Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust

>> Friday, March 27, 2015



Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust


My first sushi experience was around 1990, and I really had to choke it down while distracting my mind screaming, "Oh gah, I'm eating raw meat! Raw meat! My mom told me not to do this!"

The saner half of my mind was saying, "Shhh, come on now, people eat this all the time and they like it - don't think about it, don't think about it, you're eating unicorn bubbles and sun rays and it's GOOD!"

Yeah, it's like that in my mind a lot, and I hope you're not clicking away right now before I tell you how amazing this ahi tuna recipe is.

Obviously I conquered my squeamishness over sushi and seafood in general (I ate way too much Lake Michigan trout and salmon off my dad's boat when I was a kid). Now tuna has a very special place in my taste buds. Once I appreciated that velvety mouthfeel and gorgeous watermelon-colored flesh, and the buttery white slices of yellowfin tuna you get in a good sashimi bento box, I didn't care for cooked tuna at all. Cooked tuna can be dry, because ahi is fairly lean, and the fishy taste is intensified.

Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Pea Crust


The week before Valentine's Day, I started developing a menu that would surprise Joe, stretch my cooking repertoire, be as healthy as possible, and use up a lot of items in our pantry and freezer as part of our yearly spring cleaning. I made seven courses in the classic French tradition, where the salad is served after the main course. The fish course featured these seared tuna steaks with a crunchy wasabi-pea crust.

We have made this several times since then. Ahi is a low -fat, high-protein meat, and flash-frozen fish fillets tasted just as good in this recipe as high-priced fresh ahi tuna. This is also extremely quick to make, so be sure everything's ready to go before you start cooking.

P.S. We used this delicious Ginger-Wasabi Sauce from Pampered Chef,  a gift from Joe's sister. However, Pampered Chef has just discontinued the sauce, so if you don't have a jar lying around, try our easy version!

Ingredients

For the tuna
3 3-4 oz. ahi tuna steaks
2/3 cup wasabi peas - you can often find these in the snack section of an Asian aisle
1 tbsp canola oil

For wasabi-ginger sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger (about 1 inch)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1 1/2 tsp wasabi paste (or wasabi powder mixed with 1/4 tsp water)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light molasses (or light brown sugar mixed with 1 tsp water)

Instructions

Let tuna fillets dry on paper towels - the more moisture you absorb, the easier it will be to sear them without moisture seeping out and poaching them instead. This will also ensure they don't soak up much oil.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to serve.

Crush the wasabi peas in a blender, or coffee grinder. You can also put them in a plastic bag and crush them by rolling a rolling pin over them. When you're done, they should be the texture of coarse crumbs. Spread the peas onto a plate.

Heat a wide skillet on medium-high, then add the oil. Press the tuna fillets into the wasabi peas until coated on both sides. When the oil shimmers, place the fish in the pan and make sure they aren't touching each other.

Cook until there's a good sear on one side, then flip over and sear the other side for a minute or so.  You want the sear to be about a millimeter deep, and the center rare at room temperature

That's it! We like to serve them by slicing them across the grain, sort of like a slice of sashimi at a fancy restaurant. This shows the gorgeous contrast between that pretty ruby flesh and the bright green pea crust. 

Serves 4.

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Almond-Coconut Macaroons with Dried Cherries

>> Monday, March 23, 2015


Almond-Coconut Macaroons with Dried Cherries


Every spring a group of friends from my church gets together for a Seder meal, to honor our Jewish neighbors' tradition and experience the kind of celebration Jesus would have had every year. Joe's braised leg of lamb is always a big hit, but this year he did a beef brisket and I decided to try a new dessert.

If you like quick and easy baking, these are just about the easiest cookies you can make. Stir together a couple of ingredients, bake 20 minutes, and that's it! I wish I had made a double batch, because people couldn't get enough. I was blushing from the compliments.

If you want to go over the top with these, press half a maraschino cherry into the top of each cookie, and then dip the bottoms into melted semi-sweet chocolate.

Ingredients

1 8-oz can unsweetened almond paste
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites, well beaten
1/3 cup slivered almonds
1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1/2 cup sweetened coconut

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cover a baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper.

Break up almond paste into a mixer or food processor bowl. Add the sugar and egg whites and blend well. Scrape down the sides. Stir in the rest of the ingredients.

Drop spoonfuls of the dough onto the sheet. Bake at 325 for 18-20 minutes, until a little golden and puffy. Let cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan.

Makes 15 macaroons.

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Marinated Pepper and Onion Salad

>> Friday, March 20, 2015


Marinated Pepper and Onion Salad


Joe and I love shopping the discount produce at our local ethnic grocery store, and finding deeply reduced foods that absolutely have to be used today. This challenges us to whip up something special without having anything planned in advance, and play with what we have available. Sometimes we rise to the challenge, other times we flop.




We found a pack of mixed bell peppers the other day for about 10 cents a pepper, which is a great deal for Chicago at the end of March. The same store had red pearl onions for $1 a pint, another good bargain! We roasted the peppers and onions, then Joe whisked together a tasty pomegranate vinaigrette to marinate them. After I composed the salad, I had a taste and realized the flavors weren't balanced. Too sweet. It needed something piquant to make it pop. Some leftover Kalamata olives and capers were the perfect finish.

Speaking of finish, we finished all this salad for dinner. No leftovers, unfortunately.

Ingredients

For the marinade

1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pomegranate balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp fresh marjoram, snipped
1/2 tsp tarragon, snipped
1/2 tsp powdered garlic
1 tsp ground black pepper

For the salad

3 red bell peppers
3 orange bell peppers
1/2 pint pearl onions, peeled, or 1 large red onion, peeled and thickly sliced
6-8 cups mixed salad greens
2 tbsp pickled green capers
1/4 cup sliced Kalamata olives
4 oz. Romano cheese, shaved

Directions 

Whisk together the marinade ingredients and let it sit at room temperature.

Heat the broiler or grill. Place the peppers and onions on a broiler pan or cookie sheet, or place them directly on the grill. Broil or grill close to the heat until the exposed side is blotchy, black, and peeling. Turn over the peppers and onions and roast until both sides are blistered and the skin is blackened.

Roasting red peppers


Place the vegetables in a paper bag and allow to steam for 30 minutes. This will help you peel the blackened parts off. When finished steaming, cut off the stem and scrape the charred skin and seeds off with a knife. Cut the peppers into thin strips and let drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

Put the peppers and onions in a bowl and cover with the marinade. Allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. You can do this part up to several days ahead of time and refrigerate it if you want, but be sure to serve the marinated vegetables at room temperature for the best flavor.

Divide the salad greens and arrange them on six separate plates. Top each plate with 1/6 of the pepper/onion mixture, and divide the marinade between all the plates. Sprinkle with the capers, olives, and cheese before serving.

Serves 6 as side dishes.

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Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

>> Friday, March 13, 2015



Thai Coconut Soup (Tom Kha Gai)

I remember exactly when I first ordered this heavenly soup - it was on my first "unofficial" date with Joe.

"Unofficial" date? Joe and I had a complicated courtship. We went to two different churches that did a lot of things together, and people from the two churches had decided to start up a group for single adults in their 30s and 40s. It was a wonderful, hilarious, rowdy, supportive group. Joe and I were interested in each other from the very first meeting.

Problem was, we were both wary from bad relationships, so neither one wanted to make a move. Instead, we did silly things like maneuver into the same car on trips or try to sit next to each other at the theater.

Then Joe went on an evangelistic trip to Argentina and asked me to pray for him. When he came home, we met for pizza so I could hear about his adventures. Then he asked me if I was interested in checking out the new Thai place that had opened by my church. We had a date!

The awkward part was leaving from the singles' group bible study the following week. Everybody was asking if we wanted to go get a bite to eat, and we were lingering by our cars waiting for everyone to leave so we could secretly have our date. It was February and well below freezing, so we were relieved when we got to Lovely Thai and our group hadn't picked the place for dinner. Tom kha gai soup sounded delicious. Creamy, savory, tart, salty, and slightly spicy, it warmed me all the way through.

Recently I read that tom kha gai (say it DOM-kah-guy) is actually a super food for boosting your immunity. The lemongrass, lime leaves or zest, ginger, garlic, hot peppers, and coconut milk are immune system enhancers. Not only does it warm you up and loosen your respiratory system, it helps your digestion too. So when I was sick with strep throat last week, I made up a big bowl for lunch and dosed myself with soup health. I'd like another pot in front of me right now.

This time, I added water chestnuts and rice noodles because I wanted some bulk to my soup - fighting germs is always hungry work for me. There are a few substitutions here, since some of the ingredients may be out of season or hard to find.

Ingredients

4 cups chicken broth
1 2-inch piece lemongrass stalk
1 tbsp galangal or ginger, peeled and slivered
4 kaffir lime leaves, or the zest of 1 lime and 1 bay leaf
2 chopped red birds-eye chilies, or 2 tbsp chili-garlic paste
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 14-oz can straw mushrooms, drained and sliced, or 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 14-oz cans coconut milk
6 oz medium rice noodles (optional)
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
3 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves

Directions

Pour the chicken broth into a stock pot and add the lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, and chilies. Cut the chicken into 1" cubes and add to the pot, along with the mushrooms. Simmer for 20 minutes. Reduce heat and stir in the coconut milk, noodles (if using) fish sauce, and lime juice. Simmer for 5-8 minutes, or until the noodles are tender. Do not let the soup come to a heavy boil or the coconut milk might curdle.

Remove the lemongrass, bay leaf, and kaffir leaves before serving. Serve topped with green onions and cilantro leaves.

Serves 4.

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One Pan Chicken Alfredo

>> Monday, March 9, 2015


One Pan Chicken Alfredo

When our second daughter was younger, pasta alfredo was one of her favorite dishes - that and chicken fingers. Her first visit to Rome was when she was thirteen, and she asked the waiter for spaghetti with alfredo sauce. The waiter had never heard of it.


In rough Italian, Joe described to the waiter the kind of sauce Jenn would like on her pasta. What came out of the kitchen wasn't exactly what we'd call an alfredo sauce, but it satisfied Jenn.


Jessie and Jenn at the Coliseum, Rome 2004

This one-pot recipe satisfies her, too. A 30-minute dinner, with only one pan to wash - we all love it! Add other items if you like: sliced mushrooms, fresh peas, sun-dried tomatoes, or whatever else sounds good to you. This is also a great meal to use up leftover chicken or turkey, which makes the recipe even quicker because you don't have to brown the meat first.

Ingredients

2 tbsp of olive oil
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cup of milk
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
1 lb penne or other thick pasta, uncooked
1 1/2 cups Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the chicken and lightly brown it on all sides. Add the garlic and saute until tender. Add chicken broth, milk, cream cheese, and uncooked pasta to pan and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally. 

The pasta will be tender in 10-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of the pasta. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese before serving.

Serves 6.

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