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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Fish, Salads, on May 24th, 2016.

salad_nicoise

Is there much of anything more French cuisine than a Niçoise salad? I think not.

Recently, a good friend, Joanne (who used to be an employee of mine, way long ago), invited me to come visit her at her home in Rancho Palos Verdes. Those of you not familiar with the Los Angeles region might not have heard of it – it’s a 20+ mile long coastline south of L.A. that’s right on the Pacific Ocean – and about 90 minutes or so from my home further south. The area is big and encompasses several miles inland and is a world apart from the bustling city of L.A. It had been years since I’d been there. Wayfarer’s Chapel is there – a place that’s entertained many weddings. Once upon a time I attended a wedding there – so beautiful. See photo below.

But I was just there to visit with Joanne and her husband Larry this time. It was a beautiful Southern California spring day – warm in the sunshine, but still almost cold without a light jacket. When you drive to Palos Verdes, it’s all city for the approach to the crest of the hills, and then you arrive at the top and it’s suddenly all residential, meandering, curving streets, even some open land, which is hard to come by in our part of the state of California. They live on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It’s ever so peaceful there – no city noises, and no city to view, either. Just the ocean.

When Joanne came to work for the ad agency I owned with my business partner, she was a brand new bride. This was back in the 1980’s. They’d moved from Brooklyn to California where Larry had taken a new position. They’d moved into a small home and she was so happy to set up housekeeping, and to decorate her house. Joanne says that I was her inspiration to learn to cook (she says she didn’t know a thing about cooking when she got married), and indeed, I recall we used to talk a lot about recipes, restaurants, cooking techniques, etc. And probably where to source some ingredients now and then. I‘m sure I shared recipes with her. Her husband is Lebanese by heritage, and he grew up with his mother making lots of ethnic dishes. Joanne brought one joanne_hparticular salad to some of our potluck lunches we had – her recipe is already here on my blog, a Syrian Pita Bread Salad that I posted way back in 2008. I haven’t made that salad in awhile – it’s SO good – very lemony, and delicious with the crunch of toasted pita chips.

Joanne prepared a gorgeous lunch – this salad (recipe below), a fougasse (a yeasted savory bread) and an apple cake. You’ll have the other two recipes within the next week or so. At right is Joanne in her lovely kitchen. Joanne and her family spent many years living abroad – first in Amsterdam, then for several years in Paris, and most recently they lived for 4-5 years outside of Geneva. Their 3 children grew up attending private schools, and learned French for sure. Their twin boys have just graduated from college here in the U.S., and their daughter is attending a university here in California. Larry is retired (gosh, does that make me feel OLD since they were young newlyweds when I first met them!) and enjoying it. Since their children were born Joanne has been a stay-at-home mom.

As Joanne put together the lunch salad, the Niçoise (that’s pronounced nee-SWAZZ), we talked. She mentioned that here in the U.S. sometimes restaurants will serve a Niçoise with seared ahi. Well, that is absolutely a no-no to the French purist, from whence this comes. It’s canned tuna. Period. The components of the salad must be prepared ahead – the green beans must be cooked al dente, the salad leaves cleaned and dried, the dressing prepared and allowed to sit for just a little while, the tomatoes chopped, the potatoes (a waxy type only) cooked and cut, eggs hard boiled, peeled and cut, all artfully arranged either on a large platter for everyone to help themselves, or on individual plates as Joanne did this day. She lightly dressed the lettuce with a bit of the dressing, and passed a pitcher of the dressing at the table. Ideally you’ll have Niçoise olives – they’re a black somewhat bitter olive, but so traditional in this salad. Capers are usually added too, just sprinkled on top. The salad is so satisfying – all good-for-you things. The dressing is piquant and so-very-French (it’s a French shallot vinaigrette) that will keep for a few days.

The recipe came from one of Joanne’s favorite cookbooks, Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table: More than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. Joanne has prepared many of the recipes in that cookbook and had raves for each and every one. I own the cookbook too – I don’t remember if I’ve shared any of the recipes from it or not. It’s a beautiful cookbook – almost worthy of a coffee table book, but it’s a practical and entertaining guide to many homespun recipes, the kind the French would eat any normal day, not necessarily for entertaining. I love to read Dorie’s headnotes – the stories she writes about the origin of the recipe or about the ingredients.

What’s GOOD: all the mix of ingredients are sublime – the potatoes even, the tuna mixes with everything, and the dressing just brings it all together. It’s a keeper of a recipe for sure. (Thank you, Joanne.)

What’s NOT: the only thing is the time it takes to prepare some of the ingredients – cooking the potatoes, the eggs and the beans and giving them time to chill. The dressing is easy enough, though. Try to prep the potatoes, eggs and beans the day before.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Salade Niçoise

Recipe By: Around My French Table, Dorie Greenspan
Serving Size: 4

12 small potatoes — scrubbed
2 cups haricot verts — green beans
4 hard-boiled eggs
8 ounces canned tuna — packed in oil, drained
5 cups salad greens
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes — or regular tomatoes cut into chunks
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1/4 cup capers — drained and patted dry
8 small anchovy fillets — rinsed and patted dry
DRESSING:
2 tablespoons wine vinegar — red, white or sherry
1 shallot — finely minced
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
a few pinches sea salt
fresh black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

1. Boil the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Cook until they are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, 10 – 20 minutes. Scoop them out of the pot and put them in a bowl to cool.
2. Blanch the green beans in the potato water until they are crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the beans and put them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, then pat dry.
3. Make the vinaigrette: Add vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt, and pepper to a small glass measuring cup or jar and let sit 10 – 15 minutes to mellow the shallot. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly.
4. Assemble the salad, on one large platter, or individual plates: salad greens, halved potatoes, green beans, halved eggs, tuna, tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies and drizzle with the shallot vinaigrette.
Per Serving: 629 Calories; 22g Fat (31.7% calories from fat); 33g Protein; 76g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 236mg Cholesterol; 813mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, on March 7th, 2016.

shrimp_lemony_watercress

Scrumptious, tart, lemony, textures, ah. Worth making – and it’s easy to boot.

In late January, my friend Ann, who lives in frigid Idaho, flew down to SoCal and I picked her up at the Palm Springs airport. We then stayed at a VRBO condo for a week in La Quinta. Sometimes January is iffy weather in the California desert (rainy) and we did get rain one day. It was fairly cold out there, but in the sunshine it was comfortable. The condo had a lovely kitchen with plenty of kitchen equipment, so we didn’t lack for anything (except sharp knives, alas – there were plenty of them, but they were as dull as ann_pga_westcardboard – next time I’ll take some of my own good knives). I’d suggested to Ann that if I made one or two meals, maybe she’d come up with a meal she would prepare. We worked on all the cooking together, so it was a joint effort. She sent me several recipes and this is the one I preferred. Actually, this one is for scallops, but I don’t eat them – shrimp is preferable for me. So we made the same recipe, just with the shrimp instead. Pictured at left, Ann, at our VRBO condo, overlooking the rather brown golf course at PGA West.

This is really a salad only – there isn’t anything else hiding under all that watercress, but it was perfect for us. Real watercress is a bit hard to find these days – except the type you see above – it’s like baby cress – with the root ball attached. I don’t much like that type because it lacks that unique peppery flavor of full grown watercress. But if that’s all you can find, well, then, make do! The shrimp are cooked in nothing more than a speck of olive oil and seasoned with paprika and lemon zest. We had access to lemons out there in the desert – they were regular lemons, not Meyers (my preference), so depending on the type, you may want to adjust the sugar in the dressing.

The lemon vinaigrette is SO tasty – puckery, but sweet because you do add sugar, and it’s loaded with garlic too. The watercress was tossed with the lemon dressing, then we piled the shrimp on top and added parsley for garnish. The original recipe (with scallops) came from Cooking Light, in 2002.

What’s GOOD: it was so easy to make, and I just loved the lemon flavor. It was a zesty dressing (not hot, just vibrant) with the lemon. The shrimp were perfectly cooked through and we both slicked our plates clean. A definite keeper. Low cal and very low fat!

What’s NOT: nothing at all, except it might not be enough food for some people as a main entrée. Serve with bread and maybe a dessert? Just a thought.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

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Shrimp on Lemony Watercress

Recipe By: Adapted from a Cooking Light recipe, Oct. 2002
Serving Size: 4

2 teaspoons olive oil — divided
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp
1/2 teaspoon salt — divided
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups watercress — about 2 1/2 bunches, washed, trimmed, dried
Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish

1. Heat a teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with 1/4 teaspoon salt and paprika. Add them to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Combine rind and parsley; sprinkle over shrimp. Keep warm.
2. Combine a teaspoon of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon juice, sugar, garlic, and pepper. Place watercress in a large bowl; drizzle with lemon juice mixture, tossing gently to coat. Serve shrimp over watercress mixture and garnish with additional Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 222 Calories; 5g Fat (21.9% calories from fat); 36g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 259mg Cholesterol; 547mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, on February 8th, 2016.

baked_salmon_honey_mustardOver the holidays, when my cousin Gary was visiting me, we both came down with bad colds (he caught it from me, I think), so there were about 4 days of the 10 he was here that we didn’t do anything at all. On New Year’s Day I finally decided I was well enough that I should cook a nice meal. Gary chose salmon.

As it happened, while I was watching hours and hours of TV, I decided to view Valerie Bertinelli’s Food Network show and she made this salmon. It was easy and she raved about it. It really wasn’t hard to make – at all – and makes a nice presentation. I like her show and am now recording it on my Tivo.

honey_mustard_saucesalmon_sauce_readySo, salmon steaks in hand, I made up the coating. It’s a combo of mayonnaise (she used low-fat, I used full because that’s what I had), Dijon mustard, and honey. Her recipe calls for a whole lot of honey, and I thought half was enough (and it was plenty sweet for me, so I’ve altered her recipe below). Half the mixture is set aside for serving (extra to dip into or pour over) and the other half is used to coat the salmon. Easy. Into a 375°F oven it went and baked for 6-7 minutes (don’t over bake it). Then you turn on the broiler (so put the fish into the right position for broiling even when you’re doing the baking portion of it). That takes another 5-7 minutes. As you can see from the photo, the collagen has begun to leak out of the flakes, meaning it’s almost past it’s prime. I try to be alert to that, but I didn’t peek into the oven until 6 minutes and it was done already. It all depends on the thickness of the salmon. Once out of the oven you garnish it with chives and serve. Dinner was on the table in less than half an hour.

What’s GOOD: how easy this is, and it’s very flavorful. Worth making for sure. I always have the ingredients on hand – except chives, perhaps, but as luck would have it I did have some for this. It could easily be Italian parsley or even cilantro to put on top, but the chives are a good match with salmon. There is a LOT of mustard in this recipe, but when it’s tempered with the mayo and honey, it loses its pungency somehow, but you can still notice it. In a nice way.

What’s NOT: not a thing. Easy, easy, easy.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

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Baked Salmon with Honey Mustard Sauce

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Valerie Bertinelli’s Food Network show
Serving Size: 4

1 1/3 pounds salmon fillets — skin-on, 7-8 ounces each, cut into pieces
1/2 cup mayonnaise — may use low-fat
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons chives — finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a large baking sheet with a nonstick silicone liner, and lay the salmon, skin side down, on top. Set aside.
2. Combine the mayonnaise, mustard and honey in a medium bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Reserve half of the sauce. Spoon the remaining sauce over the fish, spreading it evenly all over the top and sides of each fillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Roast just until the fish is opaque in the center, 6-7 minutes. Increase the oven to broil. Broil the fish for 6 to 7 minutes, but keep your eye on it to avoid overcooking. Garnish with chives and serve with the reserved sauce.
Per Serving: 417 Calories; 29g Fat (61.6% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 10g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 88mg Cholesterol; 446mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Miscellaneous, on November 17th, 2015.

pistachio_crusted_salmon_apricot_glaze

You know when I tell you you have to make this. Yes. This. Soon. Fabulous.

Oh my goodness, this recipe is so good. I do love salmon, but it’s almost like chicken, in a way, since you can do so many different things with it – broil it, bake it, pan sauté it, or in this case it’s sautéed briefly, then baked for 6-8 minutes. And then served with this wonderful tangy, spicy apricot sauce/glaze. And with those pistachio nuts on top (with chives, parsley and a little oil to hold it together). Oh yes.

The sauce will keep several weeks. And, in fact, Phillis Carey talked about how good it is with chicken or halibut too. Phillis’ original recipe made half as much glaze, and my friend Cherrie and I, who attended Phillis’ class together, decided then and there that we’d make more of the sauce to use on other things, so I’ve increased the glaze part by 50% in the recipe below. We also thought a serving portion of the salmon could use just a bit more of the glaze than we had, so that’s another reason to make more.

So, the sauce can be made ahead by several weeks, as I mentioned, or the day before. Do give it some time to marry the flavors, though, if time permits. The salmon fillets are seared for a minute or so on each side, then placed on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Then you combine a tiny tetch of oil, the pistachios, parsley, chives and salt and pepper, and carefully pile it on top of the salmon. Into a 375° oven it goes and bakes for 6-8 minutes (depending on how thick the salmon is). Serve immediately! I promise – to raves! Easy. Good enough for a company meal, and not so hard that it couldn’t be made for a weeknight dinner. Especially if you made the glaze ahead of time.

What’s GOOD: everything about it – especially the glaze. It’s all good, and it’s also very easy.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open)

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Pistachio Crusted Salmon with Apricot Glaze

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 10/15
Serving Size: 4

GLAZE:
12 dried apricot halves — quartered (use sulfured type)
1 cup apricot nectar — plus 2 tablespoons
6 tablespoons white vinegar
6 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon Sriracha sauce — or other Asian chile sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger — minced
1 tablespoon shallots — minced
SALMON:
20 ounces salmon fillets — 4 pieces, 1 inch thick, 5-6 ounces each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil — divided use
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
2 tablespoons chives — chopped
1/2 cup pistachio nuts — toasted & chopped (or you can use walnuts or pecans)

NOTE: You probably will have some of the sauce left over – that’s a good thing – use it on other fish or chicken since it keeps several weeks.
1. SAUCE: Place ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Return to saucepan and simmer to thicken, if desired. (Will keep for several weeks, refrigerated.)
2. SALMON: Preheat oven to 375°. Season fish with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T. of oil in a large nonstick pan. Sear fish for one minute per side and then transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
3. Toss remaining tablespoon of oil with parsley, chives and pistachios. Brush fish lightly with the apricot glaze. Spread pistachio mixture on top of the fish and bake 6-8 minutes, or until just cooked through. Serve drizzled with more apricot glaze and serve remaining sauce on the table.
Per Serving: 490 Calories; 23g Fat (41.6% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 41g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 74mg Cholesterol; 125mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, on August 15th, 2015.

salmon_tomatoes_ginger_basil_pinenuts

An elegant preparation of salmon – good enough for serving to guests, but easy enough to do for a weeknight dinner. It has a few more steps than some, but it’s very do-able and it’s delicious.What you see above are 2 fillets – I saved the half for another meal.

With salmon defrosted in my refrigerator, and a limited number of things I could put with it, I did a search on google for salmon + tomatoes + ginger and up came a bunch of options, and the recipe here is what I made with it. I had to improvise just a little bit, and I thought pine nuts would be a nice addition. The original recipe came from Fine Cooking, but I made some alterations to the recipe. After putting an oiled spice rub on the fish, it’s pan-seared in oil. I used my instant-read thermometer for this.

Because I knew from reading the recipe that it would all come together quickly, I prepped everything in advance – chopping tomatoes, toasting the pine nuts, fresh basil leaf at hand, and I made a pot of green beans (simple prep with bacon) to go with it. So, once I started cooking it all came together quickly. I also made the rub – ground coriander, ground ginger, a bit of cayenne and a drizzle of oil so it will stick to the fish.

The salmon is cooked through to 135° (I used my Thermapen to make sure). The fish was removed, then you make the sauce. The tomatoes aren’t really cooked – they’re mostly just heated through, but you make the sauce with garlic and ginger. All that is scooped onto the top of the salmon, then you deglaze the pan with a little white wine (vermouth for me) and some chicken broth and a tiny bit of butter and that is poured over the salmon. Garnish with basil (or cilantro) and the toasted pine nuts. Done. I thought this was really good. It wasn’t hard to make, although you do have to do a bit of sous-chef stuff with the chopping and mincing.

What’s GOOD: This was really tasty – I liked the bit of heat in the rub (from the cayenne) and the ground coriander and ground ginger also gave it some depth of flavor. The sauce is very fresh tasting – there’s very little of it, actually – don’t go thinking this is a sauce-sauce. No. It’s just a tiny bit of liquid that’s very flavorful. I liked it a lot.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it takes a tiny bit more time than a quick pan-fry, though. Get someone else to help you with the chopping and mincing and it will come together quickly.

printer-friendly PDF – and – Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

Pan-Seared Salmon with Tomato & Ginger Sauce and Pine Nuts

Recipe By: Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine
Serving Size: 4

1/4 cup coriander seeds — ground medium-fine
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon canola oil
24 ounces salmon fillets — skin removed, cut into portions
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil — (for sauteing the fish)
SAUCE:
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 cups ripe tomatoes — seeded then chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons fresh ginger — grated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil — or cilantro
1/4 cup pine nuts — toasted

1. In a small bowl, combine the coriander, ground ginger, and cayenne and mix with oil to make a paste. Pat the paste on both sides of the salmon fillets and season with salt and pepper.
2. Heat a 12-inch heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining portion of oil and swirl to coat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the fillets and cook until the bottom is well browned and the bottom half of the fish becomes opaque, 3 to 4 min. Turn the fish and cook until browned on the second side and just cooked through, another 3 to 4 minutes. The fish should reach an internal temp of 135° if you want to use an instant read thermometer. Transfer to a warm platter.
3. Pour off all but a film of fat from the pan. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the tomatoes, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until slightly softened, about 2 min. Remove from the heat, toss in the ginger, and pour the tomatoes over the fish.
4. Put the pan over high heat. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half. Add the broth; boil until reduced by half again. Off the heat, swirl in the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the salmon and tomatoes, sprinkle with the basil (or cilantro) and pine nuts, and serve immediately.
Per Serving: 417 Calories; 24g Fat (53.3% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 104mg Cholesterol; 129mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Soups, on August 3rd, 2015.

salmon_moqueca

Yes, it’s summer. Yes, this was hot soup. May not be appealing to some, but it was a somewhat cooler evening and I was tired of the usual braised, broiled, steamed or grilled salmon. I had zucchini and a sweet potato, so I improvised with everything else.

Cooking for one can definitely be a challenge. And most often I prefer to make something that will give me at least 2 dinners before I’m tired of it. I simply cannot make any more large quantity things that are frozen in smaller portions, as my freezer is full of them. Recently I made a chicken curry dish that I just love-love, and froze it in about 8 different sizes of ziploc bags. But that’s one that I crave quite frequently, so I agreed with my reasoning to make a big batch. I’m doing my level best to NOT buy more meat since I have a freezer full of meat in my garage.

This day, I’d defrosted a lovely salmon fillet but hadn’t decided what to do with it. Searching through my to-try file I ran across this recipe, from Food 52. It was a “community pick.” I don’t know exactly what that means in their vernacular, but the write-up about it – it’s Brazilian fish stew  – sounded intriguing. I didn’t exactly follow the recipe to the letter – as I mentioned above – I needed to improvise a bit. But I had the salmon, sweet potato, zucchini, part of a hot pepper, onion, a red and yellow bell pepper, garlic, coconut milk, canned tomatoes, cilantro and some fish stock. And fresh limes.

First you marinate the salmon (I cut it up into bite-sized pieces) in lime juice, EVOO, and salt. But only for 30-60 minutes (otherwise the lime juice would start to make ceviche!). That is set aside while you prep the other ingredients. That part didn’t take long. In a big skillet (with lid to use later) you start by sautéing the sweet potato in a bit of oil. As it takes on some caramelization, stir it around to cook it on all sides. I just stirred it several times – I was far too lazy to try to turn each little piece of potato. Perhaps my method of cooking this isn’t exactly true to the original recipe (or to the traditional Brazilian method) but because of some of my ingredients I had to improvise. I added the raw, chopped and sliced onion, and let the two items cook a bit. Then I added the garlic, tomatoes, some of the coconut milk, some fish stock. I covered the pan for about 5 minutes to let the potatoes cook. I had some already cooked zucchini and some cooked pasilla pepper (instead of the jalapeno or serrano), so that was added in at the end, but if you’re using fresh zucchini, add it in during this part so it steam-cooks. I used about half a can of chopped tomatoes, and had intended to use about half the can of coconut milk. Then I added in the marinated salmon and simply let those pieces sit on top of the stew. On the lid went and I allowed it to simmer for about 5 minutes. Into a bowl it went with some fresh minced cilantro on top and my dinner was done.

Afterwards, I realized that I had more than enough for another meal, so I added in the remaining coconut milk. I’ll save the remaining tomatoes for something else, because I thought it would make this too tomatoey. It will be heavy with the veggies and creamy broth rather than salmon, but there’s enough for another soup meal for me. I remember what the Food52 test kitchen person had mentioned, that they couldn’t wait to tell people they had to make this because it was SO flavorful. And yes, it really is. You might not think so because of the rather ordinary ingredients. It all comes together somehow. These Brazilians are onto something!

What’s GOOD: the whole bowl of soup was unctuous. That’s the best word I can come up with. Every bite was delicious – I particularly liked the sweet potato – just barely cooked through with a bit of form to it still. You don’t want to over cook the sweet potato. The coconut milk – well – I think it probably is the star of the dish, but you don’t realize it – it just provides a silkiness to the creamy brothy part. Altogether delicious, and I’d definitely make this again.

What’s NOT: not a single, solitary thing. This is a keeper. And it’s VERY easy.

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Salmon Moqueca

Recipe By: Adapted from Food 52, winner of “Community” Contest
Serving Size: 3

FISH & MARINADE:
1/2 pound salmon fillets — wild
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
STEW:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small sweet potato — peeled and diced
1/2 cup onion — peeled and roughly chopped
2 whole zucchini — chopped
1/2 cup canned tomatoes — undrained
1/2 cup green pepper — chopped (I didn’t use this, so it’s optional}
1/2 cup red bell pepper — chopped (I used red & yellow)
1 large garlic clove — minced
1/2 cup poblano chile — chopped, seeds removed
1/2 cup fish stock — or water
1/4 cup cilantro — chopped
12 ounces light coconut milk
2 tablespoons minced green onion — (bottom parts only) – for garnish
1/8 cup cilantro — chopped – for garnish
Sriracha sauce to taste

NOTES: If you don’t have a pasilla/poblano chile, you may use a jalapeno (half) or a small amount of serrano.
1. Place fish in a shallow non-reactive (non-metal) bowl. Add lime juice, salt and olive oil and set aside, in refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour (no longer or it will start to cook the fish).
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add diced sweet potato and cook for 10-15 minutes, adding a little water if needed so it doesn’t burn, until softened. Add zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, onion, green and red pepper and continue to cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes, again adding water to the pan, if needed. Add water or fish stock and stir in coconut milk. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 2 to 3 minutes or until the sweet potato and vegetables are just cooked through.
3. Add fish and marinade and stir very gently. Put lid on pan and simmer over very low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Just before serving, stir in green onion and cilantro and garnish with more cilantro on top. Serve alone or over rice and pass Sriracha sauce for adding at the table.
Per Serving: 369 Calories; 19g Fat (45.2% calories from fat); 21g Protein; 31g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 42mg Cholesterol; 356mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, on March 8th, 2015.

halibut_provencal_potatoes

 White things are so difficult to photograph . . . the halibut is on the left, and potatoes on the right, with a little bonnet of sun-dried tomatoes providing a bit of color! No matter the bland look of it, the taste is what matters. That’s always what matters!

At the price of halibut these days, this dish will/should be a special treat. Unless you live in Alaska, perhaps, and have friends or family who give you some of their catch. Interestingly enough, when my DH and I visited Alaska some years ago ( that one a driving trip) halibut was on the menus of course, but I won’t say it was inexpensive. Surprising. So, if you’re halibut-averse, make this with salmon or sea bass, or even cod. It’ll still taste wonderful. It’s the sauce that makes this anyway.

Although this recipe was designed to be done in a slow cooker, I’m not even giving you that part because it was way too over-cooked, according to my friend Cherrie, who prepared it recently. At the class with Diane Phillips, she prepared this on the stove top since there wasn’t time to do it in a slow cooker. The flavors were wonderful – the fish with it’s wonderful texture, but it’s the sauce. The sauce, indeed!

What’s in it? – a bunch of different flavors – lemon zest and juice, garlic, paprika, herbes de Provence, sun dried tomatoes and capers. And some olive oil. Not all that difficult. I had to hunt for my herbes de Provence and it’s ancient, so I think I need to buy some new. Remember, herbs in a combo mix don’t hold their flavor for more than a few months.

The unusual thing about this preparation is the bed of Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into big bite-sized cubes on the bottom. You carefully lay the halibut on top of the potatoes and gently simmer it – or bake it in the oven until the fish has cooked through. The potatoes are partially cooked first, then you add the fish. And the fish doesn’t take long (about 10 minutes on the stove top and about 10-15 minutes in a 400° oven, depending on the thickness of the fish.

There’s no question this dish would make a lovely company dinner – just make a green veg (do make something colorful since the fish and potatoes aren’t full of color). You could make a salad, but it wouldn’t be strictly necessary.

What’s GOOD: the flavors/sauce are foremost. It’s also very easy to make, albeit expensive if you do use halibut. Well worth it, though.

What’s NOT: can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it.

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Halibut Provencal on a bed of Yukon Gold Potatoes

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cookbook author and instructor
Serving Size: 8

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
zest of two lemons
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 garlic cloves — minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, oil-packed — drained
1/2 cup capers — drained
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes — peeled and diced
36 ounces halibut fillets — in 6 equal pieces
1/2 cup Italian parsley — finely chopped

1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, herbes de Provence, sun-dried tomatoes and capers and set aside.
2. In a deep skillet (big enough to hold all the fish in one layer) and arrange the potatoes in the bottom.
3. Preheat oven to 400°.
4. Drizzle some of the lemon sauce mixture over the potatoes and toss to coat the potatoes.
5. Bake the potatoes for 20 minutes, covered, then remove. Arrange the halibut over the potatoes and pour the remaining sauce over the halibut.
6. Cover and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes. The fish will be opaque in the center and the potatoes will be tender.
7. Taste the sauce – if it has too much acidity, add just a little bit of salt.
8. Arrange the fish on a serving dish, surround with the potatoes and spoon some of the sauce over the fish. Garnish with the chopped parsley before serving. STOVE TOP: Prepare through step 4, using a bit more of the sauce. Simmer potatoes over low heat for about 15 minutes. They should be nearly tender. Add fish and the remaining sauce, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until fish flakes apart easily with a fork. Plate and garnish the fish.
Per Serving: 328 Calories; 17g Fat (48.5% calories from fat); 28g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 41mg Cholesterol; 570mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Fish, on February 12th, 2015.

shrimp_pesto_salsa_vere

 

Kind of a messy and drippy platter, huh? Yes, it was! However, the sauce it’s sitting in it scrumptious, and you can make the sauce ahead a few hours, then all you have to do is broil the shrimp and you have an appetizer all ready! You could also serve this – I think – on pasta. There was ample of the salsa verde (see the plate is almost swimming in it) so it could easy baste a nice mound of linguine. For sure, once you serve this, save all that goop on the plate and use it with the leftovers.

It used to be that “pesto” had only one meaning. Basil. But really the word doesn’t have to mean basil. It can be nuts, or almost any kind of a paste/sauce. Although we think of pesto as purely Italian in origin, it actually originated in India. The Italians adopted it as their own, and once they mixed it with garlic, pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, well, a match made in heaven. BUT, this is not about that kind of pesto. Salsa Verde and pesto have many similarities.

Salsa Verde (green sauce) could be a combo of so many things – herbs or even greens like kale. The phrase, salsa verde, can be French, Italian or Spanish. Here in Southern California, even English-speaking people know salsa and verde. In this recipe the green part comes from parsley, basil and cilantro in a combination, with parsley predominating. Then this one has toasted blanched almonds in it (not pine nuts, as in pesto), some garlic and red chili flakes, a jot of white wine vinegar to give it some zip, and then oil to hold it all together. Easy to make, and it surely will keep in the refrigerator for a day – but don’t add the vinegar until just before serving – it will dull all the lovely green in the sauce. After a day the cilantro will start to disintegrate, so I’d use it up fairly quick-like.

The shrimp – use any size you want, really – are tossed with a spice mix. You can use your own combination or you can buy such mixtures at most grocery stores. Paul Prudhomme has one in the spice aisle. See my notes down below in the directions about a spice combo you can make up yourself. The raw shrimp is then coated with some oil and broiled. You could serve these warm – I think I’d like them warm – but do let them cool a bit right out of the broiler because shrimp can burn your mouth if you really served it immediately. This came from a cooking class with Tarla Fallgatter a couple of months ago.

What’s GOOD: it’s all about the sauce. The salsa verde. It’s really, really delicious. Easy to make – just make sure you have blanched almonds. I don’t stock those in my pantry, but Trader Joe’s usually has them. The blanched part means they have no skins on them at all. And they’ve been cooked (and normally salted). Each shrimp made one really tasty bite, I’ll tell you! And remember to save the left over sauce and use it on pasta or rice.

What’s NOT: not a thing – loved this one.

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Shrimp with Pesto-Style Salsa Verde

Recipe By: Salsa Verde recipe from Fine Cooking; combo from Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 6

SHRIMP:
24 medium shrimp — (raw) about 2 inches long, tails removed
2 teaspoons spice mix for fish (your choice – or make up your own)
2 tablespoons olive oil
SALSA VERDE PASTE:
1/4 cup blanched almonds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Italian parsley — packed
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves — packed
1/2 cup fresh cilantro — packed
2 medium cloves garlic — coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more as needed
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

NOTES: If you don’t have a fish-type spice mix, make your own using ground ginger (more of this than the other ingredients), ground coriander, paprika, salt, ground cumin and freshly ground black pepper.
1. SALSA: Heat the oven to 400ºF. Spread the almonds in a pie pan and toast the almonds in the oven until lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
2. Place toasted almonds, parsley, basil, the cilantro, garlic, chile flakes, 1/2 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a blender or food processor. With the machine on, gradually pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process until the mixture becomes a thick purée. Add more oil as needed to make it just barely fluid. The salsa verde may be made to this point a day ahead and refrigerated. (DO NOT ADD VINEGAR YET.)
4. Return the salsa verde to room temperature, if chilled, and stir in the vinegar just before serving to prevent discoloration.
5. SHRIMP: Toss the shrimp with spice mixture and olive oil. Place on foil lined baking sheet and broil until tender (don’t over cook them!). Cool to just room temperature. If there are juices on the pan, pour that into the salsa verde for added flavor.
6. Toss the shrimp with the salsa verde and pour out onto a serving platter and serve with toothpicks. You could also make a dinner meal with this – serve over pasta, or with rice on the plate – in which case plate the shrimp on top of the rice.
Per Serving (nutrition is inaccurate as you will not use all the salsa): 266 Calories; 26g Fat (86.7% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 36mg Cholesterol; 43mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Miscellaneous, on November 7th, 2014.

tarragon_sauce_salmon

My friend Cherrie called me recently and said, “I fixed your salmon with tarragon sauce last night.” My mind went blank. Salmon with tarragon sauce?  “Are you sure it was my recipe,” I said? Yes, indeed, she even had my MasterCook print-out that said it was from Gourmet Magazine back in the 1990s. Hmmm. It took me awhile, but I found it in my recipe collection – a search revealed it was under “tarragon” not “salmon.” Obviously I haven’t fixed it in a loooooong time!

Cherrie was nice enough to give me some of it, as it makes a bunch – enough for 8 servings, and there are only two of them. I had it the other night on a nice piece of steamed salmon, along with Brussels sprouts I cooked in garlic, onion and a dash of maple syrup stirred in at the last minute, and some really ripe Plumato tomato slices. A lovely dinner, and a really tasty sauce. I think the sauce could go on chicken also, but it’s ideal for fish. (See, I am cooking a little bit, and my foot managed with me standing at the counter for about 15 minutes. That’s progress.)

In my notes, it says salmon is the best fish for it, and the recipe suggested placing a pool of the sauce on a plate and then adding the salmon on top. I chose not to do it that way – thought being on top would make it more photogenic. The original recipe called for mayo, but at the time I made this, back in the 90s, I was into using lower fat stuff – so you can use your own judgment – full fat or low fat, but don’t use nonfat mayo, okay? What is does require is a bunch of tarragon – 2 bunches. That’s a LOT. It also contains chives, shallot, parsley, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar and a bit of Dijon. That’s it. Easy to make. And since Cherrie gave this to me a week ago, it obviously keeps awhile. But eventually fresh herbs will begin to disintegrate and get oozy, so do use it within a few days if you can. I think Cherrie told me she didn’t quite have enough mayo, so she substituted a little bit of yogurt, which should be just fine.

What’s GOOD: it’s really easy to make – providing you’ve got tarragon. I don’t seem to have much luck raising tarragon in my kitchen garden. Don’t know why, so I usually have to buy it. You will need 3/4 of a cup of loosely measured tarragon leaves if you make this batch for 8 servings.

What’s NOT: nothing other than it tastes much better if allowed to sit for a few hours (chilled).

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Tarragon Sauce for Salmon

Recipe By: Adapted from a Gourmet Magazine recipe, July 1998
Serving Size: 8

2 bunches fresh tarragon — (to measure 3/4 cup of loose leaves)
1 bunch chives — loosely chopped
2 large shallot — chopped and blanched
1/4 cup Italian parsley — loosely chopped
1 cup mayonnaise — may use some low fat if preferred, or substitute some yogurt
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Pick off the tarragon leaves to measure about 3/4 cup without packing them down. Wash and drain briefly. Add to the bowl of a food processor along with the chives, parsley and shallot. Pulse until those ingredients are finely minced. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients (except salt and pepper) and pulse until smooth. Taste it and season with salt and pepper. Chill the mixture for a few hours, if possible.
3. Allow sauce to warm up (at room temp) for about 20 minutes before serving. You may spoon it onto a plate and place the fish on top, or the other way around. Garnish the fish with a sprig of Italian parsley.
Per Serving: 202 Calories; 23g Fat (97.0% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 173mg Sodium.

Posted in Fish, Grilling, on September 8th, 2014.

grilled_shrimp_polenta_cakes_corn_salsa

Don’t be confused that this is shrimp and grits. It has similarities, but it isn’t. The polenta is made ahead and cut into squares (the big shrimp at the top center is sitting on a square polenta cake), but this is a very soft cake with corn in it. Then you make this great corn and green chile salsa to go with it, and with the grilled shrimp. Delish.

Another winner of a recipe from my recent Phillis Carey class that was all about corn. There is a bit of prep to this recipe – you do have to make the polenta ahead of time – an hour or so. It’s a soft, creamy polenta that’s poured into a flat pan and allowed to set. Sort of. It’s still soft, so when it comes time to grill the polenta squares,  you must be very gentle – use a nice thin spatula to pick up the squares then gently place them in a big skillet, or on a flat grill. Then there’s the corn and green chile salsa. Not hard to make, but you do want to grill the pasilla (poblano) pepper and chop it up. You do want to grill the corn, just barely, and mince up the red onion. The shrimp does get marinated briefly in a lime-juice mixture and grilled. So you do have to do some work with each of the three elements. But much of it can be done ahead. If you have someone to do the grilling (the corn first, early, then the shrimp at the last minute) that helps, while you gently brown the polenta cakes just before plating everything.

poblano_peppersPoblano chiles have a unique flavor. It’s a deep, earthy flavor that I love. As I’m writing this I just had lunch at California Pizza Kitchen and I ordered their stuffed poblano chile. Delicious. If you’re not used to buying them, it’s so worth it for this dish. Photo at right came from www.specialtyproduce.com

What’s GOOD: the combo of the corn salsa (and particularly the roasted poblano chile in it), polenta cake and the shrimp – a little bit of each in every bite. Well, just delicious. I think the lime juice contributes a lot to the flavor. It would make a beautiful company dinner – might be a bit much for a weeknight dinner unless you feel like doing a bit more work than usual. It’s all worth it, though. A great dish.

What’s NOT: only thing I can think of is the time it takes to make it all, but that’s it. Flavors are wonderful.

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Grilled Shrimp and Polenta Cakes with Grilled Corn and Green Chile Salsa

Recipe By: From a Phillis Carey cooking class, 8/2014
Serving Size: 4

SHRIMP:
12 extra large shrimp — cleaned, tails on
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon cilantro — chopped
1 clove garlic — minced
POLENTA CAKES WITH CORN:
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil, plus a bit more for cooking the cakes
1 cup onion — finely diced
2 cloves garlic — minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup yellow cornmeal — or polenta Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 ears of corn — perfectly grilled (with grill marks) kernels removed
RELISH:
6 ears of corn — perfectly grilled (with grill marks) kernels removed
2 whole poblano peppers — roasted, peeled, seeded, diced
1 small red onion — finely diced
2 whole limes — juiced
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup grapeseed oil — or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cilantro — finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. SHRIMP: Place shrimp in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes (MAXIMUM). Remove from marinade and thread shrimp on banboo skewers which have been soaked in water for 30 minutes. Grill shrimp 3-4 minutes per side. Remove shrimp from skewers and keep warm.
2. POLENTA CAKES: (Do this several hours ahead if possible.) Oil the bottom and sides of a 9×11 inch baking pan (if you have a nonstick pan, use it)
and set aside. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the wine and cook until completely reduced.
3. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal, stirring so it doesn’t clump and cook until it begins to thicken. Season with salt and pepper, reduce heat to medium, switch to a spatula or wooden spoon and continue cooking, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and soft, about 8 minutes. If the mixture becomes too thick, stir in some water, but it should be a pourable consistency.
4. Stir in the grilled corn kernels and pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly (it will be thin). Cool to room temp, then cover and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. May be made a day ahead. Cut the polenta cakes into 4-inch squares.
5. RELISH: Combine the grilled corn, diced chiles, onion, lime juice, honey, oil and cilantro in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Let the relish sit at room temp for at least 30 minutes before serving. It can be made up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated. Bring to room temp before serving.
6. FINAL PREP: To cook the polenta cakes, heat a stove-top grill or griddle over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Brush the cakes on both sides with oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook the cakes until golden brown (still on medium heat) until they just barely get golden brown and very slightly charred on each side, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove to hot serving plates and top each cake with shrimp and some of the relish.
OPTIONS: Add some grated cheddar cheese to the polenta cakes, or Cotija cheese. You may also make the polenta soft, keeping it pourable as you make it and pour some onto each plate then add the shrimp and relish.
Per Serving: 747 Calories; 40g Fat (44.2% calories from fat); 26g Protein; 87g Carbohydrate; 10g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 109mg Sodium.

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