Fried Smelts

Friend smelts, tossed with garlic and cilantro leaf.

Fried smelts, tossed with garlic and cilantro leaf and served with fresh lime and sriracha mayo.

I remember my dad picking up fried smelts from a takeout place when I was a child in Indiana.  They were interesting to me since you eat the whole fish: bones and all.
(We also ate a lot of northern Wisconsin panfish, so I was used to eating the tails.)

Smelts are something I really enjoy occasionally now: a simple, inexpensive fish – that is available coast-to-coast and you don’t have to be concerned from an environmental perspective (my understanding is that there are plenty of smelt in the wild) and they’re so small, you generally eat them bones and fins intact, like anchovies (unless they’re large… say, more than 4 inches long… then you may want to remove the spine with attached bones as you eat them.)

Most recently I was reminded of smelts when they were served last fall at my favorite brew pub, Cambridge Brewing Company, where the chef does lots of great specials.

Anyway, here is how I prepared them.  A pound of smelts (perhaps 35 here?) is likely enough for two as a main course and for four as an appetizer.

1 pound of smelts, thawed from frozen.

1 pound of smelts, thawed from frozen.

Peppers, salt, and mexican oregano to season the flour; mayonnaise and pepper sauce for dipping; and olive oil, cilantro, and garlic to be sautéed and tossed with the fried smelts.

Peppers, salt, and mexican oregano to season the flour; mayonnaise and pepper sauce for dipping; and olive oil, cilantro, and garlic to be sautéed and tossed with the fried smelts.

Coat the moist smelts with flour seasoned with smoked paprika, cayenne, crushed mexican oregano, salt, and pepper.

Coat the moist smelts with flour seasoned with smoked paprika, cayenne, crushed mexican oregano, salt, and pepper.

Fry the coated smelts in oil (at ~320° F).

Fry the coated smelts perhaps 4 minutes in oil (at ~320° F).

While frying the fish, prepare some ligltly sautéed fresh herbs with which to toss them.

Chopped cilantro leaf and sliced garlic.

Chopped cilantro leaf and sliced garlic.

After removing some of the oil by resting them on on paper towels or a rack, toss the fried smelts with herbs as desired:

Toss the fried smelts with cilantro and garlic, sautéed in olive oil.

Toss the fried smelts with cilantro and garlic, sautéed in olive oil.

I squeezed some fresh lime over the fish and served them with a dipping sauce of mayonnaise and sriracha sauce, on a beautiful first-day-of-summer in the backyard!

Fried smelts.

Fried smelts.

Here are the online recipes I consulted for preparation tips:

Pretzels

Fresh German-Style soft pretzels

Fresh German-style soft pretzels.

Given how much I love beer, including German beers, I was surprised I hadn’t thought to make fresh pretzels before; they’re a perfect companion for beer and bready palate-cleanser when sampling beer styles.

These pretzels were prepared for a party where, thankfully, they were a popular addition.

For this recipe I had help from my companion, more experienced in bread-making than me. She prepared the dough based on this recipe.
For a double batch (about 16 medium-sized pretzels), we used the following ingredients:

  • doubled the ingredient quantities
  • substituted 1/2 whole wheat flour
  • used a biga-style preferment, i.e., soaked flour + water + small amount of yeast for about 4 hours
  • placed half the pretzels (on one baking sheet) into the freezer to firm before boiling

There are a lot of good video recipes online showing the technique to roll-out the dough, form the pretzels, boil, and bake, so I won’t describe the process here, but rather refer you to the recipes and videos linked below. (I especially liked this video.)

Some observations:

  • When forming the pretzels, be sure to stick the feet down (perhaps by moistening with a dab of water) so they don’t come loose while boiling and baking.
  • The more baking soda in the boiling water, the darker the pretzels will be.  We used about 2 heaping tablespoons in a large skillet to boil the pretzels three or four at a time.
  • It didn’t seem to make much difference whether or not the pretzels were cooled in the freezer for a short time before boiling.
  • Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with kosher salt (or other coarse salt) before baking.
  • We baked them on parchment paper for 25-30 minutes in a preheated 410° F oven.
Pretzels baked on parchment paper.

Pretzels baked on parchment paper.

We served the pretzels with a coarse mustard (as god intended), e.g., Grey Poupon Country Dijon, and also a spicy sauce made of mayonnaise and Sriracha hot pepper sauce.

All in all these turned out quite nice and were safely boiled in baking soda water rather than the traditional, but caustic, lye solution.  I knew lye was used for pretzels and lye bread, but never knew exactly how until researching these pretzel recipes.

While we didn’t follow one specific recipe to the letter, here is the primary one we consulted (first), plus a number of videos demonstrating the preparation techniques:

This was a fun baking project; I suggest you try freshly homemade pretzels as well!

Leftover Curry Frittata

Leftover Curry Frittata

Leftover Curry Frittata (chickpea, cabbage, and coconut) served with cumin rice.

I make a lot of curries; they’re flexible and amenable to creativity with whatever vegetables you have on hand.
I’m not a big breakfast person, but I do occasionally make a frittata; it’s easier than most might think (and you don’t bother with a crust like quiche), as long as you have a skillet you can move from the stovetop to the oven.

This Leftover Curry Frittata is simply a frittata made with your leftover curry from the night or nights before.
Here, I used a leftover curry made with cabbage, chickpeas, and coconut cream.
I bet you could even add a bit of leftover rice to the frittata, but rice also makes a nice side for breakfast.

Below are some related posts with preparation details for frittatas and vegetable curries.
Another tip is that I find that frittatas turn out fine with just egg and water (instead of milk), if you prefer to keep it dairy-free (or are out of milk, like me).

Asian-inspired frittatas are nice too, with chinese vegetables and a touch of hoisin and chili garlic sauce. Also, these are a bit less work than Egg Foo Young, that makes a great breakfast and reheats well.

Tomato Coconut Curry

Tomato Coconut Curry

Tomato Coconut Curry

Holy crap, apparently it’s been 2 years since I started this blog, and I haven’t even posted anything yet this year. I certainly have been cooking, and I did make a half-assed attempt at writing posts the last couple months but never published them.  I guess my enthusiasm was low – about blogging, not about life, the universe, and everything. That’s been good.  Anyway, here’s a new curry that I enjoyed and I’ll follow it up with a related breakfast idea.

This is a creamy, spicy curry spiced with the following: oil, tumeric root, black mustard seed, cumin seed, garam masala, cinnamon, minced fresh ginger, garlic, salt (to taste, later in cooking); to prepare: mix spice ingredients in the oil and cook over medium heat until seeds start to pop. Ingredients include: red bell pepper (2, medium diced), serrano pepper (1, finely diced, seeds included if you like it hot; I also added 6 dried red bird peppers), red onion (1/2 large, cut into thin strips), cherry tomato (1/2 pound, whole), water (adding small amounts as necessary to keep ingredients from sticking/burning, perhaps 1- 1/2 cups), green peas (1 cup, e.g., from frozen), fresh baby spinach leaves (1 6 ounce bag), coconut cream (~1/3 can or 4-5 ounces, to desired thickness/taste).

Cherry tomatoes cooking down for Tomato Coconut Curry.

Cherry tomatoes cooking down for Tomato Coconut Curry.

Cook until tender and the tomatoes can be easily mashed.
Add the peas when the curry is nearly done, so as not to overcook them, and add salt to taste.

Adding peas (frozen) to Tomato Coconut Curry.

Adding peas (frozen) to Tomato Coconut Curry.

Stir in the coconut cream and fresh spinach leaves last.

Tomato Coconut Curry finished with coconut cream and fresh spinach leaves.

Tomato Coconut Curry finished with coconut cream and fresh spinach leaves.

While this was being prepared, I cooked brown basmati rice in a rice cooker (cheating… soaked first in water, since this doesn’t cook as quickly as, say, chinese sticky rice), and served the two together for a delicious dinner.

Tomato Coconut Curry served with brown basmati rice.

Tomato Coconut Curry served with brown basmati rice.

I didn’t base this on any specific recipe – it was born of what I had on hand, but if you’d like a more precise recipe, here are two that are somewhat similar:

This is a great curry that is both and gluten-free and vegan. I hope you enjoy it!

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie

This year I had a lot of Thanksgiving leftovers.  This is quite a different from the past couple years when I’d made thanksgiving dinner my whole family; this year, however having moved 1000 miles away, I was on my own, but still wanted to make a full dinner, simply because I enjoy the hours of prep.
I decided to make pot pies with the leftovers and was interested to learn that it’s still a legitimate pot pie without any sort of crust or pastry top.  See Wikipedia for details on that; it seems logical to me that a pot pie cooked in a pot instead of a crust.

For the pot pies I used all the leftover turkey breast and green bean casserole (that I had topped with broken sweet potato chips).  The green bean casserole is based on Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, so I added some half and half (sparingly!) to make the pot pie sauce, and stirred in the turkey cut to bite size. I cut and sautéed some carrots, and also tossed in some frozen peas.  Lastly, I seasoned the mixture generously with thyme and filled individual-sized baking dishes and put them in the freezer.

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie

These simple pot pies reheat from frozen in 1 hour at 350° F, covered with aluminum foil.  Once warm (i.e., boiling a bit – check that it’s thawed by stirring), I topped it with a dinner roll and put it back in the oven for ~5 minutes (max).

Thankfully, these taste great – since I made 8 of them… and they were simple and fun – no recipe or measuring needed!

Almond Shrimp Skillet Bread Pudding

Almond Shrimp Skillet Bread Pudding

Almond Shrimp Skillet Bread Pudding

I found a week or two old dried chunk of a country wheat boule in the refrigerator that I was hesitant to simply discard… it was a tasty, hearty bread.  I decided to essentially make a frittata but add bread cubes to it, making it a sort of savory bread pudding. This was the successful result. :)

Most of the ingredients.

Most of the ingredients.

Ingredients: olive oil, chopped sweet onion, mushroom, spinach, a couple cloves of garlic (sliced), oregano, black pepper, raw shrimp (thawed from frozen and most cut into bite sized pieces), a large handful of bread cubes or torn pieces , 4-6 eggs beaten with perhaps 1/4 cup of half and half.

Sautéing ingredients.

Sautéing ingredients.

In a non-stick skillet on the stove top, I first lightly sautéed the vegetables, partially cooked the shrimp, and seasoned. Meanwhile, the bread is soaking in the egg/milk mixture.

Starting the pudding in a skillet on the stove top.

Starting the pudding in a skillet on the stove top.

Then I added the bread/eggs, that had been soaking for perhaps 1/2 hour in the beaten eggs, and cooked until it began to solidify, just as one would prepare a frittata or omelette.

Finishing the pudding under the broiler.

Finishing the pudding under the broiler.

Lastly I topped the pudding with raw, blanched slivered almonds and finished it under a low broiler until nicely solidified and browned on top.

Almond  Shrimp Skillet Bread Pudding

Almond Shrimp Skillet Bread Pudding

To serve, I cut the pudding into 3 generous servings (each with one whole shrimp on top) and drizzled it with a simple sauce of mayonnaise and sriracha pepper sauce, and accompanied it with a salad of fresh spinach tossed with Goddess Dressing and sprinkled with toasted almond slivers.

A bite of Almond Shrimp Skillet Bread Pudding

A bite of Almond Shrimp Skillet Bread Pudding

Mustard and Black Pepper Pork Tenderoin

Mustard and Black Pepper Pork Loin with a salad of mixed greens, fingerling potatoes and blanched red onion.

Mustard and Black Pepper Pork Tenderloin with a salad of mixed greens, fingerling potatoes and blanched red onion.

This one is pretty much just an easy serving suggestion.  Pork tenderloin is one of the easiest meats to prepare since it’s inherently tender… one just needs to be sure not to overcook it.

Here, I first browned the tenderloin in a bit of oil in a pan.  Then I slathered the pork with mustard (Grey Poupon Country Dijon), a bit of olive oil, and freshly ground Tellicherry peppercorns, and cooked it for 25 minutes or so in a 325° F oven until it was about medium (still slightly pink) doneness.

I served the pork topped with a simple sauce made of the mustard, thinned with balsamic vinegar (if I recall correctly :) ). It was accompanied by a mixed green salad including boiled fingerling potatoes and blanched strips of red onion. (From the looks of them, these may be fat finger[ling] potatoes :) .)  You can blanch the onion strips by tossing them in the water with the boiling potatoes just before draining.  The pototoes and onion were tossed with a bit of Trader Joe’s Goddess Dressing. (See this post if you wish to make your own version of this great dressing.)

This dinner is easy and delicious. I could also imagine rolling the tenderloin in cracked peppercorn, as you might have a peppercorn-encrusted beefsteak.

Barbecue Baby Back Ribs

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill: saucy.

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill: saucy!

Wow, I’ve been away from my blog for a couple months – but I have a good reason! I was finishing my Ph.D., moving 1000 miles from the midwest to the east coast, and starting a new job… but, I didn’t stop eating. :)

Here’s a meal from a month or two ago, in the northwoods with my family: barbecue baby back ribs.

Obviously there are a zillion other recipes and recommendations for how to do these, so I’ll just add my 2 cents worth about how I did them.

I started by cooking the thawed ribs in a couple pints of a nice brewery-fresh scotch ale, in a roasting pan.  Overall this was at 250-300° F for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.  I progressively raised the temperature to try to hit the desired dinner time.

Preparing the ribs for pre-cooking, with a pint or two from a growler of scotch ale.

Preparing the ribs for pre-cooking, with a pint or two from a growler of scotch ale.

Meanwhile, I prepared a blended, sugar-free, somewhat spicy barbecue sauce from dried ancho and chipotle peppers, fresh lime juice, pan-roasted garlic cloves, mexican oregano, water from rehydrating the peppers, a bit of olive oil and a touch of salt.

Preparing a sugar-free chipotle and ancho chili BBQ sauce.

Preparing a sugar-free chipotle and ancho chili BBQ sauce.

During the pre-cooking phase, I occasionally turned and basted the ribs with some water from rehydrating the peppers.

Pre-cooking the ribs in a covered roasting pan with a nice scotch ale and water from rehydrating the dried peppers.

Pre-cooking the ribs in a covered roasting pan with a nice scotch ale and water from rehydrating the dried peppers.

Once cooked, I finished the ribs on the gas grill.

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill.

Finishing the ribs on the gas grill.

And toward the end of cooking, slathered the ribs with a couple of barbecue sauces: mine and a store-bought sauce, that was my brother’s pick.  As you might know, usually you are warned not to put the sauce on too early because the sugar will burn…. that’s not an issue with my sauce.

A family dinner with BBQ ribs.

A family dinner with BBQ ribs out on the porch at around sunset.

Overall, these turned out tender and great. I’m definitely a fan of barbecue sauces without sugar… it’s often just not necessary to have BBQ taste great!

Cod with Tomato & Onion and Mashed Acorn Squash

Cod with tomatoes and onions accompanied by mashed acorn squash

Cod with tomato and onion accompanied by mashed acorn squash

As I said recently, I only have time for about one post a month lately, so lets get July out of the way.

I picked up some frozen cod fillets at Trader Joe’s and was in the mood for a seafood dish with tomatoes, so came up with this tasty main and side dish.  The acorn squash has been on the countertop for months – perhaps since wintertime, so it was time to use it… it’s nearly the fourth of July!

Ingredients (to serve 2) for the cod:

  • cod pieces, ~1 pound, e.g., Alaskan cod pieces, thawed from frozen
  • diced tomatoes, 1 can, e.g., Hunt’s natural fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, I used a small red onion cut top to bottom into strips
  • garlic, ~4 cloves, sliced thinly or minced
  • olive oil, a couple tablespoons
  • fennel seed, ~1 tablespoon, or to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • cayenne powder, ~1/8 teaspoon, or to taste

Ingredients for mashed acorn squash:

  • acorn squash, 2 medium, halved, seeds and veins removed
  • red potatoes, ~8 small
  • olive oil or butter
  • dijon mustard, ~1 teaspoon, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste

First, to prepare the squash, bake the squash halves, open side down, with the whole red potatoes in a baking dish with about 1/4 inch of water, for about 50 minutes at 375° F until potatoes are tender.

While the squash is baking – perhaps 1/2 hour in – prepare the cod, by first sautéing the onion strips in olive oil, when partially cooked, add the cod pieces.  Once the cod and onions are nearly cooked, add the can of diced tomatoes undrained, garlic, and fennel seed and mix carefully, so as not to break up the cod pieces too much. Reduce to a simmer, and add the spices to taste, simmering a while, perhaps until the fennel seeds soften a bit.

Alaskan cod with tomatoes and onion

Alaskan cod with tomato and onion

When the acorn squash is done baking, allow it to cool a bit and scoop it out and place  in a bowl with the whole unpeeled potatoes and mash, e.g., with a potato masher, adding olive oil sparingly to develop the desired consistency and flavor. Flavor with mustard, salt and pepper to taste.

baked acorn squash and red potatoes

baked acorn squash and red potatoes

To serve, place roughly equal amounts of both on a plate and top mashed acorn squash with paprika, e.g., I used smoked paprika.

Cod with tomatoes and onions, accompanied by mashed acorn squash

Cod with tomato and onion, accompanied by mashed acorn squash

This was a nice dish that I’d  make again – both the fish and/or the mashed squash.  I didn’t consult any recipes this time, but I see there are a number of similar cod dishes on web sites, often baked.

I hope you enjoy it or perhaps it inspires you to create something with flavors you love… here I think the fennel and mustard made it great, but those are amongst my favorites!

Shrimp Fra Diavolo

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine

I’ve not posted much lately because of work…umm, and play, but I’m committed to at least keeping up with one post a month, so here’s the latest: Shrimp Fra Diavolo – a devilishly simple American Italian pasta dish. (“Fra diavola” apparently means “brother devil.”)

I don’t cook Italian very often and it’s the food that I least often go out for; perhaps unjustifiably, I just sometimes find it a bit boring.  It’s just so common in the U.S. However, I definitely enjoy spicy food and have been meaning to make a “fra diavolo” dish for some time. Just the other day, I was watching the television program “Lidia’s Italy,” and she made Calamari Fra Diavolo over Linguine that inspired me to do something other than my baked pasta dish that I often make when I don’t have the energy to do something ambitious.

Ingredients

Ingredients

For this recipe, I used the following ingredients:

  • linguine (dry)
  • olive oil
  • diced fire-roasted tomato, 2 cans (undrained)
  • red onion, 1/2 large, finely diced
  • cayenne powder (I used ~1 teaspoon)
  • red pepper flakes
  • garlic powder
  • oregano (dried)
  • fennel seed (optional)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • sugar (sparingly, to taste)
  • large shrimp, 6-8 cut to bite-sized pieces
    (I was short on shrimp, so I also cut a swai filet)
shrimp and swai, from frozen, prepped into small pieces.

Shrimp and Swai (fish), from frozen, prepped into small pieces

To prepare, begin by sautéing the diced onion in olive oil in a large pan.

Sautéing the onion in olive oil.

Sautéing the onion in olive oil.

Simultaneously begin boiling the pasta separately until al dente. Once the onion is tender, add the tomatoes; mashing them either in advance or in the pan. (I actually used a potato masher.) Next, add all the dry spices and sugar and stir regularly, while cooking and slightly reducing the sauce. I also added a generous portion of dry fennel seed because fennel is one of my favorites.

Preparing the sauce with spices.

Preparing the sauce with spices.

Add the shrimp pieces to the sauce and cook a few minutes; when the pasta is mostly cooked (al dente), add it to the pan as well.

Add the al dente pasta.

Add the al dente pasta.

Stir the pasta and sauce, and finish cooking when the pasta and shrimp are the desired doneness/texture.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine.

Shrimp Fra Diavolo with Linguine.

I made about 4 servings. It’s a simple, yet delicious dish!

Here’s the television program I watched that inspired this recipe, and her quite different Shrimp Fra Diavolo recipe that I just found after making mine:

I hope you enjoy this dish; as with others spiced with cayenne powder, it’s easy to make it as hot (or not) as you like.

I’m cautiously optimistic that I find time to get back to blogging (and blog reading) before July.
Either way – have a great summer! :)