Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

DSCN4255I get my inspiration for dinner in all sorts of random ways.  Sometimes just a whiff of something wafting through the air will remind me of a ghost of flavors past.  Sometimes a color engenders a need for the flesh of something similarly hued.  But usually, I trawl food porn websites like Tastespotting or FoodGawker (neither of which has ever accepted any of my photos for their site — a challenge I will continue to try to overcome!) for images that get my juices running.  I also skim the menus for restaurants I can’t afford and try to make what I read there, so that I can enjoy their chef’s imagination without having to pay those prices (sorry peeps, we’re on a *very* tight budget these days).  For this meal, I have The Phantom Gourmet to thank – sort of.  I often have their TV show on local Boston-area restaurants playing in the background while I’m futzing around on Sunday mornings.  Sometimes they have my complete attention, but more often than not I just hear what they’re talking about — and that’s what happened here.  I vaguely overheard something about creamed corn, and something about a skillet — and that’s all I needed.  Creamed corn is one of my favorite side dishes, hailing from my mother-in-law’s down-home redneck kitchen; she’d pick the corn herself from their garden and spent hours and hours creaming it and freezing it in gallon bags to eat throughout the year.  I never went to visit without picking up a few frosty sacks of that golden goodness, but now that we live 2000 miles away I have to make it myself.  And although I LOVE her simple Southern recipe, I have made some adjustments to mine to amp up the deliciousness to Lolita standards.  In this case, a piping hot cast iron skillet blisters a healthy serving of cheesy creamy corn, topped with some flaky pan-seared flounder, chunks of bacon, gemstones of purple beets, and an artful drizzle of bright, herbaceous cilantro oil.  A filling but also light warm winter’s night meal, wholesome and delicious.  I think Rose, my mother in law, were she here in Boston instead of down in rural Georgia, would agree.

Creamed Corn Skillet with Flounder, Beets, Bacon, and Cilantro Oil

1 bag frozen yellow corn
4 slices bacon
2 beets
1 bunch cilantro
3/4 lb flounder filets
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
1 cup heavy cream
4 tbs butter, divided
2″ sprig fresh rosemary
sea salt, cracked black pepper
flour for dusting
juice of 1 lemon

DSCN4238My beets will take the longest, so I get them started by scrubbing them clean.  I’m really only planning to use a few little cubes — I have a vision, y’see? — but cooked beets hold well so I’ll use the leftovers tomorrow in a salad.  (I know I said I hate leftovers, but beets are an exception, since they taste as good cold as warm.)

DSCN4243They get doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and paired with my sprig of rosemary, then wrapped tightly in foil paper.  I throw them in the oven on 350 for an hour or so – until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork.  (In all honesty, I was baking cookies in the oven at the same time, and I sort of just let these go until I’d made all 6 batches.  You can’t really overcook a beet.   But I was worried that my cookies would taste like rosemary, since the oven was so redolent with the scent … they didn’t.)  It takes beets a while to cool, so I let them do so on the counter for about 20 minutes, so I could peel them and dice them before setting them aside.

DSCN4240Next, I remove the leaves from a bunch of cilantro and throw them into my blender thingy.  I add about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt and pepper, and a blend the hell out of it until I have a thick green viscous liquid.

DSCN4241Using my mesh spoon, I strain the green oil from its solids…

DSCN4242… using a spoon to press as much flavor and color out as possible.  I pour the oil into a squeeze bottle.  The rest of the green delish mush can be frozen and used to flavor something needing a pop of cilantro paste later.

DSCN4245Time for the creamed corn.

DSCN4246It all starts with bacon.  I chop my slices up roughly, and fry the bits out with lots of black pepper.

DSCN4247I remove the bacon to a paper plate to drain, then wipe most of grease out – leaving about a teaspoon of fat and as much of the toasted black pepper as possible in the pan as well.

DSCN4250I then set the heat to medium low, add the corn, cream, and grated cheese to the pan and get everything to a low simmer.

DSCN4251As that heats, I prep my flounder.  This huge filet came from Whole Foods today.  I had to trim a bit o’ skin off one edge, but it was a beautiful piece of fish.

DSCN4252As is easiest – and often best – with flounder, I toss it with salt, pepper, and flour…

DSCN4253… and pan-sear it in brown butter over high heat for about 4 minutes on each side.

This last bit went really fast, and I didn’t get to catch the picture.  After my fish is fully cooked, I move the pan off the heat, and place my two 8″ skillets onto two hot burners on my stovetop.  Using my hand blender, I whir a cup of my creamed corn into a thick mush before returning it to its saucepan for a hearty stir.  Then I pour half of the corn into each skillet – which are now hot – bringing the liquid gold to a bursting, bubbling boil.

DSCN4256I layer my planks of tender seared flounder over my thick, rich cheese and corn gravy.  A handful of perfect ruby beet cubes provide cool bites of sweetness, while the unctuous chunks of bacon stud the dish with salt and savor.  Generous squirts of cilantro oil add green to the visual and grass notes to the palate.  The sizzling pans keep the meal hot until the last bite, which Clayton and I scraped up with some crusty buttered bread.  I  need to use these cast iron babies more often, because every time I do, magic like this happens.

The Shiznet Cheezit Baked Flounder with Farm Fresh Garden Salad

I’ve been second guessing myself lately.  In the face of other home chefs I’ve met, what I see other bloggers do in their kitchens, what’s been on the covers of magazines and on the menus of fine restaurants, and what folks’ve been whipping up on the myriad cooking competitions I watch on TV, I’m thinking that my cooking has become too pedestrian lately.  It’s not been haute couture.  It’s not been “gourmet”. It’s not been particularly inspired, or overwhelmingly challenging, or slavishly time-consuming. I haven’t suffered, or bled, or burned, or cried over deflated souffles.  At least — these are the self-deprecating remarks that have been echoing inside the caverns of my brain recently.  And I don’t like them.  Because, frankly, this blog is about what Lolita eats, and this is what I’ve been eating — and enjoying, dammit! — all summer long.  Why should I feel guilty about freshly picked vegetables, locally sourced meats and seafood, and cooking al fresco on my little electric grill to save energy and escape the stifling indoor heat?  Why should I spend more money than I can afford on ingredients to compete with the black truffles and sharks’ fins and lobes of foie gras I see on cooking shows?  Why should I eschew deliciousness if it isn’t hoity-toity?  I shouldn’t!  And I won’t!  So I’m taking my second guesses and I’m throwing them in the compost pile, where they can fester for themselves before they eventually disintegrate into the earth, and I’m going uber-pedestrian today with this little gem: a slap-yo-mammy fantastic combination of farmer’s market flounder and fruit, with some Star Market crushed Cheezits for a buttery topping.  Cheezits, you say?  Like, those little square crackers in the big red box?  Clayton loves ’em for his lunches, and so, having these one hand — the Swiss cheese variety, no less, oooh la la! — I subbed them for the more suburban-traditional Ritz Cracker topping with an outstanding result!  Sharp and savory crunchy crackers coating a buttery, flaky, so-fresh-they’re practically still wiggling flounder filets served with a sumptuous salad overflowing with tender sweet berries, plump tart tomatoes, and creamy North End mozzarella cheese.  There’s nothing like a light, ultra-quick, and super simple dinner of fish and salad to get your motor running.  Hoity-toity be hanged — this was the shiznet!

The Shiznet Cheezit Baked Flounder with Farm Fresh Garden Salad

1 lb fresh flounder filets
1 cup Cheezit crackers (this is the Swiss Cheese variety, but I venture to guess they’ll all work)
3 tbs butter
green leaf lettuce
golden and ruby raspberries
tiny tomatoes
red onion
fresh mozzarella
the juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and cracked black pepper

This meal was so easy to make I barely had enough images to shoot for pedagogical purposes, but I snapped some nonetheless.  I started by putting my Cheezits into a zipper bag before I pounded them with the flat of a large spoon.

The result is a coarse breadcrumb, already salted and perfectly crunchy.

WARNING!  The next image is grody.  Grody, but instructional…

The delicate pink little figure eight you see here is called Phocanema decipiens — commonly known as nemotodes, or the cod, or round, worm.  It’s a tiny wee parasite that enjoys living in the flesh or stomachs of white fish, and it’s pretty dang common.  It’s got a real interesting lifestyle, and if you want to know more, here’s a good description of how this bugger found it’s way into my kitchen.  The average supermarket consumer doesn’t see them – or really know about them – in their cod or flounder or hake because these buggers die off when fish is frozen, which most of it is before coming to market.  Even the “fresh” fish sold at Whole Foods was frozen before it got to their glistening displays, although it was likely frozen at sea during the haul and brought to market within a few short days of the catch.  But for fish sold fresh off the boat, yanked right out of the water, never frozen and delivered same day, by folks like my new old friends Carolyn and Chris Manning at Fresh Fish and Lobster (from whence I purchased my filets, at the Harvard University Farmer’s Market), one or two of these little wigglers is par for the course.  This guy was inching across my cutting board searching for escape when I saw him, squealed like a frightened child, and then snatched him up with my paper towel. But before I threw him in the trash, it occurred to me that you, dear readers, might not be aware of this arc on the cycle of sea-life – despite how unnerving it is to know about.  So I opened my paper wad and took focus while I watched him wriggle and coil – still *very* much alive.  But cooking fish well will kill off these guys; you don’t really want one setting up shop in your innards (which they can, albeit rarely, do).  OK – ’nuff gross stuff.  Let’s get back to the yummy.

I’ve patted dry my fish filets and laid them out in a single layer in a large oblong pyrex baking dish greased up with butter.  They get sprinkled with salt and pepper before I blanket them with pulverized snack crackers.

 I’ve melted my butter, and I now pour it over the crackers and fish as evenly as possible.  My oven has been preheated to 400°, and I slide my dish – uncovered – into its maw to bake for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile – I assemble my simple, but elegant, salad.   These golden and ruby raspberries are from a Concord farm nearby, the lettuce and onion from Busa Farms, the tomatoes from our roof-deck garden, and the mozz from The Cheese Shop in the North End.  We’re talking super-fresh, totally organic, completely locally sourced, and ma-and-pa business purchased.  A squeeze of lemon juice and a dousing of EVOO is all the salad needs.

After about 15 minutes, my cracker-crumb crust has toasted perfectly, and my fish is fully cooked and sizzling on bottom.  NICE.  Using two flat spatulas side by side, so that the fish don’t break in half (and since I don’t have a super-large fish spatula), I gently lift each filet and place them on my plates.  There’s two for each of us.

Flaky, buttery, mild fresh fish topped with a Swiss Cheezit crust and baked to perfection; firm lactic mozzarella draped over crisp leaves of lettuce and studded with thumb-sized, supremely sweet, bursting juicy red and golden berries and tiny little grape tomatoes. Both warm and cooling, of the sea and of the land, tonight’s dinner satisfied even the gourmand in me with its freshness and flavor.  I plan to put on the ritz when the weather turns colder and cooking for hours indoors help keep heat in the house, but for now, Ritz’s poor stepcousin the Cheezit is a welcome house-guest, and can come to my dinner table any time.

Turbot II: Turbot with Cauliflower Puree, Ramps, and Fresh Garbanzo Beans

I know the last recipe I posted was turbot, but what can I say?  I love this fish!  I have to admit to having a few sets of pictures that I’ve yet to caption and post, among which are at least two more flaky white fish fillet recipes of the dredged-in-flour-and-pan-seared-in-butter variety.  But it’s spring… and we like to eat light… and fish dishes are just the ticket for that… and flounders of all sorts are in season…

Wait.  Why am I justifying myself?  I can cook whatever I please!  In my kitchen, *I’m* boss!

(Take a deep breath, Lisa.  Ooooommmmm……)

What you’ll need, for Arnold-esque “sweetness and light”, on a plate, in 30 minutes:

10-12 fresh ramps (or wild (or baby) leeks)
1/4 lb fresh garbanzo beans (I’d never seen them before — nor the ramps, for that matter — which is why I bought ’em)
1 lemon
1 head cauliflower
1/5-1/4lb bleu cheese
1 stick butter
2 turbot fillets
sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, flour (not pictured, but heartily used)

Set up your bamboo steamer baskets.  You do have some, right?  Because they are the East’s gift to we Westerners, who think “microwaving” equates to cooking.  (Sorry.  My snobbery is slipping.)  Anyway, trim the florets of cauliflower from the stem, and layer those beautiful bits into the bottom two baskets of bamboo.  Spread your fresh garbanzo beans (or edamame) on the top basket…

… layer all three over a few cups of water in a wok, cover, and set the heat to high to steam all the green and white goodness through.  About 5 minutes for the garbanzos, and 15 minutes for the cauliflower (which you want to puree, so you’ll want it to be able to squish it with a fork).

After all is steamed and done, shell your garbanzos and set them aside.  They’re going to be a nice, toothsome garnish.

When your cauliflower is easily split with the side of a fork, move it to the largest bowl your terribly stocked wee kitchen has.  You want to add a cup of 1/2 and 1/2, some sea salt, cracked black pepper, and cracked white pepper.  Then scratch your head to figure out how to puree it without plastering the whole kitchen.   A blender you say?  Sure!  If I had one (read: which I would, if I had the room to *store* one).  All I’ve got is a hand-blender…

While you’re figuring that out, melt 1 tbs butter and 1 tbs EVOO in a hot, large skillet.  For the fish.

Stroke of genius!  I remember this trick from Cook’s Illustrated about how to keep your peppercorns from scattering all over your kitchen floor while you pound it with your marble mortar and pestle.  I am totally out of cling wrap, but I have this crappy “press and seal” stuff from some isolated camping trip several years ago, which served the basic purpose.  The idea is to wrap it tightly around the bowl, cutting a slit in the middle to slide your, er, pulverizer (be it pestle or hand-blender) through. Then blend/pound away!  Although the slit will expand with the vigor of the action, the cover will still be effective enough to contain any wontonly whipped or whacked bits from flying out.

Oh, dredge your fillets in sea salt, black pepper, and some flour, shake off the excess, then lay them side by side in your nice, hot, melted butter EVOO skillet.  Sear them for 2-3 minutes on each side, flipping them carefully.  When cooked, remove from the pan, reserving the butter, to which you can add the juice of one lemon, and another pat of butter to make a quick simple sauce.

In the now-empty wok in which you steamed your other greens, melt another tablespoon of butter and tablespoon of EVOO.   When nice and hot, add your ramps, and toss them well, sauteeing them through to softened heads and tender leaves.  If you start these the same time as your fish, you’ll be timing everything well.

A delightfully delicious ethereal blend of cauliflower fluff and whipped bleu cheese pillows a flaky fillet of fresh white buttery turbot seared to a sweet golden brown, served with sauteed ramps, and some simple sea-salt and EVOO dressed steamed garbanzo beans.  Light but delicious, this vegetable-filled seafood meal has a complex selection of textures complimented by a simple combination of fresh flavors.  Just what the doctor ordered for hump-day of hell-week in my little corner of the world…

Caper Butter Black Back Flounder with Pasta Carbonara

After ten years of carlessness, Clayton’s new gig calls for transportation, so today we went car shopping.  It was dreary and rainy, cold and grey, and after surveying various car dealerships, we’ve got some ideas, but have made no decisions.  What it was easy to decide upon, however, was that we should take advantage of our Boston North Shore drive to purchase some fresh-from-the-Atlantic seafood.  Today’s catch: black-back flounder fillets, served with an easy simple fresh wavy ribbon pasta carbonara.

What you’ll need:

1/2 lb fresh pancetta
2 egg yolks
4 nests of fresh cut pasta (about 1/2 lb)
1 lemon
4 fillets of flounder (1 lb total)
sea salt and pepper
5 cloves garlic
2 tbs olive oil
1/2 cup capers (rinsed of salt)

(optional: two fresh stuffed clams, which they had at the fishmonger’s, which we enjoyed as appetizers)

Oh, and 1 stick of butter.  Indulgence.  It makes life worth living.

This is a species of flounder I’d not yet tried, but we enjoy sole and turbot, so we thought we’d give this lovely a spin.  Whenever I try a new white fish like this, I do *nothing* but dredge it in flour, before pan-sauteeing it in browned butter.  To my mind, without a broiler (which I do not have), this is the simplest way to prepare this sort of fish while highlighting its natural sweet, tender succulence.

We bought this lovely pancetta at Duckworth Beach Gourmet, where we also purchased our pasta for tonight, and a boll of fresh mozzarella and two links of house-made sweet italian sausage for tomorrow’s dinner (or Monday night’s).  I diced it small, then diced it even smaller again.

This meal needs to be executed quickly, with all dished cooking simultaneously.  I set up a pot of water to boil on a back burner, to boil my pasta; I set up a large skillet also on a back burner, on high heat, melting butter, to pan-sear my flounder; and I set up my wok, on medium heat, with 2 tablespoons of EVOO to sautee my pancetta and cook my pasta sauce.

Sautee your pancetta, tossing often, to fully  cook and crisp through.

Add two of your floured flouder fillets to the hot, sizzling butter in your large skillet.  Sear for 4-5 minutes.

Meanwhile, your pancetta should be crisping nicely on each edge.

Add your minced garlic to the pan, lowering the heat so that you don’t brown the garlic.

Here’s how to flip your fish — once it’s browned nicely on one side (for lefties, do the opposite of this procedure): holding the handle of your pan in your left hand, tilt it to the right, and slide the right-most fillet onto a plastic spatula.  Pick that fillet up, and – while it’s elevated – shake/slide the remaining fillet to the bottom/tilted-down right-side of the pan.  Flip the fillet from your spatula onto its uncooked side on the left side of your now-held level pan.  Then, pick up the fillet now on the right side, tilt your pan right-side downwards, sliding/shaking the freshly flipped fillet to the bottom edge, and flip the elevated fillet uncooked-side down onto the now vacant left side of the pan.  It’s like a three-card monty sort of switcharoo, only with two cards… of fish.

Once each side is cooked fully, remove to your plates and keep warm. Cook as many fillets as you need per person (this is two per), then add 1/4 cup capers to your still sizzling butter, then squeeze the juice of one lemon into the pan, cooking over high heat and stirring well, to make your simple brown butter caper sauce.

Oh, I;ve dropped my fresh pasta into my boiling water.  It only needs about 4 minutes to cook.

Once cooked to a nice al dente, strain your pasta — reserving at least a 1/2 to 1 cup of the starchy cooking water for your sauce — into your cooked pancetta and garlic blend.  Toss well, coating all your pasta with the sweet savory meat bits and fats.

Separate your yolks, beat them, and add them to your hot pasta and pancetta, which has now been removed from the heat.  Whisk very well, very rapidly, adding enough of your reserved cooking water to the pan to achieve the right consistency.  If you have some fresh grated parmesan, add about 1/2 cup here.  Stir well… very very well, but very very quickly.  This will cool fast.

My firm but flaky flounder fillets are dressed with my simple caper brown pan butter.  My firm and frilly fresh pasta is dressed with pancetta, garlic, and egg yolks, cooked creamy and richly in its own heat.  A light but induglent meal, pulled fresh from today’s storm-tossed Atlantic coast, crafted by artisans from the North Shore, and concocted by lil’ ol’ me.