Monday, July 21, 2014

Tilapia with Salsa Verde

This super fast and super delicious dish is perfect for a summer night with a south of the border or Mediterranean flavor!  I serve it with a side of my favorite gazpacho, sautéed summer veggies, and a crisp green salad.  Not only is it flavorful, but it's light and healthy and easy on the waistline, a bonus during bikini season.  Try the salsa on other fish, like grouper, red snapper, or ocean perch.  It's equally tasty over chicken or pork, or even stirred into rice.  No matter how you try it, it's sure to be a hit on your dinner guests!  

9 ounces canned diced green chiles
1/2 small onion, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic
1/2 fresh jalapeño
4 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/3 cup cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
4 6-ounce tilapia filets

Combine all but the fish in a blender and puree until smooth.

Heat a non-stick skillet or grill pan to medium-high.  Brush the fish with olive oil and season with salt.  Sauté or grill until just cooked through and flakes with a fork, about 5 minutes.

Transfer fish to a plate and top with the salsa verde.

Serves 4.

Recipe adapted from The South Beach Diet Super Quick Cookbook, by Arthur Agatston.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Nothing says fiesta like a pitcher of refreshingly fruity sangria!  In fact, we just relaxed on the back patio (after spending my husband's birthday in the ER with two toddlers with pink eye and then no pharmacies open at 8:00 on a Saturday night, and after driving all over to no less than 15 pharmacies finding one that was sold out at the medication we needed, and then finding another a few towns over that was open, had the drug, but didn't take our insurance so we just bit the bullet and paid out of pocket and will deal with insurance later).  Anyway, I digress!  When I was in Spain, I bought a cookbook with nothing but paella and sangria recipes.  I had no idea there are so many variations!  This is a traditional recipe, but feel free to mix things up, altering the wine  and fruits used, adding mixers like brandy or vodka or even fruit juices.  Bring out a pitcher of this potent concoction with a plate of your favorite tapas and you're sure to have a fabulous time!

1 750 mL bottle dry red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1 large orange, thinly sliced
1 large lemon, thinly sliced
2 medium peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into chunks
1 cup club soda

Combine all except club soda into a large pitcher, mixing well.  Refrigerate overnight.  Immediately before serving, mix in the club soda for added fizz.  Serve over ice.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho

I've been to Spain a few times now, and there's nothing I love more than a refreshing bowl of gazpacho.  The spiciness is contrasted with the cool cucumber and tomato, and, as my dad would say, the flavors explode in your mouth!  My husband isn't one for chilled soups, but I'm a big fan.  That's fine, because the longer these flavors meld together in your fridge, the better it tastes.  Perfect for a summer lunch, appetizer to a Spanish-themed party, or a snack to have on hand after a day of soaking up sun and sand at your favorite Mediterranean beach.

2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped, plus 1 contrasting color for garnish (or use red and yellow grape tomatoes)
2-3 cloves fresh garlic
1 large cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, roughly chopped
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 small red onion, roughly chopped
1 small jalapeño, seeded and chopped (more or less to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
V-8 juice as needed (no more than a cup or two, I like the spicy kind)

In a blender or food processor, combine all except V-8.  Puree until smooth (but not completely liquid, you want some texture).  Taste for flavor and adjust ingredients as needed.  Add V-8 as needed to adjust heat and/or color.  This soup is prettiest when it's a bright red, but depending on the colors of your vegetables, it may look rather pale without the extra tomato juice.

Transfer gazpacho to a covered container or pitcher and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Just before serving, cut remaining tomato into small dice.  Divide soup among shallow bowls, or even juice glasses as I did above.  Garnish with diced tomato and extra cilantro.  Serve cold.  Equally delicious sipped directly from the glass!

Serves 4.

Recipe adapted from The South Beach Diet Taste of Summer, by Arthur Agatston.
Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

This Month: Hot Spanish Nights

Seven years ago, I was deployed (yes, back in the day I was in the Navy). My ship was on a NATO mission that was all about "showing the flag" and getting other countries to join NATO, so we pulled into port more often than is typical during a deployment, hosted countless tours and receptions onboard, and participated in several multi-national exercises. I was also newly engaged, as my husband proposed mere weeks before I left. The stars all aligned though, and he was able to visit me when my ship pulled into port in Rota, Spain. It was a working port, so we were not granted much liberty, but since I'd been in a Navy school right before we departed and unable to take leave (vacation time), my Commanding Officer allowed me to take leave while the rest of the crew worked. My then-fiance and I had a wonderful time, touring Seville, attending a bullfight, devouring tapas, and chugging gallons upon gallons of sangria. At our wedding reception, we opted to skip the sit-down dinner and instead have a cocktail party on steroids, with stations of various hors d'oeuvres. The idea was that each station would boast food that was symbolic to us. One of the stations was tapas, in honor of that trip while we were engaged, our first of many adventures! And so, this month celebrating the anniversary of that time, I'll share with you my favorite Spanish dishes. Bonus: two are South Beach Diet recipes! Salud!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fresh-Squeezed Southern Lemonade

You can't get much more Southern than freshly squeezed lemonade.  And no Southern summer is complete without consuming gallons of the stuff!  Adding club soda takes this classic to the next level.  This refreshing drink will be a hit with the kids and adults alike, and pairs wonderfully with just about anything you grill!  Bonus points if you serve in mason jars like true Southerners!!

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice (6-8 lemons)
2 quarts (2 large bottles) club soda
fresh mint and lemon slices, for garnish

Combine sugar and water in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil to form simple syrup.  Chill in refrigerator until cool.

Once chilled, combine simple syrup, lemon juice, and club soda in a large pitcher.  Pour over ice and garnish with lemon slices and fresh mint.

Add vodka to make this an adult beverage perfect for sharing at your next neighborhood cookout!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Creamy Cole Slaw

There's a restaurant in my hometown where they serve slaw on top of the BBQ sandwiches.  Actually, the favorite BBQ joints in my hometown and those of my parents are all the same.  Slaw on the pulled pork.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  And my husband, bless his heart, doesn't think I'm crazy and loves the extra crunch and tang it brings to the spicy BBQ.  So, when I made a mess of 'cue a few weeks ago, you can imagine that my husband wanted some cole slaw.  Cole slaw that we didn't have.  So we did a little research, put our heads together, and came up with this concoction based mostly on our own tastes.  Whether you put it on your sandwich or just on the side, let me know what you think!!

1 head green cabbage, finely shredded
2 large carrots, finely shredded
3/4 cup best-quality mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons grated Spanish onion
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
2 teaspoons celery seed
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, onion, sugar, vinegar, mustard, celery seed, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl, and then add to the cabbage mixture. Mix well to combine and taste for seasoning; adjust as desired.

Serves 8.

Recipe adapted from someone's grandmother's 100 year-old recipe!!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Fresh Corn on the Cob with Basil Tomato Butter

"Look, Mom, corn!"  My mama is from Southern Illinois, where corn is king.  In fact, the annual festival in her hometown culminates with Corn Day, complete with a parade and Corn Queen!  Soooo.....on every road trip, whenever we pass a corn field, we shout, "Look, Mom, corn!"  Needless to say, we ate a lot of corn on the cob growing up.  And while I love the stuff, it's not something I make often.  I'm not the expert on picking corn from the huge bins at the grocery like Mama is, and until I made this recipe, I wasn't really sure how to even cook the corn!  But, as had been my entire culinary education, I read the recipe and followed the instructions.  And this corn turned out perfectly!  Then I called Mama and she told me a shortcut for making corn in the microwave...  Anyway, this recipe was great, the herbed butter was fabulous, and it would be just as amazing on a baked potato or slathered into crusty garlic bread before baking to add a few more delicious flavors!

4-8 ears of corn
salt to taste
1 cup salted butter, softened
1 tablespoon fresh basil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Remove the husks and silks from the corn.  Bring enough salted water to cover the corn to a boil in a large stockpot.  Add the corn and return to a boil.  Remove the corn and drain.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a mini-food processor (or a blender would work just as well).  Pulse until herbs and tomatoes are roughly chopped and everything is combined well.  Spread over hot corn.

Serves 4-8.

Recipe adapted from My Mama Made That, by the Junior League of Hampton Roads.
Miz Helen’s Country Cottage