WARREN - When cooking on a budget, or in a kitchen not as well stocked as Rachael Ray's, improvisation is key.
My previous Tribune Cooks recipe turned some venison given to me by my dad into a tasty stir-fry, with a few modifications, thus using up some ingredients already on-hand and making my dad proud. This time around, I looked to clear out the freezer once again, finding a great recipe utilizing another fruit of the local hunter-gatherer's efforts - fish.
For a lot of Trumbull County hunters, it's out of the tree stand and into the chest-high waders. As a result, my freezer has been well-stocked with fresh perch and walleye since Mosquito Lake and its surrounding waterways thaw-ed. In an effort to prevent having to start giving my friends fish as a parting gift after visiting my house, I looked through the Taste of Home cookbook for a good fish recipe.
The Busy-Day Baked Fish looked simple, tasty, and contained a lot of things I already had in my pantry. The Wild Rice Pilaf sounded like a good side, and affordable to boot. I rounded out the menu with the Cheddar-Biscuit Peach Cobbler, sans the peach cobbler, for the bread.
While the perch filets thawed, I began the rice recipe. Now, let he who hath no dishwasher cast the first stone, but I rearranged the recipe a bit. First, I used organic basmati rice instead of long-grain rice, using up the last of the basmati I had on hand. Next, the recipe called for preparing the rice in a saucepan, sauteeing the garlic, onion and spices in a skillet and then moving everything to a casserole. I instead did the sauteeing in the sauce-pan, then added the rice and broth, thus saving a step, and a dish.
I saved yet another dish by adding the broccoli and carrots (frozen, I admit) to the rice in the saucepan, and sticking the non-plastic pot in the oven. If there were any dire consequences from doing this, I didn't notice. But avoiding doing dishes is penultimate in my house.
Busy-Day Baked Fish
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
2 tablespoons onion soup mix
1-1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
2-1/2 pounds fish fillets
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
In a shallow bowl, combine sour cream and soup mix. Place bread crumbs in another shallow bowl. Cut fish into serving-size pieces; coat with sour cream mixture, then roll in crumbs.
Place in two greased 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dishes. Drizzle with butter. Bake, uncovered, at 425 for 12 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese; bake 2-6 minutes longer or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Yield: 6-8 servings.
Wild Rice Pilaf
2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
3/4 cup uncooked wild rice
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1/2 cup butter, cubed
3 cups fresh broccoli florets
1/4 teaspoon pepper
In a large saucepan, bring broth to a boil. Add wild rice; reduce heat. Cover and cook for 30 minutes. Add long grain rice; cook 20-25 minutes longer or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute the onion, carrots, garlic and rosemary in butter until vegetables are tender. Stir in the rice, broccoli and pepper.
Transfer to a greased shallow 2-qt. baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until broccoli is crisp-tender. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Yield: 10 servings.
Cheddar Biscuit Peach Cobbler
4 pounds fresh peaches, peeled and sliced or 8 cups frozen unsweetened sliced peaches
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold butter
2 cups biscuit/baking mix
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
In a large bowl, combine the peaches, lemon juice and extract. Transfer to a greased 13-inch-by-9-inch baking dish. Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt; sprinkle over peaches. Dot with butter.
Bake, uncovered, at 400 for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine biscuit mix and cheese. Combine milk and butter; stir into biscuit mixture just until blended. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto hot peach mixture.
Bake 20-25 minutes longer or until biscuits are golden brown. Serve warm.
Yield: 10-12 servings.
While the rice cooked, I prepared the fish. Sour cream and onion soup mix in one bowl, bread crumbs on a plate, fish in the dish. Another corner I cut - call it lazy or clever - was replacing the bread crumbs with some crushed-up leftover Thanksgiving stuffing mix. I put the croutons on a plate and smashed them into dust with the end of a pint glass. Easy, cheap and a good workout for your arms too. The perch was covered in the sour cream mixture, which was a bit too onion-y for my taste, dredged through the crumbs, drizzled with butter, and shoved into the oven. The rice was moved to the stovetop to fluff.
The biscuits were a less sure-fire improvisation. I used some Bisquick mix and I don't have any fancy biscuit molds or anything, so I dropped a spoonful of the cheddar-biscuit batter onto a sheet of tinfoil (take that, dirty dishes). They baked at about the same temperature as the fish. However, a peek into the oven before adding the cheese to the perch filets revealed that the biscuits had baked up to the size of Rhode Island. After adding the cheese to the fish, the biscuits were rescued before growing any further, and moved to a basket. They smelled delicious, however mutated they were.
The fish baked up bubbly and crisp, and the filets slip out of the pan easily. The rice could have had more broth, but it was fluffy, as were the veggies. A dash of salt and pepper to taste was all it needed. The colors of the fish, rice and bread went together nicely. The fish was extremely tender and flaky. The sour cream/crumb mixture would work well on chicken, too.
The Taste of Home cookbook allowed me to enjoy the fruits of my dad's labor in recipes I might not have thought of when I was staring at my freezer full of casualties. It also allowed me to imagine having better culinary talents than I do now, and to once again find a way out of doing more housework. And on a final note, the Rhode Island-sized biscuits are delicious microwaved with a little butter on top.