Cod Scampi with Caramelized Fennel

Yet another night of making it up as I go along.  I had a couple beautiful Pacific cod loins to work with, so I decided to do my own take on the scampi sauce that is most commonly associated with shrimp.  As a side dish, I seized on some inspiration from an old Army buddy and fellow home chef, who recently posted a Facebook pic with some yummy looking caramelized fennel slices.  With no recipe in hand, I picked up a whole fennel bulb from Findlay Market and consulted my copy of Culinary Artistry for some flavor pairing ideas.  Here was the result:

IMG_1079_edited

For the cod, preheat the oven on a low broil.  Season the cod loins with sea salt and white pepper, then place on a baking sheet about 6″ under the broiler for about 20 minutes.  While the cod is cooking, make your scampi sauce on the stovetop.  The recipe tonight is for a romantic dinner for two (which is what Laura and I have most nights here at Chez Dave).

  • 3 tbsp. whole butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 oz. dry white wine
  • Lemon juice

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the minced garlic and allow to cook gently for about 5 minutes to infuse the flavor, but don’t allow it or the butter to brown.  Add the wine and let the mixture reduce by about half.  Hopefully by this time your cod should be just about done.  When you’re ready to plate, spoon some of the sauce mixture over the cod loins and finish with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.  Garnish with a fennel frond to make it extra pretty.

Meanwhile, cut the root and fronds off the fennel and slice it crosswise into discs (which will try to come apart on you, so handle carefully).  Melt about 2 tbsp. of whole butter in a skillet over medium heat and then arrange the fennel slices in a single layer.  Season with kosher salt.  Allow the slices to caramelize on the bottom, then turn them over once and repeat on the other side.  Deglaze with about 2 oz. of cream sherry, then reduce the heat to low and let the fennel slices continue to tenderize as the cod finishes.  When you plate, garnish with a little grated parmesan from your MicroPlane.  We also added a simple arugula salad on the side.

That’s all there is to it.  This entire menu comes together in about 30 minutes.  We munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces, and enjoyed it immensely.  I trust you will too.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

IMG_1076_edited

 

Pan-Seared Scallops with Lemon-Shallot Risotto

This dish was another exercise in improvisation.  I was wanting to do something with pan-seared scallops as the centerpiece, while finding both a starchy side and a green vegetable that would provide nice complements.  I decided to cook the scallops in a simple garlic butter, accompanied by a risotto flavored with shallots and lemon, and gently broiled asparagus spears.

IMG_1068_edited

The scallops and asparagus really don’t need recipes, they are really that simple.  For the scallops, rinse thoroughly in cold water, and season with sea salt.  Heat some butter over medium flame (but be careful not to overheat the butter), add a clove of minced garlic and sear the scallops a couple minutes on each side until gently browned.  Hit them with a little squirt of lemon juice and some cracked pepper, and you’re done.  For the asparagus, toss in olive oil, kosher salt and cracked pepper, arrange on a baking sheet and place under a low broiler until tender and a little char begins to form.

Here is a more specific recipe for the risotto.

  • 2 tbsp. whole butter (divided)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • White pepper
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated

In a small saucepan, heat the chicken stock to a simmer.  In a large skillet, melt one tablespoon of the butter and sweat the garlic and shallot.  Season with a pinch of salt and white pepper.  Add the remaining butter with the olive oil and the Arborio rice, and stir to completely coat the rice with fat.  Add the wine and stir until thoroughly incorporated.  Add the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring each time until absorbed before adding more.  When all the stock has been added, throw in the lemon zest and juice, and adjust your seasonings to taste.  Lastly, mix in the parmigiano until your dish reaches a creamy consistency.

That’s all there is to it.  Plate it up and munch it down with a big happy grin on your face.  Simple, delicious and at least reasonably good for you.  Does it get any better than that?  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

IMG_1071_edited

My New Favorite Vegetable

There was a time not long ago when hearing the words “Brussels sprouts” and “yummy” in the same breath could throw me into paroxysms of uncontrollable mirth — roaring belly laughs and knee-slapping guffaws were sure to ensue.  Indeed, the thought that these little miniature cabbagy-looking things from the Brassica family of vegetables could be tasty was the very height of risibility… except when I think back to the torture inflicted on me as a child with these nefarious green bulbs of doom.  It wasn’t funny back then, I tell you.

Ah, how things change as we mature.  I long ago ceased to look upon Brussels sprouts with dread the way I did in my youth, but neither had I developed any kind of a fondness for them because most cooking methods could not overcome (and often accentuated) the inherit bitterness that lurks in this plant, waiting to savage the unsuspecting palate (okay, maybe a tiny bit of hyperbole there — old prejudices die hard).  Nevertheless, culinary school instilled in me a new sense of adventure and a willingness to lay aside old biases and discover afresh the possibilities of ingredients I had once disdained.

Which brings me to today’s post.

One of my favorite magical ingredients in the kitchen — my “cheats” if you will — is agave nectar.  It’s a potent sweetener that, unlikely honey with its very distinctive taste, is flavor-neutral.  It lends sweetness only, and thus is able to work wonders to balance harsh or bitter flavors from other ingredients.   That makes it perfect for this recipe — Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Shallots.  Here are your ingredients to make 3-4 servings:

  • 1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts
  • 1 large shallot
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and cracked pepper
  • 1 tbsp. agave nectar

Start by washing the sprouts, and cut off the stems.  Split them in half length-wise, lay the pieces flat, and slice them up cross-wise to shred.  The shallot can be diced small or sliced thin, according to your preference.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium flame, then add the shredded sprouts and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the agave nectar.  Cook about 10-15 minutes until the sprouts are tender.  You may want to reduce the heat to avoid excessive caramelization –but a little bit is good to bring out a bit more natural sweetness.  If you’re feeling adventurous, sprinkle in a little red chili flakes to give a hint of heat.

IMG_1030_edited

There you have it — the vegetable dish that has become our new favorite here at Chez Dave.  This batch was served with pan-seared pork chops and sweet cinnamon apples.  We munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces, and I know you will too when you try this recipe.  Until our next get-together:  Eat well, my friends!

 

Italian Herb and Cheese Loaf

Today is a bread-baking rainy Saturday here in Cincinnati.  Whenever I bake bread, I can always count on my Lolly to lean on me more than a little bit to make a flavored loaf rather than “plain” artisan bread.  I tend to prefer making the “plain” loaves — by which I mean they contain only flour, water, salt and yeast — because I like the challenge of seeing how much flavor I can coax out of those basic ingredients.   But Lolly can be very persuasive with her batting of eyelashes and irresistible smile, so today I am caving in and catering to her whim (the secret to a happy marriage, guys) by making a loaf flavored with Italian herbs, olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

IMG_1048_edited

Before I launch into the recipe, I want to mention that most of the method is the same as in my post of January 9, 2016, so I’m just going to be summarizing some of the steps here, and would refer you back to the earlier post for more of the details:  Bread Baking — My Drug of Choice

Here are your basic dough ingredients for one loaf of just over a pound in finished weight.  You will want to weigh these out carefully with a digital scale for best results (except for the yeast, which is measured with a spoon because the weight is less than a gram).  One other point to keep in mind is that this recipe uses a long, slow ferment time, as in overnight slow.  If you want to make this bread as a same-day recipe, just increase the yeast to 1/2 teaspoon (about 2g), reduce the water to 350g, and cut the ferment time to about 4 hours.  You won’t get the same depth of flavor development as the overnight method, but it will still produce a delicious loaf that will wow your friends.

  • 500g all purpose flour
  • 375g lukewarm water
  • 11g fine sea salt
  • Scant 1/8 tsp. active dry yeast

Begin by mixing only the flour and water for your autolyze step and allow to sit for about 20 minutes.  Add the salt and yeast, then mix thoroughly until they are fully and evenly incorporated.  Next, we will add the herbs and olive oil.  I chose to use dried herbs as a matter of convenience, but if you prefer fresh herbs just use two to three teaspoons each and chop them finely.

  • 1 tsp. dried basil leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley leaves
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

After the herbs and oil are thoroughly incorporated, let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for about 10 minutes, then do your stretch-and-fold technique two to three times at intervals of 10-15 minutes.  After that, cover the mixing bowl tightly and ferment the dough for 12-14 hours.

When the ferment time is done, gently turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape it into a ball by stretching the opposite ends up underneath and tucking together on the bottom to form a loose seam.  This creates surface tension on the dough and promotes shape retention during proofing.  Place the dough ball seam side down into a well-floured proofing basket, and allow to proof for about an hour to an hour and a quarter.

IMG_1043_edited

While the dough is proofing, heat your Dutch oven with the lid on in a 450° oven for at least 30-45 minutes.  When the proofing time is finished, gently turn the dough out of the basket onto a floured surface, then carefully lift it with floured hands and lower it into the hot Dutch oven — please please please don’t burn yourself.  At this point, for additional flavor you can sprinkle on a little garlic powder if you like.  Put the lid on the Dutch oven and bake 30 minutes.

Next, take the Dutch oven out and remove the lid.  Sprinkle the top of the loaf with a few teaspoons of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Return the loaf to the oven without the lid, and continue to bake another 10-15 minutes to the desired color.  Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack and wait at least 30 minutes before cutting.

There you have it — Lolly’s favorite loaf.  We sampled the finished product and it was slap-your-mama delicious.  I hope you’ll give it a try very soon and enjoy it as much as we did (but don’t actually slap your mama — I hereby disclaim any liability if you do).  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

IMG_1052_edited

Cooking by Social Media

Social media can be a wonderful thing, in measured doses.  I’m pretty much a Facebook-only kind of guy (and my dear Lolly had to drag me kicking and screaming even to that point), which means I don’t do Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or whatever other myriad of options are out there.  Becoming a blogger was a major leap for a 20th century boy like me.  Still, as a culinarian I sometimes find some amazingly useful stuff on Facebook.  I’m very fond of the little video recipes that lay out some superbly delicious dishes in the space of about a minute — sometimes I will jot these down and add them to my personal cookbook.

Probably my all-time favorite cooking technique that I picked up on Facebook, though, was from a video shared by my chef instructor for a “reverse sear” method for cooking the perfect steak.  The standard method used by many (most?) restaurants is to pan-sear the steaks for a few minutes and then pop them into a 450° oven to finish.  As the name suggests, the reverse sear technique starts in the oven and finishes with the pan sear.  While both methods produce delicious results, the reverse sear does a better job, in my opinion, of maintaining a consistent top-to-bottom medium-rare interior of the finished steak, which a big part of the attraction for me.

The method is simple.  Start by preheating the oven to 250° and get your instant-read thermometer handy.  While the oven is coming up, thoroughly pat the steaks dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture, then season them with kosher salt and cracked pepper.   Place the steaks on a baking sheet in the oven for about 20-25 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cuts.  The goal is to slowly bring the internal temperature up to 100°, although for very thick cuts you may want to go a little higher.

Once the center is temping at the desired level, heat your skillet, preferably well-seasoned cast iron if you have one, on a medium-high flame and add a bit of cooking fat with a high smoke point — I typically use clarified butter.  Add the steaks to sear the first side for about 4-5 minutes, then turn and cook until the internal temperature reaches 135°.  Pull the steaks off the heat and cover loosely with foil to rest for about 10 minutes, after which they will be ready to serve.

Tonight we served ours with a Bordelaise sauce and sautéed shallots, with garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus.  The result was extremely satisfying and we munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces.  Hopefully you’ll try this method soon and experience the joy of an amazingly cooked steak.  Until then:  Eat well, my friends!

IMG_1023_editedIMG_1025_edited

 

A Visit to Findlay Market

I love Saturday.  It’s a day of limitless possibilities.  The day is all mine to do with as I please.  And today I pleased to visit Findlay Market with Laura.  Here in Cincinnati everybody knows about Findlay Market.  It’s been a local institution since 1852, and remains the nation’s longest-running public market.  One part farmer’s market, one part specialty shops, one part foodie mecca, one hundred percent Cincinnati.  It has everything from fresh meats and seafood and produce, to gourmet breads and pastries, to specialty spices and hand-crafted novelties, mixed with a little live street music and a great community vibe.

It was a lovely sunny morning when we stopped in today and launched into the never-old adventure of working our way from one end of the market to the other.  Most of the shops are well-established and familiar, but there is always something new to see or to try.  Our first stop was the spice shop, where, after sampling several unique offerings for meat rubs and seasonings, we picked up a dose of Ol’ Bourbon Trail steak rub — a drool-inducing blend of hickory smoke, bourbon, brown sugar and a little heat — that will grace some inch-thick butterfly pork chops later this week.

After whetting our appetites with some samples and a nibble of fresh-baked bread, we grabbed a snack at the Taste of Belgium booth — a heart-stopping bacon and veggie quiche that practically brought tears to our eyes.  Never in my life have I had bell peppers that literally melted in my mouth that way.  After enjoying an impromptu brunch in the sunshine to the sounds of a young college kid strumming his guitar and belting out some classic tunes, we worked our way over to the farmer’s market area.  There we checked out the fresh herbs (sadly the basil and oregano won’t be in for a few more weeks), and walked away from one booth with a stunningly delicious garlic and parmesan loaf hand-crafted by a charming African-American lady who seemed only slightly flabbergasted when I suggested that my bread pudding might be better than hers.

But of course the whole point of the trip was to find something yummy to make for dinner tonight.  The answer was found, as so often before, at Kroeger & Sons, one of the finest purveyors of gourmet sausages you will ever hope to encounter.  Their range of options is huge, and we ended up walking away with two varieties:  a mild Chicago-style Italian sausage, and another made with sweet Vidalia onions and parmesan.  A quick visit to an outdoor produce vendor, and we scored some fresh bell peppers to cook up with the sausages, plus some beautiful asparagus for tomorrow night.

So, here was dinner tonight — pan-fried sausages with sautéed peppers and onions, served up with a side of spaghetti cacio e pepe.

IMG_1016_edited

As you might expect, we munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces.  The moral of the story is that if you ever get to visit our fair city, a stop at Findlay Market is a must.  And to all my readers in the Cincy area, get over there and shop local.  Help keep this amazing tradition thriving for many years to come.  Some links are provided below for your browsing pleasure.  Until next time:  Eat well, my friends!

Findlay Market:  http://www.findlaymarket.org/

Taste of Belgium:  http://authenticwaffle.com/

Kroeger & Sons:  http://www.findlaymarket.org/merchants/kroeger

 

Spring Comes Early

On this beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon, even though spring is still officially a couple weeks away I couldn’t resist the urge to greet the change of seasons a little early.  I was feeling pasta in a major way, so rather than go with my original comfort food choice — anchovy carbonara (which I will post another time) — I opted for something more commensurate with the return of our avian friends from warmer climes.  That’s lawyer-speak for:  the birdies are back, so winter must be over.

Today we’re doing Spaghetti with Burst Tomato Sauce, which is exactly what it sounds like:  cooking fresh cherry tomatoes until they burst open, lend their tangy-sweet juices to the sauce, and produce a colorful, light and delicious pasta dish.  The recipe is quick, easy, healthy, and yes, even vegetarian.  I served tonight with some sautéed garlic shrimp and salad greens with an olive oil vinaigrette.

 

IMG_1010_edited

Here are your ingredients to make enough of this dish for 2-3 servings:

  • 2 oz. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped basil
  • Grated parmesan
  • 8 oz. pasta

 

IMG_0995_edited

First, get some salted water boiling for your favorite pasta.  My personal favorite is DiMartino spaghetti for this recipe.  We’ll begin by heating the olive oil in a large skillet, and then tossing in the minced garlic and tomatoes.  Sauté for a few minutes, then add the salt, pepper and sugar.  While your sauce is cooking, get the pasta into the boiling water — the sauce comes together in only about 10 minutes, so the pasta needs to be cooked and ready to go.  As the tomatoes cook, they will begin to burst open and release their juices to form a sauce, although you may need to give some of them a gentle push with the back of a wooden spoon.  Simmer the sauce for a few minutes as the pasta finishes cooking.  Adjust your seasonings with a maybe a smidge more salt and pepper.

When your pasta is al dente, drain it and add stir it into the sauce.  Sprinkle on the basil and stir it through as well.  Now you’re ready to plate it and top with fresh grated parmesan.  You’ll will find this sauce to be bright, fresh and tangy — absolutely perfect for an early spring day.  Munch it down with a big, happy grin on your face, just like we did.  Until next we meet:  Eat well, my friends!

IMG_1012_edited