Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grilled Tilapia Tacos

Is it Memorial Day weekend again? Already? I hate to use the old cliché that time flies...but slap a Superman cape on the clock! The good news is that it's officially grilling season. I use 'officially' lightly, as I have many friends who are die-hard, year-long grill masters.

I am sure that many of you are planning a cook-out at some point this weekend. If so, try to think beyond the old standbye burger and dog. Yes, they are great on the grill and one of the best summer traditions, but don't be afraid to have some fun. If you look at some of my posts from last year, you'll find some good suggestions that have become grill-out staples for me.

For this season, my first grill-out suggestion is a fun, yet very healthy dish: grilled tilapia tacos. Tilapia is a very delicate and flaky white fish, with a very mild, not-so-fishy taste. It's also inexpensive. Because tilapia will flake when cooked, you can risk having it fall apart while removing it from the grill. I suggest grilling it in an aluminum foil pouch. The foil pouch will allow the flavors of any seasonings to marry together, and will also help retain the moisture, so the fish will not be dried out. No flipping necessary.

I recommend using soft corn tortillas, quickly heated up on both sides on the grill. For toppings, fresh cole slaw mix works best. You get a variety of veggies that are nicely shredded and add a delicious crunch. I also recommend adding a drizzle of a nice citrus based dressing, salsa (I have a go-to pineapple salsa that is killer for this!) or a bottled marinade (garlic-lime or tequila lime marinade would work well). Top with a bit of fresh cut mango, and you're all set.

Disclaimer - steel drum band music not included

Happy summer!


4 pieces tilapia
2 lemons, sliced and zested
olive oil
sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
corn tortilla shells
1 bag shredded cole slaw mix (found in the bagged lettuce section of your grocery store)
Your choice of citrus based marinade, salsa or dressing
1 mango, cut into small cubes.

Place one piece of uncooked tilapia on a piece of aluminum foil twice the size of the fillet, drizzle with olive oil and season with some sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and lemon zest, top with a slice or two of fresh lemon. Fold the foil over and seal edges with a double fold. Repeat with remaining pieces of tilapia. Place the pouches on direct, medium-high heat for approximately 10-12 minutes.

After you remove the foil pouch, be very careful when opening it. Lots of steam will escape. DIscard the lemon slices, remove the fish and flake it up with a fork, then place it on a dish for serving.

Meanwhile, quickly heat the corn tortillas on the grill just until the get warm. If they stay on too long, they will not fold properly.

Layer the tortilla shells with some tilapia, a bit of cole slaw mix, top with a drizzle of your marinade preference, add a few pieces of mango. Fold up and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mediterranean Salad

Here's a nice, fresh salad idea that's perfect for spring and summer. Serve it as a main or side dish, or even wrapped in a tortilla as a sandwich. Lots of zesty flavor here! All of the tasty ingredients, especially the red onion, really bring the couscous to life. Try adding some roasted red pepper and cucumber for even more flavor and texture.


1 cup uncooked couscous
1 glove garlic, minced
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided, plus more for mixing
2 lemons
1/2 lb medium size raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 6-8 oz can medium black olives, pitted
1/2 container grape tomatoes
6 oz jar artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 red onion, chopped
4 oz container feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 of 10 oz can of chick peas
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

Prepare uncooked couscous according to package directions. Place cooked couscous in a large mixing bowl, stir in a few drizzles of olive oil to avoid couscous from sticking, set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add garlic, heat for 30 seconds, add juice of one lemon, heat for additional 30 seconds. Add shrimp, stir for approximately 3-4 minutes, until shrimp are pink. Remove from heat, chop into large pieces, let cool.
Mix remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil with chopped basil and the juice and zest of one lemon. Add shrimp, olives, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, red onion, feta cheese and chick peas to couscous. Drizzle the olive oil dressing over couscous mixture. Mix well. Serve with a nice Pinot Grigio

Serves 6-8.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day Dinner: Asian Potstickers

Spring has sprung and it's time once again to celebrate and honor all of our Moms! Last year I shared a breakfast recipe for Apple Cinnamon French Toast. This year, I'm going to share a recipe that you can make for a nice Mother's Day lunch or dinner - Asian Potstickers, also known as Asian Dumplings.

I grew up in a very traditional household. My dad went to work and my mom took care of the house. When I was a kid, she handled all of the meals. So our tradition on Mother's Day was Chinese food for dinner. As we got older, and my brother and I both became interested in cooking, we put aside the wonton, lo mein and fried rice for our own home made meals and grill-outs. A few years back, my wife and I bought bamboo steamer baskets as part of my mom's Mother's Day gift. I thought it would be fun and nostalgic to once again have Chinese food for dinner. We all sat in her kitchen and made home made dumplings together and put the steamer baskets to use right away. Not only was it fun to be in the kitchen with my mom for that day, we also had a great meal that brought back old memories...even if it didn't come in a white cardboard box.

Happy Mother's Day!


Potstickers are made with wonton wraps* and a filling that can be a mixture of scallions, garlic, ginger, shredded vegetables and your choice of minced meat (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, etc.). I found this recipe online for Minced Chicken Potstickers. Perdue Short Cuts works great for this - it's pre-cooked and one package makes for the perfect amount. You can make the potstickers by either steaming them in a basket or steamer, pan frying them in a pan or a wok, or baking them in an oven on an oven stone (they may stick to a regular oven dish or baking sheet).

*Wonton wraps are square shape and can be found in the vegetarian area of the produce section in your grocery store. They come in a package that resembles pre-sliced cheese. You can also use dumpling wraps (if available), which are a bit larger and are round in shape. You would fold the dumplin wraps in half, rather than folding them into a purse shape.

2 tablespoons chicken broth
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch , plus extra for dusting
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons minced scallions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
1 package Perdue Short Cuts, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
40 wonton wraps

In a small bowl, combine chicken broth, soy sauce, and cornstarch until smooth; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add scallions, garlic, and ginger; cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Stir in cornstarch mixture; cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute (mixture will be thick). Stir in chicken, salt and pepper until well combined; let cool.

Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornstarch. Place 1 teaspoon filling in the center of each wonton wrap. Brush edges of wrap with water; bring each set of opposite corners up over the filling so that they create a purse shape; pinch the edges together to seal. Place dumpling on baking sheet; repeat with remaining wonton wraps and filling.

To Steam in Steamer Basket:
Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer. Spray a steaming basket insert with nonstick cooking spray. Place eight to 10 dumplings in basket (they should not be touching). Set basket in pot and cover tightly; steam until dough is cooked, six to seven minutes. Repeat, steaming the remaining dumplings. Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

To Pan-Fry:
Pre-heat wok or large frying pan until a bead of water dances and evaporates in the pan. Add two tablespoons of peanut oil into the wok/frying pan. Sesame or peanut oil are preferred for their authentic Chinese flavors. Sesame oil will tend to smoke a bit more than peanut oil at high heat. Heat the oil for about a minute. (You might see bubbles starting to form.) Fry the pot stickers until they are golden brown on the bottom, for about 3 minutes each. Add about 1/2 cup of water and place a cover on the pan. This will allow the pot stickers to steam and cook all the way through. Steam until all the water is gone - you'll start to hear crackling sounds - and the pot stickers again begin to brown. If you like them well browned, gently lift and turn them with a spatula to brown the sides.
Remove from the heat and serve.

To Bake:
Place potstickers on large round baking stone; lightly spray with oil. Repeat with remaining wontons. Bake 12-15 minutes or until edges of potstickers are golden brown; remove from oven and serve.

Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 green onion, finely chopped
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Whisk or stir well

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Cinco De Mayo! Apple Cinnamon Empanadas

It's Cinco De Mayo season! The celebration the Mexican Army's victory at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 (often confused with Mexico's Independence Day, which is September 16th). It has also earned it's rankings as a major "party holiday." Just as Saint Patty's Day is celebrated with shamrocks, Guiness and Jameson, many Cinco De Mayo parties will be overflowing with sombreros, Corona, Do Equies, Jose Cuervo and lots of Mexican food.

Although most of my recipes are of the Italian flavor, one dessert that I have made which is very Cinco De Mayo friendly is empanadas. Empinadas are Spanish turnovers (a stuffed bread or pastry), and would make for a great Cinco De Mayo dish. They can be stuffed with meats as a meal or fruits as a dessert. We recently made apple cinnamon empinadas for a Dominican dinner party that our friends hosted, and they went over really well...especially with a few rum & cokes! We used apple pie filling, but we pulsed it a bit in the blender to make it less chunky, but not liquidy. After they were baked, we dusted them with cinnamon sugar.

Now, you know that my Paisan blood would not let a dish like this go without getting a little bit of Italian influence in the mix. So here's how we're gonna do that. Take a spoonful or two of Nutella (the creamy hazelnut spread created by Pietro Ferrero during World War II as a chocolate substitute, due to a rashioning of cocoa) and place it in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat it up for 15 seconds, wait 5 seconds, then heat up for another 15 seconds (30 seconds straight will cause it to burn). Place an empanada on a plate next to a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Drizzle with the melted Nutella for what might be the best dessert you'll ever have.


Apple Cinnamon Empanadas

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 small can apple pie filling
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
vanilla ice cream

DAY BEFORE: Cream butter and cream cheese together until smoothly blended. Beat in the flour. Shape dough into a smooth ball, wrap in foil or cling wrap, and refrigerate overnight or up to a week.

AT BAKING TIME: Remove dough from refrigerator 30 minutes before using. Heat oven to 375º.
Lightly pulse apple pie filling in a blender or food processor to thin it out, but not liquidy.
Roll chilled dough thin*. Cut with 3 inch round cookie cutter or small juice glass. Place small spoonful of filling in center of each round, moisten edges with water.
Fold round over and press edges together. Bake on lightly greased cookie sheet 15 to 20 minutes. Immediately roll in sugar mixed with cinnamon.

Take a spoonful or two of Nutella, and place it in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat it up for 15 seconds, wait 5 seconds, then heat up for another 15 seconds (30 seconds straight will cause it to burn). Place an empanada on a plate next to a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Drizzle with the melted Nutella.

* If you're having trouble rolling the dough, add more flour. It'll make the dough less sticky.