Saturday, January 29, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

The new Lunar year arrives on February 3rd bringing us the year of the Rabbit, which also happens to be Stella's Zodiac sign.  We will celebrate with my family tonight so that we can all be together to feast and toast in the new year.  When we were living in Taiwan, it was by far the biggest holiday of the year.  Factories closed down for weeks to celebrate, all shops were closed, except perhaps the corner 7-11.  Fire crackers and fireworks flew in the night making it feel a bit like a combat zone.  And of course the food, oh the food.  Days of thought and preparation for the New Year's meal.  That is one element that has not changed.  So, here is our celebration, dish by dish.  Happy New Year!
 Joss Money, or rather Fortune Money to be burned and sent up to our relatives in the next life.
 Pacino waiting under the dining table.
 Szechuan Beef Tendon
 Smoked Fish
Hot pot of Napa Cabbage, Prawns, Black Cod Fillet, Meatballs and Egg Dumplings
Something for everyone.
 Tea Smoked Duck
 Szechuan Green Beans - a table favorite
 Spicy Salted Pork and Leeks
 Mandarin Fried Chicken
 Braised Pork Belly - melt in your mouth good
 Pea Sprouts with Prawns
Steamed Petrale Sole with Scallions and Ginger
Jane and Stuarts fabulous New Year Cake filled with cream and preserves
 Sending fortune to our ancestors.  

The Egg Dumpling

Several conversations were had between me and my mom drilling down the menu for our Chinese New Year dinner.  Among them was the discussion on a soup course.  I feel a soup course is essential for any Chinese celebration dinner.  But, the list of dishes were growing long and editing had to be done.  A compromise of a hot pot would be the route to take.  My brother in law loves these Lions Head meatballs my mom makes.  So, I asked my mom to make those and I would make a hot pot with napa cabbage, tofu, shrimp and what else?  For a holiday, my mom said, you must then add egg dumplings.  Ah, a chance to make something new!  My mom said, as a child, it was always her responsibility to make egg dumplings for the family.  I could imagine her standing in front of a large pan diligently cooking each egg, filling it, and folding it over before the top side of the egg hardened so that it would stick together.  The egg must be just thick enough to hold the filling, but not so thick it becomes a mini omelet.  A test in skill, accuracy, and patience and quickness at same time.  I will carry on this tradition with my kids, but first, I must master it.

3/4 lb ground pork
1/3 lb white shrimp, finely chopped with a cleaver
2 scallions, finely minced
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp rice wine
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water

Mix all ingredients together.  Let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour or so.  
To make the dumplings:
Beat 12 eggs together with a little bit of salt.  Heat a well seasoned or non-stick pan over medium to medium-low heat.  Using a small ladle, or a measuring cup with spout, pour a little bit of egg slowly onto the pan, enough to make a small round about 3" in diameter.  Once the bottom of the egg has hardened, place a small, bite-sized portion of filling on one side of the egg.  Before the top of the egg hardens, fold it over onto itself.  I would suggest doing these one at a time, until you master the process.  If your egg tears a little, fear not, dab with a little bit of raw egg to fix the hole.  Once the egg has sealed, remove from pan and set aside.  The filling will be raw, but it will cook in the soup of the hot pot.  You should have about 36 or so dumplings all together.   Delicate and delicious.

New Years Braised Pork Belly

It is traditional to serve a braised pork shank or lower part of the leg to celebrate the new lunar year.  As that cut is usually quite fatty with little meat, it is not a favorite cut in our family.  It may come as a surprise, but yes, we have a fat limit.  I contemplated whether to substitute and decided on pork belly.  Why, just as fatty you might say.  But I have a source.  I have purchased my more than fair share of pork belly and the best place for it is at Uwajimaya.  The pork belly they stock is less fatty, albeit thinner than others because of the less fat.  They stock it expressly because they know the Asian community likes to braise it and just enough fat is all that's needed to impart good flavor.  But the fat is essential to the juiciness and flavor of the pork cooked this way.

2 lbs pork belly, skin on (I used two 1 lb pieces)
2 tbsp grade seed oil
6 scallions, cut into 3" pieces
3 garlic cloves, smashed
4 thick slices of ginger
2 oz rock sugar
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
1/3 cup rice wine
1 cup water

Additional 2 bunches of scallions, trimmed and rinsed, cut in half (optional)

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the pork belly and boil for 10 minutes.  Drain and dry and paper towels.
Heat wok over medium high heat, add oil and brown pork skin side down first.  Be careful and use a splatter guard or lid as the oil will splatter quite a bit on the skin side.  The skin should be crisp and brown.  Drain the pork.
In a braising pot, combine scallions, ginger, rock sugar, soy sauce, wine and water.  Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar.  Add the pork, cover and simmer for about 2-2.5 hours, until very tender.  For holiday presentation purposes, I am going to attempt cutting the pork, so I don't want it fall apart tender.  If you are adding the extra scallions, add them to the pot about 45 minutes before finish time.  My dad loves scallions cooked this way with braised meat, so I add a lot of them.
Remove the pork and drain.  Cover, and let cool a bit before slicing.  Remove the ginger slices from the sauce.  Bring the sauce back to boil and ladle over the pork.  This will help rewarm the pork.  
So tender, succulent, and pretty, well, fabulous.

The Three Day Tea Smoked Duck

Chinese New Year is around the corner and we are celebrating this weekend with my family.  After the first time I made the tea smoked duck, my dad commented on how delicious it looked.  So, this one's for you dad.

Last outing, I followed a recipe by Anita Lo that I had found on the internet.  This go around, I am altering it slightly as is my experimental nature.  Why experiment with a good recipe?  Why not?  It's fun and there's always chance for improvement.  If all goes well, we should have a tender, juicy duck with excellent smoky sweet flavor and crispy skin.  Though this process takes 3 days, it is really not all that much work, just a little forethought.  

1 Fresh All Natural Duck, about 5 pounds

For glazing the duck:
6 tbsp honey
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1/2 cup rice vinegar 
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp 5 spice powder

Before smoking the duck:
3 tbsp grape seed oil
salt and pepper

For smoking:
1 cup dried black tea leaves
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 cup brown sugar

Two days earlier, start prepping the duck.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Carefully place the duck into the pot and boil for a couple of minutes, not cooking the meat of the duck.  This will help tighten the skin for a crispy outcome.  Drain duck on a rack set over a pan and dry with paper towels.  
Mix together the glazing ingredients and brush the duck, back side first.  Allow to dry before turning over to glaze the breast side.  I used my blow dryer set on cool to do this as I was too impatient to wait.  Do not blow dry your duck with a hot blow dryer.
Place the duck in the refrigerator, uncovered until the next day.  Last time, I hung the duck up in the basement with a fan on it overnight.  That worked well, but I didn't want to take the chance with this on my parents.  I thought refrigerator would be best, hence the extra drying day.  Also refrigerate the glaze until the next day since it has had contact with the raw duck.

The next day, brush the duck again with the glaze following the same process as before.  I started in the morning and did this several times throughout the day finishing with a coating around dinner time before allowing the duck to dry overnight again.
Prepare yourself for perhaps a visually unappealing duck at this point.  But it will be good.

The smoking process will take about 2 hours.  Factor in a little time for cooling before you can cut it for serving.  Make a small pan to hold the smoking ingredients using heavy duty aluminum foil.   
Mix together the tea leaves, rice and sugar and place into pan.  Make another larger pan to place under the duck to catch the fat as it smokes.  Build a fire on one side of you charcoal grill.  When coals are hot and have turned grey, place the pan with the tea leaves, etc. directly on top of the coals.  Place the other pan on the other side of the grill so that the duck will sit over it.  The ideal grill temp should be 300f and the duck should be smoked via indirect heat.   Place the grate back on the grill.  Salt and pepper the inside of the duck and place it over the larger pan.  Cover the grill, opening the top vents only.  Smoke the duck for 45 minutes without opening the lid.  Then brush the duck with grape seed oil, cover and smoke for another 30 minutes.  Repeat this once again 30 minutes later.   Make sure the grill maintains the 300f temperature adding new coals when necessary.

Admittedly, we had a bit of a hurdle... a basketball game in the middle of our cooking time led us out of the house for about an hour and a half.  We debated whether to put the duck on before or after we got home and settled on before, which led us to leaving the duck unattended for that period of time.  As horrified as I was at the color of the duck, its taste was still perfect and the meat still tender and juicy.  The color was largely due to the smoking and not burning or over cooking as we feared.  Still delish and devoured.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fried Calamari - An Emerton Kid Favorite

My kids love fried calamari.  If it's on the menu, they want to order it.  Every once in a while, you'll find fresh, never frozen, squid, as I did today.  It is very inexpensive and the only hurdle, perhaps a big one, is cleaning them.  It's not for those easily grossed out.  So if you fall into that category, buy the pre-cleaned squid which usually comes nicely packaged and frozen.  The bonus that comes with uncleaned squid is the science experiment that follows.

1 lb fresh squid
garlic salt
Hime Tempura Mix
oil for frying

Clean the squid by removing the head and tentacle section first.  Once you break the skin on the outside, it is pretty easy to peel the whole thing off.  Remove all remaining parts from the inside of the squid body.  If you are a tentacle fan, as we are, cut the head portion off, leaving only the tentacles.  Slice the body into 3/4" to 1" rings.  Place in refrigerator until ready to use.  Liquid will continue to drain from the calamari as it sits.

When ready to fry, bring a large cast iron pot of oil to 350f.  The pot should be large enough for deep frying, and you should only fill it up with oil half way.  The oil will bubble and expand once food is placed into it.  Dry the calamari on paper towels.  Sprinkle calamari with garlic salt and Hime tempura mix to coat.  Work the flour into the calamari and make sure they are coated evenly.  Carefully drop calamari into the pot of hot oil.  I use a large deep fryer strainer with a handle to carefully place the calamari into the oil.  Once in the oil, let the calamari sit for 20 or 30 seconds before stirring to make sure they are not stuck together.  Fry for another minute or two.  Remove from oil and drain on paper towels before serving.

And here's the bonus science experiment compliments of Stella, who actually asked if I saved a squid for her to dissect.   The body, 2 eyeballs, beak, mouth, spine, head, tentacle and organs.  Stella used the spine and ink sac to write her name.  Thank you 5th Grade science camp!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Black Cod with Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms

I've been debating which route to take with the black cod I purchased.  I was craving spicy, bold flavor, but thought it a disservice to the quality of fish it is.  Save spicy bold for a fish that is not as silky and buttery as the black cod.  

1 lb black cod, cut into 1 1/2" square pieces about 3/4" thick
1 egg white
2 tsp rice wine
3 tsp corn starch
pinch of salt
7 Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
1/3 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
2 scallions, finely sliced
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine

Rinse Shiitake mushroom and soak in hot water until soft.  Depending on size of the mushroom, keep whole or slice in half to bite sized pieces.  Drain and set aside.
Beat egg white with rice wine, corn starch and salt.  Gently stir in cod and let marinate for 10-15 minutes.
In a large wok, heat a tbsp of grape seed oil.  Fry the shiitakes for a few minutes, then add the garlic, ginger and scallions and fry until fragrant.  Drain excess liquid from the cod and add the cod in and stir gently to combine.  Add light soy, rice wine and finally the peas.  Stir and fry for another minute or so.  Rich and buttery fish.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Short Rib Ragu

I spent a quiet 24 hours alone with my dog in my house this weekend.  Chris and the girls had a little overnight ski trip and I opted out in favor of lounging, menu planning, and sports and action movie watching.  In the busy days during the week, the weekends are great opportunities for me to think about food.  Especially this weekend.  Think and read.  In my usual delinquency in using up freezer items, I realized I still had several packages of Mt. Adams grass fed beef I had purchased in November.  I started thinking of cozy apres ski, Sunday supper, short rib recipe ideas.  Something new, something different.

5-6 lbs bone in short ribs
2 tbsp bacon fat
1 pear, peeled and diced
4 garlic cloves, smashed6 scallions, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
4 carrots, diced
4 small tender stalks celery, diced
8 oz white button mushrooms, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cup red wine
4 cups beef stock
10 oz apple juice
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce

Heat oven to 335f.  In a large enamel covered cast iron pot, brown the short ribs in the bacon fat.  I would normally always season the ribs, but with the soy sauce in the recipe, I decided it would be too much salt.  Also, with the eventual shredding of the meat, it will get plenty of coverage in seasoning.  Once all the ribs are browned, keeping only 1 tbsp of oil in the pot, add in the pear, garlic, scallions, carrots, celery and mushrooms.  Saute over medium high heat until browned and softened.  Add in the tomato paste and bay leaf and stir to incorporate.  Deglaze with the wine and let come to a bubbling boil for a couple of minutes.  Add in apple juice, beef stock, and soy sauce and bring back to a boil before adding the short ribs back in.  Once short ribs are in, bring back to a boil.  Place pot into the oven and let braise for about 3 hours, or until ribs are fall of the bone tender.  Check on them every hour or so to flip if necessary and make sure ribs are fully submerged in liquid.

Remove the ribs from the pot and place on a pan to cool.  Cover with foil so the ribs don't dry out while you are waiting for them to cool down enough to handle.  Meanwhile, remove bay leaf from the sauce.  Try to skim the fat off the top of the sauce.  If you are making this a day ahead, or enough time ahead to chill the sauce, you can skip this step as it will be easy to remove the hardened fat off the top once the ragu has been chilled down.  Puree the sauce in a blender.  Bring the sauce back to a boil and reduce to desired thickness.  I like the reduction to intensify the flavors.  

Shred the short ribs with your hands, or cut into small pieces, removing any large pieces of fat.  Return the shredded meat to the sauce and let simmer for another 10-15 minutes to allow the sauce to gel with the meat.  Ideally, chill overnight.  Then remove the hardened fat on top before reheating.  Season with freshly ground pepper.  Serve on polenta, pasta, or rice.  I chose pasta.

As an added little zest, make a quick gremolata
1 scallion, finely minced
1 large lemon, zest only
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
Mix together well and let sit at room temp for about an hour.  Serve on the side.  Chris & the girls did not care for the gremolata, but I liked it a lot.  To each his own.  The ragu was fabulous!  The pureed sauce made it thick without any flour, etc. and got vegetables into my kids without them knowing otherwise.  Bonus!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oh Yes, I Did Spatchcock a Duck

I figured in this case, what's good for the chicken is good for the duck.  With duck in cart, I was thinking of the crispy skin spatchcocking and roasting the chicken produces and a wave of happy anticipation came over me.

One 5 lb All Natural Fresh Duck
4 cups water
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp 5 spice powder
2 star anise
2 clove garlic, smashed
1” piece of ginger, smashed and roughly chopped

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add duck and boil for just a couple of minutes.  This will help tighten the skin.  Combine all other ingredients and stir to make sure sugar and salt dissolve.  Spatchcock the duck buy using kitchen shears and cutting the backbone out.  Gently cut the breast bone just enough to be able to press the duck out flat.  Place duck in brine in a large zip lock bag.  Refrigerate for about 7 hours.  Drain duck, discard brine.  Lay duck out flat in a roasting pan, skin side up.  Roast at 400f for 60-70 minutes.
Parts of the skin were nice and crispy and parts were not.  Perhaps a hang to dry process to be added next time.  But the flavor and texture of the duck were divine.  Love, love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Butternut Squash Risotto

I've had a butternut squash sitting on my counter for almost two weeks now.  Seems to be fine still, but definitely time to be used.  I don't cook much squash in general, so I guess I could say I'm not a huge fan.  But there is something special about butternut squash.  Besides that I love its appearance, it's great for soups, in ravioli, as a side dish roasted, mashed and mixed with cream and butter.  And tonight we'll see if we love it still, with risotto.

5 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup finely diced Pancetta
2 shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli rice
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp Mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 tsp minced fresh sage

1 butternut squash, about 1 1/2 pounds give or take.
Slice the squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  Roast in a 400f oven, cut side down, for approximately 30 minutes, until tender.  When cool enough to handle, scoop out the squash, puree in a food processor until smooth.  Keep about 1 1/2 cups for the risotto and reserve the rest for another use.

Heat chicken broth to a light simmer, keep over low heat to keep broth hot.  In a large sauce pan, fry pancetta until crispy.  Remove pancetta to a dish and keep oil in pan.  Add enough olive oil to pan to make a total of 2 tbsp.  Saute the shallots until softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and rice and stir to combine letting rice fry for about a minute.  Deglaze with the white wine.  Once wine is almost absorbed, start adding the chicken broth, just enough to cover the rice.  Stir only once when you add the broth and let simmer slowly until almost all broth is absorbed and repeat this process until rice is just al dente.  You may need a bit more or less broth.  
If the butternut squash puree is chilled, rewarm it.  I roasted mine earlier in the day and just zapped it in the microwave.  Stir the squash into the risotto, then add the mascarpone, and the sage.  Once risotto is hot again and everything is well combined, add the parmesan and pancetta and stir to incorporate.  Finish with a sprinkle of candied pecans.  So very good.  

Roasted Beets, Pickled Fennel, Bibb Lettuce and Goat Cheese Salad

I always welcome another way to have a beet salad.  I am alone in my love for beets in my family, but it does not stop me from bringing them to the table from time to time if not for my own enjoyment, to see if any minds might be changed.  I had a small fennel bulb left from Friday night's dinner, so decided to see how this combo might taste.

3 red beets
1 head bibb lettuce
1 small fennel bulb
fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup grape seed oil
1 1/2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp honey
candied pecans

Wash and trim beets.  Wrap in foil and roast in the oven at 400f for about an hour to 75 minutes, until beets are tender.  Let cool, remove skin and cut to bite sized pieces.  You can do this ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to use, as I did.

Wash and trim fennel bulb.  Slice lengthwise once and then thinly slice lengthwise the both halves.  In a jar, combine 1/2 cup hot water, 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 3 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp kosher salt.  Place fennel into the liquid, cover and refrigerate.  These are best if you let them sit for a few days and will keep for up to a month.   

Remove outer leaves from bibb lettuce.  Wash, dry and tear lettuce into large pieces.
Whisk together grape seed oil, vinegar and honey.  Use just enough to lightly dress the lettuce.  Toss together.

To serve, place bibb lettuce on the plate, top with beets, fennel and goat cheese.  Sprinkle with some candied pecan pieces and freshly ground black pepper.  I may have a beet convert in the house.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Roasted Lamb Loin with Ricotta Gnudi and White Truffle Oil

I love that I am seeing more and more lamb loin roasts, if for nothing else, one more option in cut.  If you are not feeding a large crew, or maybe feeding only two, it's nice to be able to do a petite roast rather than a leg of lamb.  When buying a loin roast, make sure there is a thin layer of fat on top to help keep it moist and juicy when cooking.  

For the lamb, marinate in the following for a couple of hours (or more)
1 lb grass fed lamb loin roast
2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp grape seed oil
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
several turns of freshly ground black pepper
When coating the lamb, I also pushed some of the marinade into the middle of the tied roast.  The roast will be two pieces of lamb loin tied together into a log shaped piece.
Remove lamb from the refrigerator and let come to room temp before roasting.  Remove lamb from marinade and place on a foil lined baking pan.  Roast at 400f for approximately 30-35 minutes, or until center temp is 135, for medium rare.  Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.  Drizzle with a little white truffle honey to serve.

For the Ricotta Gnudi, I followed this recipe from Epicurious, minus their sauce:
1 lb fresh whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp kosher salt
pinch of ground white pepper
3/4 cup flour 

Remove excess liquid from the ricotta by putting it on several paper towels placed over  a strainer.  Let it drain for at least 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the pecorino, egg, salt, white pepper and then mix in the ricotta.  Sprinkle the flour on top and mix together gently.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour.  

Line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap.  Place some flour in a bowl.  To make the gnudi, roll a teaspoon of dough into a ball.  Roll the ball in the flour to coat and press gently into short log. Place on the baking sheet.  You can do this up to 4 hours ahead of time.  Keep chilled.

Fry some fresh sage leaves in a little olive oil.  I used a little of the oil from the fennel and carrot confit from Friday night.   
Cook the gnudi in a large pot of boiling water until tender, about 6-7 minutes.
To serve, place a few sage leaves on top of the gnudi, drizzle with a little of the olive oil from frying the sage, along with a drizzle of white truffle oil.  Finish with freshly grated pecorino romano.

The lamb was excellent with the white truffle honey.  A stellar combo.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Seared Black Cod, Saffron Couscous, Fennel and Carrot Confit, Tomato Coulis

On a recent visit to one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Luc, I tried their vegetarian couscous dish and fell in love with all the flavors.  The many components to the dish makes it a little labor intensive for a small family meal, but I had to try it out to see if I could recreate it.  A few variations are inevitable in my kitchen.  

On the plate:
Pan Seared Oregon Coast Fresh Wild Black Cod
Saffron Couscous
Candied Meyer Lemon
Fennel and Carrot Confit
Carrot Sauce
Roma Tomato Coulis

Saffron Couscous
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 tsp saffron threads, crushed between your fingers
1 cup couscous
salt and pepper to taste
Combine broth, 1 tbsp butter, and saffron to boil in a large saucepan.  Stir to mix in butter.  Remove from heat and stir in the couscous.  Cover and let stand until all liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.  Fluff with a fork and stir in 1 tbsp of butter.  Salt and pepper to taste.  

Fennel and Carrot Confit
2 Medium Carrots
1 Small Fennel bulb
1 1/4 cups olive oil (I used the oil from making the tomato coulis below)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
Use a vegetable peeler and shave the carrots into very thin ribbons.  Cut the fennel in half and slice very thinly lengthwise.  
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil with the paprika and salt until oil is warm.  I had about 2/3 cup oil from making the tomato coulis and decided to reuse it here and added another 1/2 cup of new olive oil.  You don't want the oil to fry the carrots and fennel, just gently cook them.  Add the carrots and fennel and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until they are tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain the oil and transfer vegetables into a dish to cool.  You can keep the oil for salad dressing or other use.

Carrot Sauce
2 small or 1 large carrot, very thinly sliced
1 cup carrot juice
2 tbsp butter
pinch of paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the carrot slices with a little chicken broth until very tender.  Combine the carrot, carrot juice, and paprika in a blender and puree.  Pour into a medium sauce pan and bring to a light boil for about 7 minutes to reduce a bit.  Add the butter, a bit at a time, stirring constantly.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Tomato Coulis
Thinking about how to make this, I decided the intense flavors of the Pomodori al Forno I have previously referenced would be the way to go.  I adjusted the recipe slightly as follows:
2 lbs Roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise and seeded
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp sugar (depending on tomato quality and time of year, I use more sugar at the low season)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 garlic clove minced
2 tsp minced fresh flat Italian parsley
In a glass or porcelain baking dish, drizzle half the oil, place tomatoes cut side up, and then drizzle remaining oil on top.  Sprinkle evenly the sugar, salt and oregano.  Bake for 1 hour in a 275f oven.  Flip the tomatoes and bake for another hour.  Flip again and bake for another 45 minutes.  Then again for 30 minutes and one last flip to face side up for another 30 minutes.  About 5 minutes before the final baking, sprinkle on the minced garlic and return to the oven.  Once finished, remove the tomatoes from the oil and layer in a dish with the parsley and let cool.  Once cooled, puree in a food processor.  Strain and keep the oil to use for a salad dressing or as I am doing, for the carrot and fennel confit.

Candied Meyer Lemon
1 Meyer lemon
1 cup sugar
Slice lemon very thinly, removing any seeds and ends of lemon.  Bring a small pot of water to boil.  Drop lemons in and stir for a minute.  Drain and plunge lemons into a ice bath.  Drain.  This will help to take away the bitterness in the rind of the lemon. Combine sugar and 1 cup of water in a wide shallow pan and bring to a boil.  Add lemon slices and turn heat down low to simmer for about an hour.   Remove and drain on parchment paper until ready to use.  I made mine earlier in the day and once cooled, I covered with saran wrap.  I saved the syrup for another use. 

Seared Black Cod
1 lb fresh black cod
1 tbsp grape seed oil
Cut cod into 4 pieces.  Rinse and dry the cod on paper towels.  Salt and pepper.  Heat  a heavy cast iron skillet over high heat.  Once pan is hot, drizzle in the grape seed oil.  The grape seed oil is great for this use as it does not impart much flavor and has a high smoke point.  Sear the fish, flesh side down first, pressing on it gently to make sure the entire surface touches the pan evenly.  Sear the fish for 1-2 minutes then flip over to skin side and continue to cook until fish is about medium.  Don't overcook, it would be a sin.  I prefer to err on the rare side as the fish will continue to cook a little as it sits.

The couscous and the accompaniments were as I remembered.  But the black cod was the star.  It was so silky and fresh and as I said to Stella... I brought my A game to the fish. It was an A+.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Maggie's Banana Muffins

We've been watching a bunch of bananas turn brown and black over the last week.  We are "just ripe" banana eaters, so as soon as the bananas start to ripen beyond that first pale yellow, they sit untouched on the counter until they find a second use, or their way into the compost bin.  Last night, Maggie asked for banana muffins.  Thank goodness for Maggie.  I found a recipe for banana bread from Gourmet Magazine and made a few adjustments.

1 5/8 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda 
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs at room temp
1 1/8 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter at room temp
1 1/2 cup coarsely mashed very ripe bananas (3 large)
1/8 cup creme fraiche
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.  Butter and flour 3 mini muffin tins.
Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl.
Beat together eggs and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixture on medium-high until mixture has paled and is light and fluffy.  Reduce to speed to low and mix in butter, then bananas, creme fraiche and vanilla.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture.  Spoon batter into muffin tins and bake for 15 minutes or until when pierced, a toothpick comes clean.  I baked them right before Maggie got home from school.  What a fabulous smell to come home to!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Manila Clams with Garlic, Thai Basil and Mint

Coming around the corner from the holidays, New Year, and birthday festivities, it was time to cut back a bit.  Hence, the buffet is seeing a lot less action these days until things shape up a little.  Tonight, a little Friday treat of clams in a simple wok fry.

1 pound clams
1 clove garlic, minced
1 serrano chili, roughly chopped
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
15 Thai basil leaves
20 Mint leaves
4 tbsp fish stock or water

Heat 2 tsp oil and fry garlic and chili until fragrant.  Add clams and then fish sauce and sugar and mix well.  Then add water, basil and mint and cover and cook until clams open.  Simple but very flavorful.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Goose Lettuce Cups

So, what does one do with left over goose?  I thought about the Peking Duck I've had in Hong Kong.  One of my favorite meals I had there.  We went to a restaurant serving pretty much only Peking Duck.  Not to waste any part of the duck, the restaurant served it 3 ways.  The main course is, of course, the crispy skin which you wrap in a soft bun with scallion, cucumber and hoisin sauce.  With the bones, they make a soup.  Then with the meat, they chop it up in bits and wok fry it.  So perfectly good.

With the goose leftovers from New Years, I made a lettuce cup.  I chopped up the meat into small bits.  Then wok fried finely chopped water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and dried shiitake mushrooms with garlic and ginger.  Then added the goose and the leftover sauce I served with the goose.  Finish with a sprinkle of chopped scallions.  Serve with iceberg lettuce cups.  

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Years Day Goose

A little excitement, a little curiosity, and a little greed is what led me to having this ten pound goose in my refrigerator.  Once that goose caught my eye in the store, there was no turning away.  I've only cooked goose one other time, about 15 years ago, and I remember it not being the most tender of outcomes.  So, a lot of contemplating went into how to attack this beautiful bird.  Here was the plan.
Render Fat in case I decide to do roasted potatoes in goose fat
Roast bones and make a stock
Quick brine goose in sea salt, brown sugar and bay leaf brine
Sear goose and finish by roasting in the oven
Make sauce with shallots, port, blood oranges, and stock
Serve with sauce, a mixture of sliced pear, apple and asian pear, possible chutney, potatoes, button mushrooms, and some kind of green vegetable

Render Fat.  Remove excess fat and place in a pan in a 250 oven until all fat is rendered.  Liquid gold.  Refrigerate or freeze for another use.
 Make a stock.  Salt and pepper bones, roast.  Chop carrots, celery and onion.  Roast.  Combine, add water along with several sprigs of thyme, parsley, a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf.  Simmer for 2 hours.  Strain, return to pan, bring to a rapid boil and reduce to 2 cups.  Chill overnight, remove fat.
Brine goose for 3.5 hours in a mixture of brown sugar, kosher salt, bay leaf and water.
Decide to cut goose into manageable pieces to sear and roast.  Remove any remaining excess fat.  Sear on all sides until browned.
Place in 400f oven until cooked through, about 30 minutes.
Make a sauce.  Saute minced shallots.  Add port and madeira (about 2/3 cup total), ran out of port, so using madeira too.  Bring to a simmer and reduce to 1/3 cup, add in juice of 1 blood orange.  Simmer and reduce to 1/2 cup.  Add in stock and bring back to simmer.  With a bit of the fat from searing the goose, make a roux to thicken sauce.  
Let goose rest before slicing.  Serve with Asian pear, sauteed button mushrooms and mashed potatoes.  The goose had great flavor, tasty and firm, but was not particularly tender.  Once again sauce was king.  Would I pine to do goose again?  Maybe not, but certainly worth the experience.