Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lemon-Butter Tilapia

I like fish. Pretty much any kind of fish. Tilapia, catfish, salmon, trout. Fishy fishes, oily fishes, fried fishes.

We don't eat fish often. Oklahoma is, after all, landlocked, though I'm sure there are river or lake fish that you could find nearby.

But honestly?

I'm scared of fish.

I like to eat it, hate to cook it.

First, it's expensive. I mean, yes, I buy pretty expensive high quality land animal meat sometimes. But I'm confident in my ability to coax my money's worth out of a steak or chicken breast or pork roast.

But a fish? Not so much. I've ruined too many fishes to be willing to commit much money to their purchase.

However, frozen fish fillets (usually salmon or tilapia) do come in my meat co-op bags periodically.

So I make the DDH cook them.

I have ruined every fish I have ever touched. But he makes a pretty mean salmon, and is pretty handy with a tilapia, too. They're nothing fancy, but they're tasty and simple and fishy (in a good way).

Here's the DDH's super-simple tilapia recipe. But in this category, I definitely welcome other people's suggestions!

Lemon-Butter Tilapia

Heat 2 Tbs. butter and 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice in a skillet until the butter is melted.

Butter frothing just slightly.
Place your tilapia fillets in the pan.

Fishy fish.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

The trick with fish is keeping it from overcooking. Such thin fillets as this take barely two minutes a side. You'll want to flip them as soon as you notice them going opaque at the edges.

Compare this opaque white to the translucent pink of the
uncooked sides in the pictures above.
A fish spatula makes this process much, much easier.

Sprinkle the other side with more salt and pepper.

Continue cooking until done. Again, this will not take long. As soon as it starts flaking apart when you poke it with your spatula, snatch it off the heat. It should be just opaque all the way through, and flaky but still moist.

Opaque, flaky, moist--delicious.
Repeat with any additional fillets, adding more lemon juice and butter as necessary. (The first two he cooked were deliciously lemony; the second two barely lemony at all. I like super lemony fish and he prefers it less lemoned, so that works for us, but you may wish to adjust.)

The second batch, cooked in a hotter skillet, browned some on the edges, which gives it a nice flavor. If you want this browning, make sure your skillet is really hot before putting the first batch in--you don't want to leave your fish on the heat too long trying to get it to brown and end up drying it out and overcooking it.

Browned fish. The weird yellow color is just our heinous
kitchen lighting, but you can see how there are more
browned spots and edges than the batch pictured above.
Serve with vegetables, or perhaps over rice.

A balanced meal.
The other problem with fish? There are never any leftovers. ^_^

Thursday, August 23, 2012

French Toast

A few weeks back, I made the most amazing, delicious, scrumptious, wonderful batch of impromptu French toast out of stale Panera bagels.

I went to eat a bagel, discovered it was rock-hard, and decided that, instead of throwing it away, I would try to make French toast.

I didn't have a recipe or a plan, just some eggs and milk and stale bagels and cinnamon and it turned out perfectly.

Fast forward to Saturday. I wanted French toast. We had some bread that wasn't quite stale, per say, but you never really know, in Tulsa, if bread will go stale or moldy, and we were unlikely to eat it before it went whichever way it decided to go.

Anyway. I had this stack of bread, which the DDH obligingly dried out a bit in the toaster, and I panicked. "I can't remember what I did for the bagels. Those turned out so well. I don't want to mess up this bread. I wish I had written down the bagel-process. I need a recipe!"

The DDH rolled his eyes. "You don't need a recipe to make French toast. It's just French toast."

"That's what you say now," I said, "but you won't be so certain if I ruin it all and you have nothing to eat."

The DDH decided not to argue and went back to doing...whatever it was he was doing in the other room.

I looked up a recipe for French toast and promptly did almost nothing it said to do. Because that's how I roll.

And it turned out just fine.

This recipe is for all of you who don't really need a recipe for French toast, but want one anyway. Feel free to ignore everything it says. It's hard to go too terribly wrong with eggy bread.

French Toast
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

This recipe makes enough batter for eight slices of commercial sandwich bread, made moderately soggy. If you use more, thicker, or drier bread (or bagels!) you may need more batter; if you prefer less-soaked toast, you may use less.

BUT. Unless you are short on eggs, you should make more batter than you think you'll need, because everyone should at least once have the experience of eating leftover batter cooked into oddly-seasoned scrambled eggs. Your tastebuds won't know what to do with themselves.

Eight slices o' bread.
 Crack four eggs into a large bowl.

Use a whisk or fork to beat up the eggs, as you would for scrambled eggs.

Add two cups of milk:

Whisk together until well combined.

See the yellow flecks suspended in the milk? That's what
happens if you add the milk before beating up the eggs.
Add approximately 1 tsp. vanilla and spices to taste. Cinnamon is a must-have. My personal Secret Ingredient is ginger. Other popular spices are nutmeg, cloves...any of those warm spices that belong in pumpkin pies. I don't recommend using all of those in one batch, though, unless you want pumpkin pie flavored French toast. Which, now there's an idea....

Add about 1 heaping tsp. of each to taste.

The usual suspects.

Whisk to combine.
Spicy batter.

 Add in a good shake or three of salt.

There are two schools of thought on French toast preparation: the Dipping School and the Soaking School. I belong to the latter. I want toast that's as much egg as bread. I want it crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside and completely its own delicious thing.

Other people like plain toast with a little egg glaze on it. De gustibus non est disputandum, as my dad always says.

Anyway, so if you're a Dipper, you want to heat your skillet, then dip your bread to your liking into the batter and toss it on the skillet right away.

If you're a Soaker (congratulations on your good taste), pile some bread in there and leave it to soak while you heat the skillet.

Soaking toast.

The only problem with this method is that the first few slices you soak might soak up all your batter, leaving the last couple slices dry and sad. Sometimes this is acceptable or even desirable, if, say, you have some weirdos in your house who like less eggy French toast. But for best results, only soak two to three pieces at a time, and don't leave them in too long. Admonish them to leave some batter for the other toastlets. Alternatively, split the batter between two bowls so you can soak all the bread at once.

Meanwhile, heat a scant tablespoon butter or oil (a neutral flavored oil like coconut or canola, not olive oil, unless you want some really weird-tasting toast) in a large skillet.

Oiled pan.

Put the battered bread in the hot skillet.

Cook for about two minutes on each side or until browned. You'll have to keep adjusting this time as your pan gets warmer, the same way you do when making pancakes. Luckily, you can keep flipping toast back and forth until it's nicely browned on both sides without making a bit mess.

Remember that this is egg soaked bread, so you do want the egg to cook all the way through.

Nicely browned.

This is what happens if you're not firm with your bread and you let it hog all the batter: it gets really mushy and floppy.

There's nothing wrong with that, technically. They will cook fine and actually be the most delicious of all the bread pieces.


Unfortunately, it means that the rest of the bread will not have much batter to soak in:

And will be drier and less flavorful than the rest of the batch.

Which, honestly, is nothing a little honey can't remedy.

See how it doesn't brown evenly because there's not as much
batter on the outside of the toasts.

 Regardless, in the end, you will have a glorious pile of eggy bread:

Eggy bread.
Serve plain or topped with butter, sugar, jam, maple syrup, and/or my favorite: honey.

French toast with Michigan cherry butter.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Lemony Orzo Salad with Fresh Veggies and Goat Cheese

Last week, I made this same salad with chicken and frozen vegetables. With the chicken, it made a great one-dish entree.

This week, I made the same thing but with some fresh veggies and goat cheese but no chicken. This vegetarian version is more of a side dish and makes a more frugal version to bring to potlucks. It's also a good way to use up fresh veggies you may have lying around.

The dish is a quick one to make even when you're cooking chicken, but once you eliminate that step, it's ridiculously speedy. I reluctantly set my book down at 5:10 p.m., let the dogs in, looked up the recipe, cooked it, changed into my gym clothes, turned on the printer computer, force the snail-computer to open up my meeting agenda, make some changes, set it to printing, and was out the door for Zumba by 5:50 p.m. Obviously some multi-tasking was involved here, but orzo takes less than ten minutes to cook and nothing else takes long, either.

There's enough of a difference in how you deal with some of the vegetables that I thought I might as well write another post, but be sure to check out the original to see another riff on the same basic recipe with some tips regarding other ways to vary it.

Lemony Orzo-Vegetable Salad with Goat Cheese
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2010

Cook 3/4 cup orzo according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water (to help keep the pasta from clumping together), and set aside.

While the pasta cooks, make the dressing.

For the dressing, combine 1/4 tsp. lemon zest; 3 Tbs. lemon juice*; 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; 1/2 tsp. salt; 2-3 cloves garlic, minced; 1/4 tsp. honey, and 1/8 tsp. black pepper

Dressing ingredients.
in a small bowl or dressing container.

Whisk or shake until emulsified.

No layers.

Once the orzo is cooked, put it in a large bowl
Bowl o' orzo.
and add your vegetables. For this version, instead of using frozen vegetables, I wanted to use some grape tomatoes and a bumpy yellow squash I got at the farmer's market on Saturday.

Tomatoes work great in this dish raw. Just rinse them off, cut any big ones into bite-sized pieces, and add them to the cooked orzo. I used about 1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes.

Smooth-skinned squash could be addred raw, but the bumpy-skinned ones are a little tougher; you'll want to sautee them first.

Heat a little less than 1 Tbs. oil (coconut, olive oil, butter) in a large skillet.

Thinly slice 1 medium yellow squash. Add to the hot oil.

Raw squashes.
Cooking squashes.
and steam-sautee for five to ten minutes or until squash is soft.

Soft cooked squashes.
Add to the orzo and tomatoes.

Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat.

As with the chicken version, this tastes best after being allowed to sit and marinate for awhile.

Before serving, crumble 2 oz. goat cheese on top and stir in.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Pasta in Progress

I know it's been quiet around here lately.

Partly we can blame a hectic schedule and baby preparations and all that jazz.

But partly I've been practicing a new skill, and I don't want to post about some of the food I've been making until I'm confident my directions won't send you skidding into a ditch and dying. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

A hint?

Pasta! I've been putting my little pasta machine to work. And though you can pick up a little pasta machine for about twenty bucks at Ross, I'm also working on recipes for which you don't need any fancy equipment at all.

Because fresh pasta, guys?

With meat sauce.
So, so good.

And also not all that hard to make.

But a little bit time-consuming.

Which I guess is why they invented dried pasta.

Not the point.

Anyway, I have a number of ideas percolating. I'm thinking tortillas might be next on the experimentation list, and I have Epic Posts on chickens (roasted + stock) and chocolate chip cookies (completely unrelated to the chickens, except as dessert) half-formed. Any requests? Anything you'd like to see me tackle on here? I will of course keep posting other random reality foods, as well.

In the meantime, buon appetito! (Assuming that's something Italians actually say, of course.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lemony Orzo-Vegetable Salad with Chicken

I am obsessed with orzo.

I mean, not really. But I love it. It's pasta, but pasta in funny little rice-sized pieces. The texture appeals to me.

Orzo is perfect for pasta salads. It cooks quickly and tastes good hot or cold. Which, of course, makes it an excellent summer dish, as well as a great make-ahead meal or potluck supper option.

This recipe is fast and easy. But though it comes together quickly, it tastes best after it sits awhile. I ate my portion hot off the stove last night and was a bit disappointed.

"The DDH is going to hate this," I thought. "It's bland and boring." (The DDH often thinks my food is bland. I tell him this is because I have a more refined and sensitive palate than he does. He and my mom both say it's because I like bland foods. I argue that I like bland foods because my refined and sensitive palate distinguishes flavor nuances unfathomable to boors such as they. They disagree. Etc.)

The DDH came home and ate his portion of the orzo salad an hour or so later. And the DDH did not hate it. The DDH told me it was delicious. So did our friend, who came sniffing around and asked for some even though it was after dinnertime, because twenty-something boys are a lot like teenage boys and are always hungry. One of the DDH's co-workers asked for the recipe based on the smell alone (hi, coworker!). Obviously, the marinated-for-awhile salad was not at all bland, but instead delicious.

So here you go.

Lemony Orzo-Vegetable Salad with Chicken

Lemony Orzo-Vegetable Salad with Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2010

Cook 3/4 cup orzo according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cold water (to help keep the pasta from clumping together), and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat about 1 Tbs. oil (I used coconut, but olive oil or butter would work, too) in a large pan.

It was actually finally cool enough in the house that the
coconut oil started out semi-solid!
Cut 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast into bite-sized pieces.

Toss your chicken into the hot pan. Cook on high for two minutes or so until browned, then turn heat down to low and cook until chicken is done, about five to eight more minutes.

For the dressing, combine 1/4 tsp. lemon zest*; 3 Tbs. lemon juice*; 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; 1/2 tsp. salt; 2-3 cloves garlic, minced; 1/4 tsp. honey, and 1/8 tsp. black pepper

Dressing ingredients.
in a small bowl or dressing container.

Whisk or shake until emulsified.

No layers.
Now, for veggies, you have some options. One is to cut up any delicious fresh veggies you have on hand and toss them in raw. This works with tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, cucumber, peppers, etc. For crunchier veggies (carrots, broccoli, etc.), you should probably steam them first to soften them.

However. Honestly, I steamed up a bag of cut mixed veggies from Sam's Club. The one with the green beans and peas and little cubes of carrot. The veggies are already conveniently bite-sized and will mix well with the orzo and dressing.

Use whatever you have on hand, but obviously a tomato-cucumber version (perhaps with some feta or goat cheese?) will be sort of a completely different dish than a green bean-carrot-corn version.

Put your orzo in a large bowl.

Bowl o' orzo.
Drizzle the dressing over the pasta and toss well.

Admittedly, you can't see a difference in the picture.
Then add your cooked chicken

Lots of beige.
and veggies

and stir to combine.


Ta-da! You can eat this now or let it sit, at room temperature or in the fridge, for an hour. Reheat or eat cold. Serve with a spoon (word from the wise: orzo is hard to eat with a fork).

*Note: In a raw application like a salad dressing, fresh lemon juice and zest will taste miles better than bottled juice. This doesn't mean bottled juice won't do in a pinch, but it will not taste the same! I suggest always buying an extra lemon or two each time you buy some for a recipe that calls for a lot of lemon juice (lemon squares, for example). Squeeze the extras and freeze all your juice in ice cube trays. Once frozen, pop them out and store in bags or containers in the freezer. It's not quite as good as fresh juice, but better than bottled. I freeze extra zest, too.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Taco Salad

I wanted M&M's for dinner. All the M&M's in the world.

"I'm going to the store," I told the DDH. "I'll be back with however many M&M's $105 will buy me."

I didn't buy a single M, as it turns out. I bought sour cream and kidney beans and other things the pantry needed and made taco salad for dinner instead.

Taco Salad.

Taco Salad
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book Special Edition..

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Theoretically, you can make tortilla-shell bowls for your taco salad, just like you get in a Mexican restaurant. All you need to do is take your oiled tortillas and fold them into little individual baking dishes and bake them.

But honestly I don't like getting taco salads in those bowls at the restuarant. The tortilla bowl gets soggy and weird tasting and you never really end up eating it anyway. So I left my tortillas flat.

Either way, you'll need six tortillas. Lay them out on a cookie sheet

and brush one side with water, butter, or oil. You need to get them a bit wet so they don't set on fire or burn, basically, and just water will do the trick. Butter or oil (I used coconut) will add flavor and give them a pretty browning.

Just enough to give them a nice sheen.
Bake your tortillas for 10-20 minutes or until browned on top and a bit crispy. Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pan, brown 1 pound ground beef and approximately 3 cloves garlic, minced.

Cook until the beef is done; drain off the fat if desired. One benefit of grass-fed beef is that there's rarely enough fat to be worth draining off, only enough to be flavorful. Saves on paper towels and dishes!

Add 2 cans kidney beans (Two cans of beans equals about three cups cooked and drained beans. One cup of dried beans makes about 2 1/2 cups cooked beans. So if you were starting with dried beans the night before, you would prepare about a heaping cup of dried beans, soak, cook, and then add to the recipe here. Or, if you cook bulk batches of dried beans and freeze them, you'll want to grab about three cups and take them out to thaw when you first start the tortillas. Got all that?),

When using canned beans, drain and rinse to help removeexcess sodium.You can reserve the drained liquid of canned and especially home-cooked beans and add it to the salsa for additional flavor and nutrients.

1 1/2 cups salsa, 

Roughly. You can always add water or bean juice tostretch a smaller salsa supply.

1 1/2 cups corn

You can definitely get away with less or omit entirely.I found the sweet corn notes to be disconcerting, but to other people that's the best part.
 to cooked beef.

Beans and corn.

With salsa.

Bring to a boil.

There should be enough liquid for it to boil. If not, add some water.

Turn heat to low and simmer, covered, for ten minutes.

Serve on lettuce with a tortilla. Delicious garnish ideas: cheddar cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, avocado, and green onions.

With cheese and sour cream.
Verdict? Delicious. The salsa you use will greatly affect the final flavor, making it spicier or sweeter. You could use all beans for a vegetarian version or change the meat : beans ratio to reflect your preferences or the supplies you have on hand. Black or pinto beans would be a good substitute for kidney beans.

The DDH and our dinner guest both loved it, even getting seconds. It made excellent leftovers, as well, though the DDH opted to skip the lettuce and make a burrito instead. The meat mixture makes an easy, tasty, and filling Mexican meat for a variety of uses: tacos, burritos, and nachos as well as salads.


almonds (2) apples (1) Asian (2) asparagus (2) avocados (1) bacon (8) baked (11) beans (3) beef (9) berries (4) bok choy (1) bread (7) breakfast (11) broccoli (3) budget (43) butternut squash (3) cabbage (2) cake (1) caramel (2) carrot (10) cheap (46) cheating (11) cheese (12) chicken (11) Chinese food (3) chipotle (1) chocolate (6) cookies (1) cooking rules (18) corn (4) cranberries (1) cream (3) cream cheese (2) crockpot (2) cucumber (1) dairy free (4) dessert (10) dipping sauces (3) dried beans (2) eggs (11) experiments (2) fast (40) fish (1) from scratch (41) garden (15) garlic (22) gluten free (5) grain free (3) green beans (2) greens (5) grilling (4) grocery shopping (8) healthy (32) homegrown (7) honey (8) Indian food (2) jalepeno (6) lemon (8) lentils (1) lettuce (3) lime (3) make ahead (6) Mexican (5) milk (3) oats (2) onion (12) orange (4) paella (1) pasta (11) pasta sauces (10) peanuts (1) pecans (1) pork (4) potato (6) pumpkin (2) quick sides (7) quick version (7) reality bites (14) rice (6) rice noodles (1) roasted (1) sage (1) salad (5) sausage (4) shrimp (4) simple (54) snacks (6) soup (5) sourdough (1) spinach (1) spring (4) sriracha (2) summer (11) summer squash (7) sweet potatoes (6) teriyaki (1) the DDH cooks (13) tomatoes (16) tortillas (5) vegetarian (24) winter (11) winter squash (2) zucchini (7)