Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Flat breads

An Indian guy recently bought the convenience store next door to Savenors. I hadn't been in there too many times because the place never had much to offer, but the last time I bought something there, I noticed that he had started to stock all sorts of Indian food products, sort of like the great little market in Davis Square - the name escapes me at the moment. Anyway, where there were once a bunch of tv dinners, he had an assortment of different flat breads. This tandoori naan is great when reheated on the grill pan. I kicked it up a little bit by making three different types of flatbread "pizzas." On the left is grilled flatbread with whitebean, marjoram, and truffle oil puree, caramelized onions, sweet italian sausage and cheddar. On the right is grilled flatbread with hummus, sauteed spinach, and feta cheese. I also made one with the white bean puree, tuna packed in olive oil, and cheese. These were really, really quick and easy.

Blue fish baked "en papillote"

I had never cooked bluefish before, so I thought I would give it a shot when the fine folks at Savenor's recommended it. Not knowing much about the fish, I decided to go a safe route and bake it en papillote, which is a fancy way of saying a cooked it in a parchment paper envelope with a few random ingredients (onion, lemon, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper, olive oil).

When you bake the fish this way, all the moisture stays in the pouch, so everything steams together and flavors are infused into the fish.

I served the fish with sauteed spinach and Isreali couscous with clam broth. The couscous dish would work equally well with any short cut pasta such as orzo or anchellini. I made this dish on the fly, but it worked out pretty well.
Israeli Couscous in Clam Broth:

-1 cup uncooked Israeli couscous (or orzo)
-Instant clam broth (available at Whole Foods) or clam juice
-4-5 shrimp, shelled and minced.
-1 plum tomato
-1/2 onion, finely chopped
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1 bay leaf
-pinch of saffron
-lemon juice
-salt, pepper to taste

Sweat the onion with garlic with a bit of olive oil in a medium pot. Mix up 2 cups of clam broth and add to pot. Throw in the bay leaf and a pinch of saffron (this is primarily for color). When the mixture reaches a boil, add couscous and turn heat to med low. Stir occasionally, and after about 10 minutes add the tomato and minced shrimp. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Continue cooking until the couscous is soft. Add water if the mixture dries up. The finished product should be a bit soupy, more so than a risotto.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rice+scraps=comfort food

A lot of different cultures have their own version of fried rice - a dish whose primary purpose is to use up leftover scraps of meat and vegetables. Paella, risotto, and jambalaya are all variations of this type of cooking, and while these dishes may be distinguished by the different grains of rice they use or a few key ingredients like saffron, Parmesan cheese, or tasso, you can make your own version of a rice dish that might fall somewhere in between these classics.

Here's a dish somewhere between a paella and a jambalaya that I whipped up this evening. I had some linguica and cilantro that I need to use while they were still good, so that was the inspiration for this dish.

approximately 1/2 lb portugese sausage such as linguica, chourico, or andouille, sliced about 1/4" thick
1/2 bag of frozen mixed seafood (shrimp, scallops, calamari) from Trader Joe's. You can also just use medium shrimp.
1 16oz can diced stewed tomatoes
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock or broth
2 cups long grain rice
1 cup frozen peas
bay leaf
red pepper flakes
dried oregano
saffron (optional)

1. Heat up 2 Tbs olive oil in a large pot and cook sausage over medium heat for about 2 minutes.
2. Add onions and garlic. Cook until soft.
3. Add tomatoes, bay leaf, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of oregano, a pinch of saffron, about 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, and pepper to taste. Let everything cook for a couple minutes.
4. Add stock and bring to boil. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning to taste (adding salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if necessary).
5. Add rice and stir until the stock starts to bubble again. Turn heat to low, cover, and let sit for 15 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, thaw out the seafood by soaking in a bowl of tepid water. After the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, add seafood and cover again.
7. Let it cook for about 2 minutes, then add peas and cover again. Let it keep cooking until the seafood looks done (the shrimp will be pink), then mix in a bunch of chopped up cilantro and serve.

This should make enough for 3 servings if it is the meal, or 4 to 5 servings if it is a side dish. Total prep and cooking time comes in at around 30 to 45 minutes.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Use the whole bird

Since their are just two of us in the house, I can usually stretch at least two meals out of one chicken. The nice thing about getting the bird whole is that you can save stuff like the wing tips and backbone in your freezer and use it to make a good chicken broth. From the rest of the chicken, you get two main cuts, the breast and the leg. With practice, breaking down the chicken is really simple. I'll post something about that later.
For the first dish, I used a Frenched chicken breast. This just means that I left the first joint from the wing in. This dish is pan roasted chicken breast with garlic confit and ras-al-hanout on a bed of garlic roasted chickpeas and braised escarole. I start by mashing the garlic confit into a paste, adding some salt and pepper, and spreading this around under the skin. Then I added some ras-al-hanout, a Moroccan spice mix that is generally used in tagines, to season the chicken, seared the chicken breast side down, with olive oil over high heat. Keep an eye on the chicken, and after about two minutes, start trying to move the chicken. After a while, the skin will stop sticking (use a non-stick pan if you want to good color). When it gets to this point, flip the chicken over and stick the pan in the oven. Cook at 350F until done (about 20 minutes). For the escarole, simply cook a head of escarole with some chicken stock until wilted. If you want to add some garlic flavor, you can start by frying a clove of minced garlic in a saute pan with some olive oil, then start adding the escarole bunch by bunch. Once everything is cooked down a little, add a bit of chicken stock and season with salt and pepper. For the chickpeas, drain well, spread out on a foil lined baking sheet, and toss with olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook with the chicken.
I also made a batch of minted carrot soup. This recipe comes from the Herb Farm cookbook...I don't remember the exact recipe off hand, but what I really liked about it was the mint flavor was added. Instead of chopping up some mint and adding it to the soup, this recipe calls for making mint tea out of a bunch of mint and then using that as the base liquid for the soup. Pretty clever. Sometimes I do a similar thing when I make what I call my "Asian Risotto." I'll write an entry about this later, but basically, I replace the stock from normal risotto with green tea and trade out arborio rice for sushi rice. It makes a good base for a simmered fish dish.

After making this meal, I had the legs left over, which I used to make Basque Chicken served over a bed of saffron rice. I already have an entry with the recipe here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

East Meets West in Idyllic Boston Suburb

Being on TV doesn't necessarily make someone a good cook, and many of the best chefs in the country never show up on TV - they're too busy cooking. Nevertheless, there's something really exciting about going to a celebrity chef's restaurant, and Ming Tsai has been doing the TV chef thing for a long long time. I had been wanting to eat at his restaurant, Blue Ginger, for quite some time, but because a) it's way out in Wellesley and b) it's super pricey I kept putting it off. A couple weeks ago, Liane and Josh invited Abby and I out to Blue Ginger, so that gave us the perfect opportunity. We had the good fortune to show up on a night when he was at the restaurant.
One of the nice things about going to a good restaurant with a few other people, aside from the company, is that you get to try out tons of different dishes. We must have ordered over half of the appetizer menu. Everyone's favorite was the foie-gras shiitake shumai (pictured below, with Josh in the background)
We also ordered calamari with a thai dipping sauce, poke with a crispy sushi rice cake, tea-smoked salmon and beef carpaccio, and shiitake-leek spring rolls.
In our group rankings of what we liked and didn't like, the poke and carpaccio came in second and third after the shumai. The crispy rice cake on the poke (not pictured) added some nice texture. The calamari and spring rolls came in last. They were good, but not really that distinct. When you go to a restaurant like this that charges $12 for two spring rolls, you expect something different.

For the entree, Liane and Abby ordered the garlic-black pepper lobster with lemon grass fried rice. This dish was superb.
Josh ordered poussin with a tamarind-hoisin sauce. I didn't hear rave reviews, so the impression I got was that it was good, but not the best dish ever to come in front of him.
I ordered the Japanese braised pork osso bucco. This dish was OK, but I wouldn't order it again.
After all of the appetizers and some fairly large entrees, we were all pretty stuffed, but you can always find a little more room for dessert. We ordered a grapefruit-mascarpone torte and coconut donuts with kiwi sorbet...both great, light desserts.
My final verdict on this restaurant is that, while I thought it was good, it wasn't quite up to the level, both in terms of food and decor, of some of the other celebrity owned restaurants I've tried out...notably Nobu and Morimoto's. For those of you familiar with DC, I would say that it is like a slightly more expensive version of Ten Penh.

One bonus from going to this restaurant is that it reminded me that I have a Ming Tsai cookbook sitting on my shelf. While I didn't think that this was the best restaurant ever, I do really like this type of food, so I may start cooking some of his recipes over the next few weeks.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Kurobuta pork, red wine braised cabbage and apples, and pan sauce

This, along with the following few posts, were dinners from last week.

Kurobuta pork is basically the pig equivalent of Kobe beef. It's really well marbled, full of flavor, and, while a little more pricey than regular pork, isn't $50 a pound. Sometimes Savenor's has this in stock, but if they don't they will always order it for you. I just pan seared the chops and then made a sauce with the drippings, flour, shallots, demi-glace, chicken stock, and a little white wine. For the braised cabbage, just cook the cabbage and some thinly sliced onion with some butter for about 15-20 minutes over medium heat, then add one grated apple, some ginger, red wine and water and braise for an hour and a half to two hours over medium to low heat. The cabbage is actually better if you make it a day ahead of time.

Miso-glazed perch in dashi soy broth with vegetables

This is a rare attempt at health cooking. We have broiled miso glazed perch over some baby bok choy that was braised in a dashi soy broth and soba noodles with carrots, red bell peppers, snow peas and ginger. Since everything was simmered or broiled, I didn't need to use a drop of oil for this dish.

Vegetable and pork stir fry

Next on the healthy food line up is some stir fry that uses a lot of the same vegetables from the previous dish (carrots/bell peppers/snow peas). I also added bean sprouts. All this was stir fried together with some pork and a broth of oyster sauce, chinese cooking wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, and corn starch. I wasn't able to forgo the oil altogether, but at about 2tsp for 3-4 portions, I didn't think this was too bad.

Lamb kofta, sweet and hot eggplant, and Israeli couscous with pine nuts and lemon zest

I made this dish last night. For the kofta, I mixed together ground lamb, finely diced red onion, garlic, parsley, ras-al-hanout, and sumac and cooked it over the grill. To make the eggplant, start by generously salting and letting the slices stand for about 30 minutes. The salt draws out a lot of liquid and removes the bitterness from the eggplant. Wipe of the salt and press out the liquid with paper towels, then broil the eggplant until golden brown on each side. Meanwhile mix together the juice from 1/2 lemon (for 1 eggplant), 2 T honey, 1 tsp cumin, a pinch of cayanne pepper, 1 tsp grated or minced ginger, and 1/3 cup water. Cook the eggplant with this mixture for about 10 minutes (this recipe comes from Claudia Rodin's Middle Eastern cookbook). To make the couscous, start by cooking minced shallots or red onion with olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add the couscous and chicken stock to cover and cook over medium heat until the couscous is done...just taste periodically until it gets to the texture you like. When it is done, stir in the zest from half of a lemon, a bunch of chopped parsley, and toasted pine nuts.