Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pan Roasted Sea Bass

The kids wanted pizza the other night, which was fine, but I was definitely craving something a little more.. uhh.. not pizza. So I stopped by my favorite fish market to see what they had on hand. Sea bass... yeah, that was definitely better than pizza! I picked up a half pound of the sea bass and some steamers and was happily on my way to a nice grown up dinner.

As you can see from the picture, sea bass filets are very thick, so if you're used to cooking thinner filets, this can pose some interesting challenges. One of the best ways I've found to conquer this challenge, and also create a wonderful flavor and texture is by pan roasting it. Pan roasting will create a beautiful crust on the fish (or any thick cut of meat) and leave the inside moist and tender. Trust me, you gotta try this!

skinless sea bass filets, cut into about 4 oz pieces
canola oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)
desired seasonings (try to avoid herbs, they'll burn.. salt and pepper will do more than you think here)
oven proof skillet

Preheat the oven to 450ºF about 10 minutes before you start.

Heat the canola oil in the oven proof skillet until it's very hot, almost to the smoke point (the oil will seem to shimmer).

Season the fish with salt and pepper, cajun seasoning is also good. Place in hot skillet and let it sear (don't crowd the pan, make sure the pan is large enough to accomodate the fish without the pieces touching, if the pieces don't have enough space, you won't be able to get a sear). Don't try to turn the fish too soon or it will stick to the pan and you won't get that nice crust. This should take about 3 minutes or so. Turn the fish with a flexible spatula and allow to begin searing on the other side about 1-2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and place in preheated oven. Cook fish until it flakes easily with a fork (the 8oz filet I had took about 12 minutes).

Serve with your favorite sauce (lemon butter, white wine reduction, etc).

Easy Cheese Soup

If you're a parent, you more than likely run ito the same problem I do on some weeknights... you either forgot to defrost what you had planned to make, or you just have so much going on that you never even thought about what to make for dinner. That's where this soup comes in. I almost always have all of the ingredients on hand, none of the ingredients require long defrost times or cooking times and because you can prepare several of the ingredients at once, this comes together fairly quickly (around 30 minutes total). Of course there are other advantages to this as well, like it makes a good amount of soup (no cooking the next night!) and it's very kid friendly, even with the veggies... let's face it... there's very little you can't get kids to eat if there's enough cheese involved :) So, in the spirit of supporting busy, absent-minded parents of picky kids everywhere... I give you my Easy Cheese Soup.

10-12 slices bacon
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
14 oz bag frozen broccoli
1 Tbs canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
16 oz block of velveeta
2-2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
10 oz can creamed corn
pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and place a cooling rack on it. Lay the bacon slices on the cooling rack and bake for 15-20 minutes until the bacon reaches the desired doneness.* When bacon is done, chop. (you can also take the easy way out and use the pre-cooked bacon)

Cook cubed potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender.

Prepare broccoli according to package directions. (note: these 3 steps can be done simultaneously).

When the potatoes are done, drain into a collander and rinse the pan lightly to remove any starch stuck to the pan. Return the pan to the burner over medium heat. Add canola oil and onions and saute until onions are tender and transluscent.

Cut the Velveeta into chunks and add to the pan with the onions. Add just enough chicken broth to aid in the melting (about a cup), stir occasionally. When Velveeta is melted, add the creamed corn, chopped bacon, potatoes and broccoli and another 1 to 1 1/2 cups of broth to get the soup to the consistnecy you like. Heat through and serve.

*This is a great way to make large amounts of bacon with very little effort or mess. For thick sliced bacon, add another 5-10 minutes.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Classic Meatloaf

It's comfort food season! Football is on, Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations are all over the place, and the weather is finally settling down a little bit down here in Hades... I mean Florida (well, by settling down, I mean we had a few evenings that went below 70º, it's not much, but it's the best a New England girl can hope for until at least Novemeber down here). This is the time of year that I like to really kick in my New England roots. I break out the autumn scented candles, and I cook real comfort food meals on Sundays... with the football game on in the background, it's the closest to home I can get... and I'll take it :)

Today's meal is meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. I know, I have said in the past that I don't really care for "classic" meatloaf, but I have finally accomplished the mission of finding a recipe that the kids like, but that I also can eat. Not only, can I eat this one, I actually LIKE it... amazing, I know (I still draw the line at meatloaf sandwiches though... no thanks). Now if I could only make it look nice... and as you can see from the picture, I have yet to accomplish that part of the mission, but hey... I'm ok with it.

This recipe is from the 50's Primetime Cafe at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

2 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork
4 eggs
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
½ cup diced onions
1/4 cup diced green peppers
1/4 cup diced red peppers
2 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
Cracked black pepper to taste
Kosher salt to taste
½ cup Meatloaf Glaze (recipe below)

Dice peppers and onions and set aside for later use. Combine meats and seasonings. Add vegetables. Mold meat mixture into a loaf on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350º F oven for 1 hour (internal temp 155º).

Brush meatloaf with meatloaf glaze. Bake another 10 minutes. Let meatloaf set 10 minutes, cut loaf and serve.

For the glaze:

½ cup ketchup
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tsp Dijon mustard
½ Tsp worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients until mixture is smooth.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


I love quiche. It's one of the most versatile dishes out there. You can literally put almost anything in a quiche, whatever you're in the mood for goes. Not to mention the endless combinations of different cheeses. It's also excellent (possibly even better) leftover, and is an easy thing to pack for lunch at work.

These are two that I make pretty frequently. The kids like the one with the bacon better, which works for me, because I get to take the spinach mushroom one for lunch :) I usually make 2 quiches at a time, which easily serves 6 with leftovers. This can also be a very budget conscious meal, depending on the type of cheese you use, you could easily make 2 quiches for around $10.

Spinach Mushroom Quiche

1 deep dish pie shell, frozen
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
10 oz pkg frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 oz white mushrooms, sliced
4 oz grated gruyere cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350º.

Saute mushrooms and onions in a small amount of olive oil, until soft. Drain on paper towels to remove excess moisture.

Beat together eggs and cream, mix in the remaining ingredients and pour into frozen pie shell.

Bake on a baking sheet at 350º for 40-50 minutes.

Bacon and Cheddar Quiche

1 deep dish pie shell, frozen
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half and half
12 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
8 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
(optional - 4 oz can of chopped green chiles)

Preheat oven to 350º.

Saute onions in a little bit of olive oil until soft. Drain on paper towels.

Beat together eggs and cream. Mix in remeaining ingredients and pour into pie shell.

Bake on baking sheet at 350º for 40-50 minutes.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Bangers and Mash

Bangers and Mash, the comfort food of all comfort foods. Seriously, this stuff will make you want to curl up near a crackling fire and watch old Dr. Who episodes. Ok, you can skip the Dr. Who marathon if you must... but really... why would you want to?? After all this is a staple meal in British and Irish cooking, so one must get into the feel of the meal :) Ok, sorry for the rhyming.

Fortunately, I'm lucky enough to have not only a small Bristish import store nearby, but also a small specialty food store with an excellent butcher who makes his own English bangers. For those not in the know, English bangers are a mild pork sausage, often with a hint of onion and garlic. They're most commonly served as shown above, with a rich onion gravy, over creamy, wonderful mashed potatoes. If you can't find English bangers, Johnsonville sells a nice Irish garlic sausage that works well... or if you're in a total bind, you can use raw bratwurst.

Bangers and Mash

1.5 lbs English bangers or other mild pork sausage links
1 Tbs canola oil

2 large onions, sliced thin
1 Tbs canola oil
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs flour
2/3 cup red wine (I like merlot or cabernet sauvignon for this)
2 cups beef stock
1/2 tsp Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbs Aus Jus gravy mix
Mashed potatoes

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Coat sausages in canola oil, and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake sauasages for 12 minutes, turn and continue cooking another 12 minutes (alternately you can brown these in a frying pan).

While the sausages cook, add remaining oil and butter to a large saute pan over medium low heat. Add sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally until onions begin to carmelize, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle flour over the onions, cook and stir constantly for about 2 minutes to cook out the raw flavor of the flour. Pour in red wine slowly, stirring to incorporate, then add the beef broth, mustard, seasonings and gravy mix. Stir briskly to mix all ingredients well. Allow to come to a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally until mixture thickens to a slightly thin gravy. Add cooked sausages, cover and simmer another 5 minutes. Taste to adjust seasonings.

To serve, place 2 sausages over mashed potatoes and spoon over gravy and onions to taste.

Baked Salmon

Ok Mr. Peabody, fire up the wayback machine! (extra points for anyone who can tell me what that references).

Salmon wasn't a fish I was familiar with until I was probably in my early 20's. I grew up in the 70's, in a small New England town, there just wasn't a lot of crossover food from other areas... ethnic aisle in the grocery store?? Huh, what do you mean ethnic? The only ethnic food around came from a few small grocers who specialized in Portuguese, Greek or Italian food (the 3 major ethnic populations in the area back then), and you had to go to the "city" to get that. And, even though salmon isn't considered to be associated with any particular ethnic group, it certainly wasn't a New England fish. I imagine Maine lobster didn't make too many appearance on the northwest coast of the US back in those days either. Ok, I'm rambling (isn't that the first sign of getting old??).

Regardless of all of the above, salmon didn't make it's way into my life until I moved to Florida in the early 90's. I remember my mother making it for dinner one night and I instantly fell in love with the moist, flaky texture, and the rich flavor that seemed to be able to handle even the strongest flavor enhancements without losing it's character. Yes, salmon and I had a definite future together.

***Flash Forward***

This is now my go to fish. It's wonderful baked, broiled, fried, in salads, and it even holds its own on the grill. The big kicker, though, is that my kids love it... and it's actually GOOD for them (shh... no telling!). Anyway, here's my favorite way to prepare it, this works well on the grill as well... just set the fish on a piece of foil with the sides and ends rolled up so the "sauce" doesn't drip into the fire.

1 salmon filet (for the 5 of us I buy a 1.5lb filet)
1/4 soy sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine
salt, onion salt, garlic salt, black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Lightly rinse the salmon filet to remove any scales from the flesh of the fish and then place in a ziploc bag.

Mix together the soy sauce, lemon juice and white wine, pour half into the ziploc bag with the salmon. Let this marinate for 20 minutes.

Place salmon filet in a glass baking dish with the marinade from the bag. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the fish is almost done. Pour the remaining marinade over the fish and dot the top with pats of butter (for 1.5 lbs I use about 3 Tbs of butter). Continue baking until the fish flakes easily with a fork in the center of the thickest part of the filet (usually another 5-10 minutes, depending on how thick the piece of fish is).

To serve, cut the salmon into serving size pieces and spoon a little of the pan juices over the fish.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rice Krispies Sushi Treats

The California Grill, on the top floor of Disney's Contemporary resort, used to have this really fun dessert for kids... it was rice krispie treats wrapped in fruit rolls with a gummy worm or swedish fish center. Sushi for dessert! I haven't been to the California Grill in a while, so I'm not sure if these are still on the menu or not... but luckily for me, or my kids anyway, I have the recipe!

These are really fun and easy to make, though a little sticky... ok a LOT sticky (I found that rubbing softened margarine on my hands helped a great deal here), but still no harder than making rice krispie treats in general. I didn't have the gummy worms or swedish fish, so I used regular old fruit snacks for the centers.

Rice Krispies Sushi Treats

8 chewy fruit rolls
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 (10- ounce) package miniature marshmallows
6 cups crisp rice cereal
16 worm-shaped chewy candies or 24 fish-shaped chewy candies


Unroll fruit rolls, and place, with plastic sheet down, on cutting board (trust me you want to unroll all of them first, as the cereal mixture cools it becomes harder to work with).

Melt butter or margarine in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add marshmallows, stirring until melted; remove from heat. Stir in rice cereal until blended.

Spread about 1/2 cup cereal mixture quickly over each fruit roll, leaving a inch border on 1 long side. Arrange 2 worm-shaped candies or 3 fish-shaped candies lengthwise down center of cereal mixture.

Roll up, starting at side without border. Press to seal securely. Repeat procedure with remaining fruit rolls, cereal mixture,and candies.

Cut each roll into 4 or 5 slices.

Cap'n Crunch Chicken Nuggets

I've always loved the combination of sweet and savory, so when I saw a recipe for Cap'n Crunch chicken I was intrigued. I mean, really... who doesn't like Cap'n Crunch or chicken nuggets? It sounded like a winner to me!

I found the original recipe here and tried them as-is the first time. The kids loved them, but I thought they needed a little more savory to compliment the sweet, so I tweaked them a bit.

These are great for dinner (especially if you have picky kids), or even as an appetizer at a party. I've heard of people baking these as well, though I haven't tried that myself yet, I imagine you could easily spray the coated nuggets with cooking spray or an olive oil mist and bake on a cookie sheet with good results.

Cap'n Crunch Chicken Nuggets

2 cups Cap'n Crunch Cereal
2 cups Rice Krispies
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp onion salt
1/2 tsp cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp black pepper
4-6 boneless/skinless chicken breast halves
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup beer (or soda water if you prefer not to use beer)
canola or peanut oil for frying

Heat 2 inches of oil in a heavy dutch oven or electric fryer to 350º.

Place cereals in a gallon size ziploc bag, press out the air and seal. Crush cereals using a rolling pin or mallot (this is excellent stress relief and/or something fun for the kids to do) until you have fine crumbs. Add in flour and seasonings, shake bag well to mix.

In a small mixing bowl, beat eggs, then add beer and buttermilk.

Trim chicken breasts of all fat and cut into nugget size pieces. Dip each piece in egg mixture, then place in bag with cereal and shake to coat well. Fry in hot oil,6-8 pieces at a time, 3-4 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels. Serve with honey mustard or green onion honey dip (see below).

Green Onion Honey Dip

1 cup sour cream
1-2 Tbs honey (start with one and add to taste)
3 green onions, white and green parts, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cajun seasoning (or less, to taste)
1/4 tsp garlic powder

Mix all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ultimate Scalloped Potatoes

Potatoes, butter, garlic, cheese, heavy cream... is there ANYTHING better? This is one of those dishes I treat myself to only once in a while. Not only is it a little time consuming (although not TOO bad if you have a halfway decent mandolin), it's also full of fat and calories, which I guess is why it's SOOO good.

Last week I picked up a spiral sliced ham on sale for easter, but ended up making leg of lamb instead. I saved the ham for today and couldn't think of a better side dish to go with it, besides, I already had the fontina and gruyere cheeses in the fridge needing to be used up.

Ultimate Scalloped Potatoes

1 clove garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 tbs butter
1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup milk
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced into 1/8" thick rounds
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
1 cup coarsely grated Fontina cheese
1 Tbs flour
4 green onions chopped (white and green parts, optional)
salt to taste

Saute garlic and shallots in butter in medium saucepan for 1 minute. Add cream, milk and black pepper, heath through but do not boil.

Mix grated cheeses and flour in medium bowl, until cheese is well coated.

Layer half of potatoes in lightly buttered 2 qt shallow casserole dish. Pour half of cream mixture over potatoes, sprinkle with salt, half of the cheeses and half of the chopped green onion. Repeat layers.

Bake in 350º oven 60 to 70 minutes until top is a deep brown and potatoes are tender.

Note: A Mandolin comes in very handy for this type of dish. If you don't have one, you can certainly use a sharp knife, but you can pick up an inexpensive mandolin for around $20 that will do the trick, there's no need to have the fancy $100 versions.

Asparagus Crab Pasta Salad

This is my go to dish for pot lucks and picnics, and I'm constantly being asked for the recipe. The problem is that I don't really have a recipe. However, I promised a friend I would make an attempt to explain how to make it, and to be honest it's VERY easy, so I'm going to give it a shot.

16 oz box tri-color rotini pasta, cooked
1/2 lb imitation crab, chopped (you can use real crab if you prefer)
1 lb asparagus spears, trimmed and steamed til tender-crisp, then chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Old Bay seasoning
onion salt
garlic salt

Mix together mayonnaise and seasonings in a large bowl (use the Old Bay, salts and pepper to taste, but make it slightly stronger than you think it should be as the seasonings will be much milder once the other ingredients are mixed in).

Mix in remaining ingredients and chill at least 1 hour before serving.


There are dozens of versions of empanadas out there, and really, the possibilities are endless as far as what you can put in them. Traditional fillings include picadillo, chicken, potatoes, spinach and even fruit, all depending on the region from which they come. My favorite is the cuban empanada, filled with picadillo. You can normally find the "discos", or empanada wrappers in the frozen section with other latin american foods.

These are also a great budget friendly meal, as the recipe uses many ingredients you probably already have around.

Cuban Empanadas

10 emapanada wrappers, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
Canola oil for frying
1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cumin
8 oz tomato sauce
1 Tbs ketchup
1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped green olives with pimento

Brown ground beef with onions, peppers and garlic in a large saute pan. Drain. Add remaining ingredients (except oil and wrappers), and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally until mixture has thickened. Remove bay leaf and allow to cool slightly.

Heat 2 inches of oil in a large heavy pot to 350ºF.

Lay one empanada wrapper on a plate or cutting board and place about 2 Tbs of picadillo in the center. Fold the empanada wrapper in half over the filling and press edges tightly closed with times of a fork, turn the empanada over and repeat pressing with fork on the other side. Repeat for remaining wrappers.

Carefully drop one or two empanadas in the hot oil and fry 2-3 minutes, turning once, until golden grown and crisp. Drain on paper towels.

Serve with hot sauce if desired.

Serves 5 (2 empanadas per person)

Note: You can probably do 15-20 empanadas with this amount of ground beef, and depending on appetites in your house you may want to go ahead and make the extras. Just keep in mind that they don't reheat all that well, they tend to get soggy. Leftover picadillo can also be served over rice the next day.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Bacon, Shallot and Garlic Green Beans

I'm pretty lucky. I don't have any trouble getting my kids to eat vegetables, in fact most of the time they'll clean the vegetables off their plates and pick at the meat. Yes, my kids are strange... but in a good way :)

This recipe is a favorite around here and gets made anytime there's leftover bacon (yes, Susan, I said LEFTOVER BACON). Granted, this is not how you want to cook green beans all the time, but it's great for a special occasion... they're easy enough to throw together while you have a roast in the oven and they look and taste impressive.

Bacon, Shallot and Garlic Green Beans

2 lbs fresh green beans, trimmed
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1 Tbs reserved bacon drippings
2 Tbs butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Cook green beans in boiling salted water for 4 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.

Heat reserved bacon drippings and butter in a large saute pan on med-low heat. Add shallots and garlic and saute 1 minute, until fragrant. Add green beans, stirring to coat in butter mixture. Cover and cook about 8 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add in chopped bacon and cook, stirring, another 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Bacon Cream Cheese Rolls

Twice a year we have a munchie night, where we don't really have dinner, we just eat junk food. The kids, of course, love this... heck they LIVE for it. They love it so much that they no longer look forward to New Year's Eve for any other reason than that it's munchie night.

To give you an idea of how bad this tradition is for you, this year's menu included bacon and cheese sliders, deep fried chicken wings, baked brie with raspberry preserves, gruyere and fontina fondue, and then these little heart attacks: the bacon cream cheese rolls.

Ok, I know... these are SO 70's, but believe me... they're incredibly addictive. If you've never made these, you really should... at least once.

Bacon Cream Cheese Rolls

1 lb of bacon
8-12 slices Pepperidge Farm Very Thin bread
3 oz cream cheese

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Cut bacon in half lengthwise.

Remove crusts from bread slices and cut each slice into thirds.

Cut cream cheese into small pieces, about 1/2 tsp each.

Lay out bacon slices and place one piece of the bread on each slice, then top with a piece of cream cheese.

Roll each slice and secure with toothpick. Place on cookie sheet about so that the rolls don't touch each other.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, turn and continue baking for another 10-12 minutes until bacon is browned and cooked through.