Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fish Tacos

It's not always the easiest thing in the world to get high-quality, interesting fish here in rural Ohio.  At least, though, we can count on the grocery stores in the area to have decent whitefish, be it sole, cod, halibut, or tilapia.  White fish isn't the most exciting thing in the world, though - it's not really the sort of thing that you just cook and let speak for itself.  Instead, it needs some help on flavor.

This recipe changes a bit every time I make it, but it's always exceptionally flavorful.  The basics are always the same: whitefish coated in plenty of powerful spices, and tempered by a creamy sauce.  The fish cooks quickly in the pan and gets a bit of nice crust on the outside, but stays moist and tender in the middle.  The interplay of heat with the cool sour cream and avocado sauce keeps things in balance.  You could jazz things up by adding more ingredients, but the simplicity here is a virtue, I think.

You'll need more spices than anything else, but it's nothing you don't likely already have on hand.  Ingredients include a pound or two of fresh fish filets, some light sour cream, a couple of limes, an onion, a jalapeno pepper or two, a ripe avocado, and plenty of tortillas.  For the spice mixture, you can get creative, but I like to use paprika, brown sugar, oregano, garlic powder, salt, cumin, and red pepper.

First, dice everything that needs dicing: the onion and the jalapeno.  Please be careful not to even think about touching your eyes as you do this.  Cutting onions can make you tear up, but you really don't want anything with a Scoville rating to even indirectly touch your eyes.

Combine sour cream and lime juice in a smallish bowl.  Open up your avocado and spoon out a good amount, then add it to the sour cream.  If the avocado is ripe enough, you'll be able to mix this into a smooth sauce with just a spoon.  If it's still too tough, a few pulses of a food processor will do the trick.

Add the onion and jalapeno to the sauce, and set it aside until serving time.

Combine all of those spices.  I like to put them together on a large plate, so I can just lay the fish flat in the mixture on both sides to coat easily.

Now liberally cover the fish with the spice mixture.  Don't be shy.

Cook the finish about 3 minutes per side in a medium-hot skillet.  Cast iron is a great way to go, here.  You'll know it's done when it flakes easily with a fork.  Don't overcook it!

Time to serve!  Spread a generous dollop of the sauce onto a tortilla, and top with a portion of fish.  That's all there is to it!  Serve nice and warm, and have lime wedges available if you want a bit of extra citrus zing.  A salad and/or some Spanish rice makes a great side.

Recipe: Fish Tacos
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 15 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 8-10

  • 1-2 lbs Whitefish, filleted
  • 1/4 cup light Sour Cream
  • 2 tablespoons Lime Juice
  • 1 Yellow Onion, diced
  • 1 Jalapeno Pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 ripe Avocado
  • 8 8-inch Tortillas
  • 2 teaspoons Paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Oregano
  • 2 teaspoons Garlic Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper
  • Lime Wedges to taste


In a small bowl, combine sour cream and lime juice.  Add avocado and mix with a spoon until smooth.  Add diced jalapeno pepper and diced onion and mix again.

Combine paprika, brown sugar, oregano, garlic powder, salt, cumin, and red pepper.  Rub gently onto all sides of fish filets.

In  skillet over medium-high heat, cook fish with a bit of cooking oil approximately 3 minutes per side, or until it flakes easily with a fork.

Warm or prepare tortillas according to package directions.  Spread a generous portion of avocado mixture onto each tortilla, then top with fish.  Serve hot with lime wedges.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


There's a little mom-and-pop restaurant in town called Call of the Canyon.  Despite being found in northwest Ohio, they serve food with a great Southwestern flavor - sandwiches, salads, burritos, nachos, and the like.  It's all perfectly fresh, and the menu is quite whimsical - my favorite dish name is "Go Further West, Young Man!" for a salad with Hawaiian-themed ingredients.  

Kristin and I both have our various favorite things to order, but we always make sure to get their corn muffins with our meals.  I love cornbread in general, but these corn muffins are really fantastic.  Sweet without being too cakey, perfectly dense, and moist inside with a nice crust on the outside.  They're good.  Since I was introduced, I've been on a quest to recreate them, and I think I've finally just about got it.

This cornbread is my standard accompaniment to chili.  Kristin likes to butter it, but I don't think it needs it - I prefer to dip it right into the chili, so the sweetness of the cornbread and the spice of the chili make a really nice balance.  Try it out, and I think you'll be sold.

This is a large batch, that can easily be halved and made in a smaller pan or in muffin form.  We'll need flour, cornmeal, sugar, eggs, butter, milk, vanilla, baking powder, fresh or frozen corn, salt, and pepper.  Using both flour and cornmeal keeps the bread from being too gritty, as it would be with entirely cornmeal, but also ensures plenty of flavor.

First, soften the butter, and cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl.

Stir in the eggs and beat until mixed.

In another bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and baking powder with the happiest mixing spoon you can find.

I was briefly excited to think that the "bowl of white powder" picture for this recipe might not be so white because of the cornmeal.  Oh well.

Now, add some of the flour mixture into the large bowl with the sugar and butter, and add some of the milk. Mix until they're combined, then keep adding dry stuff and milk a bit at a time, mixing in between.  This will keep you from sloshing milk or spraying flour all over the room while you try to mix it all at once, and ensure that things are more evenly combined.  Keep going until it's all well mixed and your arm is tired.  You might consider mixing by folding with two spoons once the bowl gets pretty full.

Now for the corn itself!  I like having some real corn in my cornbread.  It keeps the texture a bit varied, adds some nice flavor, and the fresh kernels add a nice element of moisture as you bite down on them.  If you're using frozen, just dump it on in.  If you're using fresh ears, carefully remove the kernels from the cob.

Add the corn to the batter and mix thoroughly.

Although you can make this recipe into muffins, I went with a pan this time for the sake of expedience.  Grease a 9x13 or 10x14 pan well, and pour the batter right in.

Bake 45-50 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the top is cracked and golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool just a couple of minutes after removing from the oven, then serve while it's still warm.

Recipe: Cornbread
Prep Time: 10 minutes | Cook Time: 50 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 16-20

  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 cups Cornmeal
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 2/3 cup Butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups Milk
  • 4 Eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Corn Kernels (approx. 2 ears)
  • 2 tablespoons Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Pepper


Pre-heat oven to 375.  Grease a 9x13 baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together softened butter, sugar, and vanilla.

Add eggs, beat, and mix until combined.

In another large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and pepper.

Alternate adding milk and dry ingredients into wet ingredients, mixing well until thoroughly combined.

Cut kernels from corn cobs and mix into batter.

Pour batter into greased pan.  Bake 50 minutes at 375 until top is cracked and golden brown and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool 5 minutes in pan.  Serve warm.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Barbecue Chicken Salad with Candied Almonds

I really love a good main-course salad.  The trouble is, it's hard to make a salad that's really interesting without going off the deep end in terms of complexity, cost, or both.  This salad is an attempt to split the difference - it's a main-course salad composed of very classic salad ingredients, but with enough added complexity to keep it interesting without breaking the bank.

I'm obviously a lover of barbecue, so I decided to carry that love into my salad.  The salad involves both barbecue chicken breast and a tangy, barbecue-based dressing.  The tang and spice of the barbecue are offset by sweet red pepper and carrot, and candied almonds add some crunch and another lay of sweet-and-meaty flavor.

It doesn't take a lot to make a decent salad.  I just use fresh romaine for my greens, but you can feel free to spice it up as desired.  Red pepper and carrots round out the vegetable array.  We'll cook the chicken in barbecue sauce to give it some flavor.  Candy slivered almonds in just a bit of sugar and butter as a sort of stand-in for a crouton.  You can dress the salad however you like, but I really enjoyed the simple barbecue dressing I made from barbecue sauce, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil.  

The chicken is the lengthiest part of this salad's quick preparation.  Toss it into a greased baking dish, cover with some barbecue sauce, and throw it in the oven at 400 for 15-20 minutes.  Turn it halfway to make sure everything gets nice and saucy, and take care not to overcook.

Once the chicken is on its way, we can prepare the vegetables.  Rinse your romaine well and chop it down to nice, bite-sized pieces.

Give the carrots and red peppers a good dice as well, and toss in with the romaine.  The vegetable portion of the salad is now complete!

It's surprisingly easy to candy almonds - all it takes is some careful attention.  That's why we did all of the other preparation first, as you really don't want to be tempted to turn your back on the pan and chop carrots - next thing you know, you'll have a pan full of burned sugar.

To get started, put a skillet on over medium heat.  Once it's warm, add your slivered almonds and toast for a couple of minutes until they start to darken.  The best way to judge when they're getting toasted is by smell - the whole kitchen will suddenly take on a deep, toasty, nutty aroma.

Once the almonds are toasted, add just a bit of butter to the pan, then slowly add some sugar.  Start with about a tablespoon, then mix well, keeping the nuts moving constantly.  The sugar will melt clear almost immediately on making contact with the pan, and will start to burn just seconds later unless you keep everything in motion.

After a minute or so, add a second tablespoon of sugar and continue mixing.  Add a touch more sugar after another minute if you think it's necessary.

Once the sugar starts to darken on the nuts, transfer your candied almonds to cool on some wax or parchment paper.  Spread them out on the paper, otherwise they'll all be stuck together in one lumpy ball of deliciousness.  That's not exactly a fate worse than death, but makes them hard to sprinkle over salad.

At this point, your chicken is probably about done, so it's time to get things ready to plate.

While you wait for the chicken to finish up, make some dressing.  The exact ratios to use depend on your barbecue of choice.  I like my dressing quite tangy, so I used quite a bit of lime juice and vinegar.  Combine barbecue sauce, apple-cider vinegar, lime juice, and a touch of olive oil in a small bowl, and mix well with a small whisk or a fork.  The dressing will want to separate eventually, but holds together for a good couple of hours after a good mixing,

Pull out the chicken, and slice it up.  Be careful, hot barbecue sauce is akin to napalm.

Now serve!  Cover your greens with the sliced chicken breast and plenty of candied almonds.  Dress lightly, to let the flavors speak for themselves.  Each bite should have lots of complex flavor - tender chicken, crisp lettuce, sweet red pepper and carrot, crisp, sweet, meaty almonds, and just a hint of acidic tang from the dressing.

Recipe: Barbecue Chicken Salad with Candied Almonds
Prep Time: 5-10 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 8-10


  • 2 heads Romaine Lettuce, washed
  • 1 lb boneless/skinless Chicken Breast
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers
  • 2 cups Baby Carrots
  • 1/2 cup Almonds, sliced
  • 1/4 cup Barbecue Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Butter
  • 2 tbsp Sugar

  • 1/4 cup Barbecue Sauce
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 3 tbsp Lime Juice
  • 3 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a large baking pan.

Add chicken breast to baking pan and cover with barbecue sauce.  Bake 20 minutes or until chicken tests done, turning halfway.

Chop romaine lettuce down to bite-sized pieces.  Dice red pepper and carrot.  Mix all vegetables in a large salad bowl.

In a skillet over medium heat, toast slivered almonds 2-3 minutes until beginning to darken.  Add butter and sugar one tablespoon at a time.  

Mix well, keeping almonds in motion, 2-3 minutes until all sugar is added and beginning to darken.

Cool candied almonds in a single layer on wax paper.

Whisk together barbecue sauce, olive oil, lime juice, and vinegar in a small bowl until no longer separated.

When chicken is done, slice carefully.

Serve sliced chicken and candied almonds over mixed greens and vegetables, topping conservatively with dressing.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Coffee-Rubbed Beef with Brussels Sprouts

Kristin and I watch Chopped on the Food Network a lot.  It's a show that I didn't used to like all that much, but it's really grown on me since I've started cooking more seriously.  I can say with confidence that I would catastrophically lose in the first round of almost every competition, but it's fun to watch what the competitors do, and to try to figure out what I would do with the often-strange sets of ingredients.

Chopped contestants often need to figure out to do with large chunks of meat in a very short time.  This prevents clever things like slow roasting, braising, et-cetera.  Oftentimes, they rub them all over with delicious coffee-based rubs, sear them off, then finish in the oven.  I've been wanting to give this strategy a try for a while, and finally did.  It turned out quite pleasant.  I'm not sure the meal would have won Chopped for me, but it was tasty nonetheless.

It's all in the power of a few good ingredients for this recipe.  The obvious requirement is a large hunk of meat.  I used a roast of about 3 pounds, so adjust timings up and down according to difference in size.  A coffee rub is nothing without coffee, so use some that's good.  Kristin nobly sacrificed the last of her batch of good whole-bean coffee to this meal (we restocked her 2 hours later, but that's beside the point).  You'll need a bit of oil for the meat, and then a whole slew of spices.

I'm using a pair of spice blends from The Spice House in Chicago: "Milwaukee Iron," a complex, hot blend, and "Back of the Yards," a garlic-pepper blend.  You can go a lot of ways with this, but what I used breaks down to these: cumin, coriander, chile powder, dried mustard, brown sugar, oregano, paprika, and lots of garlic.  Add or subtract as your heart desires.

I'd have felt guilty serving nothing but an immense hunk of beef for dinner, so I also roasted some Brussels Sprouts.  They're not a vegetable I clamor for all the time, but can be a nice change of pace.  Another simple preparation here: all you'll need is sprouts, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Prep the sprouts first, before the beef.  That way everything should finish around the same time. Give the sprouts a good wash, then remove any dead or yellowed leaves and chop off the stem bits at the bottom.

Toss those sprouts onto a greased (or, as I prefer, parchment-lined) baking pan, and cover with liberal quantities of oil, salt, and pepper.  Throw them into the oven, and forget all about them for the next 40 minutes.  Now you're free to handle the beef with plenty of time and no risk of cross-contamination.

First, put together your spice rub.  Grind the coffee down finely, and combine with all of your spices in a large bowl.  Taste a bit on the tip of your finger and adjust as you see fit.  I found that I needed more salt than expected to combat the bitterness of the coffee.

Drizzle just enough oil over the steak to allow spices to cling, then really coat it with that spice mixture.

Now onto a pan!  Cast iron is the way to go here, as we'll transfer into a hot oven shortly.

My 3-pound cut of beef took 4-5 minutes per side to develop a nicely seared crust.  As always, adjust according to your own cut of beef and the predilections of your stove.  Once it's seared, throw it into the oven with the sprouts, which should be coming along nicely by now.

Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, turning halfway, until the center tests done for your temperature of choice.  I pulled my beef out when it read 145 and it was just right.  Your sprouts won't be quite done yet.  That's a good thing, as you are morally obligated to let the beef rest.  Only a terrible person cuts into good meat right when it's left the oven.  You're not a terrible person, are you?

Don't answer that.  Instead, throw the beef on a plate and cover with foil to rest 5-10 minutes.  Conveniently enough, your sprouts should be done and plated right around then.

Roasted brussels sprouts can look awful, but you want them to be about this charred when they're done.  Squishy, gooshy sprouts are a bad thing.  When they're nice and brown and crispy, they're done.  It should take about 40 minutes in all.

Slice the beef fairly thin and serve it up beside plenty of nice salty sprouts.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Coffee-Rubbed Beef with Brussels Sprouts
Prep Time: 5-10 Minutes | Cook Time: 40 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 8-10


  • 3 lb. Beef Roast
  • 1/4 cup finely ground Coffee
  • 2 tsp Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp Salt
  • 1 tbsp Black Pepper
  • 1 tbsp Paprika
  • 1 tbsp Chili Powder
  • 1 tbsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 tsp Cumin
  • 1 tsp Coriander
  • 1 tsp Dried Mustard
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • 1 tsp Brown Sugar
Brussels Sprouts
  • 1-2 lbs Brussels Sprouts
  • 1/4 cup Olive Oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Rinse, clean, and remove stems from Brussels Sprouts.  Place on covered baking sheet.

Drizzle sprouts with olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Place in pre-heated oven and bake 40 minutes until crispy.

Heat a cast-iron pan on the stove to medium-high heat.

Grind coffee finely.  Mix with other spices to taste.

Drizzle oil over beef, then coat well with spice mixture.

Sear beef 4-5 minutes per side on the cast-iron pan.  Finish in the oven 10 minutes per side, or until desired level of doneness.  Rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Serve beef and sprouts while hot.