Grilled Sea Bass with Warm Chickpea & Chorizo Salad

This dish was inspired by a dinner I had at The Sugar Mill Restaurant at Little Dix Bay. First off, if you are looking for a fantastic place to vacation in the Caribbean, the island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands is spectacular. Remote, full of culture, and not a lot of tourists, this island is the perfect getaway. The Sugar Mill is the nicest restaurant in the resort and I had a dish that was similar to this. The best thing about recreating this was it took about 15 minutes to make. Everything turned out so elegant, flavorful and a reminder of such a great trip. Between the richness of the fish, the smokiness from the cumin and chorizo, and the freshness of the salad, you really get a lot out of this one plate of food in such a short amount of cooking time. I wrote this recipe for two, as I think this is the perfect date night menu. Guys out there, this would definitely impress your lady. It would also be great for a large dinner party, just multiply as needed.

Grilled Sea Bass with Warm Chickpea & Chorizo Salad
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 2

3.5 oz chorizo (uncooked, found near the Italian sausages and bratwurst), chopped
1 shallot, chopped
15 oz. can of chickpeas, also called garbanzo, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or any white vinegar you have
salt & pepper
2 fillets of sea bass, or any other firm, white fish
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cups salad greens of your choice, I like baby mixed greens or arugula
2 tablespoons of your favorite vinaigrette or make your own using the recipe in this post
fresh lemon juice and olive oil to garnish

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.

Place a saute pan over medium heat on the stove. Once hot, add the chorizo and cook until just starting to brown, breaking up into pieces while cooking, about 5 minutes. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the chickpeas and cook with the chorizo and beans until hot and just starting to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and cook just until it disappears, scraping the pan and combining the ingredients. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Meanwhile, season the fish on both sides generously with the cumin, salt, and pepper. Grill for 10 to 15 minutes, turning over once. Cooking time may very depending on thickness. If the fish is firm in the center, it is done.

Combine the greens in a bowl with the vinaigrette and toss lightly. To serve, place a heaping spoonful of the chickpea and chorizo mixture on the plate. Place the fish fillet on top, then place some of the greens on top of the fish. Spritz the lemon juice on top and around the plate, repeat with a little olive oil. Serve immediately.



Lasagna with Turkey Bolognese & Fresh Mozzarella

Everyone has a lasagna recipe. They are all about the same, but this one has a couple of elements that make it special. This is exactly the kind of dish I love since it has everything that I would want in a meal. Pasta, Tomato Sauce, and Cheese. What makes my lasagna different is that I use some wine with the tomato sauce, ground turkey to lighten it up a bit, and fresh mozzarella. The fresh cheese is really what I think takes this lasagna to a new level. I make this quite a bit and it is fantastic the next day and feeds a crowd perfectly. I don't like too much sauce with my lasagna as I like the top noodles to get a little crispy, so you might want to make some extra and you can always freeze whatever you don't use. Whether just for one to eat over a week's time or a dinner for guests, this lasagna never disappoints and I guarantee you will be making it over and over again.

Lasagna with Turkey Bolognese & Fresh Mozzarella
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 6-8

For the sauce:
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lb ground turkey or beef
2 big glugs of dry white wine
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or two if you like it spicy
1 tablespoon tomato paste
28 oz crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar

For the ricotta:
16 oz part skim ricotta cheese
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste

1 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced thin and dried on paper towels to remove any excess moisture
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 package of lasagna noodles, cooked to the package directions or use no-boil noodles

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the turkey and combine with the onions and garlic, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon. Brown the meat until cooked through. Add the wine to the pan and cook until it has mostly evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste, the oregano, red pepper and tomato paste. Cook for a minute or so until everything is combined. Add the crushed tomatoes and the sugar, bring to a boil, then lower to medium-low heat and simmer until thickened. About 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Combine all the ingredients for the ricotta mixture in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a lasagna pan well with oil or Pam.

To assemble, start with a layer of pasta sheets, making sure there are no holes. I usually do three across and then one the opposite direction at the far end. Then spread one third of the ricotta mixture on the noodles. Top with one third of the mozzarella, then layer on one third of the sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Repeat. Noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, sauce, parm.

Then top with one more layer of noodles. But then layer in this order: ricotta, sauce, mozzarella, then sprinkle very generously with the remaining parmesan.

Bake for 45 minutes until it is bubbling and melted all the way through.



Quick Vietnamese Noodle Soup with Beef

This soup has all the flavors that I love. Richness from the stock and soy, heat from the chili sauce, tartness from the lime, and noodles. I know noodles are not a flavor, but in my book they are the best thing on the planet. I found myself alone for the night and still wanted to make a great dinner. This soup was perfect as it took only 20 minutes to make and was great for leftovers. Best thing is that it is light, refreshing, and filling, which is not a combination you can find often. The recipe came from the March issue of Food & Wine which featured recipes that chefs make for themselves to keep slim. Rocco DiSpirito was the author of this and he really knows how to deliver delicious food with a light calorie count. As written by him this is only 160 calories per serving. I could not find the special noodle that he has listed. Although, I called around to some natural food stores, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods and you may be able to find them at one of those in the refrigerated foods aisle. They are known as "Miracle Noodle" for their very low calorie count and are made of tofu or sweet potato. I substituted what I like best, which has more calories. But, I did not feel one ounce of guilt since the calorie count was still very, very low.

Quick Vietnamese Noodle Soup with Beef
Rocco DiSpirito, Food & Wine Magazine, March 2011
serves 4

3 cups chicken stock (I used beef stock)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon agave syrup (you can use honey also)
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Two 8-oz packages shirataki noodles, rinsed and drained (I used Udon noodles, use any noodle and adjust cook time as necessary)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving
Salt and pepper
1/2 lb. trimmed beef tenderloin, very thinly sliced across the grain
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped basil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped scallion
1 cup bean sprouts
Sriracha or other garlic-chili sauce for serving

1. In a large saucepan, combine the chicken stock with the water, agave syrup, grated ginger and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and simmer over low heat for 2 minutes. Add the lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

2. Using tongs, transfer the noodles to bowls. Add the beef to the noodles and ladle the hot broth on top. Drizzle with the sesame oil and top with the basil, cilantro, scallions and bean sprouts. Serve with lime wedges and chili sauce.

Note: If storing for leftovers, you can drop the meat into your leftover hot broth. Then just reheat when ready to eat. Serve topping with the oil, herbs, and bean sprouts, just like above.



Fiesta Part 2: Pork Tacos with Honey Lime Slaw and Peanuts

This fiesta just keeps getting better and better. As if the bacon guacamole and homemade salsa verde weren't enough, the pork tacos were juicy, flavorful, and all around amazing. I was inspired to make these after a great date night with a friend at Mercadito in the city. This small plate concept Mexican restaurant has a great energy, amazing food, and one of the best desserts I have ever had. Something they call torrejas de bolillo, which is a creme anglais soaked bread with carmel and vanilla ice cream. I will be trying to make this melt in your mouth dessert soon. When trying to replicate some of the flavors in the pork tacos we had, I wanted to simplify the cooking, but keep all the flavor. Mercadito slow braises a pork shoulder for hours, which if you have the time I would try sometime. The rub that I came up could be used on chicken or beef as well. These tacos have a great mouth watering savoriness from the pork, a sweetness from the slaw, and a great unexpected crunch from the peanuts. I served with roasted spaghetti squash and the sauces from Fiesta Part 1. To stretch this meal out I made pork quesadillas the next day for lunch with the leftover meat and tortillas.

Pork Tacos with Honey Lime Slaw and Peanuts
Forks & Amusement 2011
serves 4

For the Pork:
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper, chili powder, chipotle chili powder, and cumin
3 teaspoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced and smashed with the back of your knife to make a paste
1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin (could use 1 whole or 2 small)

For the Slaw:
2 tablespoons light sour cream or nonfat Greek yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons honey
juice of one lime
1 handful of cilantro, chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
1/2 head of cabbage, thinly sliced

For serving:
1/2 cup crushed peanuts
tortillas of your choice heated according to package instructions

Combine all the seasonings for the pork in a small bowl and stir to combine well. Rub seasoning all over the tenderloin, cover and refrigerate at least for 1 hour and up to overnight.

Preheat grill or grill pan on stove to medium-high heat. Grill tenderloin for 15-20 minutes (depending on thickness), turning over once until cooked through. Let rest for 5 minutes with a foil tent cover. Cut into 1/2 inch sized cubes and toss in any remaining juices from cutting board.

Meanwhile, combine the sour cream, salt, pepper, honey, lime, cilantro, and scallion in a large bowl. Mix to combine. Add the cabbage and toss to coat. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

To assemble: Place two tortillas on each plate. Fill with some of the meat, top with a little slaw, and sprinkle with the peanuts. Serve immediately.



Guacamole Trio & Tomatillo Salsa

Trio of Guacamole
Tomatillo Salsa

Mexican food makes everyone happy, everyone. Whether making a dinner reservation at the local taqueria or grilling up some fajitas for the familia, the joy of eating Mexican always makes people smile. The beautiful thing is that it is so accessible and the choices are getting better. I took my first trip to my local Mexican grocer. You know the place. It's down the street, has some signs in Spanish with words like mercado and carniceria in florescent colors hanging in the window. I had always wanted to see if this grocer kept the perfect ingredients to your favorite South of the border dishes. Guess what? It does. Homemade tortillas, quality cuts of meat ready for tacos, fresh produce, and a selection of dried chilis that wold make Bobby Flay drool. I cooked up a huge Mexican feast last night that I have to split into two posts, so look for Part 2 next week. We are going to start with some snacks. I made this tomatillo salsa based on the recipe I was given from the chef of the amazing villa I stayed in recently with my friends, Villa Balboa. It was not quite as great as the original, but pretty darn close. This trio of guacamole was so simple, but by adding some fruit and bacon (yes, bacon) to an original recipe, you give yourself some delicious options. 

Guacamole Trio
Forks & Amusement 2011
makes 3 cups

6-8 ripe avocados, halved, core removed, scooped into large bowl
juice of 2 limes
1 large handful of cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
green Tabasco sauce to taste 
1/4 cup chopped pineapple, mango, or strawberries
3 slices of good quality bacon cooked, cooled, and broken into small pieces

Mash avocados in bowl and add the lime juice, cilantro, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Mix to combine. 

Divide the guacamole into thirds and separate into serving bowls. In one bowl add the fruit, mix to combine and top with some additional fruit to garnish. In another bowl add the bacon, mix to combine and top with a few bacon pieces to garnish. Add a bit of cilantro to garnish the plain guacamole. Serve with tortilla chips. 

Tomatillo Salsa
Forks & Amusement 2011
makes 5 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
12 tomatillos, husks removed, roughly chopped
2 dried arbol chilis (any dried chili will do, but watch the heat!)
2 jalapeno peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped (keep the seeds if you like it spicy)
2 tomatoes, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
1 handful of cilantro
juice of 2 limes

Place a large skillet or pot over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the onion and cook just until starting to soften. Add in the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatillos, chilis, jalapenos, and tomatoes to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. To cool faster, spread on a baking sheet and place in the freezer or fridge until just cooled. 

Place the cooked vegetables, cilantro, and lime juice in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve with tortilla chips, top grilled steak, chicken, or fish, use as a dipping sauce for tacos or quesadillas, or use as a condiment for whatever you like! 



Shrimp and Chorizo Paella

As I said in my last post, I am slightly obsessed with saffron right now. Which is great for my mouth, not so great for my wallet. Saffron is a spice found in the spice aisle of most markets, costs about $16 for a teaspoon, and I can't get enough of it. When I came across this new recipe from Rocco DiSpirito's new book, Now Eat This, I had to try it out. This book is full of recipes that are all under 350 calories. Comfort food favorites like mac 'n cheese, spaghetti carbonara, and chocolate chip cookies. The tricks that he teaches in the book to cut calories and fat are similar to what I try to do on this blog and the best part is he uses real, wholesome ingredients to do it. This paella does not deviate too far from the original and uses quite a bit of ingredients that you already have in your home. I used defrosted frozen shrimp, added a few extra ingredients, and settled into this super flavorful dish feeling great about the 350 calorie count.

Shrimp & Chorizo Paella
Adapted From: Now Eat This, Rocco DiSpirito 2010
serves 4

2 oz. chorizo, halved lengthwise and sliced into 1/4 in. thick half-moons (look for this near the Italian sausage and bratwurst in your market, you could also sub any sausage that you like)
1 onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves
splash of vinegar or dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 3/4 cups low fat, low sodium chicken stock
optional: crushed red pepper to taste
1 - 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
8 oz. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup frozen peas
chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley for serving

1. Heat a dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat. When the pot is hot, add the chorizo and cook until the fat begins to render, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and coat with the chorizo, cook until onions just begin to become translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute, stirring often, until it is fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add in the rice, stir and toast, coating with the ingredients for about 1 minute. Then add the saffron, stock, and red pepper if using. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat  and cook at a very gentle simmer for about 30 minutes.

2. Stir in the diced tomatoes with their juices. Cover the pot, and continue to cook for another 25 minutes.

3. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper to taste, and stir the shrimp and frozen peas into the mixture. Cover, and continue cook until the shrimp are cooked through and the rice is tender, about 10 minutes.

4. Allow the paella to rest about 5 minutes, covered. Then fluff the rice with a fork, and serve sprinkled with the parsley.

Note: Taste the mixture as it may need more salt and pepper depending on the saltiness of your stock.



Provencal Vegetable Soup

Few things make me as happy as being awakened by the geese gawking while flying over my roof. Although this annoying sound will haunt me until Fall, hearing this so soon into March means that Spring is arriving. And soon. Temperatures are still quite chilly, but I know it is only a matter of days (wishful thinking) when I can trade in my wool coat for a light sweater. Not only will my wardrobe change, but my cooking will as well. This recipe is a start to that change. Although it is hot soup, it is something you picture eating on a terrace in the South of France, just as the temperatures start to climb. It is light, with a delicious tomato pesto stirred in called Pistou made from tomato paste, basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese. The Pistou would also be great tossed into pasta or used as a topping for a crostini. That is if you like garlic, which I worship. The soup has a ton of different flavors and a savory richness from the saffron in the broth that soaks into all the vegetables and pasta. So cheers to warmer weather, spring cooking, and those warmer weather seeking geese.

Provencal Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Barefoot In Paris, Ina Garten, 2004
serves 6 to 8

2 tablespoons good olive oil
2 cups chopped onions (2 onions)
2 cups leeks, white and green parts (2 to 4 leeks)
3 cups 1/2 inch diced unpeeled boiling potatoes (1 lb)
3 cups 1/2 inch diced carrots (1 lb)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
optional: 1 teaspoon crushed black pepper
3 quarts chicken stock
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 pound haricots vert (thin green beans, look for fresh or frozen; if cannot find use regular green beans), end removed and cut in half
4 ounces spaghetti, broken into pieces
optional: 1 diced roasted chicken breast (I use the store bought rotisserie chickens)
1 cup Pistou (recipe follows)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot, add the onion, and saute over low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the leeks, potatoes, carrots, salt, pepper and red pepper if using. Saute over medium heat for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock and saffron, bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Add the haricots verts, spaghetti and chicken if using, bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes.

To serve, whisk 1/4 cup of the pistou into the hot soup, then season to taste. Depending on the saltiness of your chicken stock, you may need to add up to another tablespoon of salt. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and more pistou.

To make in advance: cook the soup but don't add the haricots verts, pasta or pistou. When you are ready to serve, add the haricots and pasta, simmer for 15 minutes, then serve with the pistou.

makes 1 cup

4 large garlic cloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
24 large basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup good olive oil

Place the garlic, tomato paste, basil and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor (a blender would work too) and puree. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil down the feeding tube to make a paste. Pack into a container, pour a film of olive oil on the top, close the lid. Refrigerate until ready to use for up to a few days or freeze for up to 6 months.

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