Monday, June 27, 2011

Lidia Bastianich's Monkfish in Lemon Brodetto

 Last week I was craving scallops and my friend Lenny at North Shore Seafoods had some fantastic fresh U8s on hand (post on those to follow.) While I was there, I noticed he also had some fresh monkfish on sale for a very reasonable price. I figured what the heck- I've never actually cooked monkfish before and I've heard it's quite tasty. First, I should mention that the monkfish is a pretty ugly fish in life....

....and it doesn't get any prettier as a filet:

So I hopped on the old Google machine looking for a cooking method/plan of attack and I happened on a recipe from Lidia Bastianich that looked light and tasty and included one of my favorite combos: white wine, lemon juice, and capers. Brodetto typically means something is served in a broth- this one thickens nicely so I served it as a fish with a nice sauce over pasta. You could also use rice or just serve in a bowl with some good bread to sop up the yummy sauce. So here's how the (I think successful) experiment went:

Monkfish in Lemon Brodetto

8 whole cloves of garlic
3 cups and 3/4 cup water
Approx 1 to 1 1/2 lbs monkfish
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
3/4-1 1/2 cups canola oil (or enough to fill your deep fryer, if you have one on hand)
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine
1/8 cup pine nuts, toasted  (optional)
1 tbsp +/- capers (based on personal preference)
1/8 cup basil leaves, shredded
Pasta, rice, bread, etc....
Fresh grated parm (optional) 

-  Before you start working on the fish, you want to get the garlic prepped for a puree. Put the cloves in a small saucepan with 1 1/2 cups of water and boil for 15 minutes. Drain the water, add another 1 1/2 cups of water and boil for 30 minutes. This draws out the sulfur compounds in the garlic, leaving it mild enough but still retaining flavor.

- When this is done, put the garlic cloves along with about half of the water in which it was boiled into a food processor and puree until smooth. Depending on how garlicky you want the dish, you may choose to add more or less water to the puree. 

- Cut the monkfish into uniform chunks, approximately 1 1/2", sprinkle with salt.
***Note: there can be a membrane that covers the fish. Sometimes your fish guy/gal may not have removed the entire membrane or blood line. Make sure both have been removed before proceeding. 

-Monkfish can tend to be a moist fish, and the salt will draw out some of the water- it would be best to let the fish sit for 5-10 minutes after salting. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. 

-Lightly coat the fish chunks with flour, shaking off any excess.

-Heat the oil and fry the fish in batches for approx 4-6 minutes, depending on size. After removing each batch, drain them on paper towels and sprinkle with salt immediately. 

-Melt the chunks of butter in a sauce pan, and toss the monkfish pieces in the butter until coated and you hear a nice sizzle. 

-Pour in the garlic puree and coat fish.
-Add the lemon juice, 3/4 cups water, and the wine. I actually used a slightly diluted chicken broth- using the Better than Bullion, I used about 1/2 tsp of base with 3/4 c water.

-Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring as the flour from the fish works its magic and thickens the sauce.

- The recipe called for pine nuts to be added here. I didn't have any on hand, so I skipped them and substituted capers. Also, I wanted a thicker sauce so I removed the fish to a plate with a slotted spoon.
I kept the sauce over medium heat, added the capers and chopped basil. 

- I cooked it down until the bubbles thickened and had a kind of syrupy sound as it cooked. I took the pasta directly from the water with a slotted spoon and tossed it with the sauce in the pan. If your sauce is too thick, you can add a little bit of the pasta water. 

- Serve up the pasta with the fish and spoon some of the sauce over  the fish. Top with freshly grated parmesan. I got a little overexcited and didn't remember to take a picture until I had eaten half of my bowl, but this is what it should look like about halfway through :)

I would suggest a pasta with ridges so that it properly holds on to the sauce. I found this pasta that I have never come across before and forgot to write down the name of :( but I will find it again... it was almost like an open figure 8, with openings on each side that captured all of the saucy goodness. The monkfish itself had a great firm yet flaky texture and held up like a champ to the frying and sauce. I certainly plan on spending more time with this unfortunate-looking fish in the future.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The best simple tomato sauce- three ingredients

That's right- 3 ingredients!!!!!

I initially read about this recipe on the Smitten Kitchen blog. It turns out the food blogging community has been abuzz about this sauce for at least 5 years. Its simplicity and richness have been likened to the sauces served in Rome. So I kinda had to give it a try.

We are talking about a sauce made with tomatoes, onion, and butter. That's right- butter. All of the best chefs admit that the secret to their best recipes is fat. On an episode of Top Chef Masters, the chefs were flummoxed when they had to cook without adding pats of butter to finish their sauces. Just recently, Anthony Bourdain said that a secret of many of the top steakhouses is that they brush their steaks and sliced meats with melted butter before sending them out.... So if ya can't beat 'em..... Make this sauce. Although I will say, the original recipe called for 5 Tbsp, and I've brought it down to 2, so it's practically health food.

Let's get started.

Simple tomato sauce

3 ingredients:
28 ounces canned whole peeled tomatoes
     - I try to get San Marzano, but if unavailable, at least splurge a little on higher quality rather than the store brand. This is one of those times that it is worth it.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, peeled and quartered

The original recipe called for just these three items (plus salt and pepper to taste). In the number of times that I have made this since, I have made a few alterations. Some optional add-ins are fresh parmesan cheese and fresh basil-I'll note these additions as we go through the steps.

Pop the tomatoes, onion, and butter in a heavy saucepan. I only had smallish onions, so I used two. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and then reduce down to keep it at a slow simmer for about 45 minutes. While it cooks, gently squish the tomatoes against the side of the pan with your spoon. Fair warning- watch out for the tomato seeds and juices, they can attack you...

Now for the important part: KEEP THE ONION IN IT. The original recipe called for them to be removed. But why?? These are perfectly cooked, soft, flavorful onions. Use an immersion blender and attack. The cooked down onion makes the sauce rich and creamy- you would swear that cream has actually been added to the sauce. It's so good.

At this point, I like to add that parm. Specifically, a liberal dose of freshly grated parm, approx 1/4 cup. It mellows out some of the acidity and adds a little bit of a nutty-salty flavor. And it's just darn tasty. Once fully cooked, chop up some fresh basil, stir it in the sauce, and find the best way to get it into your mouth. Below, I have tossed it with my favorite pasta, gemelli. The unique figure-8 shape just grabs the sauce, making it the perfect vehicle to get the sauce into your face. I pounded some chicken breasts to about 1/2 ", did a quick egg dip and breaded with panko, pan-fried them with a little splash of EVOO, topped them with some sauce and fresh mozz and popped them under the broiler.

Finished product:

 I have made this sauce many, many times and it has never failed to impress.  It is fresh and tangy, clean and light, and totally full of flavor.

If you miraculously end up with any leftover sauce, you can even make baked eggs using the same method I did with leftover tomatoes and onions at the end of this recipe. Yum.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gourmet's Easy Chocolate Nemesis

I've mentioned Gourmet's Special Edition of 80+ classic Italian recipes before on the blog, most recently in the Chicken ragu with cheesy polenta recipe. I love love love this magazine. I have only made a few of the recipes so far, but I am slowly working my way through. Today I will be talking about the super decadent, ridiculously rich chocolate nemesis. When done, you end up with a cross between a budino and some type of magical fluffy fudge. As I alluded to above, it is very, very rich, so this small cake can serve at least 8-12 people.

Fun Fact:
For anyone who may be unaware, here is  the definition of "nemesis:"
n. pl. nem·e·ses (-sz)
1. A source of harm or ruin
2. Retributive justice in its execution or outcome
3. An opponent that cannot be beaten or overcome.
4. One that inflicts retribution or vengeance.
5. Nemesis Greek Mythology The goddess of retributive justice or vengeance.
For this cake, I would focus on definitions 1 and 3. This cake has become my downfall. If there is one in the house, it will be eaten- slowly, bite by bite... until you and anyone else in the house (also stealing forkfuls) suddenly look up and say, "Why is all of the cake gone?!"

Meet the source of my food angst:

Let's get started- This recipe really has very few ingredients:

Easy Chocolate Nemesis
1 cup unsalted butter, cubed (plus extra for greasing pan)
12 oz fine quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (70% cacao is ideal- get the good stuff)
5 large eggs
1 cup sugar, divided
7 tbsp water
raspberries, whipped cream, or mascarpone (for garnish)

- Put the rack in the oven in the middle position and preheat to 300 F. Prep your pan- butter the bottom and edges, cut a parchment circle to fit in the bottom, place it in, and then butter the top of the parchment. I used butter when I did this, but I am about 85% confident it would also work with PAM for baking...

****IMPORTANT NOTE: Do not use a springform pan! This also includes pans that have a bottom that you can lift through the top of the pan for easy removal. This recipe involves a water bath. If you use the latter pan I mentioned, you will end up having a mess and having to remove the batter into a new pan. Like this:

Let's just say it wasn't pretty and move on.
- You will need to set up a double boiler to melt the butter and chocolate together. If you do not have an actual double boiler, just set a metal bowl above a pan of slowly boiling water. The water should not actually touch the pan. The water should also not be at a full rolling boil, more like this:

-Set the bowl on top and toss in the chocolate and the butter.

-Stir as the butter and chocolate start to melt. Mix it until it becomes creamy, making sure to scrape the sides and keep the bottom from burning or overcooking.

It should end up looking like this:

Set it aside to cool while you do  the next step.
**NOTE- Don't throw away the boiling water. Add about 1 cup of water to the water pan and keep it at a low boil until you get to the part where you put the cake into the roasting pan.

- Beat together  the 5 eggs and 1/3 cup of the sugar at high speed until tripled in volume. I have a stand mixer and this took about 8 minutes. You want it to be thick enough so that if you lift the beater, it takes a second or two for the ribbon to dissolve- the fluffier, the better.

 - While this is beating, heat the remaining 2/3 cup of sugar and 7 tbsp of water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir it until the sugar dissolves and the syrup becomes clear. This should be pretty quick, depending on your pan- maybe 2 minutes.

-Pour this hot syrup into the melted chocolate. Stir to combine, then set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

-If your eggs go a little flat while the syrup cools, give them a quick beat before the next step: Slowly add the chocolate syrup, a little bit at a time to the egg mixture, while beating at medium speed. Continue until everything is fully incorporated- but just enough- overbeating will take too much air out of your batter.

-Pour the batter into your non-springform pan and place it into a roasting pan lined with a kitchen towel (to keep it from sliding.) Pour boiling hot water that you originally used in the double boiler step into the roasting pan until it reaches about 3/4 of the way up the side of the cake pan.

-Pop it in the oven and bake until just set, about 50 minutes to 1 hour. It should feel just slightly firm to the touch- depending on personal taste, you can keep it in longer or even less. The less baked it is, the gooier it will be....

-Take the cake out and resist the urge to bite into it immediately. Let it cool in the water bath for a couple of hours. Run a knife around the edges to loose and invert onto a serving platter. It should pop right out. Carefully peel off the parchment.

- Room temp is best for this cake. Refrigeration can make it a bit crumbly, but still very, very tasty. I like it served with a handful of berries (blackberries and raspberries have both been fantastic.)

Final step: make sure you invite people over. Otherwise, the nemesis may attack when you least expect/need it... :p

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pork Tonkatsu Katsudon

I lived in Japan with my family for 6 years when I was younger. I helped my mom cook, but didn't pay enough attention to learn anything. Fortunately, by the time I got old enough to start paying attention, she had developed a collection of recipes for me to steal. This is one of my all-time favorites and one of my top comfort food dishes.
Pork Tonkatsu all by itself is the basic breaded and fried pork. It becomes Katsudon when you add the fish broth- based sauce, egg and some other good bits and put it all in a rice bowl. Yum.

Pork Tonkatsu Katsudon

Boneless pork- pounded thin (about 1/4- 1/2 inch)
1-2 eggs, scrambled for breading plus 1-2 eggs/person for the katsudon
Panko bread crumbs (important- all breadcrumbs are not created equal...)
Oil for frying
Either 1+ cups dashi soup stock or 3 tbsp dashi powder (see pic below) + 1 c water. I prefer the hon-dashi powder, it's easier to make as you go along and you can control the strength of the flavor.

5 tbsp soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
2 tbsp mirin (this is a type of seasoned rice wine, not to be confused with rice wine vinegar...)

1 tbsp sugar
1 onion, sliced thinly
A couple of handfuls of frozen green peas
Cooked Rice- I prefer the sticky rice, such as Calrose, for this dish.

For the pork:
Set up a standard breading station and dip each piece in egg and then coat in panko. I usually season both the eggs and panko with S&P or whatever seasonings you might like to get the most flavor out of the meat. 
Heat the oil and fry the pork until golden brown. I am lucky to have a FryDaddy deep fryer, I fry the pork at 375 F, usually about 3-4 minutes per batch.

Something about this crispy pork screams out to be stolen and eaten during prep. I would make sure you have a few extra chunks if there are going to be any wandering hands/mouths in the kitchen. Or if you are hungry while you are cooking....

While the pork is cooking, mix the dashi (and water if using powder), soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a bowl and whisk until incorporated. It will have a pretty strong fishy odor, which can be a little scary, but once you taste it, you will know it's all ok. Some people like this sauce to be stronger in flavor, some less so. If you are in the latter group, just add a little more water until you are happy with the sauce. You may want to make a small serving using the sauce as-is first so you can see how everything tastes when it's all put together, then adjust for the next batch based on your personal tastes.

Once the pork is all cooked, slice it into strips and place strips into an omelet-sized frying pan. For this recipe, I prefer using a non-stick pan and I give it a quick shot of PAM just to be safe...

Scramble 1 egg per serving and pour directly on top of the pork. Scatter a handful of sliced onions over the mixture, add a ladle full of sauce, and toss a small handful of frozen peas over the top

Cover the pan and cook over medium heat until the egg is fluffy and cooked through. Spoon cooked rice into a bowl and slide the katsudon on top. Serve warm, top with chopped green onions if desired. 

A lot of this recipe is based on personal taste. Feel free to play around with ratios- sauce, egg, onions, etc. I prefer mine with about 1 1/2 eggs and a lot of sauce... You can also add other veggies, such as thinly sliced carrots or squash. The pork pounding/frying can take some time, but once that is done, this is a pretty quick dish to prepare and totally worth  the time.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Warm German Potato Salad

Unless I am low-carbing, I am a potato fiend. Who am I kidding- even when I am low-carbing, I am dreaming of potatoes. This particular potato recipe is fast, easy, not healthy, and tasty. It has a great tang from the vinegar, a kick of salt from the bacon, and these combined with the starchiness of the potato make a really satisfying side dish.

German Potato Salad
4 russet potatoes or the equivalent if using small potatoes
4 slices of good bacon
1 tbsp AP flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 c water
1/4 c white wine vinegar
1/2 c chopped green onion

Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender- don't overcook or they will fall apart. Drain the potatoes and return them to  the pan. Put the lid on the pan and give the potatoes a good shake. What happens here is you end up with potatoes that have kind of a rough texture on the cut sides- this opens them up to absorb and hold on to the dressing. This is a great tip for any potato dish that starts with boiled potatoes.

While the potatoes are boiling, you can cook your bacon- pan-fry is best in this case, because you will need to reserve the fat

Remove the bacon from the pan and chop. Reserve the fat and over very low heat, add the flour, sugar, water, and vinegar. Whisk until thick.
Toss the  dressing with chopped bacon, potatoes, and chopped green onions. Serve warm.
It's also great with a tangy/sweet barbecue: this time,  I served it with pan-seared thick-cut pork chops glazed with a honey barbecue sauce:

Super tasty (and easy) crispy roasted chicken and veggies

Masters thesis = defended. Prelim exam oral defense = done. Maymester = taught. Blog = oops.....

I probably have at least 7 recipes that I have cooked and photographed, but not yet posted. I admit it, I have let the blog slip. But behold- I have returned! And yumminess is coming with me! least I think so. I invited yumminess. They didn't RSVP. But I'm sure they were just busy...

So I have always loved a good roasted chicken, but if you look online, there are about 5 billion different sites telling you that their way is  the best way and they are all different!!!

What's a girl to do?

I decided to pick the tips that seemed most pervasive, add some of my own touches, and just see what happened. After making this recipe 3-4 times, I have settled on a routine that seems to work pretty much every time and has now found a permanent place in the recipe box. It is relatively simple, and comes out as an elevated and yummy comfort food. Also, it is light and almost healthy..... almost :)

Crispy Roasted Chicken and Veggies

1 Whole chicken (I usually use 3-4 lb bird, which is enough for 2 with leftovers for chicken salad, sandwiches, etc)
Carrots, onions, red potatoes
           ****Feel free to mix it up here- I find that these are my favorites because the veggies come out sweet and caramel-y after roasting. The red potatoes seem to have a better texture for roasting than your standard russet. The mixed potatoes I used here were awesome, but they are typically pricey (I got them on sale for $1!) so red works just as well. You can always toss in some turnips or any other kind of veggie you are fond of. Just beware that less dense veggies might not need as much cooking time...
Seasonings that you like- I tend to use dried Italian Seasoning and Rosemary
Salt & Pepa
Approx 1 cup white wine- dryness/sweetness is up to you
1 apple
a few garlic cloves depending on your personal taste
about 2 tbsp butter

- Preheat oven to 425 F
-Give the veggies a rough chop- try to make them all approx the same size for better cooking.
- You want enough veggies to fill whatever pan you are using. One recipe online recommended a cast iron skillet and I loved that idea. I used this pan:

Toss the veggies with EVOO and whatever seasonings you have chosen (in this case, italian seasoning, rosemary, S&P.)
It should look kinda like this:

Side note: how beautiful are these potatoes?!? I tried to get a good picture to capture the deep purple-ness, but this was the best I could do:
Ok, moving on.....

Now we prep ze cheeken: Slice your apple into quarters and take out the seeds. Don't worry about peeling it. Slice the garlic into thin slices (you can prob also dice it if you like), and chop the butter into small chunks. At this time, you can also prep any fresh herbs you want to add. When I made this recipe, I had some fresh sage and rosemary on hand, so I figured what the heck:

Rinse your chicken, check for gross feather stubs (this particular chicken had a ton of them- it was ridiculous. And gross.) Take out any heart/liver packages, etc. Pat the bird dry. Then we start sticking stuff in it. I put as much of the apple as will fit (usually it's 3 slices), a coupe of the garlic cloves (sometimes whole), and then just whole sprigs of whatever herbs. Then, make small slits in the breast and squeeze a slice or two of garlic and a chunk of butter in. I usually put this in 4 places on the breast- one at each side near the bottom and the same near the neck. Which reminds me, if your bird comes with a neck piece, toss it in the pan and roast it with the rest. It becomes nice and tender and you can either just eat it (my choice) or use it for a pan gravy if you choose. 
If you're feeling adventurous and your bird allows for it, you can make a couple more slits along the thighs and toss some more stuff in. When all of the stuffing and poking is done, rub  the whole thing down with some EVOO and sprinkle with chosen spices. Then place the bird on top of the veggies:

 A couple of points here: Some truss the bird or close the cavity up. I have found that I like how it comes out without doing the extra work here. Am I just lazy? Perhaps. Would it be better if I did these things? Perhaps. So if you do those things and it does something magical, you let me know...

Second point: placing the chicken directly on top. A lot of recipes want there to be air between the chicken and the veggies to get the heat going all around. I like the way  the chicken drips on to the veggies and makes them softer and adds more flavor. I also have no problems with the way it cooks- it always cooks evenly. So... there ya have it.

Once you have done all of this stuff, pop the whole pan inthe oven at 425 F for 10 minutes. This will get a good brown on the skin and seal in the yumminess. Then lower it down to 400 F.
Let's talk cooking time... it obviously depends on the size of your chicken and your oven. I have had chickens be completely done in 45 mins and I have had some take almost 1 1/2 hours. You want the temp at approx 150 deg when you stick in a thermometer, the juices to run clear, and when you wiggle the leg in its socket, you want it to feel loose.
Once I pull the chicken out, I like to immediately place it standing up in a bowl with the thick end of the breast facing downward. This allows the juices to distribute while it cools, sending a lot of moisture to the thick end of the breast- it keeps it super moist and tasty.
I let this stand for about 10 mins. During that time, I usually like to mix the veggies and then pop them under the broiler for 5 mins. Sometimes they can be soft and tasty but not quite crispy enough. This last step gives them those good crispy edges while keeping the centers soft and fluffy.
I forgot to take a pic of the chicken when it was done (Sorry- we were hungry!), but I remembered right after we sliced it: 

One final step: a recipe online had a fantastic suggestion and it really adds something special. When the veggies are done, put them in a bowl and pour the cup of wine over the top. Then you can go one of two ways:
1)The recipe suggests straining the veggies, adding the wine to the pan drippings and making a gravy. 
2) By the time it's done, we are usually picking on the chicken and veggies and don't have the patience for this step, so we just let it cool for a minute and most of t he wine actually gets absorbed. Then we eat it. And don't talk. Because our mouths are full.