The Most Delicious Dish I’ve Ever Made…

Melissa Clark is one of my favorite cookbook authors – I find her recipes well researched, easy-to-follow and consistently delicious. But the depth and complexity of flavor in her Coconut Pork Stew with Garam Masala make this recipe, hands down, the most delicious dish I’ve ever made.

And it wasn’t even difficult. (To be fair, two elements require day-before preparation, so planning is required. But making a list is about as complicated as this recipe gets.)

I decided to make this recipe because I found the enveloping NYT article, Pork Stew Gets A Chile Kick intriguing, and I like Indian flavors and coconut curries. Plus, we were having an east coast March ‘blizzard’ on Tuesday, so I knew we’d be house-bound and I’d have a good three hours in the afternoon to let this bake. So Monday evening I had my butcher cube and trim two-and-a-half pounds of ‘pork butt’ (which I’d never heard of before) and collected the rest of the ingredients.

Normally, I reject recipes which require day-before prep and/or browning the meat first (too much of a hassle), but because I’d watched Ms. Clark’s video, I knew the day-before prep was simple and the browning step wasn’t fussy – just toss the cubes into the pot and let them ‘get golden’ for about 5 minutes.

Along that same vein, there’s not even much to chop or mince in this recipe – especially if you use fresh, already-diced onions. Which I always do. That said, in my view the chopped cilantro garnish is absolutely not optional – it adds a lot to the dish.

My only concern with this dish was nutritional. This recipe calls for coconut oil, which has a lot of saturated fat, a lo-co no-go. For information on why, in general, you should avoid coconut oil, read The Cleveland Clinic’s Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil: Which Is Heart-Healthier?

That said, if you omit the garlic-coconut oil topping (which doesn’t add a lot IMHO, other than another pan to clean!) this recipe really doesn’t have THAT much coconut oil and thus, is not so terrible, lo-co wise. (And certainly better than Shake Shack or fast food!) And, always good to serve with a green vegetable – I steamed green beans – or a salad.

I followed this recipe exactly and have no edits at all – it’s easy to follow and the steps make sense. My only quibble is that Ms. Clark suggests the yellow split peas are the dish’s starch. For me (and other commenters on her recipe page) the split peas were just not enough. I served it with basmati rice (yes, a better choice would be brown rice but I didn’t have that on my shopping list as it was not in the recipe. LOL.)

I also love that the NYT recipes now – finally! – have nutritional information!  Without rice, the nutritional analysis proffered on the recipe page indicates 19 grams of saturated fat. When I uploaded this recipe into ‘My Fitness Pal’ and included about 3/4 cup of basmati rice, I got a whopping 24 grams of saturated fat – 118% of of daily allowance! Not good.

But omitting the garlic-coconut oil drizzle brings that to a still-high-but-more-reasonable 15 grams of saturated fat or 73% of daily allowance.

So if this recipe sounds appealing (and believe me, the complexity and depth of flavor are ‘restaurant-quality’ which is not something I can usually easily deliver!) just make sure you’re not overdoing it with other high-saturated-fat dishes that day!

If you prefer, download a PDF of the Coconut Pork Stew With Garam Masala recipe.

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Steamed Whole Fish

It seems many people find fish hard to cook — or fear it’ll be ‘smelly.’ But both are so far from the truth! To me, baking or grilling fish is one of the easiest (and healthiest) dinners possible, and I’ve never suffered a fishy-smelling kitchen. If you’re game to try for the first time, the simple overall cooking concept is to slick with oil and bake at high heat for about 10-15 minutes.

Prefer more specific directions to bake a piece of fish?  To bake Arctic Char, Salmon – basically any reasonably thick (1/2″ or more) fillet — all you do is this:

  • Preheat oven to 450. Place a thick piece of Arctic Char or Salmon (or any fillet) on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil; if 1 end of fish is thin, tuck it under.
  • Generously salt the fish and sprinkle with fresh pepper to taste.
  • Slick on some olive oil – just enough to barely cover entire fillet.
  • Sprinkle on a bit fresh or dried herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc)
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

If you want something ‘fancier’ you can find many fish recipes on my Lo-Co Recipe page; here are a few quick links to blog posts with recipes and directions:

While preparing fish using any of these methods is easy, quick and delicious, steaming a whole fish is another story. While steamed whole fish is terrifically healthy and an amazing presentation for serving guests (you cook the fish right in the dish you’ll serve it in!) it can be a bit more complicated … leftovers and bones can emit that fishy smell.

But it’s so worth it. And really fun to do with guests. We steamed a whole red snapper with our friends Chris and Dave on the eve of Christmas Eve this year – it was a fun to prepare together, and incredibly tasty.

I’d tried steaming a whole fish once before using a bamboo steamer and following David Tanis’ Steamed Whole Fish recipe – and though it was delicious, it was a fail in concept as I had to make it using a fillet as a whole fish didn’t fit in my steamer. (Read my The Trick To Steaming Whole Fish post about Mr. Tanis’ reply to my twitter query!)

After unearthing a very large pan with both a lid and a rack insert from my ‘magic closet’ I realized I now had the tools to try steaming a whole fish again. I re-read Mr. Tanis’ directions and actually watched (I never do this!) a Martha Stewart video that’s embedded on her Steamed Whole Fish page – and essentially prepared it using Martha’s recipe. The recipe is on that page too; I created a PDF of Martha’s recipe.

First, I bought a 2 1/2 pound wild-caught whole red snapper. I asked my favorite fish monger, Pagano’s, to prepare it as Martha’s video suggested: they descaled it and removed the fins and tail, so all I had to do was rinse and dry it, then lay it on the serving platter I was going to cook it on. It was helpful to watch Martha’s video, but they natter on for a long time about other things, so here’s a tip: they start talking about this fish recipe at about 3 minutes into the video; at about 6 minutes in they talk about the ingredients and at about 7:50 they talk about the fish preparation. Frustratingly, they never talk about serving it, which would have been incredibly helpful…

Then, I made my ‘mise en place,’ following what Martha and her accomplice did at about 6 minutes – because her actual written directions don’t explain/follow what they do in the video (sigh, I hate when that happens). This takes a while and you’ll want to do this before taking your fish out of the refrigerator! Then we added the ingredients to the platter and placed the platter (carefully) onto the rack set inside the very large roasting pan with an inch of boiling water we had set to go on the stovetop. If you look closely, you can see the steam rising above the top of the platter! Then we covered the roasting pan with its lid (if like Martha you are using a roasting pan with no lid, you’d cover the fish with parchment THEN tightly cover that with foil – you can’t have foil touching the fish!)

Twenty-five minutes later, (about 10 minutes per pound) and straight out of the pan, it looked like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then pulled the fish from the bones – and served it like this (you’ll notice only cilantro and scallions atop the fish – the ginger and lemongrass and other ingredients were just ‘aromatics’ – they don’t get served!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this of course (yes, that’s all that was left of the first bottle of white wine we drank while cooking the fish!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s worth watching the Marta Stewart video for pointers, and here’s the full recipe in a PDF format, Steamed Whole Fish, that I modified to include directions they left off the website recipe. Give it a whirl – wrap up the bones tightly or they will smell (better yet, make fish stock – but who am I kidding, I’d never bother!)  And of course, always best to do all your slicing before you drink the wine. (That was a lesson learned the hard way for me.)

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Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char Without Smoke Alarms

The very easy, delicious Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char recipe has long been a staple in our weekly dinner rotation but it hit me recently that I hadn’t made it since the weather turned cool. Originally, I discovered this recipe on the blandly named, All-Fish-Seafood-Recipes website. It’s perfect for a healthy dinner on a busy weeknight: excluding the fish and the optional toppings, this recipe calls for just 4 ingredients – and they’re likely in your pantry already:

  • maple syrup (real!)
  • soy sauce
  • fresh ginger (I use ground ginger that I keep in my refrigerator)
  • cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Always delicious, you can find the full recipe with my notes added here: Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char. And if you want more information about why char is a great, healthy dinner choice, read my post, Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon.

What reminded me to make this recipe last week was that my 91 year old mother-in-law said she was going to try it for the first time. Luckily, when we called the next day to ask how it turned out, she said she didn’t have 2 of the ingredients (!) so hadn’t made it yet. I felt lucky she hadn’t attempted it yet because I ran into a never-happened-before issue when I made it this week, and need to warn her about it.

Backstory: my ‘old’ oven died over Thanksgiving – cliche, I know, but luckily disaster was averted. Cue newly installed ovens, an unwelcome surprise expense weeks before the holidays. Sigh. But I was excited to test out the oven, so I prepped the fish with the four easy-as-pie ingredients, as usual, and popped it into my new oven.  Within five minutes it began emitting copious amounts of smoke. Like I was, well, smoking something!

img_3088_EasyBakedMapleCharAs I often do, I baked the fish in the top oven and roasted brussels sprouts and Ina Garten’s Garlic Roasted Potatoes in the lower oven. Lower oven was A-OK. But the upper oven smoked so much we threw open windows and doors to the arctic (sorry!) air and felt lucky the house smoke alarms didn’t go off.

This dish always smokes a bit. Sometimes a good amount. I mean, baking a sugar-soy glazed dish in a 450 oven will of course burn the sugar and set off smoke, but this level of smoke was unprecedented.

I’m not sure if my brand new oven is running too hot – I guess i’ll get an oven thermometer and test it out. And I’ll try it on a lower rack next time, and warn my mother-in-law to do the same.

I’d be interested in any other suggestions. The fish was the same, delicious dish – the smoke affected just my kitchen, not the taste. But do try this recipe for a fast, healthy weeknight dinner – and let me know what happens smoke-wise!

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No Pots To Clean Gourmet Dinner

At our annual Cape Cod family vacation, I am responsible for serving the annual Fish Dinner for 10-15 people (there is also the annual Steak Dinner and the annual Lobster & Ribs Dinner, hosted by my brothers-in-law along with, The-Night-Everyone-Arrives-Baked-Ziti-Dinner my now 90-year-old mother-in-law whips up.)

Let’s be clear. Cooking for a very large group in an ill-equipped ‘cottage’ kitchen and serving it as a sit-down dinner in a too-small dining room is NO VACATION. It’s actually a potential nightmare. But it’s what we do. Every year. And once dinner’s on the table, it’s a blast… Plus, my wine-collector brother-in-law brings a LOT of wine so that’s, um, great. (I make sure to finish with all knife skills before imbibing – that’s another story that ends at the hospital).

Anyway, we’ve been doing this for years, but last Thursday I faced a fish dinner crisis: the only feasible date was our last night at the Cape – and we had to pack up our rental house and be on the road by 7:30 the next morning. I tried for a fish dinner hiatus. No dice (a huge compliment yet also frustrating). So I agreed to with one condition: I would cook but I would NOT host 12 people in the rental house that we were in the midst of packing up.

Once that was swiftly agreed upon, I had to devise a dinner plan. Usually my goal is a new variation on fish everyone will like. This year, my goal was: how to cook a full dinner for 12 with very little clean up. Like, none. Else we’d never finish packing and get out on time.

The answer: I devised a menu that required NO pots. Thus no clean up, and no ferrying pots, pans and serving utensils to and fro.

Amazingly, it was a huge success – both the cooking and the quick clean-up… but also, the dinner itself. There were actual accolades! My mother-in-law declared it, “your best fish dinner ever,” and someone dubbed it, “totally gourmet.” There were no leftovers and literally, we had NOTHING to clean up – all we had to do was load the plates and cutlery into the dishwasher. Oh, and the very many wine glasses.

The trick: a dinner plan that relied on heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill, sequential cook times, and ‘sauces’ prepared in advance.

Here’s what I prepared:

  • 2.5 pounds of Arctic Char and 1.5 pounds of Haddock that I prepped with olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs, slivered onions and halved cherry tomatoes: grilled in foil and served with two homemade sauces (really, dressings): Green Goddess and Mustard Vinaigrette.  I thought folks would enjoy trying two very different types of fish, which they did. And surprisingly, my favorite, Arctic Char, was the big winner! (See Lo-Co Recipe page for other fish/Arctic Char recipes!)
  • The fantastic “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious.
  • Asparagus we grilled in the afternoon and served at room temperature.

IMG_2695Cooking fish in foil on a grill is dead-easy. All you do is place a fish fillet in foil (skin-side down, if it has skin), slick it both sides with olive oil, add salt and pepper and any fresh herbs you like (I used chives, thyme and rosemary). Atop that, squeeze some lemons and place some very thinly sliced lemon along with very thinly sliced onion and halved cherry tomatoes. The only truly ‘obligatory’ ingredient is olive oil and some lemon – but it makes a nice presentation with all these items! Then wrap it TIGHTLY in foil (I double wrapped it) and grill over medium-high or high heat for 10 minutes — longer if it’s a thick fillet. We needed 15-20 minutes for the 3 wrapped fillets. Take them off the grill and transfer to a serving platter – I removed the onion and lemon slices, but placed the tomatoes back on top for a pretty presentation. I like my fish plain but feared others would not, so I served the fish with choice of a Mustard Vinaigrette (David Tanis’ recipe on my Lo-Co Recipe page) and a Green Goddess dressing/dip mix from Penzey’s Spices that I had whipped up in minutes that morning.

The other element we needed to grill at my brother-in-law’s rental home was the phenomenal “Grilled Potato and Onion Packages” recipe I found on epicurious. Read the recipe and reviews online, or recipe PDF is here and also on my Lo-Co Recipes page. These, my husband and I prepped in the afternoon, then brought over 11 packages all ready to go on the grill!  While they’re meant to be served individually I just opened all 11 packages into a large serving bowl – either way is great.  A few notes from my read of the reviews and my experience making this fabulous and fabulously easy recipe:

  • I used baby red potatoes that I washed and left skins on – and cut into small pieces (like eighths!) so they’d cook quickly enough.
  • Instead of white, I used red onions – again cut into very thin slices – about same size as potatoes.
  • Use heavy duty foil – there’s a size that’s the right width the recipe calls for. 
  • Move the packets every 5-7 minutes or so – maybe 3 times for the 30 minutes – but don’t flip them – goal is to move so that no one spot gets too hot and burns.
  • It’s very easy BUT takes time to cut the potatoes and onions – leave plenty of time for all the slicing!
  • Even if you hate mustard, you won’t taste it here… and if you LOVE mustard, you need to increase the amount used.

The whole dinner took 1 hour to cook at my brother-in-law’s rental home (though a few hours to prep — and we did grill asparagus (see below for how) at home first and served it room temperature.) 

Once we landed at my brother-in-law’s I prepped the fish while my husband grilled the potato packets. In the end, it looked like this:

IMG_2698

 

 

IMG_2697Two notes on the finished dishes:

  • The fish fell apart, which doesn’t happen when you bake or cook fish directly on the grill. But it’s juicy and tender, and if you have enough wine, no one will notice.
  • The potato & onion dish looked much more appealing than this photo; I’d had a few glasses of wine by then…

Hope you try!  So easy and healthy and delicious – and no pots to wash!

To grill asparagus: soak for 10 minutes and snap off the tough bottoms, loosely dry, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and put right onto a medium-high grill for about 10-15 minutes, rolling them to grill evenly.

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Healthy Sides For Summer BBQing

If you’re grilling up a nice, healthy fish dish for a summer get together (or even if you’re grilling steak or burgers) it can be a challenge to come up with tasty, healthy side dishes. This summer, I have two new favorites: Grilled Sweet Potato Fries and Broccoli Slaw.

I discovered Grilled Sweet Potato Fries on Health.com and it’s so easy and delicious that I’ve made these five times already this summer. It’s a great dish for 2-4 people: if you’re making it for a crowd, you’ll just need to budget your grill time to get a mound of fries done and turned!

The concept’s perfect for summer weather when you don’t want to heat your house with anything oven-based. Just wash and poke a few sweet potatoes, dry, and microwave on high for 6-7 minutes (more if the sweet potatoes are huge, though it’s much easier to use small-medium sweet potatoes!). Let them cool a bit, cut into wedges, and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a seasoning of choice (recipe calls for paprika; I favor Penzey’s Balti seasoning or a paprika / cumin / chili pepper blend.)  Then grill on a medium-hot grill for 3-5 minutes per side.  Not only are they fantastic, they keep in the refrigerator pretty well – toast ’em on up next day in your toaster oven for fabulous side-dish leftovers. Link to web recipe above or download this PDF of Grilled Sweet Potato Fries.

What to serve with your protein and Grilled Sweet Potato Fries? How about a tasty broccoli slaw? The title of this recipe on ‘thekitchn.com’ compelled me to take a risk on a new recipe for a friend’s BBQ: Light & Easy Broccoli Salad. If you have a food processor (or can find broccoli slaw in a store) this is a snap to make. And testament to its tastiness: everyone asked for the recipe. It’s worth reading the comments on ‘thekitchn’ website – I successfully followed several recommendations and substituted dried cranberries for the currants. And as I failed in my quest for bagged pre-shredded broccoli, the only challenge was shredding it myself in my Cuisinart; it’s not hard but took me a while to figure out which blade to use. But once I got the broccoli shredding down, this recipe was very easy and with just 1/2 cup mayonnaise, far healthier than store-bought slaw. Check it out on thekitchn site and read the reviews and/or download this PDF of Light & Easy Broccoli Salad.

BroccoliSlaw_SweetPotatoFriesHere’s a picture of both along with a sad little piece of grilled pork – but don’t the sweet potatoes and broccoli slaw look enticing?

Hope this adds some variety and fun to your healthy summer dinners!

 

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