Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Marinated Salmon over Noodles

There's a great little fish shop that I pass every day on my way to work.  Sometimes I stop in early in the morning to pick out my dinner for the night.  I'd never really cooked fish much before I started going there, always afraid that I would over or under cook it.  While growing up I'd never liked fish at all, my tastes have developed and I've enjoyed trying new varieties.  I experimented with sole, flounder, swordfish, halibut, and, of course, salmon.  While I love salmon simply grilled, here I marinated it and served it over a stir fry of bok choy and rice noodles.

  • Start by marinating the salmon: combine 1/4 c. soy sauce, a little salt, a good amount of freshly ground black pepper, one clove of minced garlic, and 1 tbsp mustard ( a nice spicy variety).  Let the salmon sit in the marinade for at least half an hour (in the refrigerator, of course).
  • While you wait, put your water on to boil to cook your rice noodles.
  • Clean and cut up the bok choy into bite sized pieces.  Separate the leafy parts from the thicker stems.  I tend to prefer baby bok choy, as the stems are more tender, but the regular variety works as well.
  • With a drizzle of oil and high heat, begin cooking the stems of the bok choy (as these require more cooking time).
  • When they start becoming tender, add the other portion.
  • Add the now cooked rice noodles, (start the bok choy when you add the noodles to the water), as well as some of the excess marinade and give everything a good toss, then move it to a serving platter.
  • In the same, hot pan cook the salmon.  Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillet, generally 3-4 minutes per side for an inch of thickness.  Try to get a nice sear and flip the fillet only once.  When you think it may be done, touch the thickest part with your finger.  It should feel pretty firm, not squishy.  You can always cut it open to double check.
  • Lay the salmon over the top of the noodles and vegetables.  To serve you can cut it into portions, or break it into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Best French Toast I've Ever Made

How to make amazing French Toast in six easy steps:

  1. Use good bread.  I used Clear Flour Bread's Pain de Mie, an enriched white bread perfect for French Toast.
  2. Cut thick slices.  It is best if the bread is just a little stale, as it will absorb more liquid and hold up better.
  3. For the mixture:  Instead of adding milk to your eggs, try light coconut milk.  It adds a subtle richness and flavor that is heavenly.  I also added some cardamom and a little powdered sugar for slight sweetness throughout.
  4. Place your bread slices in a pan, then pour half the mixture over them.  Poke them with a fork.  Turn them over and repeat.  Let them sit for at least five minutes.  This is so very much better than dipping them in a bowl and throwing them right onto a pan.
  5. Make your pan nice and hot with nothing in it.  Add 1 tbsp butter and turn the heat down.  As soon as the butter is melted, add the toast.
  6. Slow... it... down.  Seriously, don't rush it.  Keep the heat on medium low.  Try to flip the toast only once, when it becomes golden brown (no harm in peeking).  Don't turn up the heat to try to brown in faster or the inside won't cook enough.  It will get brown in time, I promise.  And then it will be perfect.
If you don't want to use coconut milk, try adding a tablespoon or so of heavy cream and some cinnamon or vanilla extract.  Just be sure to soak it long and cook it slow.


Duck Sausage with Couscous and Asparagus

Duck, pearl couscous, and asparagus: how I adore these three foods.  Upon recommendation, I got some amazing duck sausage from a local specialty food shop, Capone Foods.  The meat is blended with shallots, cherries, pancetta, and spices.   To treat it with a simple but flavorful preparation, I decided to serve it with some fresh, sauteed asparagus, and some fruity pearl couscous.

"Pearl couscous?" you say.  "Whatever could that be?"  Well, it's exactly the same as the couscous you know, only bigger.  Sometimes called Israeli couscous, it's larger size gives it a more substantial, chewy feel in the mouth and it lends itself to carrying sauces a bit better.

I loved this meal as a transition from winter to spring foods: it's still warm and aromatic, but has some brighter, fresher flavors as well.  Cook it for yourself or for a dinner party; the proportions are easily adjusted.  Other meats can be substituted for the duck sausage, too!
  • First, cook four duck sausages in a pan on medium heat, rolling them often to brown them evening.
  • When they are plump and cooked through, set them aside to cool a bit.
  • In the same pan, add 1 minced shallot, 1 tbsp butter, and 3/4 couscous.  Toasting the couscous adds a lovely subtle flavor, but be sure to stir it often enough to keep it from burning.
  • (optional) Add 1/4 c. red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom with your spatula.
  • Add about 1 c. water (generally, the couscous to water ration is 1 to just over 1).
  • Add 10 dried apricot halves that have been minced, salt, pepper, and any herbs that interest you (herbs de provence are good here).
  • Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes.
  • While the couscous cooks, start your asparagus cooking in a pan with some olive oil and coarse salt.  I prefer to cook it in an open pan to keep it from steaming (I like it a little crisp).  Be sure to use a large enough pan and toss them so they cook evenly.  You could also roast them in the oven.
  • Slice up your now cooler sausages.
  • When the couscous is done (all of the liquid should be absorbed) remove it from the pan.
  • Get the pan nice and hot again.  Add a little bit of butter, then add the the sausage slices.  You don't want to cook them much longer, instead just browning them a bit more on each sliced side.
  • As soon as they get a hint of sear, serve the sausage over the couscous.  Now your asparagus should be done, so plate that as well!
Enjoy this dish with a nice glass of red wine, followed by some fresh fruit with a piece of great chocolate for dessert.

Never one to let leftovers go to waste, the next day for dinner I made a duck sausage 'hot dog'.  I sliced open a crusty baguette and smeared it with a bit of fig jam on one side and whole grain mustard on the other.  After reheating the sausage in pan, I quickly sauteed some red onions to pour over the top.  A very different style of meal, but tasty nonetheless!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Garlic and Lemon Shrimp Pasta

This is a wonderful pasta dish that's a little lighter thanks to the bright flavors of the lemon and the firmer texture and earthier flavor of the whole wheat spaghetti, perfect for the rising temperatures of spring and summer.  Using arugula instead of the typical spinach is another slight twist.  It's quickly and easily made for any number of people and is great for lunch or dinner.

  • Boil water for your pasta.
  • In a large pan, combine 3 tbsp butter with 2 minced cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
  • After about a minute or two, add the juice of half a lemon.
  • Let the sauce simmer on low heat while your pasta cooks.  Taste and adjust seasonings and the lemon to butter ratio.
  • When you pasta is cooked, transfer it to the pan with the sauce.  Give it a stir to coat all the noodles.
  • Add a generous amount of arugula and toss.  The arugula will reduce as it cooks, so add more than you think you need.  You just want to wilt the arugula; don't cook it until it's dark and mushy.
  • Transfer the past to a serving plate.
  • Turn up the heat on the burner under the now empty (but still lemon-buttery) pan.
  • Once the pan is nice and hot, add the shrimp.  Make sure they are not precooked, or you will end up with tough and shriveled shrimp.  You can use frozen shrimp, but they should be completely thawed first.  You should hear a nice sizzle when you place them in the pan.
  • Turn the shrimp after about 30 seconds (they should have a nice sear mark on them) and cook on the other side.
  • Promptly remove them from the pan and serve on top of the pasta.

Turkey Pot Pie

Since the filling is already mostly cooked, the pie is baked just until it's heated consistently and the crust is golden.

So you made your turkey (or chicken), you made your soup; now what?  How about a pot pie?

  • First make your pie dough (whatever recipe you prefer works).  You'll need to decide if you want a single or double crust pie so you make the correct amount of dough.  Really, only the top crust is necessary, but a bottom crust makes serving easier and is a nicer presentation.  Put the dough in the fridge to chill while you prepare the filling.
  • Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large pan.
  • Add 1 c. chopped onion.  It's up to you how fine or chunky you want your chop, but keep in mind that you want some texture when everything is cooked.  Sauté them on low heat until they just start to become transparent.
  • Add your turkey (or chicken), chopped or shredded into bite-sized pieces.  I like to use a blend of light and dark meat.  You can add it frozen.
  • Now's a good time to add your salt, pepper, and any other seasonings.
  • Add 3 stalks of chopped celery, about 1/2 c. chopped carrots, and 1/2 c. peas.  Keep stirring the mixture to help  get everything cooking.  You don't want it to brown, so turn down the heat if necessary.
  • Add 1 1/4 c. broth (turkey, chicken, vegetable) and 1/2c. milk.  Homemade stock is always great, but store bought is certainly fine for this recipe.
  • In a glass, mix 4 tbsp flour with equal parts water and stir until the mixture is smooth.  Slowly add the flour mixture to the pan while stirring.  Don't add dry flour directly to the mixture or it can get lumpy!
  • Give the mixture a taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then turn off the heat.
  • Get your pie dough, divide it in two balls, and slightly press them flat.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into circles about an inch and half larger than your pie pan.
  • Gently place one circle in the pan and spoon in the filling.
  • Place the second circle on top.  Roll the edges over and press it down with your thumb all the way around.
  • Be sure to cut a few slits in the top with a sharp knife to let steam escape.
  • Bake in a 425 degree oven until the top is golden brown.
The bottom crust and filling.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Heart Savory Tarts: Leek and Onion

I heart savory tarts!  They're easy to make, impressive to look at, are just a little unusual and surprising, and there are endless variations.

There are a few general tips for easy savory tarts.  First, you need a tart pan.  A nice 9" metal tart pan, (no need for non stick), with ridged sides and a removable bottom.  They are pretty cheap (around $10) and you will use it all the time once you have one.  Second, you can put just about anything in there, but you will need something to bind it together.  I usually mix a single egg with some cream.  You can make it more eggy and quiche-like if you want, but as I don't like eggs, I keep it subtle.

First, the crust:

  • You can use pie crust if you want (store-bought if you must), but I prefer to use puff pastry (which you can also buy, if you must).  It's a lot easier to make than you think, as well much more impressive and fun-looking.  I found a great recipe for whole wheat puff pastry, which is basically like normal, but with half whole wheat that gives it a nice, rich flavor.  I just make a "blitz" puff pastry which involves chunks of butter rather than layers, making it a bit quicker.  This is perfect for a tart crust, because you don't need it quite as puffy.
  • Cut your crust a good 1 1/2" larger than the bottom of your tart pan.  You need some for the vertical side and some to fold over around the top.
  • To put the dough in the tart pan, do not simply drape the circle across the top and then stretch it down into the corners.  You want to stretch it as little as possible at this point.  Pick it up like a pouch, with the sides gathered in the middle.  Touch it down in the center and gradually release it towards the outside of the pan.  Gently push it down into the corners.  It's ok if you need to fold it along the walls-- if there is excess, you can trim it, or you can just press it in.  After the dough is pressed in along the bottom and corner, let the excess drape over the side.  Gently roll it inward and press the edge in enough to hold it down.  With a single finger, gently press the dough into each groove of the pan.
Now the filling (the easy part!):
  • Slice one large sweet onion (I like keeping it in circles) and one large leek (up to the pale green part). 
  • Sautee in a pan on medium-low heat with 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, pepper, and some herbs de provence.
  • While the leeks and onions are cooking, mash up about 4 oz. plain fresh goat cheese.  You can add about 1 tbsp heavy cream to make it a little smoother.  Spread this in the bottom of the tart.
  • Once the leeks and onions are soft and slightly translucent (but not caramelized), transfer them to the tart pan on top of the goat cheese.
  • Whisk one egg with an equal part heavy cream.  Pour this evenly into the tart.
  • Optional: top the tart with some decorative bits of leftover puff pastry.  You can brush them with some egg wash (it makes them shinier), but it's not absolutely necessary.  If you make cuts in the decorative dough pieces, make them after egg washing.
  • Bake in the oven heated to 425 for about 30 min.  Check on it periodically to make sure it's not browning too fast.  The crust will be golden when it's ready.
This makes a lovely centerpiece to a brunch or lunch.  Here I served it with some strawberries, grapes, gigandes, green olives, and a cheese plate.  It would also be lovely with a salad (perhaps some mache with roasted red grapes, toasted walnuts, and a light vinagrette).  Any way you serve it, it's delicious!

- Rori

Fresh Chicken Soup with Wild Rice

Aaaah, what's more comforting that a nice, hot bowl of chicken soup?  There are endless variations on the dish: noodles or rice, herbed or curried, chicken and dumplings, and pretty much anything else you can think of.  What is especially wonderful is that if you roasted your own chicken, (like this), stored the leftovers, and made stock, most of the work is already done!  Here I use wild rice, mushrooms, and arugula to add the slightest fresh twist on a classic.

  • Combine your chicken stock (you can use store bought if you didn't make your own), chicken pieces (I like to use mostly white meat since moisture is provided by the broth), a large chopped onion, salt, pepper, a couple bay leaves, and any herbs that strike your fancy.  Bring to a boil.
  • Add your wild rice.  Keep in mind the volume of cooked rice versus the volume of liquid you have.  Also taste your stock at this time.  If it seems too concentrated, add some water.  Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.
  • The rice will still have some bite to it at this point.  Add your chopped celery and carrots.  Simmer another 10 minutes.
  • Add your chopped mushrooms (pretty much any kind you like).  Simmer another 10-15 minutes.
  • Now everything should be getting nice and tender.  Test a carrot, some rice, and a mushroom.  If you like your soup veggies on the softer side, continue to let it simmer until it's how you like it.  Otherwise, stir in your arugula and serve!  The arugula can also be added to individual bowls: it will cook in the hot broth as you eat it.
  • Note that soup with rice doesn't always keep that well: the rice continues to absorb the liquid.  Some people separate it before storing, or cook their rice separately (which makes for a lesser flavor).  I usually try to make a smaller amount (a nice bonus of making your stock ahead of time is taking out just as much as you need), and deal with a slightly mushier soup the next day.
- Rori

Monday, March 8, 2010

Clean out your fridge Lasagna

Lasagna is pretty easy to make.  Boil some noodles, layer in a pan with other stuff, throw it in the oven.  Yet it can go wrong.  It can be heavy, too cheesy, and... boring.  Here are a few tips to inspire a little variety:

  • Make your own noodles!  It's easier than you think.  Plus, you can make them more flavorful with herbs, and I think they have a more substantial feel (especially helpful for vegetarian lasagna).
  • Raid your fridge.  A lot more can go into lasagna than tomato sauce, cheese, and meat.  Here I used some mushrooms and whole fresh basil leaves.  Try different kinds of onions, peppers, eggplant, artichoke hearts, spinach, sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, pesto, etc.
  • Change up the cheese.  A combination of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan is typical.  Here I used only ricotta for a lighter meal, with a sprinkling of gruyere on top.  Try some fresh goat cheese.  Go crazy and make a blue cheese lasagna!
Think of it this way: anything you could put on a pizza, you can put in lasagna.  Have fun experimenting and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Simply Roasted Chicken

Nothing impresses quite like a roasted chicken. It's beautiful and delicious and, most importantly, can be the source of many meals. Many people shy away from roasting the whole bird, thinking it will be difficult and that they won't use it all. Especially with so many individually wrapped and flash frozen chicken bits floating around, it seems unnecessary. But get that thought out of your head! Roasting a chicken is one of the easiest things to do with the most payoff.

  • If your chicken is frozen, thaw it in advance! Don't ever try to cook a frozen, or partially frozen, bird. Fresh or recently thawed, give it a good wash in the sink, inside and out.
  • Preheat your oven to 375.
  • In a bowl combine 1/4 c. fresh rosemary and thyme (destemmed and minced) with 1 tbsp. salt, a generous amount of freshly ground pepper, 2 cloves of minced garlic, 4 tbsp. melted butter, and 1 tbsp. lemon juice. Give the mixture a good stir.
  • With your hands, (yes, really), smear the mixture over the entire chicken. The butter will start to solidify a bit, but that will help keep it in place. Feel free to put the lemon rind and any remaining herbs in the body cavity.
  • Roast for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, depending on weight.
  • Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Ready to roast.

Even if you're cooking just for yourself, don't feel intimidated by the whole chicken. Carve what you will eat the first night. After your meal, set to taking care of the rest of it.
  • Carve the entire bird, keeping like parts together.
  • Put what you will eat in the next day or two in the refrigerator.
  • Put the other parts in good quality freezer bags labeled with their contents. I keep the thighs together, the breast meat, etc. For easy defrosting, pack what you think you will use for a single dish in individual bags.
  • Save that carcass! Use it to make soup or chicken stock. Simply remove any remaining skin, plop it in a large pot, cover with water, add a bit of onion and seasoning, and simmer on the stovetop until the bones fall apart. You can do this the same day or keep it covered in the refrigerator for a day or two. The stock can easily be frozen for future use.
  • The remaining meat can be used for sandwiches, rice dishes, soup, enchiladas, pot pies, or anything else you can think of.
- Rori

The Only Way to Eat Brussels Sprouts

I'll admit it: I was one of those kids who didn't like brussels sprouts. I ate them begrudgingly, whining all the way. As an adult, my loathing wasn't as strong, but I still never picked them up at the grocery store. Until, that is, I found fresh brussels sprouts in the produce section instead of those dreaded frozen packages. They just looked so cute, I couldn't resist. And I've never looked back.

I love brussels sprouts now. At the farmers market last summer I grabbed wholes stalks of them (a sight to see!) every week. However, in addition to buying them fresh, preparation is key. Here is my favorite way to eat them, which happens to be very easy to prepare.
  • Preheat your oven to about 425.
  • Clean the sprouts, removing the outer leaves and trimming the stems if necessary.
  • Toss them in a bowl with some olive oil and kosher salt until they are all coated.
  • Place them in a roasting pan lined with foil for easy cleanup.
  • Roast in the oven until they begin to brown and the outer leaves start curling up. Give the pan a toss now and then to roll them around.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and squeeze fresh lemon over the the sprouts.
That's all! A simple, delicious side dish that will compliment many meals. Be sure to buy a stalk or two the next time you're at a farmers' market, if for no other reason than to elicit some giggles from passersby as you carry them around.


Cassoulet: the Fancy Chile

Chile... it has some negative connotations. Sloppy, greasy, man food comes to mind. Don't get me wrong, I like chile. When done well it can be very delicious. It doesn't, however, bring to mind fine dining. But call it cassoulet.... well! Now that's different! Suddenly we picture little French villages in the countryside, families sitting together cupping bowls of warming nourishment in their hands. But really, cassoulet is just chile... without the chiles.

Here is my hodgepodge version of the dish. Not exactly traditional, (those French villagers might find offense), but more or less the same in spirit.
  • Get yourself a nice pot. Enameled cast iron is great if you have one, but any pot will do.
  • Uncase two italian sausages: slice them open and turn the inside out into the pot. Brown the meat a bit, rendering some of the fat, while stirring frequently.
  • Add one clove of minced garlic, one chopped onion, and 1/2 tsp each of rosemary, thyme, and salt.
  • After 3-5 minutes, add 1/3 to 1/2 c. white wine (nothing too fruity).
  • Simmer until the liquid is nearly gone.
  • Add 1 cup of beans* and one cup of vegetable broth.
  • Cover and simmer on low heat until the liquid has reduced and the beans are cooked, about 1 hour.
  • If you have a gruyere or parmesan rind (always save these) lying around, feel free to toss it in. It adds a wonderful creaminess and depth to the stew. You will fish out the rind before serving.
  • After the hour, add about 1/2 c. of a thick tomato sauce and 1/4 c. chopped parsley.
  • Simmer an additional 10 min. with the lid off.
  • Lastly, just before serving, add 1 tbsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
* Note that I used fresh cranberry beans, not dried. If using dried, I would recommend soaking them first. Other kinds of beans can, of course, be substituted.

Serve and enjoy!

- Rori