Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Learning to Cook By Book and Blog

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a wee addiction to cook books. Yes it's true...I read them like fiction. So a couple of years ago one of my New Years Resolutions was to FINALLY learn how to cook. Well it's probably one of the only NYR I have ever kept, not only am I still learning but I'm enjoying the process!

You might be wondering how I've managed to raise a 17 year old, 6'5, 170 pound son without learning to cook until recently. Early on I mastered simple meals such as sandwiches, tacos, salads, homemade mac and cheese, omelets, rice dishes, pasta and soup. Plus as a vegetarian I've always prepared a lot of fresh fruit and veggies. In fact I made my own baby food for my son when he was small! I've very proud to say he never ate anything Gerber, EVER. Now that my son is older and usually grabbing a bite with his friends, I'm entertaining more than ever. For my family, myself and my guests I really wanted to learn how to cook healthy, delicious, sustainable, locally grown meals without using processed foods that included microwave instructions. (In our house we've been happily microwave free for almost 4 years).

Thanks to my cook book obsession I've cultivated a few recipes, tweaked a couple to make them my own and regularly experiment with fresh local ingredients. I also follow a few excellent cooking blogs including:

Dragon's Kitchen
Elle's New England Kitchen
Great Depression Cooking With Clara
He Cooks, She Cooks (by one of my bestest friends Heather!)
The Left Over Queen
Pioneer Woman
Poor Girl Eats Well
Recipe Girl
Tamra Davis Cooking Show

A few months ago I took an Italian cooking class and while we were sampling what we made, I was more interested in the chef's cooking tips. My favorites:

1. Buy fresh Italian parsley in bulk, wash it, chop it and store it in a canning jar in the fridge with a bit of oil to keep it moist. I have it on hand to toss in homemade tomato sauce, eggs etc...

2. Ditto with fresh onion and garlic. I find throwing together a quick pico de gallo, omelet, couscous, etc is so much easier now that I have fresh chopped ingredients ready to go.

3. Keep stocked with pantry staples like olive oil, cans of diced tomatoes, jar of chipotle peppers, chickpeas, whole wheat pasta, canned pineapple, dried or canned beans, tuna, brown rice, etc...

Last night I made a quick meal for my son and I. Here is the recipe:

Shannon's Miso Tilapia with Couscous and Lemon Parmesan Asparagus

2 pieces fresh or thawed tilapia or other mild white fish
1/4 cup mirin sauce
1/2 cup mild yellow miso paste

I use whole wheat couscous from Trader Joe's.
I added some fresh pico de gallo I had in the fridge to the cooked couscous.

Fresh Asparagus (a large bundle, approximately 20 stalks)
1 large lemon
3-4 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan cheese (grate your own, don't waste your time with the junk that is made by Kraft)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk the mirin and the miso paste together. Wash and pat dry the fish fillets. Spray a small glass baking dish with non stick cooking spray. Coat the fish with a thin layer of the mirin/miso mixture. I brush it on both sides. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 20 minutes. The sauce will slightly caramelize on the fish.

While the fish is cooking prepare your couscous. (The Trader Joe's whole wheat couscous takes about 5 minutes once the water has boiled) While couscous is cooking, wash and pat dry your asparagus. In a large skillet add a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat (I drizzle 3 times around to coat the bottom). Add the asparagus and toss to combine in the olive oil. Cover and let simmer until the asparagus starts to soften slightly. While cooking, wash and dry the lemon and grate the peel (carefully, not the bitter white pith beneath, just the yellow peel). Slice the lemon after grating the peel. Check on asparagus, it should be slightly browned but not overly limp. (How I test my asparagus, grab a piece at the bottom of the stem, if it still stands up fully it's not done enough, slightly drooping at the top is how I like it). Toss in the grated lemon peel, squeeze in the lemon juice from the entire lemon and add the Parmesan cheese. Toss to combine flavors before you turn off the heat.

Remove fish from oven and serve with a large scoop of the couscous (with what ever you have added in to flavor the couscous like pico de gallo, fresh herbs, peppers, spinach etc. Although my son prefers his couscous plain) and the asparagus. I also heat up fresh pita bread which is a handy and yummy way to scoop up the leftover caramelized miso paste and couscous off your plate.


P.S. The miso fish recipe was adapted from a recipe I saw Gwyneth Paltrow make on Oprah. You can buy mirin sauce in the Asian aisle of larger grocery stores or at stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Miso paste is usually in the refrigerated section of specialty food stores. I purchase from my local Mitsuwa Market.

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