Friday, March 26, 2010

Recipe: Michelle's Caribbean Fish and Lobster Stew

I cannot begin to list the culinary phobias that my wife Michelle had when we first met and began dating. Cooking for her or dining out was a potential mine field of cringing, picking at food and complicated cooking instructions to our poor server. Straight off, seafood was out, and so were more "exotic" options like Indian, Thai and Japanese. Even in Chinese restaurants she rarely got more adventurous than chicken fingers and chow mein. Simple ingredients like tomatoes, mushrooms, chickpeas, squash, hot peppers and broccoli were deal killers.

She also had subtle and not so subtle control issues where food was concerned. She often diligently prepared each and every bite of food she would take by arranging the components just so. I watched her nearly squeal with delight one afternoon in a Montreal pizzeria where she asked our server for a side of pizza sauce with her pizza and was not only served the side of sauce, but was presented with a paint brush with which to apply it.

She also committed what I would call "sins against cuisine" and amongst the most vulgar of these was her use of a copious amount of granulated white sugar with spaghetti and sauce. That's right, place a tasty plate of spaghetti and sauce in front of her and she would take a big bag of sugar and begin pouring it on and mixing it in to her spaghetti and sauce.

Can I get an "EEEEEEEEEEEK!" here?

All the above, is what makes all that follows so profound. You see, Michelle has come around since we met. My wife has spun a 180° on her culinary heels. Gone is the former food phobe and in her place is someone who will at least try almost anything once. She relishes things she once would have run from. Shrimp and fish are now part of her preferred ingredients. Curry, something she would have never eaten in million years just a few years ago is now her de facto, indisputable favorite food in the world! Broccoli and chickpeas, something she formerly abhorred are now things she requests regularly. All because she decided to just try things a couple of times. Rather than weenie out, she thugged up and opened herself up to a world of great food! I think of that now and it makes me proud. You see, I have a 38 year old, 200+ lb. male friend who is afraid of seafood, fruit and almost all vegetables! A banana makes him gag! You could rob him with a banana instead of a gun! He says "It's a texture issue". Michelle says "thug up pusswad!".

Michelle has also taken a liking to cooking, which I should appreciate, but it scares me. For years, I've always been the cook and she did dishes and we were both happy with that. Now she's cooking more often and liking it AND she's cooking well. I fear I may soon become redundant! So, I try to stay sharp and a few steps ahead of her. Thankfully, the children take up a good deal of her time!

Below is one of her personal recipes and one of my favorites that she cooks. If you told her years ago that she would create a fish and lobster stew recipe along with ingredients like jalapenos, tomatoes, chickpeas and saffron she would have laughed in your face! LOUDLY!

This is a GREAT Caribbean-style, tomato-based fish stew that is light and delicious and sparkles with accents of citrus and cilantro. There's a little spice in there too, but nothing to be afraid of. Of course, if you'd like it spicier, you know what to do. Michelle would also like you to know that you can put in clams, shrimp, conch and any other seafoods that you may like.

SHE USED SAFFRON! SAFFRON, I tell you! I'm so proud!

Michelle's Caribbean Fish and Lobster Stew

1 lb. Mahi Mahi fillets (cut into bite size pieces) *
4 oz Lobster meat (cooked, cut into bite size pieces) **
1/4 cup Olive oil
1/2 cup Onion (chopped)
1 Tbs Jalapeno pepper (chopped fine)
3 cloves Garlic (chopped fine)
1 cup Dry white wine
1 cup Orange juice
28 oz. can Diced tomatoes (do not drain)
8 oz. can Tomato sauce
16 oz. can Chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
Small pinch of Saffron threads (soaked in 1/4 cup hot water for about 1/2 hour)
1 Tbs Orange peel (grated)
1 tsp dried Basil
1/2 tsp dried Oregano
1/4 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Pinch of Red pepper flakes
1 Tbs Sugar
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
1 Tbs Corn starch
2 Tbs fresh Cilantro (chopped)

Place a dutch oven over medium high heat. When the pan gets hot add the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion and jalapenos and cook, stirring frequently until translucent.

Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes being careful not to burn it.

Add all remaining ingredients except for the fish, lobster, cilantro and corn starch. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Carefully stir in the fish and lobster meat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and continue simmering until the fish flakes easily with fork (about 4 to 5 minutes).

Mix the cornstarch with a little water and then add to the stew slowly, mixing it in. Continue simmering for 3 minutes as the stew thickens.

Stir in 1 Tbs of the chopped cilantro and simmer for 1 more minute.

Serve hot in a bowl garnished with the remaining cilantro and paired with your favorite crusty bread.

* You may substitute your favorite firm, flaky white meat fish.
** You may substitute crab meat or chopped shrimp if you like.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Recipe: Shrimp and Codfish Saganaki

Today's world food that you can prepare in your home comes at you straight outta Greece! It is called Shrimp and Codfish Saganaki and it is based on traditional saganaki which is an appetizer of pan-seared cheese. It is named for the single-serving fry pan that it is usually both prepared and served in. In addition to the cheese, today's recipe includes shrimp, codfish and a spicy tomato-based sauce. The result is a rich and delicious seafood dish that is best enjoyed along with a good crusty bread for dipping!

For a long time now, I've been meaning to prepare my own shrimp saganaki recipe. It's been caught up in the thought storm in my mind. Often dishes like that can slip out of memory, but shrimp recipes tend to stay in my mind longer, and well the name "saganaki" tends to instill images of a strange Japanese sex act that involves restraints and lots of white face paint in my mind, so this one was especially easy to remember!

Hey baby, you up for some saganaki?

It is not a difficult recipe to prepare and if you have your ingredients pre-measured and ready, shrimp and codfish saganaki comes together really easily. In fact you can easily omit the codfish or shrimp if you like. You can also substitute mussels, clams or even lobster and get equally amazing results. This one of my new favorites and I'll be preparing it quite a bit into the future. I'm pretty sure it is going to end up in the Chop Onions, Boil Water Hall of Fame! Try it!

Shrimp and Codfish Saganaki

4 Tbs olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1/4 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
2 cups of tomatoes (chopped)
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp dill
1 shot of ouzo
1.5 lbs codfish loins (or similar white flaky fish)
1 lb. shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1 cup parsley (chopped)
1/3 cup Kalamata olives (pitted and chopped)
2 cups feta cheese (crumbled)
A loaf of your favorite crusty bread.

Preheat your oven to 425°F

Place a large oven-proof pan* over a medium-high flame.

Add the olive oil to the pan, when the oil begins to shimmer add the onions and sauté until translucent.

Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook stirring constantly for about 1 minute.

Add the tomato, oregano, dill and ouzo and stir well. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add the codfish loins until just cooked (turning once). Carefully remove the codfish and set aside.

Add the shrimp and cook for 30 seconds on each side.

Remove from heat, stir in 3/4 cup of the parsley (reserving some for a garnish) and the kalamata olives. Stir well.

Carefully reintroduce the codfish and cover it with the sauce.

Evenly top with the crumbled feta and place in the oven uncovered until almost all of the cheese melts and the sauce is hot and bubbly.

Distribute even portions in hot shallow bowls, garnished with the leftover 1/4 cup of parsley.

*I use a large cast iron fryer for this.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Recipe: Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce and Tomato-Feta Salad

Souvlaki or souvlakia is a popular Greek shiskabob-type dish that is made with a variety of meats including: pork, lamb, beef, chicken or fish. It's also a food straight out of ancient history with the earliest reference of it being attributed to the Greek poet Homer. So, that puts this great dish at least as far back as around 850 BC. That's some heavy food pedigree, friends. So when you eat this stuff, you're in good company, historically speaking, because there's a pretty good chance that quite a few of history's greatest and golden munched on some kind of souvlaki! That's all the big guns of Greek history and probably some of myth and fable. Maybe even a couple of majorly influential religious personalities have eaten souvlaki (I'm withholding the names to avoid controversy because there's enough of that these days).

Souvlaki is also a versatile dish. As mentioned above you can use a variety of meats and even some vegetables. Speaking of vegetables, in Greece it is served with a wide variety of additions and sides, so bend it anyway you like. It is also served in many different ways: Right off the skewer, in a pita or other flat bread as a sandwich, atop of some pilaf, and along with fried potatoes in a more formal presentation. In all incarnations it is really delicious and healthy (Greek cuisine is considered by many to be the healthiest in the world).

In the recipe below I've opted for a sandwich, but you can go where you like with this historical recipe. It's easier to prepare than it looks and it is sure to please.

Chicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki Sauce and Tomato-Feta Salad


3/4 cup of fresh lemon juice (there is NO substitute)
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
16 cloves garlic (chopped)
2.5 lbs boneless chicken breast (cut into 1" pieces)
Pita bread or your favorite flat bread

Tzatziki Sauce

1 cucumber (peeled, seeded and grated/shredded)
1/2 cup of Greek yogurt
1/2 cup of plain, low-fat yogurt
2 Tbs lemon juice (there is NO substitute)
1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
1/2 tsp dried dill

Tomato-Feta Salad

1 large tomato (cut into wedges)
1 medium onion (halved and then thinly sliced)
4 ozs. good quality feta cheese (crumbled)
15 Kalamata olives (pitted and sliced)
1 Tbs Extra-virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, mix together the lemon juice, oregano, olive oil, salt and garlic. Add the cubed chicken and toss together well. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes in the fridge. After the first 15 minutes, mix again to better distribute the marinade.

While the chicken marinates prepare the tzatziki sauce by combining the cucumber, Greek and plain yogurt, lemon juice, salt, garlic and dill in a medium-sized bowl and mixing it together well. Set aside.

Prepare the side salad by mixing together the tomato, onion, feta cheese and kalamata olives in a medium bowl. Drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil over it and add salt and pepper to taste.

Take the chicken and string it on skewers (you will need 4 to 6). Set your oven to "broil" and broil the chicken, moving and turning the skewers often to ensure even cooking and charring and to AVOID BURNING. Alternatively, and optimally, you can cook the meat over a charcoal fire. In either preparation, be sure the chicken is cooked through but not overcooked or it will begin to dry out!

Serve the chicken on or in the pita bread with a good slather of the tzatziki sauce. Add a small portion of the salad as a side.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Recipe: Portuguese Chourico-Style Chicken and Chip Sandwiches

Back in a place called the 1980's I used to live in a quasi-housing project. A good friend of mine who shall remain nameless for his own dignity was living-in-sin with his then not-yet-wife in an adjacent building in the same housing area. Often on the weekends, he, his not-yet-wife, my not-yet-ex-wife and I would get together for dinners and the other absurdities that bored twenty-somethings do when they are low of funds because they are products of growing up in economically depressed circumstances. Some of these things the same people might find embarrassing today. Not me though, but I'm empathetic so I blur lines.

Anyway, round about near this quasi-housing project was a small Portuguese market that served as our corner store. Milk, bread the occasional box of cereal that kind of thing. They also sold some great Portuguese food including chourico rolls, malasadas and sweetbread. One of our favorite things to get there were seasoned pork cutlets called "chourico meat". This was pork that was marinated as if it was going to be ground and made into chourico, but instead, you pan fried it, topped it with cheese parked it in a pao secos and ate it as a sandwich. Good stuff under the worse circumstances, you add a few beers and some company and you've got a party!

I haven't had those sandwiches in about 30 years! So, recently, I've been making my own chourico and a few evenings ago I decided to make "chourico meat" using some chicken breasts that I had in the fridge. The result of course was delicious! Why else would you be reading about it at this moment, right? Now, I make these things pretty spicy because that's the way I like them. You can vary the ingredients less or more so as you desire.

Just promise you won't eat a few of these, drink too much beer and switch to tequila okay? Because my buddy did that, then I ended up saving his life by stopping him from falling into a newly excavated hole for the foundation for a building that "wasn't there yesterday" if you know what I mean? Also, don't bet two crazy women that you'll French kiss another guy for sixty bucks, because chicks never pay on bets!

On to this fabulously easy yet great recipe!

Portuguese Chourico-Style Chicken and Chip Sandwiches

3 lbs of boneless chicken breasts (sliced in half horizontally into cutlets)
1 cup of red wine
1 Tbs. colorau (or regular paprika)
1 Tbs. smoked sweet paprika (or regular paprika because you are obviously paprika deficient!)
1 Tbs. coarse sea salt
6 cloves of garlic (chopped)
3 Tbs. hot crushed pepper
2 cups of white wine or chicken broth
1/4 to a 1/2 cup of chopped parsley
Homemade, frozen or restaurant-bought french fries
Your favorite sandwich rolls (sliced)

In a large bowl add the chicken, wine, colorau, smoked sweet paprika, salt, garlic and hot crushed pepper and blend together well. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours. Take out and redistribute the mix once or twice during that time.

Have your french fries ready.

Place a large pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer add the chicken 2-3 cutlets at a time and cook turning once until just done. Remove and place in a covered bowl to keep warm while cooking the rest of the cutlets.

Continue cooking all the cutlets in the same manner, placing them in the covered bowl until they are done.

Raise the heat and take any remaining marinade and pour it into the pan with the white wine or chicken broth and deglaze the pan.

Reduce the resulting sauce until thick.

Lower the heat and add all the chicken and parsley to the pan with the sauce. Coat well until warm enough for serving.

Remove from heat. Make sandwiches by filling the sliced rolls with the chicken and a good amount of the french fries.

Serve immediately.