Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Whitefish with Citrus-Olive-Caper Sauce

In addition to eating lots and lots of chicken, we also dine on a fair amount of fish. Snook fillets make a regular appearance on our table, and I'm always looking for different ways to serve it.

So while this recipe (courtesy of epicurious) calls for using Sea Bass, I decided to work with our snook instead, knowing its firmness and texture could probably handle the sauce. Plus, with just a few ingredients and very little prep time, dinner could be on the table in no time flat.

I put a pan in the oven, as close to the broiler as possible, and pre-heated it for five minutes on high.

While the pre-heating was going on, I mixed together some lime slices, fresh oregano, lime juice, capers, chopped olives, olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Because I was feeling wild and crazy, I also chopped up some plum tomatoes and added those into the mix.

When the pan was ready, I took it out from under the broiler, coated the fillets with olive oil, salt, and pepper on both sides. The pan went back under the broiler for about four to five minutes.

Dinner awaits...

Overall, we enjoyed the flavors of the sauce with the fish. I should have chopped the olives a wee bit finer, as their taste would sometimes take over a bite of the fish/sauce combo. That being said, I would definitely make this again and think the citrus-olive-caper-tomato mix would be absolutely superb spooned on some crusty bread.

Slow Cooker Balsamic Pork Tenderloin

There are days that doing a meal in a slow cooker is the way to go. Everything in one pot, turn the pot on, and have the rest of the day to do what you please. One might also say that a slow cooker is a boon during the summer months, as there is no need to turn on the stove or oven. But because I am a loon, I made this slow cooker meal on the same day that I baked bread and roasted off tomatoes. So much for keeping the kitchen cool.

But I digress...I've prepared pork tenderloin in a variety of ways, but never in a slow cooker. After reading over this recipe (courtesy of Add a Pinch), I knew I needed to make it.

After removing any fat and silver skin from my pork tenderloin, I plopped it in the insert of my slow cooker.

Then chicken stock, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, honey, red pepper flakes, and chopped garlic were whisked together and poured over the pork.


I turned the setting to low heat and let it do its thing for about seven hours. As an aside, I turned the pork over about halfway through to make sure both sides were covered in the sauce.

When the pork was done, I got to work shredding it up.

I put the pork back in the cooker, kept the heat on low, added some chopped zucchini, and let it cook until the veg was done to our liking -- only about 25 minutes.

The final plating:

I served the pork, the oh-so-delicious sauce, with the zucchini and rice. The pork, not surprisingly, was incredibly tender and soaked up the sauce like nobody's business.

We had some pork leftover and David suggested serving it with some potatoes would be nice. So I made a hash and served it with a fried egg on top.


Nicoise Toasts

This recipe (courtesy of epicurious), like so many others, appeared on my Facebook feed. We really enjoy Nicoise salad and this seemed to be a fun play on it. However, I knew some substitutions would need to be made. For example:

Low-fat cottage cheese - if cottage cheese shows up in a grocery store, chances are very good that it will not be low-fat. It's regular cottage cheese, which is fine by me.

Parsley - this is not a herb generally available in Corozal, unless you have success growing your own. I substituted basil.

Lemon juice - lemons are only available on very rare occasions. We are lucky to have five varieties of limes in our yard, so I used ones that most closely mimic the taste of lemon.

Tuna packed in olive oil (preferably pole-caught) - this ingredient just slayed me. First, to find tuna in oil can be sourced, but it's not on all the grocery shelves. But pole-caught? Seriously? 

Once I stopped giggling, I got to work.

Cottage cheese, chopped hard boiled eggs, oil, basil, lime juice, capers, and some onion were combined in a bowl, then mashed together to a smooth paste.

In a separate bowl, the tomatoes, olives, more basil, oil, and lemon juice were mixed together. Then the tuna was folded into the mix.

Instead of toasting the bread, I fried the slices in some olive oil, then rubbed them with some garlic.

The egg mixture was spread on the fried bread, then covered with the tomato/tuna combo.

Dear readers, in spite of the substitutions, this tasted amazing. I do think the tomato mixture could use a little bit of brightening up...maybe a splash of red wine vinegar. But other than that, there are no complaints. Each bite gave a really delightful pop of flavor. 

So the next time a Nicoise salad strikes your fancy, give this a go and put it on fried bread. You won't be sorry.

Chicken Tinga

I greatly admire Marcus Samuelsson as a person and chef, and have always had great success with his recipes. This one, for Chicken Tinga, is no exception.

The first step was cooking the chicken. In this recipe, the chicken is seasoned with salt and pepper then placed into a pot with water, peppercorns and bay leaves.

This all was brought to a boil, then reduced to a simmer to cook for about 20 minutes. Throughout the cooking time, I skimmed off whatever schmutz came to the surface to keep the stock as clear as possible.

Once the chicken was done and cool enough to handle, it was shredded up and set aside. 

The stock the chicken was cooked in was reserved for this next step...the sauce.

Onions were sauteed in some olive oil, minced garlic was added, along with diced tomatoes (with their juices), some of the reserved stock, and some chipotles in adobo. I used a very light hand with this last ingredient, due to it fiery nature and the fact that I am a wuss about overly spicy, hot food.

The sauce was allowed to simmer away for about 20 minutes. It was then put into a food processor, pureed until smooth, then poured over the chicken.

To plate the dish, I put some of the chicken/sauce mixture on a homemade tortilla, then topped it off with a lightly dressed slaw containing cabbage, red onions, and carrots.

We are talking about some seriously good chicken. The kick from the sauce was countered very nicely with the slaw, which also provided great crunch and color.

I have no doubt that this dish will be making a repeat appearance on our table.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Garganelli (Homemade Penne) *UPDATE*

We love pasta of just about any kind.  I've knocked out homemade spaghetti, fettucine, papardelle, and lasagna noodles -- all courtesy of the pasta maker on loan to us from our friend, Bruce. But our favorite pasta is penne.

I know I can purchase an extruder to go on my KitchenAid to turn out some penne, but I wondered how it was made before all these newfangled gadgets hit the cooking scene.

What I discovered was before extruders became popular, people made each pasta piece individually, often using a contraption like this:

A simple, ridged block of wood with a small rolling pin. Technically, the pasta that is formed using this device is called garganelli. The difference between it and penne is that garganelli has a flap, whereas penne is a perfect cylinder. More info can be found at

I made a batch of pasta dough using flour, eggs, a little olive oil, and salt. After it rested for about 30 minutes, I divided the dough into four pieces.

With David's assistance, we started the process of rolling out the dough using the pasta machine. The machine we use has its widest setting at #7, the lowest at #1. We started at #7, rolled the first piece of dough through, folded it in thirds, and rolled it again. This was repeated nine more times. 

When we reached the tenth time through, we notched the pasta machine at setting #6 and rolled again. This process of notching down and rolling continued until we reached setting #3, which we thought might be the right thickness.

David cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares. At first I thought they looked pretty tiny, but once I rolled them out on the garganelli board, they were just the right size.

After rolling out each piece, the garganelli were placed on a baking sheet, lined with a lightly floured tea towel.

You can view short video at Cuisinivity to see how the rolling process works. I found that not much pressure was needed with the rolling pin, and that occasionally flouring the pin kept the dough from sticking to it.

The recipe states letting the completed garganelli dry, but not for how long. I checked them after a couple of hours and they seemed to have firmed up nicely.

I heated up some homemade pasta sauce, and cooked the pasta in a big pot of salted water. After combining the pasta into the sauce, it was time to plate.

It certainly looked good, but the final test would be the taste and texture. The good news is that we really like the taste of the garganelli. The bad news is that they seemed a tad thick and many of them collapsed.

We suspect that the pasta needs to be rolled out to setting #2 or maybe even #1. We also want to let them dry out more.

All in all, I will definitely be doing this pasta again. Hopefully my next attempt will bring perfection, or something close to it. 

UPDATE: I made this pasta again, but this time used dough that had a bit of wheat flour in it. Also, I let the pasta dry considerably longer. And the garganelli were turned over about half way through the drying time to ensure both sides were dry. When cooked, the pasta was as close to perfection that I think I can get. The garganelli held their shape and the wheat flour gave a nice bit of texture. Success is mine!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sophisticated Saltines

Ever have a yen for something to nibble on while watching television, sharing some beverages with friends, or just because you want a snack? I have a solution.

Some saltine crackers. Yes, crackers. But wait...they go from same old, same old saltine's to awesome in just about 20 minutes. And here's how:
  • Melt a stick of butter.
  • When cool(ish), dip crackers in the butter making sure both sides are coated.
  • Place the buttered crackers on a rack, set on top of a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  • Sprinkle the dried seasonings of your choice (I used an Italian spice mix for this go round).
  • Put crackers in a pre-heated 275 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.


The butter and seasonings give the crackers a zing, while you still retain that delightful, crispy crunch.

Want to add another level of class to this not-so-humble cracker? Add a schmear of roasted tomato spread over the top. Wowza.

I can't wait to try different herbs and spices on the crackers. Herbs de Provence, maybe some sort of curry powder, or maybe some Chinese Five Spice? There's no limit to the directions you can take these babies.

Butter Molds

Now that I've been making my own butter, I wanted to step things up a notch. Do something fun. Something pretty.

So I ordered a silicone butter mold.

After making the latest batch of butter, I simple smushed it into the mold and popped it into the fridge for a few hours.

When the butter was firm, I popped the molds out.

How cute are these? I think they would be great to take to a dinner party, along with some homemade bread. But really, no special occasion is needed to appreciate butter whimsy.

Roasted Tomato Spread

I've roasted fresh tomatoes before and really liked the taste. But sometimes, when tomatoes aren't in season or the ones that are available aren't bursting with flavor, it's time to think outside the box...or maybe I should say can.

Yep, you can take canned whole tomatoes to a whole new level of taste by roasting them.

I used two cans of whole tomatoes and drained off the juice. You can reserve the juice and use it in sauces or sub it for water/stock when making rice. 

The tomatoes were sliced in half and placed on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Olive oil was drizzled on top, as well as some Italian seasonings. The sheet pan got popped into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for about an hour.

When done, the tomatoes had carmelized a bit and turned a darker shade of red.

They also smelled amazing.

A few quick pulses in the food processor and the spread was done.

The flavor is rich and the concentrated tomato taste just pops. This makes a great spread for a sandwich, but would also be great as a base for a tomato soup.

Quick, easy, and delicious!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Lasagne Bolognese

So right off the bat, I'm going to let you know that this lasagne recipe (courtesy of epicurious) takes time. However the outcome from this labor of love is worth every step, every ingredient, every minute you spend preparing it. Also, almost all of the components can be made in advance.

The day before I wanted to serve the lasagne, I got to work on making the sauces. First up was the Bolognese.

I chopped onion, celery, and carrot, popped them into the food processor, and buzzed them around until finely chopped.

In a large pan, I added ground beef, ground pork, bacon (the recipe calls for pancetta, but it's not available here), and the veggies. All of this was left cook until the meat was well browned. That took about 30 minutes.

Wine was added to the pan and the brown bits got scraped from the bottom. Milk was then added and left to simmer until almost completely evaporated. Then tomatoes joined in, along with homemade chicken stock. Everything got a good stir, and was left to simmer for about three hours.

When the sauce was finished, I set it aside to let it cool. It would then be put in the fridge overnight. And trust, you want to give it time to meld together.

With the Bolognese cooling away, it was time to start on the Bechamel. I warmed up milk in a saucepan and used another pan to melt the butter. Once it started to foam, flour was added and whisked for about a minute. The warm milk got whisked in, about 1/2 cup at a time. The sauce was then brought to a boil, the heat then reduced, and allowed to simmer for about 10 minutes. I added some grated nutmeg and salt, gave everything another whisk, and removed the pan from the heat. After transferring the sauce to a bowl, I pressed plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the sauce. This prevents a skin to form. Once cooled, the Bechamel joined the Bolognese sauce for an overnight nap.

As an aside, you've probably noticed that more than a few pots and pans are needed for this dish -- much to the chagrin of my dishwasher, David.

The next day, I tackled the lasagne noodles. The dough is comprised of flour and eggs. That's it! The dough got needed until smooth.

It was then wrapped in plastic and left to rest for about two hours. When ready, the fun really began.

David and I set up the pasta machine and started rolling out the dough sheets. Now this is something that can be done by one person, but it's faster and easier with two people. 

We needed 16 8"-long noodles. As we were rolling and cutting, a very loud thunderstorm was underway. That meant we had three dogs milling around being nervous. As for the cat? She is fascinated by watching pasta being rolled out, so we had to keep shooing her away.

As the sheets were cut, they were placed on stacked pieces of parchment paper. When we achieved the requisite number, I covered the pan with plastic wrap and popped the pan in the fridge.

Later that afternoon, it was time for the assembly. 

The first step was reheating the sauces. While they were coming up to temp, the lasagna noodles needed to be blanched and shocked in ice water.

Bechamel on back burner, Bolognese in the front

Blanching and shocking lasagne noodles
After taking the noodles out of the ice bath, they were layered on a sheet pan covered in paper towels.

Moving on to the home stretch...

With the noodles made and the sauces heated, the final assembly could begin.

Some Bechamel sauce was ladled into a butter pan.

A layer of noodles were put on top, then some Bolognese was ladled on. 

Some more of the Bechamel was added, along with a bit of grated Parmesan. 

This layering process was repeated seven times.

The pan was put into a pre-heated 350 degree oven and left to bake for about 60 minutes.

The lasagne was left to cool for 45 minutes. This is a really important step and don't worry that it won't still be hot. It will be.

And finally, the plating...

There are so many elements that we love. I think, first and foremost, are the noodles. They are so thin and don't overwhelm the dish. In turn, the sauces really shine. The Bolognese is rich and all those meat elements marry together perfectly. The Bechamel also adds a richness quotient, but in a more subtle way. 

In every way, this dish is time well spent. 

Sticky Chicken

On days when the thought of firing up the stove or oven makes you question your sanity, dig out your slow cooker instead. In a matter of four short hours, you can serve up a batch of sticky chicken (courtesy of Six Sisters' Stuff).

Now while the recipe calls for chicken wings, neither David or I really love them. Instead, I used skinless chicken thighs. But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

Let's start with the sticky part, which contains all matter of goodness.

Honey, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, garlic cloves, ground ginger, and some hot sauce all get put into a sauce pan and cooked for about 5 minutes. You want the sugars to dissolve and the sauce to thicken.

Let it cool down for a bit, then pour it over your chicken that you already have put in the slow cooker.

Pop the lid on the cooker, turn the heat to high and go off and enjoy a cold beverage. After about two hours, turn the chicken pieces over, return the lid to the cooker, and let it continue to cook for another two hours. 

When the chicken has finished cooking, remove the pieces to a plate. Mix together some cornstarch and water, pour it into the cooker, and give it a stir. Return the chicken to the cooker and let it cook for about 10 minutes. You should notice that the sauce has thickened up.

Now it's time to eat!

I served the chicken on a bed of rice and garnished with some sesame seeds, chopped cilantro, and some of the sauce. This dish is really love at first bite. The chicken came out fork tender and packed with flavor. Granted, it's a teeny bit on the sweet side, but the soy sauce and hot sauce balance it out. 

Remember a slow cooker can be your best friend when temperatures start getting out of hand.