Tilapia with Toasted Almonds

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I truly am on an almond kick lately. After homemade almond paste, gooey chocolate almond bars and gooey almond bars last week, I thought I should post something a little healthier. Alas, it still has almonds. After today I promise I won’t post any recipes with almonds for at least a day or two.

As with a lot of home cooking, I am amazed how just a few ingredients can undergo such a transformation into something sublime. The fish goes together in no time, bakes in about the time rice or quinoa takes to cook and combines both fish and nuts – health foods in just about any book. You can easily adjust the amounts to serve any number of people.

Our grocery store carries frozen tilapia “loins.” That makes us laugh every time we read the package. Fish don’t have legs, so how can they have loins? But, whatever they call them, the loins/filets are the best quality fish we have found in a long time, so we buy them.

Living in the Midwest, we usually rely on frozen fish to eliminate any question about freshness. And it is convenient to always have a stash in the freezer. I thaw it overnight in the fridge, if I plan ahead. I have been known to cook the filets directly from the freezer, if I have somehow forgotten to thaw them (brain freeze?), and they turn out beautifully. An extra ten to fifteen minutes in the oven and they are perfect.

We had our fish with corn and browned butter and a mix of white and red quinoa. It was kind of a monochromatic plate – I should have added broccoli or a green salad for some color. And an almond bar or two for dessert wouldn’t have been at all bad.

Download or print the recipe here.

Tilapia with Toasted Almonds
From The Cook’s Life
Servings vary

Tilapia filets or loins (one per person)
Olive oil (1 teaspoon per filet)
Salt
Pepper
Chopped almonds (about 1 tablespoon per filet)
Additional chopped almonds for serving, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a dish or pan large enough to hold all the fish in one layer, without crowding them. Drizzle each filet with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top each filet with about a tablespoon of almonds. Bake fish, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until it flakes easily with a fork and the thinner ends are just starting to turn golden. Serve immediately, with extra almonds, if desired.

Date Night Continued – Citrus Shrimp and Quinoa

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We decided to go all out when we were cooking for our date night last weekend and have both an appetizer and an entrée. Our vanilla scallops were such a success that we were sure our shrimp and quinoa couldn’t compete. We were wrong. While not as different as the scallops, it was still as elegant and delicious as any restaurant meal we have had, and we didn’t have to pay restaurant prices or deal with weekend crowds.

Citrus abounds in the stores these days, so I decided to use both a lemon and a tangerine in the shrimp and the quinoa. I was going to make rice, but we eat a lot of rice and I had some quinoa on hand that I had bought and never used. Since we were already in an adventurous mood with the scallops, I decided to continue the theme and try the quinoa.

Everything came together smoothly, with only a few glitches due to making up a recipe as I was cooking it. I should have prepped the citrus before I started cooking the garlic, but I managed to save it before it got too brown. As long as you follow the directions, you won’t be scrambling like I was. Learn from my experience, young grasshopper.

The quinoa turned out nice and fluffy, with the citrus tartness complementing its inherent nuttiness. The shrimp was fabulous with just a touch of garlic, white wine and sweet tart citrus. Not a bad combination to brighten a dark, cold February evening.

Download or print the recipe here.

Citrus Shrimp and Quinoa
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2, easy to double

1 large lemon
1 tangerine or small orange
1½ cups water, approximately
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup quinoa
salt
pepper
8 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
2-4 tablespoons white wine, optional

Zest the lemon and tangerine, using only the colored portion of the peel and not the bitter white parts. If you don’t have a zester, use the finest side of a box grater. Set the zest aside. Cut the lemon in half and juice half of it into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Cut the other lemon half into wedges and set aside. Juice the tangerine into the same measuring cup. Add water until you have 2 cups of liquid. Set aside. Mince the garlic and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add half the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the juice and water mixture and bring liquid to a boil.  Add quinoa, half of the reserved zest, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is light and fluffy.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, add the shrimp and the remaining garlic. Cook shrimp 2-4 minutes before turning over. Add a splash of white wine to the pan, if desired, and cook for 2-4 more minutes. Squeeze half of the reserved lemon wedges over the shrimp, reserving the rest for serving. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt, pepper and the remaining citrus zest.

Serve shrimp over the quinoa, with lemon wedges on the side.

Date Night Vanilla Scented Scallops

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Rich and I were footloose and fancy free on Friday night since Calvin was spending the night with my parents. We wanted something different for dinner, but we weren’t sure we wanted to go out. We figured everywhere would be crowded with regular weekend crowds and Valentine’s Day dates. One thing led to another and I decided we should have a scallop appetizer before a shrimp and quinoa main course. Who says we can’t make a fancy dinner for ourselves?

Fresh seafood can be an iffy proposition in the Midwest, depending on the source. I almost always rely on frozen fish. We do have a lovely seafood market not far from home, and I decided to splurge on fresh scallops for our date night. I did use frozen shrimp since we already had some in the freezer (more on the shrimp soon).

Calvin and I made Rich some vanilla salt for a Christmas present a couple of years ago. I had seen vanilla salt in a specialty store and couldn’t believe what they wanted to charge for it. Rich loves vanilla, and I thought we could come up with some great recipes to use vanilla salt, so I decided we should make our own. We ground up a vanilla bean in the food processor, stirred it up in some fine sea salt and put it in a nice jar. Rich was thrilled, but then we were stumped about what to do with it. Finally, two years later, I was going to use it on our scallops.

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I have seen scallops with vanilla sauce on various restaurant menus, and have sampled them once. The vanilla nicely complements the sweet overtones of the scallops without taking the sweetness into the realms of a weird dessert/appetizer hybrid. I decided to let our scallops stand mostly on their own, with a sprinkling of the vanilla salt and a touch of butter and vanilla extract drizzled over their tops.

I had never cooked scallops before, so I looked up a bunch of recipes. It sounded like you couldn’t go wrong, unless you overcooked them and made them rubbery. I should have been a little more fearless with letting the hot pan do the work. I was worried I would overcook them, but they were perfect – sweet, tender, slightly caramelized and lightly fragrant with vanilla. In short, a perfect start to our date night dinner.

Download or print the recipe here.

Seared Vanilla Scented Scallops
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 2, easy to double

6 large bay scallops
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
vanilla salt (or regular salt)
black pepper
2 teaspoons butter
1/8-1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, use the larger amount if you are using regular salt

Pat scallops dry and set aside. Lightly coat a medium skillet with olive oil and heat over medium high heat until almost smoking.

Carefully place scallops in hot pan, putting them flat side down. Do not try to move the scallops after you set them down. Let scallops cook, undisturbed, for about 2 minutes. They should release fairly easily from the pan at this point. Give them a little help with a thin spatula and turn them over. If they are really stuck, give them a few seconds more to form a crust and then try again.

Sprinkle scallops with vanilla salt, or regular salt, and pepper. Cook on the second side for 1-2 minutes more, until that side is nicely caramelized and releases from the pan with a little help. Remove scallops to a serving plate.

Reduce heat to medium and add butter and vanilla extract to skillet. Scrape up any browned bits and stir into the butter. Drizzle butter over the scallops and serve immediately.

Blackened Fish on a Bed of Greens

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I try to make fish for dinner about once a week, both for health reasons and because we all like it. Calvin hasn’t branched out beyond homemade breaded filets, but Rich and I like a variety. One of our favorites is blackened fish served on top of a salad. It isn’t a typical hearty winter dish, but I can’t go from November to March without eating the occasional salad.

We used to get this at a restaurant close to Rich’s parents’ place in Florida, until they raised the prices and reduced the serving size. I am all for splurging on vacation, but the prices had reached ridiculous levels. I figured we could blacken our own fish, and probably use a lot less oil, for a fraction of the price we were paying.

If you look at a lot of recipes for blackened fish, this one doesn’t necessarily qualify as blackened – which involves dipping the fish in butter and then cooking it in a searing hot skillet. While that much butter sounds really tasty, I prefer to keep my fish on the healthier side and get my butter ration in desserts. My method is really a fish filet cooked with Cajun seasonings, but that doesn’t exactly make a jazzy title. And it tastes as good as many blackened fish dishes I have eaten in restaurants.

Use whatever salad dressing you prefer on the greens. Rich likes Caesar and I prefer a heavy drizzle of good balsamic vinegar and a tiny bit of olive oil. You can also add whatever add-ins you want to your salad. The one in the picture has tomatoes and dried cranberries. We usually add shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano and I pile on carrots, celery and whatever other raw vegetables we have in the fridge.

Download or print recipe here.

Blackened Fish Filets on a Bed of Greens
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4

You can use your favorite Cajun spice mix if you don’t want to make your own.

Fish:
4 tilapia (or other white fish) filets
4 teaspoons olive oil
4 teaspoons Cajun spice mix, approximately (recipe below)

Salad:
Salad greens (not iceberg, please)
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Dried cranberries
Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Other assorted vegetables
Dressing of choice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place fish filets in a greased casserole dish or pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle each filet with about a teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle each filet with about a teaspoon of spice mix, making a heavy layer of spices.

Bake fish for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and slightly crispy on the edges. While fish bakes, arrange salad greens on individual dinner plates. Top with tomatoes, dried cranberries, cheese and desired vegetables.

When fish is done, top each plate with a filet and drizzle with salad dressing. Serve immediately.

Cajun Spice Mix:
4 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed slightly with your fingers
½ teaspoon salt, or less (to taste)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, or less (½ teaspoon makes it pretty spicy)

Mix spices together in a small bowl or jar. You will have spice mix left over. Use on fish, chicken or pork. Store in a tightly closed container at room temperature for several months.

 

Spicy Fish Tacos

I am late to the game on fish tacos. I have seen them on menus and in cooking magazines for years now, but I never thought they sounded all that tasty. Rich, my non-adventurous (when it comes to food) husband talked me into trying these. He had them at work, at a meal cooked by one of the owners of the firm, and he raved about them. We got basic directions from the chef, tailored them to our own tastes, and have now had them twice in one week. The second time we even served them to company (my parents, but company, nonetheless).

I was surprised by how much I liked these. I even ate the leftovers the next day for lunch, and fish can be iffy as a leftover, at least to me. The fish is a nice alternative to ground beef or chicken tacos. We are always looking for new ways to eat fish, since we know we should eat more of it. This one will definitely be showing up often in our meal rotation – I should add it to the master dinner list.

We sautéed tilapia in olive oil with shallots and garlic, along with a few healthy shakes of chipotle and cayenne powder and a shake or two of red pepper flakes. The original recipe used fresh poblanos and jalapeños, but we preferred to use dried, since I am the only one who really likes fresh peppers, either hot or sweet.

The recipes I have seen for fish tacos use cabbage or coleslaw for a topping. That might have been what turned me off, since I like my slaw as a side dish, not a topping. We served ours on whole wheat tortillas, with lettuce, shredded carrots, tomatoes, sautéed sweet peppers and white cheddar cheese. I added a few shakes of chipotle powder to mine, but Rich preferred his a little milder. Feel free to adjust the toppings to what your family likes, or what you have on hand.

Download or print the recipe here.

Spicy Fish Tacos
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 3-4

Feel free to adjust the seasonings and toppings to your tastes.

2 tablespoons olive oil, approximately
1 large shallot or 1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 tilapia filets, cut into 1-inch pieces
Dried cayenne powder
Dried chipotle powder
Red pepper flakes
Salt
Black Pepper
2 tablespoons dry white wine or water, approximately

For serving:
Whole wheat tortillas
Shredded lettuce
Grated carrot
Diced tomatoes
Sweet bell peppers (raw, roasted or sautéed with a little oil)
Cheddar cheese

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and continue sautéing briefly, just until garlic is fragrant.

Add fish and let cook for several minutes before stirring. Sprinkle fish with cayenne, chipotle and dried chili flakes to taste. Just a touch, even if you don’t like spicy foods, will add a layer of flavor. Use more if you really like spicy foods. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Cook until fish is opaque and cooked all the way through, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat if the shallots and garlic start to brown too much or the fish sticks to the pan.

When the fish is done, add a little white wine, or water, and scrape up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Serve immediately with tortillas and your choice of toppings.

Fish Filets with Tomatoes, Squash and Basil

Rich found this recipe for fish with zucchini and tomatoes last week when he was trying out our new ipad subscription to Bon Appetit. We had a bounty of zucchini and yellow squash from my parents’ garden, so it made the perfect quick dinner. My pictures aren’t as pretty as the magazine’s, especially since I forgot to add the basil, but dinner was delicious.

I used tilapia for the fish and didn’t really measure anything, instead just using the recipe as a guideline. You could make your own adaptations – use onion instead of shallots or change up the vegetables. Just be sure you slice everything very thin so it will be done when the fish is cooked.

We will definitely be having this again when we can use our own garden tomatoes and basil. From start to finish, even with my frozen fish, this took only a few minutes to pull together and half an hour in the oven. And the parchment makes for easy clean up, which is always a plus in my book.

A fish dish for hectic days

Whether your busy days are during the week, on the weekend, or both, you deserve to have a few easy recipes to fall back on when you are crunched for time.  I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but fish is one of the easiest things to make in a hurry.  Where we live, smack in the middle of the U.S., frozen fish really is our best bet for getting fresh fish, at least in my opinion. I keep a few frozen tilapia filets on hand for quick dinners.

If you are planning ahead, you can thaw your frozen fish in the fridge overnight, or you can thaw it, in its wrapper, in cold water. Or, if you have the cooking time, you can cook it frozen. I’m not sure what the experts say on this, but I have had fine results putting fully frozen fish in the oven.

I have watched cooking shows where they cook fish “en papillote” and I’ve had it in restaurants, but I hadn’t tried cooking this way until yesterday. In case you haven’t seen this before, this is fish cooked in a parchment paper envelope, so it steams in the oven. It looks fancy, but it really fits into the fast and easy cooking category. The fish is beautifully cooked and there is a minimum of clean-up.

I was going to use lemon juice and zest on my fish, but when I pulled the lemon out of the fridge, still in its plastic bag from the produce section, my thumb went right through its moldy, soft peel. Can I say, “Ewwww!”? Luckily I had lemon zest in the freezer from a lemon I needed for juice a while back. Always (or at least when you think of it) zest your citrus before you use the rest of the fruit, and stash the zest in the freezer for culinary emergencies.

Topped fish, ready for its parchment wrapping.

So I drizzled my (partially) thawed fish with a tiny bit of olive oil, about ½ teaspoon for each filet. Then I topped them with sliced garlic and lemon zest. I folded my parchment around them, put them in a glass dish and baked them for 30 minutes. That may seem like a long time to you, but they were still about half-frozen and we really don’t like “wet” fish. I know most people might think this results in overdone fish, so adjust your cooking times to suit your tastes.

My fish packets, ready for the oven. Notice my folding got better as I worked my way from the right to the left.

Pair with easy sides, like baked potatoes, rice or couscous and some steamed veggies or fresh fruit and dinner is served.

“Fancy” Lemon Garlic Tilapia
from The Cook’s Life
serves 4

4 tilapia filets
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 small cloves garlic
zest from one lemon
salt, optional
pepper, optional
Parchment paper or aluminum foil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay out four large pieces of parchment paper, or aluminum foil if you don’t have parchment. Lay fish filet in the middle of each piece of parchment. Drizzle each filet with about ½ teaspoon olive oil. Peel the garlic and slice it into the thinnest slices you can. Divide garlic and lemon zest evenly between the filets. Salt and pepper each filet lightly, if desired.

Fold the top half of the parchment (or foil) down to meet the bottom half of the parchment. Start folding the bottom edge over the top edge, in small pleats all around the fish. You will end up with a semicircular package. Repeat with the other filets and place them in a large dish or on a baking sheet.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork, and is done to your tastes. If you are using frozen filets, you may have to add a few extra minutes to your cooking time.

Download the recipe here.