Friday, January 30, 2015

Sea Bass in Papillote

Last Year's Post: Coq Au Vin
Two Years Ago:  Lobster with Pasta and White Wine-Butter Sauce

Don't let the term "in papillote" (pa-pee-yoh) scare you - it just refers to something baked in a paper or foil pouch to seal in moisture.  Fish is often prepared this way because it cooks perfectly and the accompanying flavors in the pouch infuse the fish while it cooks.  It's really easy, delicious, and kind of spectacular if you serve individual pouches that the diners can open themselves.

This particular recipe for sea bass simplifies the process by cooking all the fish together in one big foil packet, but you can also make individual pouches.  I was cooking for two people, so I put the two pieces of fish in one packet for simplicity.

Sea bass is a wonderful mild white fish that pairs well with the other Mediterranean flavors in the dish, but if you don't care for or can't find sea bass you could substitute halibut, cod, salmon, swordfish, snapper, or any other fish that you like.  This dish follows the principles of a Mediterranean diet so it's not only delicious, it's healthy as well.  Pair with a green vegetable and some brown rice or other whole grain for a complete dinner.

The process is very simple - just assemble the fish with the other ingredients, seal up the foil around it, and bake.  The foil packet may be assembled in advance and refrigerated which makes it a great make-ahead option for entertaining.

printable recipe
Sea Bass in Papillote
Serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
4 (6-oz) fillets black sea bass or striped bass (1/2 to 1 ¼ inches thick)
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
8 thin lemon slices (from 1 large lemon)
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
12 cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, halved
1 ½ tablespoons drained bottled capers

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400d.  Line a large baking sheet with foil, then drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil.

Pat fish dry and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.  Arrange fillets in 1 layer in the center of foil on baking sheet and slide 2 lemon slices under each fillet.  Arrange 2 thyme sprigs on top of each fillet.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic, stirring occasionally, until pale golden, about 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes and a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have softened, about 1 minute.  Stir in capers.

Spoon hot tomato mixture over fish, then cover with another sheet of foil, tenting it slightly over fish, and crimp edges together tightly to seal.

Bake until fish is just cooked through, 12 to 15 minutes (depending on thickness of fish); check by removing from the oven and carefully lifting up a corner of the top sheet of foil.  If fish is not cooked through, reseal foil and continue to bake, checking every 3 minutes.

Transfer fillets with lemon slices to plates using a spatula (being careful not to tear the foil underneath) and spoon tomatoes and juices over top.  Discard thyme and serve immediately.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hand Blended Loose Leaf Chai Tea

Last Year's Post: Lobster and Shrimp Gratin
Two Years Ago:  Italian Sausage and Wild Mushroom Risotto

I think of Chai tea as the tea for people who don't really like tea all that much, me included.  Tea has always seemed like the sissy cousin of good strong coffee to me, but Chai tea - hot, creamy, sweet and rich with spices - is the the ultimate comfort drink.  What's not to like? Well, maybe the price at Starbucks or the 200+ calories.  That's why I like this mix. Unlike a lot of Chai tea mixes out there, it doesn't contain sugar or milk powder.  Each person can make it as strong, or sweet, or creamy as they like.  If you make it with Truvia sweetener and non-dairy creamer, it's very delicious and exactly 10 calories.  Sounds better, right?  Or if you have a sore throat, add some honey instead of Truvia - it's viscosity feels very soothing as it slides down.  And the tea makes a great little gift also.

I had a slight challenge with the original recipe because it was a little vague here and there, particularly regarding the amount of tea that's required.  The recipe called for 2 dry measuring cups of tea leaves, but loose tea is usually sold in 50 or 100 gram increments. I discovered that 150 grams yields about 2 1/2 dry cups, so if you can buy tea in 50 gram increments buy 150 grams, and if you need to buy in 100 gram increments buy 200 grams.  Hopefully that makes sense.   Every city has at least a couple of tea stores that sell loose tea, or it's easy to find online.

Make sure your spices are fresh and good quality - I always recommend Penzeys for the best selection, quality and price.  Buy some cute jars, write up a nice card with the instructions, and you're good to go.

Hand Blended Loose Leaf Chai Tea

48 whole star anise or cardamom pods (or both)
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
1 ounce (½ of a 2 oz jar) crystallized ginger, minced
2 cups loose leaf Darjeeling tea (about 125 grams)

Preheat oven to 350d.

Break star anise or cardamom pods in half (easiest done in a mortar and pestle) and break the cinnamon sticks into smaller pieces by pounding in a zip top bag.

Place the star anise (or cardamom) and cinnamon on a small rimmed baking sheet with the peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and cloves, then put the spices in the oven for about 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Remove and cool, then grind the spices in several batches in a spice grinder into relatively small pieces but not into a powder.

In a large bowl, combine the tea, ginger, and spices, mixing well with your hands until ingredients are evenly blended.

Brewing instructions
Bring one cup of water to a boil then pour over one tablespoon of Chai Tea. Allow to steep for five minutes, strain, then add milk (vanilla soy or almond milk would be good) and sweetener (honey, sugar or artificial sweetener) to taste.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Eggplant and Rice Parmigiana

Last Year's Post: Italian Sausage Soup
Two Years Ago:  Rosemary-Lemon Grilled Ahi with Pearl Couscous

Winter and Italian comfort food just go together, don't they?  Rich tomato sauce, gooey cheese, yum.  I recently came across this recipe from Lidia Bastianich, one of my favorite chefs, and was particularly attracted to it because it contains eggplant but it's not fried, which eggplant usually is.  And it's elegant in its simplicity - rice, tomatoes, eggplant, cheese - but can be fancied up by adding mild or hot Italian sausage.  And it can feed a bunch of hungry people if you double the recipe for a 9x13" pan.  Served with a green side salad, it makes a complete and very satisfying meal even though it's vegetarian.  And if that's not enough, it makes great leftovers the next day.  I could hardly wait to make it.

The only thing that kind of surprised me was the absence of garlic and red pepper flakes, which are absolute Italian classics that Lidia almost always uses.  I first tried the recipe by the book before fiddling with it as one of my pet peeves is people who totally change a recipe before they make it and then feel free to tell you why they didn't like the recipe even though they never actually tried the recipe. Grrr. Anyway, as I suspected the recipe seemed to need a little something in terms of fine-tuning which turned out to be the garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.  If you like heat, feel free to add more red pepper flakes.  Or add hot Italian sausage.  That's the beauty of a simple and classic recipe - you can make it your own.

You start by cooking arborio rice, the classic rice used for risottos.  Arborio rice holds up well to the long baking time without becoming mushy and has a creaminess that combines with the tomatoes.  You just need to start an hour or so in advance so the rice has time to cook and then cool.

The eggplants are peeled, sliced lengthwise, and place in a colander for 20 minutes with a decent amount of salt to draw out their moisture.  They get a quick rinse and pat dry before going into the sauce to cook.  Then it's assembly time - sauce, rice, eggplant, and cheeses in layers much like a lasagna.  After it's baked and has rested for a few minutes, you're ready to scoop out big spoonfuls to everyone who's been hanging around the kitchen salivating at the smells for the past hour.


Eggplant and Rice Parmigiana
Serves 6-8

Notes: Plan ahead – the rice needs to cook and cool before proceeding.  If desired, a layer of cooked and crumbled hot or mild Italian sausage may be added.  The recipe may be doubled to fit a 9x13” baking pan.

1 cup Arborio rice
1 fresh bay leaf
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for salting the eggplant
2 small Italian eggplants, about 1 ½ lbs before trimming
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chopped onion
1 (28 ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 cup shredded low-moisture mozzarella
½ cup grated Grana Padano cheese (may substitute grated Parmesan)

In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, bay leaf, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons olive oil, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.  Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 7 minutes.  The rice will still be al dente.  Spread the rice onto a sheet pan to cool.

Peel the eggplants in stripes leaving some of the skin, and cut the tops and bottoms off. Cut the eggplants into ¼”-thick lengthwise planks (from top to bottom) and layer the planks in a large colander in the sink.  Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and cover with a bowl that has a diameter slightly smaller than the colander.  Weight the bowl with cans to help press the excess liquid from the eggplant.  After 20 minutes, rinse and drain the eggplant and pat dry.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes, adding the garlic after half the time.  Add the tomatoes, rinsing out the can or bowl used to crush them with an additional ½ cup of water, and add that to the pot. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and the red pepper flakes and bring to a boil.  Place the eggplant slices in the sauce, pushing them down to cover them completely.  Cover the pot and simmer 15 minutes.  Stir in the basil and remove from heat.

Toss the two cheeses together in a small bowl.

Preheat the oven to 375d.

To assemble, ladle one third of the sauce into a 8x8” or similar baking dish.  Remove one third of the eggplant from the sauce and layer it in the dish.  Spread half the rice over the eggplant, then layer another third of the eggplant followed by another third of the sauce.  Spread with half the cheese.  Top with a final layer of rice, eggplant and sauce.  Top evenly with the rest of the cheese. 

Spray a piece of foil with non-stick spray and cover the dish.  Place the dish on a foil-covered baking sheet and baked for 25 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 25-30 minutes until browned and crusty on top.  Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Chicken Pho

Last Year's Post: Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Smoked Mozzarella
Two Years Ago:  Balsamic Vinegar Chicken with Almond Peppers

Pho is very popular, but it's always been somewhat of a mystery to me - what is it, exactly, and how do you pronounce it?  Turns out the "what is it" part is a little easier to explain than the "how do you pronounce it" part.  Basically, pho is a hearty Vietnamese soup that typically contains either chicken or beef, noodles, and vegetables.  I think of it much like the Mongolian hot pots that were so popular a decade or two ago, where you put a bunch of ingredients in a big bowl and then pour hot stock over the whole thing.

As for how to pronounce it,it looks like you should pronounce it "foe" but the correct pronunciation is actually "fuh".  Click here to hear it pronounced. (Isn't technology great?)

Although this is a recipe for chicken pho and therefore technically for chicken soup, it's a long way from any chicken soup you grew up with.  First, there's the chicken - boneless skinless thighs that are roasted in a dark and flavorful sauce of honey, mirin, soy sauce, fish sauce, and minced jalapenos, then thin sliced before adding to the soup.  The vegetables - shiitake mushrooms, leeks, and kale - add addition flavor, texture, color and nutrition.  The noodles aren't ordinary egg noodles, they're rice noodles, and the broth is boosted by the addition of lime juice and ginger.  The soup is finished with fresh cilantro sprigs and a few additional slices of jalapeno just to make sure you're awake.  A note about the jalapenos - I really wanted to use a red jalapeno for the garnish on the top to make it even prettier, but for some mysterious reason not one single store in my area had them.  If you can find them, it would be a great addition - colorful food always looks best - but it's a very beautiful soup with the green jalapenos anyway.

The resulting soup is complex in its flavors and textures while remaining true to the genre in terms of its wholesome goodness and comforting, healing properties.  Yes, it's some work, but so is homemade "regular" chicken noodle soup, and this version is ever so much more interesting.  Any college students you know will think you're very cool, because they eat it all the time.  AND you know how to pronounce it.

You start by making the sauce and roasting the chicken.  The sauce calls for dark soy sauce rather than regular soy sauce, which is darker, thicker and more intense in flavor.  You can find it at your local Asian market but regular soy sauce will work almost as well (the sauce won't be quite as thick).

Then you saute the mushrooms and leeks while slicing some kale, heating the broth, and softening the noodles. I used Tuscan kale, which I find to be less tough and bitter than curly kale.

After that it's pretty much just assembly.  I wanted a very chicken-y tasting broth so I added a little chicken base to the chicken broth when I was heating it, but you can leave it out if you prefer.  It gave the broth a nice dark color also.  I was really happy with the results.

printable recipe
Chicken Pho
Serves 4

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 jalapenos, divided
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
3 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced
1 leek, white part only, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 coin-sized slices of fresh ginger
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons chicken base or chicken bouillon cubes (optional)
2 cups shredded Tuscan kale (ribs removed first)
6 ounces rice noodles
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400d.

In a medium bowl, combine the soy sauce, honey, mirin, and fish sauce.  Mince one of the jalapenos and add it to the sauce.  Add the chicken thighs, turning to coat, then place them on a small aluminum foil-lined roasting pan.  Pour the remaining sauce over the chicken. Roast the chicken, turning over in the sauce several times, for 30 minutes.  Remove and cool before slicing thinly.  Set aside.

Heat a skillet over medium heat, then add the olive oil and mushrooms.  Sauté for 2 minutes, then add the leek and turn the heat to medium low.  Sprinkle with salt and sauté for 5-7 minutes until tender.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan add the chicken broth, chicken base (if using), ginger and lime juice.  As it approaches a boil add the kale and let cook for 2-3 minutes.  Remove the kale with a slotted spoon to a small bowl; set aside.  Remove the ginger with the slotted spoon and discard.  Keep the broth hot; season with salt to taste.

At the same time that the broth is heating, bring a bowl of water to a boil and add the rice noodles, letting them soak according to package directions (typically 8-10 minutes).  Drain.

Stem and with a small knife remove the seeds from the remaining jalapeno, then thinly slice into rings.

To assemble, place the chicken, mushrooms, leeks, kale, and noodles in wide shallow bowls.  Carefully pour the hot broth over all and garnish with cilantro leaves and jalapeno rings.  Serve immediately.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Miso-Glazed Scallops with Quinoa and Grilled Pineapple

Last Year's Post: Smashed Potatoes
Two Years Ago:  Shrimp, Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

Time for a confession - I totally stole the concept for this recipe from the Waldorf-Astoria Spa at The Boulders Resort in Scottsdale.  Not the recipe, mind you, but the concept.  I was checking out spas for an upcoming girls' weekend (tough duty) and was cruising by the spa restaurant, so I stopped to read the menu.  One of entrees was miso-glazed scallops with quinoa, pineapple, tomatillo salsa and prickly pear glaze.  I wasn't too sure about tomatillo salsa with miso scallops but liked the concept.

So here we are.  I pulled together components of several miso-based scallop recipes and added a few ingredients of my own to the quinoa.  I say this just in case Waldorf-Astoria employs a word-recognition internet-search service that will immediately flag this post because I would hate to get a cease-and-desist letter in the mail, although I'm sure it would be properly monogrammed on heavy cream paper with a nice gilt edge.

There are a few ingredients that you might not be familiar with:  white miso paste, mirin, and quinoa (keen-wah).

Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans and is a common seasoning in Japanese cuisine.  It comes in different varieties (white, red, mixed) and is typically savory and salty.  You'll find it in upscale grocers or Asian markets, usually in a tub or plastic bag that needs to be refrigerated after opening.  Mirin is a sweet cooking rice seasoning and can be found in the Asian foods section of most grocers.  Quinoa is a grain that comes in different colors - usually white or red - and can be found in upscale grocers or natural food stores.  I like red quinoa in this recipe because of the color, but if you can't find it the white variety will taste the same.

(If you prefer, you could use shrimp instead of scallops, and if you don't feel like buying miso you could use any soy sauce-based vinaigrette.  It won't taste the same, but it'll still be good.)

The miso glaze adds great flavor to the scallops while the quinoa adds nuttiness and the grilled pineapple brings sweetness and juiciness to the party - it's really a great combination.  When you consider that this is also a spa dish and therefore healthy and low calorie, you have to admit those Waldorf people know what they're doing.

printable recipe
Miso-Glazed Scallops with Quinoa and Grilled Pineapple
Serves 4

4 (1/2” thick) pineapple slices, outer skin removed
Canola oil, for brushing
3 tablespoons white miso paste
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
12 medium sea scallops
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup uncooked quinoa (red preferred)
3.5 ounce fresh shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed and sliced
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
3 green onions, white and green parts sliced

Preheat a grill or grill pan to high heat.  Brush the pineapple slices with canola oil and grill for about 3 minutes per side until nice grill marks appear.  Remove and set aside.

Toast the dry quinoa in a dry pan for a few minutes to develop a toasty flavor, then combine with 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover.  Simmer for 15 minutes. 

While the quinoa cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet and sauté the shiitakes for a few minutes until beginning to brown.  Set aside. 

In a medium bowl, whisk together the miso, mirin, vinegar, 2 tablespoons canola oil, ginger and garlic.  Rinse and pat dry the scallops, then add to the marinade and turn to coat.  Let marinate for 5 minutes (scallops will begin to break down if left in any longer).  Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the scallops and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side depending on thickness.

Combine the quinoa, shiitakes, almonds, and half the green onions; season to taste with salt and pepper.  To serve, place one pineapple ring on each plate; top with quinoa mixture, 3 scallops, and remaining green onions.