Friday, January 30, 2015

Get Curious and Have a Cooking Adventure!

It's so important to keep your inquisitive nature when cooking.  There's nothing worse than falling into a routine of making the same 6 dishes day in and day out.  It's what makes cooking become a chore when in reality in can be such creative fun.  For those of you that say "...but those 6 dishes are in my comfort zone.  I know when I make them they'll turn out just fine..."  I urge you to step away from the comfortable and familiar and try something new.  Have an adventure in your kitchen.  I promise that nothing bad will happen and most likely you will discover something new and delicious to add to your recipe collection.  And remember if the worst happens and your adventure doesn't turn out you can always order a pizza!

All it takes is deciding to explore a new cuisine or unfamiliar cooking technique. Or perhaps just going to the market and choosing an ingredient that isn't your usual chicken.  In this day and age of the Internet you can always get a quick YouTube tutorial even on something that is completely foreign to you or something that you think is beyond your cooking ability.

To get out of my comfort zone I decide tackle an Asian-style steamed fish.
Ginger & Scallion Steamed Turbot with Forbidden Rice, Sauteed Shimeji & Shiitake Mushrooms and  Seared Baby Bok Choy
I'm not a person who usually steams fish at home but will enjoy it when I go to a Vietnamese restaurant. Steamed fish always conjures up flavors of ginger, scallions and soy and perhaps a spark of chili to give the mild, steamed fish some kick.

To further take me out of my familiar cooking place I choose a fish that I haven't worked with, Turbot.  A cousin to Halibut, Turbot has a mild, delicate flesh and is a good choice for steaming.
Turbot Fillet
The balance of my plate will be Forbidden rice,  baby bok choy, sauteed Shimeji and Shiitake mushrooms.  
Forbidden Rice
Forbidden rice cooks up just like regular rice and has a lovely, nutty taste and terrific chewy texture.  I know the black color will also look great in contrast to the white fish.  

The bok choy is easy to prepare:  I cut the bok choy in half and wash them very well.  After drying I season with salt & pepper then drizzle with oil.  I sear them in a hot pan and then give them a squeeze of lemon.  They still have a lot of crunch that is a nice contrast to the fish.

Bok choy cut in half, seasoned and then drizzled with oil

Searing bok choy in hot pan
Caramelized bok choy

With shiitakes sliced and the shimejis seperated, I saute and with garlic, shallots and sesame oil.
Shiitake & Shimeji Mushrooms

Sauteed mushrooms with sesame oil, garlic & shallots

I decide to go with a Chinese-style steamed fish that is steamed with julienne ginger and scallions.  After the fish steams you spoon hot oil over it and then drizzle with soy and sesame oil.  I add garlic & shallot to the hot oil.  For the soy mixture I add Sambal chili paste, rice wine vinegar, sugar and Vietnamese fish sauce.

I portion the fish into 6 oz portions, I season them well with salt and top them with scallions & ginger.  I use a bamboo steamer over a wok to steam the fish.
Portioned Turbot with julienne scallions & ginger

Bamboo steamer

Turbot ready for steaming
The fish steams in under 10 minutes.  After steaming I spoon the hot oil over the fish and top it with the soy mixture and  garnish with fresh scallions.
Garlic & shallot hot oil
Just steamed Turbot with hot garlic & shallot oiil spooned over.
 This is a dish that comes together very easily and has lots of great flavor
Turbot with soy mixture spooned over and scallions

Chinese-style Steamed Turbot
So that was my cooking adventure.  I had so much fun trying something new and am glad to add this dish to my repertoire.  Please try cooking something new this weekend and let me how it turns out.  Don't be afraid and have fun!

I think Julia Childs said it best:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Get Inspired and Start Cooking!

I went to see the powerful and riveting movie SELMA last Friday evening.  Though emotionally draining, one of the lighter scenes in the film was of the main characters enjoying  fried chicken, collard greens, grits and other soul-food goodies.  This past Monday, on Martin Luther King Day when I was stumped with what to make for friends coming over for dinner, a bit of inspiration hit me. Given the holiday and the tasty memory of the film scene, I decided why not try a Southern inspired meal:  Pan fried Catfish, Braised Black-eye Peas and Simmered Greens with Sausage.  This is some of my favorite type of cooking: soulful, comforting with no exact recipe to slavishly follow.   When these humble ingredients come together they certainly create a sum that exceeds their individual parts.
Crispy Catfish, Simmered Greens with Sausage and Braised Black-eye Peas

I start with dried black-eye peas that cook up pretty quickly.  I soak them and then cook them (with not salt) until they are just tender which takes about an hour.  Then I add a sofrito that includes onions, pepper, celery, garlic and tomato along with fresh oregano, smoked paprika, cayenne to the just cooked beans and let them simmer.  
Soaked black-eye peas

Just cooked black-eye peas.

Sofrito: onions, red & green bell peppers, garlic and crushed tomato sauteed in olive oil

Braised Beans
As much as I love fried chicken, fried catfish is also very delicious and it cooks up a lot more quickly.  Like my fried chicken, I like to marinate the catfish  for several hours or overnight in a spicy buttermilk marinade with lots of fresh garlic, shallot and hot sauce. Then I dredge it really well with a seasoned cornmeal & flour mixture.
Marinating Catfish
Breaded Catfish
For the greens, I use a mixture of greens that includes collard, mustard, turnip and kale.  I cook these with Italian sausage that I take out of its casing along with onion, garlic, red chili flakes, apple cider vinegar and a little water. I simmer them until they're tender about 20-30 minutes.  I give it a fresh squeeze of lemon juice just before serving to up brighten the flavor.
Greens with sausage and onion
Now the fun part of frying up the catfish and assembling the dish.  I use canola oil in a cast iron skillet at a shallow depth of an inch or so.  I make sure the oil is hot but not too hot or the fish won't cook through before the outside browns.
Make sure the oil is hot enough.  Check by adding some of the breading and wait until it sizzles.

Carefully lay in the fish into the hot oil.  Fry the fish in small batches as to not cool down the oil too much.

Flip when golden brown, about 4-5 minutes per side.

Now to put it all together:  The beans go down first.  They are the starch and the sauce of the dish.  The greens go next.  Their bright acidity because of vinegar and lemon area a nice balance to the richness of the fish.  The crispy fish goes right on top is.  It's nice and moist because of the buttermilk marinade and has a nice crunch because of the addition of the cornmeal to the breading.  Garnish with chives or parsley and serve with Louisiana hot sauce or Tabasco on the side.
Pan-fried Catfish with Braised Black-eye Peas and Simmer Greens with Sausage

So get inspired this weekend.  Maybe it'll be a movie or  TV show that will get your creative juices flowing. Perhaps you'll be watching tennis or listening to your son's violin practicing (then again maybe not) that will be your "aha" food moment. Whatever it is write up a menu and start shopping for the ingredients. It doesn't have to be fancy just an enjoyable process of creating something delicious.  Let me know what  you come up with.  Until then, happy cooking!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Love Your Crock-Pot!

When I decided that I really wanted to make 2015 all about entertaining at home often but effortlessly I knew that I would need to engage my old ally the crock-pot.  As I dug through my basement I found it right behind the fondue pot and bread-maker (look for future posts where they will make an appearance).   Crock-pots suffer a bad reputation from too many watery, bland crock-pot chilies that are served at Superbowl parties and church potlucks.  But the crock-pot is not to blame, they just do the best they can with what is put into them. What a crock-pot really is is a convenient heat source that you can walk away from and not worry about burning your house down.  Its a brilliant invention and someday some smart restaurateur is going to make an all Crock-Pot restaurant...hmm...that's a good idea.

A pork shoulder roast is a perfect candidate for the crock-pot.  The long hours of braising will leave me with meat that is falling apart tender.  The ingredients I have on hand help me decide that the pork will take on a Mexican flavor profile:  A Pork & Green Chili Braise

Raw ingredients for Pork & Green Chili Braise include bone-in pork shoulder onion, garlic, jalapenos, Anaheim chili, Poblano chili, cumin, smoked paprika, red wine vinegar and canned crushed tomato

It's a snap to put together:  Rub the pork with olive oil a liberal amount of salt, cumin & smoked paprika
Pork rubbed with olive oil, salt & spices
Combine the chopped onions, chilies, garlic, Add the pork and pour over the combined liquid ingredients. Cover and cook for 6-8 hours.
Onion, peppers, chilies and garlic

Now combined with the pork roast and liquid ingredients poured over

And with no effort at all you get this
Pork Shoulder after braising for 8 hours
I like to serve this dish very simply with a crunchy fresh cabbage and jicima salad dressed with lime juice & good olive oil

 And I love to serve it right on top of the stew with lots of grilled corn tortillas on the side
Pork & Chili Stew with Cabbage Salad
So get your crock-pots out and have some creative, tasty fun this weekend.  See what you have around the house (hey, why not thaw out those short-ribs that have been in the freezer since last June) and maybe go Asian with them with lots of soy, ginger, garlic and Sambal for your braise. And remember to write me back with what you made.  Happy eating and entertaining!

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Happy and Delicious 2015!

Rack of Lamb with Herb Pesto & Pomegranate
Cauliflower Puree with Brown Butter
Sauteed Haricot Vert with Ginger & Shallots
I'm enjoying cooking again! I know it sounds strange to say that as a chef but often cooking can become an overwhelming chore rather than the joy of putting ingredients together thoughtfully.

But what I'm discovering is regularly cooking for friends and entertaining at home is one way to get back to love of making and sharing food. This was last evening's dinner which turned out to be pretty tasty and was easy and fun to make.

I am going to try to do at least one dinner party weekly in 2015 and try new things along the way.  I'll take photos and let you know how things turned out.  I'd appreciate your dinner party stories and menus too.  So please write and let me know what you made (photos would be great plus) and let's see what a delicious 2015 we can create.