Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Menu ideas and recipes for catfish, triggerfish, rigatoni with pork ragu, asparagus, donuts and growing spring onions from scraps

Catfish and triggerfish

I’ve been making this Thai Style Catfish recipe for years. However, instead of using regular granulated sugar like the recipe suggests, I use brown or palm sugar, and I sprinkle chopped cilantro all over the fish when it comes out of the oven. I’m not a big fan of the farmed catfish you find in supermarkets—it tastes mushy and musty to me. Find yourself a good source of local wild catfish or premium farmed catfish, you’ll taste the difference.

One of our favorite dishes growing up was Mummy Lorraine cod, even more so than Mummy Lorraine macaroni aka American chop suey—the school lunch name. My mum’s cod is still a favorite but I make it with local fish. Last week, I topped triggerfish (one of my favorites) with a mix of crushed Ritz crackers, melted butter, lemon zest and garlic salt—that’s the recipe. Bake until done, sooo good—and easy.

Menu ideas and recipes for catfish, triggerfish, rigatoni with pork ragu, asparagus, donuts and growing spring onions from scraps

Ragu and rigatoni

It’s hard to pick a highlight this week because everything was so good. Our Sunday meal took more time so maybe it deserves the crown: rigatoni with spicy Calabrese style pork ragù. I’ve made this a few times before but this week, instead of Italian sausage, I used Portuguese chourico. I forgot it was supposed to simmer for four hours, whoops. According to my notes, this wasn’t the first time I forgot. I simmered it for an hour or so and it was fantastic.


It’s asparagus season here. The asparagus in the farmers market is usually triple the price of asparagus on sale in the supermarket, but it tastes so much better, so I always treat myself to a few bunches during the season.

But this year, I’ve noticed the prices in the farmers market are much lower than years past, probably because they have more on their hands than usual because they’re not selling to restaurants. I’m not doing anything outlandish with asparagus. I simply steam the spears and served them with melted lemon butter.

Menu ideas and recipes for catfish, triggerfish, rigatoni with pork ragu, asparagus, donuts and growing spring onions from scraps


I had a hankering for donuts on Sunday morning so I made a recipe I’d been saving for a while: Ina Garten’s cinnamon baked doughnuts. You probably have everything you need to make them, except maybe two donut pans, but Amazon can quickly help you there. The recipe made more batter than I needed—not a problem since I baked the remainder in a small dish—and took longer than the prescribed 17 minutes to bake. But talk about easy!

Spring onions

Did you know you can bring spring/green onions (scallions) back to life? I’ve been doing this for years but apparently it’s now a quarantine thing. When chopping spring onions, leave about an inch or two of the white part above the root. Put them (root down) in a glass of water with the cut stem above the water. After a while, a new green stem will sprout from the cut stem.

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


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Multi-purpose muhammara

I made muhammara for the first time (I think) last week. It’s a combo of roasted red bell peppers (open a jar, easy, or roast them yourself—more on that later), walnuts, whole wheat bread crumbs, pomegranate molasses (a magic ingredient that deserves a spot in your cupboard), cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes and salt. Whip it up in a food processor and you’re good to go.

I topped bluefish fillets with the muhammara—after the fish came out of the oven. It’d be great on chicken or other meat, or potatoes. I’m dipping pita bread and celery into the leftover muhammara.

Roasted red bell peppers

Since red bell pepper season is mere months away, let’s talk about roasted red bell peppers. Making your own is easy and a good thing to do when peppers are really cheap. Here’s how I do it.

  • Put an oven rack pretty close to the broiler but no closer than three inches away. Preheat the oven or toaster oven broiler.
  • Slice top (stem end) off pepper. Cut out the stem and discard. You’ll end up with a pepper ring. Slice ring in two pieces.
  • Stick your hand into the pepper and pull out the seeds and white ribs. You don’t have to worry about getting them all, you’ll get the rest in the next step.
  • Slice the pepper into four flattish panels. Slice off the rest of the flimsy ribs. Repeat with other peppers.
  • Line pan—sheet pan, toaster oven pan or whatever—with foil.
  • Place peppers, red skin up, on pan. Flatten them down as much as possible. Slide the pan into the oven under the broiler.
  • Keep watch. You want the pepper skin to char but you don’t want the flesh to dry out and burn. Pull them out as they get charred and put them into a sealable plastic storage or freezer gallon bag. Seal the bag as you put them in.
  • Let them steam until they cool down.
  • Peel off and discard the burnt skin. Say hello to your roasted red bell peppers.

Store them in the fridge for a few days or freeze them. When I freeze them, I separate layers with plastic wrap so they don’t freeze together. Then I can easily remove the amount I need.

Menu ideas and recipes for bluefish, muhammara, roasted red bell peppers, gochujang meatballs and more

Gochujang meatballs

The highlight of the week was spicy Korean-style gochujang meatballs. Boy, those were somah spicy meatahballs, but maybe because I added a long squirt of sriracha to the meat and glaze.

Gochujang is that super fantastic Korean chile paste or sauce. The heat level varies by brand. I didn’t brown the meatballs like the recipe instructed. I simply baked them for about 20 minutes. Doubling the recipe worked fine.

We both enjoyed a meatball sandwich a few days later. I topped mine with the glaze and cilantro. Jim used the rest of the glaze on sautéed red onion and baby Brussels sprouts (from our garden!)—a little appetizer before dinner last night.

NC goodies

Shout out to Goat Lady Dairy for their Snow Camp cheese. Here’s the description from their website: “Named after one of the first settlements in central North Carolina, Snow Camp is a mixed cow & goat milk bloomy rind cheese. Released at only two weeks, the cheese has lush cream-like and butter flavors that deepen as the cheese ripens.”

I bought the cheese from Mae Farm Meats at the Raleigh State Farmers Market and ate an excessive amount yesterday afternoon on Triscuits. So good.

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


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Creative Commons photo by Vishang Soni via Unsplash


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Menu ideas and recipes for tilefish, white grunt (or any fish), squid, greens and broccoli…

Herb sauce and tomato curry recipes for fish

The only good thing about this Bon Appetit recipe for crispy skinned fish with herb sauce was the sauce. I made more than I needed so I had leftover sauce for pasta lunches. But their cooking method didn’t work for me, my white grunt stuck to the pan. Don’t know why, maybe I needed more oil, maybe I didn’t dry out the skin enough, who knows.

Another super sauce from Bon Appetit: blueline tilefish (instead of cod) poached in tomato curry. I took the advice in the comments and made these changes:

  • Increased the garlic and spices.
  • Added a jalapeño and scallion whites.
  • Used halved grape tomatoes instead of cherry tomatoes.
  • Quadrupled the coconut cream—I used the entire can, why waste it?
  • Added a little fish sauce and scallion greens at the end.

I served the curry over 90-second Uncle Ben’s jasmine rice—a time and effort saver!

Calamari fra diavolo

The week’s highlight was calamari fra diavolo. I had two pounds of frozen squid (tubes and tentacles) just waiting for its moment. The moment came Sunday. Oh, this was good. The sauce was a bit thin but fine for serving over wheat spaghetti and dipping store-bought focaccia.

Menu ideas and recipes for tilefish, white grunt (or any fish), squid, greens and broccoli

Calamari fra diavolo

Greens and broccoli

A week can’t go by without me talking about greens. This week I had quite a collection from my produce drawer clean-out: collards, zesty greens (not sure what was in this mix from my farmer), arugula, and radish greens. First, I sautéed linguiça (a Portuguese sausage), red and sweet onion, scallions, and jalapeño, then added the greens and let them cook until they were cooked through. The sturdier collards went in first, and the rest later since they didn’t need long to cook – just a minute or so.

One of my easy low-effort recipes is roasted broccoli with garlic, lemon zest and parmesan cheese. I slice apart a head of broccoli making sure each floret has a nice long portion of stem attached to it. On a sheet pan, toss the florets in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and bake at 425 until nearly tender. Mix in slices of garlic and finish cooking. The florets will brown (caramelize) and that’s fine, you’ll love the flavor.

When done, toss with lemon zest and parmesan cheese. Lemon zest is an underappreciated ingredient. When something needs a flavorful pop (acid), see if lemon zest might be the answer. I use my microplane to zest lemon and grate parmesan.

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

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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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