Oh Mahi Mahi this was GOOD!

Oh Mahi Mahi this was GOOD!

I was already missing the tropical breezes, roaring ocean and balmy breezes a week after returning from our island visit. So to appease my yearning for anything to (as the Calgon commercials go) ‘take me away’, I pulled some Mahi Mahi out of the freezer and set to work creating something for dinner.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a well stocked fridge and pantry. I just love to cook and I love to cook spontaneously. I hate having my creativity limited by having nothing on hand. So, I keep a well stocked pantry, fridge and freezer.

This entire meal was ‘created’ using my Flavor Bible as a food/spice pairing guide, creative juices and what I had on hand. This is a ‘one pan’ meal, all cooked in stages in my trusty cast iron skillet.

First to be cooked were the potato medallions. I had duck fat in my fridge, and there is nothing better than potatoes cooked in duck fat! Seasoning them with salt and pepper, I let them cook until well browned and tender. On an oven safe plate they went in to a 200 deg oven to keep warm. I left the pan with that lovely seasoning and next;

I bloomed some Alleppo Pepper in the pan, adding a little olive oil, and a lot of garlic. I ‘shaved’ the brussels sprouts while the potatoes were cooking and sauteed them in the pan. When tender but still crisp, into an oven safe container and put in the oven. I wiped the pan clean with a paper towel.

Next came the fish, seasoned with salt and pepper, then pan fried with extra virgin olive oil.

While the potatoes and sprouts were cooking, I mixed up a simple salad in a bowl. Sliced radishes, cucumber and red bell pepper. I made a simple dressing of white wine vinegar, grapeseed oil (very healthy for you), a pinch of sugar, good healthy splash of Yuzu, salt, pepper and a handful of chopped cilantro.
Also while the fish was cooking I made a pistou of cilantro, salt, garlic and EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil). Simply chop the cilantro and garlic fine on a cutting board, add some kosher salt and with the flat side of your knife mash and combine by ‘smearing’ it on the board. Add to a bowl and add enough oil to make it look like the photo. It’s really a ‘to taste’ type of condiment.

The end result was heaven on a plate. And yes, for a brief moment, if I closed my eyes I could pretend I was back there in paradise.


Leftovers Soup: Turkey-Spinach-White Bean

Leftovers Soup: Turkey-Spinach-White Bean

I know it sounds odd, but it’s what I call it. Leftovers Soup is a yummy and easy way to use up those leftovers so they don’t go bad nor go to waste. This particular soup used up the turkey leg meat from a previously roasted turkey; Turkey stock, made from the bones of previously mentioned turkey; and a half of a Costco container of leftover baby spinach.

I also added onions, celery, carrots (which I always have on hand), a package of mushrooms (which were on sale at the grocery, I can always find a use for reduced price veggies!), and precooked white beans pulled from my freezer.
(When you have time cook up beans and portion the beans in 2cup measurements into quart ziploc bags and freeze. This way you can have the convenience of ‘ready to use’ beans at a far cheaper cost than canned)

For spices I used Alleppo pepper for a bit of spice (you can use red pepper flake), 2 packages of Goya ‘Sazon‘ (it gives the soup that lovely red color and adds a distinct puerto rican flavor-buy it and keep it on hand!), a good heavy handed shake of PenzeysMural of Flavor‘ and a bit of salt & pepper to taste.

I garnished with this soup with parmesan cheese. (Which I buy at the big box retailer and keep in the freezer. I then portion some in a small container to be kept in the fridge)

With leftover soup try to think of combinations that go well together. For example, turkey and mushrooms are a natural pairing. I have a book ‘The Flavor Bible‘ that helps me with ideal food combinations and pairings.

Layer flavor by browning or sweating your vegetables. Add chili pepper flakes to the oil while sauteeing to ‘bloom’ the flavor and temper the heat. Add durable spices (like bay leaf) to the liquid in the beginning of simmering, and add fresh (cilantro/parsley) or delicate spices (tarragon/marjoram) near the end or as a garnish. Add dark meats early to eek the flavor out of them, delicate/white flesh meats near the end. Frozen peas or corn are added at the end also, so they don’t overcook and get mushy.

If using raw lentils, add at the beginning, they take some time to cook. Cooked beans, however, add and simmer just long enough to heat through, otherwise they tend to break apart.

For more of a chowder style soup that is gluten free, make a “slurry” – cornstarch mixed with cold water/stock/milk – and add, cooking to thicken. You may also use arrowroot, but only for dairy free soups. Arrowroot + dairy = slime. Use about 1 tbsp of starch for every 1.5-2 cups of liquid.

Tomato paste really deepens in flavor if cooked with the veggies in the beginning with the oil. Add when the veggies are soft, just before you add the stock, cooking it a bit to take the rawness off. It adds a complex depth and dimension and a bit of thickness to the soup.

Save those meat bones! If you don’t have time to make a simple stock from your chicken or turkey dinner, put them in a ziploc freezer bag and freeze them until you do have time. No need for defrosting, just plop them in with carrots, celery and onions, and simmer and let reduce. The stock can then be used or frozen for future use. As my grandmother taught me: waste not, want not. Use your homemade stocks as one of the layers of flavor foundation for your soup.

Depending upon my mood, what is in the fridge and what I have on hand, I save myself money, prevent food waste and feed my family food that I know is healthy and good for them.

As a side benefit, I always have a little leftover for hubby to take to work for lunch the next day, or an afternoon snack for a hungry child going returning from school and headed out to their athletic activities.

I hope this inspires you to look at those leftovers in a new fresh way: Transform turkey, mashed potatoes, and corn in to a chowder. Cubed leftover meatloaf can be the beginnings of a riff on Italian Wedding soup. Left over beets can be morphed in to a kicked up Borscht topped with healthy greek yogurt garnish. Leftover lamb makes a fantastic ‘curry’ with chickpeas and canned tomatoes.

The possibilities are endless!


Christmas & New Years is ‘Family’ Traditions

Merry Christmas to everyone, I hope you had a wonderful celebration of the reason for the season! 

Christmas is a time for family, whether it’s your own small family unit or a gigantic gathering of all the relatives. It’s about LOVE and LOVE is meant to be shared. For our family, that means having others over who may not have family around to share the day with. We have pretty much been on our own since my husband and I were married, so we have continued this tradition for going on 24 years now.

When my own children were born, we decided (since we were on our own) we needed to create some traditions to fill the void and make it feel special. And so we did. I thought I’d share our families traditions through the holidays. I hope you enjoy as much as we do. 

Christmas Eve: We have done this night with the only variation occurring these past couple of years my daughter sang at the midnight Mass service. This year, however, she was back on the 5 o’clock service so it was back to normal. Every year we dress for Christmas Eve Mass, go to service, come home and have the same meal. Food is an important tradition in this house! Baked Ham, Scalloped Potato, and a green vegetable. This year was creamed spinach (which was amazing) and a garlic-chili broccoli. When my daughters were younger and received presents from relatives, we’d open those presents on christmas eve (santa delivered presents for them to open christmas morning) as they were calling each relative to thank them and wish them a Merry Christmas. It was much less hectic than trying to get ahold of someone on Christmas Day! Every year, as is tradition, every one gets new PJ’s. We then put on our new PJ’s, I make a big batch of hot cocoa, pour it in Santa mugs and we pile in the car to drive around and look at Christmas Lights. Then home to check Norad’s ‘Santa Tracker’, just to be sure Santa had not passed them by. 

Christmas Morning: I have had to change this a bit now that we are gluten free. For years I did Wolfgang Pucks Quiche Lorraine (it’s simply amazing), an Apple-ginger Strudel cake and tropical fruit salad. This year to accommodate my daughters gluten intolerance (and it seems dairy is bothering her now also), I did ham & cheese omelets (cheese optional), a gluten free monkey bread, maple glazed sausage links, and a limoncello fruit salad. It was delish, and I believe it is the new menu going forward! While the food is baking, presents are shared. 

Christmas Day: We open our house up to anyone who feels like swinging by for a cup of cheer and one of my husbands famous Bloody Mary’s. I make a smattering of light appetizers, Stacys dip (see previous post), spinach dip, crudite, various cheese and hard salamis, fruit, and little sweets I’ve made over the holidays, like the butter crunch toffee. One year it was quiet with just another couple who stopped by, other years its packed to the rafters with little room to move.

Christmas Evening: Is the grand finale! Roast Prime Rib Beef, Yorkshire pudding, sautéed green beans, loaded baked potatoes and to top it all off, my mothers famous cherry cheesecake. And then we all fall in to a food coma and watch Christmas movies. Almost always we watch ‘Scrooge’ featuring Albert Finney. (honestly? the best version ever)

New Years Eve: My mother is the one who started this tradition. Being from the west coast and close to Hawaii, on NY’s eve we would always have what she termed as ‘Pu Pu’s’. This is a hawaiian term for a variety of appetizers or small bites. Some years I would do oil, cheese and chocolate fondue, other years it would be a mixture of ribs, rustic bread, and finger veggies. It just all depended upon what I felt like making. Then it would be a leisurely picking all evening long, until the ball dropped and champagne was popped. 

These are our families traditions, which have made this time of year very special to us. The one thing of importance, in my opinion, is to keep perspective of what you can reasonably accomplish, who you want to spend it with, and why you are celebrating in the first place. Christmas is not about the material things, it is a time of joy for those of us who are followers of Christ. It is the celebration of God’s abundant and endless love, proven by His sending of His only Son, born as a human child, to atone for original sin. We no longer are condemned to eternal death and separation, and that is truly a reason to be joyous! New Years is a time to contemplate the past year celebrating both the joys and sorrows, look forward to the new one with all its potential hopes and dreams. 

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas as the joyous birth of Christ, it is a time for everyone to celebrate LOVE. For moms like me, that is expressed through food and fellowship. However you choose to celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe, joyous and yummy New Years Eve.