Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

I’m ready for the weekend, aren’t you? And I’m luxuriating in the fact that I don’t have any plans. My time is all mine. I’m looking around my office right now and feel the urge to put things in order and declutter. And I’ll read, of course—got to fill the well. It’s going to be a home-body weekend—famous last words.

If you’re looking for dinner inspiration, here are some recipes I made this past week and a few I may try next week.

By the way, on Saturday mornings I’m publishing my list of recommended fiction and non-fiction ebooks on sale in a separate post, On the Bookshelf. But since we’re in my virtual kitchen, I’ve included a list of great deals on e-cookbooks at the end of this post.

In My Kitchen

As planned, we had Flounder with Spiced Breadcrumbs last Friday. It’s one of my quick recipes. The breadcrumbs are the star with their minced orange bell pepper, onion, garlic, parmesan cheese, paprika and cayenne. I wasn’t measuring and made way more breadcrumbs than I needed but I piled them all on anyways since they’re so tasty.

On the side I experimented with an idea I got from a restaurant menu, Charred Brussels Sprouts with Hot and Sweet Peppers. I quartered the sprouts, added strips of cherry pepper, poblano pepper, onion and pancetta. Tossed it all with garlic chunks, sea salt and olive oil and roasted the heck out of it so the sprouts had dark caramelized edges. They were so good. Jim polished off the leftovers while standing over the pan.

My other side was Sweet Potato Mash. Sweet potatoes go so well with bold green vegetables like Brussels sprouts and leafy greens. I always add maple syrup, salt and butter to my mashed sweet potatoes and I was just about to add some chicken broth when I remembered that I had some spicy juice and fat (pan drippings) from the Peruvian Chicken I made a while back. Oh my, what a dinner, and it didn’t take long to put together.

On Sundays, I don’t mind taking more time to make dinner so I save prep-heavy meals for then. Throughout the late afternoon in between other activities I prepped the ingredients for Russian Salmon Pie—hard boiling eggs, making rice (although I cheated and made a package of 90-second brown rice and quinoa blend), thawing pastry, and chopping veggies.

I went off-recipe a bit per the suggestions in the comments: added carrot and peas, used a mixture of brown rice and quinoa, added an extra hard-boiled egg, and used dill instead of parsley. To save time, I left the skin on the salmon fillet because we don’t mind skin, and I used frozen puff pastry—that alone saves several hours. I haven’t made puff pastry since my pastry days, although it would be fun to make homemade Danish one weekend.

The prep was worth it. For one, it’s an impressive presentation, pulling a golden pie out of the oven (photo below). Hearty comfort food at its best, I’d make it again. While having the leftovers on Tuesday night, I said something about all the flavors blending and maybe I’d leave something out next time, but Jim didn’t agree at all, à chacun son goût!

I picked up some mustard greens and spinach at the farmers market the day before so I sautéed them with onion and garlic as a side. Everything made a repeat performance on Tuesday night.

Thursday night, I did something I never thought I would, but thanks to a gift card I received at Christmas from my step-son and his wife, we had a Home Chef meal for dinner. Yesterday, a big box arrived on my doorstep. I’m easily impressed, I guess, by packaging because I thought it was really cool how the inside was lined with cushy protection all around—yeah, I know there’s a name for that—with an ice pack underneath. Inside I found two bags, each with the ingredients for one night’s dinner.

Last night we had Korean Fish Cakes. Unfortunately, the tilapia was from China – boo. I think if I were to regularly do a home meal delivery service, I’d try to find one that sourced better ingredients. Know any? But I’m not complaining – it was a great gift. It’s fun putting a meal together when someone else does all the prep, like working on the line in a restaurant! The fish cakes were made with ginger, mayo, panko breadcrumbs and cilantro, and I added a bit of the gochujang (red chile paste) too.

On the side, the meal came with the ingredients for pickled shallots (I sliced them thin and mixed them with seasoned rice vinegar) and cole slaw. I added some gochujang and cilantro to that too. A tasty meal.

dinner menu ideas and cookbooks on sale

On My Menu

Tonight, we’re having the other Home Chef meal – Chicken Fajitas. I’m going to pick up an avocado if I can find a ripe one. Dinner, for us, requires more vegetables than the onions and peppers in the fajitas so I’ll make sautéed kale (another farmers market buy) and spice it up with some smoked paprika and cayenne pepper, maybe some garlic too.

I’m heading to Harris Teeter today to see what kind of fish they have over there. Our nearest store (20 minutes away) doesn’t always have the fish advertised in their weekly email. I’m hoping for rockfish (striped bass) or monkfish, but I may end up with haddock. If I get monkfish, I’m making Monkfish à l’Américaine. If I end up with rockfish or haddock, I’ll figure something out tomorrow.

Maybe Harris Teeter will have the ingredients I need to finally make Braised Endive and Fennel Gratin with Cranberries, but I’m not getting my hopes up. Neither one of my local supermarkets carries endive and I didn’t have it in me to pay what they were asking at Lowes Foods for the tiny bulbs of fennel they had. So we’ll see if I have better luck at Harris Teeter. I’m not driving 30 minutes to Whole Foods. At times like this, I miss my urban life, but then I look at all the trees around me and it’s a sacrifice worth making.

Beyond Sunday, I might bring back one or two of these menu ideas from last week:

And I’m thinking about something Irish for St. Patrick’s weekend—maybe salmon and lamb—in honor of my three-quarters Irish heritage. I’ll consult one of my four Irish cookbooks, all of which you can get from a great price right now.

I’ll report back next week on what I end up making.

dinner menu ideas and cookbooks on sale

e-Cookbooks and Food Books on Sale

Caveat: Ebook sales like these sometimes only last a day or a week, so act quickly.

Get ready for a celebration of all things Irish next weekend since next Saturday is St. Patrick’s Day. Here are the four Irish cookbooks in my collection, all at a great price.

The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews is still on sale this week ($3.00).

“Writer Colman Andrews has [an] impeccable pedigree…he ate his way through the high- and byways of this country to put this book together…his eye always cocked for an artisan producer, local specialty, or place featuring good food. The usual chapters on soups, fish, poultry, meats and baking are supplemented by sections on savoury pies, salmon…, potatoes…and a soda bread-focused bread chapter. There are little essays scattered throughout the book on a historical and factual topics…He quotes widely from Irish cookbooks, over 100 of which are mentioned in the extensive bibliography, and recipes from all eras are included.” (BiblioCook)

The Irish Pub Cookbook by Margaret Johnson is still on sale this week ($3.99).

“Contemporary Irish cooking means not just a rustic, stick-to-your-ribs Irish Stew with Brown Soda Bread, but also Green Tomato Tarte Tatin, as original and sophisticated as one found anywhere in Europe. The book reads like a tourist itinerary for hungry pub crawlers…and shares history on favorite pubs and their famous and infamous patrons and proprietors.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food by Kevin Dundon ($4.99)

“Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food is clearly from [the farm-to-table] tradition of Irish cooking. None of the ingredients used are particularly revolutionary or are the concepts too difficult, but it’s very much Irish classics with a slight twist.” (The Baking Beardy)

My Irish Table: Recipes from the Homeland and Restaurant Eve by Cathal Armstrong ($5.99)

“Armstrong is the chef of several DC-area Irish joints, including Restaurant Eve. His debut cookbook, My Irish Table, explores everything from his Irish homeland to his current career in fine dining….Beyond the breakfast pages, you’ll find a collection of Armstrong’s mother’s dishes; a chapter each on fish, vegetables, and baked goods; a set of celebratory dishes grouped by holiday; and, of course, a section devoted to refined dishes from the restaurant. But this chapter does not dominate the book—Armstrong’s cooking is nothing but approachable.” (Serious Eats)

Other e-cookbooks on sale right now…

Adventures in Slow Cooking: 120 Recipes for People Who Love Food by Sarah DiGregorio ($1.99)

“The recipes are spot-on….but just as exciting are her expert tips about the equipment itself. It’s clear that DiGregorio has spent a lot of time with her slow cooker—she wrote our Guide to the Best Slow Cookers, after all—and she has endless knowledge for slow-cooking newbies and veterans alike.” (Food & Wine)

Rose’s All-Original All-American Pie Recipes by Rose Levy Beranbaum ($2.99)

I didn’t buy this cookbook because I have one of hers that’s even better, The Pie and Pastry Bible. The Rose’s All-Original cookbook is described as “nine completely new but tested-and-proven pie recipes. The book provides tips and techniques for baking in general, and complete directions for each pie and crust type.” I checked the table of contents and it is only nine recipes. If you want a good pie cookbook, splurge for the Bible. It’s well worth it.

Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán ($1.99, 87% off)

Finalist for the 2018 International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) Book Awards.

“It’s never easy to convince someone to try a cultural cuisine, let alone cook it. But if you were to consider Nopalito as California-style fresh cuisine with regional Mexican flavors and ingredients woven in, perhaps just maybe you’d give this book more than a passing glance. Inspired by his familial roots in Mexico and then his professional career in San Francisco, chef and Nopalito owner Guzmán takes you thoughtfully [through] family-style recipes that he cooks and serves in his restaurants. Fresh and vibrant like the market foods they are prepared from, and wistfully nostalgic for the land and memories that inspire them. You will cook and delight in it all. And add a healthy dose of cultural cuisine to your kitchen repertoire.” (WITF)

The Minimalist Cooks Dinner: More Than 100 Recipes for Fast Weeknight Meals and Casual Entertaining by Mark Bittman ($1.99)

“One of Bittman’s smaller cookbooks, comprised of about 100 recipes that were previously published in his Minimalist column in The New York Times. This is a solid collection all-around, with a lot of interesting dishes that were new to me….I did learn a couple of wonderful new techniques from this cookbook that I have since incorporated into my regular repertoire….If you don’t already own a Bittman tome like How to Cook Everything, this book would certainly be a good introduction to his cooking style, and a lot less daunting to get through.” (Simply Cooking)

I have How to Cook Everything, it’s a great all-around fundamental cookbook.

Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook by Elisabeth Prueitt ($2.99)

“You can tell a lot about a cookbook by its first and its last recipe…The first recipe.…is a simple gremolata.…And the last: marshmallows. In between there are about 200 more recipes and well over 300 pages….as well as tips and menus and pretty pictures….Both recipes work perfectly; both you can make and make again, fitting them into dozens of meals. Or you just read about them….and go straight to the everyday portion of the program, the pages and pages of stuff you’ll want to make tonight for dinner….It’s a cook’s book, a family book, a home kitchen book. That said, it isn’t really a book for beginners.” (Los Angeles Times)

Looking for more deals? Check out last week’s list to see if any of those are still on sale.

Creative Commons licensed image of sheep by Sam Carter on Unsplash.

Amazon book links are affiliate links which allow me to earn a small commission on any sales that result from clicking. Thank you.

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