Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Ragin' Cajun - Thursday Night's Dinner

Tonight was a particularly yummy meal. I normally don't make super yummy meals on Thursday nights. I try and safe up my mojo for company. But tonight I was on my game. In a big ol spicy way.

Here's what was cookin good lookin...

Blackened Tilapia
Maple Pecan Green Beans

First, the fish. This is supposed to be made with red fish but if you can't get red fish you should use catfish. But tilapia was on sale and it was lovely and I like it better because it is less fishy.

6 Tilapia filets
1 1/2 cubes unsalted butter
Chef Paul's Blackened Redfish Magic Seasoning (sold in the spice aisle in a white box with red and black lettering. 99% of grocery stores carry it)

You must cook this outdoors. Place a well seasoned cast iron skillet on the burner attached to your propane gas grill or on top of the grill directly on the highest heat possible. Let it heat up for about 15 minutes. This may seem extreme. That's the idea. You want to get this dry, iron skillet white hot. Please make sure you use extreme safety in making this dish. My Dad has a severe burn scar from it and I burn myself each time I make this. I currently have a blister on the knuckle of my left ring finger. Anyway, get the skillet white hot, as hot as it can get. Melt 1 cube of butter in a flat dish. Dip fillet of fish in butter. Transfer to a small plate. Cover each side with Blackened Redfish seasoning. Lay into the skillet. Tons of smoke will appear. Tons. Do not be alarmed. Your fish is not burning. The fat solids in the butter are smoking and magical things are happening on the underside of the fish. Do not worry. After about 3 minutes flip it over. Cook for about another 4 to 5 minutes. You can flip it one more time to ensure even cooking and blackening if needed. Melt the other 1/2 cube of butter. Serve fish sizzling hot with a side of melted unsalted butter. Diners are to dip the bites of fish lightly in the melted butter like you would lobster. Prepare to die from delight.


I am neither Cajun or Creole. I do not hail from any Southern portion of our country. I have only visited New Orleans once. So I know better than to try and make this complicated dish from scratch. Here's what I do.

1 pkgs Aidelle's Andoulie Chicken Sausage (fully cooked)
1 onion
1 can diced tomato with onion and bell pepper
1 package Zataran's Jambalaya Rice

Saute onion in a little bit of olive oil until soft. Slice up sausage and brown it up with the onion. Pour in tomatoes, reserving juice. Add juice and enough water to make 2 1/2 cups. Make zataran's according to directions. I always stir in a little bit of Greek yogurt at the end to cut the spice for the girls. If it was just adults, we'd be fine with the level of heat.

Maple Pecan Green Beans (from my cousin Susan of who got it from Real Simple)

2 pounds green beans trimmed and washed.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 TB maple syrup
2 TB red wine vinegar
2 TB Dijon mustard
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to taste
Toasted chopped pecans (enough to incorporate into dish and decorate top for serving)

Make a dressing of oil, syrup, vinegar and mustard. Steam beans until desired tenderness. Toss in dressing with pecans. Serve in a bowl with a few pecans thrown on the top to make it look pretty.

I agree with Susan that these were awesome. They are sweet & sour and make a perfect side dish for any southern dish due to the pecans and maple. You could serve them hot or cold. I served them at room temperature.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever Ate - Potatoes Edition

The potato. It' such a simple, humble food that every person has eaten in some form or another. Whether it is a russet, sweet, yukon gold, new, red skin or white variety, me loves me a good tater! Growing up, we didn't eat a lot of potatoes. We ate rice. Like every night. Every night. Plain white rice, cooked in my parents rice cooker they got for their WEDDING IN 1968, topped with kikkoman soy sauce. It was my job to scrub the rice pot every night. And it was a bitch to clean. Yes I said bitch. It's the only word that is appropriate. This job made me bitter toward rice. When I first married Mike, he was a boy raised on potatoes. Then, he went on a mission to a Pacific Island so for two years guess what? He had eaten rice prepared in the exact method that I had grown up with. And he LOVED IT. He wanted his rice. Every damn day. I wanted to branch out and explore the potato. He was sick of potatoes. Oh, the conflicts of the first year of marriage! If they all could be that simple!

In time, I wore him down. I made rice often enough because it was easy and heaven knows both of us could make it perfectly. But I began to experiment with potatoes as well. I found out that there are good potato dishes and bad ones. We still don't eat potatoes that often in our house. However, when I stumble across a great potato dish, it might be the best that food can get. I picked two potato dishes that are very different in their taste and preparation. But if I am anywhere near the places that carry these two dishes, we must stop and I must order them. That's how you know they've left their mark. They've left it on my soul and on my ass. Potatoes are not for the skinny. That's probably something you should know going in. My doctor said you should eat a baked potato as often as you eat a piece of birthday cake. Because at the end of the day, they are about equally as bad for you.

Basil Redskin Mashed Potatoes - Mike's American Grill, Springfield, Virginia. Mike's is our favorite joint just outside of DC. Oh the hours I have clocked in a booth at Mike's. We have spent many a birthday, anniversary, Friday night, Tuesday night etc. at Mike's. We once waited 3 1/2 hours for a table. And the actual restaurant is HUGE. It's part of a chain local to DC. Each restaurant has a different name (Sweetwater, Arties, Mikes, etc) and a different menu. Mike's is the best. Their blackened prime rib is crazy good and their dinner rolls called Aussie rolls are basically a doughnut which is just awesome. But these potatoes are life changing. I begged and pleaded for the recipe at about midnight one Saturday night and the chef came out, sat at our table and walked me through them. I've made them about a million times since and people can't believe them. They must be made with the browned butter sauce. If you are looking for mashed potatoes that will outshine your meat, you've just found them.

10 lbs red skinned potatoes
3 sticks butter
1 pint half and half (more if needed)
2 TB garlic powder
2 TB kosher salt (more if needed)
1 TB black pepper
1/4 cup diced fresh basil leaves
Browned Butter Sauce:
2 sticks butter
4 TB veal stock or beef stock (use more if you need to thin out sauce)
2 TB flour
1/4 Cup Heavy Cream

Brown 1 1/2 stick of butter in a skillet. Set aside. In another skillet, melt 1/2 stick butter and flour and make a roux. Add stock, browned butter and cream. Bring barely to a simmer then pour on top of potatoes.

Cajun Fries, 5 Guys, Various Locations
You know a place is serious about their fries when on the specials board at the front of the restaurant, they list where the farm is located that today's potatoes come from. I think 5 guys does fries so well because they take them seriously. You can order them two ways, plain and cajun. (At least it used to be this way back when we lived in DC and 5 guys wasn't corporate) I remember in the summer slipping from the grease residue on the floor in Old Town Alexandria. That's a sign of a good burger joint. We are supposed to get a 5 Guys here in Elk Grove sometime soon. I am excited but skeptical after what happened when Krispy Kreme tried to go global. Krispy Kreme used to have good grease too. Then they went all corporate on us and the grease was never the same thus the doughnuts sucked. I am hoping 5 Guys is able to retain their simple, dive like, feeling. I saw that Barack Obama treated Brian Williams to 5 Guys when he interviewed him at the White House so I'm hoping things have remained the same. The burgers don't suck either by the way. 5 Guys makes In & Out seem irrelevant and plastic.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever ate

The Food Network has been broadcasting a show at night called The Best Thing I Ever Ate and it is a funny show but I'll call it what it truly is ...and that is food porn. It's such a greet show where all the good network celebrities talk about their favorite foods and then they do a feature on that restaurant making that dish. So you find out where you can go in America and get the best burger according to Bobby Flay. It is Wonderful!!!!
So here on Cook With Amy, I am going to pretend you care and share with you my best things I've ever eaten and where you can go to get it. And comments are encouraged to add to our list of great places. Just follow this format.
1 category (best Chinese, best steak, best romantic ambiance, best guilty pleasure, best dessert, etc. Then list the name of the dish , then list the name and city where you can get it. Don't leave out price.

My first essay on my favorite food, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, potatoes, will be up tomorrow. Fun huh?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Brunch Menu

I hosted brunch for Mom's birthday today. It was good and all I made from scratch was the yogurt cream and roasted asparagus. Everything else was purchased. If you are local, it mostly came from Nugget. It was surprisingly good.

Honey Baked Ham (Honeybaked Ham Store)
Quiche: Pear & Blue Cheese, Mushroom and Lorianne (Nugget)
Berries & Granola with Yogurt Cream (recipe at
Roasted Asparagus (tossed in olive oil, sea salt and pepper. 425 degrees for 15 to 20 mins)
Freshly baked croissants (William Sonoma website)
Apricot and Blueberry Scones (Nugget)
Orange and Cranberry Muffins (Nugget)
Apricot Mustard for the Ham (equal parts prepared apricot preserves and brown mustard)
Basil Garlic Aoli (for the roasted asparagus)

I tell ya what. This was the easiest, as far as prep goes, party I've ever done. And it was yummy and pretty. Mike said regarding the quiche..."if all quiche tasted like that, I would totally eat quiche." He ate five croissants. He just kept going with boysenberry jam. He loves breakfast food.

It's nice to know not all parties have to be tons of work and made from scratch.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pantry Staple - Pefect Shrimp Scampi

I have been trying a lot of recipes that call for ingredients that I typically have in my pantry or freezer. I am so tired of running to the store for a special herb or a certain kind of vinegar for a specific recipe. I need a handful of recipes that I know I can just make because I know I have the stuff to do it. My bow tie lasagna from a few weeks ago is a classic example.

So was last night's dinner. And it was awesome. One of the best past a dishes I have had in a long time. The girls and Mike totally agreed. Dinner was a silent affair. That's how I knew it was so good. We were all slurping up our food and only making the occasional yummy noise.

Before I give the recipe I need to tell you about a new product I have found that has changed my life. It is by Litehouse and they are freeze dried herbs. I get mine in the produce section. They for your pantry, not your freezer or fridge. But instead of drying the herbs, they have some new way of freeze drying them so when they encounter any form of liquid, they go back to their fresh state. Don't ask me about the science but the taste, color, texture and result is nothing short of a miracle. I used freeze dried parsley and garlic in this recipe and I really did think I was eating and seeing a fresh product.


1 cube of butter
1 TB olive oil
1/2 to 1 cup of white wine
1/2 TB freeze dried garlic
1 to 2 TB freeze dried parsley
3/4 pound linguine
1 bag frozen shrimp/raw with tail on
Maybe one teaspoon of lemon juice (i used the stuff that squeezes out of the plastic shaped lemon container I keep in my fridge) Be careful how much you use. This stuff is strong.
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese - shaved

In a pot of heavily salted water, get your linguine going. Boil until al dente

In a large skillet, heat 1/2 the butter and olive oil. Throw in the garlic but be careful not to burn it. Toss in the shrimp in one layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook until they start to turn opaque. Throw in the wine and lemon juice. Simmer until most of the liquid is reduced and shrimp is cooked. (BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERCOOK YOUR SHRIMP. NOTE: I ACTUALLY TOOK JUST MY SHRIMP OUT THE SKILLET AS SOON AS I THOUGHT IT WAS COOKED AND FINISHED THE REDUCING OF THE LIQUID AND THE REMAINING STEPS JUST TO MAKE SURE I DIDN'T OVERCOOK THE SHRIMP) Take off the heat and melt in the rest of your butter. Stir in parsley. Toss hot linguine into your pan and continue to toss the shrimp, sauce and linguine together. Taste. Adjust seasoning. At this point I had to add a little bit more lemon and salt.

Arrange on four plates and top with shaved Parmesan. I use my vegetable peeler to shave the cheese. I tossed on a little more parsley for looks too.

Decadent, buttery, garlicy, salty, shrimpy, winey goodness.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hell Hath Frozen Over and Pigs Are Flying Out My Arse...

Obviously, something weird is going on. There's some sort of rip in the space time continuum or a full moon or the Pope is no longer Catholic. Side note, every time I would say something obvious growing up my Mom would always say "well is the Pope Catholic?" I can't tell you how many times I heard that growing up. Anyhoo, so basically it's like this. Things around here are ccccrrrraaazzzyyyy!!! I have been...wait for it...wait for it...BAKING. HA! Can you believe it? I've turned on my MIXER today. This never happens.

And I haven't just made one thing. No siree! Here's what has been cookin' in my kitchen today. These are all NEW RECIPES, never before made by me. Obviously, they've been made by other people.
  • Homemade Chocolate Cake
  • The fluffiest, lightest, best frosting I have ever had in my life.
  • Pizza Dough
  • Onion Tart
  • Roasted Cauliflower and Onion Tart
  • Banana/Blackberry muffins
  • Roasted Chicken Salad with apricots, celery and water chestnuts.
  • Roasted Shrimp Cocktail (This wasn't really baking but it did go in the oven.)

Some things we haven't tried yet like the chicken salad, shrimp cocktail (it's cooling) and the pizza dough. The chocolate cake will be for dessert, but I almost did not have enough frosting to cover the cake because it tasted so amazing it sort of caused the girls and I to be whipped up into a frenzy! (no pun intended) I haven't baked either tart yet, those are in my freezer for a future date. The muffins are going to a friend but we tried them and they are delightful. But the frosting takes the cake. Bah da bing!!!!

Here's where you can get the cake and frosting recipes:

Here's where you can get both tart recipes:

Here's where you can get the shrimp cocktail recipe: (type in roasted shrimp cocktail and it's from Ina Garten/The Barefoot Contessa)

Here's where you can get the banana and blackberry muffins:

You can get my recipe for the chicken salad right here (total prep time 10 mins):


1 rotisserie chicken

1 package dried apricots chopped

1 can water chestnuts diced fine

2 stalks celery

Mayonnaise (to taste)

Dried Colemans Mustard (to taste, I use a teaspoon)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Take all the white meat off the chicken and some dark meat if you like it. Chop it up. Add all the rest of the ingredients. Some people really like a lot of mayonnaise. I do not. I use as little as possible, just enough to hold it all together. I enjoy more black pepper than my husband or kids do. That's why you need to season this slowly and taste it as you go.

This is great on croissants if you are having a party. But it's also good on multi grain bread with lettuce and tomato or crackers or on a big bed of lettuce.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bow Tie Lasagna - Using The Things You Have On Hand

Mike said that what I made for dinner tonight was better than any lasagna I have ever made. And lasagna is one of my specialties. So he really liked tonight's dinner. I offer this to you because when I got in my van today it was dead. This stranded us at home. I was planning on doing grocery shopping because I wanted to make beef and mushroom stew in red wine over mashed potatoes and I was missing mushrooms. But I raided my pantry, freezer and fridge and came up with some basic ingredients for a lasagna type, baked pasta dish. I listed the estimated shelf life of each ingredient so you will see how it is totally reasonable to have these ingredients on hand for a day such as this when you are pressed for time, too sick to get to the store, have sick kids or your van won't start. I think you will love it. It was a big hit with all four of us.

1 pound jimmy dean hot breakfast sausage. (this had been in my freezer for four months. I defrosted it in my microwave)
1 jar prego tomato, onion and garlic spaghetti sauce (this lasts up to 2 years in your pantry)
1 large can San Marzano diced tomatoes. Do not substitute for Hunts or Contadina. San Marzano tomatoes please! (this lasts for up to 2 years in pantry)
1/2 stick unsalted or salted butter (This was in my freezer left over from a great sale at Thanksgiving time. I had no regular salted butter so I used frozen unsalted)
1 onion diced (Onions will last almost a month if kept in a dark, cool, dry place. You could also use ore ida frozen diced onions which will last for a year in your freezer. I just found these and they are a total time saver.)
1 jar of sliced mushrooms (lasts up to 2 years in pantry)
2 cans sliced black olives (lasts up to 2 years in pantry)
1 15 oz container of ricotta cheese (surprisingly, this lasts a couple of months from the time you buy it. I have two containers. One I bought awhile ago expires on Febuary 24th and the one I just bought last week doesn't expire until April 13th. )
1/2 to 2/3 cup of heavy cream (heavy cream usually is good for about a month from the time you buy it. It never lasts that long in my fridge but it's good to know that you won't waste your money)
2 TB Dried herbs of your choice (I used basil, but Italian Seasoning or Oregano works better. You should replace your dried herbs every six months if they have been opened. But this basil I used is like two years old)
1 egg (eggs last at least a month in the fridge)
1 lb bowtie pasta (if kept in an air tight container this will last for like 5 years in your pantry)
1 lb grated mozzarella cheese (lasts about a month after purchase or freeze it for up to six months)

Brown sausage in a large skillet and crush it up as small as you can get it with spatula. Spoon meat out of the skillet and set aside. Throw away all the grease but don't rinse or wipe out the brown bits at bottom of pan. Add butter to skillet and chopped onion. Cook until onion is soft but not browned. Add mushrooms, olives and sausage back to skillet. Add spaghetti sauce and can of San Marzano diced tomatoes. Simmer gently while you prepare the rest of meal.

Bring a pot of heavily salted water up to a boil. Add some olive or vegetable oil to water. Thrown in bowtie pasta and cook until it is barely al dente. It should still have some bite to it because you are going to bake it and it will cook some more. In a bowl and with a fork, blend ricotta, cream, herbs and egg together until you have a smooth, creamy mixture.

In a deep 9x13 pan, spoon in 1 1/2 cups of sauce in the bottom. Spread 1/2 of bowtie pasta over the sauce. Top bowties with 1/2 of the ricotta cream and 1/2 the mozzarella cheese. Spoon 1 cup of sauce over mozzarella cheese. Add remaining bowties, then rest of ricotta cream and rest of mozzarella. (layer like you would a lasagna) Top with remaining sauce. Bake uncovered for about 45 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before spooning onto plates.

This recipe works just as good with barely cooked lasagna noodles (you'll need 8 noodles) or uncooked "no boil" lasagna noodles. I think it would also work with penne, ziti or orichette. But bowtie is my family's favorite version so far.