Simple Baked Halibut

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I love to experiment with sauces and flavors, but sometimes they can get in the way of one’s appreciation of the main element of a dish. So whenever I have a really great piece of fish – like this halibut that a friend sent to us from Alaska – I like to keep its preparation simple. That way the fish itself can really shine. Here I served the Baked Halibut with stir fried asparagus, steamed rice and soy sauce mixed with lemon juice and a dash of cayenne pepper served on the side.

Simple Baked Halibut

serves 2 – 3

1 lb piece of halibut cut about 2-inches thick, thawed

1 large lemon

sea salt

mix of black and green peppercorns

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.

2. Meanwhile, pat fish dry with a paper towel. Place fish, skin-side down, on the parchment paper. Lightly sprinkle fish with sea salt and several twists of fresh ground pepper. Cut about 2/3 of the lemon into thin slices. Spread slices over the top of the fish. (You can save the rest of the lemon to squeeze into a little soy sauce, if you like.)

3. Place fish in oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until cooked all of the way through. (The fish will be solid white in the center, not somewhat translucent.) Serve immediately.

Variations:

• Mix a few thin slices of red onion in with the lemon slices.

• Drizzle just a little bit of melted butter or olive oil on the fish before baking.

• Top with a little bit of chopped fresh parsley when serving.

Fire Roasted Tomato Minestrone

The combination of chopped onions, celery and carrots, sautéed in olive oil (to make what Italians call soffritto) or in butter (to make what the French call mirepoix) is wonderful for adding flavor to sauces, soups, stews and stuffings. Around the holidays, I keep soffrito or mirepoix in the refrigerator so that I have the aromatic vegetables already prepared to make holiday cooking easier.

I generally use about 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil per cup of raw vegetables, adding a dash of salt and pepper. To the onions, I also add a splash of dry white wine. For this minestrone, I prefer olive oil to butter, but either will work. If you have soffritto already made, you can substitute 3 cups of it for the vegetables in this soup and reduce the olive oil to 1 to 2 tablespoons.

MinestroneFireRoasted

Fire Roasted Tomato Minestrone

This is a delicious, stew-like minestrone … flavorful and filling for the winter months. If you prefer a more brothy soup, you can thin this with a little vegetable or chicken stock.

Ingredients

• about 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, divided

• 1 c. diced onions

• 1 c. diced celery

• 1 c. diced carrots

• 1/3 c. dry white or red wine

• 2 28-oz. cans diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes – or 1 can diced, 1 can crushed (do not drain)

• 1 15-oz. can cannellini beans (white kidney beans) or great northern beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 15-oz. can red kidney beans or black beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 T. dried oregano, crushed

• 1 T. paprika or smoked paprika

• 1 t. dried thyme, crushed

• 1/2 t. sea salt

• fresh grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, optional garnish

Directions

(1) If you do not have soffritto already prepared, start by sautéing vegetables in olive oil, one type at a time, using about 1  – 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper, per cup of vegetables. I like to add a splash of dry white wine to the onions. Cook briefly until crisp-tender.

(2) Add prepared vegetables, wine, about 1 T. of the remaining olive oil, tomatoes, beans, and spices to a large pot (6-8 qt). Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the minestrone comes to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook at a low simmer, continuing to stir occasionally, for about 15 minutes. (So that the vegetables remain crisp-tender, don’t overcook.) Taste.  Add more olive oil, wine, or seasonings if desired. Ladle into warm bowls to serve.

Serving suggestion: At the table, grate a little cheese over each bowl of minestrone – but not for vegans. Serve with warm bread and a glass of wine.

What’s For Breakfast?

Some very nice guests from Oklahoma gave me a bunch of fresh asparagus from their garden. What a treat! Now, I am trying to figure out how to incorporate it into breakfast this morning. As I write, I’m thinking that my special of the day will be Scrambled Eggs Primavera. The dish is still taking shape in my mind, but I am thinking fluffy scrambled eggs served atop a bed of baby yellow potatoes with sautéed  asparagus, Vidalia onions and cherry tomatoes, garnished with a dollop of crème fraîche and chives from my garden. I had better get back to work. It’s a good thing that everyone is have a late breakfast today! Have a wonderful weekend!

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Spaghetti with Asparagus & Herbs

Spaghetti with Asparagus & Herbs

This dish is designed to highlight the flavors of its fresh ingredients rather than overpowering them with heavy tastes. Serve for lunch or a light dinner with bread, fresh fruit and a light cheese. (Makes about 3 servings.)

Approximate measurements:

12 oz. spaghetti

1 lb. fresh asparagus

2 oz. extra virgin olive oil

1 oz. white balsamic vinegar

4 fresh lemons

several twists of fresh ground green and red peppercorns

1/4 t. sea salt

1/4 c. fresh golden oregano

1 T. fresh flat leaf parsley

1 1/2 t. fresh thyme

1. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water.

2. About half way through the cooking time for the spaghetti, put the asparagus on the stove to steam. Cook until crisp tender. Remove from pot then rinse asparagus with cold water and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, combine olive oil, vinegar, juice of 2 of the lemons, fresh ground pepper and salt. Set aside.

4. Submerge herbs in a bowl of cold water to remove any possible dirt or insects. Remove herbs and rinse well. Pat dry. Strip herb leaves from stems. Discard stems and any damaged leaves. If there are any thyme flowers, set them aside for garnish.

5. When the spaghetti is cooked to desired consistency, drain well. Add the olive oil mixture to the pot that the pasta was cooked in. Return spaghetti to the pan and toss with the olive oil mixture.

6. Divide spaghetti between serving bowls. Top with fresh herbs and then with asparagus. Squeeze a little more fresh lemon juice over asparagus and then grind a little more fresh pepper over dish. Garnish with thyme flowers if available. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

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It’s Scorching Hot: Is it the Weather or the Peppers?

It is scorching hot in Manhattan, Kansas today. It was 97 degrees by noon and 107 in our yard at 5 pm (According to the weather service our official high was 101). So who could ask for a better day to write about hot peppers? In the little container garden on my “back porch”, I grow  Chenzo and Burning Bush Habañero peppers.  Chenzos have a rating of 45,000 scoville heat units (which is quite hot) while Habañeros are even hotter at 100,000 – 350,000 s.h.u. To put this in perspective, jalapeños rate  2,500 – 8,000 s.h.u.

Chenzo Peppers Ripening

Chenzo Peppers Ready to Pick

Burning Bush Habañero Peppers

When I picked my first bunch of Chenzos a few weeks ago, I tied them into a small ristra and hung them off the back porch to dry. It took about two and a half weeks for them to be ready to bring in. Of course, we were having cooler nights then. With our current temperatures, they would probably dry more quickly. I will use the dried peppers in chilis and rubs for grilling.

Chenzo Pepper Ristra

I decided to do  something different with the peppers that I picked today, so I made several bottles of Garlic Chili Lemon Oil. This can be used as a dipping oil with bread or tortillas, can be added to chilis, soups, pasta dishes, and salad dressing. If you decide to make your own flavored oils, be sure to sterilize fresh ingredients such as garlic either by heating them or acidifying them as the oil seals out oxygen and can easily lead to botulism growth. We want everyone to be able to eat safely!

What are your favorite ways to use hot chili peppers? It would be great to hear from you!

“Refreshing Minty Lemon Limeade” and “Baked Tomatoes with Mint Cream”

Having recently written in general terms about ways to use mint – see my post Mint: It Grows Like a Weed, but That’s Okay from 5/15/12 – I thought it appropriate to offer a few more mint recipes every now and then. Both of the recipes below contain mint ingredients employed to a subtle effect. Enjoy!

 Refreshing Minty Lemon Limeade

2 1/4 c. ice water

1/2 c. fresh lemon juice

1/2 c. fresh lime juice

3/4 c. mint simple syrup, or to taste

Stir ingredients together. Chill until serving. Serve over ice.  Garnish with mint leaves, or with lemon or lime slices.

Baked Tomatoes with Mint Cream

(based on a recipe from Scottish Heritage Food and Cooking, 2005, Lorenz Books of Anness Publishing, London)

5 large ripe tomatoes

1 c. heavy cream

2 mint leaves

1 T.  mint-infused vodka

1/3 c. crumbled cheese of a good melting variety, such as Monterey Jack

salt and pepper

1. Fill a large stock pot to about half full with water then add a dash of salt and bring to a boil.

2. Meanwhile wash and core tomatoes – a grapefruit knife works well for coring – and then cut an ‘x’ into the bottom of each tomato. Carefully drop tomatoes into boiling water. When the skins start to split, transfer tomatoes to a colander and give a quick rinse with cold water. Allow to cool.

3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. While the oven is heating, place the heavy cream in a non-stick pot, add mint leaves and vodka, and allow to simmer over low to medium-low heat. Simmer until the heavy cream is reduced to about 3/4 of a  cup.

4. While the cream simmers, brush a baking dish with olive oil. Slice tomatoes and arrange them in baking dish, allowing them to overlap slightly. Strain the thickened cream over tomatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and then with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Serve as a side dish or with a rustic bread for a small but rich meal.

Baked Tomatoes with Mint Cream

Mint: It Grows Like a Weed, but That’s Okay

Herbs in the mint family are known to be so invasive that it is generally recommended that they be grown in pots rather than directly in the ground. A few years ago,  I started a couple of large pots of spearmint by the back steps. I still have those pots of mint. Kansas winters can’t kill them off, but grasshoppers can do some damage.  While the leaves are still pristine, having not yet been gnawed upon by the voracious grasshoppers that seem to plague my garden during the summer and are already appearing, I’ve decided to harvest some of the mint. So I have been thinking of its culinary uses. (In the post immediately following this I give a cocktail recipe that I created for using homemade mint products.)

Tip: To harvest mint, make sure that it has been well watered for several weeks prior to cutting. Cut mint in the morning before the heat of the day has started to set in and, preferably, cut only stems of mint that have not yet started to flower. Clean with cold water. Use only undamaged leaves.

Uses

(1) Mint Tea

Place a large quantity of leaves in a teapot. Pour fresh boiling water over leaves and let steep for about 5 minutes. Strain to serve. Variations: add lemon balm leaves, chamomile flowers, black or green tea leaves, orange or lemon peel, and so forth.

(2) Mint Simple Syrup

Add 1 cup cold water and 1 cup granulated white sugar to a non-stick pot. Heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is dissolved. (No need to simmer.) Place 2 c. mint leaves in a large glass bowl. Carefully pour simple syrup over mint and allow to sit for 5 to 15 minutes. Squeeze juice from leaves into syrup. Stain into syrup into a glass jar.

Use in cocktails such as Mint Juleps or Mojitos.  Use to sweeten lemonade or  to sweeten black or herbal teas  (hot or iced). Toss a small amount with fresh fruit such as honeydew or grapefruit segments for a minty fruit salad.

(3) Mint-Infused Vodka or Rum/Mint Extract

Fill a glass jar with fresh mint and top off with vodka or white rum. Cover tightly and shake. To make infused-vodka, store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Strain out mint leaves and pour vodka into a glass bottle. To make extract, allow the mint leaves to sit in the vodka for 2 weeks before straining. While the mixture is sitting for the 2 weeks, remove any leaves that float to the top and turn brown.

Use vodka or rum in cocktails. Use extract in brownies, cookies, or whipped cream.

(4) Dried Mint Leaves

Hang bunch of leaves on stems 4 – 5″ long and hang in a warm, dry place or dry leaves in an oven or food dehydrator.

Use for teas or  in middle Eastern and far Eastern dishes.

That’s all that I came up with for today. What are your favorite ways to use mint, whether spearmint or some other variety? I’d love to hear your suggestions.