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Pickled Shallots and Sardines on Blue Cheese Toast

24 Jul

This is a pictureless post, because it’s something I eat for lunch in the office and I haven’t been able to either get my wits about me enough in the morning to remember to pack the camera or get a picture that looks like more than a blurry blob with my super crappy cell phone in our not-so-well-lighted lunch room.  But the results are so delicious – and such a great way to use the pickled shallots I recently posted – that I absolutely could not resist posting it.

This lunch is super inappropriate to eat in the office.  Sardines plus blue cheese plus pickles = smelly factory.  So I always make sure I have plenty of gum in my purse for after.  Because as a huge lover of both sardines and blue cheese, once I started thinking about this dish I absolutely could not get it out of my mind.  Also, since we went on vacation a bit back, I had been holding off on grocery shopping until we’d received our first week’s CSA share – so things were looking a bit sparse in both the pantry and refrigerator.

Those lean times tend to be when I make some of my favorite dishes, and this is no exception.  So much that I made it again a few days later, when my pantry and fridge were fully stocked.  This open-faced sandwich is definitely not for the faint of heart (err … palate).  The blue cheese is pungent and rich and creamy.  The sardines are, well, sardine-y – briney and delicious.  The pickles are packed with a punch of coriander and vinegar, cutting through the richness of the cheese and fishiness of the sardines.  Balanced with a punch of mustard, this whole dish is spot on.

Pickled Shallots and Sardines on Blue Cheese Toast

4 slices whole wheat bread

1 can sardines packed in oil or water (your preference), chilled and drained, roughly chopped

1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles

1/3 cup pickled shallots and garlic, thinly sliced

2 tbs. pickling liquid from pickled shallots and garlic

1 heaping tsp. Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Lightly toast the whole wheat bread.  Top each slice with half of the blue cheese crumbles.

Transfer either to a preheated broiler or place in the microwave for about thirty seconds until cheese is bubbling and melting.

Meanwhile, whisk together the pickle juice and mustard.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Top each cheesy toast slice with sardines, sliced pickles, and a tablespoon or so of the pickle juice mixture.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Pickled Red Onions

4 Jun

Now that the weather has warmed up, I need to try and think of recipes that don’t use the oven.  Preferably, some of them will involve the grill.  These were absolutely perfect for the increasingly hot weather – light, refreshing, and bursting with flavor.

The flavors in these tacos were extremely fresh and bright.  The cilantro and lime marinated shrimp picked up the smokiness of the grill and retained their natural sweetness.  The onions packed a punch of spices and a delicious tartness from the vinegar.  The vivid green of the marinade contrasted nicely with the pinkish hue of the onions.  Both pretty and flavorful, these were an extremely easy, refreshing, and flavorful taco.

Grilled Shrimp Tacos with Pickled Red Onions

Michael Symon’s Pickled Red Onions:

Adapted from Live to Cook by Michael Symon (I <3 my signed copy!)

1 large red onion, sliced 1/4″ thick (about enough to fill a 1-quart jar semi-snugly)

Vinegar – half apple cider vinegar, half rice wine vinegar


Kosher salt

2 tsp. mustard seeds

1 tbs. crushed red pepper flakes

2 tbs. coriander seeds

2 tbs. black peppercorns

4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

2-3 bay leaves

Pack the onion slices in a 1-quart jar and cover with water to come within 1/2″ of the rim.  Pour the water out into a measuring cup.  Note the volume, then pour off half of the water.  Replace it with half apple cider vinegar and half rice wine vinegar.  For example, the total volume of water was 2 1/2 cups.  So I used 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 3/4 cup rice wine vinegar.

Pour the vinegar mixture into a nonreactive saucepan.  Add 2 tbs. sugar and 2 tbs. salt for every 3 cups of liquid.  Add the mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, garlic, and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Allow the liquid to boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Pour the hot liquid into the jar over the onions.  Stir to evenly distribute the spices.

Screw on the lids and shake a few times.  Let cool to room temperature.  Transfer to refrigerator.  Refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Cilantro-Lime Grilled Shrimp:

1 lb. shell-on jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 cups loosely packed cilantro

4 cloves garlic, peeled

1 lime, juiced

1/2 jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed

1/3 cup olive oil

Add cilantro, garlic, lime juice, and jalapeño to a food processor.  Pulse a few times to chop the cilantro and garlic.  With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil.  Add the shrimp and the cilantro mixture to a ziplock bag and marinate for thirty minutes.

Meanwhile, heat up your grill.

Thread shrimp onto skewers, making sure they have some space between them.  Brush with leftover marinade.  Add the skewers to the grill.  Depending on the heat of your grill, cook about 4-5 minutes per side, brushing with any leftover marinade as they cook, until pink and no longer translucent.


Pickled red onions, see above

Cilantro-lime grilled shrimp, see above

Soft tortilla shells, heated thirty seconds per side on the grill

Add 4-5 shrimp to each tortilla.  Top with some onions.  Fold into taco shape and devour.

Lemon Roasted Whole Bronzini

16 Apr

Zak and I decided to venture over to the West Side Market after a lovely lunch at Nate’s Deli to pick up some fresh fish and perhaps a vegetable or two.  After strolling around and checking out the options, we settled on a whole branzini, also known as bronzini, European sea bass, or Mediterranean sea bass, at Kate’s Fish.  I am always so happy to have taken a trip to the West Side Market, because we always return with a gem and have a great time shopping.

I love whole fish, first because it’s incredibly easy.  I was very intimidated the first time I bought one to cook, but now it’s my go-to choice for when I’m feeling a tad lazy but want guaranteed results.  I make sure the fishmonger has it scaled and gutted, perhaps with the fins cut off.  You basically need to follow a simple formula of rubbing with oil, seasoning, stuffing with aromatics, and then grilling, roasting, or steaming.  Another advantage is the serious price reduction versus a steak or fillet.  Finally, the flavor is excellent.  As any cook worth their salt should be well aware, bones, cartilage, and skin are more or less synonymous with flavor and moisture.  Unlike a standard fish fillet or steak, a whole fish has all three.

I prepared this lovely whole bronzini as simply as possible.  Olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemons go perfectly with fish.  The simple seasoning and high-heat roasting resulted in a moist and succulent fish that allowed the flavors of the bronzini to shine through.  I served this with some asparagus similarly prepared with a quick toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted in the oven.

Lemon Roasted Whole Bronzini

1 1 and 1/3 pound head on, whole bronzini

3-4 tbs. olive oil

2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tbs. black pepper

1 lemon, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 450º.

Make sure fish is gutted and scaled.  Cut off all fins except the tail fin.  Rub liberally, inside and out, with olive oil.  Season both sides and the body cavity with salt and pepper. Stuff most of the lemon slices in the body cavity and lay a few on top of the fish.

Transfer the fish to a glass casserole dish in which it can lay flat.

Transfer to the oven and roast 25-35 minutes, until flesh flakes easily with a fork and reaches the internal temperature of 145º.

Serve immediately with extra lemon wedges for serving.

Udon Noodle Soup with Miso-Dashi Broth

7 Apr

Do you go through food phases?  I know I certainly do.  I’ll go through a stretch where I can’t get enough of Tex-Mex or Southwestern food, switch over to string of Midwest comfort classics, and then switch gears into some Asian fare.  Clearly, I’ve been in a bit of an Asian mode recently, probably thanks to my obsessively reading novels set in Japan.  Since I just finished Kafka on the Shore, maybe I should switch to something set in the Southwest or Latin America so I can stick to my menu plan, which includes enchiladas.

It’s pretty hard to want to get out of the Asian-arena, though, after you make something as easy and delicious as this soup.  The miso and dashi base of this soup is extremely flavorful and light.  The vegetables provide a nice mix of colors and textures.  Udon noodles have a slightly chewy texture that worked really well here.

Udon Noodle Soup with Dashi Broth

1 lb. udon noodles

6 cups water

3 tsp. instant dashi

2 tbs. white miso

3 cups baby bok choy, rinsed clean

2 cups oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/2 cup enoki mushrooms

1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced

Bring water to a boil.  Add dashi and miso paste and whisk to combine.  Return to a boil and add udon noodles.  Cook 2-3 minutes until noodles are al dente.  Add  bok choy, both types of mushrooms, and carrot.  Cover and cook another 2-3 minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender.

Serve immediately.

Silken Tofu in Aromatic Broth

2 Apr

This dish is healthy, easy, fast, and pretty.  The flavors are incredibly clean and simple, but they marry together in a way that is immensely satisfying.  I found it surprisingly filling, though Zak went back for two servings (I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a testament to how delicious it is).  The mushrooms and scallions add just the right amount of texture to the silky, creamy tofu.  The umami of the dashi and mushrooms, slight sweetness of the rice wine, smokiness of the sesame oil, heat of the ginger, and bite of the scallions slightly permeate the tofu to give it a simple but satisfying flavor.  This dish is a great way to get acclimated with silken tofu, and I plan to make variations on it in the future.

If there are some ingredients on the list that you’re having a hard time finding at your local grocery store, check out any Asian markets in your area.  Not only do they stock Asian ingredients that the grocery store may not, the prices of many ingredients tend to be significantly cheaper (for example, the two kinds of mushrooms I bought for the week were at least 3 times more expensive at my local grocery store).  That said, most of the ingredients in this dish are fairly typically found at a regular grocery store, and I suggested substitutions for some of the more exotic ones.

Silken Tofu in Aromatic Broth

Adapted from, Elizabeth Chong

1 lb. package silken tofu, drained

3/4 lb. enoki mushrooms, cleaned (any mushroom would do)

2 tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 1/2 cups boiling water plus 2 tsp. instant dashi (you can also use chicken, fish, or vegetable stock if desired)

2 tbs. shaohsing rice wine (pale dry sherry can be substituted in a pinch)

3 tbs. soy sauce

1/2 tsp. sesame oil

2 tsp. Korean chile flakes (or crushed red pepper)

3 scallions, mostly white parts with some green for garnish, thinly sliced

3 tbs. canola oil

A few turns of freshly cracked black pepper

A few small pinches of ground coriander

Cut tofu into 4 even-sized squares.  Transfer each piece to a bowl for steaming.  Place an even amount of mushrooms on the bottom of each dish.  Pour about 1/2 cup of dashi broth over each piece of tofu and 1/2 tbs. of rice wine.  Place an even amount of ginger on top of each piece of tofu.

Add about 1/2″ – 1″ of water to a vessel large enough to fit the dishes and appropriate for steaming, such as a wok, stock pot, or sauce pan, and bring to a boil.

Add the bowls to the pot directly into the water and cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Steam about 13-15 minutes until heated through.

Meanwhile, add canola oil to a small pan and heat over medium-high heat until smoking.

Add soy sauce, sesame oil, chili flakes, and green onion on top of each piece of tofu in even amounts.  Carefully drizzle the smoking oil over each piece of tofu.

Season each piece of tofu with a turn or two of freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of coriander.

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