Whole snapper with ginger and scallions.

I have a few favorite people in this world, who probably don’t know they hold such a place in my heart.  There’s Dee, at Highland Company Gourmet Market, who raises her own cattle, cattle that provide the best beef I’ve ever tasted.  There’s Carol, at La Maison du Cheese (yes, that’s “The House of Cheese” in French, err, French-American) who bakes like a dream, a really, really delicious dream, things like croissants with brie and roasted pear inside, and pecan sticky buns.

Snapper

There’s Emil and Joe at Maresca and Sons Fine Meats, who have the best pork belly and sausages.  And David and Patty at Podere di Melo farm, who have the chickens that I’m forever waxing sentimental over, the only chickens that I eat anymore, whose bones make for the best, happiest stock.  There’s crisp, sweet, unbelievably good apples up the road at Solebury Orchards, and even more a little further, at Manoff Market Gardens.

Snapper

There’s the gang at Bobolink Dairy, who are over 2 hours away from me, but whose cheese makes every mile of the drive worth it, and whose roasted garlic and duck fat bread is liable to make me weep the whole way home.  There’s Blue Moon Acres, the specialty organic lettuce farm that opens for only a few hours each week, and is known for providing some of the best NYC restaurants with their greens, the farm that I make it to practically every week despite the time constraints, and whose lettuce makes everyone I feed it to do a double take, because Really? Is lettuce supposed to taste this good?

Ginger

And there’s The Seafood of Buckingham Valley, or Buckingham Seafood, as everyone calls it.  It’s almost indecent, really, for us to be able to buy such great seafood, fresh as can be, out in the country where we’re already spoiled with pastured eggs and heirloom pork, and all the fresh apple cider we could ask for.  But, thankfully, this isn’t just a farm-area, this is a foodie-area, and we want it all, the best of everything, and (it never ceases to make me smile) there’s wonderful people willing to give it to us.

Snapper, covered

Everyone who lives here and likes fish talks about Buckingham Seafood, and how dedicated the family-run business is to their product.  They love fish, that’s for certain.  Sometimes, we’ll go there and Nick will tell us that they’ve been restraining themselves from eating all of the tuna that day, cut from a fatty piece of belly, and that we’d be crazy not to buy it while it’s still there.

Snapper, sauced

Their whole fish is always as fresh as can be, with clear, glossy eyes, and the smell of sea, not fish.  Jim and I make a lot of whole fish, it’s a weeknight go-to meal, and though it may seem daunting if you’ve never cooked whole fish before, it’s really easy, well, maybe not easier than sauteing a fillet, but cheaper than fillets, and worth learning.  The main thing, I think, is to make sure that the first few times you try your hand at whole fish, you’re cooking for people who you don’t feel uncomfortable telling them there might be a few bones to pick through.  Because while it’s easy to fillet a whole fish, it can make you a little bit anxious the first time, and unless you’re with friends, you’re liable to sit there picking out bones long enough that the fish turns cold. After a few times, though, you’ll get the hang of it, and know just where most of the bones lie, and how to fillet around them, or where to quickly pick them out of the fillet.

Snapper

Steamed with ginger and scallions was the first preparation that Jim and I ever used for whole fish, and it’s a simple winner.  With nothing more than pantry staples and a whole fish (snapper or black bass are good choices) you can put together a delicious meal in about 30 minutes.  We usually serve this with plain white rice on the side, sauced with some of the liquid that remains in the baking dish, but I’ll also braise some green beans with garlic and ginger if I’m feeling energetic enough at 8 o’clock on a weeknight, the time we usually get around to making dinner.

Whole Snapper with Ginger and Scallions

But before you go running off to find a local fish market, I want to thank you for your comments last post.  They cheered me up during rough nights, when I read through your condolences, and it was wonderful to hear how many of you would like an onion and peanut butter sandwich!

Whole Snapper with Ginger and Scallions

from Gourmet (oh, sadness) February 2006

1 (3-lb) whole red snapper or black bass, cleaned, leaving head and tail intact
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch scallions, white and pale green parts cut into very thin 2-inch strips and greens reserved separately
1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into very thin matchsticks
3 tablespoons light soy sauce (preferably Pearl River Bridge brand)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400°F. Put baking dish in roasting pan.

Rinse fish and pat dry, then rub inside and out with salt. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with scallion strips (white and pale green) and ginger.

Stir together soy sauce and sugar until sugar is dissolved, then pour over fish. Add enough boiling-hot water to roasting pan to reach halfway up side of baking dish. Oil a large sheet of heavy-duty foil, then tent foil (oiled side down) over fish and tightly seal around roasting pan. Carefully transfer roasting pan to oven and bake until fish is just cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes.

While fish bakes, cut enough scallion greens diagonally into very thin slices to measure 1/2 cup (reserve remainder for another use).

Just before serving, remove foil from fish and sprinkle with scallion greens. Heat oil over high heat until just smoking. Remove from heat and immediately pour oil over scallion greens and fish.

Ricotta gnocchi with corn and chanterelles.

This is not the time, amid all this heat, humidity, and rain, to ask you to stand in your kitchen with the stove-top going—two burners—and roll gnocchi.  And it isn’t the time, quite frankly, to ask you to eat gnocchi, ricotta gnocchi, covered in brown butter; heavy with cheese and fat.

But it is the season for corn. And chanterelles are popping up here in New Jersey. And there’s lots of fresh summer herbs.  This gnocchi is perfect, really, for after one of those summer days of swimming and exercise; those days when you get home in good spirits with some adrenaline left and you can get to work rolling gnocchi. Then by the time dinner hits the table, you’ll be ravenous.

I think I just planned your Saturday.

You won’t be disappointed.  Homemade gnocchi is just better than anything you can get frozen or—gasp!—from a box.  (Though, to be honest, I’ve heard that Trader Joe’s frozen gnocchi is pretty good…)  It takes a little getting used to; you need to use the right amount of pressure while you roll each piece against the tines of a fork in order to make those pretty little grooves, and while that right amount of pressure can’t be taught by a recipe, it’s easily learned after you experience squashing your first few.

It’s a bit more labor intensive than rolling out pasta, but I think I mentioned, cheese is involved in this dough, so a little more labor is worth it.  And gnocchi is the perfect pasta fix for those without a pasta machine.

This gnocchi recipe is Suzanne Goin’s from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, a gorgeous cookbook, organized by season. I want to make every single one of her recipes, but this was the perfect way to jump into the book.  The gnocchi cook up luscious and tender, only to be made more so by the brown butter used to cook each component of the recipe.  First the chanterelles are fried in the butter with thyme until they are crisp and ruthlessly seductive.  You really must work not to eat them all before the dish is done.  Then sage is added to the butter, and the house all of a sudden smells better than ever.  Corn gets tossed in with some shallots; the hot butter shines over each kernel of corn before slipping around to hug the gnocchi, which is added to the pan last.  Let everything saute for a moment and then serve with lots of fresh parsley, some chives, a grating of parmigianno, and some crispy toasted breadcrumbs.

We ate this alongside spare ribs from the local farm, from pigs we met last winter, using James Beard’s recipe for baking spare ribs.  His technique let the natural pork flavor sing and we couldn’t decide which we liked better, the ribs or the gnocchi, until we decided that it was useless, they were both so good, working so well together, that picking sides would be like choosing between chocolate chip cookies and cupcakes.  But everything about the gnocchi, we did agree, even with all it’s lusciousness and butter, epitomized summer.  It’s irrestible.  Happy-making.

Now get rolling.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Chanterelles, Sweet Corn, and Sage Brown Butter

adapted (ever so slightly) from Sunday Supper at Lucques

The only adaption I made was to add less salt than the original recipe.  During the last step, Goin advised us to add another 1 teaspoon salt, but I found I didn’t need that.  I recommend tasting before adding.

1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 pound chanterelles, cleaned
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
1 tablespoon sliced sage leaves
3 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 ears)
2/3 cup diced shallots
1 recipe ricotta gnocchi (follows)
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

Toss breadcrumbs with 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Spread them on a baking sheet, and toast 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until golden brown.

If the mushrooms are big, tear them into bite-size pieces.

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and heat another minute.  Swirl in 1 tablespoon butter, and when it foams, add the mushrooms, half the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a health pinch of pepper.  Saute the mushrooms about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re tender and a little crispy.  Don’t be tempted to move them around in the pan too much in the beginning: let them sear a little before stirring.  Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a platter.

Return the pan to the stove, and heat on high for 1 minute.  Add the remaining 6 tablespoons butter to the pan, and cook a minute or two, until the butter starts to brown.  Add the sage, let it sizzle, and then add the corn, shallots, remaining thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and some freshly ground pepper.  Saute quickly, tossing the corn in the hot butter for about 2 minutes, until the corn is just tender.  Add the gnocchi and toss well to coat with the corn and brown butter.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, add the mushrooms.  Toss to combine, and heat the mushrooms through.  Add the parsley.  Arrange the gnocchi on a large platter, and shower with the breadcrumbs.  Grate over some parmesan cheese if you like.

Ricotta Gnocchi

2 extra-large eggs (I used eggs from my friend’s chickens, which were smaller than extra-large, but didn’t notice a difference)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
1 pound whole milk ricotta, drained if wet
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Beat the eggs together in a small bowl.

Place 2 cups flour, 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and the ricotta in a large mixing bowl.  With a dinner knife in each hand, cut the ricotta into the flour.  When the flour and ricotta are combined, make a well in the center and pour in the eggs.  Use a fork and, starting in the middle of the mixture, incorporate the eggs into the flour and ricotta.  Knead the dough with your hands briefly, just to bring together while being careful not to overwork it.  Shape the dough into a ball, and place it on a lightly floured cutting board.  Cut the ball into four pieces, and cover with a clean kitchen towel.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.

One by one, take each piece of dough out from underneath the towel, cut it in half, and roll it into a 3/4 inch thick rope on a lightly floured cutting board.  The amount of flour on the board is very important:  if you have too much the dough is difficult to roll, and if you don’t use enough, the dough will stick to the board.  Cut the ropes into 1-in-long pices, and sprinkle a little flour over them. Using your thumb, roll each piece of dough over the back of those tines of a fork, leaving an indentation from your thumb on one side and the marking from the fork on the other.

Plunge the gnocchi into the boiling water in batches.  Once they rise to the surface, cook them for 1 minute more.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a baking sheet or platter.  Drizzle the cooked gnocchi with the olive oil, and toss to coat them well.

Mascarpone Chicken

I hope you won’t think me immodest if I say I can roast a serious chicken. Because, ahem, I can.

The art of chicken roasting is a lifelong project and all, so maybe my chickens aren’t the best they can be (yet); and it could be that half of the knock-you-off-your-chairness of my roast chickens owes to their being Podere di Melo chickens, but I nonetheless think my roast chickens are cause for immodesty.  And unchecked gluttony too, since Jim and I are liable to polish off a whole bird whenever we roast one.

Usually, I keep it simple with roast chicken: some lemon, butter, salt and pepper—and into the oven.  I’m always in love with the outcome, and it’s hard to want for anything different.  Except, of course, if there’s cheese involved.

Mascarpone cheese in fact, and how could anyone resist that?  There’s herbs too, and even the tiniest bit of olive oil, and lots of salt and pepper.  And if you follow the recipe, I promise it will be a serious chicken, with skin so crisp it crackles, and cheese hiding underneath it, lush and herb-y.  There’s more cheese than can be stuffed under the chicken, so halfway through the roasting process, you spoon the uncooked cheese all around the chicken.  It makes a creamy, curd-like sauce.  If you’ve ever had milk-braised pork, you know what the sauce will taste like, and it’s okay if you need to leave right now to procure a chicken.

Don’t fret if you’ve never spatchcocked a chicken before (and don’t skip this step, spatchcocking allows for every inch of the skin to crisp up into a delicious golden brown).  All you need is a good pair of kitchen shears (or a good handle on your sharpest knife).  You cut out the backbone, and then place the chicken cavity-side down on the cutting board.  Press down with a heavy hand to break the breast-bone, so that the chicken lies flat.  Ta-da!  You’re done.  It can seem a little brutal the first time, backbone cutting and breast-bone breaking, but let’s not forget that we are eating the chicken already, so we might as well prepare the thing right. I imagine if I were to be roasted and feasted upon, I’d want to look like this:

Roast chickens can be a tough thing for families—one roast chicken never seems to feed enough people—but in this recipe, a little goes a long way.  Jim and I couldn’t finish our pieces, no matter how hard we tried (and normally we put away a whole one).  It was so luscious and filling, one chicken could certainly feed four.  But better yet, you could make it for one, and have a lot of leftovers.

Mascarpone and Herb Stuffed Chicken

serves 4

for the filling

3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz mascarpone cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
small handful of oregano
small handful of parsley
small(er) handful of thyme

for the chicken

1 chicken, any size, though to feed 4 you’ll need about one of about 4-5 pounds
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine garlic, mascarpone, eggs, parmigianno, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
Cut out backbones from chicken with kitchen shears. Pat chicken dry, then spread flat, cavity side down, on a cutting board. With a heavy hand, press down at the middle of the breasts until you hear the breast-bone break. Cut two slits in the chicken skin, in the creases between the thighs and the breasts.

Sprinkle each chicken with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. To loosen the skin, gently slide your finger between skin and flesh of the breast, starting at the top. Slide your finger between the skin and flesh of the legs by going through the slits you made (be careful not to tear skin). Using a small spoon, slide 2/3 cup ricotta mixture under skin, using a finger outside of skin to spread filling over meat of breast, thighs, and drumsticks. Tuck the wing tips under. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Place chicken in a well oiled roasting pan, skin side up.

Reserve remaining filling.

Bake chickens in middle of oven 30 minutes, then spoon remaining filling around chicken. Continue baking until chicken is just cooked through and instant read thermometer reads about 165F, about 20 minutes more. Let chickens stand 10 minutes, then cut each into quarters. Serve with cheese.

Bacon-wrapped Yellowtail

Sorry for the radio silence; Jim and I went on a road trip last week.  I figured I could slip away, under the cover of fireworks.  We set off on the fourth of July and made our way to Lexington, NC for barbecue, then Savannah, GA for fried chicken, Florida for the ocean (and, more importantly, my grandparents), then back to Savannah.  We listened to the audio version of the Iliad along the way, which made our adventure down the east coast seem all the more glorious.  But that’s all I’m going to tell you for now; we’re letting the trip digest a bit before posting.

I did prepare something for you, though.  The night before we left we snuck over, again, to Jim’s parents’ empty house to grill, this time bacon-wrapped, herb-stuffed yellowtail snapper.  By chance, we bought a way-too-big-for-the-two-of-us fish, because it looked so pristine and delicious—a good thing, because we were ready when Jim’s parents came home early from their vacation, surprising us (and themselves) in the kitchen!  It became an impromtu welcome home/bon voyage party, with fish, avocado and tomato salad, grilled zucchini, and bread and butter.

The fish is one we’ve done many times, for good reason.  You take a whole fish, yellowtail for instance, though red snapper, bronzino, and many others work as well, and stuff it with whatever fresh herbs you can get your hands on (I like to use a mix of many herbs, so that no one stands out too much) and thin slices of lemon.  Then, and this is the good part, you salt and pepper and wrap it in bacon, from the head to the tail, and throw it on a hot grill.

It only takes a few minutes to cook the fish and crisp the bacon.  We like for it to blacken on the top and bottom; sprinkled with a touch of lemon juice, the charred bacon crumbles over the fish flesh as you eat and it’s fresh and savory and ahh, well, it’s just what it sounds like. Also, we could feed four people with a fish just over 2 pounds (that’s counting the weight of the carcass), because a little goes a long way here—a welcome thing for impromptu dinner parties.

Bacon-wrapped Yellowtail

serves 4

  • 1 (2.5 pound) whole yellowtail snapper, have the fishmonger clean and remove fins for you
  • salt, pepper
  • handful of mixed herbs, parsley, dill, thyme are good ones
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • about 6-8 slices good bacon
  • lemon wedges, for serving

Turn the grill on high.  Check that the fish has been scaled fully, and remove any stray scales.  Salt and pepper the inside cavity of the fish and fill with herbs and lemon slices.  Salt and pepper the outside of the fish and then wrap in bacon, overlapping each slice with other slices (to ensure that everything stays put).  Grill 7 minutes on each side, or until the fish is opaque and tender and the bacon is crisp and beginning to blacken.  Fillet and serve with lemon wedges.

Cowboy steaks, fried potatoes and artichokes, onions and green beans.

I consider myself lucky.  I live within ten-minutes of this steak.

The Highland Company Gourmet Market in Kingwood Township, New Jersey, sits on lush green where Highland cows (and a rather menacing bull) hang out all day, chomping on the grass or watching the family soccer games across the fence.  These cowboy steaks, however, don’t come from those Highland cows (the punk-rock of cow breeds), but considering the care and love that Dee gives her own, I’m sure the local farms that she chooses to distribute from are just as good.  (I’m sure, also, because we asked.)

Steak aside, I also consider myself unlucky, or at least lazy, because since our neighbor Bob moved away, Jim and I have been without a grill.  So far this season, I’ve been able to satisfy my grilling urges through dinners at my parents’, where my dad charcoal grills spare ribs, or porterhouse steaks, or hot dogs with deliciously crisp charred edges, but when we saw the cowboy steaks at the market this weekend, we knew we’d have to find a house with a grill.  This wasn’t hard; Jim’s parents have a grill and were away for a few days and we gleefully took on the job of feeding the cats (and playing house.)

Besides a grill, there was also a pretty little herb patch at my disposal and the perfectly purple sage leaves did not go untouched, (thanks, Lydia!) destined to be a garnish on our fried potatoes and artichokes.

Because our date with a grill had become something of a grand affair, I picked up a few artichokes and some colorful potatoes—purple, red, and white; dolling up Tesa Kiros’ recipe of fried russet potato and artichoke bottoms.

If you’ve never pared down an artichoke before, make sure you have two knives: a serrated knife and a sharp chef or paring knife.  You need a serrated to cut off the top half of the artichoke and the chef knife to slice off all the leaves.  You also need a spoon for gouging out the choke.  And maybe a y-shaped peeler to peel the very bottom.  And surely this guide to help you along.

I fried the potatoes in corn oil (a lot of corn oil), putting them in the oil about 10 minutes before throwing in the artichokes.  The whole mess fried for about a half hour; long enough to make me get very worried that the potatoes would never brown, long enough so that they finally did brown, got crisp on the outside and mashed-up creamy inside, with a best freakin’ fried potato in the world taste.  The artichokes were a definite plus, elevating it from french fries to elegant, and the sage must be used, it’s non-negotiable; it added a serious pop of flavor whenever you came across it, and was paper-thin and crunchy like a chip.  I scattered fleur de sel over everything as soon as it came out of the oil.  The mineral-tasting salt was just the thing.

Jim marinated the steak in garlic, thyme, rosemary, and sage, then cooked the steak mostly on the grill, finishing in the oven.  In hindsight, he says he would have done the whole thing on the grill (something I thought from the beginning, but you can’t question a man with a plan) and that’s what you should do, too.

Oven, grill, whatever; the steak turned out fantastic (I don’t imagine it could turn out any other way.)  Rare in the middle with some char all around, garlicky and well-seasoned, we happily ate it up, saving some for a midnight snack, and lunch the next day, before handing off the bone to a very eager dog.

We also made some green beans and cippolini onions, which were fresh, buttery, and sweet.  A rather good steakhouse dinner date, if we do say so ourselves.  It’d go over fabulously for father’s day, without a doubt, if you can find a good cowboy steak (and if you live anywhere near Kingwood, New Jersey, it’s worth a drive.)  I’d be making it for my dad, but we’re away for the weekend attending another engagement party in our honor, this one out in East Hampton.  Luckily for me, the Highland Market is going to have these every weekend.

Cowboy Steak

serves 2

1 cowboy steak
salt
olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
handful or herbs (we use thyme, rosemary, and sage)
pepper

A day or two before you plan on eating the steak, salt it generously on all sides and return to the fridge.  The day of, take the steak out and transfer to a plate.  Combine some olive oil, the garlic cloves, and herbs.  Massage into steak and let sit for a few hours.  Grill according to how you like you steaks (we don’t own a grill, so don’t want to act like authorities.)

Fried Potatoes and Artichokes

serves 6

2 1/2 lbs potatoes, preferably mixed varieties (we used purple fingerling, red bliss, and new), cut in halves or quarters
6-8 medium artichokes, trimmed and cut into halves or quarters (you can peel and halve the stems, too)
small handful sage leaves
corn oil for deep frying
fleur de sel

Prepare your potatoes and artichokes.  Fill a large saucepan or pot halfway full with corn oil and turn heat on the stove top to medium high.  When the oil reaches frying temp (350F-375F), add your potatoes.  Let them settle for about five minutes then give them a good stirring with a wooden spoon.  Let fry for about 8 minutes, then add artichokes and give a good stir.  Continue to fry for another 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are golden brown and crunchy.  Add sage leaves and fry 1 minute more.  Remove everything to drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with fleur de sel and serve with lemon wedges.

Cippolini Onions and Green Beans

serves 4-6

1 1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
5-6 cippolini onions, halved and peeled
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 teaspoon olive oil
fresh thyme
salt, pepper

Add 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil to a large saute pan over medium heat.  Carefully place the onions cut-side down.  Season with salt, pepper, and thyme leaves to taste.  Saute for about 5-10 minutes, until the onions are darkly caramelized.  Turn onions on their sides with tongs.  Add green beans and stir to combine.  Add about 1/4 cup water and cover.  Cook for 5-10 more minutes, or until the green beans are tender to your liking.  Serve hot or warm.

Moonfish with feta and lemon.

In sticking with my new fearless food-self, embracing the foods I’d heretofore hid from, I bought feta for dinner.  As much as I love cheeses, I’ve never had a thing for feta.  Too salty, or spongy, and I’d tasted it as too-large chunks in otherwise delicate salads too many times before.  Things like that can turn a girl off if she’s not set on food fearlessness.


Thank goodness for that, too, or I would have never tasted melted feta.  Now, if you’re like me and you hold things against feta for it’s spongy saltiness, then do yourself a favor and melt it; with a little help from added ingredients, the cheese transforms, no sponginess and nothing overly salty, a creamy coat of cheese spiked through with little chunks of not-yet-melted feta.  By broiling it you even get little browned spots that will certainly be your favorite part.

The fish we used was opah, or moonfish.  The skin has the prettiest pattern—little moons—and even though it’s too tough for me to eat, I left it on.  Unless you want to tell guests too take off the skin before eating, I suggest you skin the fish beforehand.  Opah is a meaty fish, a lot like swordfish or tuna, and can be used interchangeably with other meaty fishes.  Like these other fishes, though, opah, as pretty as it is, has high levels of mercury.

I mixed the feta with some mayonnaise for creaminess, fresh dill and orange mint, a delicious breed of mint that I’ve been growing and raving about.  It’s slightly citrusy with a touch of orange, not overpowering like lemon or cinnamon mint is—perfect for salads or fish, or eating little leaves as you water.

The herbs flavored the fish perfectly; with the feta and mayonnaise it was a lot like a tangy compound butter.  Try to slice the lemon as thinly as possible, with a mandoline or a very sharp knife, because I have a feeling too much lemon would overpower. We served the fish with toasted orzo with fennel and saffron (from the recent issue of Gourmet, where I found the recipe for the fish) that was so good, it deserves it’s own post (after I make it again with a tweak or two).  It would be good served with rice, but not as good, I think, so here’s the link to the orzo in case you can’t wait.

Moonfish with Feta and Lemon

adapted from Gourmet, June 2009

2 pieces moonfish (opah) fillet, or substitute mahi-mahi or swordfish
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup crumbled feta
2 tablespoons chopped orange mint, or substitute regular mint
1 tablespoons chopped dill
squeeze of lemon juice
8 very thin lemon slices
oil

Preheat broiler. Put a cast-iron skillet in the oven to preheat as well.

Season fish with a little salt and pepper.

Whisk together mayonnaise, feta, herbs, and lemon juice and spread over top of fish. Put 2 lemon slices (slightly overlapping) on center of each fillet. Drizzle lemon slices with oil.

Broil fish 8 inches from heat until just cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. If topping browns before fish is cooked, cover loosely with foil. Serve fish with orzo.

Chicken, mushroom, and potato hot pot.

Do you like Jamie Oliver?  He came into my frame of reference about a year ago; before that he sat in the black hole in my mind reserved for TV-celebrity chefs: I knew of him, would sometimes catch a show (absentmindedly while doing laundry) but I didn’t cook from his recipes.  After a while, though, I found myself waking up at 7:30 on Saturday mornings to watch the reruns of his show Jamie at Home, looking forward to it for days really, to wake up before anyone else and make a cup of coffee and sit and watch his show, deciding what to cook for dinner.

Thankfully we’ve gotten Tivo since then, because waking up at 7:30 on a weekend never feels as nice when the afternoon rolls around and you want to nap, and I can record, and save, all of Jamie’s shows.  Jim’s convinced that I just like to watch Jamie and his cute British slang, but really it’s (well mostly it’s) the food.  It’s home-cooking, the way home-cooking should be.  There’s an attention to detail without being fussy; an attention to the right details, really, the ones that will help to make the food taste better.  A lot of his dishes are rather ugly, plebeian-looking things.  But the flavors are there, present and beautiful.

This chicken and mushroom dish became my favorite Jamie Oliver dish.  It’s unabashedly simple.  You fry up some vegetables in chicken fat, then add mushrooms and cook until they are dry.  Then you add some chicken pieces, nutmeg, herbs, wine, and sliced par-boiled potatoes.  The dish ends up akin to a shepherd’s pie, with browned, roast potatoes subbing for mashed (a substitution that suits me well) and a warm, earthy flavor that’s perfect for a cool May night, just when you thought summer was about to come and all of a sudden it’s 50 degrees out there.

Jamie Oliver’s cooking no longer sits in the black-hole and I’m a bit sad for how long it took me to come around.  If you’re a home cook who hasn’t been introduced to the man yet, I urge you to try this dish.  (If you can find lovage, which is the herb used in Jamie’s recipe, try it with that too.)  I also urge you to Tivo some of his shows.  His British slang is pretty adorable.

Chicken, Mushroom, and Potato Hot Pot

adapted from Jamie Oliver’s website

serves 4

6 medium potatoes, skins on
2 big handfuls mixed wild mushrooms, or 3 portobello mushrooms
6 chicken thighs, 3 chicken drumsticks
1 red onions, peeled
1 celery sticks
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp plain flour
a few sprigs parsley and thyme, leaves picked
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt, pepper
chicken stock, homemade (made with the bones in this recipe if you don’t have any on hand)
splash of dry vermouth
a little melted butter

Cook potatoes in salted boiling water until just tender. Drain and cool.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Take skin off chicken thighs and drumsticks and cut meat from the bones, saving a few pieces of skin and the bones for stock (made now if you don’t have homemade stock on hand or saved for later.)

In a large oven-proof skillet or braiser, add some of the chicken skin and render the fat. Once rendered, remove the skin and add onion, celery, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until most of the moisture has evaporated. Add mushrooms and cook over medium heat until all the moisture has evaporated. Add chicken and then vermouth and cook it down. Add flour and stir to combine, then add a tablespoon or two of stock to make a thick gravy. Add herbs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Arrange potato slices on top of skillet, as pretty as you can manage. Brush some melted butter over potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Place skillet in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are golden browned and chicken is cooked through and tender.

Pork with cardamom apricot sauce.

We bought a sixty dollar boston butt for the holiday weekend, for the two of us, without so much as a blink.  It’s not that Jim and I have enough to spend money willy-nilly (not even close); but we’ve changed our lifestyles in the past few years to accommodate eating ethically raised meats and buying from respectable fish mongers and local farms.  You remember, Michael Pollen urged us all to do so a few years back, asking  us to change our lives and spend a bigger portion of our incomes on food.  Well, we took that advice and ran with it and I think we now must spend near half of our combined monthly income on food.  It’s pretty delicious.

Once you get over the sticker shock from buying naturally-raised meats, you realize it’s not such a bad price after all.  Like buying a 4 dollar dozen of local farm-raised chicken eggs is really only about 33¢ an egg, our sixty dollar boston butt has already provided us with two dinners, three lunches, and we still have enough for another dinner and at least one more lunch to go; and considering we would’ve resorted to going out to eat on the night we had the first helping of leftovers, we probably saved some money.  And the pig that provided our pork was raised in a bonafide pig paradise (woods, little lake, lots of room).  And he was happy, and healthy, and not overly stressed, and that makes me the same.

What makes me even happier, though, is the cardamom apricot sauce that dressed the meat.  It’s luxurious and creamy because of the pork fat but piercing in flavor, with cardamom, ginger, brandy, orange, and cayenne.  The recipe is Molly Stevens’ with a few tweaks I made on a last minute whim; I ran the sauce through a food mill and then picked out the apricots and blended them into the thick liquid.  You could leave out that part, you’d end up with a stew of vegetables, strewn with silken, tender apricots.

Either way, make sure not to skip the step of hulling the cardamom, and crushing the seeds a bit; it’s an easy task and well worth the pay-off of not having shards of cardamom pods in your sauce.  We had this with white rice the first night, and brown rice for the leftovers, and I was partial to the brown—it’s nuttiness complemented the sweet sauce well.  A crisp white wine went fabulously too; a great Memorial weekend meal, even if there were no hot dogs involved.

Pork with Cardamom Apricot Sauce

adapted from All About Braising, Molly Stevens

1 (7-pound) bone-in pork shoulder roast, preferably Boston butt, preferably naturally raised
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium leek, white and pale green part only, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 medium yellow onion (about 6 ounces) coarsely chopped
6 cardamom pods, husks split, seeds lightly crushed
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon minced or grated fresh ginger
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 strips orange zest, about 3 by 3/4 inches
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons apricot brandy or Cognac
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup dried apricots
scallions and cilantro, for garnish
brown rice (to serve)

Heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Pat surface of pork with a paper towel to dry. Score the fat in a cross-hatch pattern.  Season generously with salt and pepper, rubbing seasoning into the fat.  In a large dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat, add oil.  Place pork in fat-side down and brown, then turn pork to brown deeply on all sides, about 15-20 minutes in all. Transfer to a plate.

Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat and return the pot to medium heat. Add leek, carrots and onions. Stir in cardamom, turmeric and cayenne. Stir to mix everything up.  Add ginger, garlic, zest and bay leaf. Cook for 2 minutes until spices are fragrant.

Pour brandy into the pot. Bring to a boil for about 1 minute, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release any caramelized bits, until reduced in half. Add wine and boil for 4 minutes, scraping sides and bottom with the spoon. Pour in stock, bring to a boil. Add apricots and mix everything up.

Set the pork on top of vegetables in pot. Pour in any accumulated juices from the plate. Bring liquid to an easy simmer and spoon some over the pork. Cover the meat with parchment paper, using enough paper that it extends over the sides of the pot.

Set the lid in place and slide the pot onto a shelf in the lower third of the oven to braise. Every 30 minutes, lift the lid to check that the liquid is simmering gently. Turn pork. If the liquid is simmering too aggressively, lower the oven heat 10 or 15 degrees. Braise until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Remove meat from pot and cover loosely with foil for 10 minutes.

Using a ladel, transfer vegetables to a food mill set with medium-hold disc over a medium bowl.  Turn crane vigoriously, so that the vegetables mash and strain into the liquid to create a thick sauce.  Pick out any apricots from the solids and add to sauce.  Discard other solids.  Blend sauce with a stick blender until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Carve pork into thick slices and serve with sauce, scallions, and cilantro.

With olives.

There’s something on my mind: I’ve found (in real-life and through comments) that a lot of people are self-prescribed haters of certain foods—and I just don’t get it. Putting foods on a “hate to eat” list is so limiting.  Think of all the deliciousness that you may be keeping from yourself! I’ve had many experiences when I tried a food that I disliked, one that was prepared by a fabulous cook or chef, and promptly threw it into the category of favorite foods.  Beets, poached eggs, pate, fennel—they were all on my dislike list at one point or another and, even though I still rarely eat beets (by choice) and pate (by crying myself to sleep some nights because I can’t afford to eat pate), they don’t sit on a list anymore.  I don’t have the list anymore; set fire to it a while ago.  It’s very freeing.

Olives were on that list right up until the burning of it.  I never liked olives; no, I hated olives.  Olives aren’t an odd thing to dislike, Harold McGee calls the olive fruit “highly unpalatable” and notes that we really only like to eat them when cured.  But I didn’t want to eat them at all.  Didn’t want them near my vodka.  Didn’t want to smell them as I passed by the olive bar at the market.  I also, however, hadn’t tried one in years.  Not a smart move for a supposed “foodie.”

Well, I’m happy to say that I tried olives and liked them.  I did it out of desperation.  I was in a slump this winter and needed a new and exciting recipe.  I found one in Saveur magazine, a recipe for sea bass baked in parchment with keilbasa, olives, and fennel.  It wasn’t my favorite recipe, but the best part about it was the olives.  Baked in the oven until soft and oozing their brine, olives are meltingly, disarmingly delicious.  I’m still not a fan of eating olives out of hand, except maybe for nicoise, but I love to cook with olives.

This in particular is my newest favorite olive recipe.  You roast a cut-up chicken with lots of rosemary, thyme, and pancetta, until golden brown, then throw in some black olives and roast until the olives are tender, the chicken browned, and the pancetta crispy.  Because you are using olives, which have such an intense, briny taste, you can go crazy with the herbs.  Don’t hold back on the rosemary or thyme—and use fresh.  The sweetly woody aroma of the herbs are a perfect match for olives; and the roasted garlic is a perfect match for anything.  We had this on top of pureed cauliflower with a clove of the roasted garlic mashed up into the puree, and it was just heaven. With olives.

Chicken with Pancetta and Olives

serves 2-3

adapted from Gourmet, January 2009

  • 1 chicken (about 3 pounds), backbones cut out and each chicken cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • scant 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • pinch hot red-pepper flakes
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved if large
  • 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 12 oil-cured black olives
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • more water, to thin, if needed

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.  Toss chicken with oil, thyme, rosemary, sea salt, red-pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon pepper, rubbing mixture into chicken.

Arrange chicken, skin side up, in 1 layer in a 17-by 11-inch 4-sided sheet pan. Scatter garlic and pancetta on top and roast until chicken begins to brown, about 20 minutes. Drizzle wine over chicken and roast 8 minutes more. Scatter olives over chicken and roast until skin is golden brown and chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, add 1/4 cup water and cauliflower.  Cover and cook over medium heat until cauliflower is very tender.  Add butter and one small (or one half large) clove of the roasted garlic and puree with a stick blender or in a stand blender until very smooth.

Serve chicken on top of a mound of cauliflower.

Red-cooked pork belly

I’ve made a recipe similar to this red-cooked pork belly before, so I’ll give you a tip: make this one instead.  While I loved the soupy-version from The River Cottage Meat Book, it lacked the texture and the intensity that this version has.  This version, adapted from both the RCMB and from a post on the wonderful blog, the Red Cook, is flavored with anise, ginger, and orange.  The belly meat is caramelized and the surrounding sauce turns syrupy and thick, perfect for coating fluffy white rice.

Now, there’s about a gahzillion versions of red-cooked pork belly and I’m in no way claiming any authority.  As an Asian-style cook, I’m amateur at best, and being that I’ve never had red-cooked pork belly at a Chinese restaurant (why, oh why do we not see this on Chinese menus in America), I don’t have much to base my recipe off of.  But it’s mouth-wateringly delicious and that’s enough for me (and you, I hope.)

The most important difference between my first pork belly recipe and this one is caramelization.  Because of the layer of fat on the pork belly, it tastes best after a quick rendering on high heat, browning the the top of the fat and all the sides, and then adding the flavorings, especially the orange peel, to quickly caramelize too, before adding any liquid.  Then as soon as you put in the liquid, the rendered fat and browned up bits will incorporate and begin to thicken and create the sauce.  With the heat lowered, you allow the pork to cook and everything to meld together for a few hours, the liquid reducing a little.  I add a bit of cornstarch, mixed first with water to create a slurry, to the liquid when it’s close to done, to thicken it up more (and because I love the taste of cornstarch-thickened sauces.)

It just so happens that I returned to the Red Cook’s blog today and saw this post, where Kian revisited his first red-cooked pork belly recipe and came to the conclusion that it’s better to boil the pork belly before beginning the recipe.  While I did this on my first pork belly try, I didn’t this time and now I’m banging my head against the wall—wondering how good it could have been with this step (could it have been better? My head might explode.)  Do whatever you like, it will still be great without the par-boiling, but I’m surely going on Kian’s word next time and adding the extra step.  The rest of my recipe, however, will remain untouched; I don’t think my head could handle anything more delicious.

Red-cooked Pork Belly

adapted from River Cottage Meat Book and The Red Cook

2 lb. pork belly meat cut into two inch cubes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
3 whole star anise
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
peel from 1/2 orange
3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
water to almost cover

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with tablespoon water, to make a slurry

scallions and cilantro for garnish
white rice

In a 4-6 quart dutch oven or pot, melt sugar into oil over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until sugar turns a deep brown color. Put the pork belly pieces in the pot and brown them on all sides, caramelizing, about 10 minutes.

Add the star anise, ginger, orange peel. Cook for another 2 minutes and then add dark soy sauce, wine and water into the pot. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat. Cook for about 1 hour . Remove the cover and cook for another hour. Add cornstarch slurry and turn up the heat to medium. Cook the meat for another 10 minutes until the sauce reduces to a smooth consistency.

Serve with white rice and scallions and cilantro for garnish. Try and save some for leftovers, mixed together in a Tupperware. The rice will be to die for.