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.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Menu planning

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I try and sit down on Sundays and plan out a menu for the week. It is a little luxury I afford myself. Not everyone's cup of tea I know, but for me it is exciting to see what new recipes I can find to try out on whoever is my latest victim, often The Other Half. I peruse the ever-growing cookbook collection, pull out a couple of potentials and then sit at the kitchen table and flip through the pages until something catches my eye. Then I write out each day, with any major activities that might impact the cooking and/or eating of dinner, weigh in the likes and dislikes of the wee pods, and try and come up with a plan. I try to make sure I am offering chicken/turkey, pork, fish, beef pasta/pizza and vegetarian options during the week. At least one night, usually later in the week or Monday, is reserved for leftovers. (I have a leftover confession - I am not a big fan of them - they too easily become mystery meals in the back of the fridge, but especially when I am trying something for the first time I will make a full recipe so that I can get a sense of what the taste is like. Once a recipe is taste-test approved, then I will start to monkey with it/reportion.) Recipes that I want to try but are going to take a long time to cook are usually saved for the weekend when The Other Half and I can tag-team the wee pods. The rest of the week I try and do recipes that take between 30-40 minutes of cooking time - that doesn't include prep work which I try and do in advance either in bulk (why cry over onions all week long when you can get it out of the way all at once) or when the youngest pod is napping.

Here is what this week looks like:

Monday - Leftovers

Tuesday - Herb-Rub Roasted Chicken Breasts with Couscous and Peas

Wednesday - Ribollita with fresh Italian Bread from the bread machine

Thursday - Roast Salmon with Green Lentils and Tomatoes

Friday - Pizza Night - everyone makes their own with individual toppings

Saturday - Boneless Pork Loin Roasted with Apples and Sweet Potatoes, Salad

Sunday - Seared Rosemary Steak with Roasted New Potatoes and Broccoli

For Christmas I received two new cookbooks by Bonnie Stern and the "HeartSmart" series, published in conjunction with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. I discovered these cookbooks this summer, when visiting relatives and am super excited to dive in and try things out. A couple of this week's recipes come from Mark Bitman's, "How to Cook Everything" one of my go-to tomes, which will need to either rebound soon as it is so well loved and often used it is starting to fall apart.

So that is the plan. If you see something on the menu you are interested in having me post, let me know and I will try and take pictures while I am cooking (another resolution for the year - more pictures!) In the meantime, happy eating.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Resolutions and White Bean Stew

It is a new year and like so many others around me — though I say I am not going to — I once again start to think in terms of resolutions. There are the time-old favorites like "I am going to start working out every day and lose 20 pounds" or "I am going to do a better job at keeping up with the laundry"... you get the gist. But this year I asked myself one simple question: What will make me a happier person? The Other Half often says, "Happy wife, happy life" and being the smart man that he is, he does many things to facilitate that. As for me - I tend to put myself last and make sure everyone else is taken care of. I come by it honestly - from a long line of women with the same trait. But when I asked myself what would make me happy these things came to mind: create, read, cook, eat and write. Could it really be that simple? Maybe so. To that end I am going to try and be better about writing on here because doing so will address pretty much all the other needs. One fly in the ointment is that it doesn't really address that pesky 20 pounds, so I will try to post recipes that are healthier and maybe I can make peace that way. The laundry will just have to wait...

So, first recipe of the new year is a White Bean Stew. I usually sit down on Sundays and write up a menu for the week. Makes grocery shopping on Mondays with my wee-pod go quicker and tends to keeps the impulse purchases to a minimum. I try and do a different protein every night — Chicken/Turkey, Fish, Pork or Red Meat, Pasta and of late a Vegetarian dish one night a week. I haven't gone all crazy with the tofu yet but I have found a couple of great bean recipes. I particularly like this one because I can easily add roast chicken or sausage to The Other Half's bowl if he is feeling the need for protein. I have recently reintroduced myself to my bread machine and have found that some good herb bread and a small salad are really all you need to make this a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal.

Couple of notes:
Wash bean then put in a bowl, cover with water plus 2 inches. Throw away any beans that float to the surface. Let the remaining beans soak for up to 12 hours. Beans that soak longer than that might sprout. Soak for as long as you can though. The second time I made this recipe I only soaked the beans for four hours and the recipe was not as nice and creamy.

Grocery store onions these day are huge. One "regular" size onion is usually about 2 cups. If you are lucky to have a good food co-op by you and your onions are not on steroids, you might need a couple to make up two cups. 

Peeling garlic cloves is a pain in the butt I know, but take the time to try and keep the cloves as intact as possible.

Use fresh herbs - in this recipe it really will make a big difference. Don't be frightened by the garlic and resist any urge to mince it. By the time you get done cooking it the cloves will have disintegrated. I promise you will not melt anyone's eyebrows off after eating it.

Is you want to add protein add some diced rotisserie chicken or grilled kilbasa.


White Bean Stew

1-1/2 cups dried cannelini or great northern beans, washed and picked over
1 head of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/4" rounds
14.5 oz can whole diced tomatoes ( I use Muir Glen Fire Roasted, No Salt Added)
1-1/2 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)
1 cup water
8-10 fresh basil leaves, washed and julienned and divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon

Wash and soak beans. Drain and set aside.

Break the head of garlic into cloves and peel.

Heat oil in a heavy bottom pot over low heat. Cool the garlic, onions and carrots in the oil until the onions are soft and golden, stirring frequently. Keep the pot covered between stirrings.

Add the beans to the pot. Then add the tomatoes. Add stock and water, half the basil and oregano. Cover the pot and bring up to a simmer. Let simmer for about one and a half hours until the beans are very soft. Gently press the garlic cloves to the side of the pot with a spoon.

Add salt and pepper and remaining basil and let simmer another 5 minutes. Just before serving add parsley and lemon juice and stir.