Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not Just Floundering Around

In his graduate school and bachelor days, my brother-in-law Dave had two requirements for potential roommates. They had to own a stereo and had know how to cook. So it's pretty amusing that Dave has become the kind of person who cures his own bacon and pastrami, makes homemade sausage and pasta, and bakes his own bread. He not only loves to cook, he loves to invent his own recipes. Like he did the other night, for one of his Friday night dinners.

This tradition began when Dave took a new job that was equidistant from Boston and Portsmouth. Friday nights, he would head to Portsmouth after work, stop at the store and start dinner, while my sister Robin and I made the drive up from Boston. When we arrived, dinner preparations were underway, wine would already be poured, and some kind of little pre-dinner snack would be waiting on the kitchen counter. It was very welcoming, and now, whoever gets to Portsmouth first tries to replicate it.

Friday night dinners are usually straightforward -- after all, we want to be finished eating in time to watch Numbers on TV. But in both thought and execution, these meals frequently display an adventurous spirit. Last week, Dave had been talking about making something with the local-caught flounder we've been seeing regularly at Philbrick's Fresh Market in Portsmouth. Fortunately that Friday night, there was not just flounder at Philbrick's, but Maine baby shrimp as well.  Right on the spot, Dave decided he'd make flounder with a shrimp stuffing for dinner. While it sounds elaborate, his preparation was actually quite simple.

First, Dave took three flounder fillets, put some baby shrimp on each one, rolled them up and secured them with some kitchen twine, seasoning them with a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Next, he sweated some chopped scallions in about 4T of butter over low heat, until they started to get soft. Then, he turned the heat in the skillet to medium high and added the flounder fillets.  When they were just browned, he added some vermouth to deglaze the pan and create a little sauce. When the fish was just about cooked, he removed it, added the juice and zest of one lemon, plus a lot of tarragon, maybe 1/8 of a cup to the pan. He swirled it around to combine, then put the fish back into the pan, sprinkled some bread crumbs on top and put into a 425-degree oven to crisp up the bread crumbs.

Served with some roasted potatoes, sauteed kale, and a salad, it couldn't have been better, easier, or healthier. If you live near the NH Seacoast, there are now a number of places to buy locally-caught fish and shrimp. Contact the Yankee Fishermens' Co-op at 603) 474-9850  or Eastman's Fish in Seabrook (603-760-7422) to find the place nearest you. Or look for wild-caught flounder and shrimp at your local seafood market.

Dave's Flounder Stuffed with Maine Baby Shrimp
(Serves 4)

1 pound of baby Maine shrimp, cleaned and shelled. (You can also use regular shrimp, but you should chop and saute them first for about two minutes as they probably won't cook through the way the Maine shrimp will when stuffed in the flounder.)
4 flounder fillets, cleaned and skinned
1 big bunch of scallions, finely chopped, both white and green parts
4 T butter
1/4 cup vermouth or white wine
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/8 cup of tarragon, chopped
1/2 cup of fresh bread crumbs (not packaged)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Put the flounder fillets on a clean surface. Put 1/4 of the baby shrimp on each fillet, roll them up and secure with kitchen twine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Put 4 T of butter in an oven-proof saute pan big enough to hold all the flounder filets in one layer. Sweat the scallions over low heat until they start to get soft.
4. Turn up the heat to medium high and add the flounder fillets. Cook until just browned on all sides. Add the vermouth and cook until the fish is almost done.
5. Remove fish, add lemon juice, zest, and tarragon to the pan. Swirl to combine.
6. Add the fish back to the pan, sprinkled some bread crumbs on fillet and put into the oven until the bread crumbs are just crisp.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Chili With a Spicy Beet

Late Saturday afternoon, Robin, Dave, and I journeyed from Portsmouth NH to Marlborough, MA to have dinner with our friend, Candace. On the way, we stopped at Heron Pond Farm in South Hampton, NH to pick up our semi-weekly Winter CSA share. From an eating perspective, this CSA has been one of the best things we have ever done. In combination with the Seacoast Grower's winter farmers' markets, we've been able to enjoy fresh-from-the-farm vegetables and eggs all winter, including greenhouse-raised salad greens, endive, and spinach. Of course, we also get our share of root vegetables, so I'm always looking for interesting new ways to use turnips, parsnips, rutabags, and beets. Imagine my pleasure at learning that the excellent chili that Candace served us for supper had a surprising ingredient: red beets.

The recipe, from Good Housekeeping, is easy to make and looks as good as it tastes. It's vegetarian, too, though I suppose if you wanted to, you could add a little ground beef or turkey. The chipolte pepper gives it a nice, mellow heat, but you could probably add some chili powder if you wanted to up the Scoville Scale. Thanks to Candace for sharing the recipe and taking the photos. (And for a fun evening!) This is one chili that's too good to save for Valentine's Day.

Valentine’s Day Red Chili
Good Housekeeping, February 2010
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 large beets (6 to 8 oz. each), trimmed, peeled and chopped
1 jumbo red onion, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, chopped
 Fresh ground pepper, to taste
4 cloves garlic, crushed with press
1 can (28 oz.) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 ½ cup cooked or 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cup cooked or 1 can (15 oz) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 ½ cup cooked or 1 can (15 oz) pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup water
1 cup reduced –fat sour cream
¼ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves

1. In 7- to 8-quart Dutch oven or heavy saucepot, combine cumin, oregano, and chile powder. Cook on medium 1 to 2 minutes or until toasted and fragrant. Transfer to sheet of waxed paper; set aside. In the same Dutch oven, heat oil on medium until hot. Add beets, onion, pepper, and freshly ground black pepper. Cook 15 minutes or until vegetable are tender, stirring occasionally.

2. Add garlic and reserved spice mixture. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add tomatoes, beans, and water. Heat to boiling on medium-high. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer 30 minutes, stirring and mashing some beans occasionally. Makes about 9 cups (six servings). Divide among serving bowls and top with sour cream and cilantro.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rabbit Tales and Other Farmers' Market Goodies

It was a couple of days into my first and only trip to Venice about thirty years ago. I had a friend with a boat and we'd gone off to spend the morning walking the beach at the Lido and visiting the glass factories in Murano. Afterwards, we went to this little family trattoria where my friend was well known. There was no ordering, dishes just appeared at the table. The first course was aragosta,  kind of local lobster, if I remember correctly. The second was coniglio. The taste was rich and wonderful. Thus I became a fan of eating rabbit.

Here in the States, rabbit is the last frontier. You'd never think of serving it to guests without checking with them first, "You do eat rabbit, don't you?" Sadly, the answer is frequently "no", which is too bad, because Barbara Hutchinson of Jocose Farm in Chester, NH raises absolutely wonderful rabbits from French stock. (Barbara shows a flintly, New England disdain for those who are too timid to try rabbit. The bumper sticker on her truck says it all. "Save an endangered species. Eat it." ) Farm-raised rabbits are very tender, quite lean, and high in protein. And their all-vegetable diet makes them healthy to eat.

Last Saturday was the kind of cold winter day that makes you want to stay inside and cook. And so we did, making a baked mustard rabbit for that night's meal and a lamb osso buco for Sunday night dinner  -- both recipes from David Tanis' excellent book, A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes. Tanis, who spends six months a year as executive chef at Chez Panisse, has written this delightful book of simple, yet magnificent seasonal recipes especially for home cooks. 

He serves his rabbit with parsnips epiphany-style, showcasing yet another unfortunately underused ingredient. As fresh parsnips had arrived as part of our Heron Pond winter CSA that afternoon, we made those, too, halving both recipes.

Dave prefers to cut up a rabbit using the technique described by Judy Rodgers in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. This gives you four different cuts of meat: 2 plump hind legs, 2 smooth, tapered loins, two belly flaps, 2 bony forelegs. He decided to make us a first-course composed salad using sauteed rabbit loins, plus fresh radish greens, radishes, and carrots from our CSA, drizzled with a sherry viniagrette.

For the faint-hearted, the mustard rabbit could be made with chicken. But I suggest you try one of Barbara's rabbits, if available. She can be reached at  603-887-4863 or at jocosefarm@msn.com.

Mustard Rabbit in the Oven
Serves 8
2 rabbits, about 2 1/2  pounds each
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup strong Dijon mustard (Tanis suggest adding a little dry mustard powder as French mustard imported to the U.S. is not as pungent as that sold there.)
2 teaspoons mustard seeds, crushed (optional)
1 3/4 cups heavy cream (Tanis uses homemade Creme Fraiche and includes a recipe in his book, but we just use the heavy cream.)
8 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 pound thick-sliced bacon or pancetta, cut crosswise into 1/4" lardons
4 bay leaves
thyme branches
sage branches
A little dry white wine or chicken broth, if needed

1. Ask the butcher to cut the rabbit into six pieces (or do it yourself with a small cleaver -- if you get your rabbit from Barbara, you'll have to do it yourself, but it's actually quite easy, like cutting up a chicken,only with four legs) as follows: cut the saddle into 2 pieces. Divide the hind legs. Cut the foresection in half through the backbone, leaving the forelegs attached to the ribs.  (Or you can use the Judy Rodgers method, like we do. Essentially, you remove the legs and forelegs at the joint. Carefully bone the chest cavity. You will have four legs, two boneless rabbit loins, and two loin "flaps.)
2. Season the rabbit pieces generously with salt and freshly ground pepper and put them in a large bowl. Add the mustard, mustard seeds, cream, garlic, bacon, and bay leaves. Strip the leaves from the thyme and sage branches, chop them roughly (you'll want about 2 tablespoons of each, and add to bowl. With your hands, smear the ingredients all over the rabbit pieces to coat evenly. Cover and let the flavors meld for an hour or two, or overnight in the fridge.
3. Bring the rabbit to room temperature, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the rabbit pieces, along with every drop of their juicy seasoning, in two shallow oval earthenware baking dishes, just large enough to hold them. (if you're halving the recipe, you only need one dish.)
4. Bake on the middle oven shelf for about 1 hour, turning the pieces as they brown. (You may remove the saddle pieces (the loin) a little earlier, though, if they seem done to keep them from overcooking. Then return at the last minute to heat through.) The rabbit should be nicely browned and the juices quite reduced. If it seems to be browning too rapidly, lay a piece of foil on top, then uncover for the last ten minutes of cooking. If the sauce seems too reduced, splash a little white wine or chicken broth into the bottom of the baking dish and cook for a few mintes longer.
5. Bring the serving vessel to the table and serve each person according to their preference: foreleg, saddle, or hindquarters. Spoon a little sauce over each serving. Accompany with roasted parsnips.

Parsnips, Epiphany-Style
Serves 8
4 to 5 pounds parsnips
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Peel parsnips and quarter them lengthwise. With a paring knife, remove the central core (even small parsnips have a hard core.) If the parsnips are smallish, just trim the ends. If larger, cut them into 3" lengths.
3. Season well with salt and pepper and toss with the olive oil, then install the parsnips in an earthenware dish or roasting pan. Bake for 45 minutes or so, until they are fork tender and lightly browned. They can be cooked in advance and reheated.