellow or orange (color to contrast with the fruit)
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. red onion, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

Mix all fruit salsa ingredients together & season with salt. Set aside to combine flavors. This is amazing served with grilled fish or shrimp regardless of what else you are serving.

Pineapple Salsa

Pico de Gallo

  • 1 c. tomatoes, chopped
  • ⅓ c. white onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp. lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp. green Tabasco, or to taste

Mix all pico de gallo ingredients together & season liberally with salt. Set aside to combine flavors.

Pico de Gallo

Spicy Chipotle Yogurt Sauce

I make this with fat-free Greek yogurt but you could use sour cream if you prefer.
  • ⅔ c. fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. adobo sauce from canned chipotle in adobo
  • 2 tsp. lime juice
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped

Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

Some recipes call for a pepper from the canned chipotle in adobo; others call for the sauce. You will have most of the can leftover. I put it in a plastic container and freeze it (be sure to label it). Then, when you have another recipe that calls for it, just defrost in the microwave, scoop out what you need and return to the freezer.

Mix all chipotle yogurt sauce ingredients together. Set aside to combine flavors. I also offer plain sour cream for those who don’t like their food spicy.

Spicy Chipotle Yogurt Sauce

Tacos

  • Corn or flour tortillas, fajita or soft taco sized – 3 per person
  • 1 bag angel hair cole slaw
  • Fresh limes – cut into wedges for squeezing over your fish

To warm up the tortillas: lay a piece of plastic wrap about 3x the diameter of your tortillas on the counter. Take a piece of paper towel about 2-3x the diameter of your tortillas, wet it thoroughly and squeeze until damp but not dripping. Lay this on the plastic wrap and then place a stack of tortillas in the center. Fold the damp paper towel over the tortillas, then wrap in the plastic wrap.

Wrapping tortillas for warming in the microwave

Microwave until warm, about 30 seconds per side for a stack of about 6-8 tortillas.

Place warm tortillas, grilled fish, fruit salsa, pico de gallo, shredded cabbage, chipotle sauce and lime wedges on the table for dinner to build their own tacos.

Building Your Taco Step 1 – place fish on tortilla

Step 2 – add some salsa (pico de gallo on left; pineapple salsa on right)

Step 3 – add some shredded cabbage

Step 4 – add chipotle yogurt sauce

Take a bite. Close your eyes. And imagine you’re in Mexico. Someone pass the margaritas please. I guess that will have to be in another post….

Roasted Asparagus

I have a love/hate relationship with asparagus. Chilled steamed asparagus – could take it or leave it. Over-cooked boiled asparagus – not so good. Roasted asparagus – heavenly. Once you’ve tried asparagus this way you won’t ever cook it another way. My special finishing touch? A drizzle of raspberry balsamic vinegar right after they come out of the oven.

Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar – this stuff is amazing

Now, asparagus come in a wide range of sizes, from the thick spears down to pencil asparagus. Therefore, I’ve given a wide range of cooking times. Just check them frequently and you should be good.

This is more of a method than a recipe; so quantities are not given.

Ingredients

  • Fresh asparagus, tough woody ends trimmed
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Raspberry balsamic, balsamic or raspberry vinegar

Directions
Preheat oven to 450º. Place asparagus in a baking dish so that most spears are in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.

Roast until the tips just begin to get crispy, about 5-15 minutes, depending on size. Drizzle with vinegar and serve.

I served it the other night with Caesar Salad Pasta with Chicken.

Moules Frites – Guest Post by Eric

Hi everyone!  I was in St. Louis last week visiting my parents with my two boys. And my dog. I haven’t gotten back to the kitchen yet but my husband did some yummy cooking before we left and agreed to do a guest post for me….

Hi, I’m “hubby” and I’m doing a guest blog this week. My first jobs in high school and college were at restaurants and I’ve cooked ever since. It’s great that Suzanne and I both enjoy cooking since it brings us closer together. I’ve written a couple blog entries about doing stuff you love and food which you can read at these links:

Doing Stuff You Love
My Un-Food Blog

Last weekend, Suz said she wanted to take things easy for dinner and I said I’d take over for Sunday. She reminded me that I had mussels on my brain and I figured I should go for it. I’ve cooked them a few times before and in general, it’s pretty a painless and fun dish. Even our youngest son, the picky eater, enjoys them. For the most part, it’s all simple prep and you get a tasty meal that looks fabulous. In the past, we’ve wanted fries to complete the “moules frites”.

My first challenge was getting enough mussels for the main dish. We went to a smaller seafood seller near us but they only had just over two pounds. Then we went to Whole Foods near us and they had plenty. I believe they were farm-raised and they were definitely de-bearded which was great. De-bearding mussels is a pain because each mollusk has to be done. The guy at the counter tapped each mussel to make sure it was alive – great service! Make sure your mussels are NOT in a sealed plastic bag and do not put them directly in a bowl ice or they’ll drown. Dead mussels are no good. I put mine in a colander on top of some ice and only lost one of them out of pounds. Any melting ice will drain and you can just add some more on top if needed. Here they are being happy as clams.

Mussels in a colander.

Mussels in a colander. Ice and let it drain so they don’t drown.

My next step was to prep what I was going to add to the mussels. The first thing was to get our Dutch oven and brown a few strips of bacon over medium high heat. Leave the fat at the bottom of the pot, you’ll use it. Next, I chopped the bacon as well as the rest of my ingredients: 4 tomatoes, about a cup of parsley, and two very large shallots which I sliced. Wash the mussels well, which the colander works perfectly for. If there’s an open one, tap it with one of its friends. If it doesn’t close, pitch it because it’s dead.

Prep work done

Prepped parsley, tomatoes, bacon, and shallots.

Cook the shallots about 5 minutes in the bacon fat until they’re tender. Then deglaze the bottom of the pot with a cup and a half of white wine; I used Chardonnay. Cook off the alcohol and reduce the contents for about another five minutes. Add in the tomatoes and cook for another two minutes.

Shallots and Tomatoes

Sauteed shallots with the tomatoes added.

Add the mussels and stir them in with the shallots and tomatoes, then put the lid on the pot and reduce the heat to medium. Leave them alone for 15 minutes then either transfer the contents of the pot to a large bowl or serve them in what you cooked them in. Sprinkle the chopped bacon and parsley on top and lightly toast something like a baguette to sop up the broth. Also, make sure you’ve got an extra large bowl for the shells.

The completed dish

The Completed Dish

Since the dish is known as Moules Frites, fries are a requisite compliment to the mussels. In the past, we’ve used a variety of frozen fries. They’ve all been a bit disappointing. I did some research and tracked down the following recipe: Perfectly Thin and Crispy French Fries.

The fries came out very tasty and I give the author full credit as both a cook and a geek. That’s a high compliment from me!

Moules Eric
Serves 4-5 as a main course.

  • 3½ Pounds Live Mussels – Preferably PEI
  • 4 Strips Bacon
  • 1 Bunch Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley – Chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 Large Shallots – Sliced
  • 1 Cup White Wine
  • 4 Large Tomatoes – Chopped
  • Several slices of toasted bread such as a baguette. At least two per person.

De-beard mussels if needed and rinse in fresh cold water. Do not drown them.
Brown the bacon on medium-high until crisp in a large pot or Dutch oven. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels.
Sauté the shallots in the bacon fat until tender, about 5 minutes.
Pour 1 cup wine in bottom of the pot and deglaze the bottom while scraping with a wooden spoon. Cook off the alcohol for another 5 minutes.
Add chopped tomatoes and cook for two minutes. Reduce heat to medium.
Add all live mussels (they should be closed or close when tapped).
Cover the pot and let the mussels steam for 15 minutes. Chop the bacon during this time.
Add the chopped parsley and bacon.Either serve the contents of the pot in a bowl or in the pot.

Spanish Themed Dinner

On Father’s Day this year, I cooked a special dinner for hubby & the kiddos. We had already celebrated with my father when my parents visited back in May and we celebrated with hubby’s family on Saturday. So, this was just for our immediate family. I asked my older son for ideas and he suggested “pan con tomate” – bread with tomatoes. This is a very common tapas item and is so easy because the diners do most of the work. I decided to continue with a Spanish theme to our dinner (I LOVE to have “themes” to our meals). We had garlic shrimp, another common tapas offering, paella-stuffed peppers and a “Valencian” salad. Here’s the recipes along with the (very) few pictures that I took.

Pan Con Tomate (sadly no photos)

  • good country bread such as ciabatta, focaccia, etc.
  • tomatoes (ripe ones from your garden or farmer’s market are the best)
  • garlic cloves (bigger ones are better)
  • good extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse ground sea salt

Directions: Slice your bread about 1/4-1/2″ thick (the first joint of your thumb is about an inch) – you’ll want about 2-3 slices per person. Halve or quarter the tomatoes, depending on size (if I’m using Roma tomatoes I’ll just halve them, if I’m using big slicing tomatoes then I’ll quarter them) – you need one tomato piece per person. Cut enough garlic cloves in half so each person has one half. Grill or toast the bread until brown in spots. Place bread, tomato pieces, garlic halves, coarse sea salt & olive oil on the table. Each diner takes a piece of garlic and rubs the cut side on their warm bread. The heat & roughness of the bread will melt some of the garlic into the bread. Then rub the tomato on the bread so some of the pulp gets smeared on the bread. Drizzle with olive oil & sprinkle on some sea salt.  Eat! It is so amazing how such ordinary ingredients can taste so amazing.

Garlic Shrimp

Although this is typically a tapas item, I made a larger amount and served it for our main course. I used this recipe from Epicurious, except I left out the red pepper flakes (younger child doesn’t like spicy) and lemon juice (b/c I forgot). I have this very cool garlic press that’s also a garlic slicer which makes this easy recipe even easier.

Paella-Stuffed Peppers

I made this up as I went along so here’s description of what I did. Since I was already making shrimp for the main course I decided I wanted the paella filling to be mostly rice with some seasoning.

  •  2 links Spanish chorizo (about 2-3 oz) – this is a smoke cured type of sausage (like pepperoni), not an uncooked sausage, flavored with smoked Spanish paprika.  If you can’t find it, you can substitute pepperoni or kielbasa
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped (red, orange or yellow)
  • 3/4 cup medium grain rice
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken broth (from a can, box, bouillon, etc)
  • 2 pinches saffron threads
  • 3 whole bell peppers (we like red, yellow & orange, but if you like green use that)

Peel the casing off the chorizo and chop into small dice. Place chorizo, chopped onions & chopped peppers into a medium size non-stick saucepan. Sauté over medium heat until the peppers & onions are softened but not browned.

Meanwhile, crumble saffron threads into chicken broth and heat (I used the microwave). Add the rice to the peppers & onions and sauté in the rendered chorizo fat until the grains turn opaque (they will initially appear slightly translucent but will turn milky white in a few minutes – this is the first step in making pilaf and risotto too). Add 1 1/2 cups of the warm saffron-infused chicken broth, bring to a boil, cover and cook 15 minutes or until broth is absorbed and rice is al dente (chewy, not crunchy but not soft either).

Meanwhile, cut remaining three peppers in half through the stems. Carefully remove the seeds and inner ribs. Place cut side up in a baking dish just big enough to hold the peppers. Microwave for about 6 minutes to soften slightly (this will reduce oven time later so your filling doesn’t dry out).

When rice is done, scoop into pepper shells, dividing evenly and mounding as needed.  Drizzle remaining broth over and around peppers. Cover with foil. Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm. I didn’t use any salt in this recipe since I felt that the chorizo and chicken broth had enough. This is definitely going to be a frequently requested recipe in my house.

“Valencian” Salad (sadly no pictures either)

This is a salad I make to go with various Mediterranean meals. I call it “Valencian” because I prefer to use Valencian oranges. As is typical with most of my salads, I just have general instructions and not specific quantities.

  • lettuce (field greens if you want to get fancy otherwise whatever is in your vegetable bin)
  • oranges (preferably Valencian)
  • red onion
  • Kalamata olives
  • good extra virgin olive oil
  • sherry vinegar (can also use red wine, white wine or champagne vinegar)

Use your personal preferences on the quantities of each of these.

Tear up lettuce into pieces and place in your salad bowl. Thinly slice some onion (I have a mandolin that was a gift from hubby that makes this so easy!), quarter and add to lettuce. Peel oranges and separate into sections. Cut into bite size pieces and add them to the bowl along with any juices that drip onto your cutting board. I have trouble removing the membranes so I don’t bother anymore – which wouldn’t cut it in a fancy restaurant but is fine at home. Add kalamata olives to salad.

Mix dressing using one part vinegar to two or three parts oil (i.e. 1 Tbsp vinegar to 2-3 Tbsp oil). In France, where vinaigrettes originated, they use a ratio of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil. For me it’s too oily so I use either a 1 to 2 ratio or even a 2 to 3 ratio. The best way to determine what works for you is to mix up the oil & vinegar and dip a piece of lettuce in it to taste. You’ll know right away it it’s too tart (add more oil) or too oily (add more vinegar). Also, different vinegars might need different ratios depending on their tartness. Toss dressing with salad right before serving. Season liberally with salt & pepper.

Please let me know if you try any of the recipes and what you think.

Summery Risotto

This is my very first blog post about the food & recipes that I enjoy and want to share with you.

Last night hubby and I had one of our “at home date nights”. Since we both enjoy cooking, we’ll feed the boys early and send them down to the basement and then spend a relaxing evening cooking, drinking wine and then eating. That was our plan for last night but hubby got back late from mountain biking so I did the prep work and some of the cooking before he got home. I’ve been saying for some time that the “next” time we do a cooking date night I want to cook risotto. However, when I think risotto, I think cold-weather comfort food. So, I went looking for a summery risotto and found one at Fine Cooking. It’s Risotto with Corn, Tomatoes & Basil and the recipe can be found here. Of course I modified it.

Summery Risotto Dinner

Summery Risotto Dinner

You’d pay a pretty penny for that dish anywhere. And, it really wasn’t that hard.

Cut the kernels off two small ears of corn. Place in a glass bowl & microwave about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until just barely warm. (note: this where I deviated from the recipe) Mince one shallot and saute in oil over medium heat until translucent. Warm broth in a separate pan.

Add Arborio rice to shallots and sauté until most of the grains have turned an opaque, milky white.

Add white wine and barely simmer until the wine is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Check the time when you add the wine.

Add one ladleful of broth and cook until absorbed, stirring occasionally. Continue adding single ladlefuls of broth and simmering until absorbed until about 15 minutes have passed since you added the white wine.

Add the corn and continue adding broth as before.

Meanwhile, dice up a large tomato and combine with a little extra virgin olive oil and salt & pepper. Tear up a handful of basil leaves and add to the tomatoes.

Continue adding broth until it’s all been added to the rice. Turn off the heat and mix in tomato mixture and a bunch of grated Parmesan (freshly grated is way better).

We served it with some shrimp that hubby cooked on the grill. The meal was amazing and now I have the perfect summery risotto.