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eat local challenge: drum roll, please

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By Jen White · June 7, 2013 · 0 Comments ·

I've been wanting to post this recipe since Paul and I dreamed it up years ago, when we first moved to town and started enjoying the local seafood...and the Eat Local Challenge month is the perfect time to cook it up again! Of course, since it's a sandwich (built on real, floury bread), you'll need to include the bread as one of your non-local foods for the day. But of course, buy the bread from a local baker! I got my French boule from the Thursday Mid-City farmer's market. It's rustic, but still a good all-purpose bread that makes great toast and sandwiches.  And if you don't want to include bread, just make the other components of the dish and eat them on a plate, sans bread, or over some cooked rice or grits.

This sandwich has several parts: a fruit salsa, for sweet & spicy flavor; caramelized onions, for richness; sauteed greens, for earthiness and color; and the fish, which you can season heavily or lightly, depending on your preference. I don't remember exactly what it was that caused Paul and me to put all of these things together, but it could have been trying to use everything we'd picked up at the farmer's market that day, or it could have been the influence of all the great restaurants we'd been visiting. Our tastebuds were not okay with the same old, run of the mill sandwich. It had to be elevated. ELEVATED, baby!

A panful of onions becomes...</p>

...this! And delicious.

Four handfuls of spinach becomes this, in seconds flat!

Cooking fillets in a pan with butter and Cajun seasoning like this is, essentially, bronzing them.  Look for a deep golden color and just the slightest hint of a "crust" of spices on the outer surface.


the drum roll

for the salsa:

  • 2 large peaches or nectarines
  • 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar (I used Steen's Cane vinegar)
  • drizzle of pecan or olive oil
  • salt to taste

to complete:

  • 3 medium white or red onions, or a combination
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or oil of choice, divided
  • 4 large handfuls fresh baby spinach (or kale)
  • 2 fresh black drum fillets
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning blend, such as Tony Cachere's (optional)
  • 4 slices hearty bread or French bread, toasted
  1. First, make the salsa: peel and dice the nectarines or peaches and place them in a small bowl.  Add the jalapeno, bell pepper, oil, vinegar, and salt. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate to blend the flavors.  
  2. Halve and slice the onions thinly. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium high heat, then add the onions and a pinch of salt.  Stir until the onions become translucent, then reduce the heat to very low and continue cooking until the onions have shrunk down quite a bit and are golden brown and sweet-smelling, about 30 minutes.
  3. When the onions have about 10 minutes left to go, heat another medium skillet over medium-high heat, and melt one tablespoon of butter in it.  Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and stir until the spinach is bright green and wilted, about 4 minutes. Squeeze the excess liquid from the spinach by pressing a spatula against it on the side of the pan. Set aside.
  4. Season the fish fillets on both sides with Cajun or Creole seasoning if using, or with salt and pepper if not.  Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in it.  Add the fillets and cook until done, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side, depending on thickness.  
  5. To assemble the sandwiches, place a portion (half or a little less than half) of the onions on one slice of bread (the juicyness of the onions will also act like a spread).  Top the onions with one of the fish fillets.  On another slice of bread, layer half the spinach, then a generous scoop of fruit salsa.  Repeat with the other two slices of bread.  Top the fruit salsa bread with the fish bread, and smash together and eat it all up!

makes 2 generous servings

in the beantime: red bean huevos rancheros

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By Jen White · August 17, 2012 · 0 Comments ·

The beantime is, I've decided, that stretch of days after making a giant pot of red beans during which this debate is always on your mind: Do I freeze them? Keep eating bowls of beans and rice? Or think of some interesting things to do with them?  Usually, in our house, we freeze a portion and keep eating red beans at every meal, in some form.  Burritos made from red beans, rice, and cheese, or a quesadilla with red beans, cilantro, and pepper jack are two common things we use them for, but huevos rancheros is undoubtedly my favorite. Plus you can eat it any old time of day!  It's a super-easy dish to make, and I've got a couple lil' twists to share.

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on sustainability, and garden-friendly falafel

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By Jen White · August 14, 2011 · 0 Comments ·

I've been thinking a lot about sustainable kitchen practices, by which I mean not just the foods we're eating and cooking, but how we're shopping, planning (or not), growing, and storing.  For years, I've been a big believer in planning an entire week's meals as a way of saving money.  But sometimes I think that holding too fast to a planned menu can actually cause food waste; if you purchase what you imagine to be a week's worth of food at one time, but you end up not needing that much, what do you do with the excess? And what happens if the meals you planned to make don't store well once prepared?  I don't have easy solutions to these questions, other than trial and error, and an idea that's new to me: maybe a little less planning is a better way to go.

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gazpacho salsa, and grooming your vegetables

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By Jen White · July 3, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

I'm a lucky girl. Lynn Becnel, my co-worker and an excellent cook, often shares fresh lemons from her trees, rosemary and basil from her garden, and even the bounty that others have brought to her from their gardens.  Recently, I left work with bags of okra, squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers she'd brought from a gardner friend with a bumper crop.  And when I see fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and it's hotter than hades outside, I think gazpacho.  This recipe started out as soup, but when I tasted the vegetables, before adding the tomato juice that would become the "broth," I stopped tinkering.  It was good.  It tasted like a handful of garden--who was I to cover up all that gorgeous flavor?  So gazpacho salsa was born.

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naughty but nice: fried green tomato caprese

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By Jen White · June 14, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

I don't know why I had to take one of the healthiest appetizer/salad/snack concoctions on the planet and fry it, but I'd do it again.  In a heartbeat.

See those white edges?  That's fried mozzarella oozing out of the breading, because I breaded and fried the cheese, too.  I've already decided that I'm going to be grounded for the week and I must eat nothing but wheat bread and carrots until I understand the consequences of my actions.

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in need of comfort: pan-fried catfish with black-eyed pea salsa

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By Jen White · May 29, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

I have to be honest:  I'm a little down these days. It's normally a great time to be in this wonderful city--festivals, sno-balls, seafood everywhere you look--and of course, that's the reason for the blues.  The seafood.  No fried oyster po-boys, no raw oysters in some spots.  Fishing folk shuttling executives out to the rigs instead of pulling in hundreds of pounds of shrimp.  It's a crying shame.

I haven't even felt much like cooking lately, though I've been desperate to eat something homey and comforting.  I just couldn't think of what that was.  So yesterday I started scribbling, doodling, trying to get down to the basics of what would make me feel better, and I came up with one of my favorite childhood meals:  fish sticks, peas, and mac and cheese.  Have you ever had this, or something like it?  With a little ketchup on the plate, it looks beautiful, in a Crayola kind of way:  crunchy golden fish sticks, a big splotch of red ketchup, bright green peas (cooked from frozen in nothing more than salted water), and orangy-yellow mac and cheese from the blue box.  Every time my mom pulled the ingredients out for this feast, I got so excited.  It was happiness in one of its purest forms:  looking forward to something.  Plus, I liked the challenge of getting one of those straight macaroni on each of my four fork tines before I took a bite. 

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for love of shrimp

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By Jen White · May 10, 2010 · 0 Comments ·

The oil spill outlook has got us all worried these days.  How will our fishing families adapt?  How will the restaurant industry fare?  It's still too soon to tell.  But plenty of fresh, local seafood is still available right now, at the west bank wharf, in supermarkets, and at farmer's markets.  Paul went last Saturday to the Crescent City Farmer's Market downtown and bought several pounds of gorgeous, perfect shrimp from Clara Gerica of Gerica Seafood.  Her husband, Pete, shrimps in Lake Pontchartrain and sends his evening catch to market with Clara, who says their lake shrimping is unaffected at this point.  So to celebrate that fact, and to celebrate shrimp in general, I concocted a tapas-style menu of two iconic recipes (barbecued shrimp; shrimp and grits (pictured at left)) and one newcomer (the shrimp taco).

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