Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fish tacos!




I first had fish tacos at a little joint at Huntington Beach, California.  They were rock-my-socks-off delicious.  Ever since then, I've been determined to re-create that first experience.  This recipe is not exactly like the tacos I had that day, but they are every bit as authentic a California eating experience, and they are rock-star fish tacos.  I kid you not.  Try these and you may find them in your regular rotation for a while.  Or at least as long as your arteries hold out.

Beer-Battered Fish Tacos

Batter
1 cup AP flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup beer (plus more to make a thin batter)


Sauce
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons of capers, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dill weed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne (red) pepper

1 lb cod fillets, sliced into 2 oz. chunks
package corn tortillas
shredded cabbage
chopped tomato
vegetable oil (for frying)

Mix the batter and set aside.  Mix the sauce ingredients together and refrigerate.  In a deep, heavy bottomed pot, put one quart of oil and set on medium high heat.  Once the oil is hot, dredge the cod in some flour and then dunk in the batter.  Add no more than 5 pieces at a time.  Do not let them get too dark. Dry cod on paper towels.  Heat a non-stick skillet on high.  Heat a corn tortilla (not too stiff) on both sides.  Load with fish, sauce, cabbage, tomatoes and top off with a little lime juice.

The fish is amazing by itself.  The sauce by itself is amazing.   And, if you use El Milagro corn tortilla shells (out of Chicago), the tortillas by themselves are amazing.  But this dish put together is electric!

The sauce has many more applications beyond this dish.  I can see it as dipping sauce for french fries (even though I'm not a french fry fan), on beef sandwiches, etc.

I'm not a big fan of fried food and I don't make it very often.  (What do you do with all that oil when you are done?)  From a health perspective, I suppose that's a good thing.   But like homemade fried chicken, there is nothing quite like home cooked fried fish.  So I only do this once every two years or so.  I think my arteries will forgive me on those rare occasions.  And this, my friends, was worth it.

On the other hand, the original fish tacos I had in Huntington Beach were grilled.  I'm pretty sure they used tilapia or some other white fish.  I think that you could use any "substantial" white fish (tilapia, cod, perch, etc.) and it would still be fine. I think if you sprinkled that fish with a little cumin and cayenne before baking it, it would also complement the flavors.  So this doesn't have to be only an every-once-in-a-while dish.  I also think it would be more visually appealing with purple cabbage and a nice fresh slice of avocado.  Maybe even a few pinches of shredded carrot.

Delicious.

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Restaurant-style Salsa


Sometimes you just want it like they have at the Mexican place.  You know the stuff.  They bring it out sometimes in a mini-carafe with a basket of warm tortilla chips.

My mouth waters just thinking about it.

I was thinking about that and then I found this recipe.  OK, it is a Pioneer Woman recipe, but it was pretty good nonetheless.  Say what you will, that woman can cook.


Restaurant-style Salsa

1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes with juice (I used Contadina brand)
2 10 oz. cans of Rotel with juice
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
1 jalapeno, seeds removed
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon sugar
juice of 1 whole lime

Put in your blender or food processor and have at it.

Makes a lot, but that's okay.  You may find yourself pouring a glass and drinking this.

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Gregg's Birthday Peanut Butter Cookies - Shhhh. It's a Surprise!

So today, I made some peanut butter cookies.  I don't like peanut butter cookies.  Never have.  Amazing thing, if you think about it.  Peanut butter is my favorite food.  Followed closely by popcorn.  Nothing else comes in a close third.  Then how is it possible that I don't like peanut butter cookies?

I know this might be heresy, but I also don't like peanut butter cake.  I think it's because the only peanut butter cake I've ever had was prepared as though it was Texas sheet cake and I don't like that style of cake.  I digress.

Monday is Gregg's birthday.  Gregg is a good guy.  He's one of my best friends.  Peanut butter cookies are his favorite.  How could I deny a face like that?

Gregg's Birthday Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter, room temp
1/2 cup butter flavored shortening
1 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat overn to 375F.  Cream together butter, shortening, sugars, eggs, and vanilla until well combined.  Sift together flour, soda, and salt.  Add in thirds to the sugar mixture. Roll into 1" balls and place on a baking sheet.  (I use a silicone mat.)  Squash cookies slightly with the back of a fork and make the cross marks.  Bake 8-10 minutes. Don't overcook.  Allow to cool on the baking sheets for at least 2 minutes to set.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

CopyCat Recipe: Olive Garden's Pasta e Fagioli

Like you, I've seen a lot of copycat recipes on various recipe sites, Pinterest (follow me, by the way!) and so on.  I've never bothered to try many of them.  For one, you can often go directly to your favorite restaurant's website and get the recipe straight from them!

There are probably lots of others, but those were three I was curious enough about their recipes to locate.

In any event, if you go to Olive Garden's free recipe site, you will not find a recipe for their pasta e fagioli.  Pasta e fagioli (pronounced pasta fazool) is a classic Italian soup.  It is, to my mind, minestrone with pasta.  Literally translated, it means pasta with beans.  Every cook makes it differently, uses different beans or bean blends, puts some secret ingredient in and so on.  It's a versatile recipe that you can adjust to your own tastes.

I've never been a big fan of Olive Garden.  I always felt that their food was mediocre.  It bears no resemblance whatsoever to real Italian food which can be obtained at many small, family-owned restaurants scattered in mid-sized cities throughout the country.  One of my favorites is a place called Scotty's Italian Restaurant on 9th Street and Vine (I believe) in Cincinnati, OH.  It was about the only redeeming thing I found in Cincinnati, OH.  But I digress.

Back to Olive Garden.  Never a big fan. But I went there for lunch once many, many moons ago and remember that their soup and salad was pretty darn good.  The soup I had was pasta e fagioli.  So when I saw a copycat recipe, I decided to give it a try.  I'm glad I did.

However, it is pretty pedestrian as listed.  You may prefer it this way.  I think it pretty well mirrors Olive Garden's actual recipe.  This is a recipe you need to toy with.  Tinker with.  Try a major overhaul once in a while.  But for starters, here's the bones you'll get to work with.

Olive Garden's Copycat Pasta e Fagioli

1 lb. ground chuck/turkey/beef
1 small onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 15 oz cans of Hunts Fire-Roasted Tomatoes (to me, this is vital that they be "fire roasted)
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce (any brand, plain)
1 Tablespoon vinegar (recipe calls for white, I use apple cider vinegar because white vinegar is for cleaning, people)
2 cups beef broth
1 14 oz. can of red beans (I use red kidney beans)
1 14 oz. can of white beans (I use northern or canneli beans)
1.5 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 lb. Digitali pasta (or a small rigatoni, or even elbow macaroni--whatever you've got on hand)

In a large stock pot or dutch oven, brown the ground meat together with the onion, celery and carrot. I usually use ground chuck and there is so little fat to drain that I usually don't bother.  If you are counting every calorie, go ahead and drain it.  Return it to the pan and add the diced tomatoes, beans, broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, salt, basil, oregano,  pepper and thyme.  I usually also add one bay leaf.  I'm a rebel that way.

Bring to a boil and lower the heat until it is maintained at a slow simmer.  Cook for 50 minutes, minimum.  It's always better the second day.  It's practically illegal by day three.  Keep in mind that this soup works very nice as a poaching liquid for Italian sausage links.  Just saying.

After 50 minutes, put on a pot of salted water to boil.  When it reaches a rolling boil, add the pasta to the water and allow to cook according to package directions.  Remove when al dente.

Now, you can add your pasta to the pot if you like, but we warned that it will continue to cook in the soup liquid and will begin to absorb a lot of the liquid in your pot.  Next day, you'll go to have a bowl of soup and find out you know have a pasta chowder that has to be watered down again.  I'm not a fan of losing precious liquid to pasta and then having to water down my soup that I worked so hard to develop the flavor in.  I usually keep my pasta on the side and add abut a quarter cup to a single serving of soup.  Much better.

Now, I modify this recipe.  What do I do?   

I chop up two mild Italian sausage links and brown it with the ground chuck, onion, carrot and celery mix.  Sausage adds rich fat flavor.  It gives this recipe ummph and ummph is a good thing.  A nice breakfast sausage might work just as well.  Because Italian sausage links usually come in packages of five, I throw the remaining three in to cook as the soup cooks.  You can leave them in there as long as you'd like. Take them out and feed them to your husband.  Hide them in the soup and save them for yourself.  Use them in another recipe.  Go crazy!

Italian sausage is also heavy in salt, so I completely omit the salt.

I usually skip buying prepared beef broth and just toss in two beef bullion cubes with the tomatoes and add 2 cups of water.  You don't have to use beef broth.  You can use tomato juice.  V8.  Plain water.  I've even used leftover coffee!  Use whatever is handy.  Whatever liquid you use will marry in with the flavors and turn into liquid gold.

I add any Parmesan rinds I have hidden in the back of the fridge with the tomatoes and tomato sauce.  This really add some fantastic flavor.  You've been throwing those away?  Oh dear Lord.  Don't do that anymore.

I rarely keep dried basil in the house.  I have frozen pesto left over from last year's garden in the freezer, and I usually add a tablespoon or so of the thawed pesto to the pot.  Pesto, for those who don't know is a maceration of fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.  Nothing there that would conflict with this recipe!

As I mentioned, I also add a bay leaf.  I fish it out before serving.

I usually add a generous 3/4 to a full cup of a good burgundy wine (Merlot, Shiraz, something along those lines).  I like wine in Italian dishes.  But be warned, this is going to change the tenor of this soup.  If you aren't a wine fan, proceed with caution.

I use whatever beans I have handy.  I usually try to stick with dark kidney beans, some white bean (Northern or Cannelli), or a bean mixture.  Pintos would fall apart. Avoid them.  Garbanzos?  No. You can use chili beans as long as they are rinsed.  You don't want Mexican overtones here. And Pasta e fagioli is not a spicy dish.

I almost always serve with a piece of chewy crusty bread.

Man, that's good eating.

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