Friday, March 16, 2012

Tuscan Tuna and Cannellini Beans

I had the leftovers from yesterday's Snapping Turtle Salad for lunch today and I have to say that I think it was better the second day. This would be a really great recipe to make the day before a picnic or backyard party and then stick in the fridge. I would just take it out about 30 minutes before you served it to get the vinagrette warmed to room temperature.

I also wanted to share a variation on the theme that one reader posted about (thank you Anonymous!). It is from "The Mayo Clinic William-Sonoma Cookbook" and is called Tuscan Tuna and Cannellini Beans. The Other Half was kind enough to have tuna two days in a row, for the sake of experimentation (he is a trooper isn't he) and said he liked this version as well, maybe more so when it is cool outside. So for those readers of mine who haven't quite thawed out yet, but would like a little taste of warmer times to come, here is a recipe for you.

Couple of notes:

If you don't want to use white wine you can substitute chicken stock and a little lemon juice in it's place.

One small yellow onion works well in this recipe. If you have a larger white onion I would only use half.

I de-seeded the tomatoes for this recipe. Because you are going to cook them anyway the fastest way to do this is to cut them in half and squeeze them gently like a lemon, rubbing the sides gently together, over the sink. This should get most of the seeds out and leave you the flesh.

Tuscan Tuna and Cannelini Beans

1/3 cup orange juice
1 yellow onion, chopped
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 lb sushi-grade tuna steaks, cut into 1-inch cubes
15 oz cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 small tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tbsp grated orange zest
1 tbsp chopped chives
salt to taste

In a large pan over medium-high heat, heat the orange juice. Add the onion and sauté about 5 minutes, until t just starting to wilt and become translucent. Add the wine and vinegar and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium and stir in tuna, beans, tomatoes, basil pepper and half the orange zest. Cover and cook until fish is opaque through out - about 7-10 minutes.

Plate and sprinkle with chives, remaining orange zest and salt to taste.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Snapping Turtle Salad

I have been away from the blog for a whole month without even realizing it. The truth of the matter is I have kind of been away from cooking. In the rarest of circumstances I found myself in a situation that was so overwhelming that cooking didn’t even chill me out. Without getting into lots of gory details, the simple answer is that our military family will be once again relocating this summer, and though this has been a given for a while, we were caught in that dead space in the process where you know (or think, or hope) you will move but do not know when. In that space I lost interest in experimenting with new recipes, so we have been eating a lot of roast chicken and pasta and tried and true standbys. And then we got orders. Simply put we know where we are moving next and I could not be more thrilled. And back to the kitchen I go!

It has been unseasonably warm here this week – mid to high-80s warm – so I have been craving something light. And since it has been so nice and daylight savings time is upon us once again I needed something fast so that we can spend as much time outside playing as possible. Hands on time for this recipe was about 15-20 minutes. I served the salad with some homemade potato bread and on a bed of washed baby romaine.

The real name of this dish is Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad but my oldest pod took one look at it in the bowl tonight and said, “Mom, dinner is as ugly as a snapping turtle. I hope it tastes better than it looks, because it looks gross.” After patiently explaining to him that I didn’t really appreciate that kind of comment, I kind of had to agree. Don’t let appearances fool you though. It will be worth it, I promise.

Couple of notes:

I used sushi grade tuna steaks for this recipe. Since I was going to cut it up into chunks anyway, I asked the fish counter person if they had any left over pieces of tuna that weren’t as pretty, that they might be able to sell me at a better price. In a rush or don’t want to spend the money on tuna steak? You can easily substitute canned tuna, but if you do, I would recommend the Italian tuna packed in olive oil. I can find it in the specialty section at our grocery store but in some of the nicer stores it is in with the regular tuna selection. It comes in nice big chunks, filled with flavor and is very moist.

Don’t like fish? This is one of those dishes that you could throw pretty much anything into. Grill some chicken and throw it in.  Substitute olives for the capers, chickpeas for the cannelloni beans, roasted red peppers for the sun-dried tomatoes – you get the idea.

I grilled my steak indoors on an All-Clad, stove-top grilling pan. The secret to getting a good sear indoors is that same as on an outdoor grill – make sure your pan is good and hot.

I would love to hear what you think and if any of you get a pretty shot of it, send it my way and I will be happy to post it on the blog with full credits to you.

Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad

1 lb sushi-grade tuna steak
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
15 oz can cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
3 tbsp oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
2 tbsp capers, drained
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 lemon
1 tomato, roughly chopped
pinch red pepper flake
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Romaine lettuce

Preheat grill or grill pan. Melt butter then add minced garlic. Let butter mixture sit while prepping remaining ingredients. Once the pan is hot, brush both side of steaks with butter mixture and place on the grill. Sear for 3-4 minutes per side, reapplying butter mixture as needed to keep the meat moist. I like to cook the tuna  until the outside is starting to brown but center is still pink, but if you are like The Other Half you will need to add a little time to get to medium. (Watch it carefully though — tuna cooks fairly quickly if your pan is hot enough.)  

In a large bowl combine beans, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, parsley, tomato and the zest of the lemon. Roughly cut the tuna in to chunks and layer on top of the vegetables.

In a separate bowl whisk together the juice of the zested lemon (about 2-3 tbsp), olive oil, salt and pepper, to make a vinaigrette. Pour vinaigrette over the tuna mixture and toss. Serve on a bed of lettuce with fresh bread.


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Fish Notes

Super interesting to me that the first post I did on fried foods has gotten the most input from my readers. Thanks for all the great feedback – so much so that I thought it would be good to share a “couple of notes” that weren’t mine but made me go and do some more research.

One reader posted “The house still smells like fish, despite having lit 'the kitchen candle' before beginning.” I confess I had the same issue. And though I love the smell of good food when it is cooking, I am not a fan of waking up in the morning (or in this case the middle of the night) wondering what “that” smell is. I guess I assumed that not having a very powerful vent fan — one of the things on the dream house wish list — was the reason for my wiffy experience, but it would appear that several of you had the same issue. The next time I make this recipe it will have to be on a warmer day when I can open some windows and let the smell waft out to the neighborhood instead of staying trapped in my house.

Several of you commented that the 20 minutes that it took to heat my oil was intimidating. I apologize for that and have to put out there a big caveat. I have one of the worst cook tops in the world – electric and persnickety as all get out. It is also on the “someday” list to be replaced but in the meantime I probably erred on the side of caution heating my oil. The most important thing is to get the oil nice and hot.

Several of you commented that your fish was still a bit soggy or in one person’s case, got soggy while warming in the oven. So I went back and checked my handy dandy resources and found these answers. If your fish was soggy, your oil was not hot enough. I found this neat tip that may help to calibrate your oil temp without a thermometer (what I am asking for, for mother’s day). Place a small piece of bread in your oil when cold. It should sink to the bottom of the pan. As the oil heats up the bread should rise to the surface. When it is bobbing on the surface with small bubbles around it, your oil should be hot enough. I have not had a chance to try this yet but sounds like a good idea.

I also found out that when you remove a batch of fish from the oil it cools slightly now that it is not working as hard. The solution? Through in another small hunk of bread, just to keep it bubbling.

For those that had issues with the fish staying crisp after it was cooked and warming I found this answer. As the fish cools to room temperature, the oil in the surface of the food, combined with the steam released during the cooling process, makes the fish soggy. To keep your fish crispy, you need to blot any excess grease and keep the fish hot and dry until you are ready to eat. I removed my batches of fish to a paper towel for a few minutes before placing it on the baking sheet and in the oven. One reader said she blotted the top with an additional paper towel and then placed the fish on a paper towel, on top of a cooling rack, placed on a cookie sheet to keep her fish crisp.

I love, love, love all the comments and look forward to hearing what you are interested in and want me to cook. Over the next month or so I am hoping to make some changes to the blog to make it more robust and enjoyable to read and look forward to your feedback on what is working and what isn’t. In the meantime — Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Barefoot Contessa Fish and Chips

In my twenties I had the opportunity to live in England for a year. I am pretty sure I may have been born on the wrong continent. I took to life over there like fish to water - no pun intended (well maybe a little one...). Since then I have had a soft spot in my heart for fish and chips and mushy peas. That being said I have to confess I am a fry-a-phobe. Past experiences have resulted in soggy, nasty fish that is not at all appetizing. In search of the perfect recipe I turned to one of my food goddesses, Ina Garten. The one thing I have learned about Barefoot Contessa recipes is that if you follow them to the letter they usually result in a very tasty meal. But because of my past bad experiences I did some research and found out a couple of tidbits that I suspected would make all the difference in the world. I was right! Tonight for the first, but definitely not the last, I made a tasty batch of lightly crisped fish and chips. Not able to sell the Other Half and Pods on mushy peas I served steamed green peas. The meal was gobbled down by all. And the nicest part of it was that prep work was about 10 minutes and I had all the fish cooked in about 30 minutes. Meanwhile the chips were in the oven baking and peas steaming. It was so easy! I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!

Couple of notes:

When cutting the cod, cut against the grain. It will hold together better when cooking. Try and cut your fish in as similar a size as possible. If part of your fillet is thinner try and cook those pieces together and adjust the cooking time slightly.

I used a little more than a teaspoon of lemon zest to balance some old bay that I threw into the batter, in place of the cayenne pepper.

If you decide to cut the recipe in half I would still make a full recipe of batter.

The most important thing to remember is to let your oil get hot enough gradually! It took about 20 minutes on an electric stove to get the oil up to temperature. If you don't have a thermometer to gauge the temp then plop a tiny drop of the batter into the oil when you think it is ready. If it sizzles and bubbles up you are good to go.

Cook your fish in batches. I used a 12" cast iron skillet (thanks mom!). I did 4-5 pieces at a time - don't crowd the pan. Room is one of the keys to the fish getting a nice crispy shell.

Place the finished pieces on a baking towel lined with paper towel and keep warm in a 200 degree oven for up to 20 minutes. 

Parker's Fish and Chips (Barefoot Contessa Family Style)

3 pounds fresh cod fillets (try and get as even a thickness as possible)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest (one small lemon)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (as noted above I replaced this with Old Bay)
1 cup water
2 extra-large egg
Vegetable oil, for frying

Lay the cod fillets on a cutting board. Pat dry and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Cut the fillets in 1-1/2 by 3-inch pieces.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Whisk in 1 cup of water and then the eggs.

Pour 1/2-inch of oil into a large frying pan and heat it to about 360 degrees. Dip each fillet into the batter, allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl. Place it very carefully into the hot oil. Don't crowd the pieces. Cook the fish on each side for 2 to 3 minutes, until lightly browned and cooked through - thinner pieces closer to 2 minutes, thicker pieces slightly longer. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt.

Baked Chips
4 large baking potatoes, unpeeled
4 tablespoons good olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic (about 2 small cloves)
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Scrub the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise, then cut each half in thirds lengthwise. You'll have 6 long wedges from each potato. Place the potatoes on a sheet pan with the olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary. With clean hands, toss all the ingredients together, making sure the potatoes are covered with oil. Spread the potatoes in a single layer with 1 cut side down.

Bake the potatoes for 30 to 35 minutes, turning to the other cut side after 15-20 minutes. Bake until they are lightly browned, crisp outside, and tender inside. Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Comfort Food on my mind

We have one of those weeks coming up that I say to myself "Hold on to your hat, jump in the saddle" and hope that I make it to the other end so the menu for this week is pretty simple and straight forward. When we get this busy I tend to make more stew or meals that I can prep whenever I find a free minute while still being warm and tasty for my family. So here is what I have for this week:

Monday - Pork and Apple Stew - using leftover tenderloin from the the recipe last week which was NOT a success and will need some major tweeking before I would think about posting it up here. Hopefully this will be better!

Tuesday - Ina Garten's recipe for Fish and Chips, with green peas and a salad

Wednesday - Tortellini Soup and Salad

Thursday - West African Chicken and Groundnut Stew with Brown Rice

Friday - Pizza night - everyone gets to make their own favorite

Saturday - Marinated Steaks and Warm Potato Salad with Green Beans

Sunday - leftovers

Hopefully I will like the pork and West African Chicken stew recipes enough to post up here. I have not tried either of them before so we will have to see. If there is something that catches your attention and you would like me to post let me know - I am more than happy to share.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roast Salmon with Lentils

This was the other new recipe on my menu last week and what a pleasant surprise. Not only was it quick and easy to make, it was so super tasty that every one ate it - even my extremely picky oldest Pea Pod who only eats about five things. And the leftover lentils were yummy over brown rice for lunch the next day. Again this came from my new cookbooks, "The Best of HeartSmart Cooking" by Bonnie Stern. The Other Half says that he has liked everything I have made from it so much that Ms. Stern may soon edge out his food heartthrob, Ina Garten (high praise from a man who has said that he would only consider cheating on me if Jeffrey, Ina's husband, was no longer in the picture and The Other Half might have the chance to eat Ina food every night).

Couple of notes: This does require a higher that usual number of pans and make for a slightly bigger clean-up, but if your house is like mine once The Other Half is done eating a good meal he is more than happy to clean up the mess required to make it.

I did not have plum tomatoes on hand so I substituted Muir Glen No-Salt Added Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes. One cup was about 3/4 of the can. I froze the remainder of the can for use later.

If possible use wild-caught salmon. Try and get as even a cut of fillet as consistent a thickness as possible so that it will cook evenly. I find it is a lot easier to skin the fillet after you have portioned it.

I found that it took a good 10 minutes for the carrots to become tender. I would say keep an eye on them after 8 minutes but make sure you let them soften up a bit or their texture will be really off from all the other components in the dish.

I served this with some roasted red potatoes and a small baby arugula salad with a lemon vinaigrette, but you could easily just eat this and be plenty satisfied. I hope you enjoy this a much as we did!

Roasted Salmon with Lentils

1 1/2 cups dried lentils (I used green because that was what I had in the pantry)
4 tsp olive oil, divided
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground roasted cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
 1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 cup plum tomatoes with juices, pureed
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, rinsed and chopped
1/2 tsp pepper
Salt to taste
1 1/2 lbs. salmon fillet, cut in 6 pieces, skin removed
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped (can substitute 1/4 tsp dried rosemary)

Place lentils in a bowl of water, covered by several inches and pick out any that float to the surface, then rinse and drain. Place in a large pot and cover generously with water (at least 2 extra inches of water). Bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 25-35 minutes until just tender. Rinse and drain well, then set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in large pan on medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook gently for 5 minutes. Add cumin and red pepper flakes then cook an additional 30 seconds. Add carrots, celery and tomato puree to pan and cook 8-10 minutes until carrots are tender and liquid from tomato is reduced slightly. Add lentils, parsley and salt and pepper to the pan. Keep warm.

Preheat oven at 400 degrees.

Heat remaining 1 tsp of oil in a separate pan over medium heat. While heating pat salmon dry and sprinkle with rosemary. Once hot, place in pan and cook 1-2 minutes per side, or until fillet is lightly brown and developing a crust. Transfer salmon to baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or leave in pan if oven-proof). Bake for 7-9 minutes, or until just cooked through.

Serve salmon on top of bed of lentils, garnished with fresh parsley.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


As is often the case in our house, though I planned a menu for the week I did not actually get to make the meals until later in the week. The kids brought home some sort of gleep from school so for the beginning of the week there was a lot of crackers and mac and cheese consumed in this house. By the latter part of the week we were all hungry and ready to eat again so I went ahead and made the ribollita.

Ribollita's originates from Tuscan peasant food using re-heated minestrone or vegetable soup from the prior day — in Italian ribbolita literally means "reboiled". I found several different versions of this recipe but I wanted to try the one in my new "Best of HeartSmart Cooking" by Bonnie Stern, which may have just become my new favorite in the collection. Though the version I made was meatless it would be very easy to add some meat. Ina Garten includes 1/4 pound of diced pancetta in her recipe to be added with the onions. I think you could also put bacon or pancetta on top of the casserole before the final baking and just let the juices run down into the dish. That way you could split the base into two dishes and have one that was meatless and one that had meat, offering all in your life with options!

Couple of notes: This recipe says it makes 8 servings. The Other Half has a pretty healthy appetite and between the four of us we barely touched a third of the pan. This is very filling!

Wash your swiss shard very well and then cut out the tough rib from the center, much like you do the core of the cabbage. It will make for a much nicer eating experience. Use fresh herbs - my battle cry I know, but oh, the taste - especially in something like this that cooks for a while.

I used zucchini per the recipe but will probably try green beans next time, or add the zucch later. It was a bit mushy for my taste.

Go to the bakery at your grocery store and ask if they have any day old bread. They will often give it to you for free or sell it to you at a discounted price.

Let me know what you think!


1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch, red pepper flakes
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 zucchini, diced
3 cups cabbage, cored and chopped
4 cup vegetable stock ( I used Kitchen Basics)
2-28 oz. cans plum tomatoes, with juice
2- 14 oz. can cannelini or great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 bunch Swiss chard or rappini, rinsed, cored and chopped
1 cup macaroni or other dried soup pasta
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil or parsley, chopped
12 thick slices Italian bread (1 loaf sliced)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. Once hot, add onion, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook gently for 5-8 minutes, until onions are tender.

Add carrots, celery, zucchini and cabbage. Cook for about 5 minutes to wilt vegetable slightly.

Add stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil, breaking up tomatoes with a fork on the side of the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add beans, swiss chard and pasta and cook for 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, then basil. Stir.

Line a 13 x 9 baking dish with half of the bread slice and spoon half the mixture on top. Sprinkle with half the cheese then repeat layers. Top with remaining cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown and bubbling.