Summer Pasta Salad

One of my favorite things about cooking in the summertime is that a meals that are simple and light are what naturally appeals to me, anyways.  This is a dish I threw together to basically use up some ingredients in my pantry and fridge and it ended up being SO yummy. 

What you’ll need: whole wheat pasta, asparagus, shrimp, garlic a crumbly cheese like feta or goat, white wine and olive oil.  You could probably sub in chicken for the shrimp if you don’t like seafood or can’t eat it.  Optional: green onion.

Cook the pasta per directions, using 2 oz per person.  (If you don’t have a small scale you can keep on the counter, I highly recommend getting one like this!  You can buy a fancier one if you want to, but you don’t need to.)  Make sure it’s whole wheat pasta – the sugar rush you get from white pasta just isn’t worth it.  I made enough for four servings in the instructions/photos below.

While the pasta is boiling, cook the asparagus in a little bit of olive oil and minced garlic – you want them to still be crunchy, so aim for al dente.  Once they’re almost done (5 minutes?), add the shrimp and any other extras – I added green onions just because I had them on hand.

Once the shrimp turns pink, it’s time to get sauce-y.  Scoop the shrimp + asparagus mixture out of the pan, and set aside.  Turn the heat down to a low simmer and add 1/2 cup of a dry white wine to the pan, scraping the pan as you go.  Let this simmer for just a few minutes to thicken.

Remember, always cook with a wine that you’d drink!  No pouring the cheapo bad stuff in – you’ll taste the difference.  (If you’re planning on having a wine with dinner, even better if you cook with that wine – perfect compliment.)  **If you don’t want to cook with wine, you should read another blog… you could try chicken stock or a little bit of apple juice spiked with lemon juice to cut the sweetness.  Although, I have honestly no idea what that will taste like… let me know if you try it!

I used Chateau St. Jean Fume Blanc from my Sonoma County trip… a favorite!

Once the sauce has simmered, toss together with cooked veggies + shrimp, then sprinkle on cheese.

This meal pretty much begs to be eaten outside a pretty spring (or summer) evening.  And that is exactly what I did!  Also, you can eat this hot or cold.  I actually liked it better the next day when I had it for lunch and ate it cold.  The sauce settles in a little more, and it’s yummy and refreshing!

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Oh you want the stats, eh?  Well, here they are to the best of my knowledge.  I’ve tried to reconstruct how much I used of each item, and entered that into the calorie counter here
For four servings: 400 calories per serving, 11g fat, 5g fiber, 455mg sodium, 23g protein.
8 oz whole wheat pasta
8 oz shrimp
1 T olive oil
1/2 bunch asparagus (or as much as you’d like)
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 cup white wine
4 oz feta

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Just One Thing

A few years ago, we were hosting an old friend and her new boyfriend for dinner.  Her boyfriend was asking me about my line of work, and asked me if I had to give just one recommendation or one tip to someone who wanted to make a drastic lifestyle change what would it be.  Wow.  I racked my brain to try and think of what one and only tip I would recommend to someone.  I know I didn’t come up with an impressive answer then, but today, with a few more years and having worked with a few hundred more people, I think I know what the answer is.  Are you ready?

Cook.

Yup!  That’s my one word answer: cook.  Obviously, there list of lifestyle changes people could make to improve their health or achieve wellness goals is a long one (and I already have issues with brevity, as you may have noticed from many posts), and of course there are many ways to cook that are, well, less than healthy.  But I can tell you with certainty, that every meal you eat away from your home impacts your health. 

And no, I’m not just talking about fast food.  Yes, you get major kudos if you haven’t driven through a drive-thru in decades.  But don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because a menu offers a “Guiltless Gourmet” or has a white tablecloth that it’s a good for you choice.  (It may be a better for you choice, but not necessarily a good for you choice.  An important distinction.)

Before you start thinking I’m here to ruin all your fun, I’ll be the first to confess I love a good meal out.  I love it when someone else does the dishes and the cooking, and I love the socializing with friends and family over a delicious meal.  But I try to recognize that even the grilled chicken salad at my favorite local restaurant is going to be a more indulgent choice than most anything I’d make at home. 

For starters, portion sizes are way too big.  That’s easily contended with: split your entree in half, and bring the rest home.

But the trickier part is all the extras that are served up with our meals, most notably sodium.  Even some of the “guiltless” choices on a menu will have a day and half’s worth of sodium, and some restaurant salads contain more calories than a burger and fries.  Having calorie information on menus (by 2014) is going to go a long way in helping us make better restaurant choices, but until then, sometimes it’s a complete guessing game!

This brings me back to cooking.  If you value your health, you need to know what goes into the preparation of your meal and with the exception of very few resaurants, there’s no way to be sure of that except to cook at home.

Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.  To keep it both simple and quick, keep your meal simple.  I love to cook and use new recipes, but on busy nights I use this formula: one protein, two veggies, one starch.  Planning what we’ll have at the beginning of the week ensures I have ingredients on hand, and using short cuts like frozen vegetables and qiuck cooking rice puts dinner on the table quickly.

I started this particular section of my blog because I really wanted to demonsrate that healthy eating didn’t have to be boring, nor did it have to be difficult.  I’m fortunate that I enjoy cooking, but really what drove me to learn how to do it was simply wanting to be healthier.  When I come across a recipe with a cooking technique I don’t know, I go search youtube videos to find someone to show me how to do it.  I’ve learned everything from roasting a chicken to searing tuna from youtube. 

I also understand that if you live by yourself, it often feels like more of a hassle to cook and clean up for one than it’s worth.  I understand that – my husband works a lot of night shifts as a emergency medicine intern and I can tell you exactly what I feel like having for dinner when he’s not home:

Cereal!  The dinner of champions.  And hey, sometimes I do.  You know what?  I’ve even had popcorn for dinner before. 

But I notice that when I don’t have a “real meal” I’m more inclined to graze thoughout the rest of the night.  And besides, I finally realized if I value my husband enough to cook him a healthy meal (most) nights, then I should probably extend the same courtesy to myself.

So I thought I’d demonstrate a little experiment here.  How much time and how much effort does it take to make a home-cooked meal for one?

Cooking Start Time: 5:57 PM.  Meal plan: brussel sprouts w/ 1 piece of bacon, cooked carrots, grilled tilapia + grilled pineapple.

Time completed: 6:07 PM.  Ten minutes!  Let’s Eat!

Ok, I know that brussel sprouts won’t be the first thing many of you are inclined to cook…   Not bad for ten minutes worth of work. 
(If you’re counting, that entire meal is 400 calories, 375 mg sodium, 12g fat, 25g protein.)

And, just for “extra-credit” I thought I’d check how long it took me to clean up (since honestly that is MY number #1 reason to want to go out to eat!)  I set my timer for ten minutes…

And it only took seven!  (Dishes in dishwasher, wash pans, wipe off counter tops + clean stove, put away ingredients.)

Start small, and make gradual changes.  If you’re currently eating every meal out, aim for cooking just one or two nights at home.  If you’re eating every every meal out, start with breakfast or lunch – much easier than dinner, especially if you make ahead.  Lifestyle change sounds daunting, but it’s really all about small gradual changes.  Take small steps towards regular at home meals and your health will reap the benefits.

Cooking With Wine: Steak and Couscous Salad

What could possibly be better than going on a tour of wine country with four of your best friends?  How about if those four friends also have to be phenomenal cooks?

I just got back from a trip to Sonoma with my college girlfriends, and while vineyards were certainly the high point of our trip, one of my other favorite parts of the trip was gathering with my friends in a beautiful kitchen every night and taking turns cooking and sharing our joy of food with each other.

4 1 10 Wine Country 142Wine Country Kitchen, Best Friend Cooks.

We were there for 3 nights, so we shared cooking duties – each of taking on appetizers, side dishes, main entrees, and of course, dessert.  Many of the meals were as healthy as they were delicious, so I thought I’d share them here.

Our first night there, Jess was in charge of the main entree.  Her meal was a variation of a recipe she’d come across in Real Simple, and it was exactly that – but very delicious too!  She grilled both London broil and chicken (catering to our various preferences) and cooked couscous on the stove.

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She also caramelized onions, tossed with peanuts.  The onions/pine nuts were tossed with spinach, and an olive oil / balsamic mix and then the steak and couscous were placed on top.

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Simple, but delicious, and we all loved it.  (Paired with the Friends Red from Preston Vineyards.)

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A few notes about couscous if you’ve never tried it… it’s definitely a love/hate kind of food.  It’s fluffy, and a little bit like orzo or rice.  It’s a whole grain, which means it’s a great source of fiber, b vitamins, niacin and selenium.  It’s about calorically equivalent to rice.

(Picture does not represent the following… my portions were a little larger today!  But here are some stats: 3 oz steak, ¼ cup cooked couscous, 1 cup spinach with a 1T:1T oil/vinegar mix = 345 cals, 33g protein, 17g fat (3.5 sat), 10 g carbs.  Lots of yum.)

Quiero Fajitas.

Fajitas!  Fajitas fajitas fajitas.  How have I been going on and on about my food for so long and not talked about fajitas yet?  This is an every few weeks standard in our house because: 1) it’s easy. 2) it’s fast. 3) it’s healthy.  Win, win, win.  Also, living in North Carolina, you really can’t escape falling in love with Mexican food.  When you make Mexican at home though, you don’t have to do battle with the chips basket!

You can do any combination of protein and veggies that you want, and it’s basically just a matter of chopping and heating.  I’ll give you the run down of what I made the other night, but honestly, you could open your fridge and make these tonight with what you have on hand.

(I’ll show you the sauce I made too, but you can just use olive oil, some chili powder and garlic to flavor it.)

Okay, enough talk.  Let’s HEAT!

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Here’s the cast and crew.  Some protein (chicken in this case), and veggies (peppers) and tortilla shells.

For the sauce: limes (or lime juice), Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco *Chipotle* sauce.  This a combo my friend Kate suggested a long time ago, and I’ve used it ever since to give my fajitas a smoky taste.

For those of you who like precision in the kitchen: the juice from 2 limes (~1/4 cup), 1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce and 1 Tbsp of the Chipotle sauce, depending on how much heat you want.

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Chop veggies up into 2-bite pieces.  I usually use peppers and onions.

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Kitchen hint!  To make clean up easier, I put a plastic grocery bag inside a bowl.  Throw all your cuttings in there, and when you’re done, just scoop up the bag and throw it out.  This will save you from having LOTS of clean up when you’re all done.  (Obviously you could compost it, too… I’m not there yet, but maybe YOU are!)

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Onwards!

Put your cut-up veggies off to the side, and get your protein out.  You will cook this first, but cutting it second prevents you from having to get a second cutting board out.  (Another kitchen tip, free from me to you!)

Cut the chicken (for whatever protein you are using) into 2-bite pieces as well.  Do ya’ll know what I mean by 2-bite pieces?  Hopefully that’s self-explanatory, but you know, a piece you could eat in… 2 bites!  (This makes it easier to eat AND cook.)

Add some olive oil to a medium-heat pan.  For fajitas for 2, I use 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Add the chicken to the pan, and cook it to almost finished.

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Add the vegetables, and cook to the texture you want.  (I like ‘em crispy.)

By the way, you probably want a bigger pan than what I used here.

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Add the sauce that you mixed up earlier.

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While the sauce simmers with the fajita mixings, put tortillas on a plate with paper towels and a little sprinkle of water.  Microwave for 30 seconds.

Scoop the fajita mixings into a bowl.  Serve with sour cream, salsa or whatever you want!

And then… it’s time to EAT!  “Vamos a comer!”

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(Directions for homemade tortilla chips to be forthcoming!)

Chai Tea… And Then Some

Ever since my first job as a barista at a canal side coffee shop, I’ve been kind of obsessed with chai tea lattes.  I made them with various mixes and eventually graduated to buying bags of chai tea and just mixing it with hot milk.  Last year a friend of mine brought me back real Chai from India and I was smitten.  It was a whole new flavor experience…. Kind of like going from Boone’s Farm to a Cakebread Chardonnay.  (Sorry, any Boone’s fans out there…)

A few months ago, I posted a blog about my chai tea recipe and I was pretty psyched when I got a follow up comment from Ricardo from Yogic Chai.  He offered to send me some tea samples, and I said sure, cos who doesn’t love free things right?  I wouldn’t say I was skeptical, but I wasn’t expecting much more beyond my already delicious chai.

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Ya’ll.  There are different kinds of chai tea.  Did you know this?  I did not know this!

I took my first sip of coconut chai tea and thought …wow.  No bitter after taste.  Silky smooth.  I didn’t even need to add honey… (Which was good, because apparently my Southern to the bone hubby had used it up on biscuits the night before. )

The next one I tried was coconut chai.  COCONUT.  I’d be stretching a little bit to say that I felt like putting a tiny umbrella in my cup and kickin’ back on a beach… but it was pretty darn delicious and lovely.  (It ended up being my fave, in fact.)

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BUT ANYWAYS… the rest were all delicious too.  I even got to the point where I was just having the tea sans latte part.  I know that’s going to sound crazy to you veteran tea drinkers out there, but i really have never just liked straight up tea.  But, I’m a convert.  It can be done.

So now that I’m done gushing, go ahead and check out his site.  If you break each order down by the cup, you’ll be amazed at how affordable it is.  (Especially when I think about what I pay to go through a certain drive-through once a week and get my tea of the week latte.)

(And for the record and doing right by the FTC, Yogic Chai did not pay me any moola to promote their products.  Just tea.  And since it was delicious, I am passing the rec on to you.  Go, go get it.)

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Self-Portrait of Tea Time

Save 15% on your order at Yogic Chai using the code “meghan” if you shop by Wednesday, March 31st!

Don’t Get Crabby! Make These Cakes!

Ever since living in Baltimore, I have become enamored with crab cakes.  However, most of the time when you order them in a restaurant they tend to be more filler – mayo and bread – than actual delicious, good for you crab meat.

But, I’ve got good news for you: you can make them at home, they’re quite easy and they can be healthy and delicious.

(And by the way, if you can’t eat shellfish, you can buy imitation crab which is usually another white fish, like Alaskan Pollock.)

Assemble the ingredients: 1 pound lump crabmeat, 4 egg whites, 1 piece whole wheat bread, Old Bay Seasoning, olive oil.

Mash up the crab meat with a fork, breaking the pieces up.  The smaller they are, the easier your cakes will hold together – although I personally love crab cakes with bigger pieces!  So this is up to you.

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Add the 4 egg whites.

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Pulse 1 piece of whole wheat bread in a food processor or blender and add crumbs.  *You can also skip that step and use 1/2 cup of bread crumbs or panko.

Add in Old Bay seasoning.  This is a must! Ok, if you don’t have this on hand, you can add salt, pepper, a pinch of paprika, mustard and celery seed.  But really… if you’re going to make crab cakes, you should have Old Bay seasoning.

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Shape into patties.  The smaller they are, the easy they will be to flip in your skillet.  Using a pound of crab meat should make about 6-8 patties.

Add 1 Tbsp of olive oil to a hot pan, and add the crab cakes.  Cook on each side until golden brown.

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I love to serve these on a bed of green lettuce.  They are the perfect complement to greens!

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You can also serve them the old-fashioned way with tartar sauce, but try mixing in some greek yogurt to your mayo to cut down on the mayo.  Once you add in the pickle relish and a squeeze of lemon juice, you won’t pick up on the yogurt at all.

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Then, sit back and enjoy!  I like to pretend I’m sitting at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, about to get ready to go see the O’s play at Camden Yards!

megs and dad at camden Dad & Meg, Camden Yards, 2005

(Stats: I use 2 Tbsp of olive oil total, a Tbsp for each batch of 4.  That’s included in the stats.  Each patty is 100 calories, 4 g fat,  10 g carb, 6.5 g protein.)

Eggs In Ham Cups

 

My friend Heather sent me a link for making these egg cups, and forgive me because I lost the link.  I do remember that the recipe came from Gourmet magazine, but to be honest I didn’t follow it exactly, so I’ll just write out what I did. 

I wanted to make them because they were pretty, but fortunately for the person in my house who likes to eat food and not just take pictures of it… they were delicious.  They’re also a healthy, protein-friendly breakfast or brunch!

Assemble the ingredients.  You’ll need: thin sliced ham, mushrooms, eggs, sour cream, and optional cheese.

Heat oven to 350 and spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.

Place ham into muffin cups.  The slices of ham I had (Hormel) were pretty thick.  They weren’t as flexible as a thinner slice would be, and I had a little trouble getting them to conform to the muffin tin.  I’d recommend using a thin slice of ham. 

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In a pan, cook the mushrooms until they are tender.  I used a little bit of olive oil to sauté them, and it took about 8 minutes for them to be perfect.  (Have I mentioned how much I adore sautéed mushrooms?  I bet you didn’t know that about me.) 

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Remove them from heat and stir in 3 spoonfuls of sour cream.  (The original recipe called for crème fraiche but sour cream will do the trick, and will be a little bit lighter.) 

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Spoon the mushrooms into the ham cups.  If you want, add a little bit of cheese.  I used an aged cheddar and put in a cube no bigger than my pinky tip in each one and that was enough to give it some taste.

Crack an egg into each cup.  Note: I cracked the eggs into a bowl, one by one, and then poured them into the ham cup.  This seemed to keep things a little less messy.

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Bake them in the oven for 12-15 minutes.  You want to whites to set, but the yolk can still be a little bit runny.

Then the tricky part: getting them out.  I used two spoons, and kind of went around the edge to loosen them from the pan, then slowly lifted them.

The link I had showed these served with roasted asparagus which would be delicious.  We had a chicken sausage on hand I needed to cook, so that’s what I served them up with.  They were delish!  They look really impressive, but they’re actually quite easy to make and would be an ideal thing to make for a brunch with lots of people. 

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So good!  And don’t they look pretty?  I’m guessing you could make these and keep them in the fridge for a few days to reheat as needed.  We didn’t have any leftover, though. 

That says it all, doesn’t it?

Whole Wheat Pancakes

I LOVE me some breakfast foods and I’ve been on a serious mission to find a good whole wheat pancake recipe.  Most of the ones either had ingredients I don’t keep on hand (and didn’t want to get out of my pajamas to go get) or ended up tasting like cardboard.  I finally! finally! stuck upon a winner.  These are the whole package: good flavor, good texture, and easy to make.

I used this recipe from food blogger Natalie, and for once I didn’t make any tweaks.  So, even though it’s a bit of a cop out post, I’m just going to send you over to her blog.

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2 15 10 Broccoli and Cheese Soup 059Oops, I lied – I made one tweak.  I didn’t have blueberries, but I did have frozen cherries… so I tweaked the syrup.  How good do these look?

My batch made 12 pancakes, which I froze 2 at a time.  (‘Cept the first day when I ate 3… couldn’t resist them hot off the griddle!)  At 12 per batch, they were 122 calories each. 

And did I mention they are delicious?  Cos they are. 

(Thanks, Natalie!)

Appies, Italian Style

A few weeks ago, some friends gathered at our house for an Italian potluck dinner.  The plan was simple: everyone took one part of the menu and came up with an Italian-type dish.  Italian is one of the few cuisines I never cook … but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with some basic appetizers.  It turns out that Italian style appetizers are exactly that: basic.  The best ones are made with ingredients that are fresh, simple and delicious. 

While I’d highly recommend making these in the summer months (when tomatoes and basil will be in season, inexpensive and irresistible), I’ll post them now for your eating pleasure.  Just in case you can’t wait til June to get your hands on some brushetta.

My first appetizer was an antipasto plate.  This was insanely simple: meats, cheeses, and olives.  (I used an aged cheddar, pecorino romano, prosciutto and sopressata.)

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And, of course, when you think Italian appetizers, what do you think of?

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Bruschetta, anyone?

This is also very easy to make.  Prep by turning the oven on to 450 and making sure you have a rack on the very top.

Slice a thin baguette on an angle, about 1/2” thick.

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Brush each piece, using a pastry brush, with olive oil and then rub with garlic clove, before laying oil-side down on a cookie tray.

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Toast for 5-6 minutes, til golden brown.

Meanwhile, chop up tomatoes (plum or roma work best) and basil.  Toss together with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. 

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Once the bread comes out of the oven, top it with the tomato mixture. 

Then, eat, eat, eat!

Lastly, I had lots of tomatoes and basil leftover, so I did what any cheese-lovin soul would do…. made Caprese salad!

Again, very straightforward.  Pile up round slices of tomatoes, with a piece of basil, and a round slice of fresh mozzarella.

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Fresh Mozz is a MUST! 

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Once you pile up the stacks, drizzle them with balsamic vinegar and a little salt and pepper.  Although I’m not really a big tomato fan, I just love the way this salad looks.  Isn’t it beautiful?

While these were appetizers, you could certainly make a dinner out of them.   Had my friends not shown up with their goodies shortly after I finished assembling these, I think I might have!

Fish Tacos

This is a pretty sneaky fab meal.  It’s easy to put together, but it will impres.  The key to making it healthier is the way you bread and cook the fish.  Typically, fish tacos are heavily breaded and fried.  To make it healthier, the swaps are easy and basic: egg whites for the dredge, panko for the crust and minimal amounts of olive oil to pan-fry. 

Let’s get to it.

Start with a light flavored white fish – cod is ideal, but anything without any overpowering flavor will work. You’ll want to buy about 3-4 oz per person.  Cut your fish into 1×1 inch chunks and toss them into a ziploc bag.

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You can marinade them a number of different ways, but my favorite marinade comes from Guy Fieri (Food Network).  It does involve tequila, but you can leave that out if you don’t want your fish to have too much fun before you cook ’em.

Marinade (inspired by Guy Fieri):

  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 tsp of Tequila
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • generous pinch of salt + pepper

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Mix these together and then pour over the fish in the ziploc bag.  Let it chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

MEANWHILE….

Start prepping your tortillas.  I use my grill pan and just get them a little toasty.  You can also microwave them for a few (15-ish) seconds.  Cover them with a paper towel and sprinkle a bit of water on them.  You still want them fold-able like a taco, but this will just warm them up.

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Prepare any other toppings you want for your tacos.  I like to put out sour cream, guacamole, salsa, some chopped up cilantro and a cabbage slaw.  (I’m not going to give you the recipe of the one you’ll see pictured though, because it was no bueno.) 

Once the fish has marinated, it’s time to dredge and cook.  This goes quickly so have EVERYTHING else ready to go.  (Set the table, etc.)  Get a frying pan out and add about 1 Tbsp per serving of 3-4 oz of fish.  You can eyeball it – if you think you can get away with less, go for it.  You definitely should not need more than that. 

Get out 3 more plastic bags.  Fill one with flour, one with egg whites (or skim milk) and one with panko bread crumbs.

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If you’re not familiar with Panko, this is a Japanese type of bread crumb.  You can find it in the section with the other bread crumbs.  It’s super crunchy and tastes great, but is lower in calories than a traditional bread crumb.  It’ll give your fish a really crunchy coating even without deep frying.

Transfer the fish to the flour and shake.  To the egg whites and shake.  To the panko and shake.  Feel free to dance around a little bit while you’re shaking, it helps.  Trust me, I’m an expert.

Once you’ve done the last step, get your stove a-crankin.  Once it’s hot (oil starts popping), add your fish in.  Make sure to move the fish around and flip them – the key to do this with less oil is to have high heat and keep ‘em moving.  Once you feel them starting to firm up, sacrifice one and cut it open to check.  They should no longer have a sheen on the inside and should be kind of flakey.

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Once they are done, you are ready to eat!  Serve them up with the warm tortillas and toppings.  And, if you need something to do with all that leftover tequila, I just so happen to know the perfect beverage to use it up.

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Recap (Serving Size: 2 people, 2 tacos each)

6-8 oz of white fish, marinated in:

  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1 tsp of Tequila
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • generous pinch of salt + pepper
  • Tossed with:

    • 1/4 cup flour
    • 4 egg whites
    • 1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

    Pan-Fry in:

    • 1-2 Tbsp of Olive Oil (Less is more.  You can always add more as you go if you need to.)

    Serve with:

    • Warm tortillas (grill til crispy but still flexible or microwave for 15 seconds)
    • Sour Cream
    • Guacamole
    • Salsa
    • Cabbage Slaw
    • Margaritas

     

    (Calorie stats are going to vary depending on how much flour or panko you use, as well as any toppings and how many tortillas you have.  I found on average a 2-taco meal with a T of guac shared between the two was about 550 calories.)