This lacy green array, which reminds me of wallpaper in a summer cottage, is the herb, chervil. A member of the parsley family, it grows well in cool weather. With its frill of carrot-like leaves and mild licorice taste, chervil is one of the quartet of fines herbes, a seasoning pillar of French cuisine.
I have used chervil, in dried form, on occasion. Bearnaise sauce comes to mind.
But I had never found any fresh…until recently, through Fresh Harvest Co-op.
Which is also where I bought this beautiful rainbow of carrots…
…and leeks, for this lush tart.
After a long winter of eating hardy greens and tubers, (and, trust me, I’m not complaining,) it sure feels good (uplifting!) to have these early spring herbs and vegetables.
It inspired me to put together a little grazing spread for friends–all of us ready to celebrate longer days, warmer weather, a world in bloom.
My menu included steelhead trout brushed with fruity olive oil and quick-roasted, artichoke-leek tart in puff pastry-layered with a ricotta-Greek yogurt blend–and those sweet rainbow carrots, oven-browned in thyme.
The chervil found its way into a versatile buttermilk-based sauce–whipped up in a blink.
It tasted fresh and light, grassy and tangy, with a hint of anise. It was delicious spooned over the fish. And, it was also quite nice with the carrots.
For your pleasure, here are the recipes. Be on the lookout for fresh chervil–like most herbs, it is different, and better than its dried form.
Welcome Spring! Looking forward to all that the season brings.
SPRING LEEK TART adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed but still chilled
1 large leek, cleaned well and sliced (white and light green parts)
6 artichoke hearts
1/2 large red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor with steel blade, add the ricotta cheese, yogurt, salt, and pepper, and blend until smooth.
Slightly roll out the pastry sheets on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin. Place one piece of pastry onto each baking sheet.
Spread the cheese mixture over the surface of each to the edge all the way around. Cover with roasted leeks, artichokes and bell pepper pieces. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
Bake the pastries until they are golden brown and puffy, about 25 minutes. Rotate the pans halfway through baking time. Remove from the oven and let the pastries rest for a few minutes.
Cut into squares and serve.
BUTTERMILK CHERVIL SAUCE
2 heaping tablespoons chopped fresh chervil
3/4 cup whole buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 spring onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons good mayonnaise, like Hellman’s
1 teaspoon salt
Place all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together until the mixture is smooth and well incorporated. Cover and chill.
Makes one cup.
QUICK-ROASTED STEELHEAD TROUT
2 1/2-3 pounds steelhead trout (or salmon) fillet(s)
3 tablespoons good olive oil
coarse ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Rinse the fillet(s) and pat dry. Place onto a baking sheet, skin side down.
Liberally brush the surface with your favorite fruity olive oil.
Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
Roast for 10 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes,
Remove and cool.
Serve warm, or at room temperature with chervil sauce.
RAINBOW CARROTS ROASTED WITH FRESH THYME adapted from Cooking Light’s Lighten Up America
1 pound fresh carrots, different colors/varieties if you like
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
kosher or sea salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Clean and trim carrots, keeping small ones intact, and cutting long ones into 2-3 lengths.
Peel only if the outer layer seems tough.
Coat the carrots in olive oil and lay them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them with fresh thyme, salt and black pepper.
Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning the carrots after 12 minutes.
Serve warm, or allow to cool and serve with dip.
I haven’t gone out for New Year’s Eve–not for many years now. It’s become tradition for friends to come to our place. We cook something extraordinary, something de luxe; then we feast, tell stories, play games, reflect on the year, our moments of gratitude, and talk about what might be in store in the months to come.
Lobster has often figured into the mix.
For many NYEs, we’d have a community lobster pot. I’d make a spicy-winey poaching bath, and everyone would bring their own lobster tails, ready to take the savory plunge. We’d serve that luscious meat with lemon butter as part of a 4 course seated dinner. It’s very fun, very delicious,
also very laborious.
So we changed things up.
Now everyone brings an appetizer or two to share. The buffet table fills up quickly with delectables such as Vietnamese Summer Rolls, Fig-filled Brie in Puff Pastry, Bibb Lettuce Cups with grapefruit and avocado, “Cowboy Caviar” (gotta start eating those black-eyed peas!) and baby crabcakes with citrus remoulade.
This year, lobster is part of the scenario, in a more casual–yet still luxurious, way. I decided to make little lobster rolls—of the buttery yeasty Parker House type– flecked with sea salt, then stuffed with lobster salad. I make the same spicy-winey bath to cook them–recipe to follow–so that if you take the notion to just eat lots of poached lobster and drawn butter–well, here ya go.
For the salad, the meat is lightly dressed. You don’t want to mask that sweet lobster taste. Lemon, green onion, red bell pepper, celery, and a little Sriracha lend it the right crunch and zing.
Notes about the Parker House style rolls: My recipe uses sourdough starter along with a boost of dry active yeast. If you don’t have the starter, no worries. Use 2 packages of yeast, also increasing the amount of flour (add 2 cups) and milk (2 cups) I also use honey instead of sugar.
Recipes for this kind of roll abound on the webs. The main thing to remember about these rolls—which are buttery and rich, yet light as the ethers—is that milk, butter, and an egg are key to making the dough supple and elastic.
If you don’t have time to make the rolls, Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy solution here:
Lobster Roll recipe, using hot dog buns
Spicy-Winey Bath: (for 6 Lobster tails)
6 cups water
2 cups White Wine
1 Lemon, cut in half
2 Celery Ribs and leaves, chopped
1 small Onion, quartered
2 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon Celery Seed
1/2 teaspoon Mustard Seed
1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
Place all these ingredients into a large covered stockpot and simmer until onions are softened–about 25 minutes. (this will accommodate up 6-8 lobster tails)
Prepare the lobster tails for their bath: Using kitchen shears, cut up the center of the thin cartilage underside of the tail and snip off the sundry flippers. Gently crack the base of the tail backwards to make it easier to remove meat after poaching. Rinse well.
Plunge the lobster into the gently rolling bath and poach for five-seven minutes. Remove the now bright orange-red tails from the bath. Allow to cool.
Remove the cooked meat. Discard the shells.
The Lobster Salad:
2-3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
3-4 green onions, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
1/2 cup good mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s or Duke’s)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons Sriracha hot sauce
Cooked lobster tail meat, cut or pulled into bite-sized pieces
SOURDOUGH PARKER HOUSE ROLLS
1 cup “fed” sourdough starter mixed with 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup water
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 pound butter, divided
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 package dry active yeast
4 cups all-purpose flour
The night before: mix your starter in a bowl with flour and water. Stir well. Cover with plastic and leave at room temperature for an hour. Then refrigerate.
Ready to make the rolls:
Remove the sourdough mixture from the refrigerator.
Warm the milk on low heat, add 1/4 pound (one stick) butter, then the honey and salt. Stir until the butter is melted. Remove from heat. When the mixture feels tepid, stir in the package of dry active yeast.
Pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sourdough mixture.
Using a dough hook, begin to mix, adding the egg, and the flour, a cup at a time.
Knead until the dough comes together into soft elastic mass. Cover and allow the dough to double in size—about 1 1/2 hours.
Melt the remaining 1/4 pound butter in a saucepan set on low heat.
When dough is doubled in size, turn it out onto the work counter that has been dusted with flour. Divide the dough ball in half, setting one piece aside.
Brush baking sheets with butter. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick. Brush with melted butter and cut into squares. You should get 16-20 pieces. Roll each piece around your finger and place onto the buttered baking sheet. Leave 1/2 inch space between each roll.
Brush their tops with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until rolls are light and golden. Cool on a rack before slicing and stuffing with lobster salad (and a piece of leaf lettuce, if you like.)
TWO GRATITUDE MOMENTS FROM 2014
This year has been rich and full of wonder. The launching of my cookbook, Third Thursday Community Potluck, features high on my list, to be sure. I am so pleased with the result. The book is beautiful. I couldn’t have imagined anything finer. I am so grateful for this accomplishment, at this stage of my life.
I am also so grateful for all of the support I’ve received from family and friends for this effort. Here are three blogging friends who came to my book signing in the Washington DC area last month. We knew one another from our blogs, but this was the first time that we met in person. Big hugs to Tracy of Amuse-Bouche for Two, Nichole of And Baby Cakes Three, and Domenica of Domenica Cooks and American Food Roots. Y’all rock! The connections that we make through our blogging, sharing our mutual love of food and community, is what it’s all about.
Last, and best is grandson Zachary. Bill and I, aka Pops and Nanaroo, enjoyed a wonderful Christmas visit with him. The boy loves food! And he knows that nothing compares to licking the beater.
Happy New Year, Everyone. All best wishes for love peace health and prosperity in 2015.
Making those grand “never” statements can get you into trouble. Things will come along in life to prove otherwise. Like when I recently told a friend, “I never fry food.” In a blink, not one but two recipes caught my attention, very different from each another, yet both requiring a plunge into a skillet of hot oil.
Stay with me–they are worth it. In fact, they can be made at the same time and served together–making the most out of the oil-filled fry pan. I’ll amend my grand “never” statement to “I don’t usually fry food, but there are times when it is just the thing.”
The first, Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes, comes courtesy of Chef B J Dennis. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, B J is a personal chef and caterer whose focus is the food of the Gullah-Geechee people, his heritage. Descendants of enslaved West Africans who were brought to this country to work the rice plantations, they live mainly on the Sea Islands dotted along the South Carolina-Georgia coast.
In part, because of the isolation of the islands, in part, because the climate and growing conditions were similar to their coastal West African homes, the people were able to form their own communities, easily adapt their fishing and farming practices, continue their arts, rituals, and cuisine. Because the Africans came from different tribes, they formed their own language, a meld of various West African tongues and English. Over the centuries, the Gullah community evolved and endured.
But with “progress,” the communities have become threatened. Many adult children have the left the islands, seeking work elsewhere. And the islands themselves have seen the creep of gentrification, as land has been sold off for vacation places and resort homes.
B J is seeking to preserve the Gullah culture through food. I attended a six-course tasting dinner here in Nashville where he partnered with chef Sean Brock to educate minds and palates to the cuisine, and its strong connection to West African cookery. His crispy shrimp-sweet pea-rice croquettes, our first tasting, were spectacular: rustic and sophisticated, chockful of shrimp, with green onion, ginger and nuanced heat in the mix.
He happily shared his recipe, which uses Carolina Gold rice. This grain, once the main cash crop of South Carolina, almost vanished with the Great Depression. Post World War 2, rice production became industrialized, and corporately grown Uncle Ben’s took over the market. It wasn’t until the late ’90’s that Glen Roberts decided to repatriate the Southern pantry, and revive lost ingredients. Since 1998, his Anson Mills has brought back native cornmeal and grits, red peas, and the plump flavorful grains of Carolina Gold.
One of the beauties of the recipe is that it makes ideal use of leftover or overcooked rice. The combination of shrimp, onion, sweet peas, sweet bell pepper and ginger laced through the rice is fantastic. The juxtaposition of hot crisp exterior and delicate filling is very pleasing. Someone at the dinner mentioned that it reminded her of arancini, the Italian rice fritters. Yes, in a way. If you want to make the dish entirely gluten free, use a little rice flour instead of all purpose to help bind the mixture.
B J calls his approach to food “Vibration Cooking.” That term was first coined around 1970 by Vertamae Smith-Grosvenor, a food writer, culinary anthropologist, and storyteller. No strict measurements or method, but rather the magical combination of a person’s intuition, attitude, energy, and the ingredients at hand are what make plate of food delicious.
Therefore, in his recipe, he gives a range of quantities. You could add more rice, use whatever kind of onion you prefer, spark it with more than salt and black pepper, serve the croquettes by themselves, or with a sauce of choice. He served his with a Geechee peanut sauce, which is inspired by Senegalese sauce of tomatoes, peanut butter, onions, and spices. He did not share his recipe, but this link to Cooking Light’s version is a close approximation.
I’ll attempt that sauce another day, as I had another sauce to try. Part 2 of my oil-frying includes this simple Fried Broccoli Florets with Vegan Mustard-Shallot Aioli–adapted from a local restaurant, Pinewood Social. The florets are not battered, but simply fried until crispy. After frying, dust the florets with sea salt and lemon zest. So good!
Even better is this vegan dipping sauce, made with ground raw almonds, golden raisins, shallot, garlic, lemon, Dijon and olive oil.
Toss the whole shebang into a food processor and let it rip! The almonds eventually puree and thicken the mixture, but some terrific texture remains. The tang of the shallot and mustard is tempered with the sweetness of golden raisins.
You’d “never” believe there’s nary a speck of egg or dairy in this creamy aioli.
B J DENNIS’ CRISPY SHRIMP-SWEET PEA-RICE CROQUETTES
2 cups overcooked rice or leftover rice,(Carolina Gold)
1 cup seasoned and cooked shrimp (wild American) coarsely chopped (about 1/2 pound shrimp or more)
½ cup cooked fresh sweet peas or thawed frozen peas
¼ cup minced spring onions (or any onion you like)
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
1-2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons rice flour or all-purpose flour
cooking oil, such as canola or peanut
Pulse the cooked rice in a food processor.
Place all of the ingredients except flour into a large bowl and mix.
Add enough flour just to make sure the mixture binds together.
Roll out into little balls or cylinders, size depends on how big you like your fritter.
Place a skillet on medium heat. Add vegetable oil to 1 inch.
Shallow fry until golden brown and thoroughly cooked, rotating and turning the fritters so that they brown on all sides.
Makes approximately 20 croquettes.
VEGAN MUSTARD-SHALLOT AIOLI (adapted from Josh Habiger, Pinewood Social)
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
Place almonds, raisins, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse and then process, pouring in the olive oil followed by the water. Process until smooth. Stir in a pinch of salt, if desired. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will continue to thicken as it sets and chills.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
1 head of fresh broccoli, cut into florets, cleaned and thoroughly dried
zest of one lemon
Fill a saucepan or skillet with 2 inches oil. Heat to 375 degrees.
Fry broccoli until the edges appear crispy. This should take about a minute.
Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Sprinkle with lemon zest and sea salt.
Serve with Vegan Aioli.
What is it?
Over the past several months, I have come across the French term on menus and recipe sites. I knew that it meant a kind of sauce, but in my years of cooking, I’d never made a gastrique. A little research dispelled some of the mystique: It is a reduction of sugar, vinegar, and a defining ingredient: be it herb, fruit or vegetable, wine, juice, or even hot sauce. You could call it sweet-and-sour, a la Francaise.
That sweet-sour sauce is more akin to a syrup. It can take on any ingredient; give it a boost. And it does so, with little effort. Sugar paired with your choice of vinegar, caramelized and slow-simmered with whatever ingredient you wish to showcase, becomes an intense tangy glaze.
Our Third Thursday Community Potluck became the happy beneficiary of my gastrique experiments. Since my co-host Gigi (who doesn’t eat fish) couldn’t attend (a first in almost 5 years!) I decided to feature steelhead. (“When it comes to food, I just don’t like the ocean,” she says.)
Steelhead trout is not salmon, although it is in the same family. Steelhead is Rainbow trout that migrates to the sea, returning to spawn in fresh water. Unlike salmon, it survives spawning. But its appearance and taste are very similar, hence steelhead is gaining in popularity. Recipes for it and salmon are interchangeable.
Before I roast the fillets, which cook quickly in a hot oven, I like to begin introducing flavor in the form of oil and spiced salt. When you brush the (cleaned and dried) fish with good olive oil and dust it with this savory mixture, you are in effect laying down the first layer of flavor.
This spiced salt rub consists of 5 ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry. You’ll combine S+P with paprika, and 2 kinds of seeds (yellow mustard and coriander) that you’ve freshly ground together.
In this fashion, you can season the fish hours before you cook it, if you like. The olive oil ready absorbs into the fillet, a sealant in a sense that also holds the spice rub in place. Refrigerate until a half hour before you want to roast it.
Meanwhile, you can make the gastriques.
I chose to make two: one with Sriracha hot sauce and one with white wine. Each has only three ingredients, but what amazing taste!
The hot sauce gastrique packed plenty of fire, that was amplified and yet tempered by the sugar and vinegar.
The white wine gastrique was almost like honey.
After the gastriques cooled, I poured them into squeeze bottles. You can really control how much and where, with a deft squirt and squiggle.
Roasted simply with the spiced salt mixture, the steelhead was very good, without question. But the intriguing overlays that the vigorous striping of gastriques brought to fish elevated it to something extraordinary–imbuing unexpected pops of sweet heat and pungency. Even served at room temperature at potluck, the dish was devoured with gusto by our group.
A new world of cooking possibilities afforded by these infused syrups! I’ve scarcely scratched the surface. I love considering gastriques using different vinegars, like sherry or red wine, married with figs, or blackberries, or even tomatoes.
In my research, I found this luscious sounding recipe for Gorgonzola stuffed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Gastrique on Cooking Light’s website. It is still winter, but this week, there have been hints of coming spring. And, in Tennessee, that means strawberry season is soon to follow.
ROASTED STEELHEAD TROUT WITH SPICED SALT RUB, AND TWO GASTRIQUES
3 pounds boned steelhead trout fillets (or salmon)
3 tablespoons olive oil
spiced salt rub (recipe below)
Sriracha gastrique (recipe below)
white wine gastrique (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Rinse off the fish fillets and pat dry. Lay onto a baking sheet, skin side down. Brush the tops liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with spiced salt mixture.
Roast the fillets for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let them sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
Place on a bed of sauteed spinach greens. Stripe the fillets with both gastriques and serve.
SPICED SALT RUB
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds
Place salt, black pepper, and paprika into a small bowl.
Place yellow mustard seeds and coriander seeds into mortar, and coarsely grind them together.
Add the ground mustard and coriander seeds to the salt mixture and blend well.
1/2 cup Sriracha (or other choice of hot sauce, such as Louisiana Hot, or Tabasco)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, (uncovered) stirring occasionally. Simmer until the mixture reduces by half—this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will deepen in color, and acquire a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
WHITE WINE GASTRIQUE
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine
Place the three ingredients into a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved into the mixture.
Bring to a simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Cook until the mixture reduces by half—-this could take 20 minutes.
The gastrique will become syrupy, with a glazy sheen. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Makes about 3/4 cup.
Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding with cocoa dusted whipped cream
Maple-Mustard Glazed Salmon Steaks, roasted golden cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and sweet onions, scallion-jasmine rice
Always start with chocolate—then work backwards.
That’s my rule, when it comes to making my dad his special Father’s Day lunch. At a spry 87 years, he doesn’t want any thing, but a well-prepared meal capped by a deep dark decadent chocolate dessert insures a happy day for the man.
This year, I chose something treasured from his past: chocolate pudding.
For many years, his mother, my Nana, would make chocolate pudding from scratch. She would make it in big batches–chilled in a pretty crystal bowl or served in individual ceramic crocks–at least once a week when he was growing up, a tradition she continued when she came to live with us.
My sisters and I knew we’d have to be patient—puddings take an eternity to make, by a child’s sense of time. But that patience would be rewarded with the pot and spoon–which we attacked, greedily running our fingers along the pot’s sides and bottom to lap up every delicious smidge. And licking that spoon ( the prize–who would get the spoon?) like it was a great chocolate lollipop.
Chocolate pudding is uncomplicated: essentially milk, sugar, very good bittersweet chocolate, and a little cornstarch for thickening. Vanilla, coffee, creme de cacao, raspberry coulis: any other enhancements are up to you. The beauty of the pudding is in its basic premise: a delivery of creamy smooth chocolate comfort, easy-peasy to make.
The rest is all about hovering over the saucepan, stirring with diligence to insure that smooth texture, waiting for the pudding to bubble and burp. And by an adult’s time sense, it doesn’t really take that long. Maybe 15 minutes.
While the pudding cools, you can whip up the rest of the meal–beginning with the maple-mustard glaze for the salmon steaks.
Simple components: country-style Dijon mustard whisked with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and a splash of orange juice. It does wonders in a short time, imparting dark tangy sweetness to the fish. You can marinate the salmon for as little as 20 minutes, or several hours (more time is better).
I’ve made it on three different occasions–a grilled fillet flaked onto toasts for cocktail party, whole roasted fillets for a large buffet dinner, and now these steaks for Dad.
The combination works really well-a bit of an update on those honey dijon tastes. Maple syrup comes across less sweet, with more complexity. You may use a smooth Dijon mustard, but I like the pop of the mustard seeds, especially when heated. This is a recipe whose elegant result belies its simplicity.
To round out the plate:
I found this pretty golden cauliflower at Smiley’s booth at our Nashville Farmers Market. With a cooler start to our spring, it’s been nice to have some of these cruciferous veggies available in June. My dad is not a big eater of vegetables, but he loves onions and (oddly) anything from the cabbage family is tops in his book.
We’ve talked before about the ubiquitous roasting of vegetables–how it transforms the cauliflower into something crispy and sweet, the way the petals of Brussels sprouts become light caramel chips.
MAPLE-MUSTARD GLAZED SALMON STEAKS (adapted from Cooking Light)
3 tablespoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons coarse grain Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon orange juice
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
olive or canola oil
4 5-6oz. salmon steaks
Place the maple syrup, coarse grain mustard, balsamic vinegar and orange juice into a mixing bowl and whisk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper.
Place salmon steaks into a large zip lock bag. Pour in the marinade/glaze. Seal and refrigerate. Marinate for a couple of hours.
Prepare outdoor grill, broilerpan, or stovetop grill pan with a little oil. Heat.
Sear salmon steaks–about 6 minutes per side. Baste with reserved marinade. When the fish flakes easily with a fork, remove from heat.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH COCOA-DUSTED WHIPPED CREAM
6 tablespoons turbinado sugar
4 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch sea salt
2 3/4 cups 2% milk
2 tablespoons strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70%) chopped
1/2 pint heavy cream
2-3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon cocoa–to dust over the whipped cream
Whisk sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan.* Turn on heat to medium. Slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly, followed by coffee and vanilla. Stir-stir-stir! Over 15 minutes time, the mixture will begin to thicken, coating the back of a wooden spoon. When the rich chocolate mixture begins to burp and bubble, remove from heat. Keep stirring.
Using a heat-proof spatula, spoon and scrape the pudding into individual ramekins. Allow to cool slightly before refrigerating. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for a couple of hours. ( If you don’t want “pudding skin,” press plastic wrap directly onto the pudding surface.
Before serving: whip cream and dollop onto puddings. Dust with cocoa powder and serve.
Makes 6 individual ramekins.
*Many recipes call for using a double boiler, which I applaud–this works beautifully. But I will make just as smooth a pudding using my heavy-bottomed stainless steel saucepan on medium low heat, and that diligent hover-and-stir.
Who wants to lick the spoon?
Two requests intersect, and complement in today’s post: a lush sauce and a tuna recipe. The first concerns a good customer, and the second, a good cat.
Nearly every Friday, you’ll find me in the kitchen of the Culinary Arts Center at Second Harvest Food Bank. There, we create a wonderful buffet lunch, open to the public. Called First Harvest Cafe, its proceeds go to the support of the food bank, in its varied, but pointed missions to end hunger. We create a different menu for each Friday: One week might be Santa Fe style fajitas and fixin’s, another might explore the tastes of the Mediterranean Rim.
One of our best customers, Don, is a man who lives for good food. He has dined with us nearly every Friday since we started First Harvest Cafe. (August 2005) Talk about loyalty!
A recent Provencal menu featured Salad Nicoise, a beautiful late summer spread with green beans, new potatoes, caramelized sweet red peppers and onions, olives, hard-cooked eggs, and the like. To accompany, I made two dressings: a whipped balsamic vinaigrette and a silken aioli, laced with tarragon and lemony tang.
At the end of our French picnic lunch, Don circled by the kitchen to wish us a happy weekend.
“I could eat a bowl of that sauce,” he said. “If the recipe is not already on your blog, it needs to be.”
Comin’ right up, Don.
LEMON TARRAGON AIOLI
1 Lemon–for juice and zest
1 Garlic clove
2 heaping Tablespoon fresh Tarragon leaves
1 farm fresh Egg
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. black pepper
3/4 c. Olive Oil
In a food processor fitted with a swivel blade, process the garlic, lemon juice, zest, and egg together until smooth. Pulse in the tarragon leaves, salt and black pepper. Then, Slowly-steadily drip-pour in the olive oil while processing. The mixture will emulsify into a luscious thick-and-creamy sauce.
Makes about one cup. Keeps for 2-3 days, refrigerated.
I cooked up this simple, but elegant tuna dish, at the request of my daughter. Today is her birthday, and if we were together, we’d dine on these delectables. It’s not that seared ahi tuna is her favorite. Well-loved, for sure, but not a fervent desire. Her request sprung from a different place: the desire to honor our sweet old cat, Cass, who recently exited this physical plane, on to other unseen adventures.
Cass was the fervent tuna lover.
She came to our household in 1992, via our garage, where, as a very young mother, she chose to have her litter. Her name then was Christine. Neglected by her owners, our neighbors two doors down, she was starving, struggling to care for her young. It was a heartbreaking discovery.
At the time, a pair of parakeets were our pets. I had no plans to become a cat owner.
“We’re bird people,” I remember telling my daughter.
No matter. Often, a cat will choose you.
We renamed her Mama Cass, found homes for her kittens, restored her to good health, and ultimately, found a home for the pair of parakeets.
In short, we became cat people.
Cass was a part of our family for almost twenty years. For her first nine years, she was the solo cat. Then came the boys, Mo and Willis, rascals whom she barely tolerated for the following nine years. The boys were snatched from us in untimely ways: an incurable illness, a pack of dogs.
But Mama Cass endured, remarkably healthy, and fairly spry for a feline who brushed up on the age of 97, in human years. No doubt, that dollop of canned tuna I put on top of her dry food every meal was a contributing factor!
There were hints of her impending translation–a loss in appetite, a lengthening in sleeptime. Her old body had worked well for so long, and it was done. She died peacefully, in the comfort of her home, stretched out on a blanket on the couch, surrounded by her loving human family–me and Bill. As uncomfortable as it was watching her surrender to that inevitability, it was a gift to see her make that passage with nobility and grace.
It’s felt empty in our home since her passing. The sun lowers, and I think, oh, it’s time to feed her. Or, if I’ve been out, as soon as I open the front door, I make a move to check on her whereabouts. The brain, so grooved with habit, has to be reminded, and relearn.
SEARED AHI TUNA, served over mixed lettuces, sliced grapefruit, and avocado, topped with Lemon-Tarragon Aioli
Ahi Tuna Steaks, about 1″ thick
Good Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper
helpful: ridged cast-iron grillpan
Rinse tuna steaks and pat dry. Rub with olive oil, liberally sprinkle with salt and black pepper.
Heat skillet. Sear steaks, about 2 minutes a side. Allow the meat to rest about 10 minutes before slicing.
Arrange slices over a bed of greens, avocado and grapefruit slices. Top with aioli and serve.
Today’s beauteous recipe was inspired by the work of a Nashville chef, Roderick Bailey. He owns The Silly Goose, a charming restaurant in East Nashville, one of my favorite dining haunts. Don’t be misled by its name. While the Goose attitude is upbeat, light-hearted, and occasionally silly, the Goose Food is anything but.
In an economy of space, The Silly Goose folks make some serious good food.
Recently, Roderick offered a dish, similar to the one above, as an evening special. We had taken a seat at the bar that looks into the kitchen, and asked for his recommendation. His description made my decision a simple one.
“The scallops just came in and look really really nice,” he said. “And, I’ve made a kind of pureed gazpacho using these fantastic heirloom tomatoes, and organic peppers. I’ll quickly pan-sear the scallops, and place them in the soup mounded with skillet fried corn–fresh silverqueen. And then, I’ll garnish them with young pea tendrils.”
What a bowl of pleasure. A spoon-only meal! I could scoop through the crisp-seared scallops, the spoonful holding corn and heady broth along with each tender bite. Each element held its own kind of sweetness: from candy-acid delight of tomatoes, to the bursting kernels of corn to the briny, almost floral sweet notes of the scallops. The bright green tangle of pea tendrils collapsed and cooked into the broth.
I couldn’t wait to recreate it, and had the right opportunity the following week, when we had guests for dinner.
Well-conceived, the recipe can be made in three simple steps.
Its success relies on fresh picked produce for imparting deep flavors.
Lucky-lucky, my garden had already provided tomatoes and peppers a plenty.
I spread them out on a baking sheet pan, coated them with olive oil, a little sea salt, and roasted them to bring out the natural sugars. Then I simmered and strained the caramelized mass, until it made this lush red broth.
The rest was easy. I love skillet-fried corn, a true Southern cooking technique; unlike creamed corn, or corn pudding, its taste is true, uncomplicated by dairy or eggs. I recommend this preparation to enjoy on its own. Good scallops don’t require much–a liberal dose of salt, pepper, and paprika—cooked on high in a butter-oil combo. No pea tendrils in my purview, but some fresh arugula readily accommodated–a peppery green contrast.
I served these sumptuous bowls with wedges of cornbread, baked in my cast iron skillet, riddled with jalapeno bite. Almost unthinking, one by one, we all broke small hunks into the soup. It added yet another dimension. The table fell quiet, each of us savoring the rare union of soulful sophistication.
ROASTED TOMATO-PEPPER BROTH
4 lbs. Ripe Tomatoes, cored and cut in half (can use a combination of cherry tomatoes, if you like)
1 Red Bell Pepper, cut in half, deseeded
3 Assorted Banana Peppers, stems removed
2 Jalapenos, stems removed
1 large Onion, quartered
4 cloves Garlic
salt and pepper
Place all the vegetables onto a roasting pan. Brush with olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper.
Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, until skins are blackened and blistered.
Cool, and run all the veggies (and their juices, and oils) through a food mill–twice.
Heat in a saucepan and thin with water.
Taste for seasoning.
Makes 8 cups.
SKILLET FRIED CORN
4 ears Fresh Corn on the Cob, husked and cleaned of corn silk
4 T. Butter
Sea Salt and Coarse Ground Black Pepper
Water about 1/4 cup
The trick to this is how you cut the kernels. Holding the ear of corn upright in a bowl with one hand, slice down through the kernelsâ€”only halfway through, exposing the kernel center and the most â€œcorn milk.â€ Using the back of the knife, scrape down the cob to get out the remaining kernel pulp. Scrape back and forth to get the most out of each ear.
Over medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet and add the scraped kernels. Stir well, coating the corn. Add water, as needed. (Some ears of corn are milkier than others!) Season with salt and pepper. Sometimes people add a pinch of sugar, but fresh corn is naturally sweet and wonâ€™t need it.
Stirring often, cook for about 10 minutes. The frying of the corn is more like a sautÃ©; the natural sugars and starch from the corn will lightly thicken the mixture.
SEARED SEA SCALLOPS
1 lb. (or so ) Diver’s Sea Scallops (figure 3-4 scallops per person)
Cracked Black Pepper
Olive Oil and Butter–combo for searing, 1-2T. each
Rinse scallops and pat dry. Liberally season both sides with paprika, salt and pepper.
Heat butter and olive oil together in a heavy skillet, just below smoking point.
Sear scallops, about 1 minute per side. Remove from heat.
Ladle hot Tomato-Red Pepper Broth into bowls.
Spoon fried corn to the center of each bowl.
Place scallops on top of corn mound. They will sink a little into the broth—that’s good.
Garnish with fresh arugula, if desired.
My recent trip to Costa Rica has left me longing for the flavors of the tropics. Passionfruit. Mangos. Pineapples.
We would see them, fallen with abandon to the sandy floor of beachside groves. We would also see people gather them in pick-up truckloads, either scavanged from the fallen or cut from on-high, to be arranged alongside bananas and melons on roadside fruitstands.
Hand-lettered signs would advertise the immature “green” coconuts and their pure, nutrient-rich water. For under a dollar, you could purchase one of these foraged delectables, drilled with a small hole and inserted with a sipping straw.
Cool, barely sweet coconut water was so refreshing.
The coconut has remarkable versatility. From husk to coir to palm frond to trunk, there are no less than 46 documented general uses for it! Of course, we are familiar with coconut milk, the key ingredient in lush curries, or Tom Ka Kai soup. And, in Costa Rica, I found that milk in an unexpected place–cloaking a piece of sea bass at a French-styled bistro.
One day, we drove down the coastal highway to explore the neighboring town, Ojochal. We’d heard there was a farmer’s market going on, and several interesting eateries worth visiting. To our surprise, we discovered a strong French-Canadian community there.
The farmer’s market was small, held in the airy lobby of a hotel/restaurant called Citrus. What a treat! One local farmer was selling ripe tomatoes, slender green beans, and bunches of Lacinato kale. Another had fat bundles of green onions, arugula, and genovese basil. And, a vendor was selling gorgeous artisan bread. Some loaves of rustic wheat had undulating waves and a star drawn and baked into the crust. (with a taste that matched the beauty!) These had been baked by a French man further down the Ojochal main dirt road. His breads were in high demand, available only by special order, or at these markets.
After making a few purchases, we stopped at a little panaderia–a bakery/coffeehouse run by another French couple–for a cup of dark roast and croissant. We snacked under the tin roof porch and laughed every time a coconut fell with a startling crash. Here, we learned about Exotica, the long-standing and possibly best restaurant in Puntarenas province. After giving directions, the bakery owners called ahead for us too, in case we needed reservations.
Exotica is a festive little enclave–thatched hut, breezy covered patio with tables made from tree trunks, charming forged lanterns suspended from the ceiling, and flowers-flowers-flowers, all surrounded by natural bamboo and wrought iron fencing.
We were greeted by hostess and co-owner Lucy, a tall, handsome woman who radiated hospitality. She and her husband, Robert, who is the chef, have run Exotica since the 1990’s—in the early years, without electricity.
Their menu wove French and Costa Rican influences, belonging to neither cuisine, but a happy fusion of the two. We each enjoyed a salad of local lettuces in a bright citrusy vinaigrette, garnished with a huge salmon-colored hibiscus bloom. Bill had a cheese plate with camembert, boursin, and a locally crafted tomme. I chose the sea bass in garlic beurre blanc.
My fish had a delicate pan-seared crust, bathed in a beurre blanc sauce that deviated from the expected French manner. Instead of the traditional lemon-garlic-white wine reduction swirled with a heap of butter, this beurre blanc got its acid note from lime, and its buttery mouthfeel from coconut milk. There was a balance of butter and coconut milk, neither overpowering the other, with nuanced layering of garlic and lime. Served with a timbale of jasmine rice and steamed local green beans, it was a sublime dish, one that I wanted to recreate.
Simply —and with speed—-done.
Here are some notes:
The coconut milk replaces at least half the butter in a classic beurre blanc recipe, and is faster-easier to work with too. The whole process came together in about fifteen minutes, which is so nice for such elegant results.
I cooked my jasmine rice in brown butter with leeks—hence the darker color, and rich-sweet toasty flavor. Saute a handful of diced leeks in a tablespoon of butter, with a pinch of salt. When the leeks are collapsed and the butter solids golden, stir in the rice. Let the butter-leek mixture coat the grains before adding the water.
Sea bass was unavailable at the market the day I went shopping, so I chose flounder. While not as thick a filet, it was still delicious. Any mild white fish should work well.
PAN-SEARED SEA BASS WITH COCONUT-LIME BEURRE BLANC
6 oz. fresh Sea Bass fillets (or flounder, or other mild white fish)
1 fresh Lime, for zest and juice
1/2 t. each: Sea Salt, Granulated Garlic, Black Pepper
1/4 t. Red Pepper Flakes
4 T. Butter, divided (1 T. for saute, 3 T. for beurre blanc)
1/2 c. Coconut Milk (canned is fine)
Fresh Chives, for garnish
Rinse fish fillets and pat dry. Season with grated lime zest, salt, peppers, and garlic. Snip a couple of chives and sprinkle over the fillets, too.
Heat skillet and melt 1 T. butter. Sear seasoned fillets for a couple of minutes on one side (edges will turn golden) and flip. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove fillets from the skillet, and place on a separate plate or baking dish.
Return skillet to medium heat. Add coconut milk and stir well, scraping up any browned bits. Add the juice squeezed from the lime and continue stirring.
Cut remaining butter (3 T.) into pieces. Turn off heat, and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time. The sauce will get a glossy sheen. Taste for seasoning and adjust.
Pour the sauce over the fillets, garnish with chives and serve.
When my mom was a little girl living on Long Island, summers meant vacationing out the island’s North Fork, on a little strip of smooth-stoned beach along Peconic Bay called Breezy Shores. Facing the waterfront were dollhouse cottages, white-washed clapboards with dark blue trim, each cottage hand built and a little different from one another.
Some had screened porches, perfect for starlit sleeping; others had small flowerbeds where scrappy rosebushes ambled up their windswept trellises; most had blue painted wood chairs, cracked and peeling, placed out front overlooking the bay.
You could see fishermen in the early morning make their stealth way in small boats, on their quest for a good catch. You could see Shelter Island and watch the ferries make their hourly chugs from the mainland and back. You could watch weather.
I know all this, because when I was a little girl living on Long Island, summers, too, meant vacationing at Breezy Shores. Often, we would stay in the same cottage that mom had. My sister and I would collect smooth stones on the strip of beach, hunt hermit crabs in little sand mounds, rig cryptic messages in bottles and clumsily launch them into the bay.
Breezy, in 1965, was not very different from Breezy in 1935.
After we moved to Nashville, visits to that charmed spot became infrequent.
I went a couple of times in my teens and later brought my daughter–ten months old at the time–for her first salt water and beach experience. Not far from Breezy we discovered a little seafood restaurant. It was near the legendary Soundview, but it was more of a shack. It might have even been called The Shack–thirty plus years ago, memory is not clear on that detail.
No matter, the food memory is everclear! For five dollars, you could get bay scallops, sweet, small as the tip of your pinky, broiled in a buttery broth, served in an oval gratin. It came with slaw, steamed local corn on the cob, and a soft roll to mop up all that buttery broth. It was simple and fresh, gently sea-perfumed and bursting with sweetness.
I was reminded of that place, and that sumptuous dish, over the Labor Day weekend. Something about the crisp quality of the September air–at last no humidity–the end of summer conjures memories, and I saw some bay scallops, wild caught, for sale at the market.
That little seafood place doesn’t exist anymore, but miraculously, Breezy Shores does…in much the same way as it always has…and holds many stories for future posts….
MY NORTH FORK BAY SCALLOP GRATIN
with thanks to Joseph and LeCreuset for the Enameled Fish Gratin
2 T. Butter
1/4 cup diced Onion
1 clove minced Garlic
1 T. Flour
1/2 c. White Wine
1 cup Milk
1 lb. Bay Scallops
Salt ‘n Pepper
handful of soft Breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a gratin dish (or small casserole, baking dish) with soft butter. Place uncooked scallops in the gratin.
In a saucepan or small skillet, melt the butter. Saute onions and garlic until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add white wine, a little sea salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Mix flour into milk until well blended, and pour the slurry into the saucepan. Stir until mixed well with the wine and onions. Add snipped chives and a few pinches of paprika. Taste for seasoning. Remove from heat when slightly thickened, and pour over scallops in the gratin.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the top, dust with paprika, and place into the hot oven. Bake for about 8 minutes–the top will get brown and bubbly.
Do not overcook–you want the scallops to stay tender.
Get out your best bread to mop up the rich goodness.
The new seafood vendor at our farmer’s market had red snapper fillets for sale, and it triggered a food memory, my first taste of this fish: a revelation. As a former poster child for Picky Eater’s Anonymous who wouldn’t eat fishsticks let alone something fresh from the sea, I credit red snapper caught in Saint Andrews Bay, Florida and grilled outside, at the nearby piney campgrounds as the first unraveling of years of food fear and loathing.
I was sixteen years old, thrilled to be a guest of my best friend Pat McNellis and her family on a spring break camping trip to a secluded beachtown on the Florida panhandle. It was rare for the McNellis’ to plan such a vacation and Pat’s parents, Martha and Maurice, extended an invite to her friends. Jean and I accepted.
Likely the availability of a neighbor’s pop-up camper sparked the trip. It slept four and was an easy hitch onto the McNellis Bel-Air station wagon. We were told to pack light, shorts and tops, and be sure to bring a towel, bathing suit, and pillow.
Maurice intended to fish; he hadn’t used his reel in years but was certain he’d hook a bucketful of good eating from the Gulf Stream waters. Most of the gear packed up with the camper, luggage strapped onto the Bel-Air roof.
Maurice drove, with navigator Martha and youngest McNellis daughter Laura in the front seat. They folded down the back seat, and bedded it with quilts for us four teens. Pat, sister Lynn, Jean and I each placed our pillows on alternating sides, stretched out and settled in for the long drive to the Gulf of Mexico.
Plan was to leave in the early afternoon, but getting the remaining McNellis household, Pa, the dogs, and Aunt Margaret, situated before heading out took longer than expected. Maurice didn’t aim the Bel-Air South until seven pm. “McNellis time,” Pat reminded. “People are bumping.”
No matter. It was my first spring break trip to Florida, my first camping trip too. We were all looking forward to seeing the ocean, and escaping the grind of high school—although we were saddled with English homework—a rare combination of reading absurdist plays and writing the answers, chapter by chapter, to 200 Huckleberry Finn questions.
Of course, we considered ourselves to be cutting-edge cool in 1971.
While Martha pointed out road signs and Maurice considered his casts off a long jetty, we were in our own world, spread out on quilts in the station wagon rear. Discussing the existential nature of life, the bleak vision of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, the stunning long strawberry blonde locks of heartthrob Casey George was our passion, not fishing or camping or the searing tedium of the Huck Finn homework.
Somewhere between Montgomery and Dothan Alabama Pat and I began writing our own play, “Rest Area No Restroom”
What should have taken eight hours to drive took all night. We awoke glazy-eyed on a side road where Maurice had pulled over to give his eyes a rest, about an hour from our destination.
After unpacking, we spent a lazy day on the beach. Martha set up her camp-kitchen and Maurice headed off to the jetty, tackle box in tow.
It was rough go for the man; he’d lose footing, slip on slick stones, the irregular jetty rocks more treacherous than he’d remembered. His legs got banged up pretty bad.
By early evening, Maurice emerged, knees and shins jagged rock-cut and bloody, but ruddy face beaming as he held up a string of beautiful red snapper.
We learned later that it was a bit of a ruse. Poor Maurice never caught a thing. Battered but determined, he bought some off of some other fishermen and strung ’em up on his line.
Martha had a grill ready, along with foil packets of sliced potatoes and onions. She cleaned and prepped with fish simply with salt, black pepper, paprika, and lemon, then wrapped them in foil too. After placing all pieces strategically on the grill, she joined Maurice for a Salty Dog cocktail: vodka, grapefruit juice, and little salt. Surely that would salve his wounds.
Some time later, we were called to supper, set out on a long picnic table beneath tall pines, the night sky twinkly.
I was hesitant, but hungry, and so took a forkful. Wow. The snapper was delicate yet firm, sweet, almost nutlike. There was light smokiness from the grill, delicious, with bits of lemon cooked onto the fish added surprising tang. It felt good to be eating something so fresh, so immediate. The potatoes and onions had charred up brown and smoky in their foil packets, too. It was a great beginning to our camping adventure.
The grueling 200 Huckleberry Finn questions were left for the ride home.
Grilled Red Snapper with Lemon and Chives
1 lb. Red Snapper fillets, boned, with skin on
1 large Lemon, sliced into rings
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 long strands of fresh Chives
Rinse off the fish and pat dry. Lightly rub the whole piece with olive oil. Over the flesh side of the fillet, rub in the minced garlic and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Lay out the lemon rings and use the chives as strings to secure, tying them like you would a package around the lemon.
This can be done in advance.
Prepare your grill or smoker. If you are grilling foil packets of potatoes and onions—do those first. The potatoes take time–about 45 minutes.
The snapper fillets can be laid out directly onto the grill and with lid lowered, cooked for 10 minutes. Placed in foil, they will take longer.
These are thin fillets and you don’t want to overcook them.