simple salmon

here in the great northwest, we eat a lot of salmon! so much so that it is really easy to grow tired of the tasty pink fish and yearn for a nice medium rare juicy ribeye slathered in bbq sauce! maybe that’s just my poor, denied little stomach doing the talking right now but i’m listening and i think i came up with a delicious and simple recipe to quiet it down. this salmon dish is easy enough, even for those of us who are not the most confident of fish cookers.

honey-soy glazed salmon (makes 2 servings)

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
splash of fresh lemon juice
2- 8oz salmon filets

in a bowl big enough to hold both filets, whisk together all the ingredients. place the filets, flesh side down in the marinade, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
preheat oven to 400 degrees.
on a small cookie sheet covered in foil, place the salmon, flesh side up. bake on the middle rack for about 10 minutes. while the fish is cooking, pour the marinade into a small sauce pan and reduce it to a syrupy glaze. brush the glaze on the salmon and continue to cook until the salmon is firm on the outside but pink inside. (about another 5 to 10 minutes). transfer the filets (the skin will stick to the foil so you can just leave it behind) to plates and serve with orzo. (recipe to follow)

this was super simple and tasty enough to get my mind off of steak and back on track. the orzo was a wonderful accompaniment so i will post the recipe for it as well. i’m proud to say that i haven’t strayed from my new year’s promise and i’m feeling pretty groovy. 2 more weeks to go! if i could only stop the pigs and wine bottles from dancing in my head…

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stuffed shells are not just for sundays

growing up in a household, complete with an italian grandmother, definitely came with some fantastic culinary advantages. my interest in “all things food” started at a very early age and was fed and cultivated by helping my nana in the kitchen. i learned about rolling out pizza and pasta dough, making the best red sauce and, maybe the most important lesson… the snacking advantages that arise from helping out the cook. there were also some things learned that i have since let go in my adult years. catholic guilt and the idea that any stuffed pasta is an all day affair are high on that list. i think many of us grew up with certain meals that were thought to be difficult, time consuming and reserved for sunday dinner. stuffed shells was one of those exalted treats that i’ve come to realize only takes about 20 minutes to put together and tastes just as sweet on a tuesday! you can certainly use your own marinara sauce for this recipe, but i’ve included a quick cooking version that is perfect for making this a speedy preparation. mangia!

stuffed shells (makes 4 servings)

for the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1- 15oz can crushed tomatoes

for the shells:
20 jumbo pasta shells, cooked al dente
1 lb whole milk ricotta cheese
1 box frozen spinach, thawed and drained well
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 cup mozzarella, grated (reserve 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on top)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

in a saute pan, cook the onion along with the salt and pepper in the olive oil until just soft, about 5 minutes. add the garlic and basil and cook for another 2 minutes. add the red wine vinegar and saute until all the liquid has disappeared. add the tomatoes and simmer on low while you prepare the shells and stuffing.

preheat oven to 350 degrees.
while your pasta water is coming up to a boil, stir together ricotta, spinach, egg, parmesan, mozzerella and salt and pepper and set aside. when your shells are cooked to al dente (this takes about 7 minutes). drain them and spread them out on a plate to cool (this will prevent them from sticking together). ladle about 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9×9 inch casserole dish. stuff your cooled shells with the ricotta mixture and place them in one layer on top of the sauce. pour the remaining sauce over the top of the shells and  sprinkle with the extra mozzarella. cover dish with foil and bake for 25 minutes. remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes. let the shells rest for 5 minutes before serving.

you can put this meal together in no time and have a “sunday dinner” feeling any day of the week. the shells get even tastier the longer they sit so feel free to prepare this the night before and bake it off when you get home from work. i really is that simple!

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coconut fish curry

this meatless month has been going along swimmingly. maybe it’s because of all the fish we’ve been eating, lol!  i’ve lost 5 lbs and i’m feeling quite good about starting off the new year in such a positive way. the only obstacle that keeps popping up in the middle of my healthy road is a lack of meatless recipes in my repertoire. my weekly roasted chicken dinner and penne with sausage are not dishes that can simply be made sans meat. i’ve been forced to rethink, not only the way i eat, but the way i shop and cook. using fish as a protein isn’t new to me, but i’m realizing now that my “old standbys” in our weekly menu need to be replaced and rethought. i made a delicious coconut fish curry this week that will definitely be repeated in this month and beyond!

coconut fish curry (serves 2)

1 lb monk fish fillet (or any meaty white fish), cleaned and cubed
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon yellow curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lemongrass, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1-15oz can coconut milk
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons italian parsley, chopped

in a large skillet over med high heat, add the canola oil, brown sugar, curry, turmeric, chili paste, fish sauce, lemongrass, and ginger and saute until the sugar has melted and all the spices have melded, around 5 minutes. add the coconut milk and cook until it comes up to a bubble. turn down the heat to medium and add your cubed fish, taking care to cover all the pieces in the coconut milk mixture. cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until your fish is firm and cooked through. off the heat, add your tomatoes and parsley. serve over rice and enjoy!

this quick and tasty curry takes as much time to make as the rice, which makes it a perfect week night meal. you can use halibut or cod or even shrimp for this dish and substitute in light coconut milk to make it even healthier. it would be even better with a nice glass of sauvignon blanc but i’m trying not to think about that!

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polenta please

my husband and i have decided to start out this new year with an entire month free of meat and booze. it sounded like such a good idea…lose some weight, break some bad habits, teach ourselves some discipline, yadda yadda yadda. to quote every heavy metal band from the eighties…”you don’t know what ya got until it’s gone”. i really didn’t realize how much meat we were consuming until we cut it out of our diets completely. in an effort to stop our minds from wandering to a bad place, i decided to make us a super hearty meal  that wouldn’t have us focusing on what was missing, but instead on how delicious the dish was. creamy polenta with sauteed wild mushrooms quieted the voices and left us satisfied and happy. a chef i used to work with taught me not to fear making creamy polenta by teaching me a simple technique that i will now impart to you… for every cup of polenta (which feeds about 4 people) use 5 cups of liquid. easy enough right? you can cut that down or up by half, depending on the amount of people you’re serving. you can use all sorts of different liquids like stock, milk, water, or a combination there of. just remember the ratio and never leave your pot’s side and your polenta will be flawless every time.

creamy polenta with wild mushrooms (makes 4 servings)

for polenta:

2-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2-1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup medium ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 stick unsalted butter

for mushrooms:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lb wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced ( i used giant oyster and crimini)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh italian parsley, chopped

in a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat up the stock, milk, salt and pepper until it comes to a boil. turn down the heat to med-low and whisk in the polenta. continue whisking every few minutes over low heat until the polenta has absorbed all the liquid and is smooth and creamy, around 25 minutes. off the heat, stir in the parmesan and butter with a wooden spoon.  while you’re chained to the stove cooking your polenta, in a large saute pan, heat up the olive oil and butter for your mushrooms. once the butter has melted into the olive oil, add your sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat until soft and nicely browned, around 10 minutes. off the heat, add the chopped thyme and parsley. plate the polenta and spoon the sauteed mushrooms over. enjoy with some crunchy garlic bread.

this was definitely a meal that had us forgetting about our sacrifices and toasting the new year. of course we were toasting with tall glasses of water but we were still toasting! boy, do i need a nice glass of pinot noir! how many days in january?

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gorgeous gougeres

cheese puffs, gourgesone of my favorite appetizer recipes to make has to be my gourges, or cheese puffs for you “non-frenchy” types. after trying several different incarnations from various chefs, i wrote my own version and i’m ready to share it with you. i make these little beauties for cocktail parties, dinner parties, or even a tuesday movie night. they are delicate pillows of cheese heaven and you don’t have to be a french pastry master to make them. i must have made these four times over the holidays so i racked up a few recipe requests. here’s to a new year filled with cheese!

cheese puffs (makes around 60)

1 -1/2 cups whole milk
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated if you can
1-1/2 cups flour
6 eggs
1 cup gruyere cheese, grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
egg wash and finishing salt for the tops

preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

have your grated cheeses and your eggs all ready in a cuisinart fitted with the blade attachment.
in a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg over medium heat until it just begins to bubble. turn down the heat to medium low and add the flour all at once. beat it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and all the flour has been mixed in. cook for around 2 minutes stirring constantly until the flour starts to coat the bottom of the pan. dump the hot mixture right on top of the eggs and cheese in the cuisinart and pulse a few times until the dough is smooth.
spoon the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, or use two spoons and make mounds about 2 inches high and 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. using a wet finger, push down any points on the top of your puffs. brush the puffs with egg wash and sprinkle them with finishing salt (i like pink hawaiian). bake the sheets, one at a time in the center rack of the oven for 15 to 20 minutes until the puffs are golden brown and firm. (if they are not cooked through they with fall flat once they cool)

now you know how to make one of my signature dishes! you can make these puffs a few hours before the party and heat them up for 5 minutes in a 350 degree oven just before serving. i’ve tried making them a day in advance but they never taste quite as good as the day you make them. i really like the little sprinkling of finishing salt on the top of these gourges. most recipes call for a sprinkling of cheese on top but i feel that the salt brings out the sharpness of the two cheeses in a really lovely and subtle way.

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a new year a new website

happy holidays everyone! i’m so sorry for the recipe wasteland this december. it was not due to laziness or holiday exhaustion and, i promise, it was well worth it. i was, with the help of my dear friend corey, switching my blog over to wordpress and adding some wonderful new features to my little website. you can now… print my recipes and find them by category, check out what i’m reading ,subscribe to my blog,  follow me on facebook, and pretty soon you’ll also be able to read my reviews of books, restaurants, and kitchen gadgets! i hope you like the 2011 kicked up version of me! and don’t despair… i was busy cooking the whole time!

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pantry pasta

it’s that time of year when i start storing away pantry items like a gourmet squirrel. it seems like there is never enough time in the day to get everything done and make dinner as well. whenever the holiday season sneaks up on us, it’s so easy to resort to take-out and instant soup, but it doesn’t have to be that way. after years of perfecting my pantry stock-up, i can always have an amazing pasta dish on the table in about as much time as it takes to boil the penne (or spaghetti, or fettuccine, or rigatoni… you get the idea). aside from having a variety of pastas, rice and canned tomatoes on hand, your fridge can serve as an extension to your pantry. stock it with canned crab* (a hidden gem in my opinion. don’t knock it ’til you try it), frozen shrimp and vegetables, cheeses, half & half, and plenty of butter. all of these items have a long shelf-life and are super versatile ingredients for all sorts of quick dinners. i’m usually pretty harried when i’m making one of my fast dinners, so i find it helpful to have all my ingredients laid out on the counter so i don’t miss a step. the following recipe has become a favorite around my house and it couldn’t be simpler.
penne with pink crab sauce (makes 4 servings)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1- 15 oz can of diced tomatoes (slightly drained)- try and get them with no salt added
4 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup half & half
1- 16 oz can of crab claw meat (i usually only use 1/2 the can and save the rest for another dish)
2 tablespoons italian parsley (chopped)
dried penne pasta, enough for 4 (cooked al dente and drained)

heat the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet on medium heat. add the tomatoes and garlic and cook until the tomatoes start to break down and get saucy, around 5 minutes. add the brown sugar, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. cook another 5 minutes to let all the spices mingle and then add the half & half. let the sauce reduce and thicken just enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 more minutes. add the crab and parsley and cook just long enough to heat the crab through. add your al dente penne and cook for another 2 minutes or so. serve and enjoy!

a well stocked fridge and pantry can make creating new dishes an enjoyable breeze! i also find that the more adept i become at creating dishes using ingredients like the ones in this recipe, the more money i save on my grocery bills. just a little bonus for you!

*you can find really good canned crab in the refrigerated seafood section at whole foods or trader joe’s for around $10. that sure beats the $25 per pound they try and charge us around here.

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