Friday, March 25, 2011

Tuna Cakes with Honey Slaw

Welcome to new subscriber Nancy, a friend from Facebook!

[Note from Ben: A couple of days after posting this, I realized there was a mistake in the original posting. Not in the recipe itself, but in the original title, which referred to "baked tuna cakes": as you'll note below, the tuna cakes in the recipe are actually cooked in a pan on the stove top, and are not baked. I don't know why it is my computer makes mistakes like that.]

Two of the most valuable cooking lessons I’ve learned have been these:
  • A fast and simple way to make yourself a better cook is to make the same things you’ve always made, but with better quality ingredients.
  • “Better quality” doesn’t have to mean more expensive. As often as not, it just means fresher. (Ironically, this can end up being less expensive.)
This week, we’ll be making delicious use of both of these ideas with a recipe for Baked Tuna Cakes with Honey Slaw. The tuna cakes are similar in concept to crab cakes except, of course, they’re made with tuna. And here’s the best part: although it’s certainly possible to make these with canned tuna, the best and freshest tasting result comes from using fresh cooked tuna. If you’ve had fresh cooked tuna already, you know it’s a taste you just don’t get out of a can, from any brand, at any price. This is the tuna you thought you knew, raised to a glorious new level. And if you’ve never cooked tuna steaks yourself, you might be surprised at how easy it is to make something that tastes so good.

And it’s the same for the slaw: easy, fresh, and delicious. Can’t ask for more than that!

The recipe following makes 4 tuna cakes and 4 cups of slaw.

Since the slaw tastes best when the flavors have had a chance to blend, we’ll make that first and let it rest while we make the tuna cakes afterward.
Thinly slice half of a medium red onion, and put the slices in ice water for about 10 minutes to reduce the “bite.” While the onion is soaking:
  • Shred half a small head of cabbage (about 3 cups) and ½ cup of carrot (about 1 large), and combine in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, blend the dressing ingredients: 1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise; 1/2 tablespoon of brown mustard; 1/2 tablespoon of  lemon juice (juice of about ¼ lemon); 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar; 1 tablespoon of honey; 1/2 teaspoon of celery seed; and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the dressing to the cabbage and carrot mixture, drain and add the onion, and mix well. Refrigerate the slaw mixture for 2 hours and garnish with 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley before serving.
While the slaw is resting, prepare the tuna cakes:
Coat ¾ pound of tuna steaks (about 2 steaks) with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook on a grill pan over medium-low heat until they’re browned on the outside and about medium-well inside, about 3 – 4 minutes per side. (The tuna should still be a bit pink in the middle.) Using a fork, separate the cooked tuna in to chunks, cover, and refrigerate till cool.
Combine ½ cup of minced onion, ¼ cup of minced celery, and ¼ cup of grated carrot to form a classic mirepoix. Add 1 clove of minced garlic. Saute the mixture until it is cooked but not browned. When it’s done, cover the mixture and refrigerate until cool.

While the tuna and mirepoix are cooling, make the sauce by combining ½ cup of reduced fat mayonnaise, ½ tablespoon of lemon juice (juice of about ¼ lemon), 2 teaspoons of brown mustard, and ½ teaspoon of chili powder. Refrigerate the sauce until you’re ready to serve.
Now everything is in place, and we’re ready to make the tuna cakes!
Make a mixture of 1 cup of Panko crumbs and 1/2 cup of plain bread crumbs. Add ¼ cup of the breadcrumb mixture, ½ tablespoon of lemon juice (juice of about ¼ lemon), 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire, 1 egg-substitute egg (or 1 beaten fresh egg), 1/2 tablespoon of dried parsley, 1 teaspoon of mustard powder, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of celery seed, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram, ¼ teaspoon of cumin, ¾ teaspoon of salt,1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, and low-fat mayonnaise to texture (about ¼ cup). Mix well, then fold in the tuna and mirepoix. Divide the mixture into four parts and form each into a cake.

Coat each cake with the bread crumb mixture, and let them rest in the refrigerator for 20 minutes. When they’re rested, spray both sides of the tuna cakes with cooking spray and cook at medium-high heat on the grille pan until browned. Turn the cakes over and repeat for the other side.
In the photo at the top, I served the tuna cakes on a bed of cooked julienned celery and carrots, topped each tuna cake with a slice of lemon, and added mashed potatoes with a slice each of uncooked julienned celery and carrot on top. (I wanted to keep the starch side dish simple, to contrast the fact that both the tuna cake and the slaw have a good bit of seasoning.)

And there it is, for your cooking and dining pleasure! (Once you’ve seen how easy it is to grille the tuna steaks, you might want to cook some more the next time you’re making a tuna salad sandwich. You’ll be amazed at the difference just that one change makes!

For a cookbook style, notebook-ready copy of this or any other Kissing the Cook recipe, just let me know and you’ll have it before you know it!

That’s it for now. See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Easy Omelettes (or, if you prefer, Omelets) Tutorial Video

Greetings to new subscribers Marie, Bonnie and Keetha!

Before I go any further, let me say this: despite anything Microsoft Word may say to the contrary, “omelette” is a perfectly acceptable alternate spelling of omelet. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s get to this week’s post.

One of my favorite foods to cook is an omelette. I like eggs anyway, but there’s so much to love about the omelette process: the folding of the cooked eggs, the selection of filling and, of course, the sheer athleticism of the all-important flip. (I’m 51 years old. At my age, flipping an egg is athleticism, ok?)

Making omelettes is not difficult, but it’s one of those things that is easier to learn if someone demonstrates and explains it than if it’s just described in writing. And so, this week, an Easy Omelettes Tutorial Video joins the previous tutorial videos on making homemade ravioli and blind-baking a pastry shell.

In the video, you’ll see how to make two styles of omelettes: a simple single fold, and a tri-fold. (You’ll also see how to wrist-flip the eggs, as well as how to do an easy “cheater’s flip” that’s as close to foolproof as you can get.) For demonstration purposes, I used a simple filling of green peppers, shallots, garlic and mushrooms, since I wanted the focus of the video to be on the handling of the eggs and not on a particular filling. Needless to say, feel free to use any filling you like, and don’t be afraid to be creative! (Even leftovers sometimes make a great omelette filling.) In the video, before sautéing the filling ingredients, I set a small amount of each aside and used them to top the finished omelette. Having the cooked vegetables inside, and the same (uncooked) vegetables on top, is a good way to create an interesting texture/flavor combination.

And don’t forget the cheese!

The total video length is about 12:19. Happy Omelette making!

See you next week! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)

Friday, March 11, 2011

For Angie: Bubble and Squeak with Honey-Ale Onion Gravy

I admit there are two aspects of today’s article that require explanation.

First explanation: Bubble and Squeak

As much as Bubble and Squeak might sound like the name of a Saturday morning cartoon show in which the two main characters take turns dropping anvils on each other, it’s actually a marvelous English dish dating back to World War II. In a time when many foods were in short supply, there was a need for new ways to make sure nothing was wasted, and so a dish designed to make creative use of leftover meat, vegetables and potatoes developed.

Today Bubble and Squeak (a name most sources agree comes from the sound the patties sometimes make when being pan-fried) is just as often made with newly-cooked ingredients, but its value as a classic English way to serve leftovers remains. The recipe below uses newly-cooked ingredients, including the traditional cabbage, but feel free to use any vegetables you have on hand. (I’ve also put the meat - sausage, in this case - into the patty, but it’s just as proper to make the patty from potatoes and vegetables only and serve the meat on the side.)

The real point here is the general method: combine cooked vegetables and potatoes (and, if you like, meat) into a patty, and pan-fry it into something wonderful. And it’s also worth nothing that your Bubble and Squeak patties will be just as good for breakfast as they are for dinner.

In the photo above, the patty is shown with a tomato omelette as a side dish. (Today’s article includes recipes for the patty and the gravy. I hope to cover omelettes as a separate topic very soon.) You can also serve it with a salad, soup, or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Second explanation: Who is Angie and why is Ben dedicating, of all things, a recipe to her?

In the profile connected to her wonderful blog, "Can You All Hear Me at the Back?", Angie described herself this way:  “Little, chubby (ok, fat then), blonde, beautiful, fibber (well, blonde's right...approximately), disabled, deaf and daft. I enjoy making sugar flowers and am reasonable at it, though they probably wouldn't win any prizes.” A more comprehensive description would have included her being a charming, inspiring English lady whose brilliant light and spirit illuminated the many lives she touched through her blog posts and e-mails. Regular readers of this blog have seen Angie’s comments on my posts many times.

A few days ago I was shocked and saddened to learn that, around the end of January, Angie took ill and passed away. There are literally people all over the world who will miss her. Were I a musician or poet I’d want to write a great song or poem in her memory.  As it happens, I’m neither of those things, but I do like to cook some, and so it is for Angie that I make my first foray into English cuisine. I strongly suspect the whimsical undertones of Bubble and Squeak would appeal to her.

And now, I’d imagine she’d be telling me to stop talking and get to the recipe already!

This recipe makes 6 burger size patties.
Put a large pot of water on the stove over medium-high heat. When it has started to boil, put three medium potatoes with the skins on into the pot and cook until they’re fork tender. (For medium potatoes, this should be about 12 minutes after the water has started boiling again after the potatoes were added.) When the potatoes are done, drain them well and set them aside for a few minutes until the crackling sound stops. Cool (and, if desired, peel) the cooked potatoes, add some butter (about 2 – 3 tablespoons) and mash until chunky mashed potatoes form. This should make about two cups of mashed potatoes. (Of course, if you already have left-over mashed potatoes, just use them and skip this step!) 
Next we’ll make our cooked meat and vegetables. (Unless you already have leftover meat and vegetables, in which case just use them! Are we seeing a pattern here?)
After the potatoes have been removed from the water, boil one half of a medium  cabbage till tender, about 3-4 minutes. When the cabbage is done, let it cool enough to cut, then dice it (1/2” pieces).

Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. Cook 1-1/4 pounds of turkey sausage meat (cases removed) in the skillet till browned, then remove the meat from the skillet and set aside.

Using the same skillet (and adding a little more oil if necessary), saute ½ a diced medium onion, 1 diced green pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. When the vegetables are soft, add the cooked sausage to the onions in the skillet and mix well.

To the skillet, add the chopped, boiled cabbage and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Cook the mixture till lightly browned (about two minutes).

Transfer the cooked vegetable mixture to a bowl, and fold in 2 cups of mashed potatoes till blended. Using your hands, form about 6 patties, each about ½” thick. Working two at a time, cook the patties in the pan till browned and just a little crisp, about 3 minutes per side, adding butter or oil as needed.
To make the honey-ale onion gravy:
In a skillet, sauté a diced onion in 3 tablespoons of butter, then add 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, and stir until smooth. Add a bottle (12 ounces) of English ale (Bass or similar)and 2 tablespoons of honey. Cook on high till it thickens to a gravy for topping the Bubble and Squeak patties.
If you’d like a cookbook style, notebook ready copy of this or any other Kissing the Cook recipe, say the word and it shall be done!

See you next week with another recipe adventure! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. (Or, as Angie would no doubt say, “MWAH!”)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Chianti Sauce

A warm welcome to new follower Shenae!

In our last episode, we made a tasty no-cook, all-purpose tomato sauce. Today, we’ll use the sauce as one of the key ingredients of a Chianti sauce that’s great anywhere you might use the Vodka Sauce that inspired it. (The photo at right is similar to the one in last week’s tomato sauce article- sauce on fresh pasta, topped with baked flounder - except the plate in the foreground is topped with the Chianti Sauce. For comparison, the plate in the background has the tomato sauce.)

If you’ve ever made Vodka Sauce, you know that while it’s simple to make, it requires a bit of patience; the cream needs to be added slowly so it doesn’t separate and ruin the sauce. Chianti Sauce is similar, using Chianti in place of vodka, and substituting fat-free half-and-half in place of the traditional cream. (As a general rule, I’ve found that if you’re cooking creamy things but want to make them reduced-fat, fat-free half-and-half is your friend.)

This recipe makes about 3 pints of sauce. You’ll be making it in a pan on the stove-top, so be sure the pan you use is deep enough to contain all the ingredients.
Warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep pan. Saute 1 tablespoon of diced onion and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped garlic until the onions are transparent but not brown.

Remove the pan from the heat and add 1 cup of Chianti. (The mixture won’t usually flame up, but if it does, it’s ok. The flames will stop in short order.) Put the skillet back on the stove and cook till the volume is reduced by about half.

Reduce heat to low. Add 2-1/2 cups of tomato sauce (either the one from last week’s recipe or any other) and stir to combine. (I also added fresh mushrooms to mine at this point, but feel free to leave that out if you so desire.)

Ok, here where the patience part comes in. Whisk in 1 quart of fat-free half-and-half slowly, adding it no more than ¼ cup at a time, and stirring constantly to keep the half-and-half from separating. As you add each bit of the half-and-half, be sure to blend it into the sauce completely before adding the next bit. (Adding the entire quart should take at least 10 minutes.)

After all of the half-and-half is incorporated and the mixture just starts to bubble, add 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of chopped rosemary.

Cook the sauce over low heat, stirring constantly for about 25 minutes, until the sauce is the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste, and you’re ready to top your favorite dish and serve.
And don’t forget to pour yourself a glass of the remaining Chianti. No sense wasting it, you know!

As always, if you’d like a cookbook-style, notebook ready copy of this recipe, ask and it shall be sent!

See you next week with something special, for someone special. Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)