Potato Wrapped Cod with Bacony Garlicky Greens

2014-01-03 19.36.09Happy New Year, my dear blog friends!  I hope you and yours have had a healthy and happy holiday, and that you’ve eaten as well as I have since the last time I checked in.  It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for me – filled with friends and frolic – but I’ve missed sharing with you what Lolita has been making and eating.  I’ll start back again today with an elegant, delicious meal I’ve tried a few times before with limited success.  It’s the technique really; I’d never effectively executed the pan-searing of this lovely piece of scallop-potato wrapped whitefish before, at least, not without the potato slices falling off whenever I tried to flip the fillet.  But I’m not one to give up, especially on a succulent meal, and after doing a little research online about how others have made this lovely spud-swaddled delicacy successfully, I tried it again with incredible results.  A crispy wrapping of thinly sliced potatoes is *exactly* what a plank of cod needs to make it something extra-special, and when served atop a bed of bacony garlic greens, it makes a perfect meal: balanced, light, and helluva tasty, yo.

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Potato Wrapped Cod with Bacony Garlicky Greens

1lb cod fillet
2 slices bacon
1 large russet potato
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch lacinato kale
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons EVOO
hickory smoked garlic salt, crushed black pepper, crushed red pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 qt frying oil
(Ignore those mushrooms and that onion; I didn’t end up using them)

2014-01-03 15.39.10I start by peeling my potato, removing as many surface blemishes as possible.

2014-01-03 15.55.19Using my mandoline’s lowest setting, I slice my potato into the longest wafers I can.  I drop these into a bowl of water to keep them from turning color.

2014-01-03 15.58.20I layer the slices of potato between sheets of paper towel to dry them once I’m finished slicing up the whole spud.

2014-01-03 16.03.02After heating my quart of oil to 375, I drop a few slices of potato into the fat at a time, par-frying them for barely a moment.

2014-01-03 16.04.23Fishing them out with a slotted or mesh spoon, I lay them in a single layer across some fresh paper towels (with a paper bag underneath for extra absorption) to soak up all the excess oil.  This par-frying technique softens the slices by leeching off a good deal of the starch; this makes them easier to wrap around the fish.

2014-01-03 16.18.58Speaking of which: look at that beautiful thing.  I asked the fishmonger at Whole Foods for this mostly uniform sized and shaped plank of cod, so I could cut it into two equally sized pieces – one for me, and one for the husbandman.

2014-01-03 16.20.23Some dear friends of mine (Hey, Montana Palmers!) sent me a lovely care packages of their homemade spices as a Christmas present, and I’ve been working them all into my recipes ever since they arrived.  This hickory smoked garlic salt was just the fit for this meal.  I sprinkle it, and some cracked black pepper, generously over my fish.

2014-01-03 16.23.09After laying down a large piece of plastic wrap, I assemble my slices of potatoes by overlapping them at the very edges and ends to form a “sheet” large enough to accommodate my plank of fish.  It takes 8 slices for each piece.

2014-01-03 16.27.17I place my piece of fish on the center seam of spuds…

2014-01-03 16.27.43… and using the plastic wrap, I wrap one half of the spuds over the fish.  I lay that part of the plastic wrap on the counter again…

2014-01-03 16.28.10… before using the other side of the wrap to lift and layer the other side of the spuds over the fish, overlapping the potato slices already in place.

2014-01-03 16.28.46Then I tightly seal the plastic wrap around the whole package, before repeating with the other portion of fish.  I place these beauties in the refrigerator to chill for about an hour.

2014-01-03 17.52.51Meanwhile, I cut my two slices of bacon into inch long pieces before frying them out in a large pan.

2014-01-03 19.05.27I also prep my kale by removing the stems and cutting each leaf into bite sized pieces.  I also mince my 4 cloves of garlic.

2014-01-03 19.08.19After an hour, my potato slices have adhered to the fish planks nicely, and they’re ready for cooking.  I sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of each “package”…

2014-01-03 19.24.45… and place them in a hot pan in which I’ve heated my butter and EVOO to frothy and sizzling.  I cook these arroser, which means I use a deep spoon (I use a miso soup spoon, actually; the flat bottom is very helpful!) to scoop up the fat from the pan and baste the tops of my fish packets while the bottoms sear on the pan’s surface.  Since I have thick pieces of fresh cod, and I want to make sure any worms are safely destroyed (look it up, people – there are Lernaeocera branchialis in most fresh white fish, but cooking to 140° kills ‘em good), I sear on each side – basting continuously – for about 5 minutes.

2014-01-03 19.26.38Meanwhile, I add my kale to the pan with the bacon and cook until slightly wilted.  Then I throw in all my garlic, a few shakes of crushed red pepper, and some salt, and I stir it around really really well.  I don’t want the garlic to burn or brown, but I do want it nicely heated through and thoroughly blended with the greens.

2014-01-03 19.28.42At the last moment, I remove the kale from the heat, shave some parm on it, and plate it.

2014-01-03 19.29.18My fish is ready when each side of it is nicely browned and crispy.

2014-01-03 19.35.47I mix a little Greek yogurt with crushed black pepper and a little lemon juice, stick that into a squeeze bottle, and use it to garnish my lovely fish.  The crispy, potato exterior is the perfect compliment to the flaky fish ensconced within.  The greens are perfectly wilted – still a little toothsome, but not stringy – and the abundance of garlic offsets the unctiousness of the bacon like a champ.  Each bite of this meal is like warm heaven…

Monkfish, Roasted Broccoli, Vidalia Onion Wedges, Bleu Cheese Bacon Cream Sauce

DSCN5080I wanted to eat healthy, so I bought some fish.  But then I bathed it in sauce made from heavy cream cut with butter, bacon, and rich bleu cheese.  Contradiction: meet Lolita’s kitchen.

Who cares?  Tonight I decided to screw healthy and embrace HEAVENLY!!!! (In my mind, I hear boychoirs singing; timpani pulsating; swells of orchestral drama.)  A buttery, sharpcreamy, unctuous pork-bit-laden white sauce enrobes tender-but-toothsome pan-seared poor-man’s-lobsterfish and is accompanied by crunchy caramelized broccoli bites — resulting in a super-sin-fulfilling supper, one my hard-working and intensely studying (for his nursing degree) husband richly deserves, especially between a long day on the clock and a long night of hitting the books.   Warm, rich, and delicious: what else does one need as a digestif to prepare the body for future rounds of intellectual consumption?

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Monkfish, Roasted Broccoli, Vidalia Onion Wedges, Bleu Cheese Bacon Cream Sauce

1lb monkfish
3-4 slices bacon
1-2lb broccoli
1/4lb nice, sticky, quality bleu cheese
1 Vidalia onion
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, spices, flour
1 cup vegetable/canola oil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream

DSCN5064I start with the broccoli, because it takes a while to roast — like 30 minutes at least on 350° F.  I cut it into florets, spread it on a baking sheet, generously douse it with EVOO, sprinkle it with sea salt and cracked black pepper, and finally…

DSCN5065… I very loosely scatter about a teaspoon of granulated white sugar over the broccoli crowns.  Why?  Because it makes magic! A touch of sugar + salt + oil + heat = crunchy but tender, toasted-tipped, uber-broccoli-flavored broccoli.  Just trust me — try it — and you will believe.  I shove the baking sheet into the oven and roast everything for the next 30-40 minutes.

DSCN5067While the broccoli roasts, I fry my bacon.

DSCN5068Vidalia onions are super-sweet.  You can eat them like apples – really! (Although you may not want to hook up with anyone right afterwards without a visit from Uncle Listerine.)  I saw them at the market, bought one, and had sliced it up for frying before I even really knew what I was doing.

DSCN5069I threw some flour and this seasoned salt I bought in Chinatown who-knows-when into a ziplock bag….

DSCN5070… then threw the onions into the bag, and shook ‘em up real good to coat.

DSCN5072I added about a cup of vegetable oil to the bacon grease I’d reserved in the pan, heated it it sizzling over medium high heat, and then shook my onions free of flour before chucking them into the fat. Because they are fairly thick (I cut wedges about 1/2″ thick), they contain a lot of water, so they take some time to fry — about 10 minutes, with me constantly turning them to cook them evenly.

DSCN5073When they are crunchy on the outside and tenderhot on the inside, they’re ready.  So, you get to taste test until they’re right.  It’s a hard life (and, as it turns out, this is mostly just a garnish).

DSCN5074The monkfish I cut into roughly 4 equal planks, then I toss them in salted flour.

DSCN5075I get my butter and a glug of EVOO hot in the same pan from whence I fried my onions, only I’ve wiped it out first.  I think monkfish looks like something HR Giger would dream up – but he would probably include in his twisted vision their deliciousness.  It is truly one of the sea’s ugly suckling ducklings.  (Read: it tastes good, but looks beastly – alive or filleted.)  But regardless of their off-putting appearance, I saute them in the hot fat, spooning the butteroil over the exposed surfaces while the undersides deeply pan-sear.  I flip them each time the underedge crisps to golden (so about 4-6 times, every 2-3 minutes).

DSCN5076Once the fish has cooked mostly through (about 10 minutes total), I add my heavy cream and bacon, which I’ve roughly chopped.

DSCN5078I then crumble some of my bleu cheese into the baconcream, which I let simmer until completely melted, messing impatiently with it every once-in-a-I’m-ready-to-eat-now! while.

DSCN5079If you are on a diet, don’t eat this.  But if you need to pamper yourself with rich sumptuousness, go for it.  I did.  Tender, buttery fish, creamy bleu cheese sauce, crunchy broccoli and sweet fried onions – a symphony of tastes and textures. We ate.  Lustily.  And Clayton is currently – after indulging in this soul-strengthening heartfilling repast – conquering micro-bio with determination, vigor, and intelligence.  Tomorrow, maybe I’ll make a salad.  Today: WE DINED.  You should, too.

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
milk
EVOO
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.

Brandied Cream of Mushroom Soup with Butter Poached Monkfish

Tonight’s dinner was mildly inspired by something Whole Foods did NOT have when I went for an early lunch the other day. It was barely 11:15am, and they were transitioning from breakfast to lunch on their hot bar; most of the soups were set up, but one tureen — the one labeled Cream of Mushroom Soup, which I really wanted — was empty.  Well, I wanted lunch RIGHT THEN, and darned if I was going to wait the 2 or 3 minutes it probably would have taken for the dude to bring out that soup, so I cobbled together some salad and whatnot to eat then, promising myself I’d make my own Cream of Mushroom soup for dinner.  Thinking, however, that I might need a bit more substance to my meal than just pureed fungus, I picked up a nice loin of monkfish with the vague idea that I could incorporate it somehow.  The result?  A perfect marriage of richly scented, umame laden mushroom cream and gently butter-poached and pan-seared monkfish, all topped off with cooling creme fraiche and bright cilantro oil.  The ideal dinner for an Indian summer’s evening after enjoying a riverside view of the regatta we Cambridge locals know as the Head of the Charles.

Brandied Cream of Mushroom Soup with Butter Poached Monkfish

2 lbs mixed mushrooms (these are white button, crimini, and portobello)
2 shallots
4-5 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cups vegetable broth (I used bullion cubes reconstituted with water)
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup brandy
sea salt, cracked black pepper
2 sticks butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 tb water
3/4 lb monkfish loin

I start by washing my mushrooms thoroughly (there’s nothing worse than eating dirt grit), then chopping them roughly.

I sliced my shallots and chop my garlic.

In my big stockpot, I saute my aromatics with sea salt and cracked black pepper until just translucent.

In go my mushrooms, which I toss well to heat through.  They’ll begin to soften and melt, releasing their brown liquids into the pot.

I add my vegetable stock, lower the heat to medium, cover, and let simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the volume of my mushrooms had reduced enough for them to start drowning in the liquid in the pot.

Like so.

Using my hand blender, I whirr my soup until it is almost completely smooth, leaving some of it still chunky for texture.  If you have a blender, you can work in batches to do the same thing.

At this point I drop the temperature to low, and add my heavy cream.  I whisk this in well, then keep the soup warm until service, when I’ll add the brandy for a final 15 minute simmer.

Time for monkfish – a.k.a. the “poor man’s lobster”.  It’s an ugly fish, but if prepared correctly it truly does have a very lobster appeal.

As the sun outside sets, and I lose my light (this beam is actually reflecting off of a mirrored surface in the living room, shooting a narrow shaft of light on my kitchen counter), I cut the fish into 4 roughly equal cubes, using a couple toothpicks to pin the thinnest end piece into shape.  (I do this for both presentation purposes, and to make sure each piece of fish poaches at the same speed.)

I’ve butter poached a few times before on this blog (here and here), and the technique has been popping up on hoity-toity menus all over the place.  As fancy sounding as it is, it’s totally easy.  It starts with a little water and a lot of butter.

To make the beurre monté, which is what the poaching liquid is called by the hoi-polloi, start by bringing your little bit of water and a few cold cubes of butter to a simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly to emulsify the fat with the liquid.

Like so.  Keep adding a couple cubes at a time, whisking until the last batch is completely incorporated before adding more butter.

The trick to keeping this from breaking (read: clotting, or turning back into separated solids and liquids) is to maintain very low heat – no higher than 180 degrees.  Since I’m using too little liquid here to read on a thermometer, I just have to wing it – but basically my electric range’s lowest setting is about as high as I went.

When all my butter has been added to the pot, I gently place my salted and peppered pieces of fish into the liquid.  I let them cook for about 5 minutes on this side…

… before carefully turning them over so they can just cook through.  If you look at the picture above, you’ll see how there is still a wee bit of rareness in the very center of the piece of fish — I want this translucence to fade to opacity, which requires about 5 more minutes.

I almost forgot about my croutons.  Using a fresh baguette, I make some wee rounds of bread, which I brush with a bit of the poaching liquid (it is, after all, pretty much just butter) on each side before dusting with garlic powder and baking on 350 for about 4 minutes on each side, until just toasted.

I’ve also whipped up a quick cilantro oil.  It’s about 1/2 cup EVOO, 2 tbs lemon juice, some salt, pepper, the leaves from one bunch of cilantro and 1/2 bunch of parsley (about 1 cup packed to 1/2 cup packed, respectively). I whirr all this together with my blender and set it aside.  All this for just a drizzle?  Yes, please!

Finally, the last garnish is a wee bit of creme fraiche.  Sour cream might have worked, but I felt splurgy.

Right before plating, I pan sear my monkfish to caramelize it ever so slightly on top.  I’ve removed them from the poaching liquid, and then pressed them into a sizzling hot pan.  The butter absorbed and stuck to the flesh will sear each protein in about 2 minutes.

Finally, I add my brandy to my soup, raise the heat to medium so that it can boil off a bit, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Hearty, warm, and satisfying, this thick and rich soup gladdens my soul.  The tender, juicy, buttery monkfish fall apart when touches by my spoon, and I try to enjoy a bit of fish, creme, and cilantro oil with every mouthful of mushroom puree I can.  The croutons are the perfect sopping vehicle, and a little of the foamy butter from the fish-searing pan adds a nice nutty element to all the deliciousness already in my bowl.  Although I stretched the cooking of this meal out over an afternoon, in reality it took only about an hour of active prep time, so I’m going to have to remember this for an average weeknight meal.  Because that, people, is how I roll.

Swordfish Amandine with Chili Cucumber and Courgettes

Sometimes I fear that my tastes seem limited to meals enriched with butters and creams and cheeses and ingredients that, frankly, don’t run a very wide gamut.  But then I remind myself (which I feel certain I’ve done “out loud” on several different occasions in several different posts on this here blog – IRONY!)  that my title is “What Lolita Eats”, and that I do, truthfully, represent what I actually consume.  If that includes the same ingredients several postings over, well – that illustrates how a family of 2 often has to use up all the stuff it buys, which sometimes takes two or three meals in succession.  After all, I don’t eat a WHOLE head of lettuce in a single sitting, especially if I have main courses, bread courses, and whatnot – but nor do I want the rest of the lettuce to go to waste.  Would that I could be the Pioneer Woman or Jaden Hair – they make miracles happen! – but I’m just lowly Lolita, on a perpetually tight budget, and with but two mouths to feed in a society that packs in bulk.

But tonight I totally shook it up, using common enough ingredients yet in a way that really came together as something different and special.  I have two different blogs to thank for the inspiration: Food 52 and What Did You Eat.  Of course, I couldn’t pull up these recipes when I needed them (because of both a fritzy phone and a strange issue with Tastespotting), so I had to make them more or less from memory, which explains why they are different than their sources, but the results were excellent nonetheless.  Juicy, rich swordfish steaks in a surprising sweethot citrus amandine sauce, served with a cool cucumber & courgette salad wilted in warm spicy sesame dressing.  And all without a pat of butter, an ounce of cream, or a whit of cheese.

Swordfish Amandine with Chili Cucumber and Courgettes

2 6-8oz fresh swordfish steaks
1 medium cucumber
1 medium yellow courgette (squash)
6-8 oz fresh orange juice
1 stalk lemongrass
2″ peeled fresh ginger
2 tiny serrano peppers
3-4 dried red chilies
3 tbs mirin
EVOO and toasted sesame oil
spicy mystery salt, sea salt, ground black pepper
4 oz slivered raw almonds
2 small shallots
cilantro (preferably fresh, but Whole Foods was out!)
fresh snipped chives

I start by removing the seeds and ribs from my serrano peppers, using gloves (since every time I touch a pepper I have uncontrollable urges to stick my fingers in my eyes – resulting in searing, blinding, weeping pain) and slicing a few thin disks off my peeled ginger.

Along with one de-seeded and roughly chopped dried red chili, I add these ingredients and my orange juice to a small saucepan and bring the heat to boil.

Once it starts to roil, I lower the heat to medium and allow the liquid to reduce to at least half its original volume.

When it reaches a nice, thin syrupy consistency….

…. I strain out the solids, and reserve the spicy orange glaze for a bit later.

These might be some of the last vegetables of Clayton’s making that we shall enjoy from the farm.  Deep, sad sigh.  Unfortunately, farming is a tough biz, and not a particularly lucrative one when one isn’t “family”, and since I’m no sugar-mama, Clayton’s had to leave the farm in search of a career that will actually help us pay our bills.  But brighter horizons are in view!  He’s going back to school, he is – and will one day soon be the best damn nurse you ever did see!  I’m proud of you, baby – and I know you can do it!  But back to business: this lovely cucumber and stout little squash are featuring as the cool in tonight’s hot dinner: I start by removing most of their skin in strips, leaving a few stripes to add texture.  Naomi and Jeff – the authors of this particular recipe – suggested cutting them into planks, but since I didn’t have the details in front of me I ended up slicing them into 1/8″ rounds (thin, but not paper-thin).  I set them aside in a bowl while I worked.

Whoops!  I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, since the fish will take about 20 minutes to cook – as long as I need to make the dressing.  I sprinkle both steaks liberally with my Japanese mystery salt (which I’ve used a lot lately, to be sure) to impart the peppery, five-spicy flavor I love so much.

They go out on Little Red, basted with 1/2 of the orange glaze (the other 1/2 will be used in the sauce), and flipped at the halfway point of their 20 minute cook time.  But while this is happening…

… I’ve wiped out my small saucepan to set it to work again.  I also break out my large saucepan, since I’ve got two more preparations before dinner is ready: the amandine sauce, and the salad dressing.  I add a glug each of toasted sesame oil and EVOO to both pans, and set their temps to medium high.

First off is the salad dressing, for which I’ve minced the rest of my peeled ginger, my other serrano pepper, and two dried chilies (seeds and ribs removed – since I’m a wuss).

They get added to the small saucepan along with some of my dried cilantro, then swirled and simmered until all the flavors combine.

This gets tossed over the sliced veggies, and tossed VERY well.  The sizzling oil wilts the crisp courgette and cucumber slightly, and imparts a nutty, hot and spicy savor.  I place the bowl in the fridge to chill slightly.  Naomi and Jeff’s recipe was significantly different – they used some sugar and rice vinegar, and added fresh cilantro, all of which I hope to try next time – but the basic idea I think still holds true.

Meanwhile, I chop my chives, slice my shallots, and try not to snack on my almonds in preparation of the sauce for the fish.  The recipe called for toasted almonds, but I just used raw.

First, I saute the shallots and half the chives in my oil blend.

Next, I add the almonds and gently saute them as well.

Finally, I add the remainder of the orange glaze and my dried cilantro, drop the heat to low, and allow the mixture to blend.  The shallots have been gently caramelizing this whole time, and they will now absorb the rich citrus flavor of the glaze, punching up their sweetness and the sauce’s complexity.

Mouthwatering swordfish is topped with nutty, tendercrunchy almonds dripping in intense sweetness and herbaceous wonderfulness.  The side salad is simultaneously super-cool and spicy-hot, crunchy and tender, light and rich.  Together, these two courses are packed with enticing, piquant, and distinctive flavors, leaving my tongue awash with sublime sensations.  This is what we call “company dinner” at our house: too bad for my friends I didn’t invite anyone over to share!

Weeknight Wondermeal: Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

Those of you who follow my blog know that I am a total fish-head this time of year.  If it swims in the ocean, bottom-feeds off the sea-floor, or otherwise spends its life in salt-water, I want it during the summer.  Perhaps it’s because I’m a pretty poor swimmer; maybe if I eat more sea-creatures, I’ll absorb their floating abilities and be able to improve my dog-paddle.  I know, I know – suggesting that ingesting swimming things to make me a better swimmer is as logical as thinking that pears and avocados would taste good together because they have the same silhouette, but they DO taste good together, so…. (I’ll leave you to construct an irrefutable ratiocination for my syllogism).  Anyhoo – after the super-hot, thoroughly humid, and completely unpleasant weather recently (which threatened violent thunderstorms that never came, leaving us without the welcome break from humidity rain usually brings), I wasn’t too hungry either – so a light dinner was in order.  Hake is a nice, flaky white-fish, kind of like cod or haddock, and is perfect for a pan-sear.  Along with some quickly minced olives for a garnish and an easy side salad, this fresh, healthy supper was just right: it took only about 15 minutes to make, used very little heat (only one pan to quickly sear the fish), and cost only $20.  Technically, I made it on the weekend, but it shares all the right characteristics for a Weeknight Wondermeal (cheap, easy, and quick), so I trust you’ll forgive the misnomer…

Hake with Olive Tapenade and Arugula Salad

1 lb fresh hake filet
1 tbs butter
flour
seasoned salt, black pepper
fresh arugula
burrata cheese
tomatoes
fresh basil
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar
4-6 oz mixed olives, the brinier the better

I love this product, even though I have no idea what it really is.  OK – I have an idea: it’s fine sea salt blended with chinese-five spice and some sort of hot pepper, likely schezuan.  But despite the fact that the label is replete with English language errors (they marinated the powder?), it is truly hot and flv. and salty — and it is a really delicious seasoning.  I start by splitting my filet into two roughly equal sized halves (which requires that I cut it lengthwise, since it is thicker at one end – and I need to pieces that will cook in the same amount of time), and dousing them with this salt before dusting them thoroughly with flour.

A glug of EVOO and a pat of butter go into my largest non-stick pan over high heat.  You’ve seen me use this combination before: the EVOO alone can smoke and alter the flavor of the fish, but the butter alone can over-brown.  A mix of the two makes just the right balance of milk-solids to foam and straight oil to sizzle.

See?  Once it’s foaming…

… I gently lay my planks of fish on the froth.  Since these pieces are irregularly shaped, I’ll need to sort of roll them so that they brown on all sides, and I sear for about 3 minutes each time.

Like so.  I’m aiming for a nice golden brown, and for fully-cooked through fish — which takes about 10 minutes total.

Me and my burrata cheese.  I know I am a freak for it, but what can I say?  It’s DELICIOUS!  These three ingredients – tomatoes, basil, and burrata – are the makings of a lovely caprese salad…  …but I had some arugula, too, so I added that to the mix.  Oh – and these are OUR tomatoes, grown in our little garden in the sky, just in case you were wondering.  Their skins are a little thick, but they are wonderfully sweet.  I toss everything together with a little salt and pepper, some EVOO, and some white vinegar.

I honestly don’t know what I did before grocery stores started stocking antipasto bars.  Whole Food has a particularly good selection of olives, and I like to pick and choose some of the sharpest, briniest, and strongest varieties they have.

To remove the pits from those that had ‘em, I smash the olive with the flat of my blade, which sort of cracks them open and allows one to fish out the stone from the center.  Then I chop them all up to make a nice relish sort of thing.

My delicate, flaky fish is blanketed by a healthy sprinkling of salty, flavorful olives – a perfect marriage of mild and strong sensations.  The creamy burrata, peppery arugula, fragrant basil, and sweet tomato salad is a nice compliment.  Since I realized I was hungry nary 20 minutes ago and am now sitting down to dinner, I’m pretty happy with myself.  And the husband?  Why, he’s THRILLED – mostly because it tastes so damn good.

Pan Seared Skate Wing, Molten Cheddar Grits, Wilted Spinach, and Spring Onion Hollandaise

Oh hai Spring!  It’s March in New England but my windows have been open for days, and today I rode through Brighton in a tank-top, getting some much needed sun on my oh-so-pale shoulders. This false spring, as Hemingway called it, is so alluring that I fight against the voices that whisper “global warming” and just bask in the day while I have it.  Of course, with the forecast heralding sunny low 70’s all week, it looks like we’ll be having it at least until next weekend.  To welcome the warm breezes and clear skies, I purchased two angelic skate wings at New Bedford’s seafood mecca, Fisherman’s Market. I draped them in a silky snappy golden hollandaise, and served them with some spinach and grits extraordinaire.  Light fish, rich sauce, cheesy starch, and good greens — what more could a girl want on a perfect Sunday night?

Pan Seared Skate Wing, Molten Cheddar Grits, Wilted Spinach, and Spring Onion Hollandaise

2 skinned, boned, cleaned fresh-smelling skate wings
flour, for dredging
1/2 cup grits
1 1/2 cup water
4 1″ cubes cheddar cheese
2 sticks butter, divided
1 lb fresh spinach leaves
4 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sea salt, black pepper, EVOO
1 large spring onion
(ignore the caperberries in the picture — I ended up not using them)

Good grits require a 1 to 3 ratio: 1/2 cup grits + 1 1/2 cups water = perfection.  While I bring my water, salted, to a boil, I liberally butter up two 6oz ramekins and measure out my grits.

After 10 minutes or so, stirred occasionally, set covered over low heat, with a tablespoon of butter – and they’re perfect.

I fill each ramekin halfway, drop a couple nuggets of a nice raw milk cheddar on top…

…. then fill to the brim with the rest of the hot grits.  These will get set into a 350 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, right before serving, to puff up and bake.

I think I’ve mentioned before how much Clayton and I love animation, cartoons, and comic books.  So we couldn’t resist getting Puss In Boots on demand recently, and we laughed our heads off.  I loved the texture of Humpty’s skin/shell — the perfect representation of an egg’s unique spherical smooth bitty bumped roundness.  My camera doesn’t get as close as I want it to; I need to upgrade.  Anyway, I need the nuclei of four of these babies.

Like so.  (I’m terrible at cracking eggs.  I never get whole yolks, and I never miss getting shell. Sigh.)  I squeeze half a lemon into the bowl and whisk very very well.

Along with a stick of melted butter, whisked over a double boiler, my lemon-juiced eggs froth and firm and double in volume.  I add tablespoons of hot water if it gets thick, and more melted better until I have it…

… just right.  Frothy and rich, I add some chopped spring onion greens, salt and pepper, and set aside until service.

The final – and easiest – component of this meal is the skate wing.  Skate is a type of stingray, a creature of which I have nightmares (as I do of most aquatic life – a mild phobia), but in which I do like to indulge when I see it.  One has to be careful with skate — it can stink of ammonia, so be sure to smell it before buying it (the fishmonger should be happy to hold a filet up to your nose).  I’ve made it before when ammonia permeated the flesh so thoroughly that I had to scrap the whole thing.  But when it’s right, it is a beautiful, delicate, and delicious fish.  All I do is sprinkle both sides with salt and ground pepper, and dredge it in flour.

A couple tablespoons of butter, and a few glugs of EVOO go into my largest non-stick fry pan, set over high heat until it froths.  (At this point, I put my two ramekins of grits into my preheated oven to bake.  They’ll need about 10 minutes – just enough time to finish the fish and spinach.

Both filets lay like angel’s wings, sizzling the second they hit my hot fats.  I recently purchased a crescent shaped spatula, which I flattened against the center of each piece when it began to buckle in off the heat.  About 4 minutes on this side…

…before flipping each to reveal perfectly toasted golden brown deliciousness.  Cook for another 4-5 minutes before moving to warm plates, reserving the leftover grease.

I press my washed spinach leaves into the pan, and turn them over a few times with tongs until they are completely wilted.  I salt and pepper them liberally.

My fish is plated, my spinach is ready, and my little bundles of cheddar and corn are popping out of their dishes.  They’re hard to flip (because they’re hot and slick), but flip them I do.

My plate is a study in swirls: the striated flesh of my skate wing shoulders a swathe of oniony rich thick fluffy golden butter cream, and a coiled nest of wilted greens, and a locus of corn grits with a sharp melting center.  In the light of the setting spring sun, Clayton and I each tuck our napkins under our chins and poise our forks above our dinners.  With a smiling look at each other, and a deep sigh — the kind only the satisfaction of spring can bring – we eat.  And we eat well, dear readers — very, very well.