Saucy Mama Pecan Crusted Grouper with Lemon Tarragon Mustard Sauce

I’m so very excited to share my first Giveaway Contest!  Recently I received a box of assorted mustards from Saucy Mama and a request to create a healthy recipe using one of their mustards.  My recipe will be entered into their Skinny Mama Cooking with Mustard Contest.  Along with my sharing my recipe with you, Skinny Mama has offered to send my winner a sample of the three of their delicious mustards!!

The basis of the contest is to create a healthy, diet friendly recipe. While I don’t follow a particular diet, I do eat healthy and enjoy various vegetarian dishes as well as gluten free. When faced with keeping recipes healthy and light, flavor plays an important part in making sure the recipe will taste amazing so you don’t feel like you’re sacrificing eating well for eating healthy! And I so do like that!!! Continue reading “Saucy Mama Pecan Crusted Grouper with Lemon Tarragon Mustard Sauce”

Pan Roasted Sea Bass with Lemon Olive Relish

I’ve been having a lot of fun with citrus dishes this month; both in coming up with different recipes using oranges and lemons and enjoying their bright flavors.  My Italian market had some gorgeous sea bass over the weekend and what better to go with lemons than fish!  This sea bass not only presented so colorful, the taste was amazing!!  A gorgeous relish topping in a blend of tart and tangy flavor with a touch of honey sweetness really complimented this mild tasting fish.  

As I purchase all my meats and seafood from this market I’ve become very familiar with the guys and can always count on them to select the perfect cuts for me.  I learned early on to develop a relationship with the butcher and fish mongers.  Getting to “first name basis” and I find they will provide lots of helpful information, cooking tips, what’s a better buy for that day and all around outstanding service!!

Sea Bass does have some pretty thick bones.  Not a lot, but after having served this one time for a special dinner and my guest finding a bone, I am overly careful now to check!  The best way I know is to simply run my finger over the fish and use my kitchen pliers or tweezers to pull them out.  This one was really difficult and I had to push down with a fork to grasp some of the bones. 

To prepare it, I decided to pan roast the sea bass as it was quite thick.  I prepared the relish earlier in the day and simply seared the fish in a cast iron skillet and placed it in the oven to finish cooking.  If sea bass is not available, any other firm, mild flavored fish could be used like cod or flounder. 

Pan Roasted Sea Bass with Lemon Olive Relish

For the Sea Bass:

4 6 oz sea bass fillets

Sea salt (or Kosher) and freshly ground black pepper

½ cup chopped fresh parsley and thyme (or a mix of fresh herbs)

4 thinly sliced lemons

Olive oil for searing

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Using a cast iron skillet, heat the pan over medium high heat.  Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Season the sea bass with salt and pepper and rub the fresh herbs on each side.  When the pan is hot, place the fillets in the pan, do not crowd.  Place a few lemon slices around the pan. Sear for a few minutes and turn.  I like to sear both sides before placing in the oven.  The amount of time in the oven will be determined by the thickness of the fillet.  As these were fairly thick, I roasted them for about 6 minutes.  I tested the fillet by checking the firmness with my finger.  Remove the skillet from the oven and allow to rest just a few minutes.  Discard the lemon slices and plate the sea bass with a generous scoop of relish allowing the liquid to pour and soak in. 

For the lemon olive relish:

2 lemons

½ cup chopped green olives with pimentos

1 shallot, minced

1 teaspoon honey

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the ends off the lemons and set on the flat side.  Following the curve of the lemon, cut away the peel and white pith.  Holding the lemon over a bowl to catch the juice, cut out each lemon segment, discarding the seeds.  Coarsely chop the lemon and olives.  Mix together the shallot, honey, vinegar and parsley in the bowl with the lemon juice.  Add in the lemons and olives.  Season to taste with sea salt and pepper – not too much salt as the olives may have a salty taste.  Set aside until ready to use.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Calamari Pomodoro

In many Italian homes Christmas Eve celebrates the Feast of Seven Fishes.  I say many homes, but not all Italian homes, as my family did not follow this tradition.  Christmas Eve was more about the children, getting together with my cousins, playing games and keeping ourselves busy until we were finally allowed to open our presents, pretty close to the midnight hour.  Among all the food served that night, it was the homemade Sicilian pizza that I reached for every time! Continue reading “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Calamari Pomodoro”

Grilled Salmon and Gorgonzola Pesto Polenta

Wild caught salmon is one of my favorites for roasting, searing and grilling.  And I like it in its purest form, lightly seasoned and sauced.  I normally purchase more than I need as I love to have leftover salmon; eaten cold the next day, mixed into salads, topped on my bagel with a smear of cream cheese, in a Panini with brie or scrambled in eggs.

I’ve never had luck grilling salmon or any fish straight on the grill.  I’m no grill master; after all I’m a chica and grills are for guys.  Okay, I know there are some awesome girls at the grill, I just happen to not be one of them.  However, I do enjoy grilled foods, from appetizers to desserts and so, I head outdoors and grill.

I use a grill basket for grilling fish, the basket is flipped and the fish stays in tack.  Pretty simple.  If you don’t have a grill basket, cooking en papillote is another method as the guys, Greg and John, have done here and here.  Of course, salmon grilled wrapped in foil vs grilled directly over the flames will differ in appearance and taste….both good, just different.

I served the grilled salmon over gorgonzola and pesto polenta.  I prefer polenta over mashed potatoes any time!  Polenta does take time and attention to continuously stir but it’s so worth the smooth, creamy texture and rustic appeal.  Instant polenta (cornmeal) is available though I purchase finely ground cornmeal in bulk for slow cooking.  I find using a double boiler cuts down on the constant stirring.  A copper pot is the way to go for true polenta cooking!  Mixing in different types of cheese and spices vary the flavor.  Leftover polenta poured into a small baking sheet firms up and can be cut into shapes and grilled or baked, but that’s for another post 🙂

Grilled Salmon and Gorgonzola Pesto Polenta

4 wild caught salmon fillets, skin removed or skin will easily fall off after grilling

Sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice from one lemon

2-3 tablespoons prepared pesto thinned with lemon juice

Rub salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Allow to sit at room temperature while heating grill.   Make sure grates are cleaned and rubbed with olive oil to not stick or use a grill/fish basket for easy handling and flipping.  Place salmon skin side up and grill for about 2 minutes or until salmon begins to turn opaque.  Flip salmon over and continue to grill another 2 minutes.  Do not over cook; it should remain moist and soft in the center, slightly pink with light grill marks.  Remove to plate, and top on polenta.  Squeeze on fresh lemon juice and/or drizzle on pesto by thinning the pesto with some lemon juice.

Gorgonzola and Pesto Polenta

3 cups boiling water or a combination of chicken broth and water (add additional as needed)

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 cup polenta

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

2-3 tablespoons prepared pesto

Simmer water in the bottom pan of a double boiler.  Add 3 cups boiling water to the top pan.  If not using the double boiler, use a large saucepan bring the 3 cups of liquid to a boil.  Add the salt and slowly whisk in the polenta, pouring the polenta like “rain” to prevent any clumping.   Reduce to low and continue to cook and, switching to a wooden spoon, stir occasionally on a double boiler, more frequently in a saucepan for about 45 minutes.  The polenta should be soft and creamy, pulling away from the bottom.  If the polenta appears to cook too fast or less creamy, add in small amounts of hot water or broth.  When done, stir in the gorgonzola cheese and pesto.  Plate immediately and serve.

Shrimp Scampi Salad

Easy dinners are what I’m all about these summer days.  Okay, even Fall, Winter and Spring I’ll take easy over complicated.  Salads though definitely rank first choice through the hot weather months.  While I love a crisp, chilled salad, I like to pare it with a warm topping.  Kinda like my thing about topping pizza with a salad.

Shrimp Scampi is a quick dish to pull together and normally served with pasta.  I had a craving for Shrimp Scampi the other day but really didn’t want the heaviness of the pasta nor did I want to just have a little.  I was HUNGRY and I wanted a nice full serving of whatever it was that I was going to make!  I’m definitely familiar with a Caesar salad topped with grilled shrimp or chicken, so why not top it with scampi instead!  The bonus too is that there is no vinaigrette or dressing to make as the garlicy sauce from the scampi is poured over the greens.

I made this with the tails on, however, next time I may remove the tails.  It’s pretty much a presentation thing leaving the tails on as the tails really don’t impart any flavor into the dish.  Leaving the shells on while cooking the shrimp do though, but I would not suggest that method for this dish!  Save that tip for another recipe.

Shrimp Scampi Salad

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 lb. uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, leaving tails on is optional

1 medium green onion, thinly sliced

9 oz frozen artichoke hearts, thawed

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped, I add up to 5 cloves!

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Juice from 2 lemons, about ¼ cup

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

½ lb. mixed salad greens

Freshly grated parmesan cheese or gorgonzola cheese for sprinkling on top of salad

Arrange mixed salad greens on a large platter and set aside, or refrigerate to keep greens crisp.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add in shrimp, artichoke hearts and green onion, sauté until shrimp begins to curl and turns pink.  Add in garlic, crushed red pepper, lemon juice and cook just a few minutes more to incorporate all the flavors, scrapping up the bottom of the pan for any bits of the sauteed shrimp or artichoke.  Sprinkle on the herbs, gently toss and pour over the salad greens, spooning on the garlicy sauce too.  Top with either freshly grated parmesan cheese or crumbled gorgonzola.  Serve immediately.

Grilled Tuna Salad with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini

This is a salad I make several times every summer.  It is great right off the grill and even better, in my opinion, when allowed to sit at room temperature marrying all together.  The grilled tuna absorbs the vinaigrette and each bite is juicy and full of flavor.   I usually prepare this several hours ahead; roasting the peppers, sautéing the zucchini and finally grilling the tuna.

It’s perfect for packing up for picnics as no mayo is used.  Veggies can vary too; I have made it with green beans instead of zucchini and added slightly grilled cherry tomatoes.  The tastes of meaty chunks of fresh grilled tuna make it hard to ever go back to opening up a can of tuna!  For me, it’s a meal in itself and I like to include this at BBQ’s for my non-meat eating guests or part of an antipasto platter.

Grilled Tuna Salad with Roasted Peppers and Zucchini

For the salad:

2 large peppers, red, yellow or orange or combination

1 large zucchini, cut in half and cut in thin strips

1 lb wild caught tuna steak

1 cup cherry tomatoes, optional

2 teaspoons capers, rinsed well, optional

For the dressing:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

To roast the peppers:  Preheat a broiler or grill.  Char the peppers on all sides and immediately place in a paper bag of covered bowl.  Allow the peppers to steam and cool about 15 minutes.  Peel the skin off the peppers and discard the seeds and stem.  Cut lengthwise into thin strips, set aside.

To saute or grill the zucchini:  In a skillet over medium heat, warm about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and saute the zucchini until tender and golden brown.  Or grill the strips in a vegetable grill basket as the slices should be cut small.  Set aside

To grill the tuna:  Preheat the grill.  Lightly brush olive oil on the tuna and sprinkle on salt and freshly ground pepper.  Grill turning once until cooked to your liking, about 2-3 minutes per side depending on thickness of tuna.  I like to have a bit of pink inside.  Remove from the grill, allow to rest until cool.

Combine the roasted peppers and zucchini in a large bowl.  Break up the tuna into big chunks and add to the bowl.  Add in the optional cherry tomato halves and capers.  Pour dressing over the salad and lightly toss.  Serve immediately or cover serve room temperature or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  Serves

Linguine with Clam Sauce

Every now and then I like to post a classic recipe for my daughter.   It’s found in almost every Italian restaurant.   A dish that can be easily pulled together on a week night when hosting a few friends or a special someone or just when you want to treat yourself!  Of course, fresh clams would make this dish awesome in appearance but I truly feel that the taste is just the same.  This is one time when a canned product actually can be used just as successfully in taste and flavor.   And to be totally honest, when I see fresh clams at my fish market, I purchase just a few to mainly use for garnish on the dish!
The basis of this dish is similar to the Italian pasta dish with garlic, olive oil and parsley.  Again, a classic pasta dish with the additional of crisp white wine, chopped clams, claim juice (from the drained clams) and good parmesan cheese.  I believe when making simple dishes to always use the best quality ingredients.  I prefer to purchase artisanal pasta and pay a bit more as the taste and texture to me is superior.  Sauces seem to cling better and al la dente takes on a whole new meaning to the taste and density of these pastas.  I find also that I will use and eat less of this pasta as it is more satisfying and filling.  
Fresh herbs are equally important to add brightness and freshness to the dish.  I have been trying to get my daughter to grow some fresh herbs, which would be year round down here in Florida, but she insists taking on the responsibility of watering a plant would be too much for a college girl’s lifestyle.  Then again, she wants a dog??  Imagine that!
I follow the recipe below in specific steps for a reason.  Mixing the ¼ cup clam juice, parmesan cheese and parsley together creates a thickener for the sauce.  I add the clams in only at the end so that they do not overcook and become chewy.  And I save some pasta water just in case the pasta needs a bit more wetness.  The amount of oil and butter may seem a lot, but it is so necessary for great tasting flavor.  The dish comes together quite quickly so it’s best to have all ingredients prepped and ready! 

Linguine with Clam Sauce

1 lb linguine pasta  (I used bucatini in the photo dish above!)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup white wine

4 garlic cloves, minced

Pinch crushed red pepper

3 6.5 ounce cans chopped claims with juice

1/3 cup parmesan cheese

3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon wedges, optional

 Drain clams, saving the clam juice, set aside.  Mix ¼ cup of clam juice with the parmesan cheese and parsley together in a small bowl and set aside.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Save ¼ cup pasta water just in case it’s needed at the very end.

While pasta is cooking, begin to prepare the sauce.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter.  Add in the garlic cloves and crushed red pepper and simmer gently for about 2 minutes.  Do not allow the garlic to burn.  Add in the white wine and remaining clam juice, simmer for another minute.  Add in the pasta, clams and parmesan cheese/clam juice/parsley mixture.  Using tongs, lift and stir the pasta together well with the sauce and gently heat the clams.  Serve immediately with lemon wedges.   Serves 4.

Cooking…and drinking with wine

White wine that is, and if there is one recipe to make, it’s this soup! An infused broth of bay leaves, thyme, carrots and onions, vegetable broth and crisp white wine. I saw a couple of recipes on a White Wine Soup and combined what I liked to make this. I wasn’t sure how it would eventually taste but I can excitedly report that it was divine! Very elegant, a gorgeous blend of flavors and enticing aroma.  Using a good bottle of white wine, that is, one you like is key as the wine is the star ingredient. Simmered slowly, the alcohol evaporates leaving the rich full taste of the wine. The toasted baguette slice was heavenly floating on the soup and soaking up the goodness!
Having that bottle of wine open, I had to have a glass…..and come up with some other dishes! Shrimp and Fennel simmered in white wine, again the flavor was amazing and the fennel braised to a lightly caramelized softness. My third dish was quick and easy roasted rosemary skewered scallops in a lemony, garlic white wine sauce. 
 Every now and then I enjoy getting into my kitchen and creating new dishes. Okay, I’ll be honest, I am always in my kitchen and I am always preparing several new dishes. I get bored easily and rarely like to repeat, unless they are my classic Italian, family dishes. No doubt, I will repeat the White Wine Soup; possibly as my starter for Christmas dinner. I loved it that much!!
White Wine Soup
 Adapted from Saveur article clipped long ago!

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

3 cups vegetable broth

1 ¼ cups white wine, I used Kendal Jackson Reserve Chardonnay

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs thyme

¼ cup heavy cream

6 large egg yolks

Kosher salt and pepper for taste

Freshly grated nutmeg, about ¼ teaspoon

4 baguette slices

Herb butter or plain

In a medium large saucepan, saute the onion and carrot in olive oil until soft. Add the broth, wine, bay leaf and thyme and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and continue to cook for 15 – 20 minutes. Strain stock and return to the same pot over low heat. Discard solids. Add in ¼ cup cream. Whisk ½ cup of the hot stock in the egg yolks stirring quickly to avoid scrambling the yolks. Pour the yolk mixture into the saucepan and heat to serving temperature, but do not boil. Season the soup with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Meanwhile, toast baguette slices and butter each slice. Serve each bowl with a baguette topping. To make ahead, gently rewarm soup and top with baguette before serving.

Shrimp and Fennel in a Wine Sauce
Adapted from Trattoria cookbook
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
 1 tablespoon butter





1 large fennel bulb, cut into thin slices, leaving leaves attached to the core

¾ cup white wine

¼ cup chicken broth or vegetable broth

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 bay leaf

1-2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb wild caught shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 freshly squeezed lemon

Freshly chopped parsley, small handful

Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet. Add in fennel and onions and saute 2 -3 minutes. Add in white wine, bay leaf, garlic and some salt and pepper. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer. Continue to simmer uncovered until fennel is tender but still al dente, about 7 minutes. Remove the fennel. Add in the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes. Return the fennel, add in lemon juice and fresh parsley. Serve at once.

Mixed Grilled Shrimp, Scallops, Zucchini and Peppers with Papaya Salad

I have finally found a great little place to shop for seafood.  One would think living in Florida it would be easy.  The Fish Peddler was recommended by Chef Jean Pierre.  A small, friendly seafood store with a large selection of fresh, high quality seafood and many accoutrements to compliment a dish.

Like a kid in a candy store, or like me in a cookbook aisle, I wanted to buy it all!  Luckily, we were there for a purpose, a requested dinner of shrimp and scallops.  Gorgeous large Key West pink shrimp and beautiful, ivory colored jumbo scallops.  Along with the seafood, we grilled zuchini and peppers and served it all with yellow rice and a refreshing papaya salad.

Grilled Shrimp and Scallops, Zucchini and Peppers

4 servings

16 large shrimp
8 jumbo scallops – cut in half
2 medium zucchinis sliced in half and cut into bite size chunks
1 red, 1 yellow, 1 orange pepper, cut into chunks

For the marinade:

3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tamari sauce (or soy sauce)
1/2 cup oil
1 cup pineapple juice
1/2 small red onion
1 tablespoon honey
salt & pepper

For the vinaigrette:

1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 small red onion
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon cilantro
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper

Combine the marinade ingredients in a small blender and emulsify well.  Set aside.  Can be made one day ahead.

Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a small blender and emulsify well.  Set aside and can also be made one day ahead.

Devine and clean shrimp.  Cut scallops in half (if using jumbo).  Marinade seafood no longer than 1 hour prior to cooking.  Marinade zucchini and peppers in the same marinade, separate containers.

Heat a grill to medium heat.  Thread shrimp and scallops on separate skewers as shrimp will cook faster than the scallops.  Thread zucchini and pepper combined on skewers.  Grill until lightly charred and tender.  Shrimp will curl slightly and scallops should be firm to the touch.  Remove and plate to serve.  Drizzle on some of the vinaigrette.

Papaya Salad

1 large papaya, ripe, gently soft
3 limes
1 small red onion, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 green onions, cut thin on the bias
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, sliced thin
salt and pepper

Peel and seed the papaya and slice into wedges.  In a small bowl, juice the limes, add the red onion, ginger and olive oil.  Mix well.  Drizzle over papaya, and gently toss.  Sprinkle on green onion and mint.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.