Archive for the ‘Seafood’ Category

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A French inspired St. Patrick’s Day: Bisquick & beer fried fish

March 14, 2007

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You know my husband is getting cocky when he tries to rumble with Betty Crocker. But that’s how I found him one recent evening: Staring, hard-eyed, at a box of her famous Bisquick.

“I will conquer you, Bisquick,” he might have said (but didn’t.)

Apparently this dramatic face off was inspired by one of our favorite fellow bloggers, Mimi, of French Kitchen in America. She recently challenged her readers to come up with recipes using the famous product — or, actually, any biscuit mix, including homemade — whether up-market or down-home. My husband, of course, couldn’t resist, and decided to take on the original and iconic cooking behemoth, Betty Crocker’s Bisquick.

… Hence, another evening when I come home to find disturbing evidence of his cooking obsession. Him and a box of Bisquick. About to cage match. Jeesh.

Problem is, I can’t complain too vociferously — or he won’t make me this Bisquick-and-beer battered fried fish again.

That’s right: After much thought, the husband determined to jettison the usual baking methodology and throw his Bisquick into hot oil — after first combining it with beer and throwing a fish around in it. The results are delectable, but sadly, extremely fattening. (Then again, who said fried fish was health food?)

The classic fried cod that exited our stove had the appropriate and amazing crunchy top coat, made slightly and delightfully sweet from the magic Bisquick formula. The fish inside was cooked perfectly — moist, tender and steaming. All the seasoning was spot on, and bonus: The husband also made some delicious curried tartar sauce to match. And, of course, he also made chips (for what is fish without chips?) … bringing the sum total calories and fat of the meal to near-record levels.

But nevermind about all that nutritional information business. The point is: It tastes good. And I think Betty Crocker would agree. But if I catch her alone with my husband again…

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Backgrounder…
It’s actually very true… I was staring at a box of Bisquick. It sat next to me one night while watching TV. In fact, I know way more about Bisquick than I did before — because you can’t help but read the nutritional information and ingredients when staring at the box. Aside from some surprising stuff on the side label (let’s just say this isn’t a low-fat or low-cal meal), what you learn very quickly is that it is simply a modified self-rising flour. Once I understood that, I realized I needed a theme and a concept. What good is an ingredient if it has no purpose?

It didn’t take me long to realize my theme would be Ireland. I know Mimi has French heritage and has great passion for that country, but this time of year is about Ireland and Saint Patrick. Unfortunately, Ireland, like its despised British cousin, hasn’t had a great culinary tradition until recently. So I began to imagine stews with drop biscuits and various other hearty fare.

Then it clicked. My wife and I were in Ireland a few years back, and I thought of one of the funniest sights on that trip. We were in Dublin, and my wife got fish and chips at this small chipper. In fact, the chipper was so small that there were no tables and it was all take away (notice the respect for the local lingo… not carry out like here in the States… it’s take away). She ordered haddock. The next thing I know, my wife is carrying around a huge hunk of fish. I’m pretty sure they just battered the whole filet and handed it to her. So, imagine her gnawing on a fried fish that is taken from a fish about as big as she is. It’s natural absurdist comedy. Thinking back on this, I knew wanted to make fish and chips.

The only hang-up was the breading. On most fried fish, the coating is just a flour with seasoning and leavener. I didn’t even need the leavener, since Bisquick gets you most of the way there. Plus, Bisquick has sugar and its own flavor. So I added some heat and dimension with paprika and cayenne, and used the beer to give it a bit more rise and flavor.

The results were impressive. I was shocked how well it worked. The Bisquick has a lightness in flavor that keeps the batter around the fish sweet. There is actually more depth of flavor than when I’ve made similar dishes with regular flour. So, I’m delighted to share this with you as it was great lesson for me.

Finally, there are a couple technical notes. First, after I decided to do this recipe, I caught an episode of America’s Test Kitchen doing a fish and chips episode. The show was very informative and I would highly recommend it (it’s a TiVo season pass for us). While I don’t use their recipe or even their breading technique, it did influence the choices I made, so I want to give a proper hats off to the folks at Cook’s Illustrated.

Second, I used an Irish red ale, Smithwick’s. It has a good depth of flavor. I suspect if you wanted to be even more Irish for the holiday, you could use Harp. However, I would stay away from Guinness or other dark stouts. I think the beautiful body and deep chocolate flavor would really undermine the lightness of the batter. Though, I would highly recommend drinking a Guinness with this.

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Special Stir Fry (aka Shrimp, Cashew, and Chicken Stir Fry with coconut, basil… yeah, just call it “Special”)

March 12, 2007

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Remember that old slogan, “When you’re really good, they call you Cracker Jack?”

Well, I think it applies here. But I think there’s a problem with calling this dish “Cracker Jack Stir Fry.” (Just one problem?) Mainly that it might be misleading about its ingredients. Alas, there are no carmelized popcorn bits or candied peanuts hiding amid the luscious noodles, shrimp, chicken and veg.

So we don’t call delicious dishes in this house “Cracker Jack.” Instead, in a fit of uncreativity and lameness, I call them “special.” Yes, like the way they tried to jazz up your school lunch menu. (I never said I was a genius marketer.) “Special” is shorthand for what a ravenous wife (me) can say when she wants some of the favorites of her husband’s cooking: “Make me special pasta.” “Make me special tacos.” “Make me special stir fry.”

This, friends, is special stir fry.

What elevates it to “special” level? Something about the combination of herbs and sauces — the subtle play of salty soy, vinegar and fresh, leafy herbiage. Something about the sweet and luscious shrimp and the tender, delicious chicken. Something about the unexpected and delightful crunch of carmelized cashews. Something about the mounds of slender, seasoned noodles that are nesting all that goodness. No, wait, I’ve got it: It’s something about the alluring heat of the fresh red pepper flakes and their tingle on your tongue.

Well, wherever the magic resides, it is indeed “special.” Grab your fork and open your maw, Cracker Jack… The special stir fry is on.

Click here to download the recipe for Special Stir Fry.

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Backgrounder…
When I got done playing with and tweaking this dish, I turned to my wife and said, “We have to give this a name… something cute like General Tso’s Chicken. We can’t just call it ‘shrimp, cashew, and chicken stir fry with coconut, mint, cilantro, basil, and lemon thyme.’” With noodles still hanging from her fork, my wife just shrugged at me and said, “Just call it, ‘Special Stir Fry’.”

At that moment, I knew I had done good. “Special” is a moniker few dishes get. It also means that it has to go into the rotation of dishes we do on a regular basis when not blogging or experimenting. In our house, it’s the equivalent of throwing “Ultimate” or “Classic” or some other super adjective in front of the dish. So I was strutting like a 6’2’’ rooster when I heard “Special” tacked on to this dish.

When designing Special Stir Fry, I wanted that freshness and lightness that so many Southeast Asian dishes have. However, since I’m not familiar with their cuisines beyond a few scarfs here and there (I’m allergic to peanuts so I have to be careful), I tried to imagine that freshness while balancing the five flavors.

What are the five flavors? In many Asian cultures, cooks speak of balancing sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy in order to create the perfect meal. The idea is that these flavors must be in harmony for the most enjoyment — the culinary version of feng shui if you like. So in this dish, I tried to keep the five flavors as my guide posts.

And I think I did a fairly good job. The sweetness from the mirin and coconut, the heat from the chilis, the salt from the soy sauce, the brightness from the herbs, and the sour from the squeeze of lime at the finish play together to give you several distinct flavors. At the same time, the flavors from the proteins are preserved. You always taste shrimp, chicken and cashews. I’m tremendously delighted with this dish. Hopefully, you’ll appreciate Special Stir Fry as well. However, my wife’s “Cracker Jack stir fry” line started me wondering…

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What’s in a name? Seafood and chorizo pasta

March 8, 2007

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My husband was struggling with what to call this dish. It’s not a bouillabaisse, it’s not a stew. It’s not a paella, it’s not a ragout. (Hey, that totally rhymes.) Finally, after much head-scratching, he came up with “seafood and chorizo pasta.”

Well, I can’t reward him any points for originality/creativity… but I can give him mad props for deliciousness. Whatever you call this dish, it has tastiness in spades.

It’s hard to pinpoint what really seals the deal on a dinner this complex and satisfying. Could it be the rich tomato-based sauce coating the mounds of freshly made pasta? Perhaps it’s the smoky, spicy chorizo sausage hiding like treasures throughout? Maybe it’s the sweet and delicate shrimp morsels? Or could it be the fierce and seductive clams, lending their hint of the sea and their decorative shells?

Hmm… Obviously this is going to take more “research” on my part. My fork, please, darling.

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Click here to download the recipe for Seafood and Chorizo Pasta.

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It may not be pretty, but it’s pretty tasty: Bacon-wrapped monkfish with mushrooms

March 2, 2007

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Let’s see… Ingredients: Delicious lobster-like fish, thin slices of bacon, mushrooms lovingly sautéed in butter and a light lemony butter sauce to finish.

I think we have a winner, folks.

My husband can’t go wrong wrapping things in bacon and putting them on a bed of mushrooms. In fact, I might eat just about anything prepared that way. (Old shoes, dish towels…)

Don’t believe me? Consider the monkfish, this post’s bacon-wrapped, mushroom-topped offering.

Yes, monkfish tastes very good. It’s firm and not fishy, and its flesh carries a subtle sweetness – I’ve heard it described as a poor man’s lobster. So, yes, eating monkfish was not like eating an old shoe. It married well with the earthy and fragrant mushrooms, it absorbed the maple-saltiness of the bacon, and the slightly lemony butter sauce made the whole thing lip-smackingly good.

So, you folks are saying: What’s the problem? Why are you so brave for eating monkfish?

True, monkfish is a fairly benign looking filet when you confront it in your supermarket. There’s some homely gray fish skin and some vein-y white flesh, but nothing to send you screaming in horror. That is, until you encounter the actual monkfish. Whole. On the Internet. Its giant gaping mouth. Its rows of pointy teeth. Its distended, bag-like stomach. Its nasty little angler antennae. My reaction: “THAT is what I ate?”

Now, this horrified response is coming from a Blue Planet lover (the best freakin’ show on cable TV). I love sea creatures, even the ugly ones. It’s just a little much to realize that I just ate the elephant man of the ocean. (I warn you: Click at your own risk.)

Before the bile rises to your throat, consider: I ate that monkfish. And it was damn good. If you start to lose your nerve, remember – it’s going to be wrapped in bacon, sitting on mushrooms and doused with a lemony butter sauce. How bad can it be? I’ll tell you: Not bad at all, friends. Not bad at all. Now, that old shoe on the other hand…

Click here to download the recipe for Bacon Wrapped Monk Fish.

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Ringing in the Year of the Pig with Crab Rangoon and other old favorites.

February 18, 2007

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Happy New Year! (Any excuse for revelry is OK by us – especially if you can wish folks a happy new year twice within months.) For the Chinese, and many other Asian cultures, today is the first day of the lunar calendar. In some parts of the world, this occasion will be met with great fanfare and festivity. Personally, we feasted on Peking Duck with friends last night. And this morning, we offer some more festive dishes: A few old favorites and a new one, Crab Rangoon.

OK, we admit it, crab rangoon is not a traditional dish. It’s likely unrecognizable to any devotee to Chinese food. Like meatballs to Italian-Americans, crab rangoon is a derivative dish that probably seeks to satisfy American palettes more than others (um, cream cheese, anyone?). And we further bastardized it by putting a spicy twist on it.

So why choose an inauthentic dish on this day? Because it’s a crowd pleaser – and if you don’t have crowds to please today, you may tomorrow or perhaps next Thursday. If you are looking for other dishes to make to celebrate the day, or at least add a bit of Asian flavor to your table, we also offer you a trio of our favorite old recipes.

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Sui Mai: This is a classic dim sum dish and Wife’s favorite. They’re dumplings filled with pork and shrimp.

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Potstickers: A family favorite filled with the intense flavors of beef, ginger and soy.

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Char Sui Bao: Our take on another classic dim sum dish. Filled with sweet pork swaddled in steamed bread, it’s truly delicious.

Click here to download the recipe for Crab Rangoon.

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Oh, how we are dreaming of summer… but until then there is Lobster and Beer Risotto.

February 8, 2007

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Risotto seems like it would be a humble food. It’s big, fat morsels of creamy rice stewed lovingly over some cooktop with a wooden spoon. But because it has a high-fallutin’ Italian name, it strikes me (and a lot of other diners) as a bit fancier than a mere side dish … This is why restaurants can get away with serving you a big bowl of risotto (um, that would be rice) as your entree.

Well, folks, if risotto is rice dressed up for a night on the town, my husband has just stuffed a wad of cash into its pockets and told it not to return before dawn.

Yes, those tell-tale red morsels of succelent sweet meat resting in the mounds of creamy risotto are indeed lobster. And that creamy and delicious sauce is made up of cheese, and yes, booze. Beer, to be precise. And then there’s a dollop of honey — just for sweetness.

Sound rich? Sound decadent? Sound delicious? Grab your fork… there’s no curfew tonight.

Click here to download the recipe for Lobster & Beer Risotto.

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It’s paradise, mon: Seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigrette

January 29, 2007

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Afraid of seafood, perhaps? Leery of a fishy smell and a strange, spongy texture? Fear not, friends. This scallop dish is here to seduce you.

Just as The Perfect Storm might have turned you off from seafaring, seared scallops with meyer lemon vinaigrette is the postcard from the Caribbean that will lure you back. It’s delicate and sweet. It tastes fresh and green and citrus-y… a surprising breath of spring in the midst of 20 degree weather here. Ahhh.

Tempting, right? Can’t you just picture curling up your toes in that white sand as warm blue waters lap at your feet? Don’t you just want to fork that scallop in?

This dish is successful for its alluring simplicity: It’s beautiful, and there isn’t much to it. A nest of fresh greens, sprinkled lightly with a lemony, zesty vinaigrette. One or two simply seared scallops, sweet and tender — perfectly seasoned — resting on top. There aren’t flavors at war or strong tastes to assault your mouth… it all tastes natural, fresh and delicious.

Come on now. Open wide. I’ll strike up the calypso band.

Click here to download the recipe for Seared Scallops w/ Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette.

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