Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

This quick fish dinner with citrusy coconut flavor requires only about 6 minutes on the stove — a great option for steamy nights.


I love cooking but some nights I just want to get dinner on the table as quickly as possible. Like last night. I had other more ambitious plans for dinner, but decided to go easy on myself. Opening the refrigerator fruit drawer, I spied an orange, lemon, and half a lime. And, I knew I had some coconut flakes somewhere. Decision made: Citrusy Coconut Tilapia.

Here’s how it looks going into the pan. Pretty, isn’t it? I love those little flecks of green, orange, and yellow.

coconut citrus tilapia ready for the pan

My sides were easy too. I sliced some cabbage and onions, chopped garlic and ham, pulled out my homemade slow-roasted tomatoes, and started adding them all to the pan in stages. First the onions, then garlic, and then the rest. It’s not pretty but it’s tasty. And, once again, Uncle Ben’s 90-second brown, red, and black rice came to the rescue. I usually stay away from processed food, but, well, I’m human.

This citrusy coconut topping would be great on roasted shrimp too. Or, top a few flattened chicken breasts with it and prepare them the same way as the fish.

coconut citrus tilapia ready for dinner

Citrusy Coconut Tilapia

You’ll need two plates, one wide shallow bowl, and a medium-sized skillet. I use a microplane rasp to zest my citrus fruit.

Serves 2. Double the recipe for four fillets, except still only use one egg.

  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut – my store only has sweetened so that’s what I use
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • Zest of 1/2 of an orange, lime and lemon, finely chopped or shredded
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 fillets tilapia or the fish of your choice
  • Canola oil

Mix together the breadcrumbs, coconut, ginger, and fruit zests on a plate or wide shallow bowl.

In another wide bowl, beat together the egg and milk. Add salt and pepper.

Add flour to another plate. Dredge both sides of the fish in the flour. Shake off any excess and smooth the flour evenly over the fish. Dip both sides of each piece into the egg mixture. Then, dredge both sides with the citrus/coconut mixture.

Cook the fish in oil on medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side, or until they’re cooked through and the coating is golden, but not too dark.


1 year ago on Gusto: Roasted Green Lightning Shrimp

2 years ago: Kohlrabi Parmesan

3 years ago: Cauliflower Faux Fried Rice

4 years ago: Watermelon Cucumber Salad

5 years ago: Fish with Coconut Red Curry Sauce

6 years ago: Corn Salad and Plum Clafouti

A quick dinner of chicken, asparagus and warm spices that’s full of color and flavor.

Indian style chicken and asparagus

Now that asparagus is in season again, we’re having it at least once a week. Depending where you shop, you can find local asparagus, and it’s not so pricey this time of year, at least not in most markets. I remember when I lived in Sacramento, the coop had local (Delta) organic asparagus during the spring for $5.99/bunch. I love asparagus and I love buying organic, but not at that price.

Sometimes my buying decisions don’t follow any logic. I’m willing to pay twice as much for North Carolina shrimp, but not Delta asparagus. Yet, I consider myself a frugal shopper. But am I really? I usually cook from scratch so I save a lot of money by not buying processed food. But, on the other hand, instead of making my own chicken broth, I’m more likely to save time (but spend more money) by using Better Than Bouillon or a can of Swanson.

I belong to a CSA, but I probably spend more there than I would if I bought the same produce at the supermarket. But, here’s the thing, the farm’s vegetables are fresher, healthier (no pesticides and all that), and tastier than the vegetables at the supermarket.

Frugality is important to me but not at the expense of good ingredients. If I were wealthy, I’d always buy organic. But now I only choose organic or sustainable when it’s not that much higher than the conventional price. Twice as much? No. 50% more, maybe. 30% more, definitely.

But saving time is important too, so I don’t always make my own broth, beans, bread and other ingredients from scratch. If I didn’t have to work for a living, I might be more like the domestic goddess I aspire to be, but I’ve got bills to pay.

Have you thought about your grocery shopping habits? What do you splurge on? Where do you save? How do you make decisions about buying the humanely raised pork chops versus the regular factory pork chops? Having choices is complicated, isn’t it?

Back to asparagus. Roasted asparagus is one of our stand-by vegetable dishes. If it’s not in your repertoire, here’s how you do it:

  • Place spears on a sheet pan, toss them with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then spread them out. If the spears are thin, toss them with minced or thinly sliced garlic now. If they’re thick, hold off on the garlic until later, unless you don’t mind browned garlic.
  • Roast at 425. Test the asparagus with the point of a knife after about five minutes and decide how much longer they need. Add the garlic now and give the spears another toss.
  • Once out of the oven, sprinkle on some grated lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.

Five years ago, I posted an earlier version of Indian-Spiced Chicken and Asparagus, but I’ve altered it a bit since then, so I thought, why not post my current recipe. When it’s not asparagus season, I make this with a bag of frozen sugar snap peas instead. I let the package sit on the counter and thaw before throwing them in.

Tired of chicken? Try it with shrimp. Don’t cook the shrimp first, like you do with the chicken. Instead, add them to the pan at the end since they only need a few minutes to cook. And spend the extra money on shrimp from the U.S., not Asia.

indian spiced chicken asparagus in the pan

Indian-Style Chicken and Asparagus Skillet

You’ll need a medium bowl, large skillet and plate.

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  • Salt
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1 + 1 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red or orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno (or other chile), seeded and minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1” to 2” pieces
  • 3 scallions, sliced crosswise into 1/4” pieces
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl, combine the cumin, fennel and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add the chicken pieces and toss together until the chicken is coated.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to a plate.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil (if needed), onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, chile, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin and fennel. Cook, stirring, another minute. Add asparagus and scallions, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer for 2 minutes more.

Return the chicken and any accumulated juice to the pan and cook until the chicken is just cooked through and the asparagus is tender-crisp, about 2 minutes more. Serve sprinkled with cilantro.


1 year ago on Gusto: Roasted Shrimp and Asparagus with Black Garlic and Lemon

2 years ago (sort of): Kohlrabi Parmesan

4 years ago: Turkey Pesto Meatloaf with Balsamic Tomato Sauce

5 years ago: Broccoli Cheese Soup

Take sweet potato fries, add some pimento cheese and top it all with andouille gravy—that’s southern poutine.


Last night, as I pinned a recipe for pimento cheese stuffed chicken and yet another recipe for pimento cheese (that makes seven now), I remembered a recipe featuring pimento cheese that I’ve wanted to post here on Gusto. I call it Southern Poutine.

The original recipe for Sweet Potato Fries with Andouille Gravy and Pimento Cheese was developed by Lauren Grier for her Climbing Grier Mountain blog. I like her blog’s tagline: “Moguls. Meals. Misadventures.” Now, I’m thinking about three words to describe Gusto, and seeing how I love alliteration, they all have to begin with the same letter. Hmm.

I only made one minor change to her recipe: since I have a pot of chives out on the deck, I snipped some and sprinkled the dish with about a tablespoon of them. I also recall adding more pimento cheese than I was supposed to, it’s hard to resist.

If you can’t find andouille, you could substitute another spicy sausage like chorizo or linguica. I learned recently that a Kroger’s in the next town sells linguica so now I have a few packages in my freezer. Woohoo!

So what the heck is poutine, you ask? It’s a French-Canadian dish of French fries and cheese curds smothered with beef gravy. I’ve only had poutine once in my life while attending an ASAE conference in Toronto. My friend Sandra and I went to the Fairmont’s bar for a drink and a snack and got ourselves some fancy pants poutine. I don’t recall the exact ingredients but I’m sure poutine purists would not have approved. However, they would have loved it despite themselves.

sweet potato fries w pimento cheese and andouille gravy - southern poutine

Southern Poutine aka Sweet Potato Fries with Andouille Gravy and Pimento Cheese

You’ll need a baking sheet and medium skillet.

  • 1 package (around 20 ounces) of frozen sweet potato fries
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup diced andouille sausage (or spicy sausage like linguica or chorizo)
  • 1/3 cup diced bell pepper (green, red, yellow or orange)
  • 1/3 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • Hot sauce, salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup pimento cheese, room temperature
  • Green onions or chives, chopped

Preheat the oven to 425. Spread out the fries on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes—or 5 minutes less than the package directions.

Meanwhile, make the gravy. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sausage and cook for 2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and onion with a dash of salt. Cook until nearly softened. Add the garlic. Cook for another minute or until it starts to golden. If you won’t be standing over the stove while the garlic cooks, turn the heat down to low so it doesn’t burn.

Stir the flour into the andouille/pepper mixture. Cook for a few minutes over medium hit, stirring every now and then. It’s okay if it darkens a bit. Stir in the chicken broth. Scrape up anything that’s stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer and stir until the gravy has thickened and reduced. Season to taste with hot sauce (if you like it really spicy), salt and pepper.

Back to the fries—when they’re done, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle the gravy evenly over the fries. It won’t be pretty but who cares. Next, spoon bits of pimento cheese over the fries. Then, sprinkle the green onions over everything. Place the pan back in the oven for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly.

This dish is best when it’s warm from the oven, but even the soggy leftovers are good when warmed up in the oven or toaster oven.

Original recipe: Sweet Potato Fries with Andouille Gravy and Pimento Cheese, Climbing Grier Mountain


1 year ago on Gusto: Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Mushrooms and Red Bell Pepper

2 years ago: Kohlrabi Parmesan

3 years ago: Sweet Potato and Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

4 years ago: Flounder with Spiced Breadcrumb Topping

5 years ago: Tuna Noodle Casserole

deli meat tray

Ideas for turning your deli meat tray leftovers into breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners.


If you hosted a Super Bowl party last night, your refrigerator this morning might look a lot like ours—full of leftovers. As we prepared our deli meat and cheese tray, sandwich fixings, wings and guacamole, we figured we would have more than enough food. And then a crockpot full of Italian meatballs and a tray full of stuffed clams walked in the door—along with their human counterparts.

I hate wasting food so we’re going to transform the remains of that deli meat and cheese tray into dinners. That’s my challenge. We’ve got roast beef, pastrami, ham, turkey, Genoa salami, capocollo, sopressata, plus three kinds of cheese. No one needs that many sandwiches.

As I do with any other culinary challenge, I turn to Google and Pinterest. Here are some of the ideas I found in case the thought of sandwiches and more sandwiches is making you groan too.

Freeze the meat.

Snack on a roll-up. Roll up a slice of meat and cheese. For an extra punch, stick a cornichon or sliced pickle in the middle.

Make roll-ups with a tortilla. You could smear on some plain or flavored cream cheese (horseradish makes the cream cheese even better), mayo or mustard.

Bake a pasta casserole with deli meat, onions, peppers, garlic, spinach, broccoli, cheese and bechamel sauce.

Throw together a pasta salad.

Bake a breakfast casserole with eggs, deli meat, cheese, onions and garlic.

Layer meat and cheese in between crescent roll dough and bake like this Italian Sub Layered Bake.

Make a quiche with meat and cheese.

Prepare Cobb, chef or antipasto salads.

Bake stuffed chicken breasts with meat and cheese, herbs, and pesto.

Use sliced meat and cheese as pizza toppings.

Instead of tuna salad, make roast beef or ham salad.

Make roast beef hash.

Add ham to pretty much anything you’re cooking.

If you have a good idea for leftover deli meat, please share it in the comments below. Thanks!


1 year ago on Gusto: Cranberry Almond Orange Chocolate Dutch Baby

2 years ago: Monkfish L’Americaine

3 years ago: Chipotle Sloppy Joes

4 years ago: Kale and Romaine Caesar Salad

5 years ago: Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna

6 years ago: New England Clam Chowder and Sweet Potato Fries

(Creative Commons photo by Didriks)

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

This healthy cole slaw delivers southwestern flavor without the heaviness of mayonnaise.


If you’re looking for a dish to bring to a 4th of July cook-out this weekend, I’ve got a contender for you—Southwestern Slaw. Even if someone else brings cole slaw to the party, theirs will probably be full of mayonnaise and not full of southwestern flavors.

The ingredients and their amounts are merely guidelines—add more or less depending on your taste (and your friends’ and family’s tastes) and what’s in your refrigerator. I always have lonely broccoli stems in my vegetable drawer. They’re perfect for slaws. Just slice off the brown bit at the end of the stem and any brown knobby bits and julienne them like any other vegetable. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Your mandoline or food processor could get a good work-out prepping the vegetables. I usually end up slicing all the veggies by hand. As long as I’ve allowed enough time, I enjoy doing that kind of focused work while I listen to a podcast. Even if I didn’t have anything to listen to–which would be a miracle considering all the podcasts I subscribe to–I still would love the focus and flow of chopping vegetables. It’s a good way to set the mind free.

I use rice vinegar in many of my slaws because it’s a mild vinegar. It can be used interchangeably, I think, with champagne vinegar.

You can crank up the heat by adding a minced chipotle chile. Just one unless you’re feeding a bunch of chileheads.

Not in the mood for slaw? Try my Southwestern Potato Salad–another no-mayo recipe. My honey doesn’t like mayo, so…

I hope you like this colorful dish—it will brighten up your menu and your 4th of July table. While I’m on the topic, if you want to impress your friends and family with your patriotic knowledge, check out this post from one of my clients on ten fun facts about July 4th.

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

Southwestern Slaw | Grabbing the Gusto

Southwestern Slaw

You’ll need a large bowl, small bowl and a whisk. A mandoline helps too for slicing vegetables but it’s not necessary. Sometimes, prepping vegetables is the type of relaxing activity you need.

  • 1/2 head green (or Napa) cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head small red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 4 carrots, grated or thinly sliced
  • 1/2 sweet onion, grated or thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • Option: broccoli stems or sugar snap peas, thinly sliced
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 4 tablespoons rice vinegar (or champagne or whatever you have)
  • 1 cup cilantro, leaves and thin stems, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper and ground cumin, to taste
  • Option: minced chipotle chile en adobo

Toss cabbage, carrot, onion, red bell pepper and any other vegetables in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk lime juice, rice vinegar, cilantro, hot sauce, oil, salt, pepper, cumin and optional chipotle together. Pour half the dressing over cabbage mix and toss to coat. Add more until it’s wet enough.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Great with tacos and other southwestern dishes.


1 year ago on Gusto: Zucchini Tots

2 years ago: Chipotle Sloppy Joes

3 years ago: Cherry Crumble

4 years ago: Southwestern Potato Salad

5 years ago: Corn Salad and Plum Clafouti

Salmon and Vegetable Stir-Fry recipe | Grabbing the Gusto

Salmon and Vegetable Stir-Fry | Grabbing the Gusto

A quick summer meal full of flavor and color — salmon and vegetable stir-fry.


When the temperatures hover around 100 degrees for more than a week in a row, my dinner menus get simpler. Usually, I make a protein and two sides, but that means three burners or two burners and the oven heating up the house.

Lately, I’ve cut dinners back to one pot or one bowl: big dinner salads, casseroles, or stir-fries, like this salmon and vegetable stir-fry.

I always have a side of frozen wild salmon in the freezer. Buying a big frozen fillet is cheaper than buying smaller fillets from the seafood counter. Plus, they’re bound to be fresher tasting than fillets that have sat around for a few days, although the texture isn’t as good as when it’s fresh.

When I bring the salmon home from the store, I let it thaw just a tiny bit, enough so I can cut it into serving-sized fillets. Then I freeze the fillets in a sealable freezer bag. The fillets don’t take that long to thaw, especially if you dunk the freezer bag into hot water, so you can always count on having wild salmon ready for a meal.

I wasn’t specific about the amount of vegetables to use in the recipe. It really just depends on what you have on hand, and the ratios you want between the ingredients. If you like a spicy stir-fry, add more Sriracha or fresh (or dried) chili to the recipe.

Salmon and Vegetable Stir-Fry

You’ll need a large skillet and a small bowl.

  • Canola oil
  • 3 or 4 fillets wild salmon, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces – broccoli, onion, bell pepper, shiitake (or cremini or wild) mushrooms, sugar snap or snow peas, asparagus, carrots, and/or other vegetables
  • Salt
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1” piece of ginger, minced or grated
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha or sweet chili sauce
  • Optional: green onions
  • Cooked brown or white rice

Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add salmon and cook, stirring frequently, until browned and cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add more oil, if necessary. Add vegetables and a sprinkle of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and cooked through.

Turn heat down to medium-low. Make a well in the center of the pan and place garlic and ginger in it. Add a bit of oil to the top of them and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes or until golden. Stir them into the rest of the vegetables.

Stir salmon into the vegetables. Mix soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar and chili sauce in a small bowl. Increase heat to medium, and stir sauce into the pan ingredients. Taste for seasoning. Add more soy or chili sauce, if needed. Optional: garnish with green onions. Serve over brown or white rice.

After marinating, this summery shrimp dish takes minutes to put together. Featuring bold flavors of cilantro, scallions, garlic and jalapenos, you can make it in the oven or on the grill.

Roasted Green Lightning Shrimp recipe | Grabbing the Gusto

I love green food. Basil pesto or herb pesto, sautéed greens or sugar snap peas, creamed spinach or greens, a big salad, just the sight of a dish of green makes my mouth water. I know I’m in for tasty, nutritious goodness.

Take a look at that dish of green—Roasted Green Lightning Shrimp. Wow, right? It is as good as it looks. That’s a kohlrabi sauté lurking in the back.

I’m guessing the “lightning” is a nod to the jalapeños. You can up the heat by leaving a bit of the white ribs and seeds in the marinade. I usually leave the seeds out but I don’t mind a bit of the ribs.

It’s a Steven Raichlen recipe. He’s a grill master so the original recipe is made on the grill, but I am not a grill master so I made this in the oven. The good thing about the oven is you are less likely to overcook the shrimp. Mine were done perfectly. That doesn’t always happen!

The second time I made this, I didn’t bother with the cilantro and garlic butter sauce. The sauce didn’t add that much to the shrimp. The marinade packs more than enough flavor, so why add more fat. Instead, I served guacamole on the side—a natural companion to the marinade ingredients.

Roasted Green Lightning Shrimp

Allow 30 minutes for marinating. You’ll need a food processor, sealable gallon bag and a sheet pan. If you’re making the butter, you’ll need a small saucepan.

  • 3 jalapeños, seeded, coarsely chopped
  • 4 scallions, coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves – 2 cloves coarsely chopped, 1 clove minced
  • 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) of butter
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • Sliced avocado or guacamole

Put jalapeños, scallions and 2 cloves of garlic in a food processor and chop. Add 1/2 cup of the cilantro, salt, pepper, cumin, and olive oil and puree until everything is combined. Put the shrimp and the cilantro/jalapeño mixture in a sealable gallon bag and marinate for 30 minutes.

If you’d like to make a cilantro and garlic butter sauce, cook 1 clove of minced garlic in the butter, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. When done, stir in 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro. Keep warm until the shrimp are cooked.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425. Spread the shrimp and marinade out on a baking sheet. Roast them for 6 minutes, or until opaque—the exact amount of time will depend on the size of your shrimp.

If you like, you can transfer the shrimp to a large dish and pour the cilantro and garlic butter sauce over them and/or squeeze fresh lime juice over them. Serve with sliced avocado or guacamole on the side.

Original recipe: Green Lightning Shrimp, Necessary Indulgences


1 year ago on Gusto: Kohlrabi Parmesan

2 years ago: Chipotle Sloppy Joes

3 years ago: Watermelon Cucumber Salad

4 years ago: Grilled Georgia Chicken Salad

5 years ago: Chicken and Chickpea Curry Stew and Spicy Slaw



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