Beer-battered perch

Delicious as the may be, it’s a wonder that people eat perch. They are notorious for swallowing the hook; they have sharp, spiny fins that will slice your hand open when you try to release them from said hook; and you have to catch dozens of them to get a decent meal out of it. Not to mention how tedious they must be to filet. I, myself, have no firsthand knowledge of that last part, since, fishing for them as a child during summers on the St. Lawrence river, I actually didn’t think they were edible. We’d catch them, yell for our dad or uncle to come release them and pray they wouldn’t come floating back up to the surface.

Having since moved to the midwest, I’ve now experienced them in all of their golden-fried glory. Perch are Dave’s favorite—so imagine his delight when we stumbled across them a few weekends ago at the Green City Market. An undeniable splurge at 17 bucks a pound, but like I said, it can’t be easy to butcher those suckers.

So it was a dinner of beer-battered perch sliders with homemade tartar sauce, washed down with some of our city’s finest: Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale.

Beer-battered perch

You’ll need:

1 lb of perch filets

1 12-oz can of beer

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp salt

Extra flour for dredging

Vegetable oil for frying

Prepare beer batter by mixing beer, flour and salt.

Heat oil to 375 degrees.

Near the stove, dredge each filet in flour and dip in batter. Transfer immediately to the frying oil, slowly lowering each piece into the oil with tongs. Doing this slowly gives the batter time to solidify before you release the piece into the oil, so it doesn’t stick to the bottom or sides of the pan. Fry in batches, each batch for about 2-4 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove and let drain on paper towels.

Prepare tarter sauce by mixing 1 cup of mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons of chopped sweet pickles, 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic and the juice from half of a lemon.

These are A-MAZ-ING as sliders made with soft dinner rolls slathered in tarted sauce. Best of all—no fishing required.

Tacos never looked so good

No one ever said tacos were sophisticated. Nonetheless, once the suburban soccer mom’s festive alternative to sloppy joes (ground beef and Old El Paso taco kits anyone?), they’ve become a more en vogue meal option. Exhibit A: the hipster-infested patio of Big Star on a summer evening.

The humble taco: delicious, it is, pretty it’s not.

So what’s an aesthetically-obsessed hostess to do? Why, stacked tacos, my dear. Admittedly a smidge over-the-top, they’re a manifestation of my feelings of domestic inadaquacy (spurred by complaints about one too many oven-baked chicken breast dinners).

But, they’re easier than they look, and as delicious as ever. Mine were a little heavy-handed, ingredient-wise—if I had to recommend ditching one ingredient, it would probably be the refried black beans (although delicious, they weighed the dish down a bit)

Baja shrimp and chorizo “stacked” tacos

Makes 8-10 soft tacos

You’ll need:

1/2 lb of uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

6 oz chorizo

1 can of refried black beans

1 poblano pepper, diced

1/2 yellow onion, diced

2 cups shredded cabbage

1/2 cup corn

2-3 avocados, sliced

2 tomatoes, diced

1 cup queso fresco, crumbled

small flour tortillas

1 Solo cup, with the bottom cut out

Chipotle sauce for cabbage and to garnish

1/2 chipotle pepper with sauce (canned)

1 cup mayonnaise

First, cut all the veggies as instructed and set aside. Then make your chipotle sauce by blending half a chipotle pepper in its sauce (less if you can’t handle spice) with the mayo. Mix a desired about in with the cabbage and corn and put the rest in a piping bag (or sandwich baggie with the corner snipped) to garnish.

Cook the peppers and onions with a little butter or olive oil over medium heat until tender. Add crumbled chorizo to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes until cooked through. Add shrimp and cook for a few minutes until pink. Careful not to overcook! Remove from heat and set aside.

Before prepping, heat the refried beans (if you’re using them) and the tortillas a bit.

For assembly, make sure you’ve cut enough off the bottom of your solo cup to be able to easily stack the ingredients inside. I greased the inside of my cup with butter so the ingredients wouldn’t get stuck or fall apart when lifting the cup.

The rule of thumb is to stack the heavier and more sturdy ingredients first. Set your plate out, lay a tortilla on top, and place the solo cup, bottom up, in the middle of the tortilla. I started by spreading a layer of refried black beans at the bottom of the cup. I then arranged the avocado slices in a neat, even layer. Then the tomatoes, onions and peppers, cabbage/corn salad mixture, and finally the shrimp/chorizo/onion/pepper mixture. Slowly lift the cup off the plate. Garnish with crumbled cheese and chipotle sauce.

You’ll need to serve these guys with a few more tortillas—based on Dave’s taste test, each “stack” will make about three small tacos.

¡Viva el taco bonito!

Chow, Bella part 1: What to eat in Portofino

What better way to get back to blogging than to reminisce about the food on our Italian honeymoon. Part 1: Portofino.

I could describe every meal in glorious, pesto-drenched detail. Ok, let’s be real, no I can’t. That ship sailed after one too many glasses of vino.

Regardless, that would do you no good—you’d just be terribly hungry and painfully jealous.

Instead, being the fantastic food-obsessed tourist that I am, I sleuthed out and sampled nearly every local delicacy and regional specialty for your culinary education. So, should you ever find yourself in the Ligurian region—or Tuscany, Rome or Amalfi Coast  for that matter—you’ll know exactly how to order for maximum impact.

What to eat in Portofino (Liguria)


When Dave heard we were going to the birthplace of pesto, his eyes lit up like a kid on christmas. In Liguria, the stuff is everywhere. Red sauce? What red sauce? It’s all about basil, olive oil, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano and pine nuts muddled to perfection. Nearly every shop in the area sells jars of pesto, so if you’re looking for a gift or souvenir for your favorite foodie, there’s not much better in terms of price, portability and authenticity.

Trofie pasta

After describing his recommendation of trofie pasta (short, doughy, hand-formed twists), the waiter didn’t have to twist our arms to get us to order it. While best fresh, you can find it dried alongside the aforementioned pesto jars throughout the region. I even found it in our local grocery store here in Chicago.


I think I ate my weight in focaccia while in Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure and Cinque Terre. Onion, rosemary, potato, sun-dried tomato, parmesan—I sampled them ALL. It’s doughy, dense, greasy and delicious, and I gladly ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


You can’t visit the Italian Riviera or Amalfi coast without eating seafood. And if you don’t eat seafood, you’ll be eating a lot of pizza and focaccia (there are worse fates, I suppose). In Italian fishing regions, they let their fruits of the sea shine with very simple preparations. Think olive oil, salt, and roasted vegetables. Another common preparation is to bake a whole fish under a mound of sea salt, which makes for a juicy, melt in your mouth meal. The variety is nearly endless, so don’t expect me to recall the types of fish. Suffice to say every fish dish I had was tender, flavorful and impossibly fresh.

Stay tuned for more of my Italian food diary. Next up, Tuscany.

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Cooking for cavemen

Geico commercials don’t give cavemen enough credit. Eating like one is, in fact, not so easy.

That’s what I’ve learned cooking for Dave, who is on the Paleo diet, otherwise known as my worst nightmare: No carbs. No cheese. No butter. No salt. No diet coke. No alcohol. Sounds like a living hell, if you ask me.

The concept is that the healthiest diet involves eating what early man ate during the Paleolithic era (and before the agricultural revolution). That means absolutely no grains (bread, rice, quinoa, pasta, etc.), no dairy and absolutely nothing processed or sugary. Basically you can only eat “healthy veggies” (corn, potatoes, yams, root veggies and legumes are strictly verboten), lean meats and fish, fruits and water. Herbs, olive oil and spices are also allowed.

Dave’s attempting 30 days of this torture, and I am faced with my biggest culinary challenge yet: cooking without butter, salt or cheese. So I participated in another Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 as part of my first Paleo test. I am surprised to say the result was actually edible—dare I say appetizing.

I made two versions of one dish—one paleo, one not. Before I share insights from the taste test, take a gander at the recipes:

PaleoFISHic (Mahi Mahi with red pepper-avocado salsa and spicy cauliflower puree)

You’ll need:

2, 6-oz Mahi Mahi filets

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Lime for squeezing


1 tablespoons olive oil

1 half avocado, cubed

1 red bell pepper, minced

1 quarter of one white or yellow onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 half of one jalapeno, minced

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Spicy cauliflower:

2 cups cauliflower florets, steamed

1 chipotle pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix the salsa ingredients together, being careful not to mush the avocado. Set aside or refrigerate for later.

Steam or boil the cauliflower until soft. Puree in a food processor along with remaining spicy cauliflower ingredients. Set aside.

Rub fish filets with the olive oil and spices and marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or more. Heat an olive-oil-drizzled pan on medium heat. Cook marinated fish filets for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until the fish becomes flaky.

Serve the fish on a bed of cauliflower, topped with salsa. Finish with a squeeze of lime.

“Hell no, we won’t Paleo!” Mahi

You’ll need:

2, 6-oz Mahi Mahi filets

1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

lime for squeezing


1 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup black beans

1/2 red bell pepper, minced

1/2 cup corn

1 quarter of one white or yellow onion, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon cilantro, minced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Mexi-mashed potatoes:

6 red potatoes, boiled

1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons butter

salt to taste

Mix the salsa ingredients together. Set aside or refrigerate for later.

Mash the boiled potatoes, skins and all, and mix in additional Mexi-mashed ingredients.

Rub fish filets with the olive oil and spices and marinate in the refrigerator for an hour or more. Heat a pan on medium heat, with butter. Cook marinated fish filets for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until the fish becomes flaky.

Serve the fish on a bed of mashed potatoes, topped with salsa. Finish with a squeeze of lime.

So how do the two recipes stack up?

To be honest, I’d choose the non-Paleo version any day of the week. HOWEVER, the Paleo version was actually mighty tasty, and generally tasted fresher and had bolder flavors. The potatoes and salt were the key ingredients that clinched it for me, though. As for the caveman, he cleaned his Paleo plate, and was very satisfied. Then he retreated back to his cave to watch West Virginia pummel Kentucky.

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