shrimp burgers

In retrospect, this probably wasn’t the best weeknight meal ever. The thing is, I eat very differently on weekdays and weekends. On weekdays, it’s all about the vegetables and the fruit and the light bean dips and all this healthy stuff, and that’s all very well and good, but by the weekend, I do not want to see a banana or a raw carrot. Also, I would like some meat. But seafood gets a pass for weekdays.

Mayonnaise, not so much. I think I’d forgotten how much mayonnaise this meal includes when I planned it. I’d kept in mind that the slaw had a mayonnaise-based dressing, but I cringed when I added more mayonnaise to the burgers – cringed, but did it anyway. I’d been looking forward to this meal all week and wasn’t taking any chances on messing it up.

As Rebecca said, shrimp burgers are pretty much just like crab cakes, but cheaper and on a bun. Coarsely chopped shrimp, aromatics, binders to hold everything together, all pan-fried until browned and crisp on the outside – I can’t think of too many things tastier than that, especially when it’s topped with tangy, briny slaw tartare. No way was I going to let a bit of mayonnaise get in my way of enjoying this meal.

One year ago: Brownie comparison
Two years ago: Cheesecake Pops (for the Daring Bakers and ohmy was this ever a mess)

Printer Friendly Recipe
Shrimp Burgers
(adapted from Ezra Pound Cake who adapted it from Matt Lee and Ted Lee’s The Lee Brothers’ Southern Cookbook who adapted it from the Hominy Grill’s recipe; I think my version most resembles the original, as I’ve left out the ginger and corn that the Lee Brothers added)

Makes 4 burgers

I didn’t have fresh bread crumbs, so I used panko instead, moistened with a teaspoon or so of the shrimp cooking liquid.

2 quarts water
2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning
1 pound headless large shrimp (26-30 per pound), shells on
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1½ teaspoons lemon zest
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh (from about 2 slices bread)
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
1½ tablespoons canola oil

1. In a 3-quart saucepan, bring the water and Old Bay seasoning just to a boil over high heat. Turn off the heat, add the shrimp, and let stand until the shrimp are pink, about 2 minutes. Drain; peel and devein the shrimp, then chop it coarsely.

2. In a large bowl, mix the shrimp, scallions, parsley, and lemon zest. Stir in the mayonnaise and bread crumbs (see note), and season with salt and pepper. Gently fold the egg into the mixture.

3. Shape the mixture into 4 patties. Wrap the patties in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them for at least 30 minutes.

4. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the burgers from the refrigerator, unwrap them, and gently lay them in the pan. Cook until both sides are browned, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.

5. Serve on toasted hamburger buns with lettuce, thinly sliced Vidalia onion and tartar sauce (or combine all of those flavors into one delicious slaw).

jalapeno-baked fish with roasted tomatoes and potatoes

I need every weekday meal to be exactly like this one.

First, it took only 20 minutes of actual effort. Sliced potatoes are softened in the microwave right in the baking dish. Meanwhile, I pureed a few other ingredients, mostly straight from cans, with my immersion blender. Then I laid some fish filets over the potatoes and poured the pureed sauce on top.

Second, it only bakes for 20 minutes. This was the perfect amount of time for me to empty the dishwasher, clean up the kitchen and unpack groceries.

Third, it’s nice and light, with lean white fish, vegetables, and just a small amount of oil to help the potatoes cook.

Fourth, and of course the only point that really matters, it was just so good. The fish, potatoes, and sauce were balanced nicely and the spice level was just right.

My favorite meals have all the ingredients jumbled together like this, protein and starch and vegetables. It’s especially nice on a weeknight so I don’t have to make side dishes as well. I haven’t found many fish recipes like that, so this is perfect – in every way, really.

One year ago: Red Velvet Cake comparison
Two years ago: Olive Oil Bread

Printer Friendly Recipe
Jalapeno-Baked Fish with Roasted Tomatoes and Potatoes
(from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday via Dinner and Dessert)

Serves 4

4 medium (1 pound total) red-skin boiling or Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
Salt
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 large garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
⅓ cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish
About ¼ cup sliced canned pickled jalapenos
1 tablespoon jalapeno pickling juice
Four 4- to 5-ounce (1 to 1¼ pounds total) skinless fish fillets, preferably ¾ to 1 inch thick

1. Turn on the oven to 400 degrees. Scoop the sliced potatoes into a microwaveable 8×8-inch baking dish. Drizzle on the oil and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Toss to coat, then spread the potatoes in an even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a couple of holes in the top. Microwave on high until the potatoes are nearly tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, combine the tomatoes with their juice, garlic, cilantro, jalapenos, and pickling juice. Process to a puree, leaving just a little texture.

3. Lay the fish fillets in a single layer over the potatoes. Pour the tomato mixture evenly over the fish and potatoes.

4. Slide the baking dish into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, until the fish flakes when pressed firmly.

5. Scoop a portion of the fish-potato-sauce onto each dinner plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve right away.

bacon-wrapped scallops with port reduction

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I don’t consider myself a picky eater, but I’m been having some problems with shellfish lately. And I hate that it’s a textural issue, because then I know it’s all in my head. With scallops, I think to myself that if it’s so soft, it must be undercooked, right? And then I spend the whole meal worrying about it.

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Which, geez, people eat scallops raw, I think I can handle them medium-rare, you know? Plus overcooked scallops are terrible, so it’s better to err on the side of less cooked.

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But while I sat and squirmed while I ate my scallops, trying not to think about whether they could have used a few more minutes on the stove, Dave gushed over them. Dave loves scallops. And bacon.

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Fortunately, the flavors really are fantastic. The subtle sweetness of the scallops goes nicely with the salty bacon, and the rich port sauce is a perfect accompaniment. The sauce is intense, so I liked to dip just the smallest corner of a scallop into it. Mmm. Especially tasty on the crispy browned bites. Because those are the only ones that I trust are cooked enough.

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One year ago: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Printer Friendly Recipe
Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with Port Reduction (adapted from Gourmet, but really epicurious)

8 first-course servings or 4 main-course servings

I had a lot of random extra bacon scraps, because the scallops were too big for half a piece of bacon to wrap around each and too small for a full piece.

You see how some of my bacon strips are taller than the scallops? You don’t want that. Trim the edges of the bacon if you need to, because otherwise the scallop doesn’t sit against the pan evenly and it doesn’t get as nicely browned.

The scallops can be wrapped in bacon 4 hours ahead and chilled, covered. Sauté just before serving. The port reduction can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Reheat before serving.

Port reduction:
2 cups ruby port
½ cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 sprig rosemary

Scallops:
16 thin slices (about 16 ounces) bacon
16 sea scallops (about 1 pound), tough side muscle discarded if attached
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. For port reduction: Bring port, sugar, peppercorns, and rosemary to a simmer in a 2-quart saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, then carefully ignite port with a kitchen match, letting flames die down (this will take a few minutes). Simmer over moderately low heat until sauce is thickened and reduced to about ½ cup, about 30 minutes.

2. For scallops: Heat a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook the bacon until some fat has rendered and the edges of the bacon start to brown, about 1½ minutes per side. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

3. Pat the scallops dry and season them with salt and pepper. When the bacon is cool enough to handle, wrap a piece of bacon around each scallop and pierce scallop with a toothpick to secure.

4. Heat the oil and butter in a clean skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté the scallops, turning them once, until the bacon is browned and the scallops are opaque, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a plate and serve with port reduction for dipping.

seafood lasagna

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My sister reads my blog, more because she likes me than because she likes cooking.  She doesn’t hate to cook; but she has a full-time job, two toddlers, and the normal allotment of hobbies, friends, and family to balance.

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I try to keep her in mind when I need perspective, so I don’t say things like “this extra step is worth the effort.”  It’s all relative.  It’s worth it to me, sure, but I like cooking enough to have a blog about it.  What’s worth the effort for her is very different than it is for me.

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For example, my sister would not make this lasagna. This lasagna is a lot, a lot, of effort. It was worth it to me, sure, not just because the lasagna turned out amazing and it made enough food for a week, but because I had all kinds of fun making it.

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There are a whole lot of components. A béchamel sauce, which is no problem. The seafood mixture – crab legs steamed in the oven, scallops sautéed on the stove, shrimp that was supposed to be poached, but instead I sautéed them quickly on the stove after the scallops. Cheese needs to be grated and shredded, spinach needs to be cooked, dried, and chopped (I never like the frozen blocks). Fresh pasta needs to be made (or purchased, I suppose, but man, that’s a lot of money for what are actually very cheap ingredients). Only once all of that is finally prepared can the ingredients be layered and baked.

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The end product was so, so good. There are so many flavors all supporting and enhancing each other. The seafood wasn’t overshadowed by the other rich ingredients. The sweetness of the scallops stood out, as well as the salty ocean flavor of the crab. What’s more, we ate two dinners worth of leftovers, plus several lunches. (I was surprised by how well it reheated, but by slightly undercooking the lasagna the first time and then heating individual portions in the oven on low heat just until hot, the seafood didn’t overcook and the top didn’t burn.) All in all, it was a lot of effort, but I had fun and I made delicious meals for almost a week. One might even say that it was worth all the effort. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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One year ago: Salmon Clubs with Avocado Butter

Seafood Lasagna (adapted from Foodie Bride, who adapted it from the Food Network)

Serves 10-12

If you’re as stubborn as I am about frozen spinach (too stemmy!) and purchased fresh pasta (too expensive!), you can find preparation instructions for both of those ingredients here. (You’ll want to make half the dough recipe and all of the spinach.) The only change I’d consider making to this recipe for next time is cutting the scallops into smaller pieces. As it was, there were occasional bites of pure scallop, which isn’t as fun as scallops + other lasagna goodness.

Seafood mixture:
3 king crab legs
1 tablespoon butter
12 ounces scallops
12 ounces shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
salt
freshly ground white pepper

Béchamel:
6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
6 tablespoons flour
4 cups milk
1 ounce (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese
salt
freshly ground white pepper

Cheese mixture:
10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess water
15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 ounce (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese
salt
freshly ground white pepper
8 ounces grated Mozzarella cheese

8 ounces lasagna noodles, cooked and drained

1. Cook the seafood: Preheat the oven to 350F. Form a large foil pouch around the king crab legs. Before sealing tightly, add ¼ cup water. Heat in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove the pouch from the oven and carefully open it to vent the steam. Let it cool for a few minutes, then crack the shells and place the meat in a medium bowl. Lightly shred any large pieces but don’t overshred.

2. Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel. Place them in the pan and cook, without stirring, for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown. Flip the scallops and cook on the second side until browned, another 3-4 minutes. Drain the scallops and place them in the bowl with the crab meat.

3. Add the shrimp to the same pan (no need to wash or even rinse) used for sautéing the scallops. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the shrimp are opaque, 5-6 minutes. Place them in the bowl with the crab meat and scallops. Add a pinch of salt and some white pepper, them toss to mix.

4. Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook until very fragrant, but don’t let the garlic brown (about 3 minutes). Whisk in the flour and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Gradually add the milk, whisking continuously. Cook an additional 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently and taking care that the bottom does not scorch. Remove from heat and whisk in salt and pepper to taste and ½ cup (1 ounce) of Parmesan cheese.

5. Make the ricotta filling: Mix the spinach, ½ cup (1 ounce) Parmesan, ricotta, egg, all of the mozzarella, salt, white pepper, and 1 cup béchamel in a bowl until thoroughly combined.

6. Assemble: Spread 1 cup of the béchamel sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles in the pan and spread half of the ricotta-spinach mixture over the noodles, covering completely. Top with ½ cup béchamel. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles in the pan and add all of the crab-shrimp-scallops, spreading to distribute evenly. Sprinkle half of the remaining parmesan cheese over the seafood layer and top with ½ cup béchamel. Arrange 3 lasagna noodles in the pan and spread the remaining ricotta-spinach mixture over the noodles. Top with ½ cup béchamel. Add the remaining 3 lasagna noodles, remaining béchamel, and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over the top.

(A simple breakdown of the lasagna structure: sauce, noodles, ½ of the cheese mixture, sauce, noodles, all of the seafood, ½ the remaining parmesan, sauce, noodles, the rest of the cheese mixture, sauce, noodles, the rest of the sauce, the rest of the parmesan.)

7. Place in the oven and bake until bubbly and golden, about 55 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

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beer-battered fish

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Something I regret about my trip to Scotland a few years ago is that I didn’t eat fish and chips while I was there. I don’t remember many of the meals that I ate there. What really sticks out is the desserts, in particular chocolate lumpy bumpy, a combination of mousse, cake, and cheesecake. Oh, and whipped cream. Every time I ordered dessert in Scotland, I was asked if I wanted cream on it. Heck yeah I do!

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It’s hard for me to stay focused on dinner when I start thinking about chocolate lumpy bumpy. But missing out on awesome Scottish fish and chips is nothing to scoff at. I needed to make up for it by learning to make my own.

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Which isn’t as easy as it might sound. The tricky part seems to be getting the coating to stick to the fish – the first few recipes I tried, one of which was by the usually very dependable Cooks Illustrated, didn’t seem to work. When Cooks Illustrated fails me for classic recipes, I usually go to Alton Brown.

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Like most beer-battered fish recipes, Alton’s batter is made with flour, baking powder, seasoning, and beer. The batter is allowed to rest before being used, which isn’t standard in beer-battered fish recipes, but also isn’t unheard of. The fish are dredged in cornstarch before being coated in batter and fried.

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The result was great fried fish! The coating not only clung to the fish like it’s supposed to, it was crispy and flavorful. The fish was cooked through while being tender and flaky. The only problem with this meal was that it wasn’t followed by chocolate lumpy bumpy, but I could say that for most meals.

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One year ago: Cream Cheese Brownies

Beer-Battered Fish (ever-so-slightly adapted from Alton Brown)

Serves 4-6

I did not make and have not tried Alton’s chips recipe, so I’m not including it here. You can find it on the same webpage as his fish recipe.

I think I used red snapper, but I actually made this quite a while ago and can’t remember. Does the picture look like red snapper?

1 gallon vegetable, canola, or safflower oil
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Dash Old Bay Seasoning
1 bottle brown beer, cold
1½ pounds firm-fleshed whitefish (tilapia, pollock, cod), cut into 1-ounce strips
Cornstarch, for dredging
Malt vinegar, for serving

Heat oven to 200F.

Heat the oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over high heat until it reaches 350 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne pepper, and Old Bay seasoning. Whisk in the beer until the batter is completely smooth and free of any lumps. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Note: The batter can be made up to 1 hour ahead of time.

Lightly dredge fish strips in cornstarch. Working in small batches, dip the fish into the batter and immerse in the hot oil. When the batter is set, turn the pieces of fish over and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Drain the fish on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Keep the fried fish in the warmed oven while you cook the remaining batches. Serve with malt vinegar.

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crispy bagel roll

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A third grader was telling me once about her favorite restaurant, and she said that it served “eggs and bagels and bacon and everything good.” That’s kind of how this sushi roll is – full of fish and cream cheese and avocado and everything good. And then it’s fried.

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The first time Dave and I tried sushi, we were visiting friends, who took us to one of their favorite sushi restaurants. We ordered a crispy bagel roll, and it was so good! I haven’t found even one restaurant since then that serves anything similar. After almost two years of my friends mentioning that they went out for sushi and enjoyed the crispy bagel roll, I decided I’d have to try to re-create it at home.

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I made sushi rolls a few times last year, and it wasn’t a disaster, but it was a lot of work, and I always ended up frustrated because my dull chef’s knife couldn’t cut through the nori. But since then, I’ve acquired a new knife and new inspiration from Jen, who makes homemade sushi seem so approachable.

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Bagel rolls aren’t original to the restaurant I had them at, but recipes differ slightly. I looked up their menu and found that their version includes pretty much all of my favorite sushi ingredients – fish, cream cheese, avocado – everything good indeed. If I recall, they serve theirs with aioli, but I opted to just mix the mayonnaise with the fish before forming the roll.

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And then there’s the “crispy” part. The rolls are delicious without frying, so if you want to stop here, be my guest! Making tempura batter, heating oil, and deep-frying the rolls adds a significant amount of work to an already labor-intensive meal. But it’s a fun way to give this roll a different flavor profile than a lot of other sushi rolls.

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This roll lends itself especially well to being made at home, because it calls for smoked salmon, so there’s no worry about finding or working with quality raw fish. (Um, except that the pictures show tuna, because we love tuna. But smoked salmon makes more sense in this roll.) Plus, the roll is full of everything good. How can you go wrong?

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One year ago: Olive Oil Bread

Bagel Rolls (rice recipe adapted from Alton Brown)

Unfortunately, I can’t share the tempura batter recipe I used because it’s I recipe I tested for Cooks Illustrated, and it isn’t published yet. However, I think this one would work fine. I fried the rolls until they were just slightly browned. I didn’t want the filling to cook, or even get warm really.

The only part of making homemade sushi that I haven’t nailed down is how much of the sheet of nori to use. The whole sheet is too much and ends up forming a spiral, but a half sheet isn’t quite enough to fit the fillings. I ended up using about 3/5 of the sheet and saving the scraps for sushi bowls.

Makes 4 rolls, serving 2 people

Rice:
1 cup sushi rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Filling:
4 (8- by 7-inch) sheets nori (see comments above)
4 ounces smoked salmon
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 avocado, sliced
2 ounces cream cheese
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

For serving:
Wasabi
Pickled ginger
Soy sauce

Rice:
Rinse rice and let drain for 30-60 minutes. (I often skip this without any huge loss in quality.)

Place the rice and water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Heat the rice vinegar, sugar and salt (either in a small pot on the stove or in the microwave) until the sugar is dissolved. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. Do not

Chop the salmon into approximately ⅛-inch pieces and mix it with the mayonnaise. Fill a small bowl with tap water and place it near where you’ll be doing the rolling.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over a bamboo rolling mat. Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic wrap. Wet your fingers with water and spread ¼ of the rice evenly onto the nori. Sprinkle the rice with ½ teaspoon sesame seeds. Flip the nori over so that the rice faces down onto the plastic wrap. Place ¼ of salmon mixture, the avocado, and the cream cheese in the middle of the nori. Use the plastic wrap to roll the nori and rice around the fillings, as tight as possible without squeezing the fillings out. Use the bamboo mat to shape and compact the roll. Leave the roll covered in the plastic wrap while you use the remaining ingredients to make three more rolls.

If you’re frying the sushi rolls: Heat 2-3 quarts of canola, vegetable, or peanut oil to 400C in a Dutch oven that holds at least 5 quarts. Remove the plastic wrap from a roll. Dip the entire roll into tempera batter. Fry one roll at a time for about 2 minutes, until the batter is firm and slightly browned. Drain on a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining rolls, making sure that the oil is at 400 degrees before adding the next roll.

Remove the plastic wrap from the rolls (if you didn’t fry them). Cut each roll in half, then half again and again to make 8 pieces for each roll. Serve with wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce.

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phyllo triangles: crawfish and mushroom fillings

I have had this recipe in my “To Blog” folder for months. It has sat there, ignored, while flashier ideas or more seasonal recipes or better photos or easier stories made other entries come first. In fact, I now have 33 recipes that are ready to be written about, just waiting for me to get up the motivation. I have decided that the only way to get my To Blog folder back under control will be a commitment to publish a blog entry every day for a month – which I could easily do even if I didn’t make one new recipe for the rest of the month.

These crawfish phyllo triangles caught my eye when Jen wrote about them because I remembered really liking crawfish the one time I’d had them before. But it was a few months before I discovered a great fish market nearby where I could actually buy crawfish. I served these with Deb’s mushroom phyllo triangles, thinking that it wouldn’t be much more work to make another filling as long as I was already dealing with phyllo.

I changed the season in the filling recipe, as Jen didn’t seem completely pleased with it. I love Old Bay, which is what she recommended using instead of the paprika in the original recipe. I also left out a few ingredients that didn’t seem really necessary. The recipe is originally from Emeril, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the number of Emeril recipes I’ve made, it’s that they can usually be simplified.


Here’s the most important lesson I learned from this experience: You cannot skimp on the butter used to brush the phyllo layers. I was making these for dinner on a weeknight (um, back when I was unemployed – I’m a little more practical about weeknight dinners now), and it wasn’t until I already had the filling made that I noticed the 2 sticks of butter used to brush the phyllo. I’m okay with splurging once in a while, but I just wasn’t mentally prepared for that.

So I did an internet search and saw that you can spray the sheets with nonstick spray instead of brushing them with butter. I did a hybrid – I gave the sheet a quick spray, and then a light brush with butter.  The problem is that, once baked, the phyllo triangles were clearly missing something. They were a little dry and not as flavorful or crisp as they should have been. Next time I work with phyllo, I’ll be sure to keep in mind that a lot of butter is absolutely necessary to make phyllo as good as it should be.


Despite this (and crawfish tails’ creepy similarity to insect abdomens), both of these fillings made for some tasty snacks. Dave and I liked the crawfish filling more than the mushroom filling, which seemed a little flat in comparison. But hey – at least they were a little healthier than normal. And most importantly, they’re finally out of my To Blog folder.


Crawfish Phyllo Triangles (adapted from Use Real Butter, who adapted it from Louisiana Real & Rustic by Emeril Lagasse)

Makes about 24 triangles

2 tablespoons butter
1 pound crawfish tails, peeled and cooked
1 medium onion, diced small
2 stalks celery, minced
1½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
3 tablespoon parsley, chopped
½ pound phyllo dough sheets, thawed
16 tablespoons (2 sticks), melted

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter of medium-high heat in 12-inch skillet. Add the onions, celery, salt, and Old Bay and sauté until soft and brown, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the crawfish and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the crawfish tails begin to curl. Remove from heat. Stir in parsley. Let cool.

2. To make each triangle, set one sheet of phyllo on a clean work surface and brush melted butter on half of the sheet lengthwise. Fold the phyllo on its long axis in half. Brush melted butter on half of the phyllo lengthwise again, and fold on the long axis once more. You should have a long narrow strip of phyllo with 4 layers.

3. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on one corner of the strip and begin folding the dough over the filling like a flag. Continue folding until the dough is completely wrapped around the filling. Brush a little butter on the end to seal it down. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling.

4. Place triangles on a baking sheet so they are not touching one another. Bake at 375F for 18-20 minutes. Serve hot.

Mushroom Strudel (from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from The Complete Mushroom Book, by Antonio Carluccio)

Makes 18 triangles

18 sheets phyllo
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
1 pound mixed, fresh, wild and cultivated mushrooms
1 medium onion, minced
3 tablespoons butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Leaves from 1 sprig marjoram or thyme
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling, if you wish
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Clear a large work surface for this, big enough for two full sheets of phyllo, your egg wash, parmesan and filling.

2. Make the filling: Make sure the mushrooms are dust- and sand-free, wash if necessary, and trim if need be. Cook the onion in the butter and, when soft, add the mushrooms with the nutmeg. Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes, until liquid has been released and has partially evaporated. Add the sherry and evaporate the alcohol by cooking over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, herbs, and some salt and pepper, and let cool. The mixture will be moist.

3. Take one sheet of phyllo at a time from their package; cover the remaining sheets with plastic and then a damp towel, ensuring they are completely covered. Brush one half of the sheet lengthwise with butter. Fold the unbuttered side over the buttered side, carefully, smoothing out any wrinkles and bubbles but not worrying if you can’t get them all. Again, brush one half of this lengthwise with butter, and fold the unbuttered side over it again. You’ll end up with one long column.

4. Dollop a spoonful of the mushroom filling near the end and sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan over it. Begin folding one bottom corner of the phyllo strip over the filling until it meets the opposite edge, forming a triangle, as if you were folding a flag. Place the triangle seam side down on the baking sheet, brush lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with parmesan.

5. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Serve warm.

sushi bowls

I’m so proud of this recipe. I actually came up with the idea on my own. Whoa. Not that sushi ingredients mixed up in a bowl is a groundbreaking idea, but that isn’t the point. The point is that I didn’t know there was already a recipe out there when I came up with it. I was creative! That never happens!

The inspiration behind my big idea was that Dave and I love sushi, but making it is a pain in the ass and going out to eat all the time isn’t feasible. So I figured, why bother making cute little sushi rolls – it’s the ingredients that we like, not their shape. I decided to mix up the ingredients in a bowl and call it a day.

And that makes this a pretty darn easy meal. Sushi rice takes only a little more effort than basic long-grain rice does, and that’s the only ingredient in this recipe that needs to be cooked.

I’ve made this a few times now, and once I used smoked salmon instead of raw tuna. I used smoked salmon twice when I made sushi rolls, and I thought it was good. It’s convenient, and I thought it might be a good option for people who aren’t comfortable eating raw fish. But when I used it in the sushi bowls, it was so salty that it kind of ruined the whole dish. I’m not sure if there’s a difference between brands or if all smoked salmon is so salty. I bought the cheapest brand, because that stuff always surprises me by how expensive it is.

But, every other time I’ve made this, it’s been just so good. And healthy! Look at all that green stuff. There’s no added fat in the recipe; the only fat involved is what’s naturally in avocado, sesame seeds, and the fish. That makes this a super tasty, easy, healthy, balanced meal on its own. It’s perfect.

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Sushi Bowls

I’ve used raw tuna, smoked salmon, and imitation crab in this, all with very good results.  If you’re using salty smoked salmon, reduce the salt in the rice mixture slightly.

4 servings

1⅓ cups rice, rinsed well
1⅓ cups water
¼ cup soy sauce
wasabi to taste, probably at least 2 teaspoons
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 (8 by 7-inch) sheets nori, cut into strips 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
1 avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from skin and cut into chunks 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks 1½ inches long and ⅛ inch wide
2 green onions, halved lengthwise and cut into strips 1 inch long
8 ounces sushi-grade fish
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

1. Rinse the rice. Place the rice and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, combine the soy sauce and wasabi in a small bowl. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a separate small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds, until the sugar dissolves. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. (If you use an electric fan, this will only take about a minute.) Do not refrigerate.

3. Combine rice, wasabi mixture, and remaining ingredients. Serve.

crawfish, roasted tomato, and farmers cheese pizza

I make pizza probably every other week, always on the weekend. About half of the time I make a traditional pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The other half varies – in the past few months, I’ve made shrimp scampi pizza, caramelized onion and Gruyere pizza, and spinach ricotta pizza. When I tell Dave that we’re having pizza for dinner, he always asks hopefully, “Normal pizza?”

Not this time. I’ve had crawfish tails in my freezer for months. I used a portion of the package for a recipe which I will, eventually, blog about, but I had no plans for the remainder. Cooks Illustrated’s recipe for pizza with shrimp, farmers cheese, and roasted tomatoes seemed like a great place to use some of that crawfish in place of the shrimp. Something about that combination of ingredients seemed very American to me.

I really only used CI’s recipe as a basic guide. Their recipe is developed to grill the pizza, which I wouldn’t be doing. Since I wasn’t sure if the crust recipe they provided was specially designed for grilling, I opted to use my favorite regular pizza dough recipe, tweaked to incorporate the seasonings CI uses in their recipe.  I substituted crawfish for the shrimp and used far less than they call for, and I used Deb’s recipe for slow-roasted tomatoes instead of CI’s method for roasting tomatoes

Overall, it was the same basic ingredients CI called for, but combined a little differently. It was my first time using farmers cheese, and I really liked it. The slow-roasted tomatoes, oh my gosh. I made about twice as many as I needed for the pizza, and I ate the others plain. I was greedy and barely shared with Dave.

The only step I wasn’t quite sure how to adapt was the actual grilling of the pizza to baking them on a hot pizza stone. Since all of the toppings were already cooked, I didn’t want to risk overcooking them by putting them into a 500 degree over for 8 minutes. I ended up simply putting the untopped dough in the oven for a few minutes, then taking it out, adding the toppings, and putting it back in until the crust was spotty browned like I like it. It wasn’t the perfect solution – I should have poked the dough with a fork before putting it on the hot stone, because it puffed up like a pita.

Dave and I both really liked the pizza. I should have used more cheese, but when is that not the case? (The recipe below is adjusted for the amount of cheese I wish I would have used.)  Dave thinks shrimp would have been better than crawfish, but I don’t really agree. The only problem I had was that there was that the toppings, especially the crawfish, kept falling off the pizza. More cheese might have acted like glue to hold the toppings on as well. Overall, this was my favorite of the non-traditional pizzas I’ve made recently, and a great way to use up some of that tasty crawfish.

Crawfish, Roasted Tomato, and Farmers Cheese Pizza (substantially adapted from Cooks Illustrated; Roasted Tomatoes from Smitten Kitchen)

Serves 6 as a main course

Garlic-Herb Pizza Crust:
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1¾ cups water divided, warm
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast (1 envelope)
4 cups bread flour
1½ teaspoons table salt

Roasted Tomatoes
24 cherry tomatoes (small), halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
Table salt and ground black pepper

Crawfish or (Shrimp)
1 pound crawfish tails or medium-sized shrimp
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
½ teaspoon hot chili powder
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Table salt and ground black pepper

Toppings
12 ounces farmers cheese, crumbled
⅔ cup packed cilantro leaves, minced
⅔ cup packed fresh parsley, minced

1. For the crust: Heat olive oil in a small skillet; add next 3 ingredients and cook over low heat until garlic softens, about 5 minutes. Cool.

2. Mix flour, yeast, and salt in a food processor. Add water and herb oil to yeast mixture. With machine on, gradually pour liquid into dry ingredients; process until a rough ball forms. If dough is too sticky or dry, add flour or water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Let dough rest for 5 minutes, then continue to process until dough is smooth, about 35 seconds.

3. Knead dough by hand a few seconds to form smooth, round ball; place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until dough doubles in size, about 2 hours.

4. For the roasted tomatoes: Preheat oven to 225°F. Halve each tomato crosswise and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make the tomatoes glisten. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes in the oven for about three hours. You want the tomatoes to be shriveled and dry, but with a little juice left inside. (The tomatoes can be set aside at room temperature up to 6 hours ahead.)

5. Place a pizza stone on the lowest oven rack and heat oven to 500 degrees. Punch dough down and divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll each portion to form a smooth, round ball. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface, cover with a damp cloth, and let rest 10-30 minutes.

6. For the crawfish/shrimp: Heat a medium-sized skillet over high heat. Toss crawfish with 1½ tablespoons oil, chili powder, cayenne, and salt and pepper. Cook crawfish in hot skillet, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, until the tails curl. (Shrimp may need an additional 2-3 minutes, depending on their size; cook until opaque.)

7. Stretch and press a ball of dough until it reaches a diameter of 9-11 inches. If the dough is very resistant to being stretched, let it rest 5 minutes and then try again.

8. Brush the circle of dough with olive oil, then stab it with a fork 10-12 times. Transfer the dough to a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal. Slide the dough onto the heated stone. Bake until the crust edges begin to brown, 5-8 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven, add ⅓ of all toppings, and return to hot stone until crust is crisp and browned, 3-4 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. Repeat steps 7 and 8 with remaining dough and toppings.

summer rolls

I am not a collector of cookbooks. I do have one full shelf of about twenty or so, but I’m not one to idly buy any book I get excited about. Unless I’m interested in a very good proportion of the recipes in the book, I won’t buy it.

Unless it’s only three dollars, and every recipe has several pictures, and a surprising number of those recipes look good. I recently found a Thai Cooking Step-by-Step book in the bargain aisle and couldn’t pass it up.

The first recipe, and probably the one I was the most excited about, is for summer rolls, rice paper wrappers rolled around vegetables, rice vermicelli, and shrimp. I checked out a few recipes before making them, but most were similar, so I only slightly adapted the one in the book.

Every recipe included shrimp, rice vermicelli, cilantro and carrots. A few also included cucumber and Boston lettuce, both of which I wanted to include. One added mint, one Thai basil, and one preferred Thai basil but offered mint as an alternative. I haven’t been able to find Thai basil (although I haven’t looked very hard), so I used mint the first time I made these. Dave and I both hated the mint. I skipped the extra herbs entirely the second time, just using cilantro, and we much preferred it that way.

I struggled with what to do with the lettuce. I really wanted it inside the roll, similar to spider rolls. I tried it, but it was so bulky that I couldn’t get the summer rolls to make a tight wrap. Leaving the lettuce on the outside was preferable.

I thought the dipping sauce made from the recipe included in the step-by-step book was too pungent. The second time I made these, I used a recipe from another recently-acquired Asian cookbook (but I thought I didn’t buy many cookbooks?), and it was very good.

Admittedly, this isn’t the quickest recipe to put together. I kept thinking it would be pretty fast, since there’s very little cooking. Of course whenever you have to individually prepare fillings and wrappers, there will be a significant time investment. But for such a healthy and delicious meal, it’s worth it to me.

As per Joelen’s suggestion, I am submitting this entry to her Asian Appetizers event.

Update 9.21.08: I made this again and decided the recipe I originally had here needed a few tweaks.  I reduced the vermicelli from 2 ounces to 1.5 ounces and cut all of the dip ingredients in half.  Also, it only took me 45 minutes to make these, so it’s not quite the “significant time investment” that I originally thought.

Summer Rolls (adapted from Fresh Spring Rolls in Thai Cooking Step-by-Step, from the Confident Cooking Series)

Makes 8 rolls

16 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1.5 ounces rice vermicelli
8 rice paper wrappers
½ medium cucumber, cut into matchsticks
1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
16 Thai basil leaves (optional)
½ cup (0.5 ounces) loosely packed cilantro leaves
8 small leaves Boston lettuce (or 4 large leaves, torn in half)

1. Fill a medium skillet with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the shrimp and cook just until the shrimp are opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and remove the shrimp from the pan using a slotted spoon. Cut the shrimp in half lengthwise. Add the vermicelli to the hot liquid and let set until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the vermicelli from the pan.

2. Place a rice paper wrapper in the hot liquid and leave until softened, about one minute. Remove it from the water and place it on a work surface. Place 4 shrimp halves side-by-side in center of wrapper and top with 2 basil leaves, 1 tablespoon cilantro, a few carrot and cucumber strips, and a small amount of rice noodles.

3. Fold up bottom 2-inch border of wrapper over filling. Fold left, then right edge of wrapper over filling. Roll filling to top edge of wrapper to form tight cylinder.  Lay each roll in a leaf of lettuce and place on a serving platter.  Serve with dipping sauce.

Summer Roll Dipping Sauce (adapted from Nouc Cham in Corinne Trang’s Essentials of Asian Cuisine)

1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1.5 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients. Let stand for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.