Sunday, January 23, 2011

Modern Bouillabaisse

I wanted to use up some seafood in our freezer - we had about a pound of cod fillets and a pound of shrimp, so this soup was perfect for that purpose. I made a double batch because I knew I was going to give some to my friend our weekly meal exchange.

Bouillabaisse used to be made with whatever fish and market produce was available.  As people became more wealthy and better fish became more readily available, the vegetables became more of an afterthought.  Bittman describes this recipe as a "return to tradition", using lots of vegetables and plenty of flexibility in what kind of fish you can use.  

I'm not sure what happened, but it seemed that by doubling the ingredients, the volume of the soup increased exponentially. Has this ever happened to anyone else? Instead of the predicted 8 servings, I estimate that we had more like 16. I'm really not exaggerating here, nor am I really complaining. It's a soup that freezes well; we put about half of it into single serving tupperware containers and froze it right away. It's been about a week since we've made it and I've already had some for lunch.  It defrosted nicely in the microwave, and the vegetables, while more tender than they were originally, were still good.

This recipe gives you the option to use shrimp stock, which is incredibly easy to make. You make it from shrimp tails, which is a good use for something you are going to throw away anyway. Just put the tails into a saucepan with a few cups of water in it, then cover and simmer for about 15 minutes. Pour the liquid into a bowl or storage container - through a strainer first to remove the tails - and voila, shrimp stock. With this last 2 pound bag of shrimp we bought at Costco, we tried to remember to make a batch of shrimp stock every time we cooked with shrimp, and just kept the stock in the freezer until we needed it. You can also get fancy and add some chunks of onion, carrots, celery, lemon, or parsley stems to the simmering liquid.

Modern Bouillabaisse
adapted from Mark Bittman - Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating
Serves 4?

1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
2 leeks, white and tender green parts, trimmed and cut into coins (or use onions)
Zest from one orange
Big pinch saffron (optional)
1 dried hot chile, or a pinch of cayenne, or to taste
1 sprig fresh tarragon (optional)
2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; drain them first)
About 1 1/2 pounds small red or white potatoes, peeled if you like (we didn't) and cut into wedges
About 1 pound almost any seafood, like monkfish, cod, scallops, squid, or shrimp; peeled, skinned, boned, and cut into chunks if needed
2 carrots or parsnips, cut into 1/4-inch coins (I used both)
2 stalks celery (with the leaves if you like) sliced into 1/4-1/2-inch slices
1/2 pound sugar snap or snow peas (optional)
2 cups vegetable, shrimp, or fish stock, dry white wine or water, plus more as needed
1/2 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves, or used chopped chervil or fennel fronds if you like
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 whole grain baguettes , cut crosswise into slices and toasted if you like (optional)

Heat a dutch oven or large pot over medium high heat and add the oil.  When the oil is hot, add the leeks, fennel, garlic, and orange zest.  Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until softened, stirring occasionally.  Add the saffron, if using, the chile or cayenne, and the tarragon, if using, and cook for just a minute.  Add the tomatoes and potatoes, and cover.

Check the potatoes after about 5 minutes.  If they are not yet beginning to get tender, cover and cook for another couple of minutes (since mine was a double batch, this part took forever).  Stick the potatoes with a fork, if the fork seems to meet with just a little resistance, then add the fish, carrots and/or parsnips, celery, snap peas or snow peas if using, and stock.  Add more stock or water if needed, just to cover the fish and the vegetables.

Bring the soup to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat.  Let the soup rest with the lid on for about 5 minutes.  At that time, the vegetables that you just added should be crisp tender, and the fish should be opaque and cooked through (our chunks of cod were flaking apart).  If the fish is not cooked at this point, move the pot back on the heat and bring it to a simmer again for a few minutes.  Fish doesn't really take that long to cook though.  Stir in the parsley, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with the bread.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rich and Sweet Blueberry Scones

I love our lazy weekend breakfasts. Most mornings, a simple fried egg and piece of toast will suffice, but other days we require a more decadent morning meal, so we will lie in bed and flip through a cookbook or two, searching for that perfect breakfast pastry item that uses only things we already have on hand (so we don't have to go to the store, obviously, although, seeing as we live in a college town, I would not look the least bit out of place if I decided to waltz into the grocery store in pajama pants and slippers).

On this particular morning, we had almost all of the ingredients to make these amazing scones from America's Test Kitchen. We even had sour cream (not expired! imagine that!). It called for whole milk, which we didn't have, but equal parts half-n-half and nonfat milk made for an adequate substitute. We didn't have a lemon like it wanted, but we did have an orange, which I think went perfectly with the blueberries we used.

I'm so glad my sister and I went blueberry picking this summer.  For only $10, we picked about eight pounds of fresh, local blueberries. Into the freezer they went, and I've been having them on my cereal most weekday mornings since. I froze them (unwashed) individually on cookie sheets, then I put them into freezer bags in 2-cup increments. This way, I don't have to pull out a huge bag every time I just want a small handful.

A perfect morning: coffee, scone, and Barbara Kingsolver.

Rich and Sweet Berry Scones
adapted from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
makes 8 scones

Notes: You can use fresh or frozen raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries (hull and cut into 1/2-inch pieces) in place of the blueberries. Also, since I knew that my blueberries had not been rinsed yet, I quickly rinsed and dried them, then put them back in the freezer while we made the dough so they would still be frozen.  The key to getting these scones just right is to work the dough as little as possible and use cold ingredients, even chilling the bowls and the flour mixture if it's particularly hot.

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (do not defrost)
1/2 cup whole milk (or use 1/4 cup half-n-half and 1/4 cup nonfat milk like we did)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated fresh orange or lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

If you happen to have butter in the freezer already, hooray! If not, you need to put 8 tablespoons (1 stick) of the butter in the freezer for a bit until firm; this will make it easier to grate it in a later step. The Test Kitchen suggests freezing two sticks and just grating half of each, I assume because your hand warms up the end of the stick of before you can grate it.  Ours was already thoroughly frozen so we didn't have that problem.

Move an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Rinse your blueberries if needed and put them back in the freezer.

When the stick of butter is frozen, grate the butter with the large holes of a box grater.  Put back in the freezer until needed. Whisk the milk and sour cream together in a medium bowl, place in the refrigerator until needed.

In another medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup of the sugar, baking powder, orange zest, salt, and baking soda. Add the butter that you just grated and use your fingers to gently combine.  Get the chilled milk mixture out of the fridge and fold it into the flour mixture with a rubber spatula until just combined (do not overmix).

Sprinkle flour over a clean surface and turn the dough out onto it. This dough will be very sticky, so lightly flour your hands, and sprinkle some on the dough too while you're at it. Knead the dough gently six to eight times until it holds together in a ragged ball, adding additional flour as needed.

Flour a rolling pin, and roll the dough out into a 12-inch square. Fold the top and bottom of the dough over the center (just like when you fold a business letter in thirds to go in an envelope).  Next, fold the sides of the dough over the center to form a 4-inch square. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured plate and place in the freezer for 5 minutes (do not overchill).

Transfer the dough back to the lightly floured surface and re-roll into a 12-inch square. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the surface, pressing them down lightly into the dough. Using a bench scraper or a thin metal spatula, loosen the dough from the work surface and roll into a tight log, pinching the seam closed. Lay the log seam side down and gently press into a 4-inch rectangle. Flour a chefs knife or other sharp knife and slice the dough in half crosswise, then slice each of those rectangles in half crosswise so you have four equal rectangles (4 in. x 3 in., if you want to get really precise). Slice each rectangle on the diagonal to create two triangles.  You should have eight triangles total.

Use the bench scraper again to gently place the scones onto the prepared baking sheet.  Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter and brush it over the scones.  Sprinkle them lightly with sugar.  Bake for 18-25 minutes, until the scones are lightly golden brown on top, rotating the pan halfway through.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make ahead instructions:
Cut, unbaked scones can be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before baking as directed.  You could also freeze them unbaked, on a cookie sheet, covered, for about 6 hours, then transfer to plastic freezer bags and store for up to one month.  Bake the frozen scones at 375 F for 25-30 minutes.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Salisbury Steak

I know what you're thinking. Salisbury steak is just an entrĂ©e in a TV dinner, right? Or maybe it's just some old-fashioned meal that your parents were forced to eat when they were kids? That's what I thought too. I had heard of it, but I'm almost certain I'd never eaten it. It's usually made with ground beef, which is mixed together with onion and maybe some other seasonings, and formed into the shape of a steak. It's usually served with a brown sauce or gravy of some kind.

Another way to make Salisbury steak is to start with cube steak. Incidentally, that's how I came across Alton Brown's recipe, when I was searching for what to do with this thin, tough cut of meat. Not that cube steak is that uncommon, but it's definitely not something I've ever bought before. That's why I like buying mixed cuts of beef in bulk - not only does it save money in the long run, but we get to try new things! Cube steak is usually made from top sirloin or top round and has been tenderized with an electric meat tenderizer at the butcher (that's why the surface is covered with little "cubes").

I only took one package of cube steak out of the freezer, so we only made half the recipe. It was really good! Actually, it was pretty funny, the first thing I said when I took a bite was, "this tastes like hamburger". Well that makes sense, seeing as that part of the cow is usually made into ground beef.

Mashed potatoes are the perfect side dish for this meal because they soak up the delicious brown sauce nicely, but macaroni and cheese is also a common choice. For a quick vegetable side, I defrosted some peas on the stove with just the tiniest pat of butter, and salt and pepper. Peas are one of Joe's favorite vegetables, and they add a nice splash of color to the plate as well.

I still have two more packs of cube steak in the freezer - what should I make?  

Salisbury Steak
adapted from Alton Brown - I'm just here for the food
serves 4

Note: I say this recipe serves four, but 1/2 a pound of meat is a lot for me, so if you are watching calories and portions, just eat half to three-quarters of the steak and save the rest for leftovers.

4 (1/2 pound) beef cube steaks
Flour for dredging
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 medium onion, sliced Lyonnaise-style (that means thinly sliced lengthwise, from root to tip, rather than crosswise)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 pound brown mushrooms, thinly sliced
3/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup beef or chicken stock

Preheat the oven to 275 F. Season the steaks and the flour with salt and pepper. Dredge the steaks in the flour, and shake to remove the excess.

Heat an oven-proof saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon each of the butter and oil.  When melted and hot, add the steaks, two at a time, and brown for about 4 minutes on each side (they will finish cooking in the oven, you only want to sear them for now). Add more butter and oil when flipping to prevent them from sticking (I failed to heed this advice, and had major stickage. Luckily, I just scraped the pan like crazy during deglazing time and it just made the sauce that much more flavorful).  Remove the steaks to a plate and set aside.

Pour off any grease from the pan and add the remaining butter. Add the onion, garlic, and mushrooms to the pan. Saute until cooked down and caramelized. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom. Add the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and stock, stirring to combine. Return the steaks to the pan, cover, and cook in the oven for 25 minutes.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Warm Chickpea Salad with Spinach

Another great warm salad recipe from Mark Bittman.  I have already blogged about his delicious spinach and sweet potato salad with warm bacon dressing. This recipe is just as satisfying, with chickpeas, spinach, red onions, and a dressing flavored with garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, and honey. 

This recipe is actually called "Warm Chickpea Salad with Arugula", but the grocery store did not have arugula that day so I picked up a bunch of spinach instead.  I thought the spinach leaves were rather large, so next time, I would chop them up smaller (all I did was lazily tear them in half), or buy baby spinach. 

I am not always a fan of raw onion in salads, so I opted to cook the red onion with the chickpeas, just to take the edge off and soften them slightly.  I liked it that way.

If you want to take leftovers to work for lunch the next day, here is what I did:  I put some of the spinach into a tupperware container (plain, no dressing added yet).  Then I reserved some of the chickpea/dressing mixture and spooned it over the top of the greens in the container.  The greens didn't wilt at all this way, since the dressing was not mixed in, and then you only have to pack one container.  It tastes great cold too!

Warm Chickpea Salad with Spinach (or Arugula)
adapted from - Mark Bittman (found in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian and his website)
serves four as a side or two as a main dish

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned is fine too, rinsed and drained, I just used a whole can)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
4 cups arugula leaves (or substitute spinach)
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 hard cooked eggs, quartered (optional, I did not try this)

Wash and spin or pat dry the arugula (or spinach).  If using large leaves of spinach, tear or roughly chop.  Put into a large bowl and set aside.

Put the oil into a deep skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the ginger, garlic, and cumin.  Cook for about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until the ginger and garlic are soft.  Season with some salt and pepper.  Add the chickpeas, stirring to coat with the seasonings and oil.  Cook for about 3 minutes or so (I think I went a little longer).  If you don't want raw onions in your salad, add them to the skillet about a minute or so after the chickpeas.

Remove the pan from heat.  With a fork (or spatula if using a nonstick skillet), stir in the vinegar, honey, and 1 tablespoon water (oops, as I type this I realized I skipped the water).  As you stir, mash a few of the chickpeas, this will give the dressing some thickness and texture.  If you did not add the onions to the skillet earlier, add them to the bowl of arugula now.  Pour the contents of the skillet over the bowl of greens and gently toss to combine.  Taste, and adjust the seasonings if needed.  Serve immediately, garnishing with hard-cooked eggs if using.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thai-Style Ground Beef, and 100th Blog Post!

It seems fitting that this, my 100th blog post, is also the first post to feature my new toy.  I turned 28 in late December, and this was my husband's birthday present to me.  The lighting in our kitchen sucks, so I had been making due by taking my photos near our Aerogarden to make use of it's bright light (incidentally, I've had to relocate my collection of begonias near it as well, as it seems that our house is also too dark for those.  They are now thriving and taking over our kitchen.  You can hardly get to the microwave anymore).  Anyway, for Christmas, my mother-in-law also gave me several fun-colored plates to spice up my meal plating (Fiestaware, same as our white ones).  Looks like another 100 posts are in store for this food blogger!

So, about this Thai beef dinner.  Let's be honest, it's basically glorified sloppy joes.  But it's fabulous.  I love the flavors of coconut milk, curry paste, and fish sauce.  Fish sauce smells like bad cat breath by itself, but it does good things to Thai food, I promise you.

Other than leeks and limes, if your pantry is well-stocked, you could have all the other ingredients on hand anytime you wanted to make this dish.  A big jar of curry paste is cheap and keeps practically forever in the fridge.  We just finished our bottle of fish sauce with this meal, but before that we had it at room temperature in the cupboard for 9 months (the high salt content is what keeps it from spoiling).  Keep a few cans of coconut milk and tomato sauce in the pantry, some ground beef or turkey in the freezer, and you're all set!    

Thai-Style Ground Beef
adapted from Cooking Light - January 2006
serves 4 (1/2 cup ground beef mixture, 3/4 cup rice)

Notes: The original recipe calls for cooking spray instead of olive oil, and iceberg lettuce instead of romaine.  My ground beef was not lean, so I spooned out the fat before I adding the curry paste and tomato sauce.  This recipe is easily doubled, and I highly recommend doing so to ensure that there will be leftovers.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced leek (I sliced the leek lengthwise into quarters first, then thinly sliced)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound lean ground sirloin
1 teaspoon red curry paste (such as Mae Ploy, from an Asian grocery store)
1 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup light coconut milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated lime rind
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce (we like this brand, from an Asian grocery store)
3 cups any hot cooked rice (we had wild rice, so we used that)
Lettuce wedges, such as romaine or iceberg (optional)
Chopped cilantro
Chopped green onions (optional)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil.  When hot, add the leek and cook 4-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the beef and break it up with a wooden spoon.  Cook for about 7 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring often.

Stir in the curry paste, then the tomato sauce.  Cook for a couple of minutes to allow about half of the liquid to evaporate.  Add the milk, brown sugar, grated lime rind, lime juice, and fish sauce.  Here it says to cook for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened, but mine was still very liquidy at that point, so I let it go for probably 8 more minutes (I lowered the heat slightly so the bottom wouldn't burn, and I stirred it often).

When the beef mixture is thickened to your liking, serve with rice and lettuce leaves.  You could also serve the beef mixture in warm corn tortillas if you'd like.  Garnish with cilantro and green onions.
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