Saturday, March 31, 2012

Popcorn Fish

I've never been a real fan of fish. For years, the only kind I would eat was the deep-fried perch that you can get at most restaurants on a Friday night in Wisconsin. Originally, of course, this tradition had something to do with the Polish Catholic population in the state, but eventually it just became a means of delivering grease to the general populace. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyhow, these fish are not deep-friend, and not "popcorn" in the sense that they're small finger food, a la Kentucky Fried's popcorn chicken barrel. Rather, I call it popcorn fish because that's what it tastes like: buttery, salted popcorn. The kids love it.

This recipe originally comes from Gary Rhodes' Great Fast Food. This is a good book, despite the cheesy picture of Rhodes on the cover with a doofy, late-90's only in England would a person get this kind of haircut, haircut (says a man who used to have a mullet). Indeed, at first the recipes were so easy that I kept thinking I must be cheating. It's also the kind of book where, everytime I flip through it, including this morning, I find an appealing recipe I hadn't noticed before.

This recipe is rich, so you don't have too make too much. And it goes great with a simple green salad and, as Rhodes recommends, boiled baby yukon potatoes.

Popcorn Fish

4 six-ounce cod fillets, skin removed
1 ounce butter, softened
4 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and diced
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

  1. Turn on the broiler.
  2. Season the cod on both sides with salt and pepper and brush with softened butter.
  3. Place on a baking or broiling tray and grill for eight minutes. Do not turn over.
  4. While the fish is cooking, place the unsalted butter, the lemon juice, and the stock in a small pan. Simmer over low heat, stirring constantly. Do NOT let the sauce boil. If it curdles, you'll have to start over again.
  5. Place the fillets on plates and cover with sauce. Serve.
Family Ratings
Will, who loves, of all things, fish: 10
Lucy, who hates fish but loves popcorn: 10
Jamie, who's pretty sure he's eating chicken: 8
Ellen, who worries about eating too much fish, what with the environment and all: 9
Paul, who's starting to rethink this whole "hating fish" thing: 10

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thai Chicken Wraps

This recipe comes from the cleverly named Wraps by Mary and Sara Corpening and Lori Narlock. I like this book a lot, though I have to admit that: a) some of the recipes are a bit fussy; and b) the instructions aren't that great, very often burying time-intensive ingredients like cooked rice toward the end of the list, so that you think you're way ahead of schedule and then all of a sudden you have to stop and boil something for 45 minutes.

That aside, this is a tasty tasty recipe, the kind of thing that on paper looks like it'll be okay, but on the plate thrills even the really fussy eaters. The trick, I think, is the mint, which gives the whole dish a lighter, slightly surprising taste.

A vegetarian version of this is easy enough: just omit the chicken and add another cup of zucchini. I've also found that it's a large recipe, easily enough for two meals for our family, so you can either plan for that, or cut everything in half.

One key, by the way, is to cook the zucchini until it's just soft: the meat inside the skin will begin to shine. Once you see that shine, stop cooking or the whole thing'll go mushy.

Thai Chicken Wraps
2 cups cooked jasmine rice, warm (use regular, if you want)
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup diced onion
1-1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 cup coconut milk (be sure to mix the coconut meat and the milk really well)
1 tablespoon minced fresh lemongrass, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Kosher salt (if you're using regular salt, decrease amounts by half)
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 inch tortillas (I just use plain; they're fine)

  1. Cook your damn rice.
  2. Chop the veggies and the basil and mint, and cube the chicken
  3. Blend the coconut milk, lemongrass, curry paste, brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid thickens, about 15 minutes. Don't freak out if the liquid sort of thins first before it thickens. That's normal. You'll be fine.
  4. Remove from heat and add the lime juice to the sauce.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the zucchini and the onion, seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until the meat just inside the zucchini skin starts to look shiny, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook! Set aside in a large bowl.
  6. Wipe the skillet (or don't) with a paper towel, then add the remaining tablespoon of oil, heating over medium heat. Add the chicken and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook until no longer pink in the middle, about 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Drain all the juice out of the pan.
  7. Add the chicken to the zucchini. Add the rice and the basil and mint, and mix well. Stir in the coconut milk sauce.
  8. Serve in a big bowl on the table, with lots of spoons so that kids can take as much as they want and put it on and roll it into their own tortillas.
Family Ratings:
Will, who only gives a 10 to fajitas: 9
Lucy, who's just learning math: 8 and four quarters
Jamie, who struggled a little bit trying to hold the tortillas: 7
Ellen, who was happy to have the leftovers: 10
Paul, who could actually see eating this even without meat: 10

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Carmelized Leek and Potato Soup

This is one of those recipes where you look at the name and say, "What? Seriously? My kids are going to like that?" Then you glance down at the list of ingredients and see pretty much nothing but starches and lots and lots of dairy, and it all makes sense.

Okay. So this is not a light recipe. But it is rich and filling, and you can have it with a salad and maybe some crusty bread and be perfectly satisfied.

The trick here is to burn the leeks. Seriously. The first time I made it, I cooked it too long and my leeks turned brown and made the whole stock brown. I thought it was a disaster until I tasted it; we've never looked back.

This recipe also works with vegetable broth.

Carmelized Leek and Potato Soup

1 cup butter. You heard me.
2 leeks, sliced pretty much up to the green part
1 quart chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 cups of peeled, cubed potatoes (about 1-inch square). I prefer Yukon gold
2 cups heavy cream. Like I said: the recipe is NOT messing around!
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Chop all of your vegetables, and blend your broth and cornstarch. Set everything next to the stove, so that you're ready, because when those leeks go brown, everything will happen quickly!
  2. Melt the butter (all of it) in a large pot over medium heat.
  3. Saute leeks in the butter for 15 minutes, adding a little salt and pepper. Right around 12-13 minutes, the leeks should start to go brown. This usually happens very very quickly. Once they've begun this process, let them cook another minute, stirring constantly. If they don't brown, let them go another minute or two past 15. If they still haven't browned, turn up the heat and let them go yet another minute more. If they STILL haven't browned, don't worry about it. Just follow the rest of the directions.
  4. Pour the cornstarch/broth mixture into the pot. Add the potatoes and more salt and pepper. Add the cream, every last drop.
  5. Reduce the heat to simmer, and let it go for thirty minutes, maybe a little more, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy.
  6. Serve immediately.
Family Ratings:
Jamie, who loves potatoes: 10
Lucy, who loves butter: 10
Will, who's not crazy about potatoes: 8
Ellen: 10
Paul, who's not getting any skinnier: 10

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Rosemary Citrus Chicken

One of the great things about living in southwestern-ish Virginia is that we have access to the Roanoke Times, one of the last great independent small-city papers. The food editor for the Times is a former student of mine, if by student we mean someone who was at the college when I was a teacher there, who knew me by name and vice-versa, and who was gracious enough to laugh at my stupid jokes. Anyhow, at the back of the Extra section of the Sunday Roanoke Times there's always a weekly meal planner, coaching people how to get through the week without killing themselves or eating Stouffer's for three nights. I'm not sure if Lindsey is in charge of that section or not, but every week there's something great in it. That's where this recipe comes from.

One note: I've lowered the cooking times here slightly, because I tend to use local organic chicken which means the breast pieces are smaller. Seriously, if you haven't yet switched to local meats, you really should. I say this not because I'm a food Nazi (my affinity for Nacho Cheese Doritos automatically excludes me from that club), but because, damn man, it just tastes better. That and, frankly, it kind of scares me when I go to the grocery store and pick up a package of Tyson chicken breasts where the breasts are the size of dinner plates; that's just not normal and whatever they do to make the breasts that big very likely is somehow related to what it is the causes people to die fat and young in this country.

I'm just saying . . .

Anyhow, if you live in Lexington, Virginia, you need to go to Donald's Meats immediately. Fresh chicken arrives every Friday, and you can buy frozen breasts all week long. And guess what? It's cheaper than at the grocery store. To get there, just go down the road behind Taco Bell and drive a quarter mile until you see the sign on the right (how's that for small town Virginia directions?).

If you don't live in Lexington, find a local meat cutter and see if you can't get some real food from somewhere nearby. You won't regret it. Seriously, it's all about the taste.

Regardless, enjoy this recipe. It's easy and will please everyone.

Rosemary Citrus Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (more, if they're local and not filled with hormones)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp canola oil, divided
1/4 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tsp butter
1 tsp fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar

  1. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper
  2. Heat 1 tsp oil in large skillet on medium-high
  3. Add chicken breasts and cook 2.5 minutes on each side; remove and set aside, covering with foil to keep warm
  4. Add 1 tsp oil to skillet; add shallots and garlic and cook for one minute
  5. Add juice and broth, bringing to simmer
  6. Return chicken breasts to pan, reducing heat to low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 3-4 minutes, longer, if breasts are large
  7. Transfer chicken to a fresh, clean plate, leaving juices in the pan
  8. Stir butter into pan, along with rosemary and vinegar; season with salt and pepper
  9. Once the butter has melted, spoon sauce over the chicken and serve
Note: this goes well with the Sweet and Tart salad:

Family Ratings:
Will, who will pick every single one of the tiny bits of shallot off the food: 10
Jamie, who loves chicken: 10
Lucy, who prefers her chicken with a head on it: 10
Ellen: 10
Paul: 10

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Crispy Thai Mango Tacos

Okay, let me be frank with you: the real name of this dish is "Crispy Pork Larb"; You can understand why I changed it for this blog. That said, whatever you call it this dish is one of the reasons (my spouse is the other) that I have any friends--or, more bluntly, why even if I don't have any friends, I still get invited to potlucks. Put another way, this is the best tasting food you will ever put in your mouth. I've never met a person who's tasted it an not loved it.

The recipe below comes from Small Bites by Jennifer Joyce, but I've made some adjustments to make it more kid friendly (The adult version, for instance, takes another quarter of the red chili pepper). This dish also works well with vegetarian-friendly fake ground meats, though it won't get quite as crispy.

Thai Mango Tacos

3 TBSP brown sugar
1/4 medium red chili pepper (or jalapeno or whatever) deseeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 TBSP peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2 cup lime juice (or slightly less, say 3/8 of a cup)
1.5 TBSP fish sauce

3 stalks lemongrass
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb ground pork
1-1.5 Tbsp brown sugar
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 ripe mango, diced
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
20 heart of romaine lettuce leaves, to serve (I find these packaged in the produce section, usually three stalks to the bag. Simple wash, cut off the stem at the bottom, and allow to dry)

  1. Make the sauce first by crushing everything but the juices together in a mortar and pestle or a small food processor. Add juices and mix well.
  2. Cut away any tough bits from the lemongrass, and finely slice the rest.
  3. Heat your wok to high. Add the oil, let warm, then toss in the lemon grass and cook for 15 seconds.
  4. Add the pork in one big lump and cook it until crisp underneath. Seriously, while you don't want it black, you are burning it here.
  5. Break pork with a fork and/or spatula, then add the sugar and continue cooking for three minutes.
  6. Add onions and cook for two more minutes or until the meat is thoroughly done. Remove from heat.
  7. Pour the dressing over the pork, add the mango and the cilantro, then mix to combine.
  8. Serve to table, allowing everyone to make their own by lining the seams of the lettuce leaves with the meat/mango mixture and eating like a taco.
Have plenty of napkins handy! This is messy but good!

Family Ratings (on a 1-10 scale):
Will, whose idea it was to cook the onions: 7.5
Jamie, who has a little trouble managing the lettuce leaves: 7.5
Lucy, who loves Thai food: 10
Ellen, who loves Thai food: 10
Paul, who likes being invited to parties: 10