Saturday, February 28, 2009

Meyer Lemons

Happy weekend, everyone! Today is the first weekend day in a while that I'm not doing any work. That won't be the case tomorrow, but what are you gonna do... That's not a very good lead into this post about Meyer lemons, but they need no introduction beyond that lovely photo.

It's still the season for this sweet, aromatic lemon hybrid, so if you're lucky enough to find them in your area, take advantage. They are grown mostly in California and Florida and by lucky people who may have a backyard Meyer lemon tree of their own. I wrote about them for National Public Radio last week, so click over to learn more about them and get my recipes for...

  • Meyer lemon compote with dates
  • Roasted root vegetables with Meyer lemons
  • Meyer lemon bars
There's also an audio interview you can listen to of me elaborating on this unique citrus. Next week, I vow to resume a regular posting schedule...I've been in the weeds lately, I know. Thank you for bearing with me and leaving such nice comments!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Glazed Mahi Mahi and Barley with Soy-Sherry Shiitakes

This fantastic dish was our Valentines' Day dinner, but it wasn't supposed to be. We planned on steak with a sultry red beet risotto (recipe on the way), but there was a last minute change of plans.

When Mike and I first moved to Florida almost 5 years ago (I can't believe it's been that long!), we decided to take up scuba diving because, well, we could. What's the point of living down here if you don't take advantage of the tropical water temps and year round summer, right?

We've dived near Fort Lauderdale many times now and prefer to dive when we're on vacation in some appropriate locale (Vietnam was especially amazing). But, if we're not doing any traveling, we'll dive close to home every 6 months or so to maintain our skills.

So, due to the warm weather we had last week, we booked a dive trip for Valentine's morning. Although we know this, it's always a shock how much diving just sucks the wind out of you! We got home by 12:30 and all we wanted to do was shower, eat a late breakfast and take a nap. Even after all that, I still felt fairly exhausted and didn't have much of an appetite. So, we nixed the plan for steak and nice red wine and had this lighter fish dish and a little sake instead. Also, being out on the ocean just gives me a taste for seafood--sorry, you lovers of marine life.

This is something I put together on the fly, and I was really pleased with how well it turned out. The Asian glaze is super-simple, and if you need a grain side dish for any reason, this barley is fantastic. The mushrooms soak up splashes of Sherry and soy sauce like little sponges and become infused with flavor. I hope your Valentine's Day was as happy as mine! Now tell me, what did you cook?

Glazed Mahi Mahi and Barley with Soy-Sherry Shiitakes
This is a really nice recipe for two, but you can double it to serve four. When I cook with Asian ingredients like soy sauce and oyster sauce, which are often high in sodium, I use little or no salt. You can always add more at the end. Really great sea salt is excellent as a finishing salt because you'll be better able to enjoy the flavor and texture. If you don't have mahi mahi, try another mild fish, like cod or tilapia.

Serves 2

For fish:
2 (6 to 8 ounce) fillets mahi mahi, skin on, about 1-inch thick
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. oyster sauce
1/2 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 Tbs. fish sauce
1/4 tsp. dark sesame oil

For barley:
1 Tbs. canola oil
6 scallions, thinly sliced (divided use)
2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/3 cup mushroom or chicken broth
2/3 cup quick-cooking barley
3 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
6 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 Tbs. dry Sherry

Coarse sea salt, for serving

To make the fish, preheat oven to 400 degrees and coat a small baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and add the mahi mahi; season with black pepper to taste. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients and drizzle over fish. Bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through (recommended internal temp 145 F).

To make the barley, heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add half the scallions and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Raise heat to high, add the broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in the barley, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 20 minutes, or according to package directions. Remove from heat and keep covered 5 to 10 minutes.

While barley cooks, heat butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid. Raise heat to medium high and cook, stirring occasionally until liquid evaporates and mushrooms are just tender (if mushrooms are getting browned, reduce heat). Add Sherry and cook until mushrooms soak up all the liquid. Add remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce and cook until absored. Season with black pepper and remove from heat.

To serve, stir mushrooms into the barley. Divide barley among two plates and top with fish fillets (remove skin before plating if you like). Garnish with remaining scallions. Offer sea salt at the table in case additional seasoning is desired.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Creamy Sweet Pea & Herb Soup

Want a hot bowl of creamy, hearty soup without too many creamy, hearty calories? Then you will appreciate this EASY sweet pea soup. For me, comfort food isn't all that comforting when I know that ever bite is loaded with calories and saturated fat. This soup on the other hand, is flavored with fresh herbs and blended with Russet potatoes for that creamy, mouth-filling texture you want.

Lately, I've been enjoying a robust work flow (can you taste the euphemism in that statement?). And times like this require simple and satisfying dishes. Last winter, I made a lot of creamy, blended soups (scroll to the end for links), but I haven't done it nearly enough this year. And why not? It's so easy and this one in particular is a cinch thanks to super-convenient frozen peas.

I seared a slice of cooked ham and added it to the soup for a meaty element. You can add bacon, pancetta or even chicken to this soup. Of course, you can also keep it vegetarian. Sour cream or yogurt is a nice finishing touch, but you could also opt for some flavorful grated cheese, like Parmigiano or Gruyere...mmm.

So, eat this healthy soup this week so you can indulge in something special this weekend. You know Valentine's Day is coming up, right? Do you already have something planned? If you're the type who plans their meal or dessert before anything else, share it in the comments section!

Creamy Sweet Pea & Herb Soup with Ham
The mellow garden-fresh taste of peas contribute the main flavor here, so I used a lot of fresh and dried herbs to perk it up. Add any combination you like, but I particularly love mint with peas.

Serves 4

2 Tbs. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried ginger
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 3/4 lbs. Russet potatoes (about 2 medium), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 thick slice cooked ham
1 (1-lb.) bag frozen peas
1 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
2 tsp. chopped fresh chives
Sour cream, plain yogurt or creme fraiche, for serving

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, rosemary, thyme and ginger and cook 1 minute. Add the broth and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender.

Cook the ham in a skillet over medium heat until heated through and lightly browned. Chop into small pieces.

When potatoes are tender, add the peas to the saucepan and simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and puree using an immersion blender. You can also use a regular blender, working in batches. Stir in the ham and about two-thirds of the mint and chives. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and remaining herbs.

More Healthy, Creamy Soups

Creamy Eggplant-Lentil Soup
Carrot Curry Soup
Creamy Fava Bean Soup with Mint