Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Spiced Fig Compote

All the Thanksgiving editions of the food magazines are here. Food & Wine was first, followed closely by Bon Appetit. Vegetarian Times showed up next. Lagging behind, Saveur and Gourmet arrived on Thursday. I also skimmed the holiday recipes in Sunset, Better Homes & Gardens and Good Housekeeping. I get a LOT of magazines. Bon Appetit had the widest array of innovative, yet traditional recipes, and I liked Gourmet's cover best (nothing new there!). Which food maggie do you think put out the best Thanksgiving issue??

My best all-arounder award goes to F&W--the whole issue was packed with good stories, many NOT remotely turkey-centric. For example, their Well-Being section, spotlights Chef Jan Birnbaum who managed to lose half his body weight and now serves food in his restaurant that relies on healthy ingredients--not fat--for flavor. His exceedingly tasty pork tenderloin with spiced fig compote is easy enough to make on a weeknight.

The pork is coated with a blend of herbs, including lavendar. My mom recently sent me a lavendar spice blend she picked up at a lavendar farm in Hawaii, and it contained most of the herbs called for in the recipe. Don't worry if you don't have every herb on hand, and mix up a blend to suit your taste. If you can get some dried lavendar, however, I highly recommend it. I've just discovered it and love the unique flowery-savory twist it adds to roasted meats like pork or chicken.

I say not to stress over the herb blend too much because the fig compote is the real star. I used more figs than the recipe calls for because I felt the chef was a bit scanty with this nutritious and delicious dried fruit. You simmer the figs in a spiced wine and honey broth, and wow, is it tasty! I hated to discard this cooking liquid, so I saved it and stirred a little into the finished compote. Sadly, the photo does not do this dish justice, so look it up in your November issue of Food & Wine. With kale sauteed with garlic and lemon juice, this was a perfectly healthy, nutrient-packed fall meal.

Herb-Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Spiced Fig Compote
Adapted from Jan Birnbaum for Food & Wine
I eliminated some of the "chefiness" (short for "chef fussiness") from this recipe to make it faster, simpler and figgier than the original version.

Serves 4

5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried lavendar
2 tsp. whole grain mustard
2 tbs. olive oil, divided
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin
1 cup water
1/4 cup honey
2 tbs. lemon juice
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
6 allspice berries
6 black peppercorns
12 dried black mission figs, stemmed and quartered
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup dry red wine
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

In a bowl, combine the garlic, rosemary, thyme, lavendar, mustard and about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Put the pork on a foil-lined baking sheet and coat it with the herb mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to 6 hours.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, honey lemon juice, ginger, allspice, peppercorns and figs. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, steep for 10 more minutes and strain out the figs. You can either discard the liquid or sip it greedily yourself.

Scrape as much of the herb mixture as you can off the pork and reserve it in a small bowl. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork with salt and pepper and sear on all sides until browned. Return the pork to the foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature is 145 degrees. Tent with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

While the pork roasts, finish the compote: Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the reserved herb mixture and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the wine and raisins and simmer for 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the spiced figs to the skillet and continue simmering until compote thickens slightly, about 4 more minutes. If you lose too much liquid, add a bit more chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over the sliced pork.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love figs? No? I guess the proof's in the pudding...or tart, or pizza....

Fig and Goat Cheese Tart, Fig-Proscuitto Pizza, Feta-Stuffed Chicken with Fig Sauce...all in this one post...what was I thinking?!
Fabulous Fig Gelato is luscious in the summer months, but how about adding some warm spices like cinnamon and cardamom for a fall treat?

Everyone loves figs:
Fig-Orange-Chipotle Pork Roast from Becks n' Posh.
Fig Bars from Cookie Madness
Prosciutto, Fig and Sage Wraps from The Laughing Gastronome
A slew of links to figgy blog posts on Simply Recipes
Oat-Topped Fig Muffins on Culinary in the Country
Sage, Walnut and Dried Fig Stuffing on 101 Cookbooks
And Fig-Almond Tartlettes on (where else?) Tartlette.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Zucchini and Braised Lettuce Tart with Tapenade

Those Green Monster Peanut Butter Cookies sure did the trick! Five days later the Red Sox have swept the series to become world champs...woohoo! I thought I would have to make more Boston-themed food to cheer them on, but hardly got the chance.

This past weekend was spent exclusively on my birthday festivities, and that made the Red Sox sweep even more fun. We saw a great scary movie, went out to my current favorite restaurant in Miami, laid out on the beach (in October!), went shopping in a mall with a Legal Seafoods so we could eat oysters and New England whole-bellied fried clams, and had a rich, gooey mocha cake that Mike made for me last night. My actual birthday is today, but Mike and I both believe in prolonged celebrations...we have so much fun, I don't mind getting older at all. Well, how old are you, you may be wondering...I'm 29, and I'm already sad that I have to wait a whole year for my next birthday!

Now, finally, I'm going to talk about one of my favorite things I've made, ever. This tart is from a recipe in Eric Kayser's Sweet and Savory Tarts, which I read about in this post on the beautiful blog, Kuidaore. If you are a tart junkie like me, get this book. It's creative, it contains a picture of every tart, and it has great master recipes for many types of French pastry dough. I made this as a side dish for pepper-crusted steak, and it totally stole the show. Many of Kayser's tarts have a custard base, but this is lighter, and perfect as a special side. I have cooked lettuce before with good results, but the braised butter lettuce here is so indescribably savory, sweet and lettuce-y...I've never tasted anything like it, and I love when a recipe leads me to rethink foods I eat all the time, like greens.

Tapenade serves as a salty, garlicky base for the lettuce and zucchini.
To simplify life, I bought prepared tapenade, and it was nice to have that component take care of. I'll probably make my own next time, just because I like to. Kayser's recipe did not call for anything more, but I felt this light tart needed a little hit of richness, so I shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese over the top...perfect.

If you haven't tackled savory tarts, this one is a cinch. If you're looking for something different, this is it. I have quite a few tarts on this blog, like
- Caramelized Onion-Blue Cheese
- Mushroom-Asparagus-Ricotta
- and Swiss Chard-Pine Nut Custard Tart, but this is my current darling.

Kayser's book has loads of fruit and sweet tarts too. In a great coincidence of the blogosphere, many wonderful baking bloggers tried Kayser's Milk Chocolate Caramel Tart recently. Take a look at some versions on Peabody's, Ivonne's, Veronica's and Fanny's blogs. If I was forced to take sides, I'd have to choose savory over sweet tarts, but luckily I can have braised lettuce one day and milk chocolate the is truly delicious.

Zucchini and Braised Lettuce Tart with Tapenade

Adapted from Eric Kayser’s Sweet and Savory Tarts

Pâte Brisée is the same as pie pastry, so I deviated from Kayser’s method of mixing the room temperature ingredients by hand, and used made the pastry as I would make a pie crust--mixing cold ingredients in my food processor. I highly recommend using a scale to weigh your dry ingredients when baking. This book provided weight and volume measurements, but they were shockingly inconsistent (seriously--if I went by volume, I would have used nearly twice as much flour). If you go by weight, you can’t mess up. Kayser recommends unbleached all-purpose flour, but I used half AP and half whole wheat pastry flour. You can’t tell the difference, and it’s nice to know the pastry is a little more wholesome.

Makes 1-8 or 9 inch square tart (round or rectangular tart pans also work)

For the Pâte Brisée:
210 grams flour
5 grams salt (about 1/2 tsp.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
1/4 cup ice water, plus extra as needed

For the tart:
2 large zucchini, or 3 small, sliced lengthwise, about 1/4-inch thick
cooking spray
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 heads butter lettuce (or substitute 1 head romaine)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken broth
4 oz. tapenade
Thinly shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese

Combine the flour and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and pulse for a few seconds to form coarse crumbs. Turn the processor on and pour 1/4 cup ice water through the chute, running just until the dough starts to come together. Feel the dough between your fingers to insure it is moist enough to stick together, but not wet. If needed, sprinkle on another tablespoon water and pulse. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and bring it together to form a ball. Knead for a few seconds, press into a thick disk, wrap in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes, or overnight. If you chill the dough for several hours or more, remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before rolling.

Set the broiler to high. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange the zucchini on top. Spray the zucchini and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until soft and beginning to brown, then flip and cook on the opposite side, about 10-12 minutes total.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough out 1/4-inch thick and two or three inches larger than your tart pan. Fit the dough into the pan, gently but firmly pressing dough into the edges and sides of the pan. Trim off excess and prick all over with a fork. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the dough and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice. Bake for 30 minutes, or until dough is cooked through and edges start to color. Pastry will be quite pale even when it is baked. You may pre-bake the pastry several hours ahead.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for one to two minutes. Add the lettuce and stir to combine. Add 1/4 cup chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Add more if necessary to keep a thin layer of liquid on the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook two to three minutes. Remove lid and continue to cook, stirring often, until all the liquid has evaporated, about 7 minutes. Pour off any excess liquid, remove from heat and set aside.

Spread the tapenade over the bottom of the pastry shell. Layer half the zucchini, all the braised lettuce and the remaining zucchini. Place tart pan on a baking sheet, return to oven and bake for five minutes. Cool for 10 minutes, top with thinly shaved Pecorino-Romano cheese and serve either warm or at room temperature.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Green Monster Peanut Butter Cookies--Go Red Sox!

What can a girl do when she's found the perfect guy? A guy who's a star at his job, who always makes her laugh, who has thick, unruly hair and burly good looks...? Just so you know, I'm not talking about my husband. I'm talking about Wally, the Green Monster. And the answer to that question is, bake him his favorite cookies!

Wally is the Red Sox mascot. He's named after Fenway Park's famous green "wall," and because he's a monster, I'm sure he loves cookies. Naturally, peanut butter cookies are his favorite ("Take me out to the ballgame..." and all that).

So these cookies (from fabulous blogger, Anna, of Cookie Madness) are for Wally (Just look at this sexy beast!), so he has the energy to lead my team to a World Series victory against the Colorado Rockies. The series starts tonight, so if you're a Sox fan, how about whipping up a batch of these for Wally too? As for my other favorite guy, Mike, he also happens to love peanut butter. Maybe I'll save some for him.

Green Monster Peanut Butter Cookies
Go to Anna's blog for the original recipe, and check out all her other wonderful desserts. These cookies are so easy to make--just one bowl! They are soft on the inside and don't flatten during baking. This is a scaled down version for a small batch, about 16 cookies. I had to go by weight for most measurements in order to scale down properly, but if you don't have a scale, just use Anna's recipe for a full batch.

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 c. (2 oz.) dark brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
3 oz. creamy peanut butter (I love Jif)
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. (scant) salt
1 oz. (26 g.) beaten egg (half of one egg)
2 3/4 oz. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 oz. lightly salted dry roasted peanuts (like Planter's), chopped
2 oz. peanut butter chips

Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter, sugars, peanut butter, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add egg in 2 additions. Stir in the flour. Fold in the nuts and chips.

Using a tablespoon, scoop onto prepared sheets. Bake 13-15 minutes or until set and very light brown around the edges. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. I always recommend testing a few cookies if you have the time, so you know how your oven will bake and how "done" you like them.

Here are more Peanut Butter Cookies Wally might like:

Peabody's classic PB cookies--you've got to read this tale from a former Jif child model!
Alpine Berry's Old-Fashioned PB Cookies
Gluten-Free Girl's PB cookies
Cook Sister's Double PB Cookies
Culinary in the Country's Honey-Roasted Chunk PB Cookies
Coconut & Lime's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies
And my own Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Mini Peanut Butter Cups

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Guinness Beef Stew with Mushrooms & Carrots

Last Sunday was dark and stormy here in Fort Lauderdale. My favorite team, the New England Patriots, was playing the 4:00 game against also-undefeated Dallas. I felt like having something to putter over in the kitchen. What else could possibly be as good as Guinness Beef Stew?

I’ve made a version of this before, and I thought it was on this blog. A little research told me that there was not in fact a Guinness stew entry here, and I couldn’t find a recipe I might have used in any of my cookbooks. Did I dream it? It doesn’t matter because I started from scratch, using a recipe in Cooking Light as a model, and came up with a recipe I really like.

You’re going to need about two and a half hours, start to finish. But it's nothing very strenuous, and then you can just sit back and wait for your house to smell great. I wanted to serve this with my beloved Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread, so I kept the stew on the slightly lighter side by not adding potatoes. Instead, I used a lot of mushrooms and carrots--more nutrition with less starch. If you want to use potatoes, just decrease the quantity of these two and go right ahead. You want to give the soda bread at least two hours to cool completely, so either make it before you start the stew, or do it the night before or in the morning. It’s a super-simple quick bread, and it makes your Irish-themed meal complete--especially with a sweet, unsalted Irish butter like Kerrygold.

My team won, and my stew was delicious. And knowing I’d have even more delicious leftovers during the week made it a perfect Sunday. If beef stew doesn't float your boat right now, take a look at my Curried Lamb and Lentil Stew or my Provencal Lamb Stew with White Wine.

Guinness Beef Stew with Mushrooms and Carrots
Of course Guinness is not the only kind of stout, but it’s the best and most readily available. I’ve been trying a lot of different brands of beef and chicken broth, and I think Swanson’s tastes the best. They make an organic version if you prefer. Fresh thyme is really nice here (for both stew and garnish), so don’t skip it if at all possible. Like all stews, this tastes great gently reheated in the next day or two.

Serves 6

2 to 3 tbs. canola oil, divided use
2 lb. button or cremini mushrooms, halved if large
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. dried thyme, divided
1/4 tsp. dried rosemary, divided
2 cups chopped white or yellow onion
4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
All-purpose flour, for dredging meat
cayenne pepper or paprika
2 to 2 1/2 lb. lean beef stew meat (or sirloin), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 Guinness draft can (or one bottle)
32 oz. low-sodium beef broth (I like Swanson’s)
2 dried bay leaves
4 large carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
Fresh thyme sprigs for serving (optional)

Heat 1/2 tbs. oil in a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add half the mushrooms, season with salt, pepper, half the thyme and rosemary, and cook until soft and browned. The mushrooms will release their water after a few minutes. Keep cooking, stirring often, until the water evaporates, even if they already look done to you. Remove mushrooms to a large bowl and repeat with remaining mushrooms.

Heat 1/2 tbs. oil in the pot and add the onions. Season with salt and pepper and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for two more minutes, stirring often. Add to the bowl with the mushrooms.

Add about 1/2 cup flour to a shallow bowl or plate and season with salt, pepper and cayenne or paprika. Coat the meat with flour, shaking off excess, and placing the pieces of meat on a baking sheet as you go. Heat 1/2 tbs. oil in the pot to medium-high heat. Add half the beef, season with more salt and pepper, and cook for about 6 minutes, using tongs to turn the meat and brown on all sides. Transfer meat and any juices to plate or bowl. Repeat with remaining meat.

Add Guinness to the pot, scraping up an brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add broth, bay leaves, and all the beef with its juices. Cover, and as soon as the stew begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cook for 1 hour.

Add the carrots, thyme leaves, and the mushroom mixture to the stew. Simmer, uncovered for 45 minutes. Check the carrots; if they are not tender yet, continue cooking. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls, garnish with thyme sprigs and serve.

There's a lot of tasty stuff stewing on my favorite food blogs:

Jumbo Empanada's Venison Stew a la Bri
Orangette's Chicken Stew
The Perfect Pantry's Root Vegetables with Beef Stew
Simply Recipes' Short Rib Beef Stew with Ale
Kalyn's Kitchen's Mediterranean Beef Stew with Rosemary
Chocolate and Zucchini's Beef Stew with Root Vegetables
The Wednesday Chef's Jennifer McLagan's Aromotic Chinese Oxtail Stew

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Oktoberfest Crostini: Brats and Sauerkraut get Classy

Two Saturdays ago, Mike and I spent the afternoon at the Oakland Park Oktoberfest. It was very small scale, but that meant it was easy to find parking, the beer line wasn't long, and there weren't too many people blocking our view of the dachsund races. All those little weiner dogs running around were so cute, and it made for a really fun day.

One of our favorite beers for any time of year--Tucher--was on tap. We drank both the special Oktoberfest brew and the regular style. This is an excellent food beer--think slow-roasted pork with tangy barbecue sauce, lentil stew, and of course brats and sauerkraut.

The official Oktoberfest celebration in Munich is over now (it runs from late Sept. through early October), but why should we pay attention to technicalities. This is the perfect time of year for some hearty German fare, so we picked up a 6-pack of Tucher at our Whole Foods market, along with their all-natural pork brats and got to work. I wanted finger food--not a big sloppy sandwich that you have to polish off in 5 minutes because it's too messy to set it back down on your plate. So I came up with bratwurst and sauerkraut crostini. It was my idea of Oktoberfest with style, but it worked even better than I expected! It was the perfect balance of flavors, and there wasn't an excess of soggy bread taking over.

Mike cooked the brats with onion by browning them and then simmering in beer for a while. We eat chicken and turkey sausage fairly frequently, but these were a whole new taste--and so juicy! You can do everything as directed and serve it as a baguette sandwich if that works better for you, but don't let October end before cooking some brats. For us, I think it's going to be a year-round dish.

Oktoberfest Crostini
I never had a bratwurst I really liked until we tried Whole Foods Market “Whole Ranch” brand (find near the meat counter). They are extremely lean, but really juicy and of course, don’t contain any scary ingredients. For lager, we used Red Stripe ('hooray beer!') from Jamaica. It worked very well, as should any traditional lager-style beer. Do not use ale - especially not an IPA (India Pale Ale). The bitter flavor will dominate the dish.

Makes 20

1/2 tbs. oil
4 pre-cooked bratwurst sausages
1 large onion, halved lengthwise and thickly sliced
1-12 oz. bottle lager (or enough to cover sausage about halfway in skillet)
1 cup prepared sauerkraut
1/4 cup water
20 slices from a whole grain baguette, cut on the diagonal, about 1/2-inch thick
spicy mustard
chopped parsley

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil to medium-high. Add the brats and cook until browned on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip and brown on the second side. Add the onion to the skillet right after flipping the sausage and cook until soft and lightly browned. If you want, use tongs to brown the brats on a third side. Season onion with salt and pepper. Add lager to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Cook for 12 minutes, turning the sausage once halfway through. Remove skillet from heat.

Meanwhile, combine the sauerkraut and water in a small saucepan over low heat for a few minutes to warm it. Spread the baguette slices generously with mustard.

Remove sausages from skillet and slice on the diagonal into about 10 slices per sausage. Remove onions from skillet and discard the liquid. Layer each baguette slice with a couple sausage slices, onion, and a spoonful of sauerkraut. Sprinkle with parsley. Arrange on a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Top 5 Favorite Fast Foods

Now that I've revealed what grosses me out in the world of drive-thrus, fry-o-lators, and heat lamps, I'm sure you're clamoring to know if there is anything out there I actually like.

The plain truth is, I don't really eat fast food. It's not about superiority, sophistication or some foodie creed of purity that I live by. The stuff just doesn't float my boat.

I like what I like--that's a really ambiguous way of saying I'm picky. To really enjoy food, I need to know it's of a good quality, cooked with some care and--in most cases--with healthy eating in mind. I love restaurants, but mostly to experience food and techniques I can't pull off at home, along with a level of skill and presentation I may not be capable of. That means I just don't get around to eating much fast food--even the things I really do like.

Enjoying fast food also has a lot to do with context--Starbucks breakfast pastries (scones!) are a wonderful thing to find in an airport terminal or down the street from our hotel when we're traveling, but they're not something I go for in everyday life. When we were traveling around the California coast this summer, eating at incredible taquerias around Santa Barbara and San Diego, it was so much fun because it was part of the travel experience and the food was a regional specialty that really does taste better there. The fast food item that takes the #1 spot on my list--which by the way is totally processed and contains ingredients I'm sure I can't pronounce-- is a long time favorite, but the few occasions that I eat it usually involve a summer road trip or day at the beach.

For all the great cooks out there, when do you like to eat fast food? And what's on your list?

Top 5 Favorite Fast Foods

5) Finagle A Bagel's honey wheat bagel: This regional bagel chain is the best in Boston, a city I lived in for seven years. Everything there is good, including yummy soups. This bagel is my favorite, and it's a complete meal spread with peanut butter (I love bagel shops that have peanut butter!). It got me through a few Sunday afternoons at the library during college. If you want to indulge in delicious carbs, this is a great way to go.

4) Baja Fresh chicken burritos: Another regional chain that would be a welcome sight on any road trip, or just for a great lunch. The tortillas are soft, they make your food to order with easy to identify fresh ingredients, and they have a good salsa bar.

3) Au Bon Pain: I can't pick just one thing from this awesome regional chain (locations all over the midwest, Eastern U.S. and worldwide). I drank the coffee every morning for a couple of years, and they make great customized sandwiches, plus salads and soups. So good, so fresh, and if you see one in an airport, do not hesitate!

2) Papa John's original pepperoni pizza: I've written about this perfect carry out pizza before--tasty sauce, the perfect amount of cheese, and awesome crust--it's not one of my gourmet creations, but I love it!

1) Wendy's Frosty: Ever since I was very little, I loved soft serve ice cream (still do!). This is a cross between a soft serve and a milk shake. I'm not sure if it actually contains real dairy, but I don't care. I love to order the kids menu size and eat it with a spoon. And if I had to eat at one of the national fast food burger chains, it would be Wendy's--no contest. The salads are really good, and if you want a burger and fries, they do a decent job. But for me, it's all about the Frosty.

Honorable Mention: Dunkin' Donuts cake donuts (especially with chocolate icing and sprinkles).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fish en Papillote

This is one of the most perfect meals for one person that I know. It's also no more trouble to cook for two or four. "En papillote" means wrapped in parchment paper. You seal the ingredients in a parchment packet and bake, so your meal steams in its own juices. The key is to trust the natural good qualities of the food inside the packet.

I learned this technique in a cooking class I took years ago, but I hadn't done it at home in almost as many years. Mike thought of it when we were trying to come up with dinner ideas recently. We bought some great-looking trout, but didn't cook it that night because we ended up having a late lunch and weren't really hungry for dinner. Mike made it for lunch the following day, but I wasn't in the mood for fish until it came out of the oven looking totally delicious. A few days later, I was on my own for dinner, so I re-created Mike's meal for myself.

I swear, you wouldn't think some vegetables and fish tossed in nothing but a little olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper could develop such great flavor after 25 minutes baking in parchment paper, but it does! I love the combination of carrots, zucchini and purple potatoes I used here, but you can use just about any veggies or type of fish you want. This particular trio of vegetables is good for color, but you could always sprinkle on some fresh herbs before serving to brighten things up. Even though the food is mostly steaming, the vegetables -- being cut so thinly -- still have time to develop a roasted sweetness. If you worry about overcooking fish, this is the fool-proof method for you, because a little extra time steaming won't have that dreaded dried-out effect.

Et it is after baking. The fish is moist, and the vegetables have enough time to brown slightly and develop flavor. The fish I used here is Kona Kampachi.

Fish en Papillote
This is hardly a recipe -- it's rather a technique -- so give it a try when you're not in the mood to follow strict directions. I'm writing guidelines to serve two people, but the quantities and specific ingredients are totally up to you. If you have a lot of vegetables, use a bigger piece of parchment. If you have a very thick piece of fish, bake a little longer. You can error on the side of caution, because it's awfully hard to overcook using this method.

Serves 2

2 pieces parchment paper, about 15 x 30 inches (or large enough to loosely fold over the contents)
2 small purple potatoes (about 1/2 lb.), very thinly sliced
1 to 2 zucchini, cut into 2-inch sticks
handful of baby carrots (or 2 full size), cut into matchsticks
2 (6 to 8 ounce) fish fillets like trout, snapper, salmon, tilapia, grouper, etc.
olive oil
lemon juice (optional)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay out the two sheets of parchment paper and divide the vegetables between them, placing the veggies on one half of each sheet so you can fold it over to make a packet. Lay the fish fillets on top of the veggies, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Take one piece of parchment and fold the loose end of the paper over the fish and vegetables. Starting at one corner, crimp the paper together, folding it over bit by bit so you create a sealed semi-circle. Repeat with the other sheet of parchment. Place the two packets on a baking sheet and cook for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from oven and place each packet on a plate and serve. Each person can tear open the packets themselves, slide the food onto the plates and discard the paper. You can offer extra lemon or fresh herbs if you want.

Wondering if any other food bloggers like to cook en papillote?

1) Pim of Chez Pim does -- check out the beautiful young ginger that she uses along with scallion for fish en papillote.
2) Gastronomie's Red Snapper en Papillote is a work of art from start to finish -- great photos!
3) Kevin of Seriously Good cooks my favorite fish -- salmon -- en papillote.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Top 5 Gross-Out Fast Foods

I've recently been inspired by a truly amazing food phenomenon -- Domino's Oreo Dessert Pizza. Have you seen this thing?! John Stewart and Steven Colbert have mocked it on their shows, making it a symbol of unchecked indulgence and plain bad taste. Domino's own commercials feature guys with yucky oreo cookie mustaches (see the ad here) from chowing on it. I know it's just a fad, but it's too scary to ignore.

The Oreo Pizza has led me to reflect on the lengths to which some food corporations will go to be bigger, better and nastier than their competitors. So here's my personal list of the top 5 gross-out fast foods on the market. Did I name one of your guilty (or possibly not so guilty) pleasures? Let me know what grosses you out in the comments.

5) Enormous Omelete Sandwich: 730 calories, 45 grams of fat (69% of your daily fat needs), 110% of your daily recommended cholesterol. But it'll keep you going right up till lunch time!

4) KFC Famous Bowl: I don't really have anything against KFC. If I'm going to eat fried chicken and biscuits, I want my homemade recipe. But, the conventional wisdom says the colonel's secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices is pretty good. This, however, does not excuse the Famous Bowl (pictured above) -- and what's so famous about it anyway? It's a massive bowl of mashed potatoes, topped with corn, popcorn chicken (read, "fried leftover chicken bits"), shredded cheese, gravy, and an optional biscuit add-on. All for 910 calories and a helluva lot of carbs.

3) IHOP's Country Fried Steak & Eggs: This item deserves a special mention because my sweetheart -- whom I would not hesitate to call an epicurean under normal circumstances -- absolutely loves it. Actually, he doesn't just love it, he's passionate about it and rhapsodizes over its charms. In our house, it has come to stand for his idea of bliss and my idea of pain. He loves it so much, he only eats it on rare occasions -- those couple times a year when he can devote an entire day to digesting it. In case you haven't had the pleasure, it's a fried piece of beef smothered in thick white sauce called, euphemistically, country gravy. It's served with a biscuit, and Mike get his with eggs over easy. He mixes it all around on his plate, douses it with hot sauce, and goes to his happy place for about an hour, at which point he is rendered immobile. To him, IHOP's version of this southern fave is the best, and that's why it's made the list.

2) Skyline Chili 3-Way: This ain't the good kind of 3-way -- a mound of spaghetti, a helping of beef chili flavored with cinnamon and electric-yellow cheese on top; actually, the color of the cheese is not so much electric--it's radioactive.

1) Domino's Oreo Dessert Pizza - Cookie crumbs stuck to a thin crust with gooey white icing. This isn't a pizza, it's a way to use up all the broken oreos...nice work, Nabisco.

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