Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Food blogs r fun

A few years ago I had what I thought was a brilliant and original idea: What if there was a website where people could post and talk about recipes they had actually made themselves, and give their own take on what worked and what didn't? I dreamt of a website where cooks could learn from and laugh at each other's culinary successes and disasters.

Little did I know that I'm completely unoriginal, as this was already being done by tons of food bloggers. (I blame the kids for making me totally out of date when it comes to technology and modern life). Obviously I'm a little late to the table in terms of the food blogging world, but I'm quickly learning how great it is. Aside from the fun I've had writing my own blog, I've discovered lots of other food blogs that are informative, fun, and give me a new perspective on food and what other people like to cook and eat.

As much as I love the Food Network and other food-focused television shows, magazines, etc, it's hard to identify with a lot of those cooks. Even the so-called "relatable" ones scare me a little. I mean, how is it possible for Melissa D'Arabian to have four pre-schoolers at home and cook meals like she does all.the.time? How is it possible that everything Rachel Ray makes tastes so good that she has to moan orgasmically after every bite?

I love learning and talking about food with non-perfect people who simply love to cook and eat - people who are cooking with kids clinging to their legs and whining, who burn the chicken, scrape off the burnt parts and eat it anyway, and who can find equal amounts of joy in an amazing 5-star restaurant meal, some processed crappy food that tastes really good, childhood favorite comfort foods, and an organic salad made with seasonal, local veggies.

In my effort to keep up with the times, I've created a blogroll on the righthand side with links to some of my favorite newly discovered food blogs. I look forward to updating it as I find more and more.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fish tacos

While living in LA, I came to really love fish tacos. I can't think of anything better to eat on a warm summer day, washed down with an icy cold margarita. Over the years, I've had many variations of fish tacos using different types of fish, different seasonings, different toppings, and different preparations (usually grilled or battered & fried). To create my own recipe, I combined the things I liked best about every fish taco I'd ever eaten. My favorite part about my version is that it has the crunchy satisfaction of the fried fish without the guilt.

This recipe can easily be used for regular fish tacos, or "deconstructed" fish tacos - a spin I created in honor of Top Chef.

Here's what you'll need:

For the fish:

Firm white fish (I have the best results with mahi mahi)
seasoning (more on that below)
panko bread crumbs
olive oil

For the slaw:

red & green cabbage
mayonnaise (you can sub in light mayo if you're watching calories/fat)
hot sauce
fresh lime juice
chipotle pepper (optional)
sour cream (optional)

For the toppings:

diced tomato
diced red onion
chopped cilantro
sliced avocado

For the wrapping:

Fairly large flour tortillas


I start out by chopping everything for the slaw and toppings. To make the slaw, I chop the red and green cabbage into thin ribbons. Then I create the "magic white sauce." The magic white sauce doesn't always have to be the same - it's something you can play with based on your own taste preferences.

I start with a base of mayonnaise, then add lime juice until it's a thinner consistency. Then I add a few dashes of hot sauce, some chopped cilantro, and some salt. You can play with it as much as you want until it tastes good to you. If I'm not making it for my dairy-allergic daughter, I sometimes add sour cream for extra bite. And if you love chipotle peppers, you'll love them in this dish...just chop one or two and throw them in. Toss a few spoonfuls of the sauce with the shredded cabbage and set aside.

*Tip: reserve some extra white sauce for topping.

For the toppings, I chop up some tomato, red onion, and cilantro and mix them together in a bowl. Then I slice some avocado.

Now it's time to cook the fish. I cut fillets of mahi mahi into strips and dredge in Simply Organics Fish Taco seasoning. If you can find this at a store (it comes in a paper packet, like taco seasonings), I highly recommend it. If you can't find it, you can substitute regular taco seasoning or other southwestern seasoning. Or if you're really ambitious, you can make your own. Here are the main spices in the Simply Organics seasoning: paprika, garlic, sea salt, red chili flakes, dried onion, cilantro, cumin, black pepper, coriander. I'm sure if you doused the fish in just a few of those seasonings and some salt and pepper, it would still taste great.

Let the fish marinate in the spices for a few minutes, then roll in panko breadcrumbs. Saute the fish sticks in olive oil until they flake with a fork.

To assemble regular tacos: Spread the cabbage slaw on a flour tortilla, top with fish, then with tomato mixture and avocado. Add some hot sauce if you like, and some leftover white sauce.

To create a "deconstructed fish taco:" Instead of cutting the mahi mahi into strips before cooking, leave them as whole filets. Prepare the fish the same way as described above - dredge in seasoning, then coat in panko and saute. After the fish is cooked, mound a bed of the cabbage slaw on a plate, top with the fish filet, and top the filet with the tomato mixture and avocado. Drizzle leftover white sauce over the top and sprinkle crushed tortilla chips over the whole dish.

Pour yourself a margarita or a glass of white wine and prepare to impress all your friends!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Christmas in the "Top Chef" premiere

I am scaring myself a little bit with how excited I am that the new season of Top Chef is premiering tonight. I told my husband it that it is my equivalent of the Super Bowl, or the start of a new sports season. Then he was scared too.

I love Top Chef for many reasons, but primarily because it doesn't dumb down the food. When I first started watching it, I had no clue what they were talking about 50% of the time. Sabayon? Buerre Blanc? Sous Vide?

Now I feel much more confident in my foodie-ism; in fact when we went out to dinner at a fancy shmancy restaurant the other night, I impressed myself and my husband by 1: knowing what ramps were (they're kind of like a green onion), and 2: knowing how to pronounce turbot (it's tur-boh, not tur-bot). I had only Top Chef to thank.

Food snobbery aside, the show has taught me some really valuable lessons about cooking. Here are just a few of them:

1) using the right amount of salt is really, really important and can make or break virtually any dish

2) if you use high quality, fresh ingredients, you can keep your cooking super-simple and it will still taste great

3) a simple piece of meat or fish cooked perfectly (not overdone, not too raw), will beat out an elaborately seasoned/marinated dish every time

In honor of Top Chef and their love of "deconstructing" popular dishes, I will soon be posting my Top Chef-inspired recipe: Deconstructed fish tacos. It's so amazing I'm a little leery of posting it, but it's too good not to share.

FYI: Top Chef premieres on Bravo tonight at 9/8 central! If you haven't watched it before, you must give it a try.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cookies for breakfast

Lately I've been having a heck of a time getting my girls to eat breakfast. They turn up their noses at waffles, they're currently in an anti-cereal phase, and they never take more than 5 bites of oatmeal. Sydney loves muffins and pancakes, Brynn doesn't like either one (strange child). They love french toast, but as much as I'd love to be all June Cleaver-y and make homemade french toast every morning, I'm just not cut out for that.

Usually their breakfast consists of a few bites of something grain-y and some fruit. It's annoying when they don't eat a good, substantial breakfast because it means they beg for snacks all morning long.

So the other day I decided to try something new - breakfast cookies. I was inspired by Erin Baker's breakfast cookies, which I saw in a local health food store. My girls looooove cookies, so I thought maybe this would be a way to get them to eat something a little more substantial in the a.m.

There aren't any mystery ingredients that make a cookie a breakfast cookie, as opposed to a regular cookie. I basically just tried to make a cookie that was more nutritious and less sugary & fatty than a regular cookie.

I started with a basic oatmeal-raisin cookie recipe that was on the back of a giant bag of oats I bought at Costco. You could make these same modifications to any tried and true cookie recipes that you have on hand:

1) To reduce the sugar, I swapped out 1/2 cup of sugar for 1/2 cup of applesauce.

2) To add some additional whole grains, I substituted half of the flour with whole wheat flour.

3) To boost the protein, I added sliced almonds.

4) I also threw in a few tablespoons of oat bran since I happened to have some in my pantry.

I wouldn't call these cookies a smashing success, but definitely a success. The first morning, the girls both ate two of them - and they stayed full much longer than normal. I ate two as an afternoon snack, and also felt satisfied until dinner. By day three of the breakfast cookie experiment, however, the cookies were losing their luster. I froze the leftovers and will see what happens when I thaw a few out next week.

I plan to continue experimenting with ingredients to see how much healthy stuff I can get in there while still keeping them tasty. Here are just a few ideas for what could be put into the cookies:

shredded coconut
shredded carrot
pureed banana
pureed apple/applesauce
dried cranberries
dried blueberries
any type of nut or nut butter
flax seed
wheat germ
And of course...cooked quinoa

Sunday, June 13, 2010

And the winner is...

Congrats to Jackie for being the lucky winner of the Bittman cookbook...I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! And thanks for all the great suggestions re: other food blogs - I can't wait to check them out.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My favorite summer dish

I know it's not officially summer until the 21st, but I officially declare it summer when the temp has been over 100 degrees for three straight days. Since that milestone was reached in Phoenix this past weekend, I busted out my favorite summer recipe - one I'm sure I'll be making at least twice a month for the foreseeable future.

I can't take credit for the recipe - it belongs to my favorite chef in the universe, Bobby Flay. But it's very unBobbylike in that there are no chipotle peppers or other southwestern flavors. This dish is the perfect summer dish because it's really simple, fresh, mild yet flavorful, and light yet satisfying. It's Chicken Paillard with Arugula (paillard is just a fancy name for chicken breast that's been pounded really thin). And you can find the recipe here.

I promise that once you try it you'll make it over and over again. The great thing about this dish is that it's easy enough for a weeknight meal, but fancy enough for guests.

Although I usually make at least one significant change to recipes I find, this is one of the few recipes that I haven't really modified. The only change I've made is to add some shaved parmesan cheese at the end. You can also substitute the olive oil/vinegar mixture with some balsamic vinaigrette if you're so inclined.

And if you're looking for a carb-y side dish to round out the meal, I would suggest some homemade potato salad, corn on the cob, or crusty bread. It's healthy, fresh, summery perfection on a plate.