Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shrimp and catfish cakes

Here's something you may not have thought of. I started making shrimp and catfish cakes some years ago. I've fried them, baked them, steamed them...and enjoyed the heck out of them.
My first taste of catfish was while on a concert tour nearly 40 years ago. We were in some city along the Mississippi and I had them at a restaurant. Those catfish were right from the big M River and tasted like muddy water. That doesn't sound very appetizing but I've never found another way to describe that taste. If you ever swam in a river as a kid maybe you can divine what I mean.

These days I can find only farmed cats. They are relatively tasteless. The shrimp bring their own sweetness and flavor, especially if you use wild-caught ones.

I'm excited to announce that I now have a good digital camera. I'm still in the learning curve, but I am pumped.

Shrimp and catfish cakes (4 cakes)
10 oz. catfish filet
10 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp fresh fennel fronds, chopped (or fresh dill)
2 tbsp parsley, chopped (or cilantro)
unseasoned bread crumbs, about 1/3 cup
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp wasabi powder
1 scallion, finely chopped (both white and green parts)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
4 lemon wedges

Cut the catfish and shrimp into 1” pieces and place in a food processor. Pulse until well mixed but not entirely pureed.

Put the fish into a large bowl. Add fennel (or dill), parsley (or cilantro), 2 tbsp of the bread crumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, egg, wasabi powder, scallion, salt and pepper, and 1 tbsp olive oil. Mix thoroughly. Microwave 1 tsp of the mix for 20 seconds and taste. Adjust seasonings as necessary.

Form the mixture into 4 cakes. Coat both sides with more bread crumbs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from the fridge and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

In a large sauté pan, heat the other 2 tbsp olive oil and the butter over medium high heat. Add the burgers and cook for 3 minutes on the first side. Turn them over and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes until cooked through.

Serve on buns if you wish, with some lettuce. Or serve on plates without buns. Sprinkle with lemon juice.
For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Giant meatballs, risotto-style orzo with butterbeans, and braised radishes

This will be one of my most ambitious postings. Pazienza.

I dreamed this up over the course of several days. I got a 2-pound tube of Jimmy Dean sausage from the manager’s specials bin at Safeway a few weeks ago and cut it into 2 pieces and froze it. While re-reading a recipe from the NY Times magazine from 2 weeks ago for Chris Cosentino’s malfatti, I found a way to use his concept for great big meatballs.

The picture is, of necessity, a collage comprising photos of orzo, a meatball, and braised radishes. For the radishes I must thank Lydia Bastianich. The recipe is hers. I include it here because this entrée is a one-dish meal for 4 and you’ll want everything if you want to try it.

The method of making risotto-style orzo is pretty standard, except for the (inspired I would say) addition of the butterbeans.

I stake my claim when it comes to the meatballs. A person could certainly make small meatballs, but this was just whimsical enough to amuse yours truly.

Giant meatballs, orzo with butterbeans, and braised radishes
For the meatballs:
1 lb sausage, any kind, casing removed
3 oz. crusty bread, cubed
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp butter
½ onion, fine chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tbsp flour
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Put the bread cubes into a food processor and only slightly pulse until roughly chopped.

Put the bread in a large bowl and soak it in the cream.

Melt the butter in a little olive oil and sauté the garlic and onion until soft, 3-4 minutes.

Add the sausage and egg yolks to the bowl with the bread and combine.

Add the breadcrumbs and flour and mix in.

Add salt and pepper.

Put 1 tsp of the mixture into the microwave for 30 seconds and taste for seasonings. If necessary, spice it up with pinches of dried oregano, thyme, and/or ground fennel seed; or, of course, more salt and pepper.

Form the remaining sausage mixture into 4 large balls.

Line a shallow baking pan with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.

Bake the meatballs uncovered until they reach an internal temperature of 165°. Mine took about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, tent with foil, and allow to rest 5-10 minutes.

For the orzo:
1 cup orzo pasta
½ onion, very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock
1 14.5 oz can of butter beans
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup white wine
lemon pepper
finely chopped scallion greens or parsley
1 lemon, cut into wedges

Heat the chicken stock to a simmer and add ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp lemon pepper or white pepper.

Heat 1 tbsp of the butter and 1 tbsp oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, reduce heat to medium and sauté until softened but not colored, 4-5 minutes.

Add the orzo and stir to coat. Continue to sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to be absorbed.

Add enough chicken stock to just cover the orzo. Simmer and stir often. When most of the stock has been absorbed add another ½ cup. Stir occasionally. Repeat until the orzo is tender/al dente. It will take 10-12 minutes.

Drain and rinse the butter beans. Add to the orzo along with the other tbsp of butter and heat through.

For the radishes:
1 bunch organic radishes with their greens.*
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Cover the radishes with water in your sink. Gently shake them under the water. Remove and empty the sink, rinsing any grit down the drain. Repeat this 2 more times.

Melt the butter and olive oil over medium high heat in a sauté pan.

If any of the radishes are large, cut them almost in half from bottom to top. Don’t cut all the way through because you want the greens intact.

Add the radishes to the sauté pan and toss them until the greens start to wilt.

Add the stock, salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a simmer.

Cover the pan and braise the radishes at a bare simmer until they are softened but still with a little crunch, about 6-8 minutes.

To assemble this dish, ladle orzo into wide heated bowls. Top each portion with 1 meatball. Place a few radishes next to each meatball and drape the greens over it. Scatter scallions or parsley over everything, sprinkle with a little lemon juice (to taste), and drizzle with a bit of olive oil if you wish. Serve.

*In my experience, the green tops of non-organic radishes don’t cut the mustard. Organic ones are much more appropriate to this recipe. The rinsing is essential. Radishes are always dirty when you buy them.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bánh mì

The Vietnamese sandwich known as bánh mì is a highly individual entity. Practically anything can go into it. However, if you plan to make it with velveeta and bologna I suggest you call it something else. With leftover roast pork on hand and some slaw and cilantro it was easy for us to put together our own version.

Our wonderful neighborhood bakery, Denver Bread Company, is on Peter’s daily walk route and be brought home a baguette, the traditional bread for this sandwich. It was a long baguette and sufficed to make sandwiches for lunch two days in a row. Today’s version was the best and is worth sharing.

In order to save time and dish washing, I microwaved the eggs. Put them in two separate containers that you’ve lubricated with cooking spray. Start with 40 seconds, stir the eggs and rotate the dishes. Continue with 20 seconds, repeat the stir and turn, and finish with 15-second burst until the eggs are set.

Bánh mì
1 baguette, cut into 2 eight-inch sections
2 eggs, scrambled
Chinese 5-spice powder
leftover pork, chicken, shrimp or beef, sliced to an appropriate size
chicken broth
soy sauce
fish sauce
Chinese cooking wine

Slice the bread in half lengthwise. If you wish (as we do), tear out some of the soft insides to reduce the amount of starch.

Season the eggs with 5-spice powder and cook in a non-stick pan or in the microwave as above.

Put about ¼ cup of broth in a skillet and add about 1 tbsp each of soy, fish sauce and vinegar. Add the pork slices and heat gently turning once.

Assemble the sandwiches: start with scrambled egg; top that with the meat; then add slaw; lay several stalks of cilantro over the slaw; fasten with a toothpick or two to hold it all together.


For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Baked beans

I cooked like fiend today, albeit in a fairly short amount of time for prep. I tried a Tyler Florence recipe for pernil, which, as far as I know, is Puerto Rican inspired. It’s a good recipe, although the “paste” he asks you to smear all over a pork shoulder roast turner out to be too runny, due to the wateriness of the considerable quantity of cilantro that went into it.

My remedy was to put the sauce and the roast into a freezer bag and marinate it for several hours. You can find the pernil recipe at

The other two dishes today were creamed spinach (see my post of 12/26/08) which was varied by the use of less spinach and the addition of a head of rainbow chard. It’s a great combination.
Baked beans is the item of the day. I wouldn’t be posting this except for the fact that I had to assert myself with the online recipe I found. It sounded great, but as I started working on it I found some adjustments were needed.

Whoever I poached this recipe from used something he/she called “magic dust,” a mix of dried herbs and spices. Not wanting to go to all the trouble of making a batch of it, I just added various amounts of the specified ingredients. Hence, there is quite a lengthy list of stuff. Use whatever you have on hand. I was out of garlic powder for example and substituted onion powder.

After the beans got tender (about 2 1/2 hours) and mixed with everything else I put it in the oven. Not for the designated hour and a half, but for 3 more hours

The biggest problem for me was the quantity of brown sugar called for: 1 full cup. We prefer our beans less sweet, but the citrus and vinegar gave it a rather sour tartness. In the end I put in ½ cup brown sugar which did the trick.

So there you have it. In the end it’s well worth trying when you have a hankering for some of the musical fruit.

Baked beans
1 pound dried great northern beans
2 smoked pork hocks
4 cups chicken or beef stock
½ of a medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups ketchup
¼ cup dark molasses
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover with salted water by 2 to 3 inches. Soak the beans overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans. Return the beans to the saucepan and cover with fresh water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 2 to 2 ½ hours or until the beans are tender but not bursting open.

While the beans are cooking: place the hocks in a saucepan and cover with chicken or beef stock. Simmer covered for a long time. Drain and cool the hocks, saving the liquid, and then remove and reserve whatever small amount of meat you can find on them.

Saute the onion in a bit of olive oil for 3-4 minutes, just to soften, not to color, adding the garlic after 2 minutes. Place them in a large bowl and allow to cool slightly.

Add all the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir together. When the beans are ready, drain them and allow them to cool. Add the beans to the bowl and stir it all together.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the bean mixture in a large baking dish, add the hock broth, and bake for hours, until the liquid thickens. Allow to rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


There are, of course, dozens of ways to make guacamole. This one is my way, and includes all the things I prefer. I call for pepper and used some lemon pepper I bought a couple of weeks ago. If you don't have it, just use black pepper.

Any hot sauce will do, but be sure to be cautious at first. Same thing with the serrano pepper. If you want less heat, seed both halves. Serranos aren't fierce though.

The problem I have with buying avocados is finding ripe ones if you have a sudden hankering for them. But I got lucky at Sunflower Market and Safeway and found 2 very small ones and one regular size. You certainly can double or triple the recipe and adjust all the additions accordingly.

We are cobbling together a lunch today of one grilled cheese sandwich (which we will cut in half), some guacamole with homemade chips Peter baked yesterday, using the last of some corn tortillas we had, and of course some fruit.

2 Hass avocados
¼ cup onion, very finely diced
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
juice of 1 lime
hot sauce
1 serrano pepper, ½ diced with seeds, ½ without
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
cherry or grape tomatoes, a few quartered
salt and pepper

Mash the avocados with the lime juice. Add in onion, garlic, Serrano, cilantro, tomatoes, salt and pepper and hot sauce (to taste) and stir together. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve with store-bought or homemade tortilla chips.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sloppy José

In the manager's specials bin this morning I found a 12 oz. package of thin-sliced round steak. It would be suitable for Milanesa (pounded, dredged, egged, crumbed and fried meat), but I had in mind a savory beef mince.

I had no onion and substituted scallions. My larder perpetually has Mexican oregano, cumin, and red pepper flakes in it. We were out of garlic and I used some onion powder. I think garlic would be better.

All in all this tasted terrific. You could serve this as tacos (as in the picture). We made flour tortilla wraps with it.

Sloppy José
12 oz beef strips, chopped in food processor
1 tbsp olive oil
3 scallions, chopped (use all of them)
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp red pepper flakes
¼ cup chicken broth
Swiss cheese, or other cheese

Put the beef in a food processor and pulse 5-6 times until you achieve a rough chop. Don't grind it up until it's like burger beef. Leave some significant texture to it.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add scallions and garlic. Cook 1 minute, stirring often.

Add beef. Brown thoroughly until most of the liquid is gone.

Add oregano, cumin, and red pepper. Fry for 1 minute or until fragrant.

Add broth. Cook until liquid is gone. Remove from heat.

Serve as tortilla rollups with lettuce and Swiss cheese.

For a free excerpt of my book, “A Year of Food,” in which I opine, report, cook, muse and philosophize about everything that passed my lips for an entire year, write to me at:

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sautéed lobster with mushrooms and ginger, braised Chinese broccoli

If there ever was a recipe that is a keeper, this is one of them. We nearly wet ourselves over it.

A Wednesday New York Times food section a couple of weeks ago apprised us of the price drop for lobster and offered up some recipes, one of which we tried today. It’s an Asian-inspired stir fry and is magnificent. Since it’s not a recipe you’ll easily have access to (unless you get the Times every day), I’ll include it here along with my version of braised Chinese broccoli, our side dish with the lobster.

Sorry, no picture today.

Sautéed lobster with mushrooms and ginger
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, pressed or minced
3 oz. enoki mushrooms
4 medium dried shiitake mushrooms
2 scallions, white and light green parts
1 1-1/2 lb lobster, steamed 10 minutes, meat removed
¼ cup chicken stock
1 1-1/2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice wint vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
1/8 cup chopped cilantro
juice of ½ lime
cooked rice for serving (preferably basmati)

Reconstitute the dried mushrooms by soaking in hot tap water for 20-30 minutes. Remove the stems and discard and slice the mushrooms at about 1/4”.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in both mushrooms and the scallions and cook, tossing occasionally, until soft and golden, about 4 minutes.

Stir in lobster, stock, soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil. Cook until most of liquid has evaporated, 2-3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in cilantro, sprinkle with lime juice and serve with the rice in hot bowls.

Braised Chinese broccoli
6 good-sized stalks of Chinese broccoli (gai lan)
1 lge garlic clove, pressed or finely minced
splash each of soy sauce, fish sauce, Chinese cooking wine
¼ cup chicken stock
1 tbsp vegetable oil
lemon pepper or regular black pepper

Wash the broccoli and drain on paper towels. With a sharp knife trim about an inch off the bottoms and then slice through the thick parts of the stems without separating them from the leaves.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds stirring constantly so it does not burn.

Add the broccoli to the pan and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, tossing occasionally with a pair of tongs.

Add soy, fish sauce, wine, stock and pepper. Cover and cook for 5-6 minutes, turning occasionally.

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