Sunday, August 30, 2015

Grilled Swordfish with Tzatziki

This one has a little bit of a backstory, if you'll indulge me...don't worry, it will eventually get there !

Even though I grew up surrounded by fantastic cooks, there were quite a few dishes that I never got around to trying (or appreciating - exhibit a, corned beef) until I met my husband. One of these, surprisingly, was lamb. I'm guessing this was because of some combination of the good stuff being expensive, and the cheap stuff being...not so good (and therefore not something anyone in my family wanted to eat). Whatever the reason, it wasn't until I met Mark that I beheld the wonder that was lamb...specifically, lamb gyros. Fluffy pita bread, filled with deliciously grilled lamb marinated in something I couldn't quite identify...this was takeout food like I'd never seen before. And the sauce...oh, the sauce. Cool, creamy, garlicky goodness. I had no idea what it was, but that didn't stop me from gobbling it up whenever I got the chance.

Fast forward a few years, and I had the good fortune of working down the street from a great little Greek food spot in my own hometown - the Farm Grill . Despite the name, which makes it sound like - well - "farm" food, this is actually a counter-serve Greek restaurant with some seriously delicious food - and, from what my actual Greek friends tell me, the stuff is pretty legit. I remember we used to get our Greek coworker to call whenever we ordered lunch from there, figuring they would be nicer to her...not really known for their warm and fuzzy service, but the food is worth it (even if you don't have an obliging Greek coworker...Effie, I miss you ! ). When you walk in, you immediately see - and smell - the gyro meat, rotating on tall vertical rotisseries. I could write a whole post about Farm Grill, but the important bit for this story is the gyro - for this is where I discovered this delicious sauce was called "tzatziki" At this point I still wasn't quite the crazy foodie I am today, but I was definitely on my way...a little knowledge can be a scary thing !

My next flirtation with tzatziki was in the early days of this blog...well it wasn't actually tzatziki, it was a cucumber raita - the Indian version which is a close cousin (but without the dill and garlic seen above). As noted in that entry, the guys weren't really enamored of it, so I didn't make it again...but I didn't stop thinking about tzatziki.

And then, there was the bluefish.

Earlier this summer, the guys went on a fishing trip for striper...except no one caught any keeper striper. They did, however, catch tons of bluefish - and my guys being enterprising, resourceful boys decided to bring all of it home...not only theirs, but their boatmates as well. Unfortunately, what they didn't know at the time was that you really can't freeze bluefish - bluefish at its best takes a little work to achieve Culinary Orgasm status, but frozen is just no good - it turns into an unappetizing mush. I, however, did know this - and slightly panicked at the sight of 10 pounds of bluefish fillets that had to pretty much be cooked in 24 hours ! Half of it immediately went into brine for smoking (delicious - will try and get that on the blog at some point), some was transformed into Vietnamese Caramel Bluefish that night ( also delicious and in need of some blog love; I based mine on this recipe ) The rest was destined for the grill the next day. I knew it was going to need some sort of sauce, and mustard sauce  - my traditional favorite on blues -  was out as my husband hates that particular combination.(Okay, full disclosure - I did make a little mustard sauce just for me :) ) . The time was ripe for me to get a good tzatziki under my belt...not that I'd ever had it with bluefish before, but I somehow knew that it would be a match made in heaven. And oh man...was it ever !

Bluefish is such a strongly flavored, oily fish that it needs something bright to cut it...and tzatziki is definitely that; lemony, garlicky, herby brightness. That's why it works so well with lamb...but really, it good on all kinds of stuff. Any kind of meat or fish you can think of (burgers ! chicken breast ! the mind boggles)...killer on a baked potato...spread on pita bread...or just eaten with a spoon.  I think the main difference with the version I make now is the yogurt; real Greek yogurt is essential to this dish, the runny American stuff just won't cut it. That, and make sure you use fresh minced garlic; I was out the day I photographed this, so I used the paste...not nearly as good. (How the heck does a foodie run out of garlic ! grrrr...)

Since I don't have pictures of the bluefish dinner, you're getting the next best thing - a simple grilled swordfish that we did tonight. Nothing fancy here, just marinated it in a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and dill; grilled on a super hot fire about 5 - 6 minutes a side. The tzatziki is the real star here - true Culinary Orgasm !


Fat content on the yogurt is personal preference, but I personally find this work best with 2%.  

1 English cucumber or 2 - 3 mini cucumbers, very finely chopped ( no need to peel unless you prefer; remove seeds if large).          
2 - 4 garlic cloves, minced          
1 cup plain Greek yogurt    
tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil    
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste at the end. Let sit about an hour to really let the flavors blend.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Lighten Up : Poached Eggs with Caponata and Polenta

And now for something completely different...

Yes, even your intrepid blogger needs to lighten up from time to time. I firmly believe in the "all things in moderation" approach: paleo, gluten free, raw vegan diets are definitely not the thing for me... I love food way too much, and I never want to lose that. The problem (or my problem, anyway) is when you don't practice the "moderation" part; it becomes far too easy to slip from "curvaceous"  to "cowabunga".  The solution (again, this is just for me; I don't presume to know your life !) is to lean more towards the lighter side of the "all things" approach. And so, a new feature on this blog: food that is definitely worthy of the "Culinary Orgasm" title, but won't leave you lying on the couch gasping for air.

Eggs in custard cups are something I'm rather fond of; there's a fantastic recipe here for Baked Eggs with Creamy Leeks that I really love (end of one of my Irish entries : A Full Irish Breakfast, Culinary Orgasm Style ...this recipe can also easily be lightened by substituting pan spray for butter and fat free half-and-half for heavy cream. No one will be the wiser; part of the magic of leeks). Whilst perusing my fridge this morning my eye lit upon some leftover caponata and polenta; this, I thought, would be the perfect first entry for my new feature. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day ! And it was perfect; indulgent and satisfying enough for a weekend breakfast, but light enough not to weigh me down for the rest of the day. (Bad pun not intended !)

Caponata  (a Sicilian eggplant dish, sort of a sweet and sour relish) is something that's readily available in stores, along with tubes of ready-made polenta. Look for both in the refrigerated section, usually near where you'd find hummus and/or fresh pastas (in my usual supermarket that's actually the same place). Caponata can also sometimes be found in jars, though the fresh kind is usually better. Both caponata and polenta can also easily be made at home; the caponata I used here is a lighter, less sweet version of my own making, I've included the recipe here, though I'm still in the process of tweaking it. Polenta cooking instructions are on the box; in order to slice it like I have here, you'll need to chill it in a loaf pan until firm enough to slice (preferably overnight). This is just the good ol' tube kind from the store. A few blackberries on the plate...and we have achieved Culinary Orgasm.

Poached Eggs with Caponata and Polenta

These can be baked in a water bath, per the leek recipe above; for one or two servings, the microwave actually works pretty well, so those are the directions I'm giving here.

For one serving :

1 egg
2 tablespoons caponata (purchased, or recipe below)
1 slice polenta, warmed (this can also be microwaved, but for extra polenta goodness sear the slices in a pan with pan spray until a little toasted on both sides)
Salt and pepper to taste
Pan spray

Spray a custard cup (or oven-safe mug, or small bowl) with pan spray. Spoon the caponata into the cup, then carefully crack the egg on top, Microwave until the egg is done to your liking; I suggest starting with 30 seconds, then adding time in 15 second intervals until its cooked just how you like it,

Slide the egg onto the slice of warmed polenta, and enjoy !

Light + Simple Caponata 
(loosely based on a Weight Watchers version, not linkable - sorry !!)

Pan spray  
1 small uncooked red onion, chopped  
1 small eggplant, diced (small  cubes)
1 Tbsp capers, drained and chopped  
1 tsp minced garlic  
14 oz can fire roasted chopped tomatoes, undrained  
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano  (or 1 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
2 Tbsp vinegar  
1/4 cup water, if needed
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Spray a large sauté pan or a high-sided skillet with cooking spray. Set over medium heat, add onion, and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until softened.  Add eggplant and continue cooking, stirring often, for 4 minutes, or until eggplant softens at edges. Stir in capers and garlic; cook for a few seconds, until fragrant.

Stir in tomatoes, oregano, basil and vinegar; add water if it seems dry. Bring to a full simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer slowly for 30 minutes, until slightly reduced and the eggplant is nice and soft.

This will make more than you need; caponata is tasty with all sorts of things. Serve it as a side dish, use it to top chicken or fish before baking, spread it on bread...whatever floats your boat !

Monday, February 9, 2015

the world's easiest beer bread

beer bread made with Harp...mmm mmm good !
"Put one foot in front of the other"....that's all I have to do to start blogging again, right ? Baby steps...

This really is just about the easiest beer bread in the world...well, short of buying a mix. There's really no reason to buy a mix, though; we're talking 5 ingredients including the beer...most likely things you have around the house, assuming someone in your house drinks beer (or buys it for their friends). Oh, you can throw in more ingredients, if you feel up to it; this can very easily turn into an Italian Herb bread, or a Cheddar-Dill Bread, or even an Apple-Cinnamon Bread. At its core, though, this is simple perfection; beautiful crust, tender crumb, the slightest touch of sweet. Hearty enough to stand up to whatever you want to spread on it, adaptable enough to make friends with whatever meal you want to serve it with, confident enough to stand on its own...this is just damn good bread.

bread made with - and standing next to - a Sam Adams

When I set out to come up with a basic beer bread recipe, I had a few requirements. The few mixes I've tried - and a lot of the recipes I found - all had copious amounts of sugar; curiously, many of them also called for melting large quantities of butter and dumping it over the bread before baking. I have nothing against sugar and butter - especially combined with bread dough; fried dough is one of my favorite foods on earth - but that's not what I was looking for here. I just wanted bread.

another shot of the Harp loaf
As for the beer, "extra" beer is not a term that is used in my house. We love beer - all kinds of beer - and consume large amounts of it on a regular basis; our main concern through the recent snowstorms was maintaining our beer supply. I've heard legends of people who don't like beer; they buy beer for parties, but if it doesn't get enjoyed that night it sits unloved, languishing in the back of the fridge. Don't let this happen to your beer - use it for bread. Who doesn't like bread, for Pete's sake  ? (Answer : probably people who don't read this blog : ) ) . You can use absolutely any kind of beer to make this bread, from the cheap swill you buy for your relatives who don't know any better to the most snooty of microbrews. In the end, they will all turn into bread...and bread is the staff of life, after all.

and another shot of the Sam
A few additional notes :
  • Do follow the cooling instructions at the's tempting to tear right in when this comes out of the oven, but it will very likely fall apart if you do.
  • If your beer isn't quite 12 ounces - for example, Red Stripe comes in an 11.2 ounce bottle - just add a little water until you get to 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups)
  • I've given some variations at the end of the recipe. You can also sub out half the white flour for whole wheat; I would suggest adding another teaspoon of baking powder if you do. (I probably wouldn't use more whole wheat than that , or you will get very dense bread...though if you're into that sort of thing, go for it !) You can also substitute brown sugar for white, if you like the taste of the brown; brown sugar is particularly nice with whole wheat flour, and also goes very nicely with many types of beer.

Basic Beer Bread

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 (12 ounce) beer of your choice

Preheat oven to 375. Grease an 8" loaf pan (or spray with cooking spray)

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl; slowly pour in beer. Mix with a nice sturdy spoon (this will be thick) until combined.

Spread batter in pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until it's starting to brown and a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes; then remove from pan and cool another 10.

Serve warm, cold, or anywhere in between. Keeps very well.

Variations :

Italian Herb Bread : add 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and 2 1/2 tsp. Italian Seasoning to dry ingredients. (I mix my own Italian Seasoning; for this bread, that would basically work out to 1 tsp. oregano, 1 tsp. basil, and 1/2 tsp. rosemary). A teaspoon of minced garlic wouldn't go amiss here either.

Cheesy Dill Bread : add 1/2 cup grated cheddar and 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill (or 2 tsp dried) to dry ingredients.

Apple-Cinnamon Bread : increase sugar to 2 tablespoons. Add one peeled and chopped apple and 2 tsp. of cinnamon to dry ingredients.

Irish Beer Bread : use Guinness for beer; add 1/2 cup currants to dry ingredients. (This would work particularly well with the whole wheat - brown sugar version)