Saturday, August 27, 2011

Trout Pasta Pomodoro

Kristin and I are doing our best to eat generally more healthily, and part of doing so involves adding some more fish to our diet.  Now granted, pasta with cheese over it is not exactly ideal, but this was still a nice, light, fresh summer meal.  I got my inspiration from a similar Trout dish in Cooking Light, but opted to make it into a pasta and the "tomato topping" into a sauce so that the dish would be more of a meal.  It ended up really fantastic, and I'll definitely make it again.

Our ingredients are simple and fresh.  Trout is the star of the show - you can use a lot or a little, but make sure it's fresh and - preferably - sustainably farmed.  The sauce is based on fresh cherry tomatoes, backed up by some bacon, white wine, fresh basil, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Grate some cheese over the top at the end if you desire - we used Asiago to very nice results.

First thing's first, we're going to harvest a lot of flavor from not a lot of bacon.  Cut 2-3 ounces down small and get it rendering in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium-high heat.

While that's rendering, get your veggies ready.  Dicing the onion is mandatory, as is removing the little green stems from your cherry tomatoes.  Also mince the garlic, or just be ready to wield your garlic press with extreme prejudice when the time comes.

I don't care what Alton Brown says about unitaskers in this instance - I adore my garlic press.

Mmm, bacon.  Once it's getting cooked, pull it out of the pan and set aside for a few minutes.  We'll get the veggies going in the awesomely flavorful stuff left at the bottom of the pan.

Dump those veggies right in.  Medium-high heat is fine, as we actually want the veggies to cook pretty quickly.

We want them to cook quickly because the cherry tomatoes will pop after a few minutes and release lots of liquid, quickly turning themselves into the beginnings of a sauce.  If you want it chunkier, just let them alone once they've popped.  If you prefer a little smoother texture, go ahead and crush them up a bit with the back of a stirring spoon, a potato masher, or whatever takes your fancy.

Now's the time to amp up the flavor.  Chop up some fresh basil, and add it to the sauce along with your white wine and that bacon you've been holding onto.  You didn't eat all the bacon, did you?  It's up to you what to do with the rest of the bottle of wine...I favor drinking it with the finished product.

Before long your sauce's flavors will really have melded.  Reduce it just a bit, then we'll add some starchy pasta water later to return some body.

In the meantime, it's time to grill some fish.  You can broil it or do it in a pan if you like, but I got a cast-iron grill-pan for my birthday (thanks, mom!) and it's fantastic.  All a great fish like trout needs is some salt and plenty of fresh black pepper.

While you're at it, cook your pasta, if you haven't already started.

2-3 minutes per side on the grill pan and it's beautifully done.  If you don't have a fish spatula, your trout may fall all to pieces as you remove it from the pan.  Do your best.  Really, it's perfectly tasty to just flake the fish over the pasta anyway, but sometimes it's nice to keep the pieces whole for the sake of presentation.

When your pasta is still al-dente, go ahead and mix it and a bit of pasta water into the sauce, and let it finish there for a couple of minutes.  It'll absorb a whole lot of flavor.

Now add that fish right on top.

And, if you're into that kind of thing, garnish with grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese and/or some more fresh Basil.  Serve immediately, and don't forget about that wine you opened.

Recipe: Trout Pasta Pomodoro

Prep Time: 5 Minutes | Cook Time: 30 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 6-8

  • 1 pound fresh Trout
  • 2-3 oz Bacon, chopped
  • 24 oz Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • 2-4 cloves Garlic, minced 
  • 1/2 cup White Wine
  • 16 oz Bowtie Pasta
  • 4-6 leaves Fresh Basil
  • Parmesan or Asiago Cheese to taste
  • Salt and Pepper to taste 
Cook Pasta to al-dente according to directions on box.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, render chopped bacon over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes until cooked through.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Dice onion and mince garlic.  Remove stems from tomatoes.  All onion, garlic, and tomatoes to pan with bacon drippings and cook 3-5 minutes over medium-high heat until tomatoes pop their skins.

Crush tomatoes down if desired.  Add bacon, basil, and white wine to sauce and continue cooking 10-20 minutes until flavors are well melded.

Season trout lightly with salt and plenty of ground black pepper.  Cook 2-3 minutes per side on a heavy grill pan until fish flakes easily with a fork.  Set aside until serving.

When pasta is al-dente, add pasta and 1/2 cup pasta water to sauce and mix well.

Serve trout over pasta and sauce.  Garnish with cheese and/or additional basil to taste.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Chocolate-Chip Zucchini Muffins

Today's blog post takes place in a new and different kitchen.  The past 3 weeks, Kristin has been up in her family's cabin in Vermont.  I was here with only the cat and plenty of end-of-term work for solace for the first two of those weeks, but then got to drive up to join her for a week.  While we were there, we made these fantastic muffins.

These muffins were a favorite breakfast item when I was a kid.  Kristin was a bit skeptical the first time I mentioned them, but now she specifically asks for them.  They're quick and easy, and not even all that terrible for you, since you get some vegetable matter in there.  At least, that's what I like to tell myself.

Kristin and I generally make these together - it's quite quick that way, since one person can grate zucchini while the other mixes, prepares the muffin tin/cups, et-cetera.  I highly recommend it.  

Astute readers should keep an eye out for a surprise in the photos.

Here's what you'll need!  All-purpose flour, white sugar, baking soda, salt, one egg, zucchini (a cup worth, though extra is fine), vanilla, cinnamon, lemon juice, cooking oil, milk (not pictured - oops!) and chocolate chips.  The recipe is pretty forgiving as zucchini goes - I've used both not-quite-ripe and quite-overripe and had fine results.

Also, if you're a crazy person who hates happiness, I guess you could leave out the chocolate chips.  But you don't hate happiness, do you?  I thought not.

It's the most exciting step of any baking process, with the most exciting photo to match - mixing together white powders!  Specifically, you'll start by mixing together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

So hey, we got one brown powder in there - not that you can really tell once it's all mixed.

In another bowl, combine your lightly beaten egg with the milk, oil, lemon juice, and vanilla.

If you've been putting it off, now is the time to grate the zucchini.  It's not the most fun process, but you only need a cup.  A small zucchini is often good for 1-1.5 cups of shredded zucchini.  The recipe happily tolerates up to about 1.5 cups, so if that's what you have, don't let it go to waste.  If you got a giant zucchini like we did this time around, it's a good time to think about making a double batch.

Did you notice the surprise?  Go look again.

Yep, Kristin is wearing a shiny new ring.  A shiny new ring that I gave her, no less.  We're engaged!

Amazingly enough, she was excited enough to show off the ring that she volunteered to grate the zucchini, provided I took a ring-featuring picture.  Clearly, this is a win-win scenario.

We ended up with a little over two cups of shredded zucchini, so we made a second batch of muffins later in the week.  I highly recommend this strategy.

Now that your zucchini is ready, we'll bring together all of the elements of the batter.  First, empty the wet ingredients into the dry, and stir until they're just barely mixed.  We'll do plenty more mixing to catch any reluctant bits.

Now add the zucchini, and mix it through.

Finally, fold in the chocolate chips.  Don't overdo it on these.  Any more than 1/2 cup per batch and everything ends up all wonky.

Action shot!  Fill ungreased muffin cups about 1/2 full.  Kristin favors the double-spoon method - I, on the other hand, am awful at this method and would just end up making a mess.  If you're talented like she and don't spill all the batter, you should get about 18 small muffins per batch.

Bake for 20 minutes at 350.  They'll probably need another 5 minutes or so after that, but be sure to check after 20.

One of the best things about these muffins is that they smell fantastic after only a couple of minutes in the oven.  they'll only smell better and better as time goes on.  When they're just starting to color on top, pull them out and let them cool plenty before digging in.

Be ready to need another batch very soon.  These things are good.

Girlfriend tested - fiancee approved!

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins

Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 25 minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 18 muffins

  • 1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour 
  • 3/4 cup Sugar 
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda 
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon 
  • 1/2 tsp Salt 
  • 1 egg, beaten 
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil 
  • 1/4 cup Milk 
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice 
  • 1-1.5 cups Zucchini, shredded 
  • 1/2 cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips 

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin(s) with ungreased muffin cups.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In a second bowl, combine beaten egg, oil, milk, lemon juice, and vanilla.

Grate zucchini into a small bowl.

Pour the bowl of wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir a few times.

Add zucchini and chocolate chips and mix until distributed.

Spoon batter into muffin cups 1/2 to 2/3 full, then bake 20-30 minutes until muffin tops have just begun to change color.

Cool 10-15 minutes before serving.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Easy Green Beans Almondine

This is an easy side that's perfect to pair with practically anything.  I particularly love these alongside pork or flavorful fish.  In fact, they're good enough that now and again I just make a big pile for dinner.

Fresh green beans are one of my favorite things to eat when they're in-season.  Usually you can even get decent ones out of season.  This makes canned and frozen green beans that much more clearly an abomination - they're just nothing like the real thing at all.  This recipe recaptures my favorite way to eat green beans as a kid - and today, too.

My mom made green beans more or less like this pretty often.  I was always sort of disappointed when our beans didn't have almonds in with them.  Still tasty, but some good toasted almonds really set off the beans perfectly.  Give these a try, and you may never go back.

The basic ingredients are as simple as can be.  Green beans (duh), butter, almonds, and garlic.  These get you good buttery beans and nicely toasted almonds.  The garlic is more or less a required baseline seasoning, and you can add whatever you like on top of that.

Salt and pepper is fine, or you can take these in any number of exotic directions.  Soy and ginger make a nice Asian flavor.  Thyme leads to a subtler flavor.  Personally, I really like lemon pepper.

First thing's first - the chore.  Chop or snap the ends off of all of your beans.  Somehow I considered this a treat to help out Mom with as a kid.  Why?  I'm not sure.  If you're making enough beans to feed company, try to con somebody else into helping you take care of the ends, or it might get a little tedious.

It's possible to just sautee the beans straight through, but you can risk burning them.  Instead, add the beans to a large skillet and add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water - just enough to generate some steam as it cooks off.  Put that over medium heat until the water has all cooked away.

Your beans will have turned a really bright green, as we've essentially blanched them.  Now we can start sauteeing.

Add butter and garlic to the skillet.  If you're bored, do so in a way that makes a creepy face.  I think the beans are angry.

Now that we're sauteeing, it's time to season.  Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as whatever else you find particularly tasty.  This time around, I went for onion powder and plenty of lemon pepper.  Actual onion is great in here, too -  I was out.

Once your beans have been sauteeing for a couple of minutes, push them to the outsides of the pan to make a nice well in the center.  Add a bit more butter to that well, then pour in your chopped/diced/slivered almonds. The shape doesn't matter much, it all ends up tasty.  Toast these in the center for a few minutes, then mix through and keep cooking til everything is done.  Your beans should be tender and your almonds toasted and crispy.

Serve immediately - though these do reheat quite nicely, if that becomes necessary.

Recipe: Easy Green Beans Almondine

Prep Time: 10 minutes   |   Cook Time: 15 minutes  |   Difficulty: Easy   |   Servings: 8-10


  • 2 lbs Green Beans, fresh
  • 2-3 tbsp Butter
  • 1/2 cup Almonds, sliced/slivered
  • 1-2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp Onion Powder
  • 1-2 tbsp Lemon Pepper
  • Salt and Pepper to taste


Wash beans thoroughly.  Trim or snap off ends.

Place green beans in a large skillet with 1/3 c. warm water over medium heat.  Cook over medium until water has evaporated, approximately 5 minutes.

Add minced garlic and 2 tbsp butter, mixing well.  Add seasonings and sautee 3-4 minutes.

Make a well in the center of the pan.  Add additional butter if needed, then add almonds to the well.  Toast 1-3 minutes, then mix well with beans.

Continue cooking 1-3 minutes until beans are tender and almonds well toasted.

Serve immediately.