burgers & sandwiches, lunch/dinner

what i had for dinner: condiment cleanout edition

My fridge is usually empty (gasp!) – but the door shelves are always full. I got capers for something and used only a teaspoon, then found a great recipe for miso poached cod and have a big container of miso languishing, and hit up another specialty store for authentic Indian pickle and then forgot to use it in anything else…and so it goes. Recently, I procured a jar of zesty harissa paste full of acidic and subtly spicy red chile as well as a pricey bottle of aromatic tangy preserved lemon for a Moroccan night. I really, really (really?) enjoyed the flavors of these new-to-me condiments so I’d been looking for an excuse to use them again (and use them up) in a less conventional format.

B’s Adam (not to be confused with my Adam, of Polish pierogi and pie proclivities) was dropping by for a doctoral candidate study break so the guy could use a good meal and some comforting convo. I imagined harissa, much like a tomato relish or tapenade, would be a perfect contrast to some creamy, buttery, melty cheese and a grilled cheese is always welcome on a comfort food menu. I was going to do a bright, tangy preserved lemon soup for the grilled cheese, but decided that their zing would go rather well with a juicy salad to balance the richness of the gooey sandwich. To bring it back full circle, I used up both harissa and preserved lemon to make an elegant yet easy-peasy sauce for shrimp – served over yesterday’s leftover rice and you’ve got yourself a balanced meal for fueling your dissertation-addled brain. I muddled together a bunch of different recipes and found the right balance for my tastebuds somewhere in between them, and ended up leaving the fridge door shelf just a bit lighter.

Harissa and Pear Grilled Cheese (aka Best Grilled Cheese Ever)

(inspired by Thierry Rautureau’s Top Chef Masters recipe)

– cut 4 slices of good quality white bread or French bread, about 1/4 inch thick (I used the sublime Acme sweetdough loaf, which is crusty and bubbly, salty and sweet like a delicious French baguette)

– butter each slice on one side (softened butter works best)

– in a small bowl, mix together 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre) with 2 teaspoons harissa

– spread the cheese mixture on the non-buttered side of the bread

– fry the slices of bread (buttered side down) on medium low, go low and slow for that perfectly melty crunch

– while frying, top each slice of bread with a thin slices of a good melting cheese (I used Spring Brook Farm Reading Raclette which is buttery smooth and made for melting. A similar cheese would be Gruyère or Jarlsberg)

– fry up the bread until crisp golden brown and the cheese is melty, then remove from pan

– add some thin slices of pear to 2 slices of bread (I used crisp Bosc, but a greener Bartlett would also add that snappy crunch)

– top the pear with another slice of gooey melted cheesy buttery crisp bread

– slice up and serve (I cut into quarters for an appetizer)

makes 2 sandwiches

Avocado and Tomato Salad with Preserved Lemon

(a mashup of Cooking Light’s recipe with one of Ghillie Basan’s)

– add to a bowl: 2 diced roma tomatoes, 1/2 rinsed minced preserved lemon rind, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, fresh squeezed juice of 1 lemon,  and 5-6 tablespoons good fruity olive oil (more or less based on how sharp you want your vinaigrette). mix it up.

– add salt and pepper to taste

– add 1 diced avocado and stir together gently

– serve with chopped fresh parsley and cilantro, a teaspoon of rinsed capers, and a good sprinkling of paprika

serves 4

Harissa and Goat Cheese One-Pan Shrimp

(inspired by this recipe by Carr Valley Cheese Company)

– heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 thinly sliced red onion, and/or  1 minced shallot

– when soft, add 1lb deveined, peeled shrimp

– when shrimp starts to become opaque add 2 diced roma tomatoes

– add 2 tablespoons harissa and 1 cup white wine, mix to incorporate and simmer until shrimp are cooked through and tomatoes start to soften

– add 2 ounces of fresh goat cheese (chèvre), mix well

– add 1/2 chopped preserved lemon rind (rinsed)

– add salt and pepper to taste

– just before serving add chopped fresh parsley and cilantro

– serve with rice or crusty bread

serves 4


pescado a la veracruzana

Have you noted a Mexican theme to the blog lately? Shrimp tacos and Mexican-style brownies and avocadotacos and such? Its not so much that I’m on a Mexican food kick as it is that the tangy, bold, sweet, juicy, punchy flavors I crave in the summer are perfectly embodied in the Mexican palate.  For a dinner party with my parents and B’s parents, I wanted to make something that reflected these flavors but know that my parents are not huge fans of cheese, corn, or heavy sauces that we sometimes associate with Mexican/Tex-Mex/Southwestern cuisine. Then, I remembered that when I went to Mexico, I had the most amazing fish plucked straight out of the water and bathed in stewed sweet tomatoes, salty tart olives, and fresh herbs – these are flavors my parents would love and so I looked to the coastal region of Veracruz for this dish with red snapper and shrimp.

This dish would work well with any kind of white fish (tilapia or cod would be delicious), and the shrimp are optional but I think their sweetness is greatly complimentary to the briny sauce.  You could add or subtract to the tomato olive sauce as you like – add bell peppers, remove the anchovies – but all together it is a rich, flavorful yet still rather light and fresh tasting stew.  You can make everything through step 3 a little earlier and then pop it into the oven to cook just before dinner.

Martha Stewart’s cilantro-lime rice is verdant and subtly piquant, but you could amp it up with more lime to Chipotle’s rice levels. I made a hyuuuuge batch of this for a taco party for 22 people and it was great with these black beans. Its super convenient to make the dressing beforehand with a whir of the food processor, then stick the washed rice into the cooker so that all you have to do is toss the cooked, fluffed rice with the dressing right before serving.

Joy the Baker’s avocado orange salad is juicy, crisp, creamy and kinda perfection. I adore salads with bits of tangy, juicy citrus and personally, I don’t think you could go wrong with avocado in anything. The only changes I made were adding a second orange (because, yes please) and I didn’t do the raw egg in the dressing but used a spoon of yogurt instead. The dressing was easy to make ahead of time and I think it’s my new favorite (sorry Green Goddess, we’ll always have 2011).

Veracruz-Style Fish and Shrimp
Mexican, 2012 – Better Homes and Garden Special Publication

six 6oz fillets    fresh or frozen red snapper fillets (with or without skin)
12-18                  fresh or frozen shrimp, deveined and peeled
1/4 cup               fresh lime juice
4 tablespoons  olive oil
1/4 teaspoon   salt
1 cup                  white onion, finely chopped
4 cloves             garlic, thinly sliced
2                          canned anchovy fillets, chopped
1/3 cup              dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
one 28oz can   diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup                   seafood stock or chicken broth
12                        whole pimiento-stuffed green olives
1/4 cup               sliced pickled jalapenos
2 tablespoons   capers, drained
1/2 teaspoon    crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon    dried oregano, crushed
1/4 cup               italian flat leaf parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped


1. Thaw fish and shrimp, if frozen. Rinse fish and shrimp; pat dry with paper towels. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a 3 quart rectangular baking dish with cooking spray or oil.

2. Using a sharp knife, score fish by making three shallow cuts about 2 inches long through the skin (or flesh, if skinless) of each fillet; place fillets in prepared baking dish. Add lime juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the salt to baking dish, turning fish to coat. Arrange fillets skin side down and place 2-3 shrimp on top of each fillet; set aside.

3. In a large saucepan heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and anchovies; cook for 3 minutes. Stir in wine; cook for 1 minute more. Add tomatoes and juice, stock or broth, olives, pickled jalapenos, capers, crushed red pepper, and oregano. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Immediately ladle mixture over fish and shrimp. Cover baking dish tightly with foil.

4. Bake for 13 minutes then remove foil and bake uncovered for 5 more minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro. Serve with rice or  roasted potatoes.

Serves 6


what i had for dinner: shrimp tacos and napa cabbage salad

I feel really bad for pre-California me, because she did not have too many options for Mexican food, and the vast majority of those choices were not terribly good. California me has Mexican, Cal-Mexican, Mexican fusion (Indian burritos and Korean tacos? OK!), regional Mexican, and even vegetarian or vegan-friendly Mexican options all around me and the vast majority of them are quite good, actually.  B’s a native Californian, so he would happily eat Mexican food every meal given half a chance. This night, we both had thrilled taste buds with my favorite: shrimp tacos.

Take this simple recipe and add whatever you like. I switched the parsley for cilantro, because shrimp and cilantro love each other and make each other very, very happy.

To each warm tortilla, I added:

– shredded red cabbage

– sliced California avocado

– fresh tomato salsa

lime cilantro crema from this super easy recipe

– crumbles of cotija cheese

– a spritz of fresh lime juice

As a side, I served this Napa cabbage salad with buttermilk dressing for a cooling, crunchy counterpart. Napa cabbage is lighter and sweeter than other cabbages so this would make a good substitute for mayo-clogged coleslaws. I’m not a fan of radishes or celery so I substituted peeled, diced cucumbers for their crunch and some shredded carrot for sweetness.  I found the buttermilk dressing a but too thin and plain for my taste, so I added a dollop of sour cream to thicken it and found that the tanginess worked nicely as well. This dressing was very subtle, so I’d definitely add more garlic and herbs next time.


here we go steelers

What’s black and gold and all kinds of awesome? You better believe it’s the Steelers, making yet another appearance at this year’s Super Bowl.  Now please understand that I do not watch football. It’s long and has weird rules and the commentary is nonsensical. However, I do watch the Steelers. There is something inherently charming, winsome, and generally watchable about them that trumps any kind of boredom or confusion that I have about football in general.  Watching Hines Ward or Troy Polamalu play is like watching some crazy kids go nuts having fun with their friends out on the field – and then making some ridiculously amazing plays while they’re at it. So, you may guess for whom I’ll be rooting for come Sunday.

If you’re watching the game and are not in the ‘Burgh to celebrate with the rest of the Steeler nation, you can still bring some black and gold cheer to your own Super Bowl party. Sure, the traditional eats are brats and kielbasa, but what if you’re….uh, meat-challenged? If you were smart, you would’ve pre-ordered your Fed Ex shipment of Steeltown’s BEST: Mineo’s pizza (oh yes, they deliver!) or you could hunker down with a big ol’ plate of pierogies in truly yinzer style.  Add to your display of pride with this super easy black and gold salad recipe below.  It goes well with meat or veggies and is sweetly tangy.  For the sweet touchdown finale, you can have Prantl’s Bakery ship you their famous burnt almond torte (or make your own substitute, although the bakery doesn’t give out the real recipe).  For the less kitchen-inclined, just pickup a variety of good old fashioned Klondike bars: the distinctly American treat originated in Pittsburgh.  Don’t forget to wash everything down with a nice cold Iron (that’s Iron City beer) or a Penn Pilsner.  Go Steelers!


Black and Gold Salad

Betsy Miller

2 15.5-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed well

2 cups cooked whole kernel corn

1 cup tomato, chopped and seededbv

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup diced pepper (yellow looks best!)

1/2 cup sliced green onions

4 teaspoons lime juice

4 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cumin

chili powder to taste

hot sauce or chopped jalapenos to taste (optional)

Combine all ingredients and let sit at least several hours (overnight is best). Serve at room temperature.

Serves 10 to 12