Archive for December 2010


Baked Stuffed Sole

December 29th, 2010 — 10:56am

Stuffed Sole with Braised Kale

The title of the post is something you do not hear uttered in my kitchen. Baked fish usually connotes “overdone.” I am more likely to pan sear the fish. Stuffed fish also brings back memories of overcooked fish stuffed with overcooked bits of other fish and bread crumbs. The whole concept is not something I would like to repeat.

Yesterday I was in a rush and did not want to mess with a lot of prep work for dinner. I had some sole filets, leftover mashed potatoes and a bunch of kale I wanted to use. Not exactly a stellar ingredient list. I thought it was time to revisit the baked fish concept if only to save time. I wrapped the sole filets around the mashed potatoes and topped them with just a bit of butter to keep them moist. While they were in the oven I sauteed the kale with some onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. I finished the kale with a bit of vegetable broth and wine vinegar and let them steam for about 5 minutes.

In the mean time, I like my fish to have a bit of sauce, so the usual white wine, lemon, and butter sauce was prepared, with some capers and some red onion. After about 20 minutes the whole meal was ready to go. I think the mashed potatoes went well with the fish. The brief baking time with a bit of butter kept the fish moist. The kale was quite good with very few of the bitter notes that can come from greens.

This recipe presupposes that you have some leftover mashed potatoes. Mine had a bit of horseradish which went well with the fish. I also think a bit of garlic or parmesan mashed potatoes would work just as well. So if by chance mashed potatoes and white fish fillets land in your refrigerator on the same day, this is a very quick easy dinner.

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Holiday Fatigue

December 27th, 2010 — 10:50am

Lemony Whipped Cheesecake

I have to admit this was not one of the most innovative holidays from a food perspective. I went ahead with the Mexican Food Fiesta for Christmas Eve. It was delicious and fun to make but way too much food. Waking up Christmas Day with a food hangover from the previous evening I went ahead and added insult to injury and cooked a standing rib roast with some roasted butternut squash and horseradish mashed potatoes among other not so innovative delicacies. I even went ahead and made my own french baguette yesterday. The hardest part is standing around waiting for the dough to rise. Is it a wonder that a week at Canyon Ranch looks really appealing right now?

While I was off cooking up all the recipes I could think of that involved over-the-top flavors Will was actually quietly innovating in the kitchen making a whipped cheesecake, with a crumbly flour crust using lemon as the primary flavor. The richness of the idea scared me off a bit. I was not sure it was going to mix well with all that beef and potatoes slathered with butter, sour cream and horseradish. It turned out to be a very clever idea along the lines of a very deep dish cheesecake with a crumbly flour crust instead of that often hard-as-a-rock graham cracker crust. It was not especially heavy, considering all the cream cheese, and the lemon flavor was a very light, fruity respite from all the other flavors of the season.

I am not the one who bakes in the house so I cannot tell you how this ranks on the scale of hard to easy baking. It looked like it came together fairly quickly, especially if you have a stand mixer. So while you are feeling that next year you will just have salad for Christmas, you might want to try your hand at this lemony, light whipped cheesecake.

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Eating On The Eves

December 24th, 2010 — 11:30am

Toonces Looking After Pee Wee

If you have your big Christmas meal on Christmas Day and not Christmas Eve the question becomes, “What do you do for dinner Christmas Eve?“ You could of course do the logical thing and head out for a quick bite at your local favorite restaurant. I have done that many times in the past with great success, usually meeting some interesting people who are in the same boat. Everyone seems to be in a festive mood and glad that they are not cooking.

It is supposed to be cold, rainy, and otherwise totally dreary here today and tonight. So heading out in the drizzle and fog seems not to be such a fun thing to do. Instead I think we are going to have a purely, Mexican festive Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena if you are a purist. We will be making our Mexican Lasagna, which is not technically very Mexican but I do not think my friends from Mexico would object. We will also be having some guacamole, and likely some borracho beans to make the whole thing seem really special. I’ll work on some type of Mexican dessert. I am leaning toward a flan. But who knows where the mood will lead.

So whether you are staying in, eating out, or fasting before the big day tomorrow we wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

Mr. Boston Just Can't Wait

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Herb Consciousness

December 21st, 2010 — 9:40am

Breakfast With The Herb Companion

We recently received a gift subscription to The Herb Companion.  This made a whole bunch of strange memories come flooding back as I was an avid budding herbalist in the early 1990’s. I was taking my cooking a bit more seriously and the natural adjunct to that seemed to be growing and using fresh herbs in my recipes. As with just about anything else I undertake I usually obsess about it to the point that I just do not want to think about it any more and I move on to my next obsession.

In those years I subscribed to The Herb Companion and would seek out books about herbs and their uses. I came across a very old volume from the early 1900’s that listed herbs along with their culinary and medicinal uses. Not wanting to just focus on the culinary aspects of my growing herb garden I decided to do a bit of research on the medicinal aspects as well. Without having the usual distillation equipment necessary to extract essential oils from the plants I was forced to focus primarily on teas. I suppose I could have worked on herb poultices as well but then I would have had to break a bone or walk through a patch of poison ivy to try them out. I was not willing to go that far with my research.

My first experiment was to see if I could tame an upset stomach with an herbal tea. In this case it was a mixture of lemon balm and mint leaves steeped in some hot water. The result was a very pleasant lemon-mint tea that actually seemed to do the trick. My stomach felt much better within a matter of hours. Of course without a control for the placebo effect it could have just been my imagination at work. Feeling full of good health there was not much need for medicinal teas. I did come across a reference in this herb book about catnip having hallucinogenic properties. Without any ailments to cure this seemed like a logical next step.

Following the recipe in the book I steeped some catnip leaves in hot water and allowed the mixture to cool. I drank the tea rather quickly, because the taste was not as pleasant as the lemon-mint version, and I waited to see what sort of shiny lights would appear in my vision from this hallucinogenic catnip. The only thing that seemed to stir was my stomach. Apparently my feline chromosome had been left off my DNA strands. I wound up with an extraordinary stomach ache of which I was sure I was not hallucinating.

No worries though. I had my lemon balm and mint remedy at hand. In a matter of hours my stomach was back to normal and the catnip was left for the cats to tear apart. Shortly after that I gave my herb book to a friend who was working through some chemotherapy. I told her to avoid any catnip and focus on the lemon balm and mint. I asked her to keep the book figuring that at some point I would find some other weird reference which I would have to try out, causing unexpected harm to my body.

With The Herb Companion I think I will just look at all the pretty pictures and skip all the references to medicinal uses. Just in case though, I always keep a bit of lemon balm and mint handy.

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Of Orzo and Ouzo

December 16th, 2010 — 8:00am

Warm Orzo Salad

Oh those Greeks! First they invent democracy, figure out most of modern mathematics, develop most of the first modern theories for architecture and hydrology, and after all that they come up with orzo and ouzo. Of late I have been a bit worried about democracy (what is up with the new Speaker of the House crying all the time?), I almost failed trigonometry, I could not, on my own, building anything that was level, never mind perfectly square, and trying to get water up the hill has always been a big problem for me. Archimedes I am not.

Which of course leaves us with orzo and ouzo, two things that I understand perfectly well. I dealt with ouzo earlier with my “Youth is Uncouth” cocktail. I am sure we will be revisiting the subject again in the future. So today we will delve into the subject of orzo of which I consider myself a bit of an aficionado.

I suppose one could consider this pasta grain as something to drop into soup at the last minute. As a pasta it is a bit hard to get a grasp of it. We think of the Italian noodles and tubes as the go-to pastas leaving the bits of orzo a bit displaced for the usual sauces. I tend to group orzo in the category containing couscous, rice, and quinoa as providing the base for side dishes. In that category the use of orzo is pretty unlimited.

I have earlier shown the use of orzo as a middle eastern side dish with apricots and raisins. My latest version draws on the same cooking technique although this time, while I still cook the orzo like risotto, I added a bit more liquid and let the dish cool to a warm temperature. The extra liquid is absorbed and the salad ingredients are added just before serving giving it a decidedly more complex flavor as a warm salad. It is definitely influenced by the Greeks with feta cheese, cucumber, olives and capers as the main ingredients. I am really not sure if this is a side dish or a warm salad. I am calling it a warm orzo salad.

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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword(fish)

December 14th, 2010 — 9:59am

Swordfish in a Tomato Fennel Sauce

This will not be a pean to the swordfish. When I was growing up in Massachusetts swordfish was the thing that you caught accidentally when you were fishing for cod off of George’s Bank. As a “throw away” fish it was cheaper than hamburger. As a consequence, being observant catholics, we ate an awful lot of swordfish on Friday night. Despite the fact that swordfish has become somewhat trendier over the years it ranks up there with hot dogs cooked in tomato sauce (I’ll take that walk down memory lane some other day) as one of my least favorite food memories from childhood.

I have given the fish another try in my adulthood. While the taste of olives and scotch were easily acquired tastes as I grew older I cautiously approached swordfish. Most commonly I just grill it coated with some spices and serve it with a bit of lemon and maybe some butter. Lemon and butter make everything taste good. Last week in my rush to prepare some tapas for our “Hello Dali” dinner I bought some frozen swordfish. Fish tapas are a large component of the tapas served in Barcelona and I was thinking of cutting the swordfish into chunks and poaching it in a bit of sauce made from tomato and fennel. But the extra tapas were nixed by Will and swordfish would soon follow on the menu as the main course this week.

The whole thing moved from Catalonia to Grecia (Greece) and the swordfish was grilled (big surprise there) and served with a tomato-based sauce which included fennel, olives, and capers seasoned with rosemary and greek oregano. It was served with a warm orzo salad (recipe to follow later in the week). I have to admit the strong flavors of the sauce were a good match for the strong meaty flavor of the swordfish. I have used a similar sauce when serving cod. I think the cod gets a bit overwhelmed by the sauce. The sauce would also work well with tuna, halibut, or black cod. So next time you are serving up some swordfish this tomato sauce with fennel would work wonders on the palate. It also tastes great with a bit of bread; toasted even better.

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Hello Dali

December 11th, 2010 — 8:00am

"Gooseberry" Salvador Dali 1969

While we were sailing back from Alaska this summer we had a full day at sea. Not happy to be just looking for whales, of which we saw many, Will headed off to the daily art auction on the ship. About a half hour later he came back a bit breathless telling me that I had to see this piece of art he wanted to buy. About 45 minutes later, and a bit weary from haggling, he was in possession of a Salvador Dali. More specifically he had purchased the signed artist’s proof of the “Reverence de Grosillier,” more commonly called the “Gooseberry” from the “Les Fruits” series of lithographs published in a limited edition in 1969. The piece had to be reframed, which meant it had to come to Dallas via Miami and a few other ports of call. The piece arrived yesterday along with a Joan Miro lithograph.

In honor of his new purchases I thought I would honor the Catalan heritage of both Dali and Miro and serve a meal from that region of Spain. Tapas were on the menu. Although Will talked me out of a big tapas spread when he heard that I was also going to be serving pork shank with white beans, a very traditional dish in Catalonia (we saw it at lunch every day in Barcelona).

I have put off making this dish as I have not ever come across a smoked pork shank before. Whole Foods kindly had a pile of them in the store yesterday. I also did not have a clue how the dish was prepared. From what I saw it was just a pork shank, usually served bone in, on a bed of very bland looking white beans. However, the gusto with which it was eaten indicated that it must have some magic ingredient of which I was not aware.

Pork Shank With White Beans, In The Pot

Keeping to my “simpler is better” hypothesis I simply put some beans in a dutch oven, covered them with water, added two bay leaves, half a red onion, two garlic cloves and two sprigs of thyme, a bit of salt and pepper, and of course the smoked pork shank. I brought it to a simmer, put it in a 275 degree oven, and let it sit in there for about one and one-half hours, when I added a bit of white wine, put it back in the oven for another half hour and there it was. One of the most ridiculous looking pots I had ever prepared. And one of the most delicious dishes I have ever had, having the temerity to just leave it alone in the oven.

Pork Shank With White Beans

So if you can invest about 5 minutes in prep time, and can wait two hours, you too can enjoy pork shank with white beans. The cooking time does allow you to serve tapas as well; in our case a bit of grilled bread topped with chevre and tomatoes, onion and fennel in a balsamic and olive oil marinade. I also served a plate of olives. And do not forget to serve the pork with a couple of slices of that catalan tomato bread. What a night! Hellooooooo Dali!

"Equinox" Joan Miro 1967

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Waking Up A Chicken Breast

December 9th, 2010 — 8:00am

Chicken Breast with Peanuts and Chinese Five Spice

The research that led me to the December Food Holidays list was really about chicken breasts. The research was so boring I had to find a way to write about something else; in this case anything else would suffice. I realize that healthy food enthusiasts and weight loss gurus steer you towards chicken breasts as one of the essential low-fat food elements to include in your regular diet. Much like how I feel about steak and hamburgers, a certain amount of ennui ensues when I approach the subject. How many times can you eat grilled chicken breasts in one week? The answer for me often times is too many.

In my formative cooking years I was definitely a fad-seeking cook. I even lived through the “blush” wine crisis without too much damage to my psyche. I had a propensity to buy the food magazine of the moment or the cookbook of the year unknowingly preparing meals that were definitely “OK” but not so terribly appetizing. So when I dusted off my old “Cooking Light” cookbooks from the 1990’s (yes the previous century) I was astonished at how terribly boring I really was.

In the rush to eat healthy we were removing the most important flavor elements from many recipes. It is not like a boneless, skinless chicken breast has a lot of flavor starting out. Perhaps that is why we dip them in egg, coat them with bread crumbs, brown them in the skillet, and finish them in the oven. The healthy eating extremists would substitute skim milk for the egg (as if about 1/4 of an egg is going to ruin you) skip the browning process, and put the whole breaded mess directly in the oven. I think Oprah and a few others call this “oven-fried chicken.” The result is nothing like anything resembling fried chicken. It tastes like a chicken breast coated in bread!

I did not want my chicken breast rage to go to waste. I was able to get some inspiration, and little else, from the old “Cooking Light” cookbooks. I developed a recipe using some of the basic breaded chicken breast elements and perked them up a bit with some peanuts (substitute some other nut if you are allergic) and some chinese five spice blend. To make it even more outre I added some chili sauce to the egg and topped the whole thing with my favorite asian vegetable mix that I use often as a base for my scallops. Despite the fact that the five spice mix causes the chicken to brown in a rather odd way, and the fact that Will was skeptical from the beginning, I think we both agreed that this was a decidedly superior breaded chicken breast. My chicken with peanuts and five spice was served with a jasmine rice cooked with some ginger and finished with some cilantro and lime juice. The whole thing turned out just, well, yummy.

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The Month of Food Holidays

December 6th, 2010 — 1:05pm

National Egg Nog Day - December 24th

It has been a bit quiet in the kitchen for me these days. Between work, taking a class in tax preparation (don’t ask), and working on a new web site I have been devoting a bit less time to preparing meals. Thankfully Will has stepped into the breach. So not to worry, I am well fed.

National Fruit Cake Day - December 27th

I was researching a few recipes based on some old cookbooks and I ran across a mention of December being a “Food Holiday” month. I took my research a step further and found out that December is both “Egg Nog Month” and “Fruit Cake Month.” In for a penny in for a pound, I decided to delve in further. To my surprise every day in the month of December is designated as some sort of special day for a food or a food related item. Not only is December both “Egg Nog’ and “Fruit Cake” month they each have their own special day on December 24th and December 27th, respectively. Two full weeks are taken up with designations; we are nearing the end of “Cookie Cutter Week” and soon to be in the midst of “Lager Beer Week.” I suppose if you are a pilsner fan you better lay off them from December 8th through the 14th.

Repeal of Prohibition Day - December 5th

As a public service I am going to publish the List of December Food Holidays. Sadly we have already missed such venerable holidays as National Pie Day, Eat A Red Apple Day, National Fritters Day (I frittered mine away), National Apple Pie Day, National Cookie Day, and the dual holiday on December 5th, National Sacher Torte Day and the Repeal of Prohibition Day. Although unbeknownst to me, I did split a bottle of wine with Will on Repeal of Prohibition Day. I guess maybe my subconscious knew that something was up.

National Microwave Oven Day - December 6th

There are a few ironies on the list; National Bicarbonate of Soda Day follows Pepper Pot Day. I guess whoever put the list together had some sort of method to their madness. I have not decided how I will be celebrating National Noodle Ring Day. I suppose if I knew what a noodle ring was I could perhaps make some more adequate plans. I do know that National Champagne Day, on December 31st, will be a big day around here. And lest I forget, today is National MIcrowave Oven Day! I am going to head out to the kitchen and give ours a big kiss.

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