Saturday, January 28, 2012

Crème Caramel

This custard dessert is also known in Spain as flan, in Italy as crema caramella and in France as crème renversée.

Want to make a classic dessert, in a snap?  Arguably one of the quickest desserts to whip up, this little number is quite impressive for dinner parties (if you are a fan of Flan - some people don't like the jello-texture.)  The only down side is that you need to make it early because of a 3-hour chilling time.  

1/4 plus 1/3 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  In heavy 1-quart saucepan, heat 1/4 cup sugar over medium heat, swirling pan occasionally, until sugar has melted and is amber in color.  Immediately pour into six 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins.

Note: Always, immediately pour caramel into custard cups.  Otherwise it will overcook and harden.

In large bowl, with wire whisk, beat eggs and remaining 1/3 cup sugar until blended.  Whisk in milk, vanilla and salt until well combined; pour mixture through strainer into prepared custard cups.

Place custard cups in small baking pan; place on rack in oven.  Carefully pour enough very hot water into pan to come halfway up sides of cups.  Bake just until knife inserted 1 inch from center of custards comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes.  Transfer custard cups to wire rack to cool.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, 3 hours or up to overnight.

To serve, run tip of small knife around edge of custards.  Invert cups onto dessert plates, shaking cups gently until custards slip out, allowing caramel syrup to drip onto custards.
Makes 6 servings
(or split recipe in half to make, like I did and save the third one to share the next evening).

Pan Fried Potatoes with Orange Sherry Aioli

Another excellent side from Barton Seaver's For Cod and Country.  Seaver recommends serving this dish as a pre-dinner snack; setting out some toothpicks alongside.  Also makes a perfect accompaniment to steak, roasted chicken or any hearty fish.  I tried pairing these with the Warm Poached Salmon in Red Wine Sauce, which has a very soft and delicate quality.  The Orange-Sherry Aioli has a taste similar to chipotle sauce and overpowered the salmon.  When I make this dish again, I'll probably serve it with a seared filet.  Also note, it is hard to make small qualities of the aioli.  Plan on using the rest as a topping for veggies, meat or even poached eggs.  Store refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.

1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (I subbed with Balsamic Vinegar, and the result was excellent)
1 clove garlic, grated on a Microplane, plus 4 cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 cup canola oil
1 pound russet or Yukon gold potatoes, left unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil 

For the aioli, whisk together the egg yolk, vinegar, grated garlic, paprika, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until well combined.  Add the oil in a slow, steady stream so that it is incorporated as you whisk (if you add the oil too quickly, the sauce will break and you will have to start again.)  As you whisk and slowly incorporate the oil, the sauce will begin to thicken into a mayonnaise-like consistency.  Once all the oil has been added, cover tightly and refrigerate until ready for use.

Place the potatoes in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover them.  Season generously with salt and bring to a simmer.  You are only cooking the potatoes until they are about three-quarters done, so keep an eye on them and stay close.  It should take 4 to 5 minutes.  Drain off the water and cool the potatoes in the refrigerator on a plate or small baking sheet.

When the potatoes have cooled, heat a large heavy-bottomed saute pan over high heat until it begins to smoke.  Add the olive oil and sliced garlic and slightly brown the garlic (this will only take a few seconds.)  As soon as they begin to color, add the potatoes, and toss to coat with the oil.  Make sure the potatoes are in one single layer and are frying in the oil.  There should be enough oil so that the potatoes are about half submerged.  When the potatoes are brown on one side, toss to continue cooking the other sides.  When the potatoes are crispy, remove the potatoes and garlic slices from the oil using a slotted spoon, then carefully discard the oil.

Check the aioli for seasoning.  Place a giant dollop of it on the side of the crisped potatoes and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Everything but the Kitchen Sink Salad Nicoise

Nicoise Salad is one of my very favorite dishes.  It is light and healthy, but still quite filling. Traditional Nicoise is made with canned tuna, Nicoise olives, French green beans (haricots verts), cherry tomatoes and red potatoes.  My version substitutes seared Ahi Tuna in place of the canned stuff and uses the olives, tomatoes and potatoes I had on-hand.  I also used regular green beans (even though I much prefer their skinnier French counterpart) because our local store happened to be out.

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice + 3 tbsp-2/3 cup extra for marinating fish
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 6 tbsp more for marinating and cooking fish
1 pound fingerling potatoes
8 ounces French green beans (haricots verts) or regular green beans, trimmed
1 head Boston lettuce, leaves separated (Butter Lettuce works great here too)
4 Roma tomatoes, sliced
4 small/medium pieces of Ahi Tuna
4 large hard-cooked eggs, peeled and each cut into quarters
1/2 cup olives (preferably Nicoise - I used a Mediterranean mix)

Note: To hardboil eggs, place the eggs in a a sauce pan with enough cold water to cover by at least 1".  Heat just to boiling; remove from the heat and cover.  Let the eggs stand for fifteen minutes.  Carefully pour off the water and rinse the eggs with cold running water to cool them and stop the cooking.  To peel, gently tap a cooled hard-cooked egg against a hard surface until the shell is cracked all over.  Starting at the rounder end (where the air space makes peeling easier), peel the egg under cold running water.  Unpeeled eggs keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Prepare the dressing: In small bowl, with wire whisk, mix vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, mustard, anchovy paste, sugar, and pepper until blended.  In thin, steady stream, whisk in oil until blended.

In 3-quart saucepan, combine potatoes and enough water to cover; heat to boiling over high heat.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.

Meanwhile, in a 10-inch skillet, heat 1-inch water to boiling over high heat.  Add green beans; heat to boiling.  Reduce heat to low and cook until tender-crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.  Drain; rinse with cold running water.  Drain.  (Note: most supermarkets sell greenbeans in a plastic bag that can be microwaved; Trader Joe's Hericot Vert in a bag are superb)

While your potatoes and greenbeans are going, heat 3 tablespoons oil (olive or canola) in a 10-inch cast iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat just until oil shimmers but is not smoking.  Add tuna steaks and cook until pale pink in center, about 3 minutes per side.  The fish will release from the pan when it's ready to flip.  If you are trying to scrape fish off pan, give it another 30 seconds-to-one minute to release.

Note: If time permits, it's great to marinate your fish steaks in lemon juice and olive oil; place steaks in a bowl, cover with 2/3 cup lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper.  Toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes.  If you are rushed, just squeeze some bottled lemon juice right on top of steaks and add salt and pepper immediately before cooking. 

To serve, line 4 individual large plates with lettuce leaves (think of placing them outwards, like the petals of a flower).  Arrange potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, eggs, olives and tuna in separate piles on lettuce.  Drizzle with dressing.  Top with ground pepper to taste.  Makes 4 main-dish servings.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Warm Poached Salmon in Red Wine Sauce, served with Lentils

Recipe comes from Barton Seaver's, "For Cod and Country."

I realize the photo for this one is a bit scary and the flavor itself is so unique that it's hard to really capture in words.  Salmon is a hearty fish that becomes somehow delicate in flavor when combined with this light red wine sauce.  The butter and shallots add a warm, buttery note and the overall effect of the dish takes several bites for your palette to really start to get a sense of what's going on.  Mike, who is my biggest critic, absolutely loves this dish.  Served with a side of lentils (which are cheap and super nutritious), Warm Poached Salmon is an excellent hearty meal for the colder fall and winter months.  

A note on the dish from Barton himself:
Cooking salmon in a light red wine brings out the meatiness of the fish.  The trick when cooking with wine is to use a wine that you would want to drink.  Any flaw in the wine straight from the bottle will only be amplified in the final dish.  This recipe calls for about a half bottle, so you can enjoy drinking the rest of it while you are cooking.  I like Beaujolais for this as it has a nice upfront fruitiness, plus its low in alcohol, so you can drink another glass with dinner and not be poached in red wine yourself.  Here I call for two 10-ounce fillet portions, rather than four separate pieces, because it is easier to poach larger pieces of fish.  The cooking can take place slowly, allowing the fish to absorb as much flavor from the broth as possible.

If you have salmon left over, it is great served cold for another meal.

For the Lentils
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, grated on a Microplane or finely minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups green lentils (French du Puy lentils are the best)... I couldn't find these, so I used standard old lentils
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
4 cups water

For the Salmon
Two 10-ounce portions salmon fillet, preferably pink salmon
2 cups light red wine, such as Beaujolais or Dolcetto
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons butter

For the Lentils
In a large pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil.  When soft, add the lentils and toss to coat with oil.  Cook for 3 minutes to toast the lentils, then add the paprika.  Stir the paprika into the lentils and add the water.  Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the lentils are soft, about 25 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and sett aside off the heat.

Always thoroughly rinse lentils and pick out any bad pieces

For the Salmon
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

In a sauté pan just large enough to fit the fillets in a single layer, heat the wine with the shallot and thyme over medium heat.  Season lightly with salt, keeping in mind that because the wine will be reduced for a sauce later, you shouldn't add too much salt now.  When the wine begins to steam, add the salmon fillets and reduce the heat to medium low.  You want to keep the temperature of the water at about 170 degrees (use and instant-read thermometer to check this).  Poach until the fish is cooked all the way through, about 12 minutes.  Check for doneness by gently flaking apart a small section to see if the color is consistent throughout.

Remove the salmon from the wine and transfer to a plate.  Keep it warm in the oven.  Increase the heat under the wine to medium and reduce until only about 2 tablespoons of liquid remain.  Remove from heat and discard the thyme.  Add the butter and swirl the pan to incorporate it with the wine reduction as it melts.  Spoon the sauce over the fillets and serve immediately with a generous helping of lentils.

Fresh Whiskey Sour

Whiskey sours, when made with fresh fruit, are one of the best pre-dinner cocktails in my opinion.  They work for people who aren't big drinkers and would like something a little on the sweet side, but also appeal to the traditional cocktailer who is a Bourbon fan...and if you aren't a Bourbon fan, then really what is there in life?  This recipe is one my mom took from Ina Garten, but omitted the limes in place of oranges fresh from her yard.

3/4 cup whiskey (recommended: Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 lemons)
1/2 cup freshly squeeze orange juice (3 large, or 4 small oranges - Ina calls for lime juice here)
2/3 cup sugar syrup (see note)
Ice cubes
Maraschino cherries (optional)

Combine the whiskey, lemon juice, orange juice and syrup.  To serve up, fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice and pour in the drink mix 2/3 full.  Shake for 15 seconds and pour into martini glasses.  Add a maraschino cherry for garnish.

Also delicious on the rocks - add ice to tumbler and pour.

Note: To make the sugar syrup, bring 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a boil, and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Chill before using.

This is a great drink to bring to parties or BBQ's.  Pre-mix the juice and syrup and pour into a thermos or travel bottle and bring along with a bottle of Jack.

Asparagus and Zucchini Crudi

"Crudi" essentially means raw veggies.  When I first saw this recipe from Giada, I wasn't so sure about eating raw asparagus, but after sampling I'm converted.  With the nutty taste of olive oil and a touch of richness from the Pecorino, this makes a fancy accompaniment or starter for any pasta dish.  Giada recommends using this as a side to her Swordfish Poached in Olive Oil with Broccoli Rabe Pesto.

Makes 4-6 Servings
2 medium zucchini, trimmed
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce Pecorino Romano cheese in one chunk

Using a vegetable peeler, shave the zucchini into long thin strips.  Thinly slice the asparagus on a diagonal.  Put the sliced vegetables in a serving bowl and toss together to combine.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Mix well, then drizzle over the vegetables.  Toss to coat.  Use the vegetable peeler to shave the Pecorino over the salad and serve immediately.