shrimp canapes a la suede

I don’t live the kind of lifestyle that includes a lot of canapés. Maybe that’s because canapés went out of style fifty years ago. Or maybe I need to start labeling any “toasts topped with stuff” as canapés, because I’ve eaten plenty of those. More precisely, canapés are “toasts fussily topped with stuff”. And since when do I not appreciate fussy?

These particular canapés include the unbeatable combination of bread, salted butter, shrimp, dill, mayonnaise and lemon. While there’s no cooking (assuming you buy pre-cooked shrimp), the assembly may take a while, because remember, fussiness is an essential aspect of making canapés.

Since I apparently don’t go to enough events where canapés are served, I will make them for a virtual event – a bridal shower for my fellow desert blogger (although her Sonoran desert trumps my Chihuahuan desert), Kelsey, who’s getting married next week. Kelsey is one of the most kind and beautiful women I know, and I wish every happiness upon her. I would love to shower her with well wishes in real life, but this virtual bridal shower will have to do.  The advantage of a virtual party, of course, is that I got to eat all the canapés myself. The disadvantage is that I didn’t get to eat everyone else’s contributions.

One year ago: Roll-out Sugar comparison
Two years ago: Roasted Kale
Three years ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

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Shrimp Canapés à la Suede (tweaked from Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook)

The slivers of lemon tucked under each canapé are very cute, but not entirely practical. The brightness of lemon was important part of this flavor combination, however, so it might make more sense to forget the wedges and simply squeeze some lemon over the shrimp before adding the mayonnaise and dill.

Makes 12 appetizers

12 (2-inch) rounds of bread, sliced ¼-inch thick
Salted butter, softened
12 medium shrimp, cooked and sliced lengthwise (to make two symmetrical spirals)
Mayonnaise
12 small dill sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
12 small lemon wedges

Toast the bread until lightly browned; let cool. Butter the toast rounds and top each with two shrimp halves. Garnish the canapés with mayonnaise stars pressed from a pastry bag (or just dollop a scant ½ teaspoon on each). Top with the dill springs and season with pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.

feta and shrimp macaroni and cheese

I can’t deny that quality matters when it comes to food. I know I’m lucky in this small town that I can buy the ingredients I can – Greek yogurt, dried currants, and free range eggs are all items that my grocery store has started carrying since we moved here last year. (Soy yogurt and King Arthur whole wheat flour are ingredients they’ve stopped carrying, unfortunately.) But there just isn’t a market here for all the ingredients I wish I could buy. And that’s why I stock up on cheese and chocolate when we visit my parents in Albuquerque.

I made this recipe once with swiss cheese I bought in the grocery store here. It might even have called itself gruyere. And the pasta was fine. Not thrilling, but nice. But I couldn’t wrap my head around how something with this combination of ingredients – pasta, fresh herbs, feta, shrimp, and gruyere – could not be thrilling.

When I tried again with gruyere I got at Whole Foods in Albuquerque, it was a whole different dish. This time it was everything I had expected originally, with bright fresh lemon and dill, sweet shrimp, and pungent gruyere melted around swirls of pasta. Just like the good coffee is less acidic and good chocolate tastes deeper, good cheese makes better macaroni and cheese.

One year ago: Apple Muffins
Two years ago: Caramel-Topped Flan
Three years ago: Marcella Hazan’s Lasagne Bolognese

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Shrimp and Feta Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from The Perfect Pantry via Annie’s Eats)

½ cup panko breadcrumbs
10 ounces feta cheese, crumbled and divided
zest of 1 lemon, divided
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped, divided
5 tablespoons butter, divided
salt
1 pound pasta
1 pound raw shrimp (31-40 ct.), peeled and deveined, cut in half (if desired)
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
8 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a small bowl, combine the panko, a quarter of the feta, a pinch of lemon zest, 2 teaspoons of the parsley and 1 tablespoon of the butter, melted. Toss with a fork to combine; set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package directions. Drain, then transfer the pasta back to the cooking pot. Add the raw shrimp to the warm pasta; combine.

3. In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat; whisk in the flour. Cook 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly, until light golden brown. Whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until the sauce bubbles and thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the remaining feta, Gruyere, remaining parsley, remaining lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta and shrimp; stir well to coat.

4. Transfer the mixture to a lightly greased 2½ or 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

pasta puttanesca

Dave’s been traveling occasionally for work, and every time we say goodbye, I get all, “nooooo, don’t leave me!” and then he’s gone, and I’m like, hey, now I can eat anchovies. Woohoo!

My standard dinner routine for when I’m on my own is pasta puttanesca on weeknights and pissaladiere on the weekend. Both combine Dave’s two least favorite ingredients, olives and anchovies. He doesn’t like such strong flavors – olives with their brine and anchovies with their salt. But if you combine the two, they battle for dominance and neither overpowers the other.

The first time I made puttanesca, I was a little overwhelmed. Looking back, I think I had made an understandable error – I added salt. The anchovies provide all the salt you need for this dish. Then that’s enhanced by bitter parsley and spicy pepper flakes, and everything comes together in a wonderful clash of flavor in your mouth.

One year ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Two years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage and Roasted Red Peppers

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Pasta Puttanesca (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves four

I use 12 ounces of pasta instead of 16 ounces; also, I don’t prefer spaghetti with chunky sauces like this.  To increase the protein, sometimes I add 2 cans of solid tuna, drained.

4 medium cloves garlic, minced to a paste or pressed through a press
Salt
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
4 teaspoons minced anchovies (about eight fillets)
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained, ½ cup juice reserved
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped coarse
¼ cup minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, mix the garlic with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl; set aside. When the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; stir to separate the noodles. Immediately heat the oil, garlic mixture, hot red pepper flakes, and anchovies in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.

2. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain, then return the pasta to the pot. Add ¼ cup of the reserved tomato juice and toss to combine.

3. Stir the capers, olives, and parsley into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the pasta and toss to combine, adding more tomato juice to moisten if necessary. Adjust the seasonings with salt to taste and serve immediately.

pomegranate-glazed salmon

I’m fortunate that my job doesn’t have a strict start time each morning, because I’m not the most punctual person. I pretty much get there 15 minutes after I intend to everyday. Some days I try to get there early, and those are the only days when I’m on time – but never early.

It gets worse in the kitchen, where the half an hour I expect to spend on a meal turns into an hour, or the one minute I allot to spend photographing a dish turns into five, or the five minutes I’m hoping to spend cleaning takes twenty. So when Dave and I had to leave the house at 5:30pm (about 2½ hours before our normal dinner time), and I told him I was determined to eat dinner first, he was understandably worried.

Not only is this dish simple enough so that I was able to get it made with time to spare (and “time to spare” is not a phrase I get to use often), but it was tasty enough to make again within a week. That sweet-sour glaze was a great compliment to the salmon. Plus, there’s just the tiniest bit of cooking fat in the recipe, which means I ate something healthy on the weekend! This meal was out of character for me in a lot of ways, and I think I like it.

One year ago: Stuffed Mushrooms with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Two years ago: Mulled Cider

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Pomegranate-Glazed Salmon (adapted from Food and Wine via …so many recipes) (via Cara who pointed me in the direction of the recipe in the first place, and then went her own direction with it)

Mix the marinade and the glaze at the same time, since they use so many of the same ingredients. If you don’t keep agave nectar around, just use 4 teaspoons brown sugar instead, in both the marinade and the glaze.

Serves 4

For the marinade:
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets

For the glaze:
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
½ cup pomegranate juice
salt

1. Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a large, shallow dish. Add the salmon fillets and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, turning a few times.

2. Make the glaze: Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix all of the glaze ingredients except the pomegranate juice. In a small saucepan, simmer the juice over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Stir into the other glaze ingredients.

3. Adjust an oven rack to 4 inches below the broiler; heat the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil; arrange the salmon fillets, skin side down, on the prepared pan. Season with salt and brush with half of the glaze. Broil for about 3 minutes, until the fillets begin to brown. Brush the fillets with the remaining glaze and broil for about 3 minutes longer, until richly glazed and the fish is just cooked through. Serve immediately.

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)

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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

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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

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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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