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Fish Tacos

January 27, 2013 3 comments
Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos

I recently visited my doctor and I left the office with tons of questions.

Why are soap operas on in the waiting room?  Why not something more neutral like a news channel?

What is that smell?  Doctor’s offices always have that unique smell that you never smell anywhere else.  I can’t explain it but if you were to blind fold me and lead me to a doctor’s office, I’d know I was there.

Who decided that a roll of paper is the best material to sit on while waiting endlessly for the doctor to show up?

Why are patient gowns impossible to tie without help?

Why are we weighed with all of our clothes on and why doesn’t the doctor take that into consideration when figuring out if we’re overweight?  Surely the shorts, t-shirt and flip flops I wore during my July visit weigh less than the jeans, boots, and sweater I had on during the January visit.

Why, no matter what my ailments are, does the doctor always prescribe exercise and weight loss?  I seriously doubt the chronic cough I recently developed is caused by being 10 or 20 pounds overweight.

Why am I all-of-a-sudden talking in a Jerry Seinfeld voice?

Who are these people…..

***************************************************************************

Next up in my series of good for you meals is Fish tacos.  Skeptical?  “Hmmm…?” you say. Well I say don’t knock it until you try it.

They’re a nice alternative to chicken or beef tacos and of course, the fish combined with the fresh ingredients make them light and full of flavor and a heck of lot healthier.

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh tilapia fillets (or other mild, white fish)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (seeds removed)
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes (if fresh are not available, canned are perfectly fine)
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Creole Seasoning (such as Tony Chachere’s)
  • Corn Tortillas
  1. Rise and dry fish.  Season both sides lightly with the creole seasoning.  Set aside.
  2. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  3. Saute’ onion until slightly translucent (3-5 minutes) and then add the garlic.  Mix.
  4. Add fish to the skillet and cook for 3-4 minute.  Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes or until fish is opaque and begins to flake.
  5. Add jalapeno,  tomatoes, cilantro, and lime juice.
  6. Continue to cook over medium heat for a few minutes.
  7. Using a spoon, begin to break up the fish to incorporate all of the ingredients.
  8. Meanwhile, heat tortillas in a separate skillet on both sides to warm.
  9. Top tortilla (use 2 per taco) with a few spoonfuls of the fish mixture.
  10. Garnish with a bit more cilantro and a fresh squeeze of lime.
Give it a try. Healthy and delicious

Give it a try. Healthy and delicious

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Salsa Verde

September 16, 2012 Leave a comment
Salsa Verde

Salsa Verde

I love chips and salsa.

Give me the salty crispness of tortilla chips and a nice bowl of spicy (but not burn my mouth hot) salsa and I’m nearly good to go.  Just need to throw in an icy cold beer, the remote control, and a sporting event to make it complete.  A couch potato’s dream!

Recently my love affair with green salsa has taken center stage and I feel like its the only color salsa I’ve been eating as of late.

Even though I’ve made home made tomato based salsa many times, admittedly, I’ve always bought the green version pre-made.

Although I’m not sure why, I think I may have initially been intimated by a tomatillo, the vegeta…errrr…I mean berry, needed to make salsa verde.

I feel as though I must give a quick reminder that tomatoes, whether red, yellow, striped or green are all berries. I won’t go in to the details, I trust that those with Botany degrees know what they’re talking about. (Ok, one more tid-bit — strawberries are not berries — weird right?)

Anyway, back to the tomatillo.  You can find them in the vegetable section of your grocery store. You may have to go to a larger grocery store though as not every store I’ve been to carries them. (I get mine from the local Mexican grocer).  They come with a paper husk on them which you will need to peel when you get home.  Once peeled they’re quite sticky so they need a good rinse.  Also, they are $3 or $4 a a pound, but don’t be alarmed, they don’t weigh a ton and you don’t need a lot to make a batch of salsa verde.

Once made, you can store it in an airtight container, refrigerated, for roughly 2 weeks (if  it lasts that long)

By the way, if you’re going to make good homemade salsa, try to pair it with homemade chips.

To make your own, just buy a pack of corn (not flour) tortillas, cut in to triangles and deep fry in 350 degree oil just long enough to make golden brown.  Remove from oil, let drain on a rack over a newspaper lined sheet pan.  Season with salt while hot. Thank me later.

I’ll mention I don’t always want to go through the deep fry trouble, so instead I make sure to use good quality tortilla chips. They cost a bit more but are worth it. Xochitl is my favorite.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb tomatillos
  • 1/4 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Jalapeño pepper (keep the seeds in for heat, or remove for less heat – if you like it hotter add a second Jalapeño )
  • Salt to taste
  1. Remove husks from tomatillos and rinse well.
  2. Place tomatillos in a large pot and cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Remove.
  4. In a food processor or blender, add tomatillos, onion, cilantro, lime juice, sugar, and Jalapeño. Pulse to incorporate.
  5. Add salt to taste.
  6. Cool in refrigerator.  Serve with chips or on anything you would use salsa (such as a topping for fajitas in the picture below).
Fajitas topped with Salsa Verde

Fajitas topped with Salsa Verde

Black Bean Fritters

August 11, 2012 6 comments
Black Bean Fritters

Black Bean Fritters

Do you get stuck in a rut making the same things over and over and over and over and….

That was me last year.  As much as I love to cook, I still felt like I was making the same 10-12 dishes.  Sure I’d throw in something new every now and then to break it up, but for the most part it was getting pretty monotonous.

I think the reason for this is comfort.  For me, it really is much easier to go with what I know. With familiar ingredients, it was easier to plan, easier to shop, and took less time to cook.  Makes sense when life is busy.

Despite often being busy, I was determined to break through my cooking barriers.  So at the onset of 2012 I made a commitment to try at least one new dish every week.  I’m very much on target, and running the blog helps me stay on track.  I think at one point earlier in the year I made 7 straight meals that I’ve never made before.

With 2012 half gone, I continue trying more and more new things.  And even when I go to the well for an old stand-by recipe, I’ll try to tweak it to make it new and fresh. Thus, dinners have been far from boring.

The most recent new meal I made is this black bean fritter.  It contains simple, easy to find, mostly fresh ingredients.  It doesn’t take long to make. They’re filling.  Most of all, they taste good.  They would be great as an appetizer, or as the main dish paired with a side of rice.

Serve the fritters with a dipping sauce for added flavor and freshness.  I think it they would be excellent dipped in a chipotle dip but I went with a cilantro dip that was included in the original recipe that I found.  Even though I made the cilantro dip, I’ll include a quick easy chipotle dip recipe as well.  Enjoy!

For the Fritters

Ingredients:

Fritter Ingredients

Cilantro was shy and didn’t want its picture taken

  • 2 cans of black beans, rinsed
  • 1 red or yellow pepper (either – for color)
  • 1/2 white onion, diced (more or less based on your taste)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tomato, chopped fine
  • 1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped fine
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped

You’ve been chopped

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to incorporate.  Mixture will look wet but shouldn’t be too wet or loose. Add a tablespoon or more of flour as needed, but you should be ok with 1/2 cup.  Season with salt and pepper.

Fritter Looks Wet

Looks a little wet, but don’t worry

In a medium sized pan, heat olive oil.

Using an ice cream scoop, add a scoopful of mixture to the hot pan (I can get 3 or 4 in a pan).

Fritter Frying

3 or 4 will fit

Cook each fritter 3 minutes on one side.  Gently flip and cook another 3 minutes or until golden brown.

Fritter flipped

Cook until golden and crisp

Serve immediately with dipping sauce (Or store on a metal try in the oven preheated to 225 degrees until all fritters are done).

For the Cilantro Dipping Sauce:

Combine 1/2 cup of plain greek yogurt (or sour cream), 1 minced garlic clove, 2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and salt and pepper in a bowl.  Whisk to incorporate.

For the Chipotle Dipping Sauce:

Combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 chipotle pepper (in adobo sauce – diced fine), juice of 1/2 lime, pinch of cumin, and pinch of salt in a bowl.  Whisk to incorporate.

Fritters

Fritters with Cilantro Dip

Pork Tacos

June 30, 2012 Leave a comment
Crock Pot Pork Taco

Crock Pot Pork Taco

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for 35 years and for as long as I can remember, weather in this town has always been a major topic.  Perhaps it is because the city is made up of so many different types of personalities, that weather becomes the one thing everyone relates to.  I get it, but must we obsess?  Must our newscasts devote more than just a minute or two discussing what anyone who has looked or been outside already knows?  Must everyone (and their mother) post a picture of the temperature on Facebook? January and February it gets very cold and it snows. In the summer months its hot and humid.  That’s fact in Pittsburgh – no need to dwell and complain.

Since it is late June and usually that means its hot, sometimes more hot than normal temps (notice I’m stating fact, not complaining), the last thing I want to do is cook.  But alas, I have a family to feed and a blog to write (although the latter is obviously optional).

When the dew point is high and temperatures begin to creep up, grilling becomes my best cooking option.  However, I understand some of my readers may be intimidated by the grill (i.e. bored of the grilled goodness category), so I’m going with a crock pot recipe (which is the next best cooking option when its hot).  If you want to grill, check out my grilled pork tenderloin recipe and serve it up on a tortilla using any toppings you wish.

Grilled Pork Taco

Grilled Pork Taco

Whether you fire up the grill or use the crock pot recipe below, you’ll find both recipes are a cinch to make.  They’ll easily feed a family of 4 (with leftovers) and most importantly neither one will heat up your kitchen on those hot summer days.  I recommend mixing up a delicious frozen Margarita to beat this EXTREME HEAT.  Now if you will excuse me, I need to wipe the sweat from my brow.

Margarita

This cooled me down…and tasted pretty good too

Ingredients:

  • 1 large or 2 small pork tenderloins (about 1.5 lbs)
  • 2 cups of chicken stock (or 1 cup stock, 1 cup water)
  • 1 package of taco seasoning
  • 1 can of pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed (14 ounce)
  • 1 can of  diced tomatoes (14 ounce)
  • 1 can of green chilies, diced (4 ounce)
  • 1 package of frozen corn
  • 16 corn tortillas
  • Garnish:   Cilantro and Cotija, Queso, or cheddar cheese

Mix together the broth and taco seasoning.

Next, add all ingredients except corn and tortillas to the crock pot cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Once the pork is cooked, shred it and add back to the pot.  Add frozen corn, stir.  Let cook another 30 minutes.

When ready, warm tortillas using a skillet heated with olive oil (30 seconds per side). Place in a warmer (or between a few sheets of paper towels) until ready to use.

Using TWO corn tortillas for each taco (or 1 flour tortilla) add a few heaping spoonfuls of the cooked pork mix using a slotted spoon.  Top with cheese and cilantro.  Finish with a fresh squeeze of lime juice.  ENJOY!

2 Pork Tacos

2 magically delicious and super simple pork tacos


Chicken Tamales with Green Chile Salsa

May 27, 2012 3 comments
Chicken and Green Chile Tamale with Rice and Corn

Chicken and Green Chile Tamale with Rice and Corn

Mexican food is my favorite ethnic food.  When I was growing up, the city lacked true authentic Mexican cuisine.  Therefore anytime I would visit my brother in California, seeking out good Mexican food was often a priority.

Luckily, due to an increasing Mexican population, Pittsburgh has seen a few Mexican Grocers pop up.  One of these grocers is Renya Foods in the strip district.  The store is stocked with all sorts of authentic Mexican groceries, dried chile peppers, condiments, and Mexican cheeses.  The main selling point for me when I am there is their homemade tortillas.  They’re made on the spot and if you time it right you can get them when they are still warm.  When I do, I will eat one right out of the bag while I’m shopping the strip.  They’re delicious.

There is also Las Palmas, in the city’s Brookline neighborhood.

Las Palmas in Brookline Neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Las Palmas in Brookline Neighborhood of Pittsburgh

Like Renya’s, Las Palmas has a wide selection of Mexican groceries.  Where Las Palmas excels is their a butcher counter (something Reyna’s doesn’t have).  I’ve bought their chorizo as well as their fajita chicken and carne asada. All of which are very good.

Butcher Counter at Las Palmas

Butcher Counter at Las Palmas

Both stores have a taco stand out front where they serve delicious Mexican street tacos. Depending on the time of day, the wait can be somewhat long but both are extremely worth it.

Besides the Mexican grocers, there is the addition of  two fairly new restaurants, California Taco Shop (CTS) and Casa Rasta. Both of which specialize in authentic Mexican food. I’ve not been to Casa Rasta, but CTS has great tacos and something called a California Burrito.  All I need to say is it has French Fries in it.  I googled this and thought they added the fries to appeal to Pittsburgh folk, but that’s not the case.  Fries were always part of this burrito which originated on the West Coast.

California Burrito from California Taco Shop

California Burrito from California Taco Shop

Despite some amazing tacos and burritos at all of these places, the one thing they lack is what I’m craving the most.  Fresh steamed tamales.

The best tamale I ever ate was at a tamale stand at the Hollywood Farmers Market.  Its been several years so the name of the stand escapes me, but they were great.  So much in fact that I packaged some to bring home and froze them.  It was a sad day when the last tamale was gone.

Without a good tamale in my hometown and no more frozen ones to be had. I did what any Polish-Italian food lover with absoutly no experience in the tamale making business would do.  I made my own.  I have to admit, my aspirations were high, but I had no clue where to start.

The first thing I did was watch a bunch of videos on YouTube.  The problem with this was there wasn’t a common way to make them.  Some used butter, some oil, the most authentic ones were made with lard.  Same with the recipes I found.  Ugggh.  Determined, I took the knowledge of what I watched and read and made it my own.  Probably a little too ambitious for my first try.

I decided to go to Las Palmas to get the things I would need:  Corn Husks and Masa Harina.

Corn Husks and Masa de Harina

Corn Husks and Masa de Harina

Once I had what I needed to make the tamale mixture, I had to decide what to fill them with.  Since I wanted to focus on the tamale mixture itself and to save time (and ease and frustration) I used a rotisserie chicken.  I also used a store bought salsa.  I was totally improvising but conceptually I knew what I wanted.

I have to admit, I was in over my head and it took a bit more work than I expected, but the result was a decent tasting tamale that I could call my own.  My family liked them and I took a few in for some friends of mine at work.  They enjoyed them too but also gave me some constructive criticism which I’ll consider when I make these again…and I will make them again.

Ingredients:

  • 1 rotisserie chicken, shredded (for convenience but you could make your own chicken if you want)
  • 1 jar of store bought green chile salsa. (1/4 cup reserved)
  • 1 1/2 cups Masa (I used Maseca brand)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Dried Chile Pepper, seeds removed
  • 1 1/4 cups of water (boiled then brought left to cool down to where its still warm)
  • 18 Dried Corn Husks
  • Large bowl of cold water (for soaking the husks)

Add the chicken and salsa to a large pan.  Simmer until the chicken and salsa are warmed through.  Remove from heat.  Let cool completely.

Chicken Filling

Chicken Filling

At the same time, prep the corn husks by placing them in a large bowl filled with cold water.  Let soak until husks are pliable.

With kitchen shears (or scissors) cut off the stem of the pepper.  Discard seeds.  Put the chile pepper in a large measuring cup.

Meanwhile bring the water to near boil.  Pour the all the water over the chile pepper and let steep until the water is still warm but not hot.  *Remove pepper.

Chile Pepper Steeping

Chile Pepper Steeping

*The purpose of this was to flavor the water that is added to the masa.  Some recipes used chicken stock, I decided to give this a try.  I can’t say it helped either way but the idea sounded good.

In a separate bowl, add together the masa and salt.   Add in melted butter.  While mixing (I used a stand mixer) slowly add in the warm water that was used to steep the chile pepper a little at a time.  Continue to mix and add more water as necessary until the Masa is the consistency of smooth peanut butter.  You may not use all of the water or you may need more.   I used all of the water.  The end result should be masa that isn’t too wet that it sticks to you fingers.  But also, shouldn’t be too dry and crumbly.

Masa Mixture

Masa Mixture.

When the masa is ready, spread a few tablespoons over the corn husk.  Start in the middle and work your way to the sides and top .  Leave about an inch border on either the left or right side of the husk.  (notice I didn’t go all the way to top or over to one side – lesson learned)

Masa in the husk

Masa in the husk

Add a spoonful of the chicken/salsa mixture to the middle of the masa spread.  (notice with this one I was starting to get the hang of spreading the masa)

Filled and ready to fold

Filled and ready to fold

Fold the masa over the filling and then the husk over to seal masa.  This took some getting used to but by the time I folded my 8th or 9th one, I had it down.

Tamale Folding

Tamale Folding

Repeat this process until you used up the masa.  I should have got about 18 tamales, but I wound up with a bakers dozen.  Either my masa was too thick or I used too much.

Tamales, rolled and ready for steaming

Tamales, rolled and ready for steaming. Not pretty but it worked.

When ready to cook, place tamales in a steamer (I used a colander inside a pot with water on the bottom and a lid on top).

In the pot

In the pot

Steam for 45 minutes.

When finshed, unwrap the tamale and add a bit more of the green salsa.  Enjoy!

My First Tamale

My First Tamale

There really are a lot of steps, but it wasn’t overly complicated.  I will certainly do this again with some modifications.