Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fish Tacos with Baja Creamless Crema

I've had this recipe just waiting to be shared for months. MONTHS. And I feel just terrible about that because it's delicious and, also, I invented the baja creamless crema all by myself - a rare, exciting event that I usually can't wait to talk about with you folks. But somehow the recipe and pictures just got stashed away and I went on with my life, making, eating, and writing about peach pies and watermelon gazpacho and spicy black bean burgers. So now I'm here to make things right. And your lives will all be better for me having done so.

halibut fish tacos closeup

Have I mentioned it's freaking HOT in Minnesota? Well, it is. Super balmy icky sticky hot, with a strong gust of hot wind gracing us with its presence just for good measure. Ugh. I have had the privilege of learning, however, on account of this terrible heat wave, that while Minnesota may be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my little subsection of Minnesota - namely, Minneapolis - just happens to be the Land of 61 Wading Pools. This has come in handy lately. Especially because I think lakes are kind of gross.

The one good thing about hot weather, for some people, myself not included, is that it is conducive to grilling. The recipe below includes instructions for oven-broiling the fish for the fish tacos, but if you have the equipment and skills, I strongly encourage you to grill it. That would make what is an already delicious fish taco meal even more awesome. In fact, if you have a grill, do you want to just invite me over and we can have these tacos at your house? I'll do everything except the grilling. Because I lack the equipment and skills, sadly.

veggies closeup

shredded lettuce

halibut steaks

halibut tacos collage

On to the recipe!


Fish Tacos with Baja Creamless Crema
Fish taco part adapted from Essentials of Healthful Cooking (a great cookbook published by Williams-Sonoma); crema from me and my brilliant culinary mind and a strong desire to not waste coconut milk
Yield: 4-6 tacos; 2-4 servings

Fish taco mixture
1/2 lb. thick, meaty fish fillet (I used Pacific halibut, approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium; other good ones would be albacore tuna or Alaska wild salmon)
Seasoned salt & pepper
1 small cucumber, diced
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion or shallot
1 teaspoon seeded, minced jalapeño or spicy red chile (1 small or 1/2 a medium jalapeño)
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon, orange, or lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Baja Creamless Crema
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup coconut milk (don't use lowfat - would be runny and crappy)
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne or black pepper

For serving
4 corn tortillas (or 8 if you like to double layer them, like I do)
1 cup loosely packed, thin-chiffonade-cut romaine lettuce (like in pretty picture above)
Optional garnishes/additions: chopped fresh tomatoes, cilantro, lime wedges, black beans

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove skin from fish and season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the fish in a baking pan in the oven and bake until slightly translucent in the very center at the thickest part, allowing slightly less than 10 minutes per inch of thickness.

Transfer fish to plate and let cool to room temperature. (The fish will continue to cook a bit on the plate and will be opaque by the time it is cool enough to handle.)

Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together the cucumber, green onion or shallot, jalapeño or red chile, zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Flake the cooled fish fillets and then add them to the vegetable mixture, along with the lime juice. Toss gently to combine. Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes so the flavors will marry.

To make the baja creamless crema, mix all ingredients together well and allow to sit for a while. Taste and add more spices, salt or pepper as you see fit.

To assemble tacos, warm the tortillas in the still-semi-hot oven for about 10 minutes, then fill with the fish-veggie mixture, romaine, and garnishes/additions of your choice, and then drizzle generously with the baja creamless crema. A side salad or some beans and rice chilled or at room temp would make this a perfect summer meal.

Note: the baja sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator. It also makes for a great salad dressing the next day, or a tortilla chip dip. (You will likely have some left over.)


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Watermelon Gazpacho

This summer I realized I love watermelon. I think I was apathetic towards it before this summer, but now that I have a daughter with two teeth and a hearty appetite, I've been buying a lot of soft fruits lately and apparently I am quite fond of quite a few of them. (Someday, when I have an index of recipes, you'll notice that another favorite is peaches. A noticeably disproportionate number of the recipes I've posted on this blog involve peaches as an ingredient. But then, peaches are lovely. Until they aren't. You know what I'm talking about.)

The recipe I'm posting below was a huge hit at a bridal shower I hosted two weeks ago. It's actually the second recipe for watermelon gazpacho I've tried out in the last couple of years, and I believe the superior one. It's simple and refreshing but has a subtle kick. The other one had a bit too much going on, I think. At the shower, which involved six food stations paired with six different wines, this was paired with sauvignon blanc. I think they were well-matched. Others said they thought so too, and while I'm not one to just go on words because, duh, I was the hostess, of course people are going to say nice things to me, quite a few folks went back for seconds. So there you have it. It's tasty and goes well with sauvignon blanc.

watermelon and tomatoes

watermelon gazpacho

watermelon gazpacho in cup

Watermelon Gazpacho
Fairly substantially adapted from Kitchen Sense by Mitchell Davis
Yield: about 6 servings as a starter

1 medium to large watermelon, coarsely chopped, dark seeds removed (you'll want about 10 cups of chopped watermelon)
1 pint cherry or plum tomatoes, halved
1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 shallots or 1 small red onion, chopped
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about one lime's worth)
1-2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
Salt and pepper

Place the watermelon, tomatoes, jalapeño, bell pepper, shallots or onion, olive oil, lime juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of fresh black pepper into a good blender or food processor. (Note: be careful if using food processor. There will be spillage.) Pulse until ingredients are v. finely chopped and starting to liquefy. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional lime juice, salt, and/or pepper. Place the soup in the bowl that you'll be using for chilling. Gently pour the chopped cucumber on top of the soup. Cover and chill for at least two hours, ideally a little longer. Garnish with chopped scallion, cilantro, or mint.

Some notes: The original recipe calls for tomato juice instead of tomatoes and suggests pureeing the soup until it is completely liquified and then (as if that's not enough) pouring it through a sieve. I personally like a chunkier gazpacho, so I didn't do that. But if you want a smoother soup, knock yourself out. The author also suggests adding vodka to the smooth watermelon gazpacho, pouring it over ice, and enjoying it cocktail style. I bet that would be interesting, but I'm not a huge fan of savory cocktails. If I make a watermelon cocktail any time soon, it's going to be this one.

P.S. What was that? You love my China? I do too. It's so pretty! And I need to use it more often. It's Lenox's Engagement pattern. We chose it before our wedding because the display table at Marshall Field's (RIP) was gorgeously set with it. I have yet to recreate that table.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Chocolate Apricot Squares

It is scorching hot here in Minneapolis and as humid as a scene from a Tennessee Williams play. Cooking and baking don't sound all that desirable to me at all lately, but we've been diligently (if not enthusiastically) working our way through our CSA produce and farmer's market produce and relatives' garden's produce, stir-frying a lot, raw-food-ing a lot, and dreaming about ice cream. Oh heavens, do I love ice cream.

This post has nothing to do with local produce or hot weather or ice cream, however. I just had all that on my mind and this is my food blog so I thought I'd babble a bit.

What this post is about is sugar and spice and chocolate. Oh yes. And not just any sugar and spice and chocolate. Brown sugar. Ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and orange zest. Bittersweet chocolate. And then also some Grand Marnier just for good measure. Featured below is basically a variation of date bars - and the variation takes them from snack at Grandma's house to something decadent and intense, a bold combination of flavors - homemade granola, spicy mango chutney, and dark dark dark chocolate (like 70% cacao or more). The first bite requires some processing because there is so much going on. And each bite proves more and more intriguing. And this should be on a fancy restaurant's menu.

apricot chocolate bars collage
unbaked crust
apricot filling layer
unbaked bars
baked bars from top

Chocolate Apricot Squares
Adapted from Leite's Culinaria
Yield: 16-20 bars, depending on how small you cut them

For filling*
½ lb. dried apricots
2 teaspoons fresh ginger
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
3-4 oz bar bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, divided

For crust and topping
1 ½ cups quick-cook oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg**
2 teaspoons Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon vanilla

Butter, shortening, or spray to grease pan

Place the apricots in a small saucepan and fill with water until they are covered by about one inch. Bring to boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until apricots are puffy. Drain the water and let the apricots cool. Set aside until ready to use. (I left them in the refrigerator overnight and they were fine the next day.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish.

In a food processor, blend the apricots, ginger, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, orange zest, and spices until the mixture becomes a thick, smooth paste. It will smell and taste delicious, the sweet-spicy-fruity combination is similar to that of a chutney. Scoop the apricot mixture into a bowl and stir in half of the chocolate chunks or chips. Set aside and make the crust and crumble.

Whisk together the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Separately, in the bowl of an electric mixer, blend the butter and brown sugar on medium speed for about a minute, or until well-combined and creamy. Add the egg (or flaxseed mixture – see below) and continue mixing until incorporated. Next add the vanilla and Grand Marnier. Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually add in the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.

In your well-greased baking dish, pour half of the crust/crumble mixture. Flatten with the palm of your hand so that an even 1/4” crust fills the pan. Next, pour the apricot mixture on to the crust and spread evenly on top. Leave a tiny space around the edges to make the bars easier to remove from the pan. Add the remaining chocolate chunks to the remaining crumble mixture and combine with your hands. Dollop tablespoon-sized portions of the crumble evenly on top of the apricot mixture. There should be v. few spaces between the crumble dollops by the time you are done.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees half way through so that it bakes evenly. The bars will be done when the crumble is dry to the touch. Let cool for at least an hour before cutting. The bars will be easiest to cut if you use a sharp knife and rinse between slices.

* Here's a disclaimer about these bars: while I thoroughly enjoyed them, the flavors are undeniably intense - much stronger and spicier than you'd find in a typical American dessert. Sophisticated, like the honey-lemon-herb cake from a few weeks ago. They go great with a beverage that cuts through the intensity, like coffee or a late harvest white wine (two totally different approaches, but they both work). So I just want to throw out there three ideas if you like the idea of this dessert but aren't up for something that your guests will have to ponder over during their first few bites. (1) Substitute 1.5-2 cups apricot preserves for the dried apricot filling. (2) Substitute semisweet chocolate chips or white chocolate chips for the bittersweet. (3) Follow recipe above, but serve bars warm with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

** In the interest of full disclosure, I was out of eggs when I made these and actually used my flaxseed + water combination as a substitute: 3 T water + 1 T flaxseed meal, stirred together and set aside for about 10 minutes. I really really really liked how mine turned out, so I thought I'd share with you even the most nitty gritty specifics of how I made them.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Spelt Sweet Potato [Biscuits/Scones]

Here's a post I started in California but obviously didn't finish. Hence the out-of-date prose. It does the job though, I suppose, so I'm posting it as is, but actually wrapped up this time.

Hello from California! Here's a simple little recipe for you to enjoy while I am playing bocce ball, shaking the booty at my cousin's wedding, eating my mom's and sisters' home cooking, and smelling the fresh salty air in Aptos, California. I made these two weeks before I left Minnesota and they are quite good and versatile, which is why I am not sure whether to consider them biscuits or scones. The original recipe characterizes them as "biscuits" and indeed they are biscuits but they are also so much more. Which is where the scone thing comes in. I just couldn't put them in a box! So, once you make these you will think of a hundred things you can eat them with from honey-butter (scones) to chili (biscuits). We ate them warm with butter the first day and then sandwiched spicy black bean burgers in them the next day. The rest are in the freezer, waiting to be devoured when we return from our trip.

Here's a picture of what makes them so good. (Guess what - it's not the spelt flour!)


Here's a picture of how good they look right out of the oven.

sweet potato biscuits cooling
And here's what the process looked like - note bottom right features a black bean burger sandwich. Bottom left shows my baby-crying-so-I'm-not-going-to-bother-melting-the-butter shortcut. (See recipe.)

sweet potato biscuits collage

Spelt-Sweet Potato [Biscuits/Scones]

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield: 12 biscuit/scones (FYI: about 150 calories each)

1 large or 2 small to medium sweet potatoes
1 ¾ cups spelt flour (or whole wheat flour or all-purpose flour)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 tablespoons plain yogurt
2 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, with rack on lower shelf.

To make the sweet potato puree, wash sweet potatoes well and puncture with a fork all over. (No need to peel them.) Wrap each sweet potato in a paper towel and microwave on high for 4-7 minutes, depending on how big they are - the goal is a well-cooked, easy-to-mash sweet potato. Once finished, allow them to cool enough to be handled, and then mash them with a fork, potato masher, or using a food processor or blender. Add a tablespoon of water to get a smooth consistency, if necessary.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. With your hands or a fork, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal, with some pea-sized lumps of butter remaining. In a separate small bowl, whisk together sweet potato purée and yogurt; stir into flour mixture until combined. (Alternatively, pulse the dry ingredients a few times in your food processor. Add the blended sweet potatoes and yogurt and process until a sticky dough forms.)

Using a 1/3-cup measuring cup or a large ice cream scoop, scoop six equal portions of batter and place on Silpat- or parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat process on a second baking sheet if you have one (or just wait until the first batch has been baked to start second batch). Brush each biscuit with melted butter (or, if your baby is crying and you're in a hurry, place a tiny dollop of cold butter on top of each one as depicted above). Bake until golden, rotating once for even baking, 18-20 minutes.

Notes: These freeze well in a freezer bag. If you want to use them for sandwiches, I suggest making six larger ones rather than twelve small ones, and gently shaping them into more of a circle with floured hands. If you go this route, bake them for an additional 3-4 minutes, keeping a close eye on them after the first 18 minutes.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Spicy Black Bean Burgers

Hey, remember a couple(ish) weeks ago when I was like, "Vacation, baby, yeah! Time to catch up on my food blog! Woo-hoo!"? I had the best of intentions, seriously. But, well, I got super sick for about a third of the trip, and then there were weddings to attend and Happiest Places on Earth to visit and pools to christen and old, dear, wonderful loved ones with whom hugging, laughing, endless talking, dining, drinking, and maybe even attending yoga classes were in order. And it all made me a liar, which I generally am not. If it weren't so fun (except for strep or strep-like illness, which, on the contrary, totally cramped my style), I'd be mortified.

To make up for it, I've finally got that veggie burger recipe for you that I promised approximately nineteen days ago.

black bean burger open face

It is almost perfect. What makes it not quite perfect - and what particularly saddens me this instant, as I enjoy this sultry day with a little alone time while the family's napping, blogging from my patio, savoring the nearly-but-not-quite overpowering smell of someone grilling a few floors below - is that it's totally not grillable. And, not having a grill, and not being a food scientist or even an especially seasoned or educated cook, I'm not sure how to adjust the recipe to make the burgers sturdier. So, for now anyway, stovetop it is. (Bonus: cleanest stovetop cooking ever because there is no cooking oil required.)

black bean burger prep
black bean burger close up
black bean burger ready to eat!

Spicy Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from The Washington Post
Yield: 8 burgers

4 cups cooked, rinsed and drained black beans (about 2 or 3 cans)
½ to 1 teaspoon each of spices of your choice, e.g. cumin, coriander, oregano, turmeric, amchur powder
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce + 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup wheat germ (or more breadcrumbs)
5-6 scallions, both white and green parts, finely chopped
½ cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed and 5 tablespoons water. Set aside.

Place 2 cups of the black beans in the bowl of a food processor with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and dry spices of your choice. Pulse a few times or process on low until everything is well combined; you want a hummus-like consistency here. Transfer pureed, spiced beans to a large mixing bowl. Add remaining whole black beans, plus chipotle chile and adobo sauce, panko, wheat germ, scallions, cilantro, salt and pepper, flaxseed-water mixture, and mix until well combined.

Using your hands, portion the mixture into patties about 3/4-inch thick and about 4 inches in diameter. Place patties in refrigerator or freezer for about fifteen minutes.

When ready to cook, remove patties from refrigerator or freezer. Place a cast-iron skillet over high heat, no need to use oil; when it is hot but not smoking, add burgers to dry pan. Cook over medium heat for about five minutes on first side or until well seared and with a flipping spatula, turn onto second side and allow to cook for an additional five minutes.

Serve immediately with hamburger buns (or, um, bread, like in the pictures - don't want to be a hypocrite!), queso fresco or shredded monterey jack cheese, avocado, salsa, or anything else you like.

Notes: (1) If the yield is greater than what you need on the day you make these, they hold up best if you cook them first and then keep them in the refrigerator – mine were in there for over a week and were fine. They would freeze well too. Just thaw them in the refrigerator the night before you'd like to use them and then microwave them for about a minute. (2) These are the best black bean burgers I've ever had. Like better than the British Burger King's spicy black bean burgers and the ones available at most American bars as the token non-salad vegetarian option. And if you make them using dry beans the way I recommended toward the end of this post (and, it's so worth it, so please do), they are super cheap as well. Best yet, they only have 113 calories per burger and every calorie is good for you. (3) These burgers are vegan. If you don't have flaxseed meal and don't mind making them non-vegan, use 2 eggs in place of the flaxseed/water combo. (4) If you don't have a food processor (Meg), you can use a potato masher to mash the beans. It'll just be a little more of a work out than above approach provides. Sometimes a little work out makes food taste better though. (5) In case you didn't read preface, I'll reiterate: they are not sturdy enough for grilling. Sorry folks.

P.S. This is my 50th post. Do you think an index would be helpful or should I wait until post 100? I don't want a sad-looking, sparsely populated index, you know?