Thursday, January 21, 2010

This and That

These last two weeks have been a whirlwind of cooking: I've been trying out new recipes every few days, as well as fine-tuning older recipes, I assisted an Indian cooking class at CulinAerie, and I entered a contest or two. My refrigerator is bursting with ingredients and my family is getting tired of eating all the bits and pieces of leftovers after all these experiments. But, it's been stimulating and my creative cooking juices are flowing, so to speak.

In the news, Michelle Obama has announced a commitment to fighting childhood obesity (hey- check out my blog!!), in part by working on healthier school lunches. Today, the New York Times, reported that lowering your sodium intake can, in fact, help your health. I thought we already knew that, but I guess it bears repeating. It seems the question is whether or not cutting back some sodium is actually as big of a health move as quitting smoking. It seems to me a no-brainer even if it's a relatively smaller healthy step to take. If you know where the sodium is lurking, it is actually quite simple to cut back without losing flavor. Keep using some salt in home cooking, but watch out for fast food and keep reading the labels on packages. For example, there are so many really tasty tomato sauces in jars that have far less sodium than others. Choose those. Campbell's has announced that it will cut some of the sodium from its soups, which is great, because canned soup is one of the worst offenders. Francis Lam, formerly of Gourmet before its demise, and now of, wrote a great piece last week about just this issue: don't be afraid of a little salt when cooking at home, but watch out with processed and fast foods. Message? Much like Michael Pollan's, Mark Bittman's (and mine!)... cook more and you will have control over what goes in. You can read his post at:

I was playing with some toasted bread crumbs one day for a broccoli pasta dish I was testing and I discovered how nicely they added a little something extra to some very thin, very plain flounder fillets I planned to serve that night. At first, I wasn't sure what I'd do with the flounder, maybe something Asian with soy and fish sauce, but then I remembered something my father used to do with scrod when I was a little girl. He rolled the fillets up into little pinwheels, sprinkled some corn flake crumbs on top and baked them. Since I was already toasting some whole wheat bread crumbs for that other dish, I used those instead. The flounder came out tender and flaky and, actually, quite delicious for bland white fish. And did I mention easy?

Buying fish is fraught with all kinds of issues these days and on this particular day, flounder was the only fish at the store that was fresh, not frozen, domestic, not foreign caught, and not on the "avoid" list from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (i.e. sustainable, not over fished and not particularly unhealthy to eat). OK, so healthy, and good for the world, but boring. These bread crumbs jazzed up the fillets without overpowering them.

This is another one of those "it's not really a recipe" recipes. It's easy and adaptable to what you have on hand. If you have no lemon, you can skip it. Want more garlic? Add more! Hate parsley? Try chervil if you can find it. Generally, gremolata is a mixture of minced garlic and parsley with lemon zest thrown in. It adds a bright flavor to heavy meat dishes such as osso bucco, but here it is a light touch to add interest to a light fish. It's generally not cooked, but as I was toasting the breadcrumbs anyway, I thought I'd take a little of the edge off the garlic by cooking it briefly.

On a recent trip to the Penzeys spice store up in Rockville, I purchased some dried lemon zest. I'm a little skeptical that it can come close to fresh, but I'm going to try it out. Has anyone used this sort of product before? While at Penzeys I replenished my supply of Aleppo pepper. I use it on so many dishes - it's milder and more flavorful than regular red pepper - though I know it's hard to find. You can order on line from Penzeys here: Browse the site a little as they have great blends as well, such as several different curry powders and chili powders. You can get all sorts of other specialty items such as saffron, Szechuan peppercorns, coriander and cumin seed, and so on.

Flounder Fillets with "Gremolata" Bread Crumb

(serves 4)

4 - 6 flounder fillets, depending on size ( I used 6 for 4 people as they were so thin). Ask your fishmonger for advice on amount.
1 lemon to be used for both zest and juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup bread crumbs, I prefer whole wheat - Whole Foods has a great version with little or no sodium
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wash and zest lemon. You did get that Microplane zester, didn't you?

3. lightly salt and pepper the fillets and sprinkle a little lemon juice over them. Roll each fillet up gently and place onto a sheet pan or baking pan (lined with aluminum foil if you prefer easy cleanup).

4. Heat a small skillet over a burner set on medium heat and add the olive oil. Add in the bread crumbs and mix well.

5. Add the garlic to the pan and stir frequently for about 2 or 3 minutes. Add in the parsley and lemon zest, mix well to combine and then stir frequently for another minute or two. Take the pan off the heat.

6. Sprinkle a little of the bread crumb mixture over each rolled up fillet.

7. Place baking pan into heated oven and roast fish for about 10 or 15 minutes, depending on thickness. My fillets were very thin and cooked very quickly.

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