Baked Cod with Garlic and Herb Bread Crumbs

Baking fish is a new frontier for me. I loved eating salmon and lobster as a kid, but for some reason my taste buds changed and I just could not eat fish from middle school through most of college. Slowly but surely, my appreciation for seafood is coming back. I can eat salmon, cod, scrod, and other fresh white fish. I’m warming up to lobster and scallops again, and I can maybe stand a well-cooked piece of fried calamari. Freshness is absolutely crucial for me when it comes to fish. Does anyone want to eat fish that repulsively smells fishy? I hope not. Some seafood naturally smells like the sea, and that is completely acceptable. There is a difference between fresh-like-the-sea-fishy smell and old-fishy smell. Fish is also extremely good for your health with omega-3 fatty acids. If you are concerned about both omega-3 and environmental friendliness, here is a good resource for the best fish to buy. If you live in or near a coastal area, go to your local fish market and ask the workers there about how they fish and which fish are freshest that day.

Another dish I made with my parents while in Cape Cod was, you guessed it, baked cod. I went to the fish market with my Dad to learn what to look for in a good piece of fish. You want the piece to be fairly thick with a good, translucent white color, like this:

Good, Fresh Cod
Good, Fresh Cod

Buying fresh fish ensures that your fish will not taste the bad kind of fishy, and this is especially the truth for white fish.

Baked Cod with Garlic Herb Bread Crumbs

  • 1 long, thick fillet of fresh cod
  • 2 shallots (or 1/2 onion)
  • 1-2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sherry
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of Ritz cracker crumbs and/or fresh bread crumbs (You can use plain bread crumbs or panko, too)
  • 2 tablespoons grated pecorino romano cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Chop your shallots, and parsley. You can chop the garlic or crush the garlic with a garlic press.

3. Saute the shallots (and/or onion) and crushed garlic in the butter and olive oil.

4. When the shallots/onions and garlic are translucent, add about 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a tablespoon of sherry.

5. Add your spices: salt and pepper to taste, 1/4 teaspoon of curry powder, and the chopped fresh parsley.

6. Add the crushed Ritz cracker crumbs, fresh bread crumbs, or plain/panko bread crumbs to the pan. You can use a combination of crumbs, but my parents say they’ve had most success with either Ritz or fresh bread crumbs. Combine until moist. You can also add grated cheese here too. You want a moist (not soggy) crumb mixture so that it stays on the fish. Add a little more melted butter or olive oil if you need the mixture to be more moist.

7. Spoon the crumb mixture onto the cod.

Garlic Herb Crumb Mixture on Cod
Garlic Herb Crumb Mixture on Cod

8. Put in fish in the oven and start by baking it for 25 minutes. You want the fish to be white and flaky in the middle, not translucent or raw looking. You can continue to cook it at 5 minute intervals until it becomes white and flaky when checked.

Baked to perfection!
Baked to perfection!

Note: We had plain bread crumbs in our kitchen, so the cod shown here is how it looks with that. Comment with any questions or results from baking your own fresh fish!

Restaurant Review: Taiwan Cafe

Chinatown in Boston, in any major city, is an experience not to be missed. You walk the streets and smell garlic, seafood, fish sauce, and soy. The sidewalk is a little dirty, but so what? The food always bursts with flavor and freshness.

My boyfriend (who is Chinese) and I have tried several places in Boston’s Chinatown. Gourmet Dumpling House and Peach Farm are both excellent choices for Chinese cuisine. Pho Hoa serves fantastic Vietnamese pho noodle soups that I am convinced can cure any ailment.

However, the talk of the town is Taiwan Cafe. Voted Boston’s Best Chinese Restaurant of 2014, I just needed to see what all the hype was about.

The initial hesitation about visiting a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown for the first time is, will the restaurant be small and cramped for space? Will there be a crazy line out the door? This happens (for good reason) in Chinatown, but part of that dining experience means that they will want you out of there in a timely fashion.

Taiwan Cafe is a reasonably spacious restaurant for Chinatown. My boyfriend and I were seated in just a few minutes, and I could walk freely to the table without bumping into anyone. The waitress immediately serves you a warm pot of tea, one of my favorite things about authentic Chinese restaurants. I leave the ordering to my boyfriend, the true expert.

Fuzhou style noodles
Fuzhou style noodles

We started with Fuzhou style noodles. These light rice noodles are sautéed with egg, pork, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and napa cabbage. This dish was packed with incredible flavor, and the light texture left me feeling satisfied yet not too full.

Chinese Eggplant with Basil
Chinese Eggplant with Basil

Is it obvious that I’m obsessed with eggplant? The Chinese really do know how to prepare their eggplant. Chinese eggplant is small, light purple in color, and oh-so tender! This eggplant, sautéed in a sweet brown sauce, is made more savory with the addition of basil. Each piece melts in your mouth. By itself the dish is a treat, though I would highly recommended getting a bowl of steamed rice to go with it. Yum!

Chicken and Celery Dumplings
Chicken and Celery Dumplings

Dumplings are not the same in every Chinese restaurant. While Gourmet Dumpling House has thicker dough and a wetter filling inside, these dumplings are rich with thick, flavorful filling. Both varieties are delicious in their own ways! I must say, though, that the last item we purchased trumped these dumplings.

Chinese Pork Buns
Chinese Pork Buns

Oh my. Pork buns. I had never eaten pork buns until last night. My boyfriend laughed and smiled as he told me his memories of eating pork buns with his brother, slurping the soup that is inside and then enjoying the pork filling and dough. The buns come steaming hot in a bamboo pot, and yes, they are filled with soup and a pork “meatball” of sorts. You can puncture the pork bun with your chopstick, or you can take a small bite and then slurp the soup from there. Make sure the pork bun has cooled, though! Burnt tongues are no fun. If you do not slurp the soup in time, it will ooze or squirt out of the bun. This creates some hearty laughs for sure! When I come back to Taiwan Cafe, I may just take an order of pork buns for myself. No shame.

Overall, I highly recommend Taiwan Cafe, situated on Oxford St. in Chinatown. Traditional, spacious, and delicious, you can feel right at home with true Chinese comfort food.

Oh! I almost forgot. They have a fish tank in there and you can watch them catch the fish to cook. Cool!

 

The Best Fruit Salad I Ever Made

I attended dinner party recently to say goodbye to another dear friend of mine moving away. Charged with bringing a sweet treat, I wanted to make something healthy, refreshing, and incredibly delicious. I don’t know why, but for some reason the most random song came to my head – a song from that children’s show The Wiggles my little sister always used to watch and sing around the kitchen. The song repeats the phrase “fruit salad, yummy, yummy” over and over again. Fruit salad. Yes! Perfect choice.

Fruit salad is truly an all-purpose dish. You can have it with breakfast, lunch, dinner (better yet “brinner”), or dessert (especially over vanilla ice cream). While you can make fruit salad by simply chopping and combining your favorite fruits, adding flavors brings a little more “oomph” to it. Fruits like apples and bananas also brown easily when exposed for a period of time. Do you want to serve your guests brown fruit? Do you want to eat brown fruit? I didn’t think so.

My solution? Add honey, cinnamon, lemon juice, and lemon zest. That’s it! This fruit salad tastes like I’m eating freshly made pie filling, but without the inches-on-the-hips adding crust.

Best Fruit Salad
The Best Fruit Salad I Ever Made

 

Best Fruit Salad

Yield: 4 servings

  • 1 banana, sliced
  • 1 cup cubed watermelon
  • 1 apple, chopped (the photo below has two, I chopped one and saw I had enough)
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup strawberries, cut into quarters
  • 1/3 cup honey (any kind of honey works – I used clover honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (if you like more, go for it!)
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (I used just a little less than this)
  • lemon zest, to taste

1. Wash your fruit (the apples, blueberries, and strawberries in this case).

Let's get chopping!
Let’s get chopping!

2. Slice your banana, watermelon, apple, and strawberries. Keep those blueberries whole.

3. Transfer your sliced fruit to a large bowl.

4. Put 1/4 cup of honey into a glass or microwave safe bowl. Warm up the honey for 30 seconds in the microwave so it becomes more liquid.

5. Add the liquified honey to your fruit. Then, add your cinnamon, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

6. Stir all the goodness around in your large bowl. Done!

Note: If you let this fruit salad sit in your fridge for a few hours, the sugar from the honey will bring out the juices in the fruit (this is called maceration). The flavors will mesh even further, and it will taste even more like pie filling. Yum!

 

Favorite Food Product: Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards

My parents are true wine connoisseurs. I grew up watching them drink specialty wines from around the world. The wine cellar in the basement always awed me as a child. I’d sometimes sneak down there and just look at all the bottle designs and their origins. Memories in the kitchen include having my Dad let me smell the wine and guide me towards what my olfactory senses should be identifying. Wine is made out of grapes, yes, but so many more factors combine to create a unique taste. The species of grape, the soil quality, the type of wood in the aging barrel…it all matters.

When I came of age to drink, my taste buds began to mature. At first, I could only handle Moscato and Reisling wines, fruiter varieties that are light and sweet. Though I’m beginning to venture into red wines, white wines are still my favorite to drink. Chardonnay in particular goes well with happyhour, with fish, or even just by itself.

Rombauer Vineyards in St. Helena, CA makes the most amazing Chardonnay I’ve ever sipped. The wine is smooth and buttery, with hints of fruit and wood.

Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards
Chardonnay from Rombauer Vineyards

As you can see, I just returned from Cape Cod where my parents were vacationing. We partook in a chilled bottle with our happyhour and baked fish (that post is coming soon)!

If you can find this wine for around $30.00 – $36.00 a bottle, you have yourself a good deal. This is a more expensive wine, but if you need to buy a white wine for a special occasion or if you just want to plain treat yourself, I highly recommend Rombauer Chardonnay.

Farro Alla Norma

Do you ever have one of those days when the only thing that will make you feel better is comfort food? Last week, I had one of those days. Comfort food differs for everyone. Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, any casserole really…these are what most think of when they hear the phrase “comfort food.” However, I’m learning that the concept of comfort food changes for each person. While the foods I listed above are surely delicious, my idea of comfort food includes those types of dishes that are both nutritious and hearty at the same time.

Remember that tomato sauce recipe? I sure hope so! We’ll be using that today in a recipe I call “Farro alla Norma.”

Have you heard of farro? Farro is an Italian grain that seems to form a happy medium between barley and wheat berry. When cooked, farro promises a chewy texture with a pronounced wheat flavor. My Dad and I first discovered farro when we watched Lidia Bastianich make farro salad on her PBS show Lidia’s Italy. We concocted this salad while on vacation in Cape Cod. Cooked farro with fresh mozzerella, fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and an olive oil/red wine vinegar vinaigrette makes for a most refreshing picnic treat. Companies even make farro pasta these days, a healthy whole wheat pasta that does not taste like cardboard.

“Alla Norma” is attached to any Italian recipe with eggplant as the star. My grandfather (I call him “Nonno”) told me that “Norma” is the name of an opera by Vincenzo Bellini. Who knew?

Farro alla Norma combines farro, roasted eggplant, and tomato sauce. Yum! Let’s get cooking.

Farro alla Norma 

Yield: 2 servings (or one if you are super hungry)

  • 1/2 cup farro
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder
  • tomato sauce

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash your eggplant. Cut both ends off and peel the eggplant with a potato peeler.

2. Cut your eggplant into chunks. I made mine about a half inch thick and an inch wide. You can make your eggplant pieces as large or small as you please! Just know that smaller pieces take less time to roast, and larger pieces take more time to roast.

3. Take out a cookie sheet and line the cookie sheet with parchment paper. Parchment paper will be your lifesaver whenever roasting vegetables of any kind. When your vegetables are all roasted and pretty, you just throw the parchment paper away and you have a clean cookie sheet. Amazing!

4. Put your eggplant pieces on the cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour a generous amount of olive oil onto your eggplant, enough for them to absorb some oil. Season your eggplant with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Mix your seasoned eggplant around with a spatula so all the oil and seasoning is incorporated.

5. Put your eggplant in the oven and let it roast for about 30-40 minutes. Check your eggplant after about 25 minutes to make sure you have enough oil on your eggplant. You want your eggplant to look more translucent (not completely), but you don’t want burned eggplant.

6. Take your eggplant out of the oven and let it cool.

7. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a pinch of salt to the water, and then add your farro. Note: Farro can take forever and a day to cook. My suggestion? Get this miracle of a product:

Trader Joe's 10-Minute Farro
Trader Joe’s 10-Minute Farro

8. After 10 minutes, or however long your brand of farro takes to cook per the product’s cooking instructions, drain your farro and put it back in the pot.

9. Add your desired amount of tomato sauce and the roasted eggplant to the farro in the pot. Stir it all together, letting the mixture warm up in the pot for a minute or two.

Farro alla Norma
Farro alla Norma

There you have it! Serve this in a bowl with a generous helping of grated pecorino romano cheese, and you have yourself a hearty bowl of comfort food ready to make your day that much better.

As always, comment with any questions, thoughts, or results you have with this recipe!

 

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce

Tomato sauce, where do I begin? Prose does not suffice.

Ode to Tomato Sauce by Kristina DeMichele

Garlic simmering, tomato paste hissing as it hits hot olive oil.

Footsteps running, tripping down the stairs to help squeeze the abundant juices of fresh tomatoes into the pot.

Fingers ripping basil into pieces, aroma emanating from the leaf.

Salt, pepper, garlic powder, shake-shake-shaking into the mixture, seasoning.

Wooden spoon so large its called “Big Papi” stirring ingredients together.

This is what it means to cook tomato sauce.

If I had eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be pasta and tomato sauce. Could I ever get tired of it? Never! As a little girl, some of my best memories in the kitchen are with my Dad, squeezing tomatoes in my hands, ripping pieces of basil into the pot. To my knowledge, there was one particular sauce-making session where I, kneeling on my stool with face parallel to liquid, sneezed directly into the sauce. My Dad still cooked that sauce up, though I’m sure it tasted a little bit like “Kristina.” When I make this sauce myself, it only takes the scent of the garlic in olive oil or the aroma of the basil to bring me back to my childhood kitchen. My great grandmother, Nonnie Ricca, created this recipe. With every batch of sauce I create, I feel that unmistakable connection to her, too.

I’ll be linking to this post frequently, as I’m about to share with you my family’s simple, yet delicious tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce

Yield: 2-4 servings

  • olive oil (enough to create a .25 inch depth in your pot)
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 cans of Pastene or Cento crushed, ground, or “kitchen ready” tomatoes (or 1 can ground tomatoes, 1 can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1/2 can of tomato paste, if using whole peeled tomatoes (use a whole can if making the recipe larger)
  • a bunch of fresh basil or frozen fresh basil (use as much as you want, but be sure you include at least a generous handful)
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste

1. Take out a medium-large pot and fill the pot with olive oil, enough so that the oil is about .25 inches deep.

2. Then, peel your garlic cloves, but leave them whole. Turn on your burner to medium heat and put your garlic cloves into the pot with olive oil. Allow the oil to warm up and wait for those garlic cloves to sizzle. Now, you need to watch the garlic carefully. Wait until the garlic cloves become light brown in color, and then take them out with a slotted spoon. Tip: You can save these garlic cloves for another dish, or you can chop up this garlic and add it to the sauce later. My sister does this!

3. Turn off the heat and place the pot onto an unused burner.

  • If you are using whole peeled tomatoes, this is when you will insert your tomato paste. Taking care of the hot oil, place the tomato paste gently into the pot (do not let the paste just “plop” into the pot, you will burn yourself). Stir the paste around for about 30-45 seconds.
  • If you are using two cans of kitchen ready tomatoes, then you will not use tomato paste.
Look for this can!

4. Open your cans of tomatoes. Pour the kitchen ready tomatoes directly into the pot. You can always rinse out the can with a little water. Do not add too much water, though, as this will thin out your sauce. If using whole tomatoes, take each tomato, break it apart into pieces with your hands, and add these pieces to the pot (this was my favorite part as a kid)! Add the extra liquid from the can in the sauce.

5. Now, take your basil and wash it all in a colander. Pick each basil leaf off of the stem and rip the basil into pieces with your hands. If you cut the basil with a knife, the basil will bruise. Not so pretty. Place these ripped pieces into the pot. Enjoy the aroma!

6. To season the sauce, all you need is what I call the “spice trifecta” – salt, pepper, and garlic powder. This is where I tell you to eyeball it. You can do it! Add enough of these seasonings to cover the liquid in a thin layer, and add enough seasoning for you. It’s better to err on the side of caution and add more later than to add too much at first.

7. Mix these beautiful ingredients together. Put the sauce back on medium heat and let the mixture come to a soft boil. Let the lid rest on the pot, but do not completely close it. You can also take the lid off the pot if you need your sauce mixture to come thicker. Stir the sauce at least every 10 minutes. Let the sauce cook for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the amount of sauce you make and the desired thickness/richness you wish to have.

The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)
The DeMichele Family Tomato Sauce (with Meatballs, recipe coming soon)

There you have it! This particular recipe is good for 2-4 people, depending on how hungry you all are. You are encouraged to multiply this recipe and make a big batch for yourself. Leftovers are the best to freeze and have later!

Tips:

  • We have a massive garden in my Ohio home affectionately called “Fort DeMichele.” Our tomato and basil crop resides there. If you can grow and crush your own tomatoes, what a treat! The tomato sauce comes out all the sweeter.
  • When fresh basil is hard to find in the later fall and winter, buy or grow lots of fresh basil and freeze it in ziploc bags. When you make sauce in winter, just crush the frozen basil in the bag with your hands and pour it into the sauce.
  • For grated cheese, use pecorino romano. The flavor is a little saltier and possesses much more of a bite than parmesano reggiano. You can certainly use parmesano reggiano, but you will have a nuttier, more subtle flavor than if you use pecorino romano.

Plain tomato sauce is an amazing base for several recipes. In forthcoming posts, I will detail how to add meat to the sauce and how to use this sauce in other recipes. For now, try making this tomato sauce! Comment with thoughts, questions, or even results of your own.