Wednesday, December 30, 2009

cod with orange, avocado and jalapeno salsa

cara cara orange segments, avocado, red onion, jalapeno, cod
i think the mention of a quick dinner
conjures up images of
pasta with jarred sauce or a pat of butter,
tortillas topped with melted cheese and hot beans,
frozen meals that are heated in the microwave.
maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
but, rarely, when you ask someone for a
speedy dinner suggestion, do they offer up fish.
i'm no exception.
i see shrimp and think, peeling and deveining.
i look at mussels and think, cleaning and debearding.
clams - scrubbing,
salmon - pinbones,
monkfish - membranes.

but the truth is, fish and seafood are both very fast:
shrimp (especially when purchased
ready to cook) and scallops
are just a literal flash in the pan,
clams and mussels steam open
in minutes
and fillets of fish?
just as quick.
plus, unlike an unadorned bowl
of pasta or a microwave-melted
quesadilla, you really feel like
you've made a meal to be
proud of.

this classic in our home -
topped with a toss-together
avocado, orange, red onion
and jalapeno salsa -
pops up both
this time of year and in
the summer, for some reason
often taking fall and spring
vacations. i think, though,
it's not too hard to figure out
why that happens.
in the summer, it's hot and we,
like everyone, crave simple, refreshing
dinners that don't take a lot of kitchen time
or a hot oven. in the winter, citrus makes its
huge comeback, filling bin upon bin in the
grocery store and usually somewhere nearby
are avocados, most likely on sale.

the first time i made this recipe,
was several winters ago and i hadn't yet
figured out that mahi-mahi -
the fish originally called for -
is not one of my favorites.
i went to the store to pick up the
two fillets - everything else was already
in my kitchen - cooked them, topped
them with the orange mixture and
realized how good it was.
i also decided that next time,
i would use a different fish.
cara cara and jalapeno
since then, i have made this
crazy easy dinner many, many times,
finally deciding that i love the salsa
over flaky cod, trying all different types
of oranges from navel to blood to at last,
the cara cara that the recipe requests.
at times, i've been lucky enough to find
a red jalapeno, but often i end up using
a readily-available green. i've left out
the lime juice, squeezed in lemon, stirred
in chopped leaves of cilantro and doubled
the fruit. and at this point, i don't look
at a recipe, using whatever i have at home
or if inspiration strikes at the market,
whatever looks good.
cod, searing
i usually prep the oranges,
chop the red onion and the pepper,
combine all three,
season with salt and a touch of pepper
and then move the bowl to the side.
once the fish is searing -
always using a nonstick pan and the
10-minutes per 1-inch of fish rule -
i cube the avocado and add it to
the oranges. by the time i've pulled
down the plates and grabbed the forks
and knives, the fish is beautifully browned.
once topped with generous spoonfuls
of the oranges and avocados,
it's hard to argue with this quick meal.

because really, this is one of those simple
dishes in which the final product is a direct
result of what you put in it. pick up
a juicy, fragrant and sweet orange,
a tender avocado that yields gently to the touch
and a spicy jalapeno - you're good to go.
spoon it over decadently moist piece of
seared fish - you'll never regret it.
cara cara orange, topless
cod with orange, avocado and jalapeno salsa
adapted from bon appetit magazine
the original recipe calls for a cara cara, blood or regular orange, but the appearance of the blood oranges were not for me. if you can find a cara cara - orange on the outside, but pink-hued in the center - grab it: the flesh is very sweet. over time, i've increased the oranges from 1 to 2 and i never bother measuring anything, just using my eyes as a guide. also, i have marinated the fish for 15-20 minutes before cooking it, which is delicious, but i love it simply seasoned with salt and pepper, too.

this time, for a side dish, i used red quinoa that i tossed with a squeeze of lime (plus it got an extra boost from the juices of the orange mixture). i've also served the fish alongside couscous, brown rice or spinach.

2 cara cara or navel oranges
1 quarter small red onion, peeled and finely diced
1/2-1 whole jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 fillets cod (about 6 ounces each)
1 avocado (or less)

segment the oranges: using sharp knife, trim top and bottom from oranges. using paring knife, carefully remove peel and white pith from oranges, curving to follow the shape of the oranges. hold orange over a small bowl to catch juices; cut between membranes to remove wedges, placing wedges in bowl as you go (the end goal is to have segments of oranges without membrane or pith attached). once all wedges are removed, i like to squeeze what's left into the bowl to extract any remaining juice.

stir onions, jalapeno and lime juice into bowl; season with salt and pepper.

in large nonstick pan over high heat, heat olive oil 30 seconds. carefully add fillets; cook 10 minutes, turning once (if the fish is thinner than 1-inch, scale down cooking time slightly). transfer fillets to plate.

meanwhile, halve and pit avocados. using sharp knife, score cubes into the avocado halves, going all the way down to the peel. using spoon, scoop out avocado cubes and gently toss with orange mixture.

spoon orange mixture and its juices over fish.

Monday, December 28, 2009

two ways with mustard greens and goat cheese

goat cheese, roasted potato, mustard greens, salsa verde and pepper jack cheese
my first run-in with mustard greens
was about three years ago.
i had been holding onto a recipe that called
for them, but until that point,
the greens had eluded me.
i was at a store, near my mom's -
over an hour away - and i quickly
picked up a bunch, then protected
them for the ride home and the
24 hours until i was ready to
use them. they were $2.49 for
a large group of leaves and i treated them
like they were laced with gold.

the next night,
as i was prepping, i tasted a leaf
and fell in love. they went far
and i used them that week for
everything from risotto,
to the quesadilla i am going to
tell you about today. i found
a new favorite.

(now, here's the point that i
must stop and warn you
if you've never tasted these
greens for yourself.
with one bite, i loved the
mellow crispness of the leaves,
the sharp mustardy bite
and how even when cooked,
they still retained their spicy
edge. so i shared the wealth,
telling my mom how wonderful,
how versatile mustard greens are.
she believed me, she bought them
and she was not a fan. at all.
i needed to be fair and tell you that,
i think.)

my favorite application of the mustard
greens that week, was absolutely the
fresh greens,
tender potatoes,
salsa verde, plus pepper jack for heat,
and creamy goat cheese
all come together for a dinner
that is definitely made for grown-ups.

the original recipe calls for potatoes
that are cubed and steamed, but
i just did not see that going well for me.
the first time, i made this, i used
beautiful purple peruvian potatoes
that looked gorgeous protruding out
of the golden tortillas. this time,
they were nowhere to be found. instead,
i bought two that were medium-sized
and yellow fleshed, thinly sliced them
and roasted each piece until it was
silky in the center and golden on
the outside.
sliced yellow-fleshed potatoes
while they were in the oven,
i chopped up mustard greens,
whirled some of them in the mini
food processor with salsa verde
and grated the pepper jack.
and this is a good time to tell
you two more things that you
may want to know if you decide
to serve these for dinner:

1) at this point, i've used the recipe
for very well-followed ingredient inspiration.
but, instead of waiting 15 minutes
for this to cool, and tossing this with that
and sprinkling with this,
i now just layer everything
on and i'm very happy
with the finished product.
2) i think quesadillas are thought of
as fast food. and while these are not going
to lock you up for hours in the kitchen,
there is obviously some prep involved and
it is not a 10-minute project. while making
them, i was on the phone with my sister.
in the time that it took me to
roast the potatoes and
blend the salsa verde,
she decided to make a quesadilla,
filled a tortilla with cheese and leftover turkey meatballs,
cooked it and ate it.
roasted potatoes and mustard greens on tortillas
neither of these things bother me,
but again, i just thought you'd want to know.
instead, i prep each element,
then assemble it piece by piece,
carefully laying each
mustard green leaf,
potato slice,
goat cheese crumble,
pepper jack shred
salsa verde drizzle,
as if i imagine someone prying
off the top tortilla from the finished
product and examining it for accuracy.
because, yes, we were hungry at this point,
and yes, it will never be perfect,
but i can still appreciate this:
the beauty of each bite bursting with flavor.
cheese and salsa with mustard greens on tortillas
and after they're baked - because yes,
i almost always bake my quesadillas instead
of pan-frying them - and we have our
first tastes, i am so glad for a rare attempt
at precision. they are everything that went
into them:
and fresh.
this is one of those dinners that we were very,
very sad about when it was over.
quesadilla close-up
so sad, that later in the week
i thought about recreating
the quesadillas with all the leftovers
we had in the fridge, but instead, i made a
very unseasonal pesto. i had picked up
a wedge of snow white goat gouda
the day before - without purpose, if i'm
being honest - and quickly got to work
grating it. i tossed the chopped greens
in the food processor with garlic,
toasted walnuts and the cheese,
before whirling, tasting and deciding
the mixture was a bit flat. one tablespoon
of white balsamic gave the pesto a little
more life, and then i drizzled in olive
oil, drop by drop.

then, even though 15 minutes earlier
i had jumped from the couch on an
out of nowhere pesto-making expedition,
i did what any rational person would do -
i transferred the pesto to a bowl,
covered the surface tightly with plastic wrap
and stuck it in the fridge.
mustard greens pesto
the next evening, i was tired and very glad
to have the dinner-inspiring pesto.
i tossed the mixture with
whole wheat pasta,
some of its cooking water,
creamy soft goat cheese,
roasted mushrooms,
more toasted walnuts,
thinly sliced lemon peel
and a big squeeze of lemon juice.
it was good - hearty and satisfying
after a busy cold day outside,
but i think it's fair to say this dish,
flavor-wise, is still a work in progress.
whole wheat penne, mustard green pesto, goat cheese, lemon, toasted walnuts, roasted mushrooms
not a problem - i'll just have to buy
more mustard greens.
mustard greens

potato, goat cheese and mustard green quesadillas
adapted from the bon appetit test kitchen
as i've said, i used the framework of this recipe to create a somewhat simpler, but still delicious, quesadilla. baking quesadillas doesn't make them quite as crispy, but i think it's what's inside them that matters, so it always works out. also, have you ever tried to flip a quesadilla in a skillet? that's another reason why i prefer the oven.

2 medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, thinly sliced
olive oil or cooking spray
2 2/3 cups stemmed and chopped mustard greens, divided
1 cup prepared salsa verde (tomatillo salsa)
4 (8-inch) flour tortillas
5-6 ounces pepper jack cheese, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

heat oven to 400˚f. place potatoes in single layer on greased foil-lined baking sheet. coat with oil or cooking spray. season with salt and pepper. bake 10 minutes. flip potatoes, coat again with oil or cooking spray, season with salt and bake 5-10 minutes more, or until just golden brown. remove from oven and set aside. reduce oven temperature to 350˚f.

meanwhile, in mini food processor, combine salsa verde and 2/3 cup mustard greens until smooth.

on foil-lined baking sheet, place two tortillas. divide remaining 2 cups chopped mustard greens amongst tortillas. top with potatoes and pepper jack cheese. drizzle each with 2 tablespoons salsa verde mixture. top with crumbled goat cheese. top with remaining tortillas. coat tops of tortillas lightly with oil or cooking spray.

bake 15 minutes, or until golden and crisp. using pizza wheel, cut quesadillas into wedges. serve with remaining salsa verde mixture.

mustard green pesto
once you have the greens, garlic, nuts and cheese chopped together, taste it and adjust. the next time i make this, i may use lemon juice for acid instead of the balsamic vinegar.

4 cups chopped mustard greens
2 large cloves garlic, trimmed and halved
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/2 cup grated goat gouda, parm or romano
1-2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (or lemon juice)
5-6 tablespoons olive oil

in food processor, combine greens, garlic, walnuts and grated gouda. pulse just until finely chopped; taste and adjust, adding more garlic, cheese or walnuts, if desired. add balsamic vinegar; pulse twice. with motor running, slowly drizzle in olive oil, just until the texture of the greens change to a puree and the mixture turns bright green. season with salt and pepper.

transfer mixture to a bowl; cover with plastic wrap, placing it directly on the surface of the pesto. chill until ready to use.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

so lucky

chocolate swirl cinnamon marshmallows
so remember the marshmallows?
the ones that i botched and had to pry
free from a cutting board,
cursing myself in the process?
well, it turns out that little incident
didn't matter - they must have still tasted
a little sweet, slightly spiced, a bit chocolatey,
light and airy, just like i intended,
because the squares have been chosen
as a finalist in this week's contest on food52.

if you remember how much
i love making marshmallows,
then you know what it means to me
that they are even under consideration for
the cookbook. another highlight: in
their description of the recipe, amanda
and merrill said that they had fun
making them. that made my day.

you can find the recipe here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

caramel-glazed cardamom palmiers

baked palmiers
if not for the fact that
alice medrich is already
wildly successful,
amazingly accomplished and,
let's face it - doesn't know i exist,
you might think she pays me
to sing her praises.
but she doesn't.
she doesn't need me.
her recipes are just that good.

i've told you before that i came
across this book, when i was
reviewing it. when i was writing
reviews, my rule was always 3 recipes
minimum - and in those days,
i was so busy testing that i didn't have
any time for baking for fun. so typically,
i made the recipes, tried to find people
to give the baked goods to, wrote the
reviews and then, sadly, kind of forgot
about the books.

but these days,
i make, bake and write about
what i want, whenever i want.
and lately, when an opportunity pops
up to bake, i seem to want to make
everything in pure dessert.
i've decided not to fight it.

knowing that we had a chanukah party
to attend yesterday,
i decided originally to make marshmallows,
thinking they would serve double duty:
a great hostess gift slash dish to serve
and i could enter them into the latest

but then - and for this, i blame fatigue,
plus the frustration that my dvr cut
off the last 15 minutes of the glee finale -
i had a dumb moment.
a moment so stupid that i keep replaying
it in my mind, thinking, what was i thinking?

i know marshmallows are sticky.
i know. every time i make them, i'm
unbelievably fascinated by the fact that they
stick to everything in sight, but as soon as you
give them a confectioners' sugar dunk,
they're amazingly easy to handle.
yet still, i unmolded the carefully crafted,
finally firm marshmallow directly onto
a cutting board - no confectioners' sugar
to soften the fall.
there was anger, there were tears and a
lot of sticky fingers and knives as i
worked to remove the marshmallow
from its unapologetic prison.
and when i finally freed them,
they were mangled on one side.
i was embarrassed for them.
still, they were yummy and their
tops, straight and smooth.
you can find the recipe here.
marshmallow square, unmolded
but, needless to say,
i needed something new to bring.
and, while normally i would
research up a storm, i didn't have
the patience or time, so instead,
i turned to pure dessert,
which hasn't failed me yet.

i chose - and honestly, i don't
know what i was thinking -
caramel-glazed cardamom palmiers,
cookies that involve a food processor
dough, 4 hours of chilling,
rolling into a rectangle (eek),
folding into a straight line (eek, again),
chilling again, slicing, baking,
sprinkling with sugar and baking again.

but, now that i'm safely on the other side
(read: cookies made, plated and delivered),
i can honestly say: it wasn't that bad.
and it was worth it.
cardamom pod
sure, we had a few moments along the way.
ground cardamom is expensive
and after i saw the price,
i just flat out refused to spring for it.
larry, who is always looking for an excuse
to use the gifts we received
off our wedding registry,
jumped at the opportunity for us to
use the spice grinder on the pods we had at home.
i don't think he realized that it involved
toasting, cracking and removing
the tiny little seeds from the pods,
all before grinding.
but, on the plus side,
i've learned that a home
that smells like freshly ground cardamom
is lovely this time of year.
hard-earned cardamom seeds
and yes, i kind of regretted that i made
the dough so late in the day, meaning
that when we came home from a saturday
sushi date night, i had to roll up my sleeves,
cross my fingers and start rolling
cardamom-infused sugar into the dough.
but this cream cheese mixture was a dream to
work with. instead of cracking or sticking,
the dough easily smoothed itself into
the 8 x 24 rectangle it was intended for.
rolled dough
i carefully folded the dough to form the
elephant ear logs, wrapped them in
waxed paper and gave it until morning
to slice and bake
(giving me the opportunity
to pretend that i simply
bought the dough this way
and didn't actually have to clear everything
off my counter to roll something
24-inches long).
but of course, when the dough came
out of the fridge in the morning,
it had chilled itself into a worm-like shape
instead of the flat rectangle i swear i
put in last night.
i gently pressed and pulled it down.
then, i pretended it was perfect.

regardless, the log cut beautifully into slices
and i was able to fit almost all of them
onto two baking sheets. the only real
problem that i had with the recipe came next:

after baking, the recipe instructs you to
sprinkle with more cardamom-infused sugar
that has been combined with salt.
you rebake them until they caramelize,
then let them cool. while the instructions
said this should only take 3 to 5 minutes
and that they should be watched closely
to prevent burning, at 5 minutes, the sugar
hadn't even started to crackle.

after 2 minutes more,
i removed the tray from the bottom third
of the oven and kept the top one in,
letting those cookies reach a
slightly more golden hue.
after they were out,
i put the second baking sheet back in.
i still feel like they never fully caramelized,
instead staying sugary, which is not such
a bad alternative. just not what alice or i
were going for.
but, as is always the disclamier,
this may just be my old oven.
or, it may be that the logs of dough
were never meant to be chilled overnight
and that by doing so, i dissolved most of
sugar that would have helped to glaze the cookies.
sugared, not caramelized, palmier
but they smelled
what can only be described as perfect,
and tasted very festive
(possibly more appropriate
for christmas than for chanukah?
it does not matter. these cookies
would be great year round.
i will not discrimate.).

and larry, who quite enjoyed the cookies,
just conceded that they were worth
every single devilish cardamom seed
that tripped its way along the counter
instead of landing in the bowl on
the first try. that's high praise.
another cardamom pod

you may have noticed the the last problem i had -
it was really a constant.
i was so focused
on proper execution, that i forgot
to take pictures at critical points,
like when i made the dough,
or rolled it out,
or started to fold it,
or later, when i plated them.
oops - i'm sorry.

cut unbaked palmiers
caramel-glazed cardamom palmiers
recipe adapted from pure dessert
when i make cookie or pie dough, i always follow the same rules: i cube the cold butter (or in this case, cold butter and cold cream cheese), then place them back in the fridge until i'm ready to mix. i find this much better than leaving it on the counter to accidentally soften while i measure flour or cubing it after the dry ingredients have been combined (i'm too impatient for that). this dough really is easy to work with and delicious - i'd love to try it smeared with jam and rolled up rugelach-style.

cream cheese dough
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 package (8 ounces) cold cream cheese, cubed

in bowl of food processor, pulse together flour, sugar and salt to combine. add butter; pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. add the cream cheese to the bowl; pulse 30 seconds, or until the dough begins to clump together. divide dough in half; shape both pieces into 2 square disks. wrap and chill 4 hours, or until firm.

cardamom sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom (after this experience, i can say, freshly ground is a nice touch)
2 large pinches salt (not kosher)

in bowl, combine sugar and cardamom. transfer 2 tablespoons to separate small bowl and add the salt to this bowl. set salted bowl aside.

let chilled dough rest on counter 15-20 minutes, or until slightly softened. (note: the recipe called for this to be done one disk at a time, but i took them both out at once and didn't regret it.)

sprinkle the work surface liberally with cardamom sugar (keep in mind, you will need half the sugar mixture for the other piece of dough.). place the dough on top of the sugar and sprinkle with more of the sugar mixture. roll dough into an 8-inch x 24-inch rectangle, no more than 1/8-inch thick, turning the dough frequently and resprinkling the dough and counter with the sugar mixture, as necessary.

mark the center of the rectangle with a small indentation. starting at the short end, fold dough inward, about 2 1/2 inches. without stretching or pulling, loosely fold dough over two more times, stopping 1/4" before indentation. repeat on opposite side. fold one side of the dough over the other. the strip should be about 2 1/2-inches x 8-inches. using rolling pin, gently roll dough into a 9-inch log. sprinkle top and bottom with sugar.

loosely wrap with waxed paper (alice cautions to not use plastic wrap). place on flat space in fridge; chill at least 30 minutes.

repeat rolling, folding and wrapping with remaining disk of dough and cardamom sugar.

arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; heat oven to 375˚f.

remove one log of dough from fridge. using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/3-inch slices. arrange 1 1/2-inches apart on ungreased or aluminum foil-lined baking sheets. repeat with remaining log of dough.

bake 8-10 minutes, or until bottoms of cookies are golden brown, rotating pans from top to bottom and front to back, halfway through. remove pans from ovens, flip cookies. sprinkle each cookie with a pinch or two of the salted cardamom sugar.

bake 3-5 minutes more, or until the cookies are a deep golden brown, watching carefully to ensure they don't burn. if necessary, rotate pans and remove the cookies that caramelize first.

transfer cookies to rack; cool completely.

and there's more.
i know that there are still a small few
of you who have not decided upon
your holiday cookies yet
and so, i wanted to get these
palmiers out right away.
some other cookies to consider
from this past year:

also, every year i make many
loaves of the
the first recipe i ever
made from pure dessert
and the second recipe i posted on this blog.

and there's another option, too.
i just started seeing meyer lemons
popping up again. there's still time
to preserve them, put them in their
own jars, add a bow and give
out to friends and family.