Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I'm a believer again

My faith has been restored.

In what? you ask. God? Politics? The kindness of humans?

No. My opinions on those subjects remain the same as ever: non-believer; very, very liberal but very, very cynical; frequently disappointed but surprised often enough that I can't quite give up on our species. No, I'm talking about my faith in Dorie Greenspan.

Dorie, I forgive you for the weirdly bland chicken and couscous. I never should have doubted you. The sardine rillettes, after all, were absolutely addictive. And now that I've made your mussels and chorizo, I promise never to sully your name again.

As I've described on occasion, periodically I get a bee in my bonnet about a recipe and can think of nothing else until it's bubbling on the stove. This happened most notably with the root beer cake, which turned me into a robot, and which I have actually been thinking about quite a lot recently. It might finally be time for another go with that gorgeous, rooty cake. I have long dreamed of turning it into cupcakes and piping whipped cream into the center of each, a la Hostess. Not forgoing the root beer fudge frosting of course, nor the flecks of sea salt.

Wait, what was I talking about?

Oh yes, mussels and chorizo. Saw the recipe, became obsessed. Had to make it immediately.

Simple as can be, really. Dorie says to serve it as you like, with bread or fettucine. I went the noodle route, which was very good, although fettucine is tough to eat with a soupy sauce. There was a lot of splattering going on; bibs would not have been out of place. The husband wasn't digging it. He doesn't like to get dirty when he eats, which is why he's not much for gnawing on ribs or plucking crab meat from the shell. I can understand this, but I'm willing to pull out the Stain Spray for something delicious and messy.

Anyhow, I adored this recipe. The tomato sauce had the perfect amount of spice without overpowering the mussels. As for the chorizo, although the recipe calls for the cooked kind, they didn't have that at Falletti's. Instead I purchased their housemade stuff which was raw and therefore needed to be browned up, an extra but quick step. This also meant I had to drain off a little of the oil but no worry, that took about 10 seconds.

Now, next time I might make a revision or two. For one thing, four pounds of mussels was a lot. For two people, even wanting leftovers for another dinner, three pounds would have been plenty.

Second, I might just serve it with some hunks of good bread. The fettucine seemed to be a bit of a dealbreaker with the husband, although he was a fan (I think) of the dish as a whole. And even if the husband isn't a total fan...well, she who does the cooking decides the menu.

That's it, though. I really loved this recipe. It's definitely entering the repertoire. Another winner from the divine Miss Greenspan.

Mussels and chorizo, with or without pasta
Slightly adapted from Around My French Table

Serves 6 with pasta or 4 without

2 T. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 thyme sprigs
2 14 1/2-oz cans diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 lb. cooked chorizo, cut lengthwise in half and sliced 1/4-1/2-inch thick OR uncooked chorizo, crumbled, and browned in the pan as the first step, then removed, and readded along with the tomatoes
4 lbs. mussels, scrubbed and debearded
3/4 c dry white wine

Fettucine or bread for serving

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large Dutch oven or casserole that will hold all of the ingredients. Add the bell pepper, onion, garlic, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and some pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Mix in the tomatoes and chorizo and cook and stir for another 5 minutes or until they are warmed through.

Turn the mussels into the pot, pour in the wine, increase the heat to high, and give the pot a good stir. Cover and cook for 3 minutes more. (You can stir the mussels once during this time or shake the pot, but it's really not necessary.) Turn off the heat, keep the lid on the pot, and let the mussels rest for another minute (or more, if need be) so they finish opening.

Once they are open, the mussels should be served immediately (with or without pasta or bread) in big bowls to catch all of the delicious broth.

Note: If you've got leftovers, remove the mussels from the their shells to store.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Pioneer Woman's rasberry crisp

It's about time I posted something sweet, isn't it?

Truth be told, I haven't been baking much recently. Part of it is being a little busy; part of it's the fact that two people can't (or shouldn't) eat a whole batch of cookies, or even half.

There's also our upcoming trip to Hawaii. Oh, did I neglect to mention that? Well, five weeks from today we are jetting to Maui. You know of my deep love of Kauai. Well, Maui isn't too shabby either.

Anyhow, with the impending prospect of lolling around on a beach every day for a week wearing little clothing, I've pushed desserts to the back of my mind. Not totally off my plate, though, as evidenced by the raspberry crisp I made the other day.

This was my first occasion using a Pioneer Woman's recipe. I don't look at her site too much--I find it a bit overwhelming--although I enjoy her writing style and think her photographs are off the hook. But when I Googled "raspberry crisp," her recipe popped up.

I ended up buying too many raspberries and using them all--probably close to 4 cups as opposed to the 2 1/2 her recipe calls for. But frankly, my pie plate would have been pretty skimpy without those additional berries. However, I should have increased the cornstarch--the crisp ended up a tad on the watery side.

Overall, a success, though. And you can't beat that color...

And the topping was, well, downright crisp.

Would I say this was the crisp recipe to beat all crisp recipes? No. Hands down, my favorite is still Baking Illustrated's apple crisp, which I have adapted to all kinds of fruit, including this blackberry apricot crisp.  I'm fairly sure that's a little piece of heaven. Or, for those of us not religiously inclined, a little piece of Hawaii, my version of eternal happiness.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Chicken and couscous

After my good results with the sardine rillettes, I decided to give Dorie another go, this time with her chicken and couscous.

Although I'm not always in love with couscous--I sometimes find it a little mushy, lacking the bit of resistance I prefer in perfectly cooked pasta or rice--the recipe appealed to me, largely for its method. I like doing the following things: chopping up vegetables; browning chicken; and then letting the chicken simmer in broth and its own savory juices until tender. I am also a fan of dishes that come together in one (ok, two) pots.

This was indeed a pleasure to make. And it turned out fairly flavorful, thought not as much as you might think, with the cumin, ginger (fresh and powdered), turmeric, saffron, and cinnamon. It looked hearty, with homey chunks of carrot, celery, leek, zucchini, and turnip running through it. Chickpeas gave it a little delicacy, and garnished with golden raisins, it had a nice sweet balance.

It wasn't overwhelmingly photogenic, but stews usually aren't.

But somehow, although there was nothing technically wrong with this dish, I wouldn't make it again. After my rip-roaring start with Dorie's book, I was slowed in my tracks.

The recipe also confirmed that I don't love couscous, nor do I love chickpeas --both opinions I suspected prior to making the dish.  

What a moron, you're thinking, she could have glanced at the ingredient list and known she wouldn't like it. True. I am a moron. Anyone who knows me could tell you that. But not because of giving the recipe a go. I like to re-try things that I have previously decided against. Sometimes your tastes change. I wouldn't want to live my life not eating, say, olives, just because I didn't like them as a little kid. I came around to them in college and now I am an olive fiend. Olives with chicken! Olives in tomato sauce! Olives sitting next to a hunk of delicious cheese as a pre-dinner snack. Yeah!

Incidentally, I also decided that if I'm going to eat turnips, I want them roasted, not boiled. Boiled turnips seems like something Laura Ingalls would have had to eat during the lean years on the prairie. I'm not living on no stinking prairie.

Since I wasn't in love, I'm not going to bother typing out the recipe for you guys. I do have a life beyond this blog, you know. I need to sit on my couch and space out for awhile before taking a nap with the dog.

Sweet Sophie, waiting patiently for me to put my silly computer away.

Time for my mid-morning nap.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A little bite of Paris

Among the many foods I fell in love with in Paris was one rather simple dish that seemed omnipresent on every menu: rillettes. Sometimes it was salmon rillettes, sometimes tuna. I'm sure there are infinite varieties. All I know is, I ordered them as my first course at least twice (salmon here) and tuna here) and loved them in both places.

Rillettes are a creamy spread...made with meat. (This may either delight or appall you--you know which camp I'm in.) Historically, rillettes were made with goose or duck. Now, fish rillettes seem popular on Paris menus, at least in my extremely limited experience. Basically, you mix up the fish with some herbs and something to make it creamy, pack it into a bowl, chill it, then serve it with bread or crackers, or wrapped in impossibly thin cucumber slices, if you happen to be eating at Le Petit Bofinger. 

I forgot about rillettes until the other day when my copy of Dorie Greenspan's Around My French Table arrived in the mail. This book has quickly catapulted to the top, or at least near the top, of my list of favorite cookbooks. For one thing, I want to make every single recipe. For another, the pictures are stunning. And third--well, this maybe should be number one--it's extremely well written. Dorie has a great voice, but more than that, she writes in a way that makes you want to read each word.  She also has all sorts of nice touches--how you might want to serve a dish, or little twists in a section she calls Bonne Idee ("good idea").

The first thing I decided to make from this tome was sardine rillettes. Yeah, sardines. If you don't like them, what can I say? If you do, jump in and give this a try. It took about 10 minutes to throw together (less if you didn't fillet the little guys, which I did myself) two hours to chill, and before I knew it, the husband and I were diving in. It was fantastic.

What to serve it with? Dorie says bread or crackers are fine, or, if you dare--Pringles! (How can you not love this woman?) I chose Triscuits, which I have to say, made the perfect crunchy vehicle for this mouthful of fishy, French goodness.

Sardine Rillettes

Two 3-3/4 oz. cans sardines packed in olive oil, drained
2 1/2 oz. cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese
2 shallots or 1 small onion, minced, rinsed, and patted dry
1-2 scallions, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Juice of 2 limes or 1 lemon or to taste
2-3 T. minced fresh herbs, such as chives, cilantro, parsley, and/or dill
Pinch of piment d'Espelette or cayenne
Salt and pepper

If you've chosen sardines that have not been boned, use a paring knife to cut them open down the belly and back and separate the fish into two fillets. Lift away the bones and, if there is a little bit of tail still attached to the fish, cut it off.

Put the cream cheese in a medium bowl, and, using a rubber spatula, work it until it is smooth. Add everything else except the sardines--holding back some of the lime or lemon juice until the rillettes are blended--and mix with the spatula. Add the sardines to the bowl, switch to a fork, and mash and stir the sardines into the mixture. Taste for seasoning, add more juice, salt, and pepper if you'd like.

Scrape the rillettes into a bowl and cover, pressing a piece of plastic wrap against the surface. Chill for at least 2 hours, or for as long as overnight.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Coconut fish stew, and Slim's new blog

I've been a fan of Melissa Clark for awhile now--I always look forward to her column in the Times and even went so far as to buy her book. But I've had a few missteps with the book--recipes that fell short and didn't make it to the Hungry Dog.

Happily, my faith in Ms. Clark has been restored with this beautiful and simple fish stew that I made last week. It's quick, versatile, and incredibly flavorful. Within a few bites, the husband and I were already imagining it with scallops or chicken, and other kinds of vegetables.

Oh, yeah--the vegetables. I added the green beans. I wanted the dish to have more color, and it's ingrained in me to have a vegetable with dinner. So I threw in a handful of green beans, cut into one-inch pieces. Next time, I would blanch them first and throw them in at the end. Since I cooked them in the soup, they turned a little grey. Still tasted good, though.

Next time I won't finely chop the lemongrass-it remains too fibrous, so I'll leave it in large enough pieces to eat around. And,  the recipe is oddly-sized--it's only meant to serve two. Luckily I had bought a pound of snapper so we had a little extra, and in the end, we each got a dinner and a moderate lunch out of the deal. The rice helped bulk it up, too, in a good way.

One more thing. The husband has started a blog, which you can find here. It's about travel, dogs, style, food, drinking beer, life. In case you're wondering, Slim is a nickname leftover from his Kentucky days, on account of him being very tall and rather, uh, slim. Jump on over and give him a shout! 

Coconut fish stew with basil and lemongrass
Adapted slightly from  In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

1 T. vegetable oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 1/2 c. chicken stock
1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
1 lemongrass stalk, cut into a few chunks
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 T. rice vinegar
1 T. fish sauce
1 T. light brown sugar
3/4 t. salt
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 lb. seafood, such as snapper (which is what I used) or other firm fish, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks, peeled shrimp, scallops, or a combination
2 T. chopped cilantro
2 T. chopped basil
Handful of chopped green beans, zucchini, or other vegetable, blanched
Freshly squeezed lime juice to taste
Cooked rice, for serving (optional)

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until the shallots are softened, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the stock, coconut milk, lemongrass, jalapeno pepper, vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, salt, and lime zest. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in the seafood, herbs, and vegetables. Cook 2-3 minutes. Stir in the lime juice.

Place a scoop of rice at the bottom of each serving bowl and ladle stew over the top.

4 medium-sized servings.