Archive | January, 2012

Rustic Seafood Stew

15 Jan

There are few things more satisfying than a hearty soup or stew on a cold winter day.  Soups are the ideal forum for an array of vegetables to join together and mingle in harmony.  They lend themselves particularly well to vegetables that have seen better days.  With soup, technique is rarely important.  Chop each vegetable into whatever shape and size your heart desires, throw into a pot with some water, heat, and season to taste with salt, herbs, and other seasonings.  I speak from experience when I say that soups are one of the few dishes that even a strict recipe-follower feels comfortable concocting on a whim.

When you combine the ease of making a stew with seemingly gourmet ingredients, the result is a no-fuss meal that is perfect for easy entertaining.  I discovered this rustic seafood stew over the holidays while flipping through a Bon Appetit magazine.  Cioppino is the name given to an Italian-American fish stew that originated in San Fransisco.  Typically served with crusty bread, the stew combines shrimp, mussels, squid and fish in a rich tomato-wine broth.

The combination of flavours was absolute perfection.  It was so tasty that I’m at a loss for descriptive words!  Without a doubt, this recipe makes it onto my list of all-time favourite dishes.

Cioppino. The photo doesn't do the dish justice-- I was too eager to dive in.


Cioppino aka Rustic Seafood Stew (from Bon Appetit magazine)

1 teaspoon fennel seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small (or 1/2 large) fennel bulb, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, juices reserved
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
8-ounce (250 ml) bottle clam juice
1 pound skinless haddock or cod, cut into 1″ pieces
1 pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1 pound large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined, or frozen king crab legs, thawed
1 pound cleaned squid, thawed if frozen, bodies cut into 1/2″ rings, tentacles left whole
Country-style bread

  1. Toast fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Finely grind in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle; set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic, bay leaves, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion and fennel are soft, about 12 minutes.
  3. Stir in ground fennel seeds, tomatoes with juices, wine, clam juice, and 1 cup water. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring often, until flavors meld, about 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in fish, mussels, and shrimp and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add squid, cover, and cook until mussels open and seafood is cooked through, about 5 minutes (discard mussels that do not open). Serve with bread.

Makes 8 servings.  Per serving: 272 kcal, 8.5 g fat, 1.8 g fibre, 946 mg sodium.

Salad Dressing: Friend or Foe?

6 Jan

Happy New Year!

With a new year comes resolutions.  For many, New Year’s resolutions revolve around food: to eat better, to lose weight, to eat fewer sweets, etc etc.  Unfortunately, many of these resolutions end in failure– 78%, to be precise (according to the wise Wikipedia).  I’m certainly no expert in goal-setting, but what I do know is that successful goals need to be “SMART“: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.  As an example, instead of aiming to simply “eat better”, one should resolve to fill 50% of their dinner plate with vegetables daily and eat a salad for lunch at least 3 times a week.  If you’re not a fan of salads, this goal might not be realistic– the “R” in SMART– so back to the drawing board you must go to re-think your goal.  In addition, resolutions are more sustainable when shared, so tell your friends and make it public.  You’ll be held more accountable!

If your resolution happens to be related to healthy eating, salads are a great way to down several servings of vegetables in one sitting.  As a bonus, they tend to be lower in calories… if you know what to look for.  Too often, restaurant or take-0ut salads are loaded with toppings that will hurt rather than help your waistline: excessive amounts of cheese, seeds, nuts, dried fruit, and high-fat dressings.  All things that are healthy in moderation but can add up if you’re not paying attention.

Low-fat salad dressings are a great way to keep your salad calories in check.  Many of the store bought dressings are good in a pinch but contain vegetable gums and other foreign ingredients to mimic the mouthfeel of a higher-fat dressing.  They also tend to be higher in sugar and salt than their full-fat counterparts.  Get into the habit of making your own salad dressing.  It’s easy, healthier, and you’ll know exactly what you’re putting into your mouth.

If you absolutely must, Newman's Own "Light" Dressings are a decent choice from a minimal-foreign-ingredient perspective. But not from a sodium standpoint.

For a basic vinaigrette, you’ll need oil and vinegar, a touch of sugar (honey works well), and a bit of dijon mustard to help emulsify the dressing.  For added flavour, throw in some aromatics like dried oregano and freshly ground pepper (quick and easy) or minced garlic/shallots/fresh herbs (slightly more time consuming but well worth the effort).  A chef’s ratio is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar but I prefer to use much less oil to keep the calories in check.  A great trick I’ve learned is to substitute part of the oil with frozen fruit juice concentrate.  Head to head, one tablespoon of oil contains 120 calories while a tablespoon of fruit juice concentrate (think apple or orange) contains 30 calories.  For more tips on making your own salad dressing, check out this humourous yet informative blog written by a real food writer.

Goodbye salad sabotage!

Tossed Salad with Apple Cider Vinaigrette


Low-Fat Apple Cider Vinaigrette
(from Rose Reisman’s Spinach Salad with Cinnamon Almonds, Strawberries, and Goat Cheese)

Fruit juice concentrate is surprisingly scoopable in its frozen state.  Keep a container in the freezer and grab a spoonful as needed.  The frozen concentrate tends to melt quickly but you can microwave it for 10 to 20 seconds if you are using it right away.

1-1/2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp apple juice concentrate
1 tsp brown sugar (can be omitted– the dressing is fairly sweet as is)
2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

Makes 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup).  Per 1 tablespoon serving: 44 kcal, 3.5 g fat, 15 mg sodium.