Friday, January 29, 2010

Sear-Roasted Salmon with Lemon and Onions

This recipe—developed by my wife, Julia—minimizes the fishiness associated with some farmed salmon. Like many great inventions, it was born of a mishap (vulcanized rubber also comes to mind). One day, Julia pan-seared a salmon filet, only to discover after she had wiped the skillet clean that the fish wasn’t cooked enough. Because the oven was already on, she put the fish back in the skillet and roasted it for a few more minutes. The result was a dish with a noticeably cleaner taste.

(serves two adults and two children)

1½ lb salmon filet
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large lemon
1 large onion
olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Wash and dry the salmon. Sprinkle the flesh side with salt and pepper.

3. Wash the lemon and slice it thinly, discarding the pulpless ends. Peel the onion and slice it into rings (or half-rings) that are approximately the same thickness as the lemon slices.

4. Lightly coat a large nonstick ovenproof skillet with olive oil and heat it over a high flame until very hot. Place the salmon in the skillet flesh-side down and sear for 3 minutes.

5. Remove the salmon to a plate lined with paper towels. Meanwhile, use another paper towel to wipe the rendered fat from the skillet. Add a little more olive oil, about a tablespoon. Return the skillet to the high flame.

6. Add the onion slices and sauté for a minute or two, until they begin to wilt. Add the lemon slices and continue to sauté for another minute.

7. Pushing the lemon and onion slices to the side, return the salmon to the skillet, skin—side down. Transfer the skillet to the oven.

8. Roast until the salmon is done and the lemon and onion slices have caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. Serve the salmon topped with the lemon and onion slices.

• Sweet onions, such as Vidalias, work especially well in this dish.

• Eat the lemon slices, rind and all; they’re fabulous.

• If your salmon filet is on the thin side, it may finish roasting before the lemon and onion slices are properly caramelized. If so, remove the salmon to a bed of paper towels while the onion and lemon slices finish in the oven.

• To promote even caramelization, I shake the skillet once or twice during the roasting.

• Remember that the skillet handle will be very hot after 15 minutes in the oven. Use two mitts to remove it from the oven and leave one mitt on the handle in case you reach for the skillet without thinking.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Buttermilk Pancakes

This recipe delivers pancakes on the thick side, which is how I like them. The most important thing to remember is not to overmix the batter. As my daughter, Abigail, demonstrated in a science fair project last year, overmixing the batter will drive off the aeration created by the baking soda and baking powder, leading to flat and rubbery flapjacks. Mix the batter only enough to wet the flour and break up any clumps—but no more!

(serves two parents and two hungry children)

2 c flour
2 Tbs sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¾ c milk
1 c buttermilk (see tip below)
2 eggs
4 Tbs unsalted butter

1. Preheat a griddle until hot. (Drops of water should sizzle and evaporate instantly.)

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk and buttermilk and microwave briefly until lukewarm. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork and add them to the buttermilk mixture. Melt the butter and add it to the buttermilk mixture. (If you add melted butter to cold milk or buttermilk, it will congeal.)

4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing gently with a spatula or wooden spoon to combine. Make sure that all of the flour is wetted and break up any large pockets but leave the batter thick and a little lumpy.

5. Spoon the batter onto the griddle. Cook the pancakes until bubbles begin to appear, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until done.

• I you don't have buttermilk, use plain yogurt. Substitute one cup of yogurt and an additional half-cup of milk for the cup of buttermilk. (The additional milk compensates for the thickness of the yogurt.)

• Many factors, including the type of flour you use and the humidity in your kitchen, will affect the consistency of the batter you produce, even if you measure carefully. As you make this recipe again and again, however, you’ll become familiar with a consistency that works for you. Keep in mind that too thin a batter will yield crepes, while too thick a batter will make it difficult to cook the inside of the pancakes before the outside turns black. To judge whether the consistency of my batter is right, I scoop up some batter in the cupped silicon spatula that I use to mix the batter and transfer it to the griddle. If the batter drools quickly off the spatula, it’s too thin (and I add a little flour). If the batter holds in a clump on the spatula, it’s too thick (and I add a little milk). Just right is a gravity-induced plop-plop-plop back into the bowl.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

This soup is nearly rich enough to serve as a dessert, but I use it as the basis for an easy midwinter meal. I make the soup ahead of time, say on a Sunday, and then serve it midweek with a hearty salad (perhaps including pear or some roasted beets), an oven-toasted baguette, and a nice cheese.

(serves two adults and two children)

1 medium butternut squash
1 medium onion
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 Tbs unsalted butter
4 c chicken stock
ground nutmeg
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
heavy cream (optional)

1. Trim and peel the squash (see tip below). Halve it lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Cut into one-inch dice. Coarsely chop the onion. Strip and coarsely chop the rosemary.

2. In a large stockpot, melt the butter and sauté the onion over medium-low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the squash, chicken stock, and rosemary. Raise the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the squash becomes tender, about 25 minutes.

3. Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, remove the squash to the bowl of a food processor and puree. Return the squash puree to the stockpot and stir to combine. Season to taste with the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. When serving, consider drizzling a little heavy cream into each portion.

• For some reason, peeling butternut squash leaves an unpleasant residue on the hands that can badly dry out the skin. I avoid this by wearing disposable latex gloves (found at any drug store).

• This soup has a lot of body. If you prefer your soup thinner, add more chicken stock at any time.

• If you own an immersion blender and haven’t figured out when to use it, this is your chance. Forget the food processor. Just lower your immersion blender into the stockpot and press PLAY.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Spaghetti with Clam Sauce

A lot of families rely on spaghetti with butter and cheese when there seems to be nothing else in the pantry, but at our house the default is spaghetti with clam sauce. Because of this recipe, we always keep chopped clams on hand as a staple, and we’re rarely without parsley, either in the garden or in the refrigerator.

(serves two parents and two children)

3 6.5-oz cans chopped clams
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
1 lb dried spaghetti
¼ c olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp (or less) red pepper flakes
Parmesan or Romano cheese (for grating)

1. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to a boil.

2. Open the cans of clams, retaining the clam juice. Peel and chop the garlic. Trim and chop the parsley.

2. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stirring occasionally to avoid clumping. Cook until nearly but not quite done (limp but still toothy). Drain.

3. Meanwhile, heat a skillet large enough to hold all of the cooked pasta over a medium flame. Add the olive oil. When the oil becomes hot, add the garlic, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Wait a minute for the garlic to cook, then add the clams and their juice. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.

4. Add the drained pasta and toss to coat. Add the parsley and continue cooking, tossing occasionally, for two minutes so that the pasta can absorbs the sauce and become thoroughly done. Serve with cheese for grating.

• Be sure to use dried pasta rather than fresh, because fresh pasta doesn't have sufficient body to stand up to this cooking method).

• I like my spaghetti with clam sauce to have a little bite, so I use a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes. If you don’t like your food spicy, use half a teaspoon.

• If you're feeling adventurous, try sautéing some finely diced pancetta in the oil before adding the garlic. The robust flavor of the pancetta adds a nice depth to the sauce. (I like to keep a chunk of pancetta in the freezer so that I always have some on hand. It's so fatty that you can cut it without thawing it first.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Steak au Poivre

Usually, I grill steaks; but in the dead of winter, this recipe comes in handy. The method is called sear-roasting: you sear the meat on the stovetop, locking in the juices, then roast it in a hot oven. Although the steak tastes great on its won, I like to add an easy pan sauce.

(serves two parents and two children)

2 T-bone steaks (about a pound each)
2 Tbs black peppercorns
kosher salt
olive oil
1 cup red wine
3 Tbs unsalted butter

1. Preheat the over to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Wash the steaks, then pat them dry with paper towels.

3. Use a mortar and pestle (or the side of a heavy knife) to crush the peppercorns.

2. Season both sides of the steaks with the crushed pepper and salt, pressing the seasonings into the meat.

3. Heat a cast-iron skillet large enough to hold both steaks over a high flame. Add a thin film of olive oil.

4. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the steaks and sear for three minutes. Flip the steaks and transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast until done, about ten minutes for medium rare.

5. Transfer the steaks to a platter and tent with aluminum foil to keep them warm while you make the sauce.

6. After pouring off the accumulated fat, place the skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the wine and deglaze, using a whisk to loosen the browned bits stuck to the skillet’s bottom. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally, until the wine is reduced by three-quarters, about 6 minutes.

7. Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time. As it melts, whisk it into the sauce. When all of the butter has melted, the sauce is done. Serve drizzled over the steaks.

• Whenever you cook with wine, use a decent bottle. My rule is, if I wouldn’t drink a wine with dinner, I won’t cook with it, either. There are plenty of decent four- and five-dollar Cabernets to choose from. My favorite is Crane Lake.

• If you lack the hand strength to crush peppercorns, you can always put them in a small plastic freezer bag and crush them with a hammer.

• I test the doneness of meat by pressing it with my fingers. Undercooked meat feels flaccid, while cooked meat feels firm to the touch. Telling the difference takes a little practice, but learning how is worth the effort because cutting into meat while it cooks releases juices, drying the meat out. I suggest probing the steaks every few minutes as they cook so that you can gauge the differences in feel.

• Remember that cast iron stays very hot long after you remove it from the oven. Keep a mitt on the handle at all times while making the sauce.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Penne with Broccoli Raab

This is one of my family’s favorite easy dinners—a step up from  boiling frozen tortellini when we’re feeling rushed or lazy. The recipe also works well as a side for roasted or grilled chicken.

(serves two adults and two children)

a large bunch of broccoli raab
1 lb dried penne
¼ c olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Parmesan or Romano cheese (for grating)

1. Bring a large pot of salted pasta water to a boil.

2. If you haven’t already done so, trim the ends of the broccoli raab (see tip below). Blanch the broccoli raab in the boiling pasta water for two minutes. Remove and drain.

3. Bring the pasta water back to a boil. Add the penne and cook until done. Drain.

4. Meanwhile, when the penne is nearly done, begin heating the oil and red pepper flakes in a large skillet over a medium flame. Chop the drained broccoli raab into pieces about an inch or so long and add them to the skillet. When the penne is cooked and drained, add it to the skillet and toss to combine. Serve with cheese for grating.

• The wire that holds the bunch of broccoli raab together in the supermarket promotes spoilage, so I remove it when I get home. Before I do, however, I trim the ends of the broccoli raab, because trimming is much easier when the bunch is still wrapped tightly.

Chocolate Bonbon Cake

My feeling is that, if you’re going to eat things that are bad for you, those things should taste really, really good. This cake tastes that good, and it’s fancy, too. Some restaurants call it a chocolate mousse cake because its lack of flour makes it seem more like a baked mousse thank a cake. My daughter, Abigail, calls it a chocolate bonbon cake because when she was just learning to read, she confuses bourbon with bonbon, and the name stuck.

12 oz high-quality semisweet chocolate
12 Tbs unsalted butter
6 eggs, separated
¾ c brown sugar
¼ c flour
4 Tbs bourbon
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp kosher salt
confectioner’s sugar

1. Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Unlock a nine-inch springform pan so that the bottom separates from the ring (the sides). Cover the bottom with extra-wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil so that there is an outside margin of several inches. Press the foil down to reveal the rim of the bottom but don’t wrap the foil under the bottom. Return the bottom to the ring and relock the pan. Place the pan on a second large piece of foil and fold both foil layers up so that they cover at least half the height of the ring. (This application of foil prevents seepage from the water bath in which the cake is baked.)

3. Butter the inside of the springform pan. Add a parchment-paper liner to the bottom and butter this as well. Set the prepared pan inside a larger roasting pan.

4. Melt the chocolate and the butter (see tip below). Stir to combine.

5. Using a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment (or a hand mixer), beat the egg yolks and brown sugar on medium until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

6. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the melted chocolate and butter and mix until just combined. Add the flour, and mix until just combined. Add the bourbon and vanilla extract and mix until just combined.

7. Transfer the batter to a mixing bowl. Clean and dry the stand mixer, then beat the egg whites and salt on high until the whites form soft peaks, about a minute.

8. After carefully folding the whipped egg whites into the batter, transfer the batter to the springform pan and place the springform pan/roasting pan assembly in the middle of the oven. Before closing the oven door, add enough hot tap water to the roasting pan so that the water covers half the thickness of the cake, about 1½ inches.

9. Bake until the center of the cake is set, about 50-55 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the water bath and let it cool on a rack. When the cake has cooled completely, unlock the ring and, using a suitably flat platter, invert the cake so that the top becomes the bottom. Peel off the parchment paper, and dust the top of the cake with confectioner’s sugar. Serve at room temperature.

• The “proper” way to melt the chocolate and butter is in a double-boiler (which can be as simple as a metal bowl set inside a pot of simmering water). But I usually use the microwave, which works fine as long as you’re careful. If you leave the microwave on too long, either you’ll scorch the chocolate, ruining its taste, or the butter will “pop,” sending it all over the inside of your oven. I guard against these unpleasant outcomes by remove the mixtures and stirring it every 15-20 seconds. Whichever method you use, remember that you needn’t heat the chocolate until every last morsel is melted. Residual heat will take care of any graininess.

• For this cake, I like to use Maker’s Mark bourbon, but you can substitute another whiskey (Jack Daniels) or a liqueur (Grand Marnier, Cointreau, Fra Angelico).

• An easy way to cut this cake neatly is to use a long strand of dental floss. Cut wedges by pulling the floss down from the top. Remove it by pulling the floss through the cake horizontally.

• Because chocolate loses flavor as it gets colder, be sure to serve this cake at room temperature. (Think of the difference in taste between a cold chocolate bar and a piece of chocolate melting in your mouth.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

English Currant Scones

Unlike the doughy lumps sold as “scones” in America, this recipe produce traditional English scones—a sweet, tender teatime (or breakfast) treat.

(yields twelve scones)

⅔ c heavy cream
1 large egg
¼ c sugar
2½ c flour
1 Tbs baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled
¾ c dried currants

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, egg, and sugar.

3. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a sharp blade. Pulse to combine.

4. Cut the butter into 16 pieces and add to the dry ingredients. Pulse until the dough reaches the consistency of coarse meal. Add the cream mixture and pulse again until the dough forms a ball.

5. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and flatten into a disk. Sprinkle with the currants and knead until the currants are evenly distributed.

6. Shape the dough again into a disk about ¾-inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter, form individual scones. Combine and reshape the dough as necessary to form more scones.

7. Set the scones on a baking sheet lined with a silicon mat or parchment paper. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with butter and jam.

• For a Sunday brunch, we usually make two batches of these scones—one with currants (for the adults) and one with chocolate chips (for the kids).

• Often before baking the scones, I’ll brush them with a little egg, melted butter, or cream and then sprinkle them with turbinado sugar. Similar in taste and appearance to brown sugar, turbinado sugar has large crystals that stick nicely to the wetted dough.

• If you can't get dried currants, small raisins or another small dried fruit (such as cranberries or  blueberries) will also work.

• To form the final scone or two, I just gather up the remaining dough and press it into the cookie cutter.

• An excellent accompaniment to these scones (in place of English clotted cream, which is hard to find in this country) is day-old whipped cream. The night before you make the scones, whip some cream and let it “fall” in the refrigerator overnight. The result is a tasty, thickened spread.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pasta e Fagioli

This hearty pasta-and-bean soup makes a fine winter meal with some oven-warmed, crusty bread and a nice soft, sharp cheese like Camembert.

(serves two parents and two children)

½ lb ditalini (or other small pasta)
3 cloves garlic
1 small onion
¼ c olive oil
½ tsp (or more) red pepper flakes
1 tsp (or more) freshly ground black pepper
2 fifteen-oz cans white beans (such as Great Northern or cannellini)
4 c chicken stock
juice of a lemon
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
kosher salt
Parmesan or Romano cheese (for grating)

1. Boil salted water in a pot large enough to hold the pasta. Cook the pasta until just done (al dente). Rinse with cold water and drain.

2. Meanwhile, chop the garlic and onion medium-fine.

3. In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the garlic, the red pepper flakes, and the black pepper. Saute for 30 seconds, then add the onion and continue sauteeing until the onion softens and becomes translucent, about 3 minutes.

4. Add the beans (including their liquid) and the chicken stock. Let the soup come to a  boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

5. Just before serving, stir in the pasta, lemon juice, and the parsley. Season with salt to taste. Serve with cheese for  grating on top.

• When using pasta in soups, I always cook the pasta separately. Otherwise, it soaks up too much stock, resulting in a stew rather than a soup. If there are leftovers, I like to add additional stock to the pot to compensate for the liquid absorbed by the pasta.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce

This recipe involves sear-roasting. First you sear the pork on the stovetop, then you finish it off in the oven. Be sure to use a skillet that's oven safe (for example, no rubber handles).

(serves two adults and two children)

3  thick-cut boneless pork chops (at least an inch thick)
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
½ c dry white wine
½ c chicken stock
¾ c heavy cream
¼ c Dijon mustard

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Season both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper.

3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or other heavy, ovenproof skillet) over a high flame, adding a film of olive oil. When the oil is very hot, sear the chops for 3 minutes, then turn them with tongs and place the skillet in the hot oven. Roast until the chops are cooked through but not dry, about 10 minutes.

4. Remove the skillet from the oven. Transfer the chops to a serving dish and tent them with aluminum foil to keep warm. Pour off any excess fat from the skillet and return it to the stovetop over medium-high heat.

5. Add the wine to deglaze the skillet. (Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the skillet so that the wine dissolves the flavorful browned bits more easily). Reduce the wine by half, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, heavy cream, and mustard. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Drizzle over the pork chops and serve.

• Because the skillet gets quite hot in the oven, you should never touch it with your bare hand. I always keep an oven mitt on the handle, just in case I reach for it without thinking.