Monday, January 30, 2012

Whole Fish Know How

When it comes to fish, its hard to beat the ease of preparing it whole.  A more concentrated flavor is the by product of less work and less fuss.  Here's a simple method using whole branzino.

A 1 1/2-2 lb whole fish that has been gutted but with the head and tail still attached will feed 2 people.  

Branzino en Papilotte
One 1 1/2 -2 pound fish, gutted
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 sprigs each fresh dill and parsely
1/2 lemon sliced plus extra for serving

  • Preheat oven to 425˚F.  
  • Lay the fish on a large piece of aluminum foil.  
  • Drizzle olive oil on both sides and on the inside of the fish.  Stuff lemon slices and herbs in cavity and close foil over fish, sealing tightly.  
  • Place on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes until fish flakes.  
  • Use a spatula to help lift the fillet off the bone.  Strip away the large bone and lift out the bottom fillet.  Serve with extra lemon slices.  
  • Even though you have de-boned the cooked fish, use your fork and knife to look for and pull away smaller bones.
This method can be used for fish fillets or fish steaks.  Lay the filling on top of the fish and adjust the time-- 10-12 minutes for a thin fillet of pollack or flounder, 25-35 for a thicker tuna or salmon steak.  Try other herbs or flavored oils. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shrimp Salsa Salad

Lighter meals can be hard to put together in the winter but are a nice alternative to hearty stews and roasts. This main dish salad has some built-in heat that makes a simple, pure dish a hit. The secret ingredient is sautéed jalapeño slices.  Cooking cuts the heat and leaves lots of flavor.  They are the perfect compliment to shrimp marinated in a spicy tomato mixture.

The shrimp and jalapeño slices are served over a salad built around the flavors of guacamole and salsa.  The light tomato dressing is inspired by the flavors in the marinade.  You will crave this main dish salad again in the summer with grilled shrimp but for now, “water sauté”  the shrimp over low heat (directions below) to keep them tender.

Shrimp Salsa Salad
Ingredients per person:
For the shrimp and jalapeño:
4 jalapeños
vegetable oil
4 large shrimp, peeled and deveined marinated in:
1 tablespoon tomato juice
1teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
pinch cayenne
pinch salt
  • Marinate 30 minutes or up to two hours.  
  • While shrimp marinates, prepare jalepenos.  Slice on an angle and seed.  Fry in a scant amount of vegetable oil in a wide skillet or grill pan.  Remove when slightly charred. 
  • Remove shrimp form marinade and water sauté shrimp by steaming over very low heat in a covered skillet for five minutes, turning once.  Add a bit of water as needed to cover bottom of pan. 

For the salad:
1/4 avocado, sliced or in chunks
1/2 tomato, thinly sliced
4-6 olives, sliced
1 tablespoon fresh, chopped cilantro
1 slice cooked bacon, chopped
2 cups lettuce

Tomato Dressing (for each person):
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or lime juice
2 teaspoons tomato juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch each: cumin, ground coriander, salt, pepper
chopped cilantro

Tomato Dressing for Four:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or lime juice
2 tablespoons tomato juice
1/4 cup tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon each: cumin, ground coriander, salt, pepper
chopped cilantro

Seeding then cooking the peppers diminishes the heat and provides an exciting new green for your salad.  You can also slice the jalapeños lengthwise, remove the seeds and veins then roast over an indoor grill to get a nice charred affect.  Slice into strips.  Make extra, they are wonderful on burgers and grilled chicken sandwiches and keep up to two days in the refrigerator.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Baked Potato Bar

Toppings from left, grated cheddar, ham chunks, bacon, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, sour cream.
Zaro’s, the famous New York bakery, had a baked potato concession in Grand Central Terminal in the 1980’s.  This was a quick and filling option when there was just enough in the wallet for a fast food value meal but not the stomach for that fare.

It’s still a good idea and an easy option for a winter night. A baked potato bar can feed a crowd or help stretch leftovers for two.  Depending on how you load yours, this can be a light meal that feels satisfying.  On weeknights, with reheated cooked vegetables and a bit of grated cheese it’s a fairly effortless meatless meal. Add a few more toppings and it’s a simple set up to feed a crowd during playoff season.

As with any buffet its up to the diner to pick and choose to create something balanced and up to the chef to provide some logical combinations.   Here are some we like for white and sweet baked potatoes. 

Broccoli Cheddar
A classic.  Keep it pure by using steamed broccoli and grated cheddar.  If you’d like a cheese sauce that’s still pure, melt equal parts cheddar into cream cheese with a bit of beer or water and a dash of paprika.  (You can use the microwave for this, but keep an eye on things.)

Chili Night
Offer a spicy green turkey chili, classic beef chili or all-bean chili along with sour cream (or Greek-style yogurt), grated cheddar, pickled jalapeños, chopped avocado and olives plus salsa.

Vegetarian Moussaka
Sautéed eggplant, onions and mushrooms topped with stewed tomatoes, roasted red peppers and grated Swiss cheese.

Sour cream, grated cheddar and bacon (cook it yourself, accept no substitutes), chopped scallions.

Particularly good with Sweet Potatoes:
Chick Power

Heat drained chickpeas with cumin and cilantro (or curry powder). Top with your favorite chutney (mango, lime, tomato-onion for example) or chopped dried fruit (especially apricots) and a dollop of yogurt and more freshly chopped cilantro or mint. 

Walnut Ricotta
Add just a touch of honey and lots of black pepper to a quarter cup of low fat ricotta.  Sprinkle on chopped walnuts. 

Black Bean Salsa

Mix drained black beans with fresh salsa and heat.  Top with a little crema or queso fresco.

How To
For a crowd, bake 1-2 potatoes per person.  Scrub the skins and place in a 400˚F oven for 30-45 minutes.  Midway through baking, prick the skin with a fork down the center to allow steam to escape.  This provides a light and fluffy texture.   For those who like a crispy skins leave in a bit longer.  Keep potatoes warm in a very low oven— under 200˚F.  If baking sweet potatoes, place a sheet of tin foil on the rack beneath the rack where potatoes are baking.  This will catch any caramelized juices that emerge as the potatoes finish baking. 

What you’ll need:
Baking potatoes (1 per person) Starchy baking potatoes (like Idaho) and/or sweet potatoes
Cheese: grated cheddar, grated swiss, crumbled blue cheese, queso fresco, crema
Sour cream, Greek yogurt (plain)
Real bacon (see how to cook a batch of bacon in the10/19/2011 blog entry)
Chili or sloppy joe filling
Cooked vegetables—chopped broccoli, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, roasted peppers, roasted fennel and onions
Cooked ham, chicken, pork
Pesto, chutneys. Barbeque sauce, salsa, mustards
Fresh chopped herbs, especially chives, basil, cilantro, dill

If you are offering any of the special combos above, set those ingredients on the table clustered together to help guests see the possibilities or write on little menu cards with combo suggestions. 

A medium baked potato with skin, just under 1/2 pound, provides about 175 calories and 4 grams of protein along with its 40 carbohydrate grams. Potatoes are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and provide vitamins C, B6, potassium and manganese.  Though higher in carbohydrates, potatoes are a nutrient rich food that will help you feel full.

A medium sweet potato, baked, provides a similar number of calories and half the protein and carbohydrates of a baked white potato.  Aside from similar vitamin profiles, sweet potatoes also provide slightly more dietary fiber and are lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes, so a nice choice for any one watching blood sugar levels. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

MultiGrain Bread

Pure Foods Project MultiGrain Loaves
January is National Bread Machine Month.  It’s also the month of the egg, hot tea, soup, dried plum breakfast (prunes) and oatmeal among others.  Month promoting is popular among American business and cause-related organizations.  It can feel commercial, quirky or quite the right thing to be doing. 

I’ll place National Bread Machines in the right thing for January category.  If you have a bread machine and a freezer, January is a great month to stock up on home made breads.   The bread you bake yourself will be made of pure ingredients and, with a little organization, much can be produced with little effort.  This morning I baked two loaves of rich and light ricotta bread and a loaf of New York rye bread while I took care of some household chores and paperwork.  Most of today’s baking will be stored in the freezer in full or half-loaves when they are cool.

Last year I developed a recipe for a multi-grain loaf that is as moist as it is hearty.  This bread slices well, toasts well, travels well and looks good on a cheese board. I make the dough in my bread machine then form loaves for final rising outside the machine and bake in a traditional oven.  I don’t really mind the squared off loaves bread machines produce but we prefer different shapes for different recipes.  This multi-grain recipe makes two small free-from oval loaves or two long baguettes. 

As a self-trained baker, I used to feel a bit amateurish using a bread machine until I read the very insightful King Arthur Flour Bread Cookbook.  Like the chefs in their test kitchens, I also cook in cold weather, a cool house.  The advantage of making dough in a bread machine is a consistent temperature and humidity level that allows a flawless rise.  Bread machines have taught me what good dough should look and feel like so when I make dough without a machine, I know what a properly developed dough should be.

Following the bread machine recipe is a technique for making the bread by hand—no machine.  Don’t be deterred by the long list of ingredients.  It doesn’t take long to assemble and the moistness of the bread depends on several of the more absorbent grains. 

Ready for the oven

Pure Foods Project MultiGrain Bread
Bread Machine Version
Makes 2 small oval loaves

1 cup water, room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups bread four
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup coarse corn meal
1/4 cup rye flour
1/2 cup 5-grain cereal (flakes)*
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 tablespoons uncooked hulled millet
1/3 cup buttermilk (or milk)
1 tablespoon olive oil
 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast

*Cereal/flakes look like rolled oats.  Typical combinations include spelt, barley, rye, wheat, oat flakes etc.  Bob’s Red Mill and Country Choice Organic are two brands that make multi-grain cereal flakes.  You can make your own combination from the bins at a heath food store as well.

  1. Add the ingredients to the dough bucket in the order your machine manufacturer recommends.  
  2. Set the machine to the dough cycle (usually about 1 hour, 40 minutes—no need to use the artisinal cycle).  
  3. When the dough is ready, remove it from the bucket and divide it in half.  Knead it lightly to form two oval loaves or roll to create two long baguettes.  Set loaves 5 inches apart on a lightly oiled or parchment-lined baking sheet to rise.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise 45 minutes. 
  4. Preheat oven to 400˚F about 20 minutes before baking.  
  5. Before placing in a 400˚F oven, slit loaves.  A few slits are fine but this bread looks dramatic and beautiful with one vertical slit down the cent of each loaf. 
  6. Bake 18-20 minutes until the internal temperature reads 195˚F. Cool on a rack at least 25 minutes before slicing. 

Pure Foods Project MultiGrain Bread

Hand Kneaded Version
Makes 2 loaves

1 cup water, room temperature
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 1/2 cups bread four
1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup coarse corn meal
1/4 cup rye flour
1/2 cup 5-grain cereal (flakes)*
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 tablespoons uncooked hulled millet
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup buttermilk (or milk)
1 tablespoon olive oil

*Cereal/flakes look like rolled oats.  Typical combinations include spelt, barley, rye, wheat, oat flakes etc.  Bob’s Red Mill and Country Choice Organic are two brands that make multi-grain cereal flakes.  You can make your own combination from the bins at a heath food store as well.
  1. In a large bowl, combine yeast with 1 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon of the brown sugar and yeast. Let mixture sit 8-12 minutes until yeast has proofed and puffed up on the surface.
  2. While the yeast proofs, combine remaining dry ingredients in a second bowl and mix well.  (Everything except remaining buttermilk and olive oil).
  3. When the yeast is ready, add 2 cups of flour mixture and stir well with a wooden spoon. (I turn the spoon upside down and use the handle to create a dough hook effect.)  Dough will be shaggy at this point. 
  4. Stir in buttermilk and olive oil.
  5. Stir in 2-3 more cups of the flour mixture, stirring with spoon handle straight up until ball of dough begins to form and pull away from sides of bowl.
  6. Turn dough onto a clean counter top or board that has been scattered with a handful of the flour mixture.  Knead the dough, adding a bit more flour mixture in as you go until it is all incorporated.  Kneading  will take 8-10 minutes. 
  7. Once kneaded, place dough in a large, clean bowl to rise in a warm place for about an hour.  Cover the bowl with a dishtowel or plastic wrap.
  8. When dough has doubled in size, turn dough onto a clean surface and divide in half.  Form two oval loaves.  Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or parchment on a baking sheet). 
  9. Cover loaves with a dishtowel and let rise about 45 minutes.  During last rise, preheat oven to 400˚F.
  10. Before placing in a 400˚F oven, slit loaves.  A few slits are fine but this bread looks dramatic and beautiful with one vertical slit down the cent of each loaf. 
  11. Bake 18-20 minutes until the internal temperature reads 195˚F.  Cool on a rack at least 25 minutes before slicing.  
Hand Kneaded Version, 1st rise