Split Prawns Appetizer

split prawns

I’m always trying to find or create showy but simple appetizers. What I want to deliver is something hot, tasty and visually appealing. For appetizers, the visually appealing part is very important to me. It gets people in the mood for dining and sets the tone for the rest of the meal. Split prawns is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

First, the lightly browned prawns/shrimp in their pink shells, arrayed on a plate with a few baby greens and lemon wedges has eye appeal, for sure. The prep can be done well ahead, and from the time your skillet or griddle is hot to plating is just a few minutes. As for flavor, I tend to like a bit of garlic and ginger, but the options are limitless. Basil and oregano are good possibilities, or lemongrass, scallions, chili peppers, sriracha, or Cajun/creole seasonings, perhaps. 

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Lobster Mac and Cheese

lobster mac and cheese

Every now and then, the local grocer offers up smallish lobster tails at a price that’s too good to pass up. At 4-6 ounces, they’re terrific for lunch or for a “surf and turf” kind of meal, and wonderful for recipes that call for something less that a three-pound whole lobster. I came across one of these deals the other day, coincidentally not long after having lobster mac and cheese at one of our favorite neighborhood bistros. I couldn’t resist trying to make my own version.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I prefer preparing food from scratch, rather than using prepared sauces or processed foods. That meant building the cheese sauce. Lobster has great flavor, but I knew it would be easy to overpower that with strong cheese flavors, so I settled on some smoked Gouda, mild white Cheddar and a little Gruyère for the cheese. I also happened to have some homemade seafood stock available, which helped maintain the flavor profile in the face of all that cheese.

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Celery Root Sautéed in Miso and Garlic

celery root saute

Many home cooks give little thought to side dishes. We all have our favorites and our “regulars,” and they become almost second nature. Over the past weekend, I set out to do a little recipe development and experimentation and I recalled seeing celeriac, or celery root, on a restaurant menu recently. So I brought some home from the local grocery and started a bit of research.

celeriac or celery root

“Céleri-rave-fendu” by DocteurCosmos – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:C%C3%A9leri-rave-fendu.jpg#mediaviewer/File:C%C3%A9leri-rave-fendu.jpg

Yes, celeriac is really the root of the celery plant that produces those lovely long stalks that we snack on, slice up for salads and use in many stews and soups. The root itself is a knobby, turnip-like bulb. In groceries, they typically come with some long thin greens attached. The flavor is delicate and mild, as opposed to the stronger flavor of celery stalks, but the celery flavor is there along with an herb-like flavor that reminds me of parsley.

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Spicy Tunisian Vegetables

Tunisian Vegetables

I’m not a vegetarian, and I don’t generally observe things like meatless Mondays, and yet, every now and then, I’ll find something I like that just happens to be vegetarian. This is one of those cases. I’ve labeled this as Tunisian because the first time I tasted it was in a Tunisian restaurant. Truth is, this is common to much of North Africa and something similar could likely be found anywhere in the region. 

Chickpeas and harissa are the stars of this Spicy Tunisian Vegetables recipe, which can be a vegetarian main course or a nice side dish to accompany a larger meal. It’s a great winter recipe, partly because of the spicy harissa, but also because it features lots of winter root vegetables like turnips, carrots and butternut squash. It’s also versatile. You can add in whatever vegetables you have on hand — just keep in mind the flavors you’ll end up with and think about when to add them so they’re not over or undercooked. This recipe is a pretty good foundation from which to build your own version.

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Crispy Lemon Eggs with Avocado Dressing

crispy lemon eggs

Fried eggs are familiar and satisfying. They’re also a bit boring. So here’s a way to dress them up for  a nice Sunday brunch. Crispy fried eggs have an interesting mix of crunchy and soft textures, and the infusion of lemon and garlic give them a subtle, delicious flavor. Paired with the creamy texture of the avocado, set off with the slightly floral scent and flavor of lime, they’re nothing short of fantastic.

The technique for making the crispy fried eggs actually opened a whole new world of egg-making for me. The eggs are first fried in very hot oil, which crisps up the underside. Then comes a small amount of liquid and something aromatic, like garlic or fresh herbs. When the lid is put on the pan, the tops of the eggs are gently steamed, achieving a soft, almost creamy texture.

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Grouper with Spanish Almond Sauce

grouper with spanish almond sauce

If I wanted to specialize in one kind of food, it  would be Mediterranean cuisine, in part because it’s healthy, but also because I love the rich flavors and amazing ways they can be combined using the simplest of cooking techniques. Grouper with Spanish almond sauce is a great example of that. It’s an amazing recipe adapted from The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, which despite the title, isn’t really about counting calories or weight loss, but simply a great collection of recipes from the region.

Here the fish (halibut or swordfish would work well, too) is prepared simply on a bed of leeks and onions, and topped with a pepitoria sauce that’s a delight of textures, fragrances and flavors. The sauce can be made a day or two ahead of time, which makes the mealtime prep easy and quick. 

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Basic Buttermilk Pancakes

buttermilk pancakes

Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday. It’s what Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans — and carnivals all over the world — in lead up to. Where there is no week-long celebration of the arrival of lent, the traditional 40-day period culminating in Easter Sunday, Tuesday will be marked as Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day. Why pancakes?

In the Christian tradition, Shrove Tuesday was the day to reflect on your “sins” and ask forgiveness. According to good ol’ Wikipedia:

Like many other European holidays, the pancake day was originally a pagan holiday. Before the Christian era, the Slavs believed that the change of seasons was a struggle between Jarilo, the god of vegetation, fertility and springtime, and the evil spirits of cold and darkness. People believed that they had to help Jarilo fight against winter and bring in the spring. The most important part of Shrovetide week (the whole celebration of the arrival of spring lasted one week) was making and eating pancakes. The hot, round pancakes symbolized the sun. The Slavs believed that by eating pancakes, they got the power, light and warmth of the sun. The first pancake was usually put on a window for the spirits of the ancestors. On the last day of Shrovetide week some pancakes and other food were burnt in a bonfire as a sacrifice to the pagan gods.

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