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Kevin’s Kitchen

Small Bites: Big Flavor

Little appetizers with a big taste

Any time we’re hosting dinner or a party, I like to spend a little time getting appetizers ready. I find myself relying on a regular cast of characters (hot pepper jelly on cream cheese, guacamole and chips, relish trays). There’s not a thing wrong with that, and often, it’s those snacks that are the most popular. But sometimes I like to stretch my horizons with something unexpected or a little more challenging.

I recently ran across an interesting recipe in Reata: Legendary Texas Cuisine, a cookbook that chronicles the upscale Western-inspired dishes served at the Reata restaurant, which has locations in Alpine and Fort Worth.

Many of the cookbook’s recipes are for game, which, unless you’re a hunter or know one, isn’t easy to obtain. But this appetizer is based on a more common ingredient, catfish, and yields a finished product reminiscent of crab cakes at a fraction of the cost.

Catfish Cakes          

1 pound fresh catfish fillets
2 tablespoons yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons green bell pepper, finely chopped
4 teaspoons oil
2 eggs, beaten
4 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 teaspoons lime juice
4 teaspoons Reata Grill Spice (recipe to follow)
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons dried basil, crumbled
Peanut oil
All-purpose flour

In large pot of boiling water, poach catfish 15-20 minutes, until fish begins to flake with a fork. Drain and allow to cool. In large skillet, sauté onion and pepper in 4 teaspoons oil until vegetables are soft; set aside. When catfish is cool enough to handle, crumble into large bowl. Add eggs, cooked onion and pepper and mix. Add remaining ingredients except peanut oil and flour and mix into firm consistency that holds its shape. Form mixture into six to 10 round cakes of equal size. Heat enough peanut oil to fry cakes in iron skillet or deep fryer to about 350 degrees. Just before frying, dust cakes with flour. Fry, turning frequently, until golden brown and drain on paper towels. Serve with sauce of your choice.

Grill Spice

1/4 cup black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons thyme
3 tablespoons garlic powder
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup cumin
1/2 cup paprika

Combine and blend well and store in airtight container.

Serving size: 1 cake. Per serving: 222 calories, 9.9 g protein, 15.2 g fat, 9.1 g carbohydrates, 192 mg sodium, 63 mg cholesterol.

One of my favorite appetizers is one my dad used to make when he’d host a barbecue. It has a simple roster of ingredients, but the lip-smacking total surpassed the sum of the parts. Thinking about it makes me want to grab a toothpick and dive right in.

Barbecued Sausage

1/4 cup butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup barbecue sauce
1 cup ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 can (12 ounces) beer
1 whole lemon, chopped
1 link sausage

Simmer butter and onion in 1/3 cup water in medium saucepan until onion is tender. Add remaining ingredients except sausage to onion mixture and cook uncovered until thickened. Cut sausage into bite-sized pieces (about 24). Transfer sauce to Crock-Pot and add sausage. Cook until sausage is heated through.

Serving size: 2 pieces. Per serving: 127 calories, 1.6 g protein, 5.1 g fat, 17.1 g carbohydrates, 591 mg sodium, 13 mg cholesterol.

April 2009 Recipe Contest