Wednesday, June 27, 2012

holy mackerel!

Holy mackerel is right! My favorite fishmonger had some b-e-a-utiful wild Spanish mackerel fillets today, and it was hard for me to resist.  Maybe I'm lacking Omega-3s and -6s? Hence the sudden craving? Probably not - these guys were just to good lookin' to pass up.  Fortunately, I had also picked up some various vegetables and goodies at the market that I figured I could manage to throw together to make something tasty...and possible random.  Purple kohlrabi, some Pink Lady apples (apples need to go's summer! But I'm not really complaining), and baby fennel, amongst some other things I couldn't restrain myself from buying to be used in the near future.  

Let's talk about some Spanish mackerel. Scomberomerus maculatus.  Say that three times fast!  Scomberomorus is derived from the Latin 'scomber' translated as mackerel and the Greek 'moros' meaning silly or stupidPoor little guys!  I mean, I may start saying scomberomerous on a daily basis now, but that's another story.  Also, it's not really from Spain, but in fact hangs out in the Gulf of Mexico as well as along the East Coast.  Maybe the nomenclature came from a confused fisherman with the same mental un-clarity as our buddy Chris Columbus.   India? Spain? Really? Get it together guys!  The fish itself really is quite beautiful, with a shimmery, smooth, blueish silver skin, lined with rows of yellow dots.  A polka dotted fish, eh? You know it.  Spanish mackerel is ridiculously high in Omega-3s and is quite frankly...delicious.  I know a lot of times, mackerel is grouped into that "fishy" fish group, but when it's this perfectly fresh, there ain't nothin' fishy about it! That being said, let's get to the recipe.

Broiled Mackerel Fillets with Kohlrabi Slaw & Red Cabbage Reduction
Serves 4
4 mackerel fillets
Olive oil
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper

For the slaw:
2 bulbs (bulbs? I don't know), or about 2 C purple kohlrabi, julienned
1 cup thinly sliced fennel
1 apple, julienned
2 scallions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon (plus a little lemon zest, why not!)
1/4 C parsley leaves
1 T olive oil
1 T Greek yogurt
2 T whole grain mustard
1 t salt (or more to taste)
Fresh ground black pepper

Cabbage Reduction:
~2 C red cabbage juice  
Juice from 1/2 an apple
Too easy.

Start by making the slaw.  If you have a mandolin, by all means use it to make uniform julienne cuts.  If not, it's all good! Combine all of the sliced vegetables in a bowl, and toss to combine.  To make dressing the slaw a bit easier, you can combine the remaining ingredients in a small jar and shake it up to mix the flavors together.  Toss it on the slaw, mix well, and taste for seasoning! The dressing is REALLY light (intentionally), but managed to give a nice flavor to all of the vegetables.  Set aside and let all the flavors come together.

Next, hit up that cabbage reduction! I am a sucker for red cabbage...I don't really know why.  And juicing red cabbage is one of the greatest things ever! I've made Heston Blumenthal's red cabbage gazpacho by juicing the cabbage, and figured, what the heck.  I thoroughly enjoy seeing PURPLE DRANK come out of my juicer.  I tossed in half of a Pink Lady apple for good measure and made some awesome looking nectar.  Make sure to skim the foam off if you're using an actual juicer.  If you don't have a juicer, you can puree/blend the heck out of the cabbage and apple, and squeeze it through cheesecloth.  To each his own!  Place in a heavy bottom saucepan, bring to a bowl and reduce down to about 1/3 cup.  The juice will turn into a thick, perfectly sweet, stunningly delicious and beyond gorgeous purple "sauce".  No seasoning necessary.  Sidenote: I am making red cabbage reduction every day for the rest of my life. It tastes like heaven. I will be using it in a dessert soon. It's that good.  Set aside, and try not to eat all of it.

For the mackerel, first cut very shallow slits, about an inch or so apart, on the skin of each fillet.  This will stop the fillet from curling up while the skin crisps up.  Season both sides with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Heat the oven to about 350F/400F and throw that broiler on!  Place the fish into the oven, skin side up, about 4 inches from the flame.  Allow to cook until the skin is nice, crisp and browned, about 8 minutes.  

To plate, brush a bit of the cabbage reduction on each plate - have fun with it! I bought a new contraption at the store today meant for writing with frosting, but I figured I'd use it for the reduction.  Many a fun time was had, I'll tell you that much.  

new fun times contraption.
Divide the slaw evenly between each plate, creating a small mound.  Place one fillet (in halves) over each mound, and finish with a bit of fresh parsley leaves.  If you have extra purple sauce (term coined), by all means bring it to the table. It is SO GOOD!!

This dish not only is visually appealing, but the tastes are out of this world! The mackerel itself definitely doesn't need much more than oil, salt, and pepper - the fish itself is full of flavor, unctuous, and the crispy skin just brings it all together.  The slaw adds a nice crunch along with a bit of acidity and creaminess to cut through the flavor of the mackerel, and the sweetness of the cabbage reduction ties the entire dish together.  It adds a nice little punch of sweetness, while still allowing the flavor of red cabbage to come through.  A keeper!

Friday, June 22, 2012

earth's bounty

Well, it's officially summer time! And Mother Nature sure as heck guaranteed that we were aware of it, at least here in New York.  It's been, and will be for the coming few days, close to 100 degrees! That is crazy.  I walked outside and nearly got punched in the face by the heat...seriously. That being said, I'm not really complaining.  I like the heat, as long as there's not 100% humidity! It puts me in the mood for all things summer - I felt like going to the beach and eating fish tacos,  or going for a sail and enjoying a nice spread of crudite while anchored, or just plain hanging out in the park with a frisbee and a nice little picnic basket filled to the brim with deliciousness! Needless to say, I failed on the planning front, so none of that happened.  A girl can dream!  What I was able to do was pick up some beautiful baby vegetables at the market and make a fresh, delicious mid-afternoon snack.  

I had been jones-ing to make a goat's milk panna cotta (why? we'll never know) for quite some time, and this day seemed like the perfect day!  You do need to plan a bit ahead to let the panna cotta set, but if you start it off early in the morning, everything will be ready to go when you make it back from your day's adventures. The great thing about this panna cotta is that you can do almost ANYTHING with it - replace regular goat cheese in most recipes with the panna cotta for a little something special.  You can utilize it in desserts, with a little honey drizzled over top and maybe some toasted nuts, with fresh berries tossed with an aged balsamic, or just as I've done it here, with some lightly cooked vegetables.  I really wanted to recreate a go-to salad I make often that includes dried cherries, duck breast, and grilled peaches - I was looking for duck prosciutto to really give it a kick, but that will have to wait until next time!

Goat Milk Panna Cotta
2 gelatin sheets
1 C cream
1 C goat milk
1/2 C goat cheese
6 whole black peppercorns 
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 t salt  

To start, soak the gelatin sheets in cold water until they are pliable and soft - about 5 to 7 minutes. While the gelatin is soaking, heat the remaining ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, letting it all come to a simmer, stirring often and ensuring that the cheese has melted fully.  Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes, then strain out the peppercorns and thyme.   Remove the gelatin sheets from water and wring them out as best as possible.  Stir the sheets into the milk mixture until dissolved.  Finally, pour the mixture into molds or ramekins - whichever you prefer.  I used small spherical molds, but you can definitely use a small muffin pan, or whatever else you have on hand.  Allow the panna cotta to chill for at least 4 hours (as long as a day!), until firm.

Truffled Vegetables
Any assortment of baby vegetables!
Sea Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Truffle Oil
Butter (if you're serious!)

So, this isn't really much of a recipe, but I figured I'd let you all know what I paired with the panna cotta this time around.  I picked up a bunch of small vegetables - baby fennel, baby purple artichoke, an assortment of new potatoes, french breakfast radishes, watermelon radishes, baby carrots, baby beets, squash blossoms and English peas, along with some micro greens and pea shoots.  

i also love to use thinly sliced radishes, especially watermelon, in place of tortilla chips. Just watch your thumb on the mandoline (no prior experience implied...)

I prepped each of the vegetables individually and quickly blanched them (all but the watermelon radish and squash blossoms) until JUST tender, finally placing them in an ice bath to retain their bright color. Right before serving, I cooked the blanched vegetables along with the squash blossoms in a touch of butter, finishing them with a nice truffle oil and a bit of white pepper and Maldon sea salt for crunch.  Everything was plated together and ready to go! 

Really, this is a decadent, delicious, and simple dish - especially once the panna cotta is prepared!  The panna cotta itself had an amazing flavor and texture - the creamy goodness of the milk combined with a bit of cream and goat cheese lended an almost velvet-like texture, and there was just a hint of thyme inside.  The vegetables were perfectly al dente - the truffle oil gave a fabulous earthiness to each vegetable, but still allowed the fresh flavor of each component to really come through.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

boar hunting in the city

What started off as a leisurely Sunday - one of the first Sundays I've had off in a long, long time - ended up being an amazing roving feast of deliciousness.  Between being caught up in the act of my new gig and the excitement of a restaurant opening amongst other things, I had all but forgotten about the glories of NYC pre-summertime.  Food crazies like myself run this city! Events, markets, and fairs abound.  Restaurants are getting out of their winter, root-vegetable rut.  Everyone's excited - it's like a scene out of some old-school Disney movie or something. 

That being said, I wasn't keeping up to speed with what was going on, and was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of the Big Apple Barbecue.  Now, I'm one for any event where the top 'whatevers' come in from around the country to make something, and I knew that this situation would be a treat.  Don't get me wrong - I LOVE me some barbecue, but I mainly wanted to partake in some GOOD OLE PEOPLE WATCHING!  I also know that events like these (free admission, pay per plate, whatever) generally lead to mass chaos and lines and crowds more intense than a sea of teeny-boppers going to see Justin Beiber - minus the riots. So if we wanted to actually get a few tastes of food while partaking in social anthropology, an early rise was a must.  And arrive early we did.

You could smell the smoke from blocks away - some people brought industrial-sized, gleaming towers of beauty to show off, while others stuck to their good old, jury rigged junkyard-scrap smokers...I'd say those have a bit more character. Speaking of smokers, overheard by a rotund, Fu Man Chu'd, drawl-speakin, rib-slangin, pit master, "I need another smoker like Ray Charles needs drivin' lessons!!" Silent joy.  While essentially devouring pulled pork sandwiches, finger-lickin good ribs (Pappy's took home my prize for the best), brisket, and cole slaw among other things, we sure were able to overhear some conversational gems - along with somehow feeling like we had been in a time machine and ended up at Cedar Point circa 1993.  I've not seen so many Nascar shirted, Nugent-hat wearing, NRA types in quite some time! There were no Occupiers to be found.  I had to wonder where they all came from. I also remembered why, although us restaurant types complain about not having weekends off...having a weekend day off is horrendous because of the HOARDES OF PEOPLE that emerge from who knows where like NYC rats out of the sewers!  

I digress - the barbecue was delicious, the folk had some great Southern Hospitality, and I actually didn't feel the need to burst my eardrums while listening to country music - it was only appropriate.  If only they had some Pit-to-Plate from Cincinatti, Jack's Barbecue from Nashville, or maybe even some Zingerman's from Ann Arbor would it have come full circle. Wait, wait. Definitely Slow's from Detroit. I'm being biased....whatever. Maybe next year!

We carried on the remainder of the day, met up with friends, and decided to have a dinner party.  Also, I praised the lord that I didn't know about the Puerto Rican Day Parade, but praised extra that I didn't get caught up in that malarkey.  If the PR parade isn't a sign of summer to come in NYC, I don't know what is.   So, after all that carnivorous fare at the barbecue party, you'd think I would opt for something light and vegetarian.  Maybe it was all the iron coursing through my blood, but I needed more MEAT.  Sorry vegetarians and's true.  BUT, part of the coming recipe is in fact vegan, and extra delicious on it's own.  Don't fear - you know I got you!  

While making my rounds at my favorite store - yeah, you know which one. Eataly. Fine - I had grandiose visions of what to make for dinner.  Maybe spicy Vietnamese lamb burgers - they'd be epic using Albion lamb.  Probably some Scallop crudo on the half-shell with tangerine olive oil and some pink peppercorn.  Oh, how delightful!  But then ALONG CAME CINGHIALE. (Kind of rhymes with Polly.) That's it. A beautiful rack of frenched young boar sat right in front of me, and all of my plans were 100% scrapped.  Mind you, every time I see boar, I think of Eric Ripert going boar hunting in Italy. I want to go to there. It's not every day that you come across this, so I was in like Flynn.  To the checkout counter!

Double-Cut Wild Boar Chop with Red Wine Morel Reduction and Minted Summer Squash
Serves 4
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 C morels, larger caps roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme, stems discarded
1 C dry red wine
1 C veal or chicken stock
Olive oil
8 boar chops, double-cut
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Minted Summer Squash
Variety of summer squash, thinly sliced, about ~3-4 cups
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
1/2 C fresh mint, minced - more if you're a mint fiend
Optional: 2 cups fava leaves - more on that later!

For the morel reduction, place a small saucepan over medium-low heat, swirling in a couple tablespoons of olive oil as the pan heats up.  Once the oil is shimmering, add the garlic and shallot, stirring occasionally.  Cook until the onion is translucent, only a few minutes.  Next, add in the morels and thyme leaves, allowing the mushrooms to become a bit tender.  Pour in the wine, stir to combine and bring to a boil.  Cook for a few minutes until adding the stock.  Bring to a boil again, then lower to a simmer, allowing the mixture to reduce down until you've achieved a thick, sauce-like consistency that coats the back of the spoon.  Give the sauce a taste, and add sea salt and pepper to taste.  Keep warm.

While to sauce is reducing, you can start cooking the boar.  If I had a grill, I would have by all means used it! But alas, I do not.  Go for it if you do though! Instead, I used a cast iron pan to give the chops a nice sear. Be sure to take the chops out of the fridge well before you start cooking so the chop get close to room temperature.  You never want to cook a cold piece of protein! Season the chops generally on all sides with salt and pepper, and prepare your pan for cooking! Heat the pan over medium-high heat.  If you're using a big cast iron pan, this could take a while - so plan ahead.  Allow the pan to come to heat, swirl in a few tablespoons of olive oil, and gently place the chops in.  I started off 'skin-side' down to render some of the fat.  Cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes, and repeat with all other sides.  I wasn't finishing my chops in the oven, so I seared all four sides. It depends on the thickness of your chop, but it should take no longer than 20 minutes to achieve medium-rare.  And yes, you'll want these chops at a medium rare! Although it is technically "pig", it's a wild pig that is leaner and gamier than our standard farm pig that can be eaten without being well-done.  Thank the lords for that!  Cook until the center reaches about 135-140F.  Remember, the meat will cook a tad bit more while resting, so don't overcook it.  Let the meat rest for at least 15 minutes. 

fava leaves
For the summer squash: Now is the perfect time to get your squash on! I picked up some patty pan, zephyr, and magda and was ready to go.  I also picked up a bunch of fava leaves - again, this is me picking up something I'm unfamiliar with in the kitchen.  Obviously from the fava plant - I didn't know you could eat them, but I guess...why not? I was told you can eat them in salads or sauteed up and taste distinctly of favas.  I could tell as much just from smelling them! All the flavor, half the hassle? I'll take it. Mind you, the fava leaves are totally unnecessary, but were a fun addition.  You could use actual favas if you have them on hand, but otherwise just omit that situation all together.  

In a large saute pan, heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Toss in the squash and saute, stirring occasionally.  Being summer squash, they do have a high percentage of water - if you had the time and wherewithal prior, the slices can be salted and drained.  Otherwise, if they're releasing a lot of water, just try to boil it off.  Allow the squash to cook for 5-10 minutes, depending how thick you sliced them, until they are super-tender and have browned just a bit.  With a couple minutes remaining, add in the fava leaves (if you have them!). Cook until wilted. Remove from heat, and toss with the minced mint (say that three times), a little bit of fresh ground pepper, and salt to taste.  Keep warm to plate.  If you make a bunch of this, it is also delicious served cold.  Extra refreshing!

To plate, make a nice stack or pile of the squash.  The necessity of building a tower really just depends on your OCD-ness of plating.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I'm at about an eleven.  Place the chop next to the squash, or on top, and finish with a bit of the morel reduction.  If you want to cut the chops ahead of time to show the interior of the meat, you're more than welcome to do so! 

I'll tell you, the boar was all I hoped and dreamed of! As stated before, it is technically pig, but it has a lot more flavor to it - but definitely not as much as a lamb, or any other true red meat - and it was wonderfully tender.  The morel reduction brought out the earthiness of the boar, while the summer squash helped lighten the dish as a whole.  Eaten on it's lonesome, the minted squash is to die for.  It's ridiculously simple, and I could eat a thousand pounds of it.  And those fava leaves! Seriously. They taste just like fava beans. It's weird....deliciously weird.   If you can find some boar chops, try this dish out! Otherwise, you can try it with a regular pork chop, or even go spring lamb.  The options are limitless!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quinoa have some more, please!

When the sun starts gracing us with it's presence for more hours of the day and summer time starts creeping in, I know it's time for some refreshing dishes. (Especially when your apartment building doesn't turn on the central air, even though it's a billion degrees outside, and you're southern exposure apartment also heats up to about a billion.  I'm looking at your BUILDING.)  Seriously, my coconut oil became 100% liquid.  But I digress - refreshing foods it is!  And this following recipe is not one to sneeze at either - it's absolutely to die for.  Even your friendly meat and potatoes fellows will gobble it up!  That being said, let's get into it.  

This quinoa salad may definitely be an oldie, but it's for darn sure a goody! This used to kind of be a staple salad in the house - made in huge batches to keep around for a quick snack or accompaniment to a more composed meal.  That being said, even when it's made in huge batches, it goes QUICKLY! It's absolutely delicious, not to mention mind-blowingly healthy.  The best part about it though is that you really can do anything you want with it! Add some different vegetables that are in season - maybe some corn in late summer, or some steamed squash in the winter time.  Switch up, or better yet, add more nuts and seeds to the mix! Toast the nuts! Heck, there's no need to hold back! Point of the story - this salad is awesome.  Orchestrate a picnic, and make this salad times four!

Quinoa Salad
4-6 servings
For the Salad:
1/3 C pepitas
1/2 C arame
1 1/2 C water
1/2 t coarse sea salt
1 C quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 red onion, diced (soak in cold water if you want to reduce the bite of raw onion)
1 C red cabbage, thinly shredded
1 bunch red radishes (8 to 10), trimmed and cut into matchsticks
1 large carrot, grated

For the Marinade:
1/2 C apple cider vinegar
1/3 C extra-virgin olive oil
1 small bunch cilantro (about 1 C), trimmed, leaves and tender stems chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

arame, pre-soak
Combine the arame with 2 cups warm water and set aside to swell for 10 minutes, until soft. Drain and set aside.

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the 1 1/2 cups water and salt to a boil. Add the quinoa, giving it a quick stir.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed. Ensure to watch the quinoa when you're closing in on 20 minutes - be sure not to burn the bottom layer.  When ready, remove from heat and spread the quinoa on a baking sheet to cool.

To make the marinade, in a large mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, cilantro, scallions, jalapeno pepper, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper to taste. Whisk well. 

In a large bowl, toss together the pepitas, quinoa, vegetables, and arame with the marinade. Mix well and refrigerate for 20 minutes to marry the flavors.

Taste for seasoning, add more salt and black pepper if necessary, and enjoy! 

Seriously...SO GOOD. I'm literally eating it as I'm typing this out, most likely getting quinoa everywhere.  Really though, everything about this salad is perfect - all of the textures come together wonderfully, form the crunch of the radishes, to the slight al dente feeling of the quinoa, and a silkiness from those lovely ocean vegetables of ours, arame.  The cilantro brightens up the dish, and the apple cider vinegar add a great acidity.  If you wanted more spice, you could definitely pump up the amount of jalapeno, or if you're really crazy, toss a habanero in the mix.  That'll wake you up in the morning!