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Posts Tagged ‘veggie’

Several lovely, sunny warm days have convinced me that spring is coming.  I have to confess that I am not a huge seafood lover.  It’s not that I hate it, but it’s definitely not comfort-food.  I am most likely to want it in the summer when it’s hot and I want a meal that’s very light and fresh.  Summer’s not here yet, but these first days of spring have made me feel like breaking out the summery menus and that includes fish.  Whole Foods had great-looking artichokes the other day so I picked a couple up.  Artichokes, fresh fish and simple, savory muffins seemed like just the thing.  The artichokes and the muffins worked out great.  The fish…not so much.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know the fish monger down the street is closed on Mondays.  We didn’t feel like schlepping back to Whole Foods, let alone clear across town to the other fish store, so we decided to try the fish from the little market across the street.  Fortunately, we’d had a big lunch and the artichokes were pretty big.  Although I cooked the fish, we didn’t end up eating it – it just didn’t taste good.  The super-simple cooking technique I used absolutely depends on having the very best fish.  Not that I’d ever advocate aiming for less than the best, but, if by some chance you end up with an imperfect piece of fish, at least if you’re going to season it heavily, or put a bunch of sauce over or something then maybe you’ll have something to distract you from the less-than-perfect fish.

Artichokes were our first course (since the fish, theoretically, cooks in about the time it takes to eat the artichokes).  I like to flavor the cooking water for the artichokes with salt, lemon and coriander seeds.  Bring a pot of water to a boil (big enough to hold your artichokes comfortable, although they don’t need to be submerged).  When the water’s boiling add plenty of salt (about the same amount you’d add for cooking pasta –  I use about 3-4 tbs. for an 8 qt. pot), squeeze in the juice from half a lemon then toss in the squeezed lemon-half, and throw in a handful of coriander seeds.  Trim the stems off your artichokes (if you want) and trim the tops of the leaves off (again, optional).  Simmer the artichokes for 40-60 minutes.  The time will vary depending on the size of your artichokes.  You can tell they’re ready when the leaves towards the middle wiggle easily when you prod them with your finger (or a utensil).  My husband likes his artichokes with plain, melted butter.  My favorite is with Hollandaise sauce, but when it’s just the two of us I more often make mayonnaise (recipe below) because it’s quicker, easier and can be stored for a couple of days.

I have to thank my cousin Liz for teaching me this ultra-easy method for cooking fish.  No fault of hers that today’s fish wasn’t edible.  I’ve used this technique successfully many time and seen her do so many more.  You can use either fillets or steaks for this, but I wouldn’t use whole fish.  Rinse your fish in cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel.  Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper then put it skin-side down (if you’re using fillets) in a baking pan (I prefer to use glass or ceramic rather than metal).  Dot the top with butter (I like to be generous, but you can be stingy if you want).  If you can’t bear to cook with butter, use olive oil, but I like the flavor from the butter.  Pop it in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 400°.  Cook it for a while, but don’t overcook it.  It can go from not done to overcooked quite quickly so pay attention.  I can’t give you precise times because the times will vary widely depending on the type, freshness and thickness of your fish.  Unless you are using an extremely thin, delicate fish like sole, it will typically take at least 10 minutes and may take 20 or even a bit longer.  If your fish has substantial variation in thickness (as it might for example, if you end up with a fillet from near the tail end of a large fish like salmon), you may want to do what Liz does which is to cut off portions of fish and take them out of the oven as they’re ready while leaving thicker parts of the fish to cook a bit longer.  It doesn’t result in a very elegant presentation, but does mean every bit of the fish is cooked perfectly.  So how do you tell if it’s done?  Again, it varies a lot by fish and also by how cooked you like your fish.  For darker fleshed fishes like salmon, you may prefer your fish a little underdone.  For most white-fleshed fishes it’s done as soon as it is opaque throughout.  If you leave it until it “flakes easily” as most cookbooks instruct, you’ll probably find it overcooked.

Recipe:  Mayonnaise

Source: The Way to Cook by Julia Child

The Way to Cook by Julia Child

1 whole egg
2 egg yolks (Don’t throw the whites out! Put them in the freezer and when you’ve saved enough make an angel food cake.)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2-3 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2-2 cups oil (I like to use grapeseed oil because it has similar health characteristics to olive oil – Omega-3s and such – but is essentially flavorless so it will yield a nice, light, lemony mayonnaise.)

Put the egg, egg yolks and mustard into your blender (or food processor) and blend briefly (if you don’t have a machine, you can definitely do it by hand, just beat vigorously with a whisk).  Add 1-2 tsp. of the lemon juice and the salt.  Blend again.  Turn on the blender and pour the oil in very slowly.  Once you’ve added 1 1/2 cups of the oil, stop and taste.  You can add a little more of whatever you think it needs.  I almost always add extra lemon juice.  You can continue streaming in some more oil if you want – it will thin the mayo a bit.  You can keep this in the fridge for a couple of days, but not much more.

Recipe: Basic Muffins

2 cups sifted flour (sift before measuring)
2 tbs. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup milk (preferably whole)
1/4 cup (1/2 of a standard-sized stick in the US) melted butter

Preheat the oven to 400° and grease 12 muffin cups well.  Sift together the flour (yes, this is the second time you’ll sift it), sugar, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.  Beat the egg.  Add the milk and melted butter to it.  Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients.  Stir just enough to combine.  Your batter will be thick and very lumpy.  That’s good.  If you stir enough to get out all the lumps your muffins will be terrible.  Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups.  Fill each cup about 1/2-2/3 full.  Bake for about 25 minutes (they’ll be a lovely golden brown color) and serve fresh.  You aren’t going to get big, puffy, tall muffins, but they should have a nice light texture, crusty exterior and be a perfect accompaniment for a light meal.

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Not much cooking tonight thanks for a dinner invitation from the upstairs neighbor/landlord. My contribution was a simple salad. Mixed greens, cherry tomatoes (the only kind that have any texture/flavor at all this time of year) and a few dried cherries dressed with this quick and easy mustard vinaigrette. Put a teaspoon or so of your favorite mustard (smooth is probably better than whole-grain) in a small bowl (cup, measuring cup, or whatever is convenient). Add a little salt and fresh ground pepper. Squeeze a clove of garlic through a garlic press into the bowl (if you don’t have a garlic press just chop it fine). Add a few tablespoons of good balsamic vinegar. Use a small whisk to blend the ingredients then slowly stream in 1/4-1/2 cup of good olive oil, beating steadily. Your dressing should emulsify (turn into a smooth-ish brown goo). Taste it and add more of whatever you think it needs. If it doesn’t emulsify, don’t worry about it, just give it a good stir before you put it on the salad. Et voila (as our hosts might say).

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Snacking Around

Snacking around is my husband’s term for what we do when we’re not hungry enough for a real meal and instead just eat odds and ends of whatever happens to be in the fridge.  Tonight that meant a big salad for him and eggs and salad for me.  I learned to make salad dressing from my uncle David.  Here’s my adaptation of what he taught me:

Recipe

1 clove garlic
1-2 tbs. finely chopped fresh herbs (I like to use rosemary, thyme and marjoram, but you can experiment with different blends or just use whatever you have on hand)
salt
freshly ground pepper
2-3 tbs. good vinegar (I prefer balsamic, but again, you can experiment)
1/4 c. (more-or-less) good extra virgin olive oil (if you are ever going to splurge on great olive oil, this should be one of the places you use it)

Coarsely chop the garlic then us a fork to mash it up with the herbs and a little salt (start with about 1/2 tsp. although I usually use a bit more) and freshly ground pepper.  You should get a sort of a paste.  Put it in a cup or jar then add the vinegar and olive oil and give it a good stir.  Ideally let it sit for 20-30 minutes while you get other parts of your meal ready (now is a good time to wash the lettuce and chop up the other veggies for your salad).  This will amply dress a salad that will serve 4-6 normal people or 1 person if he eats salad like my dad or my husband.

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It’s snowy and cold outside and I’m getting over a couple of days not feeling so good.  It’s a perfect day for easy comfort food and pasta is my favorite.  I always have at least a couple of kinds of homemade sauce in the freezer, but tonight I’m in the mood for something quasi-fresh.  This super-easy tomato sauce is quick, tasty and I always have the ingredients on hand.  I originally found the recipe in Naples at Table by Arthur Schwarz.  Here’s how I make it:

Recipe

3 large cloves garlic
1/4 c. olive oil
1 large can tomatoes (I like to use strained for a smooth sauce, but if you prefer your sauce chunkier use chopped or whole)
2-3 tbs. coarsely chopped fresh basil or parsley or 1-2 tsp. dried basil (don’t use dried parsley – it has no flavor)
salt and crushed red pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb. spaghetti or other long pasta
freshly grated Parmesan to taste

Start plenty of water heating to cook the pasta (I use an 8 qt. stock pot to cook 1 lb. of pasta).  Use the flat of a knife to lightly crush the garlic.  Remove the peel and place cloves in a large skillet with the olive oil.  Heat over medium-low.  Turn the garlic cloves occasionally.  When the start to color remove them.  Add the tomatoes and turn the heat up to somewhere between medium and medium-high.  If you are using whole tomatoes crush them some with the back of a spoon or a potato masher.  Add some salt (start with about 1/2 tsp.) and crushed red pepper.  If you’re using dried basil add it now, too.  Let the tomatoes simmer uncovered while you finish cooking the pasta.  You’ll need to stir the tomatoes now and then to prevent burning.  Also, be aware that they may splatter.  I like to use a mesh splatter screen to help reduce clean up problems.  Don’t cover them with a solid lid, though, or they won’t concentrate enough.  Once the sauce has started thickening taste it and add additional seasonings as you wish.  Add fresh basil in the last minute or so of cooking.  When the pasta water is hot add plenty of salt (I usually use about 3 tbs. if I’m cooking in an 8 qt. pot).  Don’t skimp on the salt because this is the only way you get seasoning in the pasta itself.  If you have a big enough skillet to toss the sauce and pasta together in the skillet, then remove the pasta 1-2 minutes before it is done, drain it and add it to the sauce in the skillet.  If your skillet isn’t big enough, cook the pasta until it is just done, then add the sauce to the pasta in the serving bowl.  Never, never run your pasta under cold water after straining it.  You won’t have any trouble with it sticking together if you add the sauce promptly.  If you think the sauce isn’t quite ready when the pasta is done, add a little olive oil or butter to your pasta to help prevent sticking while you finish up the sauce.  If you want to, you can garnish the pasta with a little more chopped fresh herbs.  Allow diners to add their own freshly grated Parmesan to taste (I like to just put a block of Parmesan and a grater on the table and let everyone grate their own).

Notes

Total time: 3o minutes
Active time: 15 minutes
Special equipment: mesh splatter-screen (optional)
Shopping/ingredient tips:

  • Use good quality Italian boxed pasta (DeCecco is fine and widely available although I like Del Verde and some of the smaller brands a little better), preferably a long, round shape (spaghetti, spaghettini or buccatini).
  • Use a good brand of tomatoes.  I like the Parmalat ones that come in the box or the San Marzano ones that have the old-fashioned white labels.
  • There is no need to use expensive olive oil here.  The cooking will break down a lot of the flavor elements anyway.  Do use extra virgin, but a regular grocery store variety will be fine.

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