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Pumpkin Coconut Curry with Crispy Salmon

Pumpkin Coconut Curry Picture

A couple of years ago, I was browsing Whole Foods while trying to decide what to make for dinner. I knew I had some frozen salmon at home, but I needed something to go with it — something filling, satisfying and flavorful. A package of soba noodles and a jar of prepared curry sauce later and I had one of my new go-to meals: salmon with curry noodles.

Fast forward to today: My apartment complex is doing a fall recipe contest, and I was wondering if I had something that I could submit. I knew there would be a lot of pumpkin breads and chili, so I wanted to do something unique. My boyfriend suggested my salmon curry noodles, but I wasn’t sure if it was “autumn” enough.

… but maybe it could be.

Chopped Ingredients

Squash and curry is a classic combination, so why not pumpkin? Combined with a warm, earthy curry blend like garam masala, it might just evoke the same comforting flavors as a pumpkin spice treat.

The curry sauce in this recipe borrows elements from some of my favorite curry dishes: rich coconut milk, warm flavorful spices that aren’t too hot, and a satisfying depth of flavor. The pumpkin adds a wonderful creamy texture to the sauce without having to rely on actual cream — or full-fat coconut milk. Light coconut milk works just fine! Toasting some of the spices in the oil while cooking the onion helps build that depth of flavor. The dash of fish sauce works similar to salt, except it draws out the more savory notes of the sauce. Don’t worry, your sauce won’t taste like fish! (If you need proof, just ask my boyfriend. I didn’t tell him I added fish sauce, and he didn’t make any comments about fishy sauce. Shh don’t tell him~)

Ingredients in Skillet

A garnish of pumpkin seeds helps add texture along with little pops of salty, curry goodness. Use more cayenne if you want some bite in those pops.

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Fish & Chip Tacos

I really like Fish and Chips.

Okay, I know I shouldn’t drop bombshells like that from the get-go. I apologize if half of what you were just sipping is now a fine mist coating your computer screen.

But in all seriousness, it has been a while since I’ve had the kind of Fish and Chips that I remember from England. There are a lot of British foods I adore, but most of them are either packaged & shelf-stable (and thus, easily shipped), or have close approximations crafted by companies here in the US. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Fish and Chips; and, it’s still rather impossible to ship food from some random chip shop in the middle of England to another country.

So, I keep looking. One recent entry that pinged my radar was from a place called Velvet Taco. This is a Dallas-based shop, which will be opening an Austin location sometime in 2016. Their menu is filled with unique tacos, but the one that caught my eye straight away was — you guessed it — a Fish and Chip taco.

They weren’t lazy about it either. A quick search for “fish and chip taco” on Google reveals several variations, but none that really capture the imagination. (Tilapia and anemic frozen french fries? Tartar sauce? Rice Krisipes??) Instead, we’re talking beer-battered cod, malt vinegar-infused chips and curry mayo — which, while not traditional, is a more uniquely British slant on Fish and Chips than tartar sauce.

Now, I’ve never had the actual taco from Velvet Taco, and I’m not sure when I’ll get the opportunity to. But my best estimate — a nebulous “2016” — was too far away. So it was time to figure out how to recreate this compelling idea in my own kitchen.

During this experimentation phase, I decided to take the easy path on two components. The fish I decided to buy frozen from the supermarket — good quality, beer-battered cod, of course. Sure, I could make this from scratch myself, and maybe I will try that one day. But it’s a bit of a hassle, especially on a weekday. If you can find a ready-made substitute that tastes good, go for it.

(Yes yes, I know: how can I talk about frozen fish when I just used the phrase “anemic frozen french fries”? In my experience, frozen breaded/battered fish reheats better than frozen potato. Whereas the fish will get crispy on the outside and moist on the inside almost every time, the potato fries can be more unpredictable depending on brand, oven and time. So I’d rather put effort into the more temperamental component.)

The curry mayo also couldn’t be simpler: take some store-bought mayo that you like, then stir in curry powder, cayenne, and a hefty dose of lime juice. Let sit for at least an hour. Done.

That leaves the most important component (at least to me): the chips.


Serious Eats has a killer recipe for chorizo and potato tacos, and it is their method for cooking the potatoes that I use for this recipe. Boiling the potatoes in vinegar helps keep the pectin intact, allowing the potatoes to keep their shape, and make it easier to crisp up into little cubes of love.

Wait, did I say vinegar?

Yes, vinegar: the preferred condiment for any British Fish and Chips. Specifically, malt vinegar. Instead of the white vinegar called for in the original recipe, I substitute malt vinegar. Convenient, no?

The result is a taco that may not resemble an order of Fish and Chips from a chip shop in England, but it’s damn good and hits all those notes I crave when I’m thinking fish and chips: crispy battered fish, fluffy chips, savory malt vinegar and a kiss of salt.

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Recipe: Spicy Roasted Potato Quesadillas

Spicy Roasted Potato Quesadillas

Last week, I made one of my favorite slow-cooker recipes: Slow Cooker Pork Tacos. I used chicken breasts and thighs because @ndoto doesn’t like pork, but the process is the same – and the result is fragrant, spicy, earthy, buttery chicken.

A LOT of chicken, with a lot of leftovers. On the first night of leftovers, the tacos are still amazing. The second night, too. But then it starts to get a little repetitive, so I usually mix things up to finish off the last of the meat. Quesadillas are similar to tacos, but different enough that it breaks up the monotony. To add some different flavors, I decided to cook up an onion – and then I saw a couple of potatoes in the pantry that were on their last legs and just begging to be used up.

The one problem with quesadillas – especially quesadillas filled with soft meat like this – is that they can be overly squishy. You get a crispy tortilla, but then a lot of soft filling. So what if I added crispy roasted potatoes? Sounded like it was worth a try.

Roasted potatoes

Did it work? Well, sort of. The potatoes came out of the oven crispy, golden brown and cooked through. But after being pressed inside the tortilla with the moist meat and cheese, most of the crispiness was lost. But, it still added texture, and complemented the rest of the flavors perfectly. If I didn’t have the leftover meat, I think the potatoes, onions and cheese could easily stand on their own for a lighter, flavorful quesadilla.

Potatoes, onions and cheese on the tortilla

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it too. Let me know what improvements you make!

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Recipe: Chickpea and Potato Curry

Curry is like chili. There are so many variations, that it can be difficult to master. In fact, one could argue that curry is even more difficult due to the sheer number of variations – from the “traditional” Indian curry, to the coconut-infused Thai curries, to Chicken Tikka Masala, England’s most popular dish. And of course, within those broad categories are many, many styles and techniques.

I had trouble with chili for a while, but I eventually came across a recipe that I really like. It’s not traditional in any way, but it’s the recipe I turn to when I’m looking for a hearty bowl of spicy comfort.

Curry has consistently eluded me, though. I’ve come close several times – Cooks’ Illustrated recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala is excellent, albeit a bit of work.

This recipe was definitely a winner, though. Perfect? Not quite yet. But like my go-to chili recipe, it hit all the right notes. This recipe was the inspiration, but I made a lot of changes. For example, I toast the chickpeas along with the spices first, to help develop their flavor more. I also add whole garlic, and expand the spice palette. I apologize if this recipe sounds like an advertisement for Penzey’s – it is my favorite place for purchasing spices, and their curry mixes are top notch. If you follow the links, you can see what each blend contains. Enjoy!

IngredientsChickpea and Potato Curry
2 tbsp olive oil
2 15 oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder
1/2 tbsp Penzey’s Tandoori Seasoning
1 yellow onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced

6-10 small white new potatoes, quartered
4 cups unsalted chicken stock (I use one 32oz container of Kitchen Basics)
1 15 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 tbsp Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Heat oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add chickpeas, curry powder and tandoori seasoning. Stir to coat, then let the chickpeas and spices toast in the oil. Stir occasionally to prevent burning and to make sure all the spice and all the chickpeas get a nice crisp to them. (This develops the flavors of both the chickpeas and the spices. In fact, if you can use some whole spices for this step, it may be even better.) When they look about ready, add the onion, garlic and salt, and stir to coat. Cook until onions are slightly softened.

2. In a large pot, add the chicken stock, potatoes and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to a simmer, and add the spices, as well as the chickpea mixture when it’s done.

3. Simmer vigorously for at least 30 minutes – but 45 minutes to an hour would be better. The potatoes should be soft, and the cooking liquid should have reduced so it’s a bit thicker. Turn down the heat if the liquid is reducing too quickly.

4. Season with salt and/or pepper to taste. Serve with basmati rice.

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How-To: Chili Fries with Beer Cheese Sauce

It probably sounds strange to have chili fries for dinner, but that’s only because restaurant culture says that chili fries are an appetizer or side dish. But really, a hearty chili paired with a side of fries is a satisfying meal in itself.

This is more of a how-to, because the components of this meal are pretty straightforward. I just had never thought of putting them together quite like this. The chili here is my usual go-to chili: Rachael Ray’s Turkey Chipotle Chili with Pepper Jack Cheese Corn Cake Toppers (without the corn cakes). It’s a relatively fancy chili, not something you’d use to top fries with. I also like that it’s a turkey-based chili – it’s slightly less fatty than beef, so it gives that extra wiggle room on the cheese sauce. The only change I made to the recipe was making the sauce slightly thicker – I used only a cup of the chicken stock. I figured this would work better when combined with the fries and cheese sauce.

Because I made the cheese sauce from scratch, I decided to take a shortcut on the fries, by just using frozen fries from the supermarket. (I also had a couple of half-bags leftover, so this was an excuse to use them up.) If you had the time, though, I think it would be excellent to oven-roast your own potato wedges for this.

And that leaves the cheese sauce. Normally for chili-cheese fries you get an over-processed, Velveeta-style cheese sauce that oozes over the chili like a fatty, yellow lava flow. Instead of that, I decided to make a cheese sauce from scratch, pulling elements from both chili (cumin, chili powder) and fondue (beer). The recipe for the sauce is after the break.

In assembling this, I put some fries on the bottom, drizzled a bit of the cheese sauce on top, then a healthy serving of the chili, and then a bit more cheese sauce on top of that. Eat with a knife and fork. It was awesome.

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Recipe: Swordfish with Spicy Tomato Salsa

When trying to be more healthy, the rolodex in my mind instantly turns to fish. Vegetarian is always goswordfishod, of course, but fish has additional nutritional benefits that always end up winning out.

I decided to try something that had its roots in some traditional flavors, but mixed up just enough to create something unique.

The recipe is very simple too.  It’s a swordfish steak, marinated in lime juice.  If you don’t like swordfish, you could probably use any firm, white fish such as haddock. If you don’t like fish, chicken would be your best alternative, but that also makes it a completely different dish. :) On a second run through of the recipe, I tried swapping the lime juice marinade for balsamic vinegar. The result was pretty good, but the lime juice imparted a better flavor.

Which makes sense, because the salsa on top of the fish has lime juice. I’m not sure if “salsa” is the best name for it – it carries implications that don’t match what this is. “Salad” doesn’t work either, for the same reason.  But, “salsa” was the closest, so I’m sticking with that.

It has both cooked red onion, and raw – cooked for sweetness, raw for the relatively mild but pungent onion flavor. I also used both a red and a green jalapeno – one with the seeds for spiciness, one with no seeds just for the flavor.

All of this is served on a bed of green beans. I picked up a bag of frozen haricots verts, dropped them in a saute pan with 1/4 cup water, let them steam for 4 minutes or so, then let the water evaporate.  Drizzling on some olive oil, I let the outsides crisp up and caramelize a bit, before sprinkling with salt and pepper.

The detailed recipe for the swordfish follows.

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Recipe: Chili Lime Shrimp with Fettuccine Alfredo

Last night I wanted to cook seafood. I was in the mood for it. And it started off simple enough: shrimp, in a cream sauce, with peas, maybe some ham or bacon, and tossed with fettuccine. As I thought about it, though, I decided I wanted something with a bit more kick. Something spicy would go great with something creamy, because the cream would cool off the spice.

And so I ended up with this idea. The shrimp are cooked scampi-style, and the fettuccine is your classic alfredo style, but tweaked a bit to cut out some fat and calories. It’s important that the pasta not be drenched in the sauce — you just want it lightly coated with the creamy sauce to give you that hint of cool, tangy balance against the hot shrimp. I ended up taking it too far the other way, and the pasta was a bit dry. So I will probably make more sauce next time.

But apart from that, I’m happy that the result was very close to what I had imagined.

This recipe serves 1.
Cook time, about 30 minutes.

4 raw shrimp, about 10-15 ct size, rinsed and shelled but with tails still on.
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 jalapeno, minced as finely as you can get it. If you want it spicy, keep the seeds and membranes.
1/4 red onion, minced as finely as you can get it
4 cloves garlic, minced as finely as you can get it
1 lime
8oz fresh fettuccine
1 cup 2% milk
2 tbsp low fat cream cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt & freshly ground black pepper

1. We want to do everything except cook the shrimp, so this is all basically prep leading up to that. So, first, put a large pot filled with water over high heat. Cover and bring up to a boil.
2. While you’re waiting for that, melt the butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium heat. Once the froth dies down a bit, add the olive oil, jalepeno and red onion. Stir occasionally, letting it saute gently.
3. While that’s cooking, place a small saucepan over low heat and add the milk and cream cheese. As it warms, stir so that the cream cheese dissolves. It will become rich and creamy as it does so. Once the sauce is smooth, stir in the parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
4. By this point, your water is probably boiling. (If not, wait until it does so.) Drop the fresh pasta in the water — since it’s fresh, it will only take a couple of minutes to cook, so don’t wander off. When it’s done, turn off the heat, drain the pasta, and put it back into the pot. Pour the alfredo sauce over the pasta and toss to coat. Put the lid back on so that it will stay warm while you finish the shrimp.
5. Now all the prep is done, so we can turn our attention to the shrimp. Turn the heat up to high on the jalepeno and onions. Push them out to the edges of the pan so that you have a clean spot in the middle with just butter & olive oil to cook the shrimp.
6. Lightly salt and pepper one side of the shrimp, and lay that side down in the hot pan. Now lightly salt and pepper the other side. Cook for a minute. Add the finely chopped garlic, and turn the shrimp over. Cook for another couple of minutes until bright pink and opaque.
7. Finish it up by squirting the juice of the lime over the shrimp, using a fork to help you get all the juice out. Toss to mix the juice, shrimp, garlic and jalepeno-onion all together.
8. Put a small pile of the fettuccine on a plate (there will be a lot leftover), and rest the four shrimp against the pile. Sprinkle with some of the garlic-jalepeno mixture. Serve with bread if desired. Enjoy!