Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mary Cooks: Shrimp Cakes with Wasabi Tartar Sauce

Last night's dinner included a potato rosti that yielded five servings. For tonight's dinner, I was looking for something that would pair well with that leftover potato. And where I come from, there are few things that go better with fried potato than fried fish. Earlier today over my morning coffee, I found a recipe for shrimp cakes on the Foodista blog and knew it was dinner.

A quick review of the required ingredients without also a quick review of what we had on hand led me to believe that this meal could be made quickly and easily with only the acquisition of a little panko and a little mayo. As my counterpart can attest, any time I claim that we already have something in the pantry, there is about a 65% chance that I will be dead wrong. So tonight's cooking adventure was an exercise in quick thinking and substitution. And it was much more typical of my time in the kitchen as I stumbled around the recipe, arms flailing, wondering how on earth it would all come together.

At least some of what I will need for tonight's dinner

But, come together it did, and it was pretty tasty.

For the shrimp cakes, you will need 1 1/2 pounds of Oregon pink shrimp. And here is where the substitutions begin. We always have shrimp in the freezer. Always. And today was no exception. We did not have Oregon pink shrimp, but I thought we would have a close proximity. We did not. Oregon pink shrimp are those tiny little guys people like to use in shrimp salad. The shrimp I had on hand were jumbo tiger shrimp just short of actual prawn. Undaunted, I pulled five of them out to thaw in a bowl of lukewarm water while I assembled the rest of my ingredients for what I reckoned would be about a half batch:

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs - I used panko
2 celery stalks - even though I was making a half batch, I used the full amount of celery
1/4 white onion
1 small green pepper - I used a serrano pepper, it being both small and green
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp Tabasco - which we did not have on hand, which is shocking. I used Cholula Mexican-style hot sauce
1 egg
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce - which we also did not have on hand, so I used Picka Peppa sauce

I used a food processor to mince the veg and blend it with the spices. Then in a large bowl, I combined this with the egg and the panko.  At a loss for what to do with those enormous shrimp, I coarsely ground them in the food processor as well by pulsing them quickly about 10 times. I added this to the rest of the ingredients and let it rest while I made the tartar sauce.

Shrimp cake mix - it doesn't look like anything is missing....

For the sauce you will need:

1/2 cup sour cream - I used the good crema Mexicana
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/5 Tbsp ground ginger
1 glove garlic, pressed
1/2 Tbsp white vermouth - this I knew we did not have. I added a splash of flat champagne instead
1/2 Tbsp seasame oil
1/2 tsp lime zest - I used lemon
1/2 Tbsp lime juice - I used lemon here too
1 tsp wasabi paste - I used wasabi powder

I mixed everything together and set aside in the fridge to chill while I cooked my shrimp cakes.

Wasabi tartar sauce

My mix was something close to a crab cake mix. I got about five patties out of it but noticed that they did not seem to stick together as well as they should and was feeling as if the recipe had left out some key ingredient. I patted some more panko on them before frying them up. 

Shrimp cakes ready for the skillet

I cooked them in a skillet in a generous amount of grape seed oil, allowing about four minutes per side as the recipe instructed, and let them cool on a paper towel-lined plate. I reheated a wedge of rosti in the same skillet.

As I was plating up, I realized that they key ingredient was probably something like mayo, and that I had forgotten it. Sure enough, a good tablespoon of mayo was included in the recipe but not in my little cakes.

Cooking on the stovetop

Even so, my little shrimp cakes were tender and delicious. While the panko really does need the mayo to keep the cakes together, it forms a nice crust on the outside when fried. The cakes were spicy and slightly sweet with a good shrimpy flavor. The tartar sauce was actually a bit busy with a lot of different flavors but nothing really pulling it all together. It was better with these cakes than a more traditional tartar sauce, though, and the creamy texture was nice against the fried cakes.

Even with the mishaps I encountered, I still feel this was a success. I also feel as if I'm learning more about cooking. A lot of it feels like timing. Preparing this meal had me running around the kitchen a lot while last night's roasted poussin did not. While that was the more elegant dish, I think it might actually have been easier at least in part because of the timing. A good plan also helps. I'm not sure I really had one tonight.

Plated up with last night's potato rosti

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mary Cooks: Poussin with Pomegranate Sauce

Someone once said that a man's reach should exceed his grasp. This was me in the kitchen tonight. With my counterpart away on business for a second week, I thought about what it was I really wanted to eat for dinner tonight. As we still have a surplus of small game bird from D'Artagnan, I decided that one little poussin wouldn't go missing and rolled up my sleeves to actually cook something.

Everything I need for perfect dinner

I knew I wanted to pair the bird with potato but was not sure how to proceed. A quick search of epicurious revealed a recipe of poussin with potato rosti. And, even though this recipe was created by a professional chef (Chef Einat Admony), tonight I felt I was up to the task.

The recipe as written serves 8. I cut it back for a single bird.

Preheat the oven to 375.

For the sauce you will need equal parts sugar and pomegranate juice. It must be real pomegranate juice, too, not cranberry or cherry juice with pomegranate flavoring, so check the label. For 8 birds, use 1 cup of each. For my single bird, I used 1/4 cup of each.

Whisk them together in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once they reach a boil, cook for about another 10 minutes or so until they form a syrup. Set aside and prepare your birds.

Pomegranate syrup

Cut out the necks if necessary, clean, and blot dry. Mix together:

2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/8 tsp crumbled saffron threads

Sprinkle birds with spice mixture and work it in so that it sticks.

Sunny spice mix

In the pan you will use for roasting, heat about 2 Tbsp vegetable oil. I used coconut oil. Sear the birds until week browned, about 5 minutes per side. Work in batches if you need to. I did not as I only had the one bird. When all birds have been seared, remove the pan from heat and place all the birds in it. Pour the pomegranate syrup over them. And have a good sturdy scraper handy. While I was preparing my bird, my syrup cooled considerably and was quite thick and sticky by the time I was ready for it.

Pan-searing the bird

You will roast your birds for a total of 30 minutes, basting them with the pan juices every so often. About halfway through the roasting time, scatter 3/4 cup roasted walnuts into the pan.

Yeah, I said walnuts. Which is sure to get me into trouble. I don't like nuts. I dislike them so much that my counterpart is under a nut prohibition in the kitchen, which he laments regularly. In fact, I almost left them out. But, I felt that if I did, I would somehow be disrespecting the chef who created this recipe. So in they went. And, this does mean that the nut prohibition is officially over.

The birds are done when the thigh meat is about 170 and the juices run clear.

Almost there.....

While the birds are in the oven, you can make the rosti. Peel and coarsely grate 4 russet potatoes and mix them with:

1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper

Potatoes with rosemary, salt, and pepper

Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add enough of the potato mixture to form an even layer that nearly fills the pan. You may have to do this in a couple of batches, depending on the size of your pan. Let it cook for about 10 minutes until the underside is nicely browned. Then, flip it. When you do this, you will get a most pleasant noseful of rosemary. Enjoy.

Rosti, A side

The recipe offers a suggestion on how to do this: Place a large plate over your skillet and flip it over to get the rosti onto the plate. Add a little more oil to the pan and slide the rosti back in to cook the other side for another 5 minutes or so.

Rosti, B side

So, once everything was done cooking, I was aware of the fact that I had actually created a really nice dinner. For the first time in my life, I produced a meal that required proper plating and a respectful presentation. I asked myself what my counterpart would do and figured something out.

How do I plate this?

The game meat was tender and delectable with a bright, sunny flavor from the spices and the pomegranate. The syrup mixed with the pan drippings to create a sauce that was thick and flavorful with just a touch of sweetness. While the controversial walnuts added to this flavor, they did not work well as a side and were discarded. The rosti, however, was crispy potato perfection and went well with the bird. As this meal was very light on veg, in the future I will add grated zucchini and carrot to the rosti to round things out.

Plated up and ready to eat

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mary Cooks: Fried Rice

Fried rice is actually so simple I don't think it really counts as cooking a meal. While it does involve some timing and a good idea of what goes together well, fried rice can usually be accomplished without too much fuss. All you really need is leftover rice, meat, some veg, an egg, and a little sauce.

I started with some of the tail end veg from meals past - a sliver of leek, the top of a pepper, the last clove in a bulb of garlic, a lone stalk of celery - chopped them up and sauteed them in a little oil. I used coconut oil tonight because it is light in flavor and allegedly healthy for me. I also used up the tail end of a Sunday chicken Gareth left for me, cutting it into bite-sized cubes and adding it to the pan after the veg had cooked a bit with a little more oil and some of last night's rice.

Now here's the key to fried rice - the egg. A good guideline is about one egg per person. Break it into a bowl and scramble it lightly before adding it to your pan. Let it cook for a few moments before mixing it in. Then add a little sauce. I did a repeat of last night's sauce and mixed together brown sugar, ginger, and soy sauce. Add the sauce at the end and let it cook just long enough to integrate with the rest of your ingredients.

I also had a handful of frozen peas in the freezer that I tossed in at the end with the sauce.

My end result was a generous bowl of sweet, sticky, spicy rice full of Gareth's perfect chicken. A satisfying dinner that came together quickly and easily for me and tasted good to boot - just the thing for a Thursday night.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mary Cooks: Fish Cakes and Lily Bulb

I love fish, and I especially love fish cakes. I found a very simple recipe on It claims to be Thai, but is also easy to follow and does not contain any ingredients I do not already have on hand. I adjusted the recipe for the two fish fillets I set out to defrost this morning, but otherwise followed this fairly closely
All my ingredients for fish cakes

Combine the following in a food processor until well mixed:

1 pound boneless fish fillets, cubed - I used flounder
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp sweet chili sauce - I used sriracha
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp brown sugar - I used a little more to compensate for not having any sweet chili sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 green onions, sliced - I used a little white onion
1 egg

(I also added ginger which was not in the recipe)

Then refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow the batter to set.

Fish sauce batter for one

While my batter was resting in the fridge, I started some rice and prepared a little veg side.

One of the more interesting things we have in the house is fresh lily bulb. We picked this up a while back at the H-Mart, and it has been sitting in its vacuum-sealed packaging in the freezer ever since. And I've been searching for recipes. Alas, I have found none. At $2.50 for four bulbs, the stuff is fairly cheap, so I pulled it out and decided to experiment.

sliced lily bulb that will later get lost in pea pods and peppers

In the pan

Lily bulb is layered a bit like an onion. I removed the outer layers of one of the bulbs and sliced it thinly. When lily bulbs are sliced, they ooze. Not right away, and not very quickly, but as they rested on my board, they became moist and slightly sticky.

As I was not sure what to do with my lily bulb, I used it to accent another veg - pea pods. In addition to lily bulb, I added a little pepper to my peas, along with a mixture of soy sauce, ginger, and brown sugar. This was a misstep on my part. While the lily bulb added a nice fragrance to the pea pods, its flavor was lost. The next go round, I will make sure it is the primary ingredient and not a seasoning.

A quick and simple Asian sauce

Added to the pea pods

By that point, my fish cake batter had set. I heated a generous amount of oil in a heavy skillet to cook them. The recipe indicates that you should be able to shape the fish mixture into balls. Mine was too liquid for that, so I used a tablespoon to drop it into the oil similar to making silver dollar pancakes.

Yummy little fish cakes

About three minutes per side is about right. I placed mine on a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool a little. The end result was a batch of small, firm fish cakes with a sweet and spicy flavor. It paired well with the salty sauce I cooked my peas in. And the rice was extra sticky, just how I like it.

An amateur plating job, but a delicious dinner

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mary Cooks: Stuffed Peppers

Gareth is away in Pittsburgh this week, so I am on my own for dinner. And thus begins another "Mary Cooks" series.

I'm starting this series with what is sure to be a controversial dish: Stuffed Peppers. And if Gareth is reading this in his hotel room, I'm sure to hear about this when he gets home as I have long claimed to dislike stuffed peppers. Why? Because I dislike green bell peppers. My stuffed peppers (or, as I am cooking for one - pepper) will be the much sweeter red variety.

Controversial ingredients

I found a likely recipe on epicurious that even starts with red peppers. I cut it down for a single serving and made some modifications:

1 red  bell pepper
2 tbsp olive oil - I used grape seed
1/4cup chopped onion
1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley - I used dried mint
1 clove minced garlic
2 tbsp cooked white rice - I used couscous
1/2 tsp Hungarian paprika - I used Tandoori red spice mix
a dash of salt
a dash of pepper
a dash of allspice - I used fresh grated nutmeg
2/3 cups tomato sauce - I used a Goya can
1/4 pound lean ground beef - I used some leftover Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage I found in the fridge
1 egg - I substituted a soft cheese

Onion and pepper

So I cut off the top of my pepper and removed the seeds as instructed. Instead of chopping up the top to include in the filling, I set it aside for tomorrow's salad and minced half a serrano pepper. I heated my grape seed oil in a skillet and sauted the pepper along with the garlic and onoins until the garlic started to brown and the onions were translucent. I then added the mint, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Tandoori spice.

Sauteed in grape seed oil

I deviated again with regards to the meat. The recipe instructs to not pre-cook the meat. That didn't sound like the best idea to me, even with fresh meat. So I added my sausage to the skillet and cooked it through.

A little breakfast sausage

I placed the mixture into a bowl as instructed by the recipe. I added the uncooked couscous, the soft cheese, and a tablespoon of the Goya tomato and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Finishing the filling

Then I gently filled my pepper.

The empty vessel waiting to be filled

This recipe cooks on the stovetop. I found a pan that my pepper would fit in I heated the rest of my can of Goya tomato in a until it was simmering. I gently placed my pepper in the pot and covered it to cook.

The recipe calls for 40 minutes of cooking time, checking it throughout the cooking to spoon tomato sauce over the pepper. Here I also remained skeptical and let mine cook for about an our, checking on it every 15 or 20 minutes to spoon the sauce as instructed.

One stuffed pepper cooking on the stovetop

There was a minor distraction that resulted in the tomato sauce getting a little scorched. And of course the whole thing fell apart when I was trying to get it out of the pan and into a bowl. (If you use tongs to do this, keep in mind a steamed pepper is a slippery little bastard. I squeezed mine too tight and it kind of exploded on me.)

I squeezed it too tight with the tongs and it kind of exploded on me

But dinner was other wise successful. The pepper was tender enough to cut with a fork. The filling was completely cooked and was heated through. The choices of flavorings created an earthy, spicy, sweet combination with none of the bitterness I usually associate with this dish. (Did I mention the Jimmy Dean sausage was maple flavor?) And that spooning the sauce over the pepper? It seeped down into the filling keeping everything moist, especially that couscous. It cooked while the pepper cooked and absorbed just enough moisture to expand slightly. It kept the filling together and was less obtrusive than the more traditional rice.The cheese melted all through everything and gave this that highly desirable creaminess.

While some may read this and count it a minimal effort dinner made from whatever happened to be in the house, there is nothing wrong with that once in a while. Given what was on hand, I think I did pretty well.

My recommendations for stuffed peppers:

- Red instead of green
- Couscous instead of rice
- Sausage instead of ground beef
- Cheese cheese cheese

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Harbor East Deli Opens for Breakfast

Us working stiffs in Harbor East have noticed that the Harbor East Deli has been closed for quite some time for a number of renovations, including the addition of a breakfast menu. As there is only so much of the Whole Foods breakfast bar a person can take, I wandered down the block this morning to check it out.

To attest to the newness of the breakfast menu, it is neatly typed up on standard office copy paper, not the usual trifold semi-gloss of their deli and pizzeria menu. And, it consists of just what you would expect - egg sandwiches, omelets, pancakes, and a number of side items that you can order a la carte. Included among the breakfast sandwiches was one of my personal favorites - bagel and lox.

The Nova Bagel as presented for take out

For $7.99, the Nova Bagel is a generous portion of lox on a toasted bagel of your choice, along with cream cheese, sliced tomato, read onion, and lettuce. I ordered mine on another personal favorite - the Everything bagel.

Total time from order to service was a tidy 7 minutes. This is good time for a made-to-order breakfast and got me back to my desk and working in about the same time it takes me to navigate Whole Foods, yet much quicker than the walk down to the Legg Mason cafeteria.

My Nova bagel was served closed face. Anyone who has eaten a closed face sandwich on a bagel knows you need a pretty large jaw expansion to do this. Here's a helpful hint that should be standard operating procedure for a sandwich shop: cut it in half. Which I did. At my desk. With a plastic take out knife. But I managed. While it won't make the sandwich any shorter, it will provide a point of entry and will make the whole thing easier to handle.

Cut in half, like all sandwiches should be

As mentioned above, the portion of lox was indeed generous but also fairly decent with a smooth, buttery texture and just a slightly salty taste. The tomato was buried under the lox and went relatively unnoticed. But, this being early April, I didn't really mind. As I've noted before, tomatoes this time of year tend to be sad and flavorless, and I'd rather have less of them until summer.

Several very nice leaves of green leaf lettuce topped the lox. While I was impressed with both quality and quantity, I don't think they did much for the sandwich, and I quickly removed them.

The red onion is always a bit of a zinger for a bagel with lox. If the slices are cut too thick or you use too much, it will overpower the salty lox and cream cheese. Harbor East Deli got it right and provided just enough red onion sliced so thin you can almost see through it. The zesty, slightly bitter flavor of the onion provided just a little sharp edge but otherwise blended in perfectly with the rest of the sandwich and did not upset my sensitive tummy.

All Harbor East Deli breakfast items come with a side of "home fries".  And I must use quotes on that because that is what the menu calls them when in reality they are pre-cut potato cubes reheated on the griddle with a little onion. These are not home fries, and I ignored them. This is not an indictment of Harbor East Deli, but a symptom of a state-wide problem with breakfast in Maryland. (Oh, Maryland, my Maryland, why can't you figure out how to cook breakfast potatoes?) Really, if anyone out there knows anyplace in Baltimore that serves decent breakfast potatoes, please share in the Comments section below.

No breakfast is complete without a cup of joe. I got a large coffee for $2.75. This was not some gourmet coffee but a good old fashioned cup of standard sandwich shop mud. I only wonder what happened to those standard sandwich shop coffee prices. While coffee has always been one of the cheapest items for restaurants to provide (think free refills), it seems that Starbucks has altered our collective sense of what a cup of the stuff should cost.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with my breakfast. Located at 1006 Aliceanna Street in Baltimore's Harbor East neighborhood, Harbor East Deli opens at 7:30 for breakfast. The breakfast menu can be found on the counter, and they don't mind if you take one with you.