Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Menu ideas and recipes for Brussels sprouts, oysters, linguiça, bluefish, tilefish and dogfish…

Oyster and linguiça bake

The kitchen highlight of the week was Louisiana oyster and linguiça bake, an Emeril Lagasse recipe. The recipe doesn’t call for linguiça—a garlic paprika Portuguese sausage—but that’s what I always use. I know Emeril would approve because he’s half Portuguese. I also added baby spinach to the mix—I think he’d be okay with that too.

I usually buy my linguiça online in bulk from Amaral’s in New Bedford or Gaspar’s in North Dartmouth, MA—just down the road from Emeril’s hometown, Fall River. In fact, Gaspar’s has an 8# deal going on right now, so I just ordered more linguiça and chouriço (a spicier sausage).

Instead of shucking 50 oysters, I shucked 6 for myself—Hatteras Salts, so good—and then steamed the rest for about 4 minutes. I still had to shuck them but it’s a lot easier when the shells have opened a bit. They stayed fairly plump too. Oh, and I strained and froze the leftover oyster broth. You never know when that will come in handy!

oyster and linguica bake

oyster and linguica bake

Bluefish with tomatoes and garlic-shallot oil

Another night I made bluefish poached with tomatoes, garlic-shallot oil and lime. I used regular couscous instead of the Israeli couscous called for in the recipe. I loved the garlic-shallot oil—I can imagine it on all kinds of things.

Golden tilefish and dogfish with smoky red chimichurri

Since the meat shelves are bare at the supermarket, it’s a good thing I have plenty of local fish in the freezer. On Sunday, I wanted to prepare enough fish for two meals, so I baked fillets of golden tilefish and dogfish. I topped them with salt and a bit of butter before they went in the oven.

I served them with a delicious smoky red chimichurri. Chimichurri is usually green—a mix of herbs, shallot, garlic, hot pepper, vinegar and olive oil. This red one also included smoked paprika, chipotle powder and cumin—very tasty.

Roasted Brussels sprouts with red grapes and onions

The farmers market had baby Brussels sprouts. I was torn between roasting and sautéing them, but I had an idea about roasting them with halved red seedless grapes, red onion, garlic and thyme, so that’s what I did.

roasted brussels sprouts with red onion

Let’s talk about Brussels sprouts

If you’re convinced you don’t like Brussels sprouts, try roasting them. Trim the ends, cut the big ones in quarters, and the rest in halves. Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. I always add red onion too if I have some around. Bake them until they’re fork-tender and caramelized. You’ll change your mind about Brussels sprouts.

You could also add cubes of potatoes (white or sweet), winter squash, red bell pepper, jalapeño… trying to think of what else. If you want to add garlic and/or dried herbs, wait until you’re nearing the end of the cooking time so they don’t burn. Toss any fresh herbs with the veggies after they come out of the oven.

Another option is sautéing Brussels sprouts. I usually slice them (after trimming) into three or four pieces. Maybe that sounds tedious but it’s kind of zen. Start with bacon (or ham), onions and peppers (any kind, just not green bell), then later on the garlic, and get those softened a bit before adding the Brussels sprouts.

In both these preparations, the Brussels sprouts caramelize a bit, so their bitterness is offset by some sweetness, plus you have all those other good flavors. They don’t have that stinky aroma like they do when your mother boiled or steamed them—murder! Find a recipe online and go for it, they’ll enhance your life.

Stay-at-home with local produce and meat

Restaurants are suffering and dying, and small farmers are struggling too. My local farmer’s business depends greatly upon restaurant orders and she’s definitely not getting many of those lately. We’re in between CSA seasons but she’s taking online orders from anyone. She has pick-ups twice a week at the farm. Everything you order is sealed in a big brown bag.

I bet many of the small farmers in your area are doing something similar. I’ve seen small beef, pork, and chicken farms advertising farm pickups and some even deliver. Your local farmers market’s website might list the ones who are taking online orders. Or, see if your state has a farm stewardship organization (like this one)—they may have a list as well, although ours is not complete.

Until next week, stay safe, stay well, take care.

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Brussels sprouts photo (Creative Commons) by Keenan Loo via Unsplash

These days, I’m thankful for our chest freezer and my seafood store. Locals Seafood is still open for business at the Raleigh State Farmers Market. I’d think the market and nearby shops would be considered essential since they’re sources of produce and protein—and protein is rather scarce in the supermarkets. The shelves in my local Food Lion were completely empty except for a few flank steaks, containers  of chicken livers, and corned beef briskets. It’s funny to see what no one wants.

blackfin tuna with citrus harissa marinade

blackfin tuna with citrus harissa marinade

Harissa citrus tuna

Here’s an easy and excellent recipe for a busy weeknight: sheet pan harissa salmon with potatoes and citrus. I used blackfin tuna instead of salmon, but any sturdy fish will do, or sausages or chicken, if you can find some. I worried about the tuna drying out since it’s the least fatty of all tunas, but the marinade must have prevented that.

I added carrots like someone in the recipe’s comments suggested. Since I didn’t have quite enough harissa, I supplemented it with red curry paste. Harissa is a North African chile paste, but you could also use another chile paste like sambal oelek or gochujang.

If you don’t have any of those chile pastes, you could make your own with the spices and oil you have in the cabinet. I bet a Google search would bring up a recipe. Low on spices? Get some delivered from The Spice House.

shepherd's pie with ground lamb

shepherd’s pie – looks boring but isn’t

Shepherd’s pie

On Sunday, I made a big shepherd’s pie so we could have it again on St. Patrick’s Day. My recipe is from The Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret Johnson. It was the second time I’ve made this recipe—it’s a keeper. If you need a comfort food meal, give it a try—or find yourself a recipe online.

Shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb (our favorite) and cottage pie is made with ground beef—just so you know, I didn’t. I sometimes go way off recipe and make a “shepherd’s pie” with ground turkey and a sweet potato topping. Maybe I should call that one a Southern farmer’s pie.

Our sides for the week were predictable—greens, but with cabbage in the mix. Cabbage and carrots store well in the refrigerator so stock up when you have the chance. The sweetness of the carrots is a nice contrast to the more bitter greens—of any type.

That’s it for now. I’ll cover this past weekend’s meals in the next post. Wishing you all wellness!

frittata, bluefish, Thai basil pesto, greens and other menu ideas

If you need to decompress and chill out, I highly recommend getting into the kitchen—as long as you go easy on yourself. Even those of us who have been cooking for decades still learn something new almost every time we cook or bake. That’s a nice way of saying we make mistakes but they’re no big deal. Just learn what you can and keep at it.

Bluefish with Thai basil pesto

My seafood share this week was bluefish and blue catfish. The catfish went in the freezer because we had too many leftovers. I was excited to get it because blue catfish is an invasive species. The more we can catch and eat, the better for our ecosystem.

Bluefish has a bad rep as a fishy fish, but it’s not fishy if it’s fresh. It will deteriorate (get fishy) if it’s exposed too long to oxygen or warm temps. My bluefish was full of robust flavor as fresh bluefish should be. I topped it with a mix of Thai basil pesto and panko breadcrumbs.

I grew a pot of Thai basil last year and it came in handy for Vietnamese and Thai recipes. A mix of Thai basil, cilantro and mint takes a dish to bright heights.

Here’s my recipe for Thai basil pesto.

  • 2 cups Thai basil leaves (some stems are fine too)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped into a few pieces
  • 1/2” piece of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons plain roasted peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon agave, coconut palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar (or lime juice)
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon low sodium soy sauce
  • Grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree. Add just enough grapeseed oil to get to the desired consistency.

I freeze all my pesto in ice cube trays. Once the cubes are frozen, I transfer them to freezer bags so I can enjoy a hit of summer all year round.

coq au vin, bluefish, greens, frittata, Thai basil pesto and other menu ideas

Say good-bye to winter with coq au vin

This week’s culinary high point had to be slow cooker coq au vin, a recipe from Leite’s Culinaria. I’ve always had success with the recipes on this blog with the one exception of an excruciatingly sweet pecan pie bread pudding, but I should have known better when I saw how much sugar the recipe called for. The comments of official recipe testers are published with the post so you can (usually) get a feel for the recipe from their experience.

I don’t use my slow cooker that often but Jim was monopolizing the oven with some slow-roasted ribs so I changed plans and went with this recipe. Oh, man, it was so good. I made a giant batch and since there are only two of us, we had this three times this past week for dinner.

This recipe requires a good deal of prep before adding ingredients to the slow cooker. You have to brown the chicken thighs as well as the mushrooms, onions, etc. in separate batches. But this work is necessary to extract the maximum flavor—and it’s worth it.

Greens galore

What did we have on the side for the coq au vin, besides mashed potatoes? Greens, of course! What else would you expect from me?

Round one: collard and spinach sauté with bacon, red onion, carrot, poblano, orange bell and jalapeño.

Round two: kale and arugula sauté with bacon, red onion, jalapeño, mushroom and grape tomato.

frittata, bluefish, Thai basil pesto, greens and other menu ideas

There’s a reason I’m not a professional food blogger–my lackluster photography skills. Whatev!

Produce drawer frittata

One of my regular breakfasts is a wedge of frittata. I make a frittata once or twice a week, depending on my mood. It’s a healthy way to start the day since it’s chock full of veggies, and a great way to use up odds and ends in your produce drawer.

Gather any leftover cooked vegetables—greens are a regular ingredient in this house but most anything works. Sides, like roasted root vegetables or rice, work too. Whatever you think will taste good with eggs.

Pick through the produce drawer to find anything you might not use soon or ever, such as herbs, broccoli stems, half an onion, mushrooms, fennel stems, etc.

Chop or slice all your ingredients. Beat about 8 eggs in a bowl, add salt and pepper. Heat up a 10” or so non-stick pan, add oil and start sautéing the uncooked vegetables. I usually add half an onion to whatever else I have. You could add bacon or sausage if you want some protein.

Once the veggies are just about tender, mix in the cooked ingredients and let them warm up. Then pour the eggs over it all. Turn the heat down to low and cover the pan. Cook until the top is set.

If you want to add cheese, grate, slice or chop it and then sprinkle it over the top once the eggs have set. I take the pan off the heat and leave it covered so the cheese will melt. Feta cheese is really good on frittatas, but I use whatever is starting to look a bit sad in the deli drawer—or none at all.

You could save any herbs for the cheese stage so their flavor is more prominent. Slice the frittata into four wedges and you have breakfast for four mornings. I usually eat mine plain but it’s good with avocado or salsa too.

St. Patrick’s Day plans

I like making something Irish for St. Patrick’s Day. I’m defrosting some ground lamb right now to make shepherd’s pie for Sunday and Tuesday. My recipe is from The Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret Johnson.

I’ve got spinach, arugula and radish greens in the refrigerator so I’ll add them to cabbage and give it all my usual greens treatment.

Wishing you all a relaxing and healthy weekend!

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menu ideas for striped bass, mackerel and more

NC oysters

Like oysters? If you see Hatteras Salts on the menu, order as many as you can. I had a few before lunch on Monday at Locals Seafood Oyster Bar in the Transfer Company Food Hall (Raleigh). I’m still thinking about them.

Humongous ham bone

I finally remembered the big ham bone from Thanksgiving lurking in my freezer and gave it a fitting destination: split pea soup with ham. I didn’t have to add any additional ham like the recipe instructed because my bone had plenty extra on it. I used water instead of chicken broth because I knew the meaty bone would provide enough flavor—and it did. I love watching marrow slowly disappear from a bone into the broth to work its magic.

Fish two ways: striped bass and mackerel

My favorite meal last week was striped bass with spiced chickpeas. Bon Appetit calls this recipe “foolproof,” and I suppose it is. I couldn’t get enough of these flavors. You could leave out the fish and just make the chickpeas—they’re so good.

The other fish in last week’s seafood share was mackerel. I like matching mackerel with bold flavors like this maple-barbeque glazed fish recipe. Quick and easy.

menu ideas for striped bass, mackerel and more

Roasted broccoli

When I’m in a need-a-quick-veggie jam, I grab some broccoli, slice them into individual florets, slice big chunks of red onion and toss it all on a sheet pan (or two—might as well make a big batch) with olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt and bake at 400. When the florets are just approaching tender, add garlic slices and red pepper flakes, toss again, and bake until the florets are partly caramelized (nearly burnt) and the stems are at the tenderness you desire.

Sunday pancakes

For Sunday breakfast, I made this German apple pancake from Serious Eats. It reminded me of a clafouti—dessert for breakfast, I guess. Satisfyingly tasty. Per the recipe, you need a non-stick, oven-safe pan. My Tramontina non-stick skillet did just fine in the oven, in case you have one of those. Increase the cinnamon, you won’t regret it.

Good reads

I’ll always be a restaurant person. I spent too many years as a manager—and, before that, a bartender and waitress—to get it out of my system completely. This article by Karen Stabinder in The Counter makes me sad: The American Restaurant Is on Life Support. It explains why it’s getting harder to make a living in the restaurant business.

You can help restaurants stay in business. Pick up the phone when you want to make a reservation. The selfish reason is because you might get a better table that way, according to Monica Burton at The Eater. The better reason is the restaurant won’t have to eat into its meager profit margin to pay OpenTable, Resy or whomever for your visit. As one restauranteur said, “When people ask ‘Why is your burger $16?’ I want to show them my monthly bill from OpenTable.”

Now that I’ve depressed myself, I’ll start working on dinner because scientists say cooking and baking help you feel better. I can vouch for that. Danny Lewis at Smithsonian Magazine shares what the research tells us about the magical power in your kitchen.

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Striped bass illustration via Wikimedia Commons

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swordfish recipe

Pan-fried fish: white grunt and swordfish

Two busy weeknights had me relying on some old faithfuls. If you buy local fish like I do, you really don’t need much more than salt and pepper, maybe some lemon, but I like zhushing it up a bit.

First, my three-step dredge for pan-fried white grunt—that’s a fish, y’all, a mild, flaky fish with a flavor comparable to bass or snapper. Some day I’ll make grits and grunt, a traditional coastal dish.

  • One, dredge fillets in salted flour.
  • Two, dip in buttermilk mixed with a few dashes of hot sauce. Or a beaten egg instead.
  • And, three, dredge in seasoned cornmeal. This time, I added some panko breadcrumbs to the cornmeal. You could use all breadcrumbs or crushed crackers (maybe saltines) instead.

My second standby prep was for swordfish. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve seen this one before: melted butter with lemon juice, garlic salt and Aleppo pepper flakes. Simple enough that it lets the fish’s flavor shine but you still feel like you’re actually cooking.

swordfish recipe

Lentil what?

As soon as I saw the name of this recipe, lentil kielbassoulet, I was in. I love cassoulet, but who has the time for duck confit? This Bon Appetit shortcut gave me an excuse to buy really good kielbasa from Mae Farm—they’re right next door to Locals Seafood in the farmers market. The results: a hearty and tasty Sunday dinner.

A side in a can

Maybe it’s my restaurant conditioning but a meal doesn’t seem complete unless the plate includes a protein, veggie and starch, or two veggies. Three’s the magic number unless I’m making a one-bowl meal, like pasta or stew, although I’ll make a vegetable too if the bowl isn’t veggie-forward.

Sweet potatoes are a regular starch around here, but in a pinch, a can of white beans comes in handy. Throw them in a pan with some garlic, rosemary and lemon zest, and voilà.

A keeper pancake recipe

I can never remember ingredient ratios for pancakes so I’m always consulting a recipe. Cook’s Illustrated has a good one but I saw this buttermilk pancakes recipe in my stream, so that’s what I made for Sunday breakfast. It’s a keeper! I added frozen blueberries and served them with breakfast sausage from Mae Farm.

That’s it! Buy local!

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Swordfish photo via Wikimedia Commons

thai style peanut butter pasta

My house was the scene of a pasta extravaganza last weekend. Jim was away hunting so I indulged in two of my favorites. First up, a Thai-style pasta with peanut butter sauce loaded with veggies (whatever is left over in the frig), ginger, garlic, warm spices and a ton of cilantro. That’s it in the photo above. I couldn’t help but eat two bowls.

The main veggie in my peanut sauce was sliced broccoli stems. We put chopped broccoli florets on our nightly salad so I always have leftover stems in the refrigerator. I save them up and use them in frittatas, vegetable sautés or wherever else I’d like some broccoli flavor. Don’t throw them away!

The following night I took the opportunity to make a pasta I know he’d hate since he’s not a fan of blue cheese (what a fool!): gorgonzola pasta with spinach, bacon, mushrooms and red onion. Lordy do I love this. If you’re a blue cheese lover, do not deny yourself. Another two-bowl night.

Earlier in the week, I made sweet potatoes with tahini butter from Bon Appetit. We eat a lot of sweet potatoes so I’m always looking for new ideas. This recipe is promising but I didn’t care for steamed sweet potatoes—the skin was too soggy, especially after the leftovers spent a day in the frig.

Instead of steaming, if time is tight, poke the potatoes all over with a fork and nuke them for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the size, then finish them off at high heat in the oven or toaster oven. Or just roast them if you have the time. I liked the tahini butter—interesting, in a good way, flavors.

Last night, I made a Thanksgiving recipe to see if we loved it as much as I remembered. We did. It’s my version of the traditional green bean casserole, no cans of soup involved. Instead, you make a simple bechamel sauce (or white sauce). The casserole is loaded with mushrooms and other aromatics and topped with oven-“fried” sweet onion rings.

For the main, I made ham steaks with juniper cream sauce. I saw the photo on this Taste recipe and just had to try it. I cut the recipe in half. Jim wasn’t a big fan of the sauce but he merely dipped a finger in to try it. When combined with the ham, it was a completely different experience. I loved it.

I just looked at the ham photo on Taste again. The recipe says to strain the sauce, which I did, although I forgot to add the parsley, but the sauce in the photo is not strained. Hmm.

Another note on that recipe: use sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. You will not regret adding sherry vinegar to your kitchen cabinet. It is so much better than any other vinegar, in my opinion. Sort of luscious.

The other night, we had cumin-roasted vermillion snapper w cilantro sauce. This New York Times recipe calls for salmon but I wanted to use some of the fish from my seafood share that I had to freeze during our busy fall of weekends away. I didn’t mix the spices (cumin, smoked paprika) together. I just sprinkled them from the jars onto the fillets.

On the side, spicy roasted daikon radish fries, a recipe I found via Google on the Cooking on the Weekends blog. I have a ton of daikon radish in the frig from our CSA share. I figured they would keep well while I decided what to do with them. I like these “fries” although only the real skinny ones got crispy. Feeling lazy, I used ground ginger instead of fresh.

That’s my week in the kitchen. Now it’s time to plan menus for the upcoming week, including Thanksgiving. I’ll bring the green bean casserole, a dessert (TBD), maybe another side or cranberry sauce. Tis the season for feasting!

I’ve been sharing my kitchen favorites over on my other blog every Friday, and all of a sudden tonight I thought, why the heck aren’t I sharing them here?

And here we go…


The best dish all week: homemade lamb gyros from Serious Eats. Who knew you could replicate that satisfying late night flavor at home? I remember going to a little place in Georgetown back in my waiter/bartender days for my gyro fix after work—or after last call. Those memories are fuzzy so I can’t say for sure if these were as good, but they were plenty good.

I followed the gyro recipe pretty much as written, but I made my tzatziki without the mayo and I added dill. I served the lamb with chopped lettuce and grape tomatoes in the flatbread you can buy at the supermarket.

Another hit, a salsa verde from Taste. I swear the color and texture changed after adding the vinegar, so cool. Was it culinary magic or science? We had it one night on fish (wahoo) and another night on steamed potatoes. I can imagine it’d be great on roast chicken and eggs too.

Jim has a hunting trip this month, so we need to make space in the chest freezer for, hopefully, a bountiful venison harvest. Rummaging through, I found a forgotten three-pack of cauliflower rice from BJ’s in there. I sautéed red onion, a mix of peppers (sweet corno di toro, poblano and jalapeno), shiitake mushrooms and cabbage, and then added the “rice” to the mix. Very tasty.

Not too exciting? Hardly, let me tell you, those gyros were plenty exciting.

Since we’re entering the holiday season — woo hoo! — I have two videos to share with you. As if Alison Roman wasn’t talented enough, I finally discovered she’s an incredibly lovable and relatable video star, cook, person, someone you’d love to hang out with in the kitchen. In this video, she prepares Thanksgiving for a bunch of friends. Love her.

And if you’re still stressing out about Thanksgiving, let Tante Marie ease your mind — just put the f*cking turkey in the oven. Did I ever tell you about the time I was given turkey duty the day of, discovered it was still frozen inside, and, oh brother, but it all worked out. A story for another time, see you next week!