Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish and Green Rice Pilaf

Saturday, May 28, 2011

During these last few months while my beautiful new kitchen was taking shape, I often imagined what I would do when it was finished. I was sure that I would immediately embark on a cooking frenzy, relishing the view of my chopping boards on the cool green granite countertops and the very chef-like heaviness of the burners on my new stove. As it turns out, the exact opposite occurred. When the kitchen was finally ready, I couldn't bear to defile its pristine perfection. The idea of a simmering pot on the stove or splash of sauce on the counter seemed dreadful, and I could not stand the the thought of a dirty dish in that beautiful new sink.

However, after at least three dinners of salad and bowls of Panera's broccoli cheddar soup (my one true pregnancy addiction), I decided that I needed to snap out of it. A kitchen is meant to be used! We didn't spend all of that money for looks alone! I figured that rather than branch out with a bunch of new recipes, it might also help if just went back to some tried-and-true stuff, which inevitably meant turning to Rachael Ray.

This most WONDERFUL fish dish is one of the best things that I've made from 365:No Repeats, which is also by far the RR cookbook that I've used the most-sections of it have fallen out of the binding and it's a bit water-logged. I've prepared it a few times, but not for at least a year or so, and I had almost forgotten how good it was.

As I have confessed on many, many, occasions, I adore things with a "crust," especially when it's made of cornmeal. Cornmeal in particular makes for a very low-maintenance crust-no soaking in egg or flour is necessary. It clings quite well to fish, though to be honest, I'm not quite as sure about chicken. Catfish is a cheap, delicious option, and also quite safe for pregnant women, so a win-win for me.

The pilaf, though a bit more time-consuming than you might like, is totally worth the effort. My SH was out of town when I prepared the dish, so I had to resort to the light and easy-to-carry blender instead of my ginormous and heavy food processor when it came to making the spinach puree. It worked like a charm, and reminded me that I really should be making smoothies more often. It was highly satisfying to pour the bright green puree, smelling sweetly of basil, into the herb-flecked rice, and the lovely green pilaf goes perfectly with the fish. I suggest a generous squeeze of lemon.

P.S. The picture I've included is obviously what one might call a "pregnancy-sized portion." Although I could easily see my non-pregnant self devouring that same amount of green rice. It is very, very good.

Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish and Green Rice Pilaf, adapted from 365: No Repeats, by Rachael Ray

5 tablespoons EVOO
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped (from 4 sprigs)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used extra chicken stock)
3 cups chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (a couple of generous handfuls)
1/2 pound fresh spinach leaves, trimmed and cleaned
20 fresh basil leaves
1 lemon, 1/2 juiced, the other half cut into wedges
4 6-8 ounce catfish fillets
1 cup yellow cornmeal

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Bring a medium sauce pot filled three-quarters full with water to a boil.
2. Heat a second medium saucepan or pot over moderate heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the EVOO (once around the pan), the butter, shallots, thyme, salt, and pepper. Saute the shallots for 2 minutes, then add the rice and lightly brown, 3-5 minutes. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate entirely, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cover the rice and reduce the heat. Cook for 18 to 20 minutes, until tender.
3. Salt the boiling water in the other pot and add the parsley, spinach, and basil. Stir to submerge the greens for 30 seconds, then carefully take the pot to the sink. Use a slotted spoon or a spider to remove the greens to a colander. Discard the water. Rinse the greens under slow-running cold water to stop the cooking process. Give the greens a gentle squeeze to get rid of the excess water. Transfer the cooled, drained greens to a blender or food processor. Add about 2 tablespoons of EVOO and the lemon juice. Puree until completely smooth. Reserve the puree for finishing the cooked rice. (*I was very lazy when I made the dish this time-I didn't use a colander, simply the lid to my pot, draining it as best I could. There were no ill effects!)
4. Preheat a large oven-safe nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of EVOO. Season the catfish with salt and pepper and coat evenly and completely in the cornmeal. Add the coated fish to the hot skillet and sear for 2 minutes on each side, then transfer the skillet with the fish to the oven and continue to cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the fish is firm to the touch and opaque.
5. Once the rice is cooked, add the reserved greens puree and stir with a fork to combine and fluff the rice. Pile the rice onto dinner plates and serve the cornmeal-crusted catfish on top. Pass the lemon wedges at the table.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stefan Salvatore ≠ Dawson Leery

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Before you judge me for my indulgence in a little supernatural teenage melodrama, I should point out that the dreadful time of year has arrived, the ONLY bad thing about summer-network television hiatus. Or hiatuses? Season finales are happening left and right, signifying the end of my favorite Thursday night shows. I had no other choice but to revert to something fresh and new, with at least a season's worth of episodes I had missed. Before I get into my chosen selection, The Vampire Diaries, I should state with vehemence that there is definitely a positive effect of a lack of good television in the summer-it motivates you to be outside enjoying balmy patio dinners or day-long trips to the beach. Those things will ALWAYS trump television shows. For that rare evening, however, when you're either exhausted or maybe even a bit bored, it's always nice to think you can find something on the old tube. My SH and I particularly like shows because of their neat and tidy time slots of 30 or 45 minutes-with a movie you feel that you have to sit down through the whole thing. I should confess now that Vampire Diaries was not sanctioned or endorsed by my husband. He would rather poke his eyes out, I'm sure, than watch a show inevitably inspired by, though refreshingly more humorous and complicated than my beloved Twilight saga.

Needless to say, I'm really getting sucked in by the goings-on in Mystic Falls, Virginia. It's a bit silly, of course, but I like the little mysteries, historical flashbacks, and new vampire lore. I ESPECIALLY like heroic, good-hearted Stefan Salvatore. He's no Edward Cullen, of course, but he's slightly less broody. Shockingly, I far prefer him over his villainous brother Damon. Normally, I like there to be a bit of an edge in the dominating male characters of a drama or love triangle. This is why, during the Dawson's Creek years, I adored Pacey and loathed Dawson. Needless to say, Stefan, despite his goodness, has just enough darkness to keep him really interesting.

Off to shamefully watch an episode or two more, while my SH takes a late-evening Friday nap.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

things I fell in love with while i was away...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

On my months-long blogging semi-hiatus, whilst in the middle of a stressful house remodel and exciting preparations for our little bundle of joy (who, by the way, FEELS like a big bundle!), I developed an affinity, love and sometimes obsession, with several new things. As I am basking in the glory of my new kitchen, not particularly feeling like defiling it by cooking anything yet, I thought I might share.

-the good old Bartlett pear. I am not a fruit person. It is a total struggle for me to consume my daily fruit allowance. Yes, this makes me a sort of weird anomaly amongst all the normal folk who joyfully peel oranges and virtuously enjoy bananas. Now, there are a few fruits for which I have an affection. Give me a bowl of freshly sliced pineapple and it will be gone within minutes. Douse some blackberries in cream and I'll devour them (that could be the cream, I suppose). Those fruits aren't exactly common everyday fare, though. I simply don't manage very well with fruit. Thankfully, I adore virtually every vegetable, so I'm not a complete nutritional delinquent. In the past few months, however, I have taken to eating a lot of pears. I found it strange that they've tasted so good for so long-I always think of pears as autumnal or wintry fruits. Perhaps it's our unseasonably cold spring. Either way, I am really enjoying the bounty of pears and gradually edging towards a new appreciation for fruit. The Bartletts have been especially pleasing-sweet and juicy, but more tender than apples. I might even be inspired to make, as my first dessert in the new kitchen, this most heavenly sounding cake as an homage to my newfound love of pears.

-Philz hot chocolate. Philz is mostly famous for their delicious coffee, where each cup is individually brewed. They have some sort of crazy system set up at each barista's station, with rounded slots built into the counter, each one its own little coffee pot of sorts. For obvious reasons, I haven't been going four times a week for the coffee, though I have tried it in the past and it is absolutely delicious. No, I have been visiting on an almost daily basis to enjoy their hot chocolate. Hot chocolate has been my morning beverage of choice throughout these past eight months, mostly for the comfort of having something hot in the morning. After a while, however, I got absolutely sick of it, mainly because it is just too sweet. In fact, what I've missed about coffee the most is not the caffeine, but the taste of something hot, creamy, and slightly bitter, not shockingly sweet (for the record, I am aware that hot chocolate contains an amount of caffeine, which is acceptably negligible). You can imagine my surprise when I ordered hot choc at Philz for the first time and was asked "How sweet would you like that?" Music to my ears! From that moment on, it has been an immense challenge not to go every single day to sip on a deliciously creamy, only slightly sweet cup of hot chocolate. Now, I realize that writing about a local chain of coffee shops isn't exactly fair. It's not as though anyone can run right out to the closest Philz, but those of us who are sick of the sweet can be inspired to tone down our hot choc a bit! My dear mother-in-law has this skill mastered. She uses regular cocoa (Ghiradelli, Droste, or a similar brand for the best taste), adds a tiny bit of water to make a paste, and stirs that into hot milk. Then she adds spoonfuls of sugar to taste, and tops it off with freshly whipped unsweetened cream. Divine.

-quinoa + spinach. My affection for quinoa is not new, but most of the time I've made it, I've followed a Rachael Ray recipe, which usually means it's got a nice depth of flavor from being boiled in chicken broth and is jazzed up with a medley of finely chopped herbs or lovely combination of sauteed vegetables. That's all fine and good, of course, but when trying to make lunch in a hurry, I just haven't felt like going through the hassle of throwing together a bunch of different ingredients. Knowing how exceptionally good for me quinoa is, though, and how quick and easy it is to cook on its own, I decided I needed to come up with a way to make it more tasty AND timely. Enter bagged spinach. A staple of our diet, I almost always use it as a sauteed side dish, though I know I should be consuming it raw in salad form sometimes as well. I decided that in the 10 minutes it takes the water to boil and quinoa to soften, I could easily chop up a few garlic cloves, let them get toasty and brown in a bit of EVOO, add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and then saute a whole bag of spinach. Once the quinoa is done, I throw the whole mess of spinach (which as most know, has know wilted down to a tiny sad pile) into the pot with it and mix thoroughly. Now my quinoa is flavorful and made even more healthy with the addition of veg, as Jamie Oliver would say.

-etsy. I'm not new to Etsy and its many delights, and I'm not at all ashamed to say that my first Etsy purchase was a replica of Bella's Twilight mittens. THEY ARE CUTE! DON"T JUDGE! THEY WERE A GIFT! I could spend hours perusing all the many shops, and I love the customization of the home page once you've made a few purchases. Anyway, my love for Etsy grew into a obsession when it came to baby stuff. Here you can see screen shots of my chosen fabrics for custom baby bedding, courtesy of a lovely Etsy shop. Once I found the zoo print, I started to look for all sorts of coordinating items, and it's been difficult to rein myself in. Why shouldn't I have matching stroller blankets, car seat strap covers, burp cloths, or diaper bag accessories? I jest-I'm perfectly aware that the vast majority of baby-related items out there are unnecessary. Doesn't mean that I might not splurge on the stroller blanket though...

-dinner: a love story. I'd never heard of this particular blog until I stumbled across a new column in the latest issue of Bon Appetit written by the husband and wife team who maintain the blog. The majority of the posts are written by wife Jenny, but her husband contributes occasionally. It's a GREAT food blog, and clearly also a good family blog. I feel like it was the perfect find for my new transition into motherhood.

-the killing. This extremely dark mystery is based off a Danish television series, and once I heard the American remake was going to air on AMC, I figured I must check it out. AMC has quite the reputation for quality television these days (and by quality, I mean good writing and solid acting performances, not so much uplifting stuff or light humor) and the show got a lot of good press before it premiered. It's set in Seattle, which I love, though they are doing their very best to make it look like the MOST rain-soaked, dreary city on God's green earth. I can say with confidence that it's not that bad! The 13-episode season follows a single case, which is a nice marked difference from a typical procedural drama. It's tough to watch, but at the same time, enjoyable for the lack of melodrama and unusual main characters. I'm particularly impressed with Holder, the male detective with a potentially shady past. He's also Swedish, and I must confess that I'm fascinated with the ability of European actors to imitate the American accent. He does a bang-up job.

There you have it. A few of the things that have proven welcome distractions during these long months. I should probably stop thinking about Philz hot chocolate right this moment and get to doing something productive in my kitchen!