Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Lemongrass Artic Char on Fennel

Yeah, I know the picture's blurry, but this was really very good, and incredibly simple. We had it on its own as a light supper (I had a bit too much Cheeseboard pizza today-- tapenade and red pepper!) but you could pair it with potatoes for a complete meal. Thinly slice a fennel bulb, toss with olive oil, salt & pepper, and place in a baking dish in a 500 degree oven. When the fennel starts to brown slightly (about 10 minutes), add a filet of fish and turn down the oven to 275. We used arctic char, rubbed with olive oil, dark soy sauce, lemongrass and pepper. Cook until the fish is done-- about 10 minutes-- and serve.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bittman Baking: Easy Cornbread

As most of you know, I am not a baker. But I am a huge fan of Mark Bittman. I woke up this morning to his Cornbread  recipe of the day and just had to try it-- it helped that I had all the ingredients on hand, and even some bacon fat in the fridge for just this kind of culinary whim. (Note to the veggers: can be made with butter or olive oil instead.)

I followed the recipe you see in the link, but used 1/4c Turbinado (raw) sugar and bacon fat in a 7x10" glass baking dish. It was ready for the oven in less than 10 minutes. The fat seemed to be way too much, but it got absorbed and added a delicious savoriness to the bread.

Next time, I'll put a little more sugar to combat the slight bitterness of the bacon fat, and I'll add some jalapenos, which would be delicious with the corn. J thought this was a bit too dense; he prefers his cornbread made with corn flour instead of cornmeal, so you might see a new cornbread on this site sometime soon...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chicken Stock

One of the wonderful bonuses of roasting a whole chicken (besides having chicken for a week-- for tacos, sandwiches, pasta, etc) is making your own stock! I admit to using canned stock for cooking, but if you're making something where stock will be one of the prominent flavors (like soup or a simple braise/stew), making your own is totally worth it. Also, it's incredibly easy-- throw everything in a pot, cover with water, and simmer away for a few hours. This recipe starts with some raw chicken parts, since I had the neck, backbone, and innards left over too. If you're just using cooked bones, skip the first step.

You'll need:
chicken bones (from one chicken)
an onion
a few carrots
something else, if you'd like-- I used fennel. celery is also good.
salt & pepper

Fry the raw parts (neck, backbone because you took it out when you butterflied your chicken, gizzards, heart) in their own fat over medium heat. Leave out the liver-- it makes a delicious cook's treat, but it will make your stock bitter. When the parts are golden brown, add a peeled and quartered onion. 

When the onion turns color, add other veggies and whatever spices you want in addition to the salt & pepper. Add cooked chicken bones with whatever bits of meat are left on. Saute it all a bit, then cover with water (I used about 4 quarts of water-- just fill your pot).

Cover to help the water come to a boil, but as soon as it does, turn it down to a simmer. Skim the scum that rises to the top occasionally. Simmer uncovered for at least 4 hours. You can cook it all day if you want, but add water if the level gets too low.

Strain and reduce further for easy storage, if you want. Freeze in small portions and use whenever you need stock! When storing in the fridge, be sure to leave the fat layer on to protect the stock from bacteria in the air. Just lift it up and take what you need from underneath; if you disturb the layer, simmer gently and then return to the fridge, and a new one will form. Stock will keep in the fridge indefinitely if you boil it for 5 minutes every 5 days to get rid of bacteria.

**NOTE: This is a simple short cut way of making stock. If you're serious about your stock, this is the best advice I've seen around: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/31/FD0JSAGEJ.DTL

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Amazing Sandwich

I don't normally post quick things I throw together for lunch like sandwiches and salads (with a few exceptions), but this sandwich was so amazing I had to tell someone about it (this blog started because I think my friends got sick of my thrice-daily reports on what I was eating). 

I used leftover chicken, sharp cheddar cheese, a few confit'd tomatoes, and a ton of avocado because I love avocado. I put all but the avocado between 2 slices of Ezekiel bread (Trader Joe's) and "grilled" it in my cast iron skillet, weighed down with another skillet and my fist, then flipped it so the cheese got all melty, the chicken and tomatoes heated up, and the bread was flat and toasty. Then I opened it, stuck in the avocado with some salt and pepper, and voila! Of course, like any good grilled cheese, I cut it in half on the diagonal.

Skillet Roasted Chicken with Caramelized Fennel

This is a practically fool-proof method of roasting chicken, gleaned in large part from my trusty Cook's Illustrated recipe for Herbed Roast Chicken. There are three elements, I believe, that make this work so well: 1. brining the chicken-- just an hour in the brine insures succulent, juicy meat; 2. skillet browning before roasting-- helps get that nice crispy skin; 3. herbed butter-- under the skin, over the skin, in the sauce, simply wonderful. Also, the fennel cooks in the chicken fat and caramelizes into something incredible.

Note that the sauce is more a thin herby sauce than a thick gravy. Add less chicken broth (or none at all) if you want a gravy.

You'll need (serves 4):

1 5-lb chicken
1T grapeseed oil

1/2c table salt
2 quarts cold (tap) water

6T butter, softened (I melted it, stirred in the herbs, and put it in the freezer to stiffen)
1 fennel bulb
6 scallion tops (the green part)
1 clove garlic

2t flour
1 1/2c chicken broth
1t lemon juice

Butterfly chicken (see video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-8tMEwBnSA) and submerge in brine solution (1/2c salt+2 quarts) for at least 1 hour. It's best to use kitchen shears for the butterflying, but I used a chef's knife and was still able to do it. Realize you are sawing through bones. This is not a task for the squeemish. Also, remember to save the neck and backbone for stock, and the gizzards, heart and liver to eat!

Thinly slice 1/4 of the fennel bulb and mince. Mince or press garlic. Mince scallion greens. Mix herbs with butter. Set aside 2T of the butter in the fridge.

Quarter remaining fennel.

Preheat oven to 450.

Remove chicken from brine and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Tuck the wings behind the back. Dry very well with paper towels. Make pockets with your fingers between breast meat and skin and insert 1T butter in each pocket. Massage breast skin to distribute.

Heat oil in 12 in skillet until almost smoking. Place chicken skin side down and reduce heat to medium. Cook about 10 minutes until golden brown. Surround with fennel pieces. Place in oven for 25 minutes.

Remove from oven. Flip chicken gently with tongs. Baste top with remaining 4T butter and sprinkle with pepper. Return to oven for about 15 minutes, until thigh temp is 165 degrees.

Remove to cutting board to rest for 20 minutes. Taste the fennel; it should be amazing. Set aside with the chicken.

Pour pan juices into fat separator and let settle 5 minutes. Add 2T fat back into the skillet and whisk with flour. Cook until golden brown, and add pan juices plus enough chicken stock to make 2c liquid. Cook, whisking to incorporate fond, until reduced by half. Remove from heat and stir in cold butter and lemon juice. Serve with chicken.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fig and Tomato Summer Salad

sweet figs and sweet tomatoes!
also avocado, cucumber, basil, feta
balsamic vinaigrette

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pasta Leftovers, yet again!

pasta, feta cheese, basil, various kinds of tomatoes, even a little leftover meat
 a delicious pasta salad, hot or cold

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fennel and Corn Brown Rice Risotto

This makes a great vegetarian main dish or shellfish side (it'd be delicious with prawns, cooked separately, of course). Be sure to get the vegetables well caramelized; this makes the entire risotto deep brown and very flavorful.

You'll need (serves 3-4):

1c brown rice
4c chicken or vegetable broth
1 onion
1 large fennel bulb
1 ear of corn
8 mushrooms
1T olive oil
1T butter
1c vermouth
1/2c parmesan, grated
1/2c sharp cheddar, grated

Finely chop onion.

Melt butter and oil in large heavy skillet. Add onion.

While onion cooks, chop fennel bulb and add that too (reserve fronds). Remove corn from cob and add it as well, with some salt and pepper.

Clean mushrooms and chop them rougly. Once the veggies look golden brown, add mushrooms and cook 5 more minutes. 

Add rice (and more oil if necessary); stir and cook about 1 minute. 

Add vermouth slowly, scraping at the bottom of the pan (you should have a well-browned fond). Let cook until vermouth boils away.

Add broth slowly, stirring almost constantly, adding more when the mixture looks dry. Cook about 1 hour until rice is tender but not mushy.

Stir in cheese and fennel fronds and serve.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tomato Confit or Oven Dried Tomatoes

-- or, what to do when you find ripe Roma tomatoes at 39 cents a pound. (If you live anywhere near Berkeley and still haven't been to Monterey Market, go. Not only do they have incredible deals, but much of their produce is organic and from local farmers. In addition to the 39 cent tomatoes, I bought some small dry-farmed $3/lb tomatoes that were most definitely the best tasting tomatoes I have ever had in my entire life. I do not exaggerate.)

The key to the incredibly concentrated flavor of these finished tomatoes is the slow, low cooking. (Also, it almost goes without saying, your tomatoes should be ripe.) I lined a baking sheet with tin foil, poured about half a cup of seriously good olive oil onto the foil, and sprinkled it with thinly sliced basil and shallots.  Then I sliced the tomatoes in half lengthwise (use Roma tomatoes, which are meaty and slightly elongated), dipped the cut side in the olive oil, and sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and a little sugar. Then I arranged them cut side up on the sheet and baked them at about 200 degrees-- as low as my oven would go-- overnight, or for about 10 hours. Take them out when they have collapsed and are no more than a 1/2 inch thick. Store them in the olive oil-- if you add oil to cover, they'll last longer.

tomato confit and fresh dry farmed tomatoes

If you want oven-dried tomatoes, which are more like sun-dried tomatoes, skip the olive oil, basil and shallots, and just spray the tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with spices before baking. Bake until they're shriveled and dry. These can be stored in the fridge or freezer for a very long time, and revived with some oil or water.

the confit is delicious on a bagel--
I added fresh dry-farmed tomatoes for comparison
and had some figs on the side
(best breakfast ever)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nutty Brussels Sprout Pasta

I made this incredibly simple pasta dish with just two main ingredients-- brussels sprouts and pine nuts-- to highlight the nuttiness of the sprouts, but you can add corn and even tomatoes if you want. I wanted to keep it simple so I could top it with my leftover braised beef with tomatoes.  You can serve the pasta on its own and keep the dish vegetarian.

Slice brussels sprouts and put them immediatley into a bowl of lime juice (one lime's enough).

Heat butter and olive oil in a pan and saute pine nuts until golden, stirring constantly. Add sliced brussels sprouts and saute until wilted.

Add cooked, al dente pasta with some of the cooking water and continue cooking until water is absorbed. Serve topped with pecorino.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Eggplant Noodle Salad

This is a really easy dish to throw together for a light lunch, and you can add whatever veggies you like. You can also fry the eggplant; I baked it to make it a little lighter. I cheated a bit by buying pre-mixed, pre-julienned carrot and radish at a Vietnamese market in Chinatown that I am now in love with. That's also where I got the culantro, which is like cilantro only a lot more awesome. You can definitely substitute the western stuff if it's easier to find.

You'll need:

rice stick or bean curd noodles (rice stick are pictured)
julienned carrot
julienned daikon radish
1 long purple eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
4 leaves culantro, chiffonade
12 leaves mint, chiffonade
juice from 1 large lime
fish sauce
rice vinegar
a pinch of sugar
crushed peanuts
2 thai chilies, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (if baking eggplant). Place eggplant rounds on greased cookie sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake about 10 minutes, then flip; bake 5-10 minutes more, until golden on both sides.

Cook the noodles according to directions. Drain well and toss immediately into dressing.

While noodles are cooking, combine lime juice, rice vinegar (just a splash) and fish sauce (quite a bit) to taste, sugar and chilies in a bowl big enough for the noodles. Add mint and culantro. Add carrots and daikon radish. Toss in the eggplant and noodles when they're done, and top with peanuts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Braised Beef with Tomatoes

This dish was my celebration of summer fog: after days on end of interminable sunshine and 90 degree weather, we finally got some cooler, fog-filled days and I jumped at the opportunity to embrace my winter lover, braising. But I still had some delicious summer tomatoes sitting on the counter (never, ever refrigerate tomatoes) so I incorporated those as well. This is the perfect fall dish, and its simplicity really highlights the few ingredients involved.

Warning: I thought I could make it in the evening for the same night. When dinner time came, the meat was still tough. This needs a good 3-4 hours of cooking, and it's better the next day, or the next.

You'll need:

1lb beef stew meat
1/2 onion, sliced
1T coriander
1T tumeric
1T tomato paste
1c chicken stock
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1T grapeseed oil

Heat grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Remove excess fat from beef. Dry very, very well. Salt and pepper. Brown beef in oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan (do it in batches if you must).

Remove beef and add onions. Saute until onions absorb fond (if fond is burnt, clean it out first). Add coriander and cumin and saute over medium heat until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add tomato paste; stir and cook 1 minute more.

Deglaze with 1/4c chicken stock, scraping fond.

Return beef to pan and add stock until it comes about halfway up meat. Cook at barely a simmer, covered well, until beef is tender, about 3 hours.

Serve over a grain. You can serve as is, or sprinkled with parsley, or-- like I did-- with a dollop of yogurt to cool it off.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Pork Medallions with Bulgur Pilaf

The nice thing about this dish is that it takes only minutes to make. The bad thing is that you have to eat it right away, as in before-you-can-take-a-picture right away. But it's tasty, quick and easy, so I made it again for lunch a few days later-- for blogging purposes only, of course. Now you have lots of pictures to enjoy.

For the pilaf, saute 1/2 onion, chopped, and 1c chopped mushrooms until onions are golden and mushrooms soft. Add 1c bulgur; saute 2 minutes. Add 2c chicken broth; bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, about 20 minutes. Add 1/2 bunch kale, chopped, and stir well to combine. Cook until kale turns bright green (about a minute) and serve.

For the pork, slice a pork tenderloin into 1 inch chunks. Pound lightly to even out. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. 

Brown in hot oil in a non-non-stick skillet about 1 minute/side. Set aside. Deglaze skillet with Marsala wine. Let boil slightly to reduce; stir in 1T butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over medallions. Serve!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ginger Miso Salmon with Roasted Kale and Mushrooms

This is a light, delicious meal that uses only one baking dish and is ready in about 15 minutes. You can skip the cilantro mint topping and drizzle soy sauce instead, but I like the freshness of the herbs and the heat of the chilies.

You'll need (serves 1):

1 filet salmon, pinbones removed with tweezer
1T white miso paste
4 leaves kale, stems removed
a handful of shiitake mushrooms
1 inch ginger, chopped
2T chopped mint
2T chopped cilantro
1 thai chili, minced

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Tear the kale into bite-sized pieces and place in baking dish. Top with mushrooms, quartered if large. Drizzle with some chicken stock or water and a bit of olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Roast about 5 minutes, until kale is crispy on top and mushrooms are soft.

In the meantime, combine cilantro, mint, and chili and set aside.

Stir ginger into kale and make a well in the middle; place salmon, skin side down, into well. Turn oven down to 275 degrees and return dish to oven. Cook until salmon is opaque on the outside, about 7 minutes.

Serve topped with herb-chili mixture.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Roasted Mushroom & Tomato Pasta

This is an intensely flavorful dish that involves minimal work-- just chop the veggies, stick them in the oven, cook the pasta, and toss it all together. It helps to use really good tomatoes because, roasted, they lend a slightly smokey sweetness to the finished dish that goes really well with the sharp arugula. I used Early Girl tomatoes, which were only 59 cents/lb at Monterey Market last week. Also, use bunch arugula if you can find it-- it's cheaper and much more strongly flavored than baby arugula, and won't wilt as quickly when it comes into contact with the hot pasta.

You'll need:

5 medium tomatoes
15-20 mushrooms
1/2 onion
5 cloves garlic
olive oil
fettucine or whatever pasta you want
pecornio romano
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400.

Halve and core tomatoes, squeezing them gently to remove some liquid. Then roughly chop them and place on baking sheet.

Quarter mushrooms and add to baking sheet.

Quarter onion, separate pieces, and add to baking sheet. Add peeled garlic cloves too.

Drizzle everything with olive oil (I use a great olive oil spray from Trader Joe's). Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Place veggies in oven and heat water for pasta.

In the meantime, chiffonade basil and separate the arugula leaves from their tough stems.

When veggies are almost done (soft and golden), cook pasta; toss it all together, stir in basil, arugula, and a glug of good olive oil. Top with shaved pecorino and ground black pepper.

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