Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sauteed Halibut with Arugula, Roasted Beets, and Horseradish Creme Fraiche


I can't wait till these little guys are strikingly tall zinnias burgeoning with big fluffy, bright flowers.

Like this:

These guys will be tasty and convenient herbs.

A lot of the 10X10 recipes call for small amounts of herbs that I don't use in great quantities. I therefore figured that it would be nice to grow herbs like sorrel, marjoram, and epazote, especially because these herbs often can't be found in the store. It's just not so fun to pick a recipe that depends on sorrel, finding that the store doesn't have it, and having to pick something else. Or, finding that they do have it, using a tiny bit, and letting the rest go to waste. I figure that purchases like that add up to the massive percentage of my paycheck that goes to food, so I'd rather spend $1.50 on the seeds one time, and never have to worry about buying the herb.

If you know me well, you know that I have had an on-going battle with squirrels for the past 15 years. It would take about 2,000 words to adequately describe the scope of these issues, but I will tell you that one year, a squirrel decided to bite all the heads off my little baby basil sprouts. It didn't eat the whole plant, just the heads, so I was left with all the sad little stalks valiantly but vainly poking their bodies out of the soil. When the squirrel dug up the lily bulbs and ate the tender tasty centers I found it annoying but somewhat understandable. But only the heads? Really? That's just perverse.

Or how about the time I tried those little mesh seed-thingies that you start inside and plant outside? That year, the squirrels dug them up, shredded them, and threw them all over the porch. They didn't eat those, either. That was just to mess with me. I could go on and on here, but I'll spare you. I won't mention the time they ate the Christmas lights, or the time I came home to find one in my bedroom...

Basically, that's why the sprouts have a squirrel guard. This squirrel is here to say that these sprouts are his, and the rest of you squirrels better back off.

The onion wanted to get in on the sprouting action, too.

All this springtime feeling got me wanting something light for dinner, and I'm a little obsessed with Sunday Suppers at Lucques right now, so I picked Suzanne Goin's recipe for sauteed halibut with arugula, roasted beets, and horseradish creme fraiche.

It started with coating a piece of halibut with lemon zest, thyme, and parsley.

That is one pretty fish fillet.
How did I zest a lemon when Thomas Keller stole my zester, you ask?

I used my spiffy new microplane zester! It has a handle. Oooohh.

So beets were roasted and sliced into wedges. They were then tossed with a dressing made from diced shallots, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

The beets were plated on a bed of arugula and spring green mix. It was supposed to be straight baby arugula, but Whole Foods didn't have it, so the mix just had to do.

The fish was then burned in a skillet. Suzanne Goin tells you to put the skillet on high heat for two minutes, swirl in olive oil, and let it sit for another minute. Why I followed this direction, or the one that instructed me to make mayonnaise by hand, I do not know. This resulted in a very very charred exterior that tasted of Teflon rather than crispy fishy deliciousness.

It also meant that while the exterior was charred, the interior was raw. Had this been tuna, that would have been just fine. It wasn't tuna, though, and I became rather flustered, which resulted in very overcooked fish. I've really never been able to pan-sear fish. I can bake it, grill it, and poach it, but pan searing? Not so much.

I'll just add it to the List of Things Leah Can't Cook. That illustrious list includes duck in any form, pate choux (if I hear one more person say it's soooo easy, my head is going to explode), and souffles.

The halibut was plated and the whole dish was drizzled with a sauce made from creme fraiche, horseradish, lemon, salt and pepper.

Try to pretend that the fish isn't blackened, and it doesn't look like some sort of humpbacked whale beached on sands of lettuce and beets. Also, pretend that the plating and lighting don't suck. Thank you.

It tasted delicious, though. I already knew that I liked cream and beets together, and it turns out that horseradish is also delicious with beets. The meal wasn't overly heavy, but it was satisfying because of the sugary, earthy, starchy beets, and it was just right for very early spring. The pepperiness of the horseradish and arugula was nicely paired with the mildness of the fish and creme fraiche. Next time, though, I'll probably cut the beets into smaller shapes, and I'll try my best not to demolish the halibut fillet.

Sautéed Halibut with Arugula, Roasted Beets, and Horseradish Creme Fraiche

  • 6 halibut fillets
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons coarsley chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces arugula, cleaned
  • Roasted Beets with Horseradish Creme Fraiche (recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly grouns black pepper

Season the fish with the lemon zest, thyme, and parsley. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Remove the fish from the refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking, to bring it to room temperature.

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Swirl the olive oil into the pan, and when it's shimmering, carefully lay the fish in the pan and press on them a little bit. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the fillets are nicely browned. Turn the fish over, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook a few more minutes, until it's almost cooked through. 

Be careful not to overcook the fish. When it's done, the fish will begin to flake and separate a little, and the center will be slightly translucent. Scatter half of the arugula over a large platter. Arrange the beets on top, and drizzle with half the horseradish cream.

Tuck the rest of the arugula among the beets, so you can see the beets peeking through. Nestle the fish in the salad, and spoon a little horseradish cream over each piece. Drizzle the whole dish with olive oil and a big squeeze of lemon.

Roasted Beets with Horseradish Creme Fraiche

  • 4 smallish bunches different-colored beets
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon diced shallot, plus 1/4 cup sliced shallots
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut off the beet greens, leaving 1/2 inch of the stems still attached. Clean the beets well, and peel with a vegetable peeler. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a teaspoon of salt.

Place the beets in a roasting pan with a splash of water in to bottom. Cover the pan tightly with foil, and roast for about 40 minutes, until they're tender when pierced. The roasting time will depend on the size and type of beet. When the beets are done, care fully remove the foil and allow them to cool. Cut the beets into 1/2-inch thick wedges.

While the beets are in the oven, combine the disced shallot, both vinegars, a teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl, and let sit 5 minutes. Whisk in the 1/2 cup olive oil. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Whisk the creme fraiche and horseradish together in a small bowl. Stir in the heavy cream, remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Toss the beets and sliced shallots with the vinaigrette. (If you're using different-colored beets, dress them separately so that they don't discolor each other.) Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and toss well. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Here's a meal that I didn't mess up too badly (the rice was a tiny bit underdone, but it wasn't too noticeable):

This is one of Nick's favorite dishes, and it's in our regular rotation. It's relatively economical, and it's easy although it is a bit time-consuming. However, most of that time is not active time. It's spicy and satisfying, somewhat healthy, and the leftovers are delicious. We highly recommend that you try this meal.

Chicken and Brown Rice With Chorizo

  • 2 1⁄2 lbs. bone-in skinless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3⁄4 lb. smoked, dried chorizo, cut into 1"-thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh oregano
  • 1⁄2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 1⁄2 cups long-grain brown rice, rinsed
  • 1⁄2 cup white wine
  • 3 roasted red peppers, peeled, seeded, and cut into thick strips
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas

Heat oven to 400°. Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken and cook, without turning, until it's a deep golden brown, about 8 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. (Pour off and discard any accumulated fat and juices.) Add the chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chorizo to a plate, leaving the fat behind in the dutch oven. Set chorizo aside.

Add oregano, red pepper, garlic, onion, and bay leaf to the dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is lightly browned and somewhat soft, about 8 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until surface is glossy, about 2 minutes.

Add wine, bring to a boil while stirring often, and reduce by half, about 1 minute. Nestle chicken, chorizo, and half of the peppers into rice mixture. Pour in broth and season liquid to taste with salt and pepper. Cover the dutch oven and bring to a boil over high heat. Transfer to the oven and bake until rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Remove the dish from oven, uncover, and gently stir in the peas and the remainder of the peppers with a fork. Let sit for 10 minutes, covered, to allow the flavors to meld.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Skirt Steak with Rosemary, Artichoke-Potato Hash, Black Olive Aioli, Cupcakes

I've been traumatized by mayonnaise. Suzanne, why did you tell me to make an aioli by hand? I'll never do such a foolish thing ever again.
This is me mixing. And mixing. And mixing.

I had been nervous about this undertaking to begin with, because I knew that if you try to make mayonnaise and add the oil more than a drop at a time, it will break and all that mixing will have been for naught.

So I made a little setup that would enable me to mix with one hand and drip with the other.

'What's that for?' Nick asked.
It's an egg.
In a nest.
No, really, the egg is for the mayo, and the towels are for my no-bowl-spinning setup.

So I dripped, I mixed, I dripped, I broke. Aaaaagh! My arm felt like it was going to fall off, and it was all for nothing. Better yet, Nick, who hates mayonnaise felt bad for my arms and helped me out. He felt sullied, and it was for no good reason.

We tried to fix the broken mayonnaise by adding more egg yolks, and it didn't work. Okay, we said, let's take a break from this and get started on those artichokes, because they're really confusing.

What do you mean there are no baby artichokes in the fridge? You're kidding, right? Oh, cool--the checkout person at the grocery store was so mightily confused by the fact that I brought my own bag that the artichokes ended up staying in the plastic bag that I asked not to use.

Okay, mayonnaise, I'm going to the store, and I'll deal with you later, buddy.

Okay, Nick, I'm back from the store with the expensive baby artichokes. What did you say? They're moldy? That totally rocks.

Sigh. While Nick dealt with the non-moldy artichokes of the bunch, I consulted Julia because I seemed to remember her having a lot to say about the making of mayonnaise.

She sure did, and it sure saved my butt.

She even made me feel better, in a way: "Mayonnaise done by hand or with an electric beater requires familiarity with egg yolks." Well, I'm apparently not familiar with the egg yolk, but she makes it sound like it's not the end of the world, although she does say that, "You should be able to make it by hand as part of your general mastery of the egg yolk." I'll just have to master you another day, you little golden orb.

She then goes on to tell us mere mortals how to make mayonnaise in a food processor. By the time I had a thick, creamy mayonnaise, my head hurt from the noise of the machine and my arm still felt like it was going to fall off due to all the slow pouring, but it was about a billion times easier than that hand-mixing junk, and I had produced a perfect mayonnaise.

The baby food processor was broken out and used to make a puree of garlic and olives, which was stirred into the now-perfect mayonnaise. Suzanne Goin tells you to make the olive garlic puree with a mortal and pestle, but I was not about to be tricked by her hand-made methods twice in one night.

You may be wondering why I went to so much trouble for a sauce that only I would be eating, as Nick hates it. That's a good question, really, and the answer is that it has been on my culinary to-do list, and Suzanne Goin makes it sound delicious: " Though mayonnaise might sound strange as an accompaniment for steak, the aioli melts into a creamy sauce, leaving behind a trail of olives." Great.

Why was it on my to-do list? Because everyone says that homemade mayonnaise is easy (pshhhhhh) and it's a million times better than Hellmann's. Therefore, I felt that, like a souffle, it's something that everyone who likes to cook should attempt at least once or twice.

So I mentioned that the mayo was a sauce for some steak. That steak was skirt steak, marinated with chiles de arbol, pepper, fresh rosemary, and fresh thyme.

Yukon Gold potatoes were tossed with salt, olive oil, garlic cloves and thyme, and were roasted in a covered pan until tender. When they were cool enough to handle, they were broken into pieces, and the roasted garlic cloves were slipped out of their skins.

In the meantime, the baby artichokes that Nick had so valiantly broken down were pan-seared. I mentioned that the artichokes confused us, which may seem silly to some people. However, we on the East Coast do not eat as many artichokes as West Coasters, and the two of us had never cooked with them before. When you've never dealt with these spiny little buggers, they're rather confusing--what do you cut off/out, what do you leave?

When the artichokes were golden, they were set aside and the potato chunks were seared. The roasted garlic was added, along with some shallots, the artichokes, some more thyme, salt, pepper, and parsley.

This 'hash' was plated with the steak that had been grilled and sliced against the grain, and the mayo was dotted on top of mine.

The mayonnaise was supposed to be thinned out so that it could be drizzled, but I felt that if I thinned out the mayo, I wouldn't be able to use it for anything else, and it would go to waste.

Because the mayonnaise was left a normal, non-aioli-like consistency, I was able to eat it on a roast chicken sandwich the next day, and it was delicious.

Again, the sauce added a perfect something to the dish in a somewhat unexpected way. That's part of why I wanted so badly to make this mayonnaise--I thought Suzanne Goin had something up her sleeve. The potatoes were delicious, and the steak was yummy.

As far as skirt steak, though, I think I prefer our normal preparation--for carne asada, we rub skirt steak with salt and a huge amount of garlic and grill it. We then eat it on tortillas with roasted poblanos and various other fixings. Skirt steak prepared that way is tender and juicy, and it lets the flavor of the steak shine through. This way was nice, but not really worth the extra effort.

I'll leave you with some pictures of St. Patrick's Day cupcake carnage.

The icing is from Cook's Country, which is published by the people who make Cook's Illustrated.
It's so simple that it's become our go-to 'Oops I forgot that I told people that I would make them cupcakes' recipe.

Start by creaming 3 sticks of room temperature butter until they're light and fluffy. Turn the mixer down to low and gradually add 3 cups of powdered sugar. Increase the mixer speed to high and beat until light and fluffy.

Turn the mixer down to medium-low and add a couple tablespoons of milk, a couple teaspoons of vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. When incorporated, again increase the mixer speed to high and beat until the icing is light and fluffy. Add coloring if desired.

Don't do like I did and let the icing get too soft before piping it onto the cupcakes. That's how I ended up with those rivulets down the side.

Pretend you're not eating pure butter and sugar, and enjoy!

Skirt Steak with Rosemary, Artichoke-Potato Hash, and Black Olive Aioli

  • 2 pounds skirt steak
  • 3 chiles de arbol, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, plus 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1 1/4 pound Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 1/4 cup to 1 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 12 baby artichokes
  • 2/3 cup sliced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch arugula, cleaned
  • Black olive aioli (recipe below)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the skirt steak of excess fat and sinew, if any. Season the skirt steak with the sliced chiles, cracked black pepper, rosemary, and thyme leaves. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon salt. Place in a roasting pan and roast about 45 minutes, until tender when pierced. (Depending on the size, age, and variety of the potatoes, cooking time will vary.)

While the potatoes are roasting, prepare the artichokes. Cut off the top third of the artichokes, and remove the tough outer leaves, down to the pale yellow-green leaves. Using a paring knife, trim the bottom of the stem and the stalks. Cut each artichoke in half and remove the fuzzy choke if there is one. (If you clean the artichokes ahead of time, immerse them in a bowl of cold  water with the juice of one lemon added, to prevent them from turning brown. Be sure to drain and dry them well before cooking.)

Heat a large saute pan over high heat for a minute. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into the pan, and wait until it shimmers. Add the artichokes, and season with 1 teaspoon thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Turn the heat to medium, and saute about 10 minutes, tossing often, until the artichokes are golden brown.

When the potatoes have cooled, crumble them into chunky pieces. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its skins and set aside.

Wipe out the artichoke pan and return it to the stove over high heat for about a minute. (To get the potatoes nice and brown and crisp, do not overcrowd them. You might need to use 2 pans.) Swirl in the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and wait a minute.

Add the crumbled potatoes, and season with the remaining 2 teaspoons thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until the potatoes are crispy on one side. (Don't try to move them or turn them if they are stuck to the pan; they will eventually release themselves, just be patient.) After about 8 minutes, when they're browned nicely on the first side, turn the potatoes in the oil, letting them color on all sides.

When the potatoes are golden brown, turn the heat down to medium and add the shallots, artichokes, and roasted garlic. Toss well, and sauté the hash together 6 to 8 minutes, until the artichokes are hot and the shallots are translucent. Toss in the chopped parsley just before serving.

An hour before serving, remove the steak from the fridge. Light the grill 30 to 40 minutes (for charcoal) and 10 to 15 minutes (for gas) before serving.

When the coals are broken down, red and glowing (or when the gas grill is hot), season the steak generously with salt, and brush it lightly with olive oil. Place the meat on the hottest part of the grill, to get a sear on the outside. Cook about 2 minutes, turn the meat a quarter turn, and cook another minute. Turn the meat over, and move it to a cooler spot on the grill. Cook another minute or two for medium-rare. Rest the steak on a wire rack set over a baking sheet for a few minutes.

Arrange the artichoke-potato hash on a large warm platter, and scatter the arugula leaves over the top. Slice the steak against the grain, and lay the slices over the potatoes and artichokes. Spoon some of the black olive aioli over the meat, and pass the rest at the table.

Black Olive Aioli
(Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

  • One large egg and two yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • A tablespoon lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • 2 cups of canola or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pitted black oil-cured olives
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Process the egg and the yolk for 1 minute. With the machine running, add the mustard, salt, and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar.

With the machine still running, start adding the oil in a stream of droplets, continuing until you have used half the oil and the sauce is very thick--do not stop processing until the sauce has thickened. Thin out with lemon juice or vinegar, then continue with the oil.

Stir in the olives and taste for more seasoning. Add more salt and lemon juice and vinegar, if necessary. Add pepper to taste.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Fettuccine Verdi ai Fegatini, or Green Fettuccine with Chicken Livers

Frequently, our culinary exploits resemble nothing so much as a comedy of errors. Take out recent meal, for example--it called for making green pasta, which was going fine until it was time to roll out the dough.

Sometimes, for whatever reason, I seem to be lacking the right touch when it comes to the pasta dough, and rather than expelling a lovely smooth sheet of pasta, the rollers produce a shredded mass of green tatters. As the dough disintegrates into disarray, it makes a strangely palpable noise, "Squeaky! Squeaky! Squeaky!" and then "Splat! Splat! Splat!" as it misses my hands and hits the floor.

This is the scenario my Dad witnessed as he walked into the kitchen--Hunter standing by, half horrified, half amused, as the pasta goes, "Squeaky! Squeaky! Splat splat splat!"

After standing there for a minute with an 'Are you kidding me?' look on his face, my Dad said "Call Domino's!" (This was a joke, not a command). Hunter said later, "Little did he know, that wasn't the first time that happened."
"Yes, but it was the best," I said.

I've mentioned that every time I make pasta, there comes a moment where I become convinced that it's just not going to work this time. I tell myself, though, that if the Worst Cooks in America can make homemade pasta, then darn it, I can too.

And I did. At one point there was pasta in the cuff of my pants, but in the end, this was just about all the green dough that went to waste as a result of my suckiness:

Plus, no penguins interfered this time, so the pasta was not overcooked.

This, by the way is what Hunter thinks of the pasta roller:

I was initially going to explain that the first part is a bit tricky, so I'd let him do the cutting part, but he soon witnessed this for himself, and I think he liked the cutting part.

This spinach, a.k.a. green pasta was eventually tossed with a chicken liver sauce. Hey, don't diss the chicken livers. You'll hurt their feelings.

I will admit that they do look pretty gross.

The camera couldn't function in autofocus because they're just amorphous blobs, and they still look that way after using manual focus. Poor little guys.

More and more cookbooks offer recipes for liver, because in the high-low trends of today, things that were once declasse are gaining new status as the trend du jour. 'Look how cool I am,' you can say; 'I can mix H&M with Chanel and eat like an early twentieth century European peasant at Michelin starred restaurants.' I actually really like this turn of events in both worlds. Julia Child and Coco Chanel
were ahead of everyone on this, though.

I can claim to have liked chicken livers for a long time because I'm cool like that. But admittedly, not all my life. Chicken livers are very popular in Italy, and my Italian grandmother would frequently make chicken livers at family gatherings because all of the adults loved them. The kids, however, would run screaming out of the room as soon as the smell of searing poultry organs began to waft into the air.

I was one of those screaming kids until one of the adults said, "Oh, shut up and try one." That's a life lesson there, by the way.

I cautiously put it in my mouth, gave it a tentative chew, and found that, yes, it actually is quite enjoyable, even down to the dense, somewhat powdery texture. We have since then attempted to make chicken livers the way my grandmother did, but like paella, it's never as good as the first version you had.

So I knew as soon as I saw this recipe that I had to try it, and although it meant carrying the Kitchenaid stand mixer up three flights of steps, I decided to make it at my Dad's house. I figured I could get Hunter to carry it: "Holy s%#& this is heavy!" Yes it is. That's why you're carrying it, not me. That sounds terrible, but I have three flights of steps at my house, so I'd already done my turn.

Okay, so pancetta, I mean bacon, rendered its fat, and carrots onions and garlic were softened. Chicken livers, cloves, a bay leaf, reconstituted dried porcini and their mushroom water, tomato paste and white wine were added, and this was simmered for half an hour. Some diced scallions were thrown in and the sauce was simmered for 10 more minutes before it was tossed with the pasta.

Oooohh! We need Parmesan!

I mentioned that the pasta was properly cooked, but it was a bit lacking in flavor. I have a tendency to oversalt our meals because I loooove salt, so I've sometimes lately been overcompensating by undersalting instead. Exhibit A:

Tasteless pasta.

As my Dad said, he voted with his fork, and showed me his bowl that was filled with pasta and devoid of any liver bits.

The liver sauce was quite tasty, and certainly not too livery. This might be a good dish to serve to someone who claims to not like liver, as the bacon and other ingredients play a strong supporting role.

Hunter and I agree, however, that if we were to make it again, some changes would be made. As usual, we're not sure if we'll make it again, but if we do, we'll use red wine instead of white, add some chopped tomatoes, leave out the carrots, add some red pepper flakes and fresh rosemary, and use plain instead of green pasta. The last stipulation was my Dad's, actually--he found the green pasta objectionable solely on the basis of its color. Its lack of flavor didn't help matters, either.

Perhaps someday I will make a wholly successful meal for the fam. In the meantime, I'll leave you with some shots of the macabre voodoo/effigy thing made from the splattered pasta pieces in a collaborative effort by Hunter and my Dad.

I prefer this guy, though:

One more thing--I think I've finalized the list of 10X10 cookbooks. Here it is:

1. Ad Hoc, by Thomas Keller
2. French Laundry by Thomas Keller
3. Braise, by Daniel Boulud
4. Parisian Home Cooking, by Michael Roberts
5. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child and Company
6. My French Kitchen, by Joanne Harris
7. Molto Italiano by Mario Batali
8. Italian Grill by Mario Batali
9. Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
10. Mexico the Beautiful

Fettuccine Verdi ai Fegatini

Green Fettuccine with Chicken Livers
(Originally from Molto Italiano, Very Much Adapted)

  • 2 ounces dried porcini
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 pound chicken livers
  • 1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 1/4 pounds green pasta dough (see below), cut into fettuccine
  • Freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, to serve
In a small bowl soak the dried mushrooms in hot water for 10 minutes. Lift out the mushrooms, reserving the liquid, and finely chop; set aside. Strain the liquid through is fine sieve and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, combine the olive oil and bacon and cook over medium-low heat until the bacon has rendered its fat. If desired, ladle out some of the fat. Maybe save it for another use. Add the onion and garlic, increase the heat to high, and sauté until softened. Add the chicken livers and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, and wine, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, occasionally breaking up the tomatoes with a spatula or wooden spoon.

Remove the bay leaf. Add the red pepper flakes, rosemary, scallions, and reserved porcini liquid and simmer for 10 more minutes. Season to tasate with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a large, salted pot of water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain.

Add the pasta to the pan with the sauce and toss over high heat for 1 minute. Divide evenly among 4 warm pasta bowls, to with the Parmesan, and serve immediately.

Green Pasta
(From Molto Italiano)

  • 1 cup packed spinach leaves
  • Salt
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
  • 5 large eggs

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and a teaspoon of salt. Set up an ice bath next to the stove. Blanch one cup packed spinach leaves in the water for 45 seconds, and remove with tongs or a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice bath for 2 minutes.

Drain the spinach and squeeze dry in a kitchen towel, removing as much moisture as possible. Chop the spinach very fine and combine with the eggs in a small bowl. Stir well until as smooth as possible.

Mound the flour in the center of a large wooden board and sprinkle it with a teaspoon of salt. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the egg and spinach mixture. Using a fork or your fingers, with a swirling motion, begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well. As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape.

When half of the flour is incorporated, the dough will begin to come together. Start kneading the dough, using primarily the palm of your hands. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, set the dough aside and scrape up and discard any dry bits of dough.

Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 10 minutes. Seriously--10 minutes. Dust the board with additional flour as necessary. The dough should be smooth, elastic, and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. 

To roll out the pasta, divide it into 6 pieces (if you're making the whole pasta recipe, rolling all of it, and drying the other half). Make each piece into a dish shape. 

With your plain roller set to the largest setting (lower number), pass the dough through once. Fold like a book (one flat piece in the back, and two pieces folded over on the sides so that they almost meet in the middle) and pass through again. Fold like a book and repeat 2 more times. After the last time, send the pasta through as is.

Then, put the roller on the next smallest setting and pass the dough through. Continue to do this on smaller and smaller settings until the pasta is the right thickness (a 5 on Kitchenaid stand mixers). Lay the dough out on a flat surface and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out, and repeat with the remaining lumps of dough.

When all of the pasta is laid out flat, switch to the fettuccine-cutting roller, and pass the pieces of dough through, one at a time. Again, spread out the dough and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out. Proceed with whatever recipe you're using this in.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Deconstructed Paella, or Paella-Inspired Risotto, and Chicken Picatta with Preserved Lemon Risotto

I mentioned in one of the previous posts that I was planning to make something with the saffron that I thought I would have left over from another dinner, but didn't because I burnt the first batch while toasting it. I also mentioned that I was doing something top secret.
Well, the time has come for me to reveal my under-cover project. There's a group of bloggers who call themselves the Daring Cooks. There's also a group of Daring Bakers, but they're kind of out of my league, and I've mentioned that I'm not especially keen on having baked goods around the house, so I joined the Daring Cooks.

This is how it works--every month, someone is elected to pick a recipe of the month, which they post on the 17th. You then have until the 14th to make the recipe, per the specifications, and make a blog posting about it.

My first month's challenge was risotto. I was totally stoked about this, as I love risotto, and I recently found a large stash of Arborio rice in my spiffy kitchen drawer thingy. I've mentioned the zombie hoarding issues, but I haven't yet mentioned the moth issue.

Yeah, there were moths breeding in my spiffy drawer thing. It was really gross, and I probably shouldn't mention it in any kind of public arena, but I can assure you that the offending breeding ground was thoroughly eradicated. Anything that was not very tightly sealed was thrown out. I hate to be wasteful, but a lot of this stuff was a legacy of the hoarding days and was really old.

The Arborio rice, however, was tightly sealed and begging to be cooked. As Nick said, it was like they had read my mind.

In this Daring Cook's challenge, you can make a base recipe and elaborate from there, and you can also make the authors' recipe for Pumpkin Risotto or Preserved Lemon Risotto. Because of my Meyer lemon kick, Nick and I had actually recently discussed making preserved lemons. We talked about how it sounds pretty cool, but we weren't sure what to do with the lemons. Again, it was like they were reading my mind.

I mentioned the preserved lemon option to Nick, and we got to talking about what we would make with the preserved lemon risotto. One of us mentioned chicken cutlets, and Nick mentioned chicken Marsala. "Yeah, chicken piccata," I said, because I had been thinking the same thing. (That's what he meant, and I knew what he meant.)

Fortuitously, the risotto challenge also coincided with the arrival of Sunday Suppers at Lucques, which just happens to have a recipe for chicken piccata.

First, however, I had decided to do a paella-inspired risotto, partially because my Dad loves paella. And what do you know, Suzanne Goin has a recipe for saffron risotto in her book; it's really too bad I didn't follow it.

I meant to follow the recipe, but as I mentioned, I burned the saffron that was intended for this recipe. I also meant to buy more when we went to Wegman's to shop for dinner, but by the time we got to the saffron, Nick and I were totally hypoglycemic, so we had a very full shopping cart, so we decided that we didn't want to spend the $16 on the saffron. Plus, Nick was still a bit traumatized by the intensity of the saffron in the last dinner, and I was not too excited about a plasticky-tasting spice. So we left it out.

In retrospect, though, I think that the dish could have used it, and I also wish that I had added fresh thyme and a crushed chile de arbol like Suzanne Goin suggested. If I ever make this again, I probably really will use her saffron risotto recipe the way I had initially intended, and I'll probably throw in some paprika somewhere. I somehow forgot that it's a key component in paella.

I decided that this would be called "deconstructed" paella because paella and risotto take antithetical approaches to the cooking of rice. Risotto is cooked slowly and incrementally, with more liquid continually added as the previous portion of liquid is absorbed. Paella, however, gets liquid added to the rice, it's all covered, and it all (meat and seafood included) goes into the oven to cook undisturbed. It wouldn't really be possible to cook risotto in the same manner because it would then not be risotto, so it was all cooked separately and combined at the end. Hence, "deconstructed" paella.

We started by pan-searing some dried chorizo in an attempt to get some tasty fat in which to cook the rest of the ingredients. Surprisingly little fat was rendered, so we added some olive oil and sauteed a chopped onion. Then the rice was added, and it was toasted until it was glossy and only a little spot of white remained in the middle. White wine was then poured in and simmered away.

At this point, hot chicken stock was added a cup at a time, and the mixture was stirred frequently until it had reached the point where the rice was tender without being mushy, and the rice was kind of coated with a sauce-like liquid, but was not gloopy and gelatinous.

In the meantime, we caramelized some sliced shallots and roasted a red pepper. The red pepper was eventually peeled, thinly sliced, and added to the onions. We called this a shallot roasted red pepper confit.

We also peeled some shrimp, tossed them with garlic and salt, let them marinate, and pan seared them.

The mussels were steamed with garlic, onion, and beer. Unfortunately, I decided to see if it would work to throw everything in the pot and steam the mussels that way, partially because we had no butter available, and we had used the last of the olive oil. Now I know, though, that you really need to saute some aromatics before adding the mussels. The mussels weren't terrible, but they could have been more flavorful.

To put it all together, some peas and the sliced chorizo were stirred into the rice, and this was plated in a pile. The mussels went around the rice in a ring, and the red pepper shallot confit was placed on top of the rice. The shrimp went on top of the confit, and it was all garnished with chopped parsley.

The risotto was a bit under-seasoned both salt and herb-wise, and I've mentioned that the mussels weren't the most flavorful batch ever. Overall, though, it was a nice meal.

The confit was actually Nick's idea, and it was quite lovely added a note of freshness and flavor to the dish. We discussed ways in which, if we were to make it again, we could do much better, but none of us were sure if it is worth doing again.

We also discussed the fact that I managed to burn myself on the toaster oven. I wasn't even doing anything interesting. I was making toast, which is really quite lame. As Nick said, I can make 'deconstructed paella,' but can't make toast without giving myself a second degree burn.

I don't know if you can tell from this picture, but it went through the epidermis into the dermis. This picture is after a few days of healing; it actually looked bigger, and you could clearly see the two layers of skin.

So, while my Dad liked the paella, it just can't compare to the paella that he used to get in New York. That paella was the pinnacle of paella, and it is never to be duplicated. Paella is like that, though. There are a million different ways to make it, and everyone ends up with an ideal version in their minds, and no other paella will ever live up to that standard. It might be their grandmother's version, the version they had while sitting in a town square in Spain, or the one they had 30 years ago in New York.

I guess I'll never really get it right. Especially if I leave out the saffron and paprika. It's not really paella at all, then, is it?

So after the semi-successful paella, it was time for some preserved lemon risotto with chicken piccata, or, what Suzanne Goin calls Chicken Paillards with Parmesan Breadcrumbs. Before making the risotto, however, I had to make some more stock because the Daring Cooks stipulate that you must make your own stock.

There are a lot of approaches to making chicken stock, and they include using a whole chicken, a lot of chicken wings, chicken carcasses, and various other combinations of poultry parts. The stock suggested by the Daring Cooks uses a whole chicken, and they tell you to use the chicken meat for other purposes. I'm sorry guys, but for a multitude of reasons, I just didn't like that idea.

I used to make a recipe from Epicurious, but I've been finding it bland, so I decided to try Mario Batali's Brown Chicken Stock recipe because I like to freeze the bodies of the chickens that we've roasted and use them for stock.

This recipe involved browning the chicken carcasses, removing them to a plate, and sauteing the vegetables until they're soft and brown.

Per Suzanne Goin's brilliant suggestions, I substituted fennel for celery.

Water and herbs were added, and the mixture was simmered for a couple hours.

It turns out that heat was the element previously lacking in my stock-making procedure. Because the chicken and vegetables were seared, this stock was way more flavorful than any other I've made before, and I've decided that it is now my go-to stock recipe. Thanks, Mario.

Now that I had restocked my stock supply, it was time to make the risotto. As usual, an onion was sauteed, rice was cooked until it had a nice sheen, the pan was deglazed with white wine, and stock was added bit by bit.

Toward the end, some chopped preserved lemon peel was stirred in.

In the meantime, chicken breasts were pounded thin (which makes the bunnies really mad), and they were coated with flour, egg, and a panko breadcrumb, Parmesan, and parsley mixture.

They were then pan-seared until golden and just cooked through.

The chicken were removed, and garlic and a broken up chile de arbol were sauteed until aromatic, and the previously steamed broccolini was cooked. This step was supposed to involve sauteing escarole, and it was supposed to include rosemary. I decided, however, that we would prefer broccolini and rosemary wouldn't be so great with the broccolini.

When the broccolini was finished, butter was browned, poured into a little dish that we got in Mexico, and capers and parsley were stirred in. The recipe calls for lemon to be added to the brown butter, but it was already in the risotto so I didn't want to overwhelm the dish with lemon.

So how was it? Delicious. The risotto could have been salted more and cooked a bit longer, but it was still yummy. Also, we were cautious with the preserved lemon, but once the risotto was combined with the chicken, the lemon got a bit lost.

Nick said that his chicken was overcooked, but mine was perfect--tender and juicy, and the breadcrumb topping was deliciously crisp.

What really made the dish, though, was the caper sauce. I'm not always a fan of capers, but they're growing on me. The nuttiness of the brown butter, the freshness of the parsley, and the salty pungent element from the capers perfectly tied all of the other flavors together, and I just couldn't stop eating this meal.

Once again, this recipe made me really excited to try more of Suzanne Goin's recipes. So far, her recipes add up to more than the sum of their parts, which equals deliciousness.