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04/15/2014

~ A Puerto Rican Bacalao Guisado (Cod Fish Stew) ~

IMG_9784Let me start by saying I am just an American girl cooking a really good Puerto Rican stew for dinner tonight -- this is not a lesson in Puerto Rican cooking.  My knowledge of Puerto Rican cooking is limited, but, my experiences with Puerto Rican food have all been good ones, so, don't ruin that for me with criticizms.  For a brief period of time we had a Puerto Rican neighbor named Yvonne.  It was from her I learned a little about Puerto Rican homestyle cooking.  Her specialties were "fritures di maiz" (corn fritters), "picadillo" (ground meat stew), and, "bacalao guisado" (cod fish stew).  Later, on a trip to Miami, I enjoyed a lovely dish of "camarones in escabeche" (pickled shrimp), followed by a luxurious "tembleque" (coconut custard)!

CulantroWhat I know about Puerto Rican cooking in general comes from Yvonne, who explained I'd find similar recipes in Caribbean, Cuban, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian food.  What sets their cuisine apart are three words: sofrito, adobo, and, achiote.  On my own I've deduced that Puerto Rican cooks seem to prefer red onions to white, use a lot of pimento stuffed green olives, and, culantro is not the same as cilantro, it's a spiny herb-cousin.  When they say "oil", it's vegetable oil!

Sofrito is used for flavoring.  It is an aromatic salsa-like mixture of processed fresh herbs and spices used as a base for countless dishes.  Like salsa, there are green and red versions. Adobo is used for seasoning.  It's a mixture of black pepper, oregano and garlic. Achiote is used for yellow-orange color.

"Bacalao" (bah-kah-LAY-oh) is the Spanish word for "cod fish".  In an authentic version, I'd be soaking dried salt cod in cold water for 2-3 days and changing the water 2-3 times daily.  I'm using fresh cod filets because I love them and they save time.  In an authentic version, I'd also be using a food processor to combine my culantro, freshly roasted peppers, garlic and onions (with tomatoes today) for the sofrito.  I'd need a mortar and pestle to make my adobo seasoning, and, I'd be cooking annatto seeds in vegetable oil to make achiote too!  Not today.  Meet:

IMG_9788Yvonne's yummy "don't sweat it" easy Bacalao Guisado recipe:

IMG_9670For the achiote potatoes:

4  cups peeled and 3/4" diced gold potatoes

2 packets Sazon Goya con culantro y achiote (seasoning mix with coriander & annatto)

1  teaspoon sea salt

For the sofrito/adobo mixture:

4  tablespoons vegetable oil

4  cups 1/2" diced red onion

1  cup 1/2" diced green bell pepper

IMG_97021  cup 1/2" diced red bell pepper

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1  teaspoon Mexican-style dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon Goya adobo seasoning with pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper 

1/2  cup whole, green, pimento-stuffed olives, well-drained, about 24 olives

IMG_97401  tablespoon large capers, well-drained

1/4  cup Goya sofrito w/tomatoes

1  8-ounce can tomato sauce

1  cup reserved, starchy, anchiote-seasoned potato water

For the cod:

1 1/2  pounds fresh cod filets, cut into 3/4"-1" chunks, about 4 cups

IMG_9695 IMG_9679~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, place the potatoes with water to cover.  Add the Sazon Goya and sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 6 minutes.  Do not over cook.  Drain thoroughly, reserving 1-cup of the seasoned, starchy water. Set potatoes & water aside.

~ IMG_9708 Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot, place vegetable oil.  Prep and add the onion, bell peppers and garlic as you work.  Add the oregano, adobo seasoning and black pepper.  Saute over medium-high heat until the onion softens, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.  

IMG_9715Stir in olives and capers and cook for 1 more minute.

IMG_9726 IMG_9722                                           ~ Step 3. Turn the heat off.  Stir in the Goya sofrito, tomato sauce and potato water.

IMG_9742~ Step 4. Cut the cod fish into large 3/4"-1" chunks.

IMG_9746~ Step 5.  Add the cod to the stew mixture and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer, cover and continue to cook until cod it opaque in color and just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_9755Gently fold in the potatoes, wait about a minute for them to heat through and serve immediately with warm, crusty bread and butter!

IMG_9762This stew is often served over a scoop of white rice steamed in coconut milk too, but, for me, these pretty yellow-orange colored potatoes are enough starch in one meal!!

IMG_9804A Puerto Rican Bacalao Guisido (Cod Fish Stew):  Recipe yields 3 quarts of stew, or, 6, 2-cup servings.  While this stew recipe doubles or triples very well, don't be inclined to make a double batch because you want leftovers, as the cod tends to break down.  Just make as much as you plan to serve that day -- but make enough for second helpings!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; colander; garlic press; 4-quart stockpot w/lid

6a0120a8551282970b0147e3aaeaa6970bCook's Note: Puerto Rican stew is a great change-of-pace to my traditional lenten fare.  For another one of my favorite lenten stews, which is quite elegant, ~ Provencal Seafood (Lobster*) Stew w/Lemon Rice ~ can be found in Categories 2, 11, 14 or 21!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/13/2014

~ Mad Men. Final Season Premier Tonight on AMC. What will Don Draper do and where will he land??? ~

IMG_9640My parents had All in the Family, my children had Seinfeld.  I've claimed Mad Men as my own. For me, aside from the adultery, alcoholism, divorce, debauchery and paranoia, watching this show is like being on the Starship Enterprise and saying, "Scotty, beam me back and pick me up in an hour".  I grew up in suburbia in the 1960's, was an executive secretary in the '70's in a place where three-martini lunches were common and every office had an ice bucket, and then, in the 1980's I was happily married, with children, and, traveling the world too!

IMG_9651I have no idea where Don Draper will land, but, I for one want it to be on successful ground.  We fans of the show are all speculating, and, one thing is for sure, tonight at 10:00PM, when I begin to watch the premier of this final season, it will be bitter-sweet.  I do not want this show to end.  For many of us in our fifties and sixties, it has been a show about how our generation began in a kind and gentle cocoon, the world events and technologies that caused us to lose our innocence while increasing our intelligence, and scarier yet, how we as a whole are turning out!

IMG_9661As a woman watching the show, there is a small piece of Sally, Betty, Joan, Peggy and Meagan in me. Been there, done that.  I get it:

I was raised to be a princess, got married, got divorced, became a working girl, managed an office, married the boss and retired.  I did it all with style and class, or, as Sinatra would say, "I did it my way" and I loved every minute of it!

Over the past couple of years, in honor of this show, I've hosted a few Mad Men premier night parties and posted my retro menus and recipes IMG_9654here on Kitchen Enounters.  This year, there is no party.  Sorry folks, I want Don Draper all to myself tonight.  I did, however, in honor of this show, add a new Category 26 to this blog today.  It's where you can go to learn everything you need to know about throwing an authentic Mad Men party:

What would Don Draper do?  Retro recipes from my past to your present!

IMG_9665"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Photos and Commentary courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

04/11/2014

~Cod Cakes w/Creamed Corn & Crisp Tortilla Wisps~

IMG_9617I never met a fish cake or a crab cake I didn't like.  Some recipes are better than others, but generally speaking, I love them all.  Whenever I broil, bake or poach fresh fish filets I always buy two or three, for the sole purpose of having leftovers to make fish cakes the next day.  Almost any kind of fish can be used to make fish cakes, but, this recipe is the one I use specifically for white fish cakes.  Firm, lean and meaty cod, grouper or haddock are my favorite three, and, I found some beautiful wild cod filets at our Giant market's seafood counter this week!  

IMG_9538This simple meal, as a whole, has got a spicy Southwestern edge to it.  I encountered it in a pub in Tempe, AZ in 1987.  One bite was enough for me to return home and make it again, and again, and again.  At the time, I had no idea what I was ordering.  Before I got a chance to look over the menu, a waitress served it, along with a basket of freshly-fried tortilla chips and tomato salsa, to the couple seated further down and sharing the cafeteria-style table with Joe and I.  I politely asked the woman, "What's that your eating?"  "The lunch special", was the reply, "pan-fried cod cakes over freshly-roasted creamed corn." "We come here once a week just to eat this", added her husband.  Joe and I had obviously picked the right day to eat there!

Corn Chronicles #7This post is all about the cod cakes rather than the freshly-roasted creamed corn recipe.  Now is not the time of year for me to attempt finding fresh sweet corn in our markets, and, even if I did, it wouldn't be very good.  I live in sweet corn country, and, nothing but picked-that-day and local will do.  This meal is over-the-top when made with fresh corn, but, off-season, I never let the lack of corn IMG_9211deter me from preparing it.  If you're lucky enough to live in an area where you have access to it, my instructions for ~ How to: Roast or "Bake" Sweet Corn in the Oven ~ is the first step to making great creamed corn.  On Tuesday I posted my recipe for, ~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal: Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomatoes ~.  Just click on the Related Article links below to get either one of my recipes!

IMG_9521It's time to make and fry some cod cakes! 

IMG_93993/4  pound wild, fresh cod, broiled as directed in my above mentioned recipe and cooled to room temperature, 3/4 pound after broiling, about 2 cups after flaking into small chunks and pieces the size of what you'd expect to find in a well-made crab cake

IMG_94351  12-ounce Russet potato, baked, cooled, peeled and mashed with a fork, about 2 cups

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  large garlic clove, run through a press

1/2  cup finely-diced onion

1/4  cup finely-diced green bell pepper

1/4  cup finely-diced red bell pepper

1  small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely-diced (optional)

IMG_94741  teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/4  cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

2  large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

1/2  cup plain, dried breadcrumbs

juice of half a lime, about 1/2 teaspoon, more or less, to taste

IMG_9598corn oil, for frying cod cakes and tortilla wisps

6  fresh corn tortillas, cut into quarters, quarters cut into very-thin strips

3 cups creamed corn, warmed

tomato salsa, for topping

lime wedges and/or cilantro sprigs, for garnish 

IMG_9416 IMG_9405~ Step 1. Using your fingers, break and flake the cod into small chunks about the size you would expect to find in a well-made crab cake.  You will have about 2 cups.

~ Step 2.  Using a fork, mash the potato.  You will have about 2 cups.

IMG_9459 IMG_9450~ Step 3. Place the cod chunks and pieces, along with the mashed potatoes, in a large bowl.  

Using a large rubber spatula, gently combine the two, being careful not to mash the cod.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

IMG_9449 IMG_9439~ Step 4. Prep the vegetables as directed. In an 8" skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the vegetables, salt and pepper.  Adjust heat to saute, stirring frequently, until veggies are crunch tender, about 3 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and set aside for veggies to cool a bit, about 10 minutes.

IMG_9460~ Step 5.  Fold  veggies into cod.  

IMG_9482Fold in the cilantro leaves followed by the IMG_9490bread crumbs, until mixture is evenly coated in crumbs.

IMG_9495~ Step 6.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the lime juice. Add to the cod cake mixture and fold again, until ingredients are thoroughly combined.  

IMG_9501Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

IMG_9507~ Step 7.  Remove the cod cake mixture from the refrigerator and divide it into  6 balls, approximately 5 1/2-ounces each.  Compress each ball into a 3/4"-thick disc.

~ Step 8.  Place 1/8" of corn oil in the bottom of a 12" skillet over medium-heat.  You will know the oil is hot enough for frying when little ripples appear across the surface.

IMG_9523 IMG_9511~ Step 9. While cod cakes are still chilled (don't let them come to room temperature), gently place them into the oil and fry, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3 1/2-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain and rest, about 5 minutes:

IMG_9532It's time to make the crispy tortilla wisps!

IMG_9555 IMG_9564~ Step 1. Cut 6 corn tortillas into quarters, stack a few at a time on top of each other and slice the quarters into very thin strips.

Add more corn oil to the skillet, to fill the pan to 1/4".  Bring oil back to temp over medium-high heat.

IMG_9579 IMG_9575~ Step 2. Add all of the tortilla strips to the hot oil in the skillet.  Fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes, using a spatula to keep the wispy strips moving around in the oil the entire time. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and immediately sprinkle with a generous grinding of sea salt:  

IMG_9588Serve each cod cake on a bed of warm creamed corn w/a dollop of tomato salsa on top followed by a generous sprinkling of tortilla wisps.  Squirt some lime over the top and eat!

IMG_9636Cod Cakes with Creamed Corn and Crisp Tortilla Wisps:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; garlic press; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" skillet, perferably nonstick; large spoon; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large spatula; paper towels 

6a0120a8551282970b017c3178051a970bCook's Note:  Salmon is another fish I love.  My recipe for ~ Refreshing Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Cakes (w/Mustard-Dill Sauce and a Cumcumber Salad too!) ~, can be found in Categories 3, 14 & 19!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/08/2014

~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal: Broiled Cod w/ Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce ~

IMG_9309"Fish is brain food."  That's what my mother always told me -- to entice us to eat it.  I never had to try to buy into that fish tale because the fish I ate as a child was quite good, and, as far as I was concerned, I was a sharp kid.  (Back then, "fish is brain food" was a claim that was dismissed as an "old wives tale".)  Like a lot of the world, our household fasted on religious "Fish Fry Fridays" (as I now affectionately refer to them), but, shrimp cocktail and fried salmon patties were the only two recipes in my mom's repertoire.  Why?  Those were the only two brain foods my father would eat, so, that was that.  Charlie the Starkist tuna did not live in my mother's pantry!

When it came to succulent shrimp cocktail and crispy pan-fried salmon patties, no one had to call me or my brother to the dinner table twice.  When I got to 9th grade, I encountered my first white fish.  It was in the form of pre-frozen, breaded fish sticks.  It was served with macaroni and cheese and stewed tomatoes. The year was 1969, and, our brand new high school school came equipped with our school district's first cafeteria.  I loved this meal, and, a few short years later, I was married with children and cooking my own version of this meal for my family!

Fettuccine Alfredo #1 (Intro Picture)Yesterday, I received this e-mail from a gal in Erie, PA:

Marcie says and asks:  I made your Fettuccini Alfredo a la Primavera yesterday and my family loved it.  I used frozen broccoli and carrots, which saved time.  I never thought I'd see my children eat these veggies without complaint. Do you have any quick and easy ideas to get them to eat fish?

IMG_9164Kitchen Encounters:  Marcie, when it comes to kids, fish might be a tougher "sell" than vegetables enrobed in cream and cheese.  My boys all went through "that picky stage", but, they did eat my broiled cod with spicy saffron rice.  In honesty, they loved the rice so much, they'd eat almost anything if I served it with Vigo rice. With its risotto-like consistency, this was one of my secret motherly weapons!

We moms all have recipes like this & I'm happy to share mine! 

UnknownA bit about cod:  As Mark Kurlansky so elequently writes in his book: "The codfish.  Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based upon it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it.  To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious than gold.  Indeed, the codfish has played a fascinating and crucial role in world history".

Alaskan cod is the same species as that of the East Coast. As far back as the 16th century, countries came to North America to fish for it along the Atlantic, Nova Scotia and the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

This mild, sweet-flavored fish with it's large, "white-meat" flakes, was the original fish 'n chips fish, because it held up so well under the rigors of deep-frying.  It does the same in stews and chowders, and, in my opinion, is at it's best when broiled or baked! 

Two fresh cod fillets + a few pantry staples & three easy steps = one delicious, nutritious, weeknight, family-style meal.

NO chopping, NO dicing, NO slicing, NO kidding.

Set your timer for 30 minutes & let your family set the table! 

IMG_9136For the rice:

1  10-ounce bag Vigo yellow rice (Spanish-style rice with saffron and dried spices)

2 1/2  cups water

4-6  tablespoons butter

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

2  cups frozen peas, unthawed

IMG_9142 IMG_9144~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan bring the water, butter and red pepper flakes to a boil. Sprinkle in the rice. Adjust heat to a steady, gentle simmer, cover, and cook until rice has absorbed almost all of the water, about 15 minutes.  Note:  I use a pot with a glass lid so I can keep an eye on the progress.

IMG_9150 IMG_9149Note:  This is not how the package directs to cook this rice, it is how I cook this packaged rice for this dinner.

Uncover the saucepan,  stir in the peas and cover the pot.  Turn heat off, but let sit on warm stovetop.

IMG_9171For the stewed tomato sauce:

1  28-can stewed tomatoes

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Note:  Stewed tomatoes.  My pantry is never without 2-3-4 cans of them. They are an amazing time saver. They've got chopped celery, onion, garlic and bell peppers already added to them, and, they're not overly salty.  In a pinch, a can of these is one of my go-to pantry items.  Today, I'm simply reducing them to form a chunky sauce!

IMG_9195 IMG_9174~ Step 2. Right after you bring the water to a boil for the rice, place the tomatoes and red pepper flakes in a 2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, until the rice is done, about 15 minutes. Turn heat off, cover the pot and allow to sit on still warm stovetop.

IMG_9210Note:  It has been 15 minutes, and, we've cooked both the rice and the tomato sauce.  Take a taste of each one.  I kid you not, this is REALLY good fast food!

There's more.  If you're waiting for hubby to get home from the office or the kids to get home from basketball practice, these two sides will wait patiently until you broil the fish!

IMG_9211For the cod:

2  whole wild cod fish filets, about 2 1/2-3 pounds

4-6  tablespoons butter

the juice of 1 fresh lemon

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking pan

IMG_9219~ Step 3.  Spray a small disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with a corrugated bottom, with cooking spray.  Place cod in the pan, folding the thin ends of the fish underneath the thick ends to make it fit.

Broil, about 6" underneath the preheated broiler until bubbly, thick sides of fish are opaque and top of fish is light golden, 12-14 minutes:

IMG_9247Portion, plate (rice, cod, tomatoes) and serve immediately:

IMG_9256Start to finish:  30 minutes.  Dig in:

IMG_8827Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal:  Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan w/tight fitting lid; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom

6a0120a8551282970b016304f9d4bd970dCook's Note:  For a variation on this "mild white fish with rice and tomatoes" theme, and another one of my favorite fish dinners, click into Categories 3, 14, 15, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce + Tips and Techniques for Handling Frozen Fish Fillets ~!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)