Not Whole Steamed Fish

After a summer with a lot of travel – and the poor eating that accompanies vacation, despite good intentions – I was looking to kick off September with some healthy, low-cholesterol dinner options.  It seemed a good omen that David Tanis’ interesting New York Times article, “The Whole Fish And Nothing But” was published on my birthday and the accompanying recipe looked great, so I decided to give it a try.

And the recipe was great – pretty easy and very tasty – but with one big issue. The illustration of Steamed Whole Fish With Ginger and Sesame was my goal, but it was just plain unachievable with the very-regular-sized bamboo steamer I dug out of my ‘magic closet’ of kitchen tools I don’t use very often.

Fred R. Conrad, NYT

Fred R. Conrad, NYT

Doesn’t this picture look tantalizing? Who wouldn’t want to put a nice whole fish on the serving plate, steam it for 15 minutes, and serve right on the plate? No muss, no fuss and best of all, no extra clean up.  OK, my sister Kathy wouldn’t want to because even the idea of fish makes her gag (sad, no?) but for those of us who like fish, this seems, well, perfect.

After unearthing my 10 inch bamboo steamer, I headed to the fish market and was stumped.  Every piece of whole red snapper and black bass were markedly larger than 7 inch plate that fits inside my steamer.

There was no way I could replicate that photo — no way I could fit a whole fish on a dish inside MY bamboo steamer. What was up with that? Did David Tanis have some industrial sized bamboo steamer?

I tweeted him – and the NYT – to no avail.  They did not answer.  Yet.

I remain hopeful that I will receive an answering tweet AND at the prospect of shopping for more kitchen gadgets. Even though there is no more room in my magic closet.

With fitting a whole fish inside a bamboo steamer still a mystery I soldiered on, fortified by Mr. Tanis’ direction to simply shorten the cooking time for a boneless fillet.

I chose a half-pound fillet of red snapper, whipped up the easy marinade and was rewarded with a very healthy, very flavorful dinner (the chile paste makes it spicy so use less if you don’t like some heat.)  My husband and son were dining on steak – but they tasted the fish and both proclaimed it delicious.

A few modifications I made:

  • As I’m not a huge ginger fan, I used less ginger than called for, and cheated with jarred, crushed ginger.
  • I am sure the stir-fried scallions would be delicious, but I left them off to reduce the oil (oh, who am I kidding, I was too lazy and forgot scallions to boot).
  • Though I adore cilantro, the potted cilantro on my deck had been reduced to dry stalks, so I had to leave them off too.  No matter, it was still wonderful.

Here’s to hoping David Tanis tweets me back with an answer to the bamboo steamer mystery so I can whip this up again, this time with a whole fish. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, try this at home by rigging up your own large steamer (Mr. Tanis’ article explains how) OR using a fillet. It’s a great entree: simple, elegant, healthy and delicious.

Steamed Whole Fish With Ginger and Sesame
By David Tanis

  • 2 whole fish, like black sea bass or red snapper, about 1 1/2 pounds each, gutted and scaled by a fishmonger
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese sweet wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chile bean paste, available in a Chinese grocery
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil, more for dressing
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 2 bunches scallions, cut in 3-inch lengths
  • 1 bunch cilantro


Rinse fish with cold water, pat dry and season inside and out with salt and pepper. Place both fish on a heatproof platter or shallow baking dish. (Dish must be slightly smaller than inside dimensions of steamer.)
Whisk together sweet wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chile bean paste and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Pour over fish and let marinate, turning once, for 30 minutes.
Set up steamer with 3 inches of water in the bottom, then set rack 1 inch over water. Bring water to a rapid boil. Place fish, still on platter with marinade, on rack and cover with lid. (If using a bamboo steamer, cover top with a dish towel to retain steam.) Steam fish for 10 to 12 minutes, until just done. Flesh should look opaque, and there should be no pink at the bone when probed gently with a paring knife. Carefully remove platter from steamer.
Meanwhile, place a skillet or wok over high heat and add vegetable oil. When oil looks hazy, add scallions and toss to coat. Sprinkle lightly with salt and stir-fry until slightly charred, about 2 minutes.
To serve, scatter scallions over fish and top liberally with cilantro sprigs. (To make a tastier cilantro garnish, dress sprigs lightly with sesame oil and salt.) Using 2 forks, serve top fillet from carcass. Remove and discard skeleton to reveal lower fillet. Give each diner some fish, scallions and cilantro. Spoon pan juices over each serving.
2 to 4 servings

Oatmeal vs Lox

Calling all oatmeal lovers: what’s your favorite way to prepare oatmeal?

Ever since I admitted in my last post to ditching oatmeal and falling back into my bagel-and-lox habit, the guilt is getting to me.

Actually, all of my lo-co eating habits are out of whack. Yesterday I hit Wendy’s again while driving home from the 8th HS Baseball game in 2 weeks. Of course I had no menu planned and frankly, I was too tired from shivering in the wind for 3+ hours per game to make any.

So I decided the easiest way to get back into eating lo-co was to focus on breakfast (at least I’m now spinning 2x a week so all’s not TOTALLY lost, lo-co-wise). Because dinners are so not happening right now – and baseball season has only just begun.

So, breakfast. I know I should be eating oatmeal, the cholesterol-lowering superfood. But I love my half-bagel-with-lox. So I need to know: do I really need to give up my lox-every-day habit? Is it that bad for me? Or can I have oatmeal a few days a week and still have my bagel and lox some (most?) other days?

To decide, I researched lox. Frankly, I was hoping to find that lox is a healthy choice (and maybe I’d just add oatmeal cookies to my diet?) It seemed rational: I mean, lox is smoked salmon, and that’s chock full of fish oil and healthy protein, so it should be healthy. Right?

The answer is, yes… kind of.  But lox has issues, which I guess I knew. But I was all hold-my-hands-over-my-ears about them.

It turns out that lox does indeed deliver good-for-you omega 3 fatty acids and lean protein. Which is great, but I had no idea lox also packed a big sodium punch.  Truly, no idea. Despite how the divine salty taste mingles with the sweet, cream cheese.

See above monkey-hear-no-evil mien.

A 3 ounce serving of lox has 1700-2000 mg of sodium. Eat that much lox every morning and you’d be over the USDA guideline of 1500 mg of sodium by 8am! Lox nutritional info is not easy to find online; for details, read here and here.

Luckily, I eat far less lox on my bagel than most – I roughed it out to about 0.6 ounces, which is 1 small slice – every morning. Still, that drops 350-400 mg of sodium into my system along with my decaf hazelnut coffee (with Silk Soy Creamer and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, thank you very much.)

So lox has far too much salt than is good for me daily. And here I was thinking I eat a low sodium diet because I never add salt to anything.

In “The Risks of Eating Smoked Salmon,” health writer Jeffrey Traister explains that in addition to the high sodium, ingesting lox potentially exposes you to chemicals that can cause cancer, and lox can be infected with the dangerous bacteria, listeria. He advises:

“Minimize your risk by eating smoked salmon less often, eat foods with low sodium content on days you consume the fish, eat small amounts to reduce exposure to polycyclic hydrocarbons and eat it shortly after purchase to lower risk of listeriosis.”

Sufficiently freaked out, I will be eating cereal while I search for delicious ways to simply prepare great tasting oatmeal.

Recipes, anyone?

Illustrations by Christine Juneau.


Grilled Char and Arugula Salad

Freshly back from vacation, where my lo-co diet sadly also took a vacation, I was determined to make better food choices.  So after I unpacked and noticed the veritable forest of arugula growing on my deck planter, I searched online for an arugula recipe.

Photo from Cooking Light

And voila – Cooking Light came through again. Their Arctic Char and Arugula Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette looked intriguing.  And since it was listed in their ‘Eat healthy in 20 minutes…with these superfast, easy main-dish salad recipes,’ I knew I could make this recipe while dealing with mountains of laundry. Woot.

Turns out, this dish is very easy to make and delicious.  Recipe PDF here.  A few things to note:

  • I absolutely LOVE Arctic Char and it’s sold at my local fish market. Many are probably not familiar with this fish, so here are some key Char facts.  Arctic Char delivers loads of heart-healthy oils, is similar to both salmon and trout, is an ‘environmentally responsible seafood choice’ and although it looks like salmon, to me it does not taste like salmon.  Check out wikipedia or New England Aquarium website for more Arctic Char info.
  • This recipe asks you to saute the fish, but I grill it instead.  It’s easy to grill Char (especially since my husband does all grilling, LOL). Here’s how to grill Char: salt, pepper & olive oil both sides of the fish then place it, skin-side-down on a hot grill (he uses a grill screen). Cook 4-6 minutes (depends on thickness) then flip using 2 spatulas and cook another 4-6 minutes.
  • The vinaigrette in this recipe is quite good, but I will make 1 adjustment next time I make this.  As I do not enjoy raw garlic or shallots/onions, I plan to saute the shallots just a bit to remove the raw taste before adding to the vinaigrette.
  • I substituted toasted slivered ALMONDS instead of pine nuts because almonds are a cholesterol-lowering food.  Plus, I was out of pine nuts.   To toast slivered almonds, I just put them on a tray and hit ‘toast’ on my Toaster Oven – but be careful, they burn quickly.

Here’s the photo my son took of the dish I made: pretty close to the Cooking Light photo, no? Especially amazing since we didn’t even break out a real camera – he took this with his iPhone… I guess I could have arranged it more artfully – spread the tomatoes, for example – but I was HUNGRY.

Give this one a whirl.  My husband and I loved it. Our teenager (remember, he’s allergic to lettuce but I told him arugula was different) literally spit it out. But hey, arugula is an acquired taste/on the bitter side: if you don’t love arugula, you can still try this recipe — just substitute spinach or any kind of lettuce and you’ll be good to go.



Panini Magic

Kitchen gadgets are big in my family.  Though truth be told, I’ve gone a bit too far.  Like, approaching hoarders territory.  I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but we have a ‘magic closet’ where the oh-so-many large and/or not-often used cooking tools live (like my stash of huge, medium, small and mini crock pots – yes I have 4, yes that’s embarrassing.)  It’s like a clown car in there.

But by far, the most fabulous kitchen gadget I own is a panini maker.  It is not jammed in the magic closet – no siree!  My wonderful Cuisinart Panini Press has got pride of place, right out on my kitchen counter.

I can imagine your puzzled brow.  Let me explain why I love my panini maker so – and why it’s become vital to my lo-co cooking.

My love affair with my panini press didn’t start out as a lo-co undertaking.  I didn’t dole out $49.95 so I could cook low fat, low cholesterol meals.  I bought it because my teenage son said he’d eat more if I made paninis.  So naturally, I raced to the local Bed Bath & Beyond to purchase one.

And it worked!   It used to be that I’d 2 scramble 2 eggs with some cheese, and serve it with Morningstar Farms ‘sausage’ and toast – and he’d eat about 1/2 of what was on his plate.  But when I put those exact same ingredients and rolled them into a tortilla and then grilled it for 2 minutes, he ate it all, every time.  Now he eats a ‘breakfast panini’ nearly every weekend.

So then I expanded beyond breakfast into after-school snacks – and created a fabulous panini’d tortilla stuffed with nutella, chocolate chips and salt-free peanuts.  We graduated from ‘no thanks, I’m not hungry’ after school to him gladly gobbing 2 nutella paninis.  With milk, even.

Then I decided to see what I could panini for lunch for myself – because lunch is a tough meal for me.  I like leftovers warmed up – but don’t have leftovers every day just waiting to be microwaved.  And I really dislike cold sandwiches.  So for years, my default lunch has been a tuna melt – not such a great lo-co meal, what with the mayo and cheese, not to mention the potential mercury issue.

That said, I started with what I knew:  tuna and a bit of cheese on a tortilla.  I panini’d it for 2 minutes and voila – so, so much better than on an english muffin.  But obviously, this did not make it any more lo-co.

I chewed on this for a while (sorry, pun intended) and finally, the true potential of my new fave gadget hit me: I could use the panini press to quell my tuna addiction.  And eat a healthier, lo-co lunch with more fiber and veggies.

So I began experimenting. Leftover roasted veggies on a panini’d tortilla were good, but I didn’t have leftover roasted veggies in the fridge every day.

But what I did have, after making chicken-in-a-bag several times, was plenty of leftover chicken.  Without gravy, that chicken just looked unappealing.  And putting it on a sandwich, with mayo, wasn’t so lo-co either. Of course, it was useful to create a filling salad, but we all know how I feel about salad.  It just makes me sad.

Which is how I came up with the idea to place the chicken, lettuce, tomato and avocado I’d normally use in a salad on a tortilla instead of into a bowl…and then panini it. Some of you out there will be all “eww, warmed up lettuce – gross.”  But for me, this is just magic.  The chicken, lettuce and tomato are slightly warmed, and the avocado makes it moist and delicious – with no mayo.  Lo-co heaven.

And avocado – it’s a great lo-co food.  More on that in a later post.

Not only is this a delicious lunch, this recipe takes all of 30 seconds to set up and exactly 2 minutes to grill on the panini press.  So my lack of planning – when it’s 2pm and I’ve forgotten to have lunch yet again – doesn’t derail my lo-co meal plans (if they haven’t been derailed already).

Most people use a panini press with bread – that’s even in the picture from the Cuisinart site.  And if you prefer bread, go for it.  But it’s easy to use with a tortilla instead – plus it’s fewer calories and I just plain like it better.  Here’s how to make a tortilla panini:

  1. Turn on panini press to warm up, and spray one side of the tortilla with Pam…or I use an Olive Oil sprayer (because it’s my own olive oil so it has no preservatives and, hey, it’s another fun gadget, also from BB&B!)
  2. Place tortilla oiled-side down on a plate, then put your fillings in a long, thin strip (like a log) in the middle of the tortilla – leaving about an inch at each end.
  3. Prep for panini’ing:   a) Easy Way: Fold into half moon and put on panini press.  Or if you’re like me and prefer it neat, with folded sides that don’t leak out AND with the filling reaching all the way through, then do this instead:  b) Fold into a half-moon, then fold each of the ‘short sides’ down, then fold the long end over the short ends – this makes a rectangle. (See lame iPhone photos below!)
  4. Carefully place it on the panini press (it works best to put the folded side DOWN), and set a timer for 2 minutes.
  5. ENJOY!

1) Load filling in center, 1" free at top & bottom; 2) fold into 1/2 moon; 3) Fold sides; 4) Fold top.


Does one pappardelle dinner mean I’m cooking again?

I’m afraid to look at how long it’s been since I posted a recipe. (And it would be so easy, what with that giant tag cloud and that category I named, oh, ‘recipes.’)  But I will refrain from feeling badly, and instead post about the fact that I actually cooked ONE, count-it, ONE dinner last week.

And it was pretty good, so I’m posting it here.

Cooking Light’s April 2011 issue had a ‘Spring Pasta’ feature, and I bought ingredients to make two of the dishes.  Sadly, I had to throw out one set of ingredients as the veggies wilted — what on earth was I thinking buying ingredients for TWO dishes when I haven’t cooked in weeks months rather a long time?

But I did manage to make a dish that was GREAT for leftovers for lunch – and was pretty easy to prepare.  And while I won’t rave about the recipe as is, with a few easy tweaks, I bet it could be terrific.

Plus, with it’s mild creamy sauce (that’s not cream based!) I bet even my son will like it.  Though lying would be required: I’d have to dice the spinach and tell him the green stuff is herbs…which is TRUE – there’s parsley and dill!  Such a slippery slope.  Let’s hope he doesn’t choose today to start reading my blog!

So here it is:  Pappardelle with Baby Spinach, Herbs and Ricotta from page 118 of the Cooking Light April 2011 issue.  And here’s what I’ll change the next time I prepare this dish (click here for PDF of this recipe with my adjustments):

  • Make sure you chop (or dice!) the baby spinach – the picture in the magazine shows it chopped but the recipe doesn’t include that key step.  Start there.
  • 3 cups of baby spinach is too much, even for me, who loves spinach.  I’d cut this roughly in half.
  • I really do not love dill, so would consider leaving it out.  Though the dill does deliver that fabulous oh-so-fresh herb aroma and taste – will have to think on this.  If you like dill, great.  If not, maybe cut the amount in half.
  • Too many big peppercorns for me.  Either I’ll reduce the fresh pepper OR (probably more likely) adjust my pepper mill for a finer grind.
  • One idea (note:  I have no idea if it’ll work as I’m not a chef): if you don’t love the gritty feel of raw spinach, consider steaming the chopped spinach for just a bit – maybe 30 seconds or a minute in the microwave.
  • An alternate and probably better idea for the spinach that was  suggested in the recipe reviews (I reviewed it too) was to put the spinach in the colander and the run the hot pasta water over it – that, I think, is brilliant!  Will totally try that!
  • Another reviewer suggested arugula instead of spinach.   Which of course, I had just purchased (and tossed) as the key ingredient for that other recipe…  Sigh.

So think about giving this recipe a try.  I will be heading to Trader Joe’s to buy  more pappardelle to make this again, with these adjustments.  Let’s hope I can muster the motivation to make it before the spinach (or arugula) liquefies… again.