Friday, May 11, 2012

From Jamaica with Love - Martin's baked red snapper

As you may or may not know, my family is originally from Jamaica, in fact I was the first person in my immediate family born in the United States. My ties to our homeland run deep: I spent most summers of my childhood in Jamaica visiting my Grandmother and I also got married in Jamaica 10 years ago. My husband & I spend at least one week a year in Jamaica and we have been lucky enough to stay at a private beach house in Runaway Bay for the past 5 years where we are treated to the cooking of an amazing chef named Martin Johnson.

I told Martin about this blog and showed him what I usually post on it. He was very impressed with my computer skills and agreed to be a subject of this blog entry. 

Chef Martin Johnson (with me of course)

Martin was born in Cave Valley Jamaica in the parish of St. Ann.  He has been cooking for a living for over 24 years, the last 14 of which has been at the Idle Hours villa where we stay.  He is an incredibly modest person with extraordinary talent and I was so happy to spend the afternoon with him on one day cooking and talking about his life and his love of food. 

Martin cooks at the Idle Hours villa year round for anywhere from 4 - 10 people at a time. If you had a chance to read the guest book there you would see the dozens of rave reviews of his amazing skills in the kitchen. While his dishes are simple in concept, they are incredibly complex in flavor. He has a preternatural gift for seasoning and I personally can say he has never served me anything short of delicious.

We were lucky enough on the trip this year, through a local connection Paul Williams (who is the BEST tour guide on the island), to procure a 7 1/2 pound red snapper right off the fishing boats at the port in Ocho Rios. This beautiful fish was large enough to feed 4 adults here at the house TWICE! So Martin & I decided to use him (he may have been a she, but I'll just assume it was a male fish :) as the subject of this entry - baked red snapper. There are so many great things about this recipe: it is healthy, quick, easy and requires only a cutting board, knife, grater and baking dish as far as supplies go.

this guy is 7 1/2 pounds!!

I won't bore you with the particulars of filleting and, descaling & deboning a large fish (Martin did it in about 6 min with a small boning knife and a pair of kitchen pliers - then it was my turn to be impressed), so let's just assume you have a large piece (or a few smaller pieces) of thawed and deboned fish on your hands ready to cook.  If you are adventurous, click here for some tips for deboning, descaling and cleaning of fresh fish.

served with mashed potatoes and carrots!


  • 1 1/2 - 2 lbs fresh red snapper (any white fish like tilapia or trout can be substituted here, but nothing with a lot of oil like salmon)
  • 3 Tbls of butter
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 bulbs of garlic peeled (bulbs NOT heads!)
  • 6-8 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 stalks of scallions
  • 1/2 medium tomato
  • All purpose seasoning ((I purchased some of this from the grocery store in Jamaica, it appears to be a seasoning blend, so you can use any seasoning blend you already use ie: Mrs. Dash or even a simple lemon-pepper seasoning)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 lime (optional)

  • Instructions:
    1. Make sure fish is clean and relatively dry (not dripping wet)
    2. Butter a 9 X 18 glass baking dish completely. 
    3. Place the fish skin side down into the buttered dish and rub any excess butter onto the fish 
    4. Using the finest end of a grater, grate the garlic and onion directly onto the fish 
    5. Strip the thyme leaves from the stalks and add to the top of the fish 
    6. Slice the white portion of the scallions and then finely chop and add to the top of the baking dish (this can also be done in a food processor - just don't turn it into mush - there should still be some definition to the scallion)
    7. Deseed the tomato by cutting into wedges & remove the seeds with a small spoon. 
    8. Slice and then finely chop the tomato and add to the baking dish on top of the fish 
    9. Add a splash of hot sauce (OPTIONAL) 
    10. Sprinkle fish with ground black pepper over the entire fish (this should be a light covering) 
    11. Sprinkle fish with "All purpose" seasoning
    12. Lightly sprinkle some salt over the fish
    13. Using your hands rubs all the ingredients into the fish on both sides, making sure they coat the entire fish equally.
    14. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
    15. Let fish marinate in the dish covered for about 1 hour.
    16. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until completely done.
    Squeeze a little bit of fresh lime over the cooked fish & serve with vegetables, rice, potatoes - whatever you wish.  Our fish was in the ocean breathing a mere 5 hours before he was eaten, talk about FRESH FISH!  Yummy!!

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    Weeknight meals vs Weekend meals - Garlic Chicken Pasta

    In my kitchen there are two types of meals, weeknight & weekend.  A weekend meal is something that takes more than 1 hour, has multiple courses and usually involves one or more fancy kitchen tools or ingredients. A weeknight meal on the other hand comes together in 30-45 minutes and generally consists of items I have on-hand in the kitchen.

    This is a tasty weeknight meal - Garlic Chicken Pasta. I make a few variations on this same meal which at it's core is simply a seasoned and sautéed protein plus pasta and an easy to wilt/cook vegetable.  I generally look at what I have on hand in the kitchen and decide from there.

    Two not so "usual" ingredients used on this particular weeknight were my secret kitchen weapon, Gourmet Garden garlic blend and the very versatile, Lemon-Herb seasoning from Williams Sonoma.  Although I do keep these in MY kitchen all the time, they may not be something everyone purchases on a regular basis, but I do recommend them both!

    Two of my favorite things about this recipe is that is uses only 2 pots to cook and comes together quickly.  One of the steps that helps add big flavor in short time is to start by making a garlic olive oil in the microwave, which will be used to cook the chicken and at the end of the cooking process to bring all the ingredients together.

    There are many substitutions you could make are baby spinach instead of arugula, shrimp instead of chicken, basil added in or tomatoes to make it more of a caprese garlic chicken. Play around with what you have in your kitchen - there is no wrong way to make this recipe.

    To add this to your weeknight meal menu:
    • 3 teaspoons, Gourmet Garden garlic blend (you can also substitute 4 garlic cloves, minced)
    • 6 tablespoons extra-vigin olive oil
    • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces
    • Salt and pepper
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon-herb seasoning
    • 1 pound penne pasta
    • 5-oz bag baby arugula 
    • Juice of 1 lemon
    • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
    1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot.
    2. Meanwhile, combine garlic and oil in a small bowl and microwave until garlic is golden and fragrant, about 1 minute - set aside.
    3. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper & lemon herb seasoning. 
    4. Add 1 tablespoon of salt & pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente
    5. Add 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil to a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat.
    6. Add chicken and cook until well browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. 
    7. Take chicken skillet off the heat.
    8. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water and add pasta to the large skillet.
    9. Turn heat back on to low and add arugula, lemon juice, Parmesan, and remaining garlic oil. 
    10. As the ingredients come together, add reserved pasta water as needed.
    11. Season with salt and pepper to taste & serve.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Almond Pound Cake

    Sorry it has been a while since my last post.  We had a trip to Italy (amazing), plus a series of house guests  and my birthday (fun!) that made it hard for me both cook and also document the cooking!

    But I was able to make one of my favorite desserts last week - Almond Pound Cake.  This cake dense and moist and gets better with each passing day - although it usually doesn't last very long!
    In case you didn't know the origin - a pound cake was originally called so because it was made with a pound each of flour, sugar, eggs & butter.  My version doesn't have quite that proportion of ingredients, but you get the idea.

    Some important tips 
    • Using a nice sturdy bundt pan (I favor this one from Williams Sonoma) is a must.  I also use melted butter and a pastry brush to really get the little nooks of the pan greased well before flouring.
    • Cake flour is not a suggestion, but rather a MUST in order to get the best cake possible.
    • Make sure the butter is at room temperature.
    • Do not use "butter" flavored shortening.
    I usually serve this cake with "Drunken strawberries".  Slice the strawberries and add a tablespoon of liqueur (I use Grand Marnier, but any non-milk based liqueur will do)  and a few tablespoons of granulated (regular) sugar. Mix everything together, cover and leave in the fridge at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.  The mixture will come together and create a delicious strawberry sauce to go on top of a slice of cake when serving. And a little fresh whipped cream doesn't hurt either!
    • 1/2 cup shortening
    • 1 cup butter - room temperature
    • 2 1/2 cups sugar
    • 5 eggs
    • 2 tablespoons almond extract
    • 1 cup milk
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking power
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground vanilla beans (optional)
    • 3 cups CAKE FLOUR
    • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
    • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
    • 2 tablespoons cold water
    1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
    2. Lightly great and flour a 10 inch bundt pan
    1. Using an electric stand mixer with a whisk attachment:
    2. Cream shortening and butter until combined.
    3. Add sugar and mix on high until light fluffy. This will take a while - be sure to scrap the sides of the bowl every few minutes.
    4. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition, scraping the bowl after each addition.
    5. Beat in almond extract and scrape sides of the bowl.
    6. Combine flour and baking powder (& vanilla beans if you have them) in a medium bowl.
    7. Alternatively beat in flour mixture and milk in batched starting and ending with flour. (this should be about 3 batches of milk).
    8. Scrape the sides of the bowl & mix once more until the batter is uniform.
    1. Pour batter into prepared pan.
    2. bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
    3. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
    4. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
    1. In a small bowl using a hand whisk combine powdered sugar and almond extract.
    2. Add water in 1 teaspoon batches until icing is of the desired thickness.
    3. Pour over cake and let icing firm up before serving.

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Lime Sugar Cookies - a recipe 10 years in the making

    While I love to cook, my real passion is baking.  Cooking is fun because you get to experiment on the fly and taste along the way, but baking is an art that requires precision and lots of anticipation.

    I usually don't like to share my baking recipes mostly because I am still working on most of them tweaking little things here & there.  This weekend I made lime sugar cookies for my good friend Robin's birthday and have deemed the recipe 100% complete.  

    I have been working on this recipe for a long time, the original recipe was for a Lemon-Sugar cookie that had a lot of potential.  I have always liked the flavor of lime over lemon, so I started by just switching out the citrus fruit in the recipe and 10 years and about 30 tweaks later I give you my perfect lime-sugar cookie.

    You can see that there are no crazy ingredients, but I would call your attention to the Ground Vanilla Beans as they ended up being the final ingredient in this perfect chewy cookie.
    Here you see the result - perfectly crackled round sweet citrus cookies that are crisp on the edges and chewy on the inside.  There are fun to make with kids as once the dough is made, they can help with rolling the dough into small balls and then coating them in sugar before baking.

    Make a batch for yourself - 
    • 1 stick (4 oz) of unsalted butter slightly chilled 
      • TIP: I take the butter out of the fridge and let it warm up a little bit while I gather the rest of the ingredients
    • 1 cup of sugar plus 1/4 cup more for later
    • Grated peel of 3 limes, plus the juice of 1 lime 
      • TIP: I use a microplane tool to get a light grate of the peel.  Be sure not to peel any of the pith (the white part of the skin) as that is bitter.
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 1/2 cups flour
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (you can use regular salt if you don't have sea salt)
    • 1 teaspoon ground vanilla beans

    1. Using an electric mixer, combine butter, 1 cup sugar, lime peel and juice and mix until fluffy. Scraping down the sides of the bowl several times while mixing.  This can take up to 10 minutes.
    2. Mix in the egg.
    3. Add the flour, baking soda and salt and mix until combined.  DO NOT OVER MIX this will make the dough  (& cookies) tough. 
      1. TIP: Dough can be frozen at this stage and then used later on - good for 1 month in the freezer.
    4. Stir in the vanilla beans with a spatula and ensure they are incorporated evenly into the dough
    5. Transfer dough to a small container, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
    6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.
    7. Place the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in a small bowl.
    8. Take a small spoonful of the dough and shape into a ball using your hands.  Roll the ball in the bowl of sugar coating completely and place on the parchment lined cookie sheet. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
    9. Bake until edges of the cookies are golden brown, around 10-12 minutes.
    10. Transfer to a cooling rack and once completely cool, put in an airtight container.

    Tuesday, April 26, 2011

    Side dish in the springtime - Balsamic honey glazed vegetables

    So though the blog makes it seem otherwise, there are few things in the kitchen (or deck) that Drew handles and with our first beautiful spring day (finally) it was time to grill us our first steaks here in Cherry Hill.

    Drew handles all the grilling in our house, so I decided to make an equally delicious side dish of roasted potatoes and carrots in a balsamic honey glaze.  It takes a few additional steps but this is a great way to jazz up standard vegetables that make the perfect thing to star along side a steak, pork chops or chicken.
    This works for most veggies but I had carrots & fingerling potatoes on hand in my kitchen so I started with those adding some basic flavors and roasting in the oven.

    You can see the sticky glaze I achieved on the vegetables here.  They were so tasty, Drew finished them before he was done with his steak.
    Use this recipe to jazz up your next steak dinner:

    Balsamic-honey glazed vegetables
    • 2 pounds of vegetables cut to roughly the same size (carrots, parsnips, potatoes, yams all work)
    • 6 tbls olive oil (I used a smoked olive oil)
    • 1 sprig of rosemary finely chopped
    • Sea salt
    • Fresh group pepper
    • 1 1/2 tbls butter
    • 1 1/2 tbls honey
    • 2 tsp balsamic reduction*
    *This is something I make in batches & keep on hand in the fridge and use for cooking and also salad dressings:
    Put 1 cup of balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan and cook on low heat until reduced down to 1/3 cup, stirring occasionally.
    1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F
    2. Line a rimmed baking sheet (jelly-roll pan) with foil
    3. Place veggies on the lined baking sheet & coat with olive oil. Toss to cover all veggies
    4. Sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper & the rosemary. Toss to coat all veggies
    5. Roast veggies in the oven for 10 minutes, take out & stir
    6. Roast for another 10 minutes, take out & stir
    7. Roast again until veggies are tender & starting to get charred around the edges.
    8. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium hear
    9. Stir in honey and balsamic reduction.
    10. Drizzle glaze over vegetables & serve.

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Parmesan Crusted Chicken & dinner party guidelines

    I read recently that there are general rules to follow with regard to serving food at a party based on the number of people attending.  The rules listed were as follows:
    • Less than 6 people - serve a plated meal, restaurant style with pre-portioned plates
    • 7-10 people - family style service, with large bowls of all items easy to pass around a single table
    • 11-25 people - buffet style service
    • more than 25 people - family style or buffet style service at several tables/areas in the house
    Interesting right? Well, we happened to be having some friends over for dinner on Friday night - just 4 of us, so the perfect time to give the rules a try and serve a plated meal.  

    My Parmesan crusted chicken got the job of helping make this happen.  This recipe is great and the cooking time is around 10 minutes, making it an easy plated meal to execute and complete while guests are in the house.
    You can see this is a simple recipe from the basic ingredients.  I actually had everything on hand in my kitchen already, they are all general staples.  Note there are 2 types of cheese and also this new stuff I bought recently called "Better than bouillon" which is a jarred paste that can take the place of bouillon in any recipe.  So far, it has worked great and can be found in a number of flavors at most grocery stores.

    Here is the complete plated meal as it was served to all the guests.  It was easy to plate and kept the dirty dishes to a minimum.  Plated service means no serving bowls or serving utensils for the chicken or the pasta.

    Once of the great things about this dish is that it tastes fried, but it actually cooks in the oven. Here is how you can make it at home:

    Parmesan crusted chicken
    • 5 tablespoons butter melted
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 tbls "Better than boullion" (you can also use dijon mustard - 3 tbls)
    • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs (Japanese breadcrumbs - look in the asian food aisle in your grocery store)
    • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese (note: this is SHREDDED not grated)
    • 1/2 cup shredded romano cheese
    • 1 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1 tsp ground pepper
    • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, butterflied
    1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees (yes you read that correctly 500 degrees)
    2. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with non-stick spray (if you have butter flavored use that)
    3. Whisk eggs and "Better than boullion" (or dijon mustard) in a medium bowl
    4. Combine panko, parmesan, romano, salt & pepper in a large bowl (you can also add any other dry seasonings you want to this mixture)
    5. Dip chicken on piece at a time into the egg mixture and then into the panko mixture coating generously
    6. Place on the prepared baking sheet
    7. Drizzle melted butter over the chicken
    8. Bake chicken until browned about 10 min - flipping once at around the 6 min mark.
    Serve over potatoes, vegetables or as I did with a rigatoni pasta covered in a simple 1/2 marinara & 1/2 Alfredo sauce.

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    A week away & a rainy day favorite

    Well - this week we were away for business in Syracuse, NY where Spring has yet to make an appearance and there were many a dreary day during the 4 day trip.

    Of course, there was no cooking at the hotel during the trip, but the weather had me thinking of my favorite rainy day dinner - my Tortellini Chowder.   This VERY quick & easy dish really hits the spot when it's a little cold out and you want a meal to feel warm and cozy.
    You can tell by the photo that most of the meal consists of pre-packaged items. This serves the double purpose of making it an easy dish to prepare, while also allowing me to keep most of the items on-hand to be used at the drop of a hat.

    The items I keep on-hand include frozen veggies & potatoes, chicken stock and refrigerated tortellini.  In addition milk & a nice smoked gouda cheese are needed to round out the ingredients.

    All of those ingredients come together to make a creamy, smoky yummy chowder that is so satisfying, Drew requests the meal at least once a month.

    Make it for yourself on the next rainy day:
    • 28 ounces chicken stock
    • 15 ounce package loose-pack frozen vegetables (broccoli, corn, carrots etc)
    • 9 ounce package of refrigerated cheese or meat filled tortellini
    • 2 cups milk
    • 1/4 cup of flour
    • 1 pack/box (9oz) Seasoned Roasted Potatoes with Garlic & Herbs - thawed in microwave
    • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
    • 1 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese plus a little extra to top off each bowl while serving. 
    1. In a large saucepan, combine broth and frozen vegetables and bring to a boil.
    2. Stir in tortellini and return to boil.
    3. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, about 4 minutes or just until vegetables are tender.
    4. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine 1 cup of milk with all the flour and whisk until combined. 
    5. Add milk/flour mixture and remaining 1 cup of milk to the broth. Add roasted potatoes.
    6. Cook and stir until thickened and bubble. Cook 1 minute more and then turn off heat.
    7. Add in cheese and fresh basil. 
    8. Stir until cheese melts.
    9. Season to taste with fresh ground pepper.