Thursday, November 29, 2007

taking a stab: fish

Time for true confessions: I have a few cooking fears. These are the sorts of things that can be fussy or require time and special attention to make just right. Things that are rumored to be difficult to make. Things for which cookbooks and culinary magazines offer "fool proof" recipes. Even a half-wit could make pie crusts, yeast bread, fish, steak. From time to time I try to face one of these food items head on, which is why you don’t see big haunches of meat, roasted or braised, on this list any more.

Cooking fish intimidates me. I order fish as often as I can when I'm eating out because I just don't feel like messing with its skin or bone at home. Not to mention that I've never—neither broiling nor sauteeing—had fish turn out with that wonderful caramelization that restaurant chefs do so well.

Inspired by a recent restaurant meal, where Hambone had a luscious piece of arctic char, I decided to take another stab at fish. A quick phone call to Coastal Seafood, our local fishmonger, confirmed that one last, sizable arctic char fillet could be mine (though I could easily have picked up halibut or marlin, which my guy said looked good).

This recipe, ripped from the pages of
Gourmet, was unflinchingly easy, involving the kind of hands-off broiling that gives you time to also whip up a salad or steam a vegetable for the side. The crunchy, salty, earthy pistachios balanced the bright citrus vinaigrette and the rich char. We served the fish with buttered orzo and sauteed sugar snap peas. Wine was a mineral-crisp Schloss Gobelsburg 2004 "Gobelsburger" Gruner Veltliner.

Alpha and Beta resoundingly complimented the cook. Beta said, “This is the best fish I’ve ever had.” Alpha said, “Yeah, this is better than Gpa’s fish [walleye from the lake on which Spice’s parents live].” All of which makes this a gem for the family recipe binder.

Arctic Char with Pistachio Orange Vinaigrette
(October 2007)

4 (6 oz.) pieces arctic char fillet with skin

3 tablespoons pistachio or pecan oil, divided

1 navel orange

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1 scallion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped pistachio or pecans

Preheat broiler. Put fish, skin side down, on foil-lined rack of a broiler pan. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper (total), then brush with 1 tablespoon nut oil.

Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until just cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate zest, orange juice, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, then add remaining 2 tablespoons nut oil in a slow stream, whisking. Stir in scallions.

Transfer fillets (without skin; it will be stuck to foil) with a metal spatula to plates, then drizzle with some of vinaigrette and sprinkle with nuts. Serve remaining vinaigrette on the side.

links of Thursday

The City Pages' Dara Moskowitz profiles local cheese in the first of a two-part series. Hambone and Spice have been buying LoveTree cheese at the St. Paul Farmer's Market, one of only two places you can buy this award-winning cheese, for five or six years. We love Mary Falk. Her tomme-style Trade Lake Cedar (sheep's milk) is Spice's favorite, while Hambone leans toward the Fish Bait, about which Moskowitz obliquely reveals
is only to be fed to wild fish while you are fishing, and is never to be fed to human cheese connoisseurs because, in America, only fish are allowed to eat cheese that has been aged less than 60 days. Get it? Good.
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I am thrilled to learn that, starting in December, my once- or twice-a-week lunch place—Golden's Deli—will be selling LoveTree cheese so I might satisfy my Funky Old Goat
curiosity soon.

This week's Dining Out section in the NYT is devoted to spirits, which I respect. Eric Asimov looks at bourbon and Steven Kurutz features a "tropical drink evangelist," taking me back twenty years to my JYA in London where I drank zombies regularly (two-for-one Tuesdays—I was in college) at the Long Island Iced Tea Shop.

In the Star Tribune, a squib about the reopening of 128 Cafe, under new ownership, but the section lead story rounds up the winners of the Strib's fifth-annual holiday cookie contest.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

old standby: chicken-corn chowder

Overnight, the weather in Minnesota took a turn for the worse. The temperature has dropped and a wind chill has developed. It’s very bleeping cold here, and, after pulling out the bin of winter gear—hats, mittens, scarves—there’s only one thing to be done: eat soup.

During lunch, I rekindled my love affair with Tanpopo, the Lowertown noodle shop. A bowl of beef udon with unctuous, rich beef stock, beef slices, crisp scallions, bright spinach, and slippery, fat noodles warms and nourishes.

Okay, so there are two things to be done in response to frigid weather. The other is make soup. Tonight after dinner and clean up, I stayed in the kitchen to resume cooking. A serviceable rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, red potatoes, leeks, and corn went into a Hambone and Spice standby, chicken-corn chowder. I don't have a picture as it's not a very photogenic dish. Fortunately, the flavor and comfort more than make up for that. Here is my recipe:

Chicken-Corn Chowder
3 bacon strips, cut in lardons (I like mine thick cut and unsmoked, but Nueske’s applewood-smoked is good, too)
1 medium onion, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
thyme, fresh or dried
2 cups diced red potatoes (we’ve also used Yukon Golds and fingerlings to good effect)
1 quart chicken stock, homemade or high-quality store bought
cooked chicken, shredded (I use an entire cooked chicken whenever I can, otherwise, I’ll adjust ingredients down)
1 cup frozen corn kernels

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, saute bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Place bits on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but 1 to 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Add diced onions and celery to pot and sauté until onions are translucent. Season with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, and thyme. Add potatoes to pot, followed by stock to cover with room for chicken. Bring to boil, then simmer until potatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes. Add chicken and corn kernels; warm through, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings (I find that I don’t usually need to use more salt if I’ve used a rotisserie chicken) before adding half-and-half to your personal preference (I use about a quarter cup). Give it another 5 minutes for the cream to heat through, then serve.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving post mortem

A quick photo essay recapping Thanksgiving:

Wild turkey, shot by one of the menfolk in Spice's family, emerging from the deep fryer.

The deep-fried wild turkey in the foreground. Behind it, a smoked wild turkey lies in repose.

Wild turkey, two ways, intermingle on a festive fall platter.

Because my family reads this blog, it's somewhat difficult to admit that the wild turkey—either way—was really tough and lacking flavor. But, every Thanksgiving we try something new and learn from our experiments. Brining would have contributed so much to the wild birds, and I would strongly suggest that method if faced with wild birds again.

Although not pictured, I have to mention a couple specialties—when in the pheasant capital of the world, and all. First, my brother Nik carved up a few pheasants he had smoked whole—one over cherrywood and the other over applewood. I had a hard time discerning which pheasant had been smoked with which wood chip, but it hardly matters as both were delicious and confirmed that smoking is the best way to treat this lean game bird. Nik also whipped up a wholly original twist on rumaki whereby he nestled a pheasant heart alongside a water chestnut, wrapped both in a piece of thick-sliced bacon, and pan-fried until the bacon was crispy. The morsels were tossed in maple syrup. They were totally addictive. I'd love to serve these beak-to-tail snacks to my snooty foodie friends.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

over the river and through the woods

Without a doubt, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that the day is all about food, specifically a big meal that takes hours to prepare.

Bird is necessary. Except for my junior year of college, when I was living in London, I’ve always eaten turkey. Since Hambone and Spice don’t make turkey at any other time of the year, it’s our preference. We don’t brine, though I do think brining brings out the best in what can be a dry bird. One year we grilled a turkey, which was very good, but left us without pan juices for gravy, not to mention that our traditional leftover dish—turkey curry—tasted funny with smoked meat.

Potatoes can be fixed any way. I love potatoes and am rather indifferent to how they’re prepared. For the first Thanksgiving Hambone and Spice prepared, we made an outstanding potato gratin with white cheddar and mustard. We’ve made our share of mashed potatoes. One year a guest brought potato croquettes, which were good in and of themselves, if not a little awkward in the Thanksgiving pantheon. Last year, sister-in-law Caroline and I made Julia Childs’ potatoes gratin, with thin sliced potatoes simmered on the stovetop in cream before being baked in the oven with a layer of gruyere. It’s all good.

Stuffing is essential. Roughly 75 percent of my Thanksgiving folder consists of stuffing recipes torn from culinary magazines, just waiting for an occasion. My mother-in-law makes an outstanding cornbread stuffing and an ethereal oyster stuffing. When Hambone and I cook Thanksgiving, we sauté sausage and apple slices, which we then stuff in the turkey cavity to keep the beast moist, but discard before serving. We also make a mean chestnut-bacon-leek stuffing from a Gourmet recipe, circa 1996.

Sweet potatoes. The best are baked in their jackets, then mashed with butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar, before being topped with marshmallows and baked again. All you foodies are likely aware that even Julia condones. They’re a kid pleaser, and consequently, have a nostalgic quality for adults. My mother-in-law and my friend Kathleen S. both make the extraordinary bourbon sweet potatoes from the New Orleans Cookbook.

Rolls. My favorite rolls are from Hambone’s family—Grandma Illges’ potato rolls, which are soft with a slightly sweet crumb, like Parker House rolls. But, I’m going to declare a heresy—I can leave the rolls in favor of potatoes and stuffing.

This year we’re going to Winner, South Dakota, pheasant capital of the world and scene of nearly every Thanksgiving from my childhood. My mother and I have been planning the menu for a few weeks. We’re fixing a wild turkey, courtesy of my hunter-gatherer father. Sides will include garlic mashed potatoes, which my brother Nik is adept at preparing; cornbread stuffing with dried apples, sage, and pecans, which is a new recipe for us; twice-baked sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows, another new recipe; green beans; rolls; and, for dessert, two pies—pecan and pumpkin. Hambone and I are bring champagne and wine, including an O’Reilly’s pinot noir from Oregon that we enjoyed recently.

Since Winner is in a somewhat remote location, a wi-fi connection may not be readily available. I’ll check in if I can, but don’t hesitate, in the meantime, to have a happy Thanksgiving!

As a bonus, a spicy mix of music to cook by:
1. Ana NG (They Might Be Giants)
2. Give Me Flowers While I’m Living (The Knitters)
3. Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash)
4. The Dap Dip (Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings)
5. Suzannah’s Still Alive (The Kinks)
6. Wilderness (Sleater Kinney)
7. Demolition Man (The Police)
8. Thanks for the Night (The Damned)
9. Wings of a Dove (Madness)
10. Apple Tree (Wolfmother)
11. Hollywood [Africa] (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
12. I Can’t Stand It (Velvet Underground)
13. Goin’ Out West (Tom Waits)
14. London’s Burning (The Clash)
15. Beautiful Day (U2)
16. Everybody Ona Move (Michael Franti)
17. Boyz (M.I.A.)
18. Magnolia (Apollo Sunshine)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

NYC restaurant round-up

In addition to the sightseeing (the Guggenheim), the theater (Spring Awakening), and shopping (ABC Home, Fish’s Eddy, The Strand, countless shops in the West Village), food was a major highlight of this long weekend in New York City. Not pictured is a fantastic pizza at John’s on Bleeker.

Katz’s Deli outside

Katz's Deli inside

pastrami on rye

pickle platter (sours, half sours, and green tomatoes; the half sours were a revelation)

The Red Cat for dinner on Friday night (be prepared for a dose of Johnny Cash when you click on the link)

starter: pumpkin and cornbread panzanella with parmesan, arugula and pomegranate vinaigrette (Nothing about this incredibly flavorful salad resembled panzanella—here, the bread was but a garnish. To me, panzanella is one of those rewards of leftovers and high-quality ingredients from the garden—stale bread and ripe, juicy tomatoes. Each ingredient in the pumpkin-cornbread version was outstanding, the pomegranates especially were surprising. I just wish the kitchen would call it something else.)

main: grilled double cut pork chop with wilted romaine, dates, feta, gigantes and pumpkin seed pesto (somewhere in this tangle of perfectly grilled pork chop, warm greens, and creamy beans was one lonely date—would have loved at least one more)

side: light tempura of green beans with sweet hot mustard (I'm serving these at book group in January)

wine note: Benegas 2005 malbec

Raoul’s in Soho for dinner—still one of my favorite NYC restaurants. I love everything from the menu written in French to the occasional indifferent French waitstaff (our server looked down his snooty nose and asked me if I wanted gin in my Negroni. As opposed to what? Apparently some New Yorkers order Negronis with vodka. I'd like to see our server's withering glance at that.)

starter: pate maison with baby spinach, walnuts, and olives

main: cassoulet with confit duck, garlic saucisson, lamb, and tarbais beans (I thought I'd died and gone to wherever you go)

dessert: warm chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream and salted caramel, profiterole with ice cream and chocolate sauce, and a plate of little cookies (the profiteroles were classicly elegant; the salted caramel with the molten chocolate cake was perfection)

Brunch at Prune
I was glad to finally have an opportunity to eat at Gabrielle Hamilton's jewel box of a restaurant. Since the restaurant doesn't take reservations for brunch, we stood in the line that had formed before the doors even opened so that we might get one of the first tables. We didn't make the cut, but only had to wait—with a New York Times—for about 45 minutes. And, the wait was well worth it.

starter: merveilles (Our server compared them to beignets so I was expecting something pillowy soft. These merveilles were fried dough, but that's where the comparison ends. They were crisp, not too sweet, and utterly delicious.)

main: soft-scrambled eggs, smoked bacon, potatoes rosti, and English muffins (Looks like something I could make at home, but tastes so much better. The rosti consisted of dainty potato shreds, cooked until crisp on the outside, tender and ethereal on the inside.)

side, shared with table: housemade lamb sausage

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tasty Combo Platter

My friend Tracy sent me a link today, one with which I was previously unfamiliar—Homer's Food Blog. Homer is the drummer in the Dap Kings, Sharon Jones’s awesome backing band, and he’s blogging about the food he’s eating while on tour.

I like Homer's friendly writing style—he's utterly unpretentious, which is pretty refreshing. And, I love the blog's banner photo of Homer surveying the rooftops of Paris. Since Jones seems to be on tour almost every day of the year, Homer should have plenty of material for some time to come, and I look forward to it.

Hambone and I are going to see Homer (and Sharon Jones—110 pounds of soul excitement) tomorrow night at First Ave. Can't wait.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

long weekend

In a few hours, I'm leaving, with some girlfriends, for New York City—shopping, eating, sightseeing, gabbing.

Here are a few tidbits until I return:

Dara Moskowitz revisits Mission American Kitchen where acclaimed local chef Doug Flicker has finally rolled out his own menus.

The New York Times has a great, timely piece on heritage turkeys and an article on Michael Hebberoy, whom I've been following since he and his ex-wife were getting buzz for throwing underground dinner parties in their Portland, OR, home.

Hambone and Spice friend Tim Teichgraber offers a "hot tip for a good sip" in the Star Tribune: Sicily's climate has long produced great grapes; now winemakers are turning out great wines to prove it.