Thursday, April 29, 2010

Olive Oil Poached Cod & Roasted Tomatoes

I am in NYC this week where we are visiting family, hosted a belated Passover Seder and just enjoying the city and all it has to offer. I grew up here and I remember not fully understanding what is was like not to live in Manhattan. People would respond in awe when I told them where I lived, some with jealousy and some with simple wonder that I had not been murdered at a tender age. I was over 30 years old, siting in traffic in Burlington when I realized I was much safer growing up in New York City. The most dangerous thing we all do, often more then once a day, is ride in a car. Until I moved away from New York I rarely traveled in a car.

Now that I have moved away I get some of the awe, confusion and feeling of being overwhelmed by all there is to do, all the people and everything going on at once. As a teenager the closest I came to understanding came when I first visited Boston. I looked at the short buildings and wondered, "They call this a city? How can they call this city?"

I am grateful that my children can grow up riding the NYC subway, walking the streets, exploring the museums and interesting neighborhoods. They can do all these things as regular visitors who feel like they have some ownership and attachment to the city. However as I stood with them on the subway platform with their fingers stuffed tightly in their ears I was reminded that they are Vermonters in their hearts (even if it will take "true" Vermonters another 6 generations to stop referring to them as anything but flatlanders). In response I proved I still had some of my New Yorker's street cred by riding the subway without holding on, although I have to admit, as the game of chicken goes I lost, I kept my hand inches from a support pole the whole time, curved around it without actually touching it.

For most of the years that we have visited NYC as non residents we have allowed my father to treat us to take out food very night. However the week long festival of take out food began to make both Lewis and I feel wretched. The more our diet at home evolved to contain more vegetables and less but higher quality meat the worse it became. So on our last visit I cooked most of our meals in my father's understocked galley kitchen on his anemic stove. It was so much better in so many ways, we felt healthier, we maintained more of our usual schedule and the boys ended up going to bed closer to normal time. So here I am in April cooking again, still on an anemic stove in an understocked kitchen. Every time I come I add to the mental list of items that I need to bring when we visit to make cooking here easier.

Wednesday Lewis was away at dinner time and I had to prepare dinner for my father and two over tired boys. I am always amazed when my boys are exhausted and begin bugging each other, poking, pushing, grabbing toys etc. Normally they are best friends, people frequently comment on it. Not however when they are hungry, tired, or bored. So with both of them exhausted I decided to prepare olive oil poached cod with roasted tomatoes. Nothing like a fiddly sensitive recipe when there are tired boys pummeling each other.

The results where really wonderful though. The fish was luxurious with a moist and tender texture. The sauce is also very flavorful with the sweetness of the balsamic and the richness from the olive oil and a concentrated tomato flavor. If you don't want to hover over the poaching fish, the sauce would still be excellent with a pan seared and gently cooked fillet. Alternatively you can use the olive oil poaching method for salmon, swordfish or another firm fish.

The recipe calls for fresh thyme sprigs but I subbed the fennel fronds I had on hand. I think the thyme would have been better as the fennel fronds added almost nothing. A fresh bay leaf, rosemary, sage or oregano would all be excellent as well. Julian loved this dish, Sebastian however chose not to eat any, Julian happily declared, "Great, then I can eat yours."

Olive Oil Poached Cod with Roasted Tomatoes

1 1/4 lbs golfball or large tomatoes (I used the smaller ones as they are grown better)
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (use a high quality one here)
2 Tbsp aged balsamic vinegar (I used one aged for 21 years)
2 sprigs thyme or 1 fresh bay leaf, or 2 sprigs fresh rosemary or fresh oregano or 2 Tbsp fennel fronds
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cups extra virgin olive oil (you do not need to use your highest quality oil here)
3/4 to 1 lb fresh cod fillets without skin

Preheat the oven to 375° and blanche and Peel the tomatoes. Cut each tomato into 4 wedges for golf ball sized ones or 8 for larger tomatoes. Place into a small roasting pan with the peeled garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, herbs, salt and pepper and bake until tender and soft. I cooked mine for 25 minutes. You are supposed to remove the tomatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon and then strain the cooking liquid. If I was at home I would have done that, however it was fine just spooned up as is.

To poach the fish heat the 2 cups olive oil to 120° in a small saucepan over a very low flame (it will reach this temperature very quickly I found). Season the fish on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper and slip into the warm oil. The oil needs to cover the fish completely. Cook the fish for 9 minutes on the first side. Monitor the temperature of the oil while cooking the fish, it should remain between 110° and 115° Mine slipped out of that range when I was checking on squabbling boys, but most of the time it was in the correct range. I found once it got to 115° it maintained its temperature very well with the heat turned off for about 5 minutes. Cook for 9 minutes on the second side or until done.

To serve place the roasted tomatoes on a plate and top with the poached fish. Drizzle some of the sauce over the top. The original recipe calls for serving it with blanched and butter sauteed broccoli rabe, I used broccolini instead.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ginger Carrot Dressing

There are signs of spring everywhere right now. On any given day you can see people outside wearing everything from down parkas to shorts and tank tops, at the same time. After months of being wrapped up tight in winter clothing Vermonters vary in how they think it is best to face spring weather. In my garden my asparagus and rhubarb are slowly emerging to give me hope that that there will be fresh produce soon. In addition my apricot stick has flowers that my boys and I are envisioning as future apricots. Sebastian was wishing each flower will become 10 apricots (okay I admit it, I would love that as well). One day I know the stick will grow up to be a tree which bears fruit, for now however it is best described as a stick.

Then there are the spring time conversations of Sebastian and Julian. "Mama, we caught an ant. We are going to keep him as a pet until he is big and fat. Then we are going to feed him to the chickens. Isn't he cute?" This was closely followed by Julian calling out excitedly, "Sebastian, Sebastian, I found more ants climbing up the wall." And then my children were the proud owners of a whole collection of ants. Somehow I fail to greet the yearly influx of ants in my ancient house with as much joy as my five and seven year old boys do.

However even with all this and the happy cooks on other food blogs basking in the joy of local spring foods such as rhubarb, asparagus, nettles and ramps, I still have carrots from my winter CSA and not many local fresh vegetables to play with. So when I stumbled across a mention of Gyneth Paltrow's Carrot Ginger Dressing in the comments of another blog I tried it immediately. The dressing turns out to be the origins of the bright orange one I have been served in many Japanese restaurants. Only this one is better, fresher and more real tasting. The flavor is still hard to pinpoint as the one in the restaurant is.

The only problem I had with it was the shallot, which imparted that old onion flavor to the after taste. I tried many solutions, reducing the quantity of shallot, adding a pinch of sugar, and finally marinating the shallot in olive oil. In the end the best solution was also the simplest, I just left it out, which surprisingly had zero negative affect on the overall flavor.

As soon as I made this dressing I knew I was going to share it here, so I called my neighbors to borrow a pretty glass jar to photograph it in. Once I was done taking the photos I returned the jar filled with dressing. It was a, "Thank you for supporting my neuroses gift." After all while we do have an almost communal pantry set up with them, this was clearly just weird. They told me it was really good on top of steamed broccoli, so far we have been enjoying it on salad. Julian loved it in the kitchen, happily dipping in red pepper. However as soon as it made it to the table he was done. This has happened before with both my boys and new foods. I think before dinner is served they are hungry enough to be more open minded. I am confident that one day they will both return to all the dishes they loved in the kitchen.

Carrot Ginger Dressing
Adapted from Gwyneth Paltrow

1 large carrot (3 - 4 oz's), coarsely chopped
1 - 2 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh ginger (we seem to prefer 1 Tbsp but make it to your taste)
1 Tbsp sweet white or awase miso (I tried to buy white miso at my local asian market but the owner did not know as he is not a cook, he told me he just stocks what his customers request. I bought the awase, which turns out is a blend of white and red miso).
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp roasted sesame oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp water

Pulse the carrots and ginger in a blender or mini food processor until finely chopped, scraping down the sided as needed. Add the miso, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil and blend until well combined. Add the extra virgin olive oil and water in a slow stream while the motor is running. Serve on the salad or vegetables of your choice.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Strawberry ShortCake

On the morning of my fortieth birthday Julian, my five year old, ran in to the room and asked, "When are the Gathers getting here?" Children are so funny about secrets and surprises. Up until that moment both boys had been doing an okay job of keeping our friends visit a surprise, only allowing comments to leak out that I could ignore, or pretend did not mean anything more then how much we all missed our friends. But that comment was so blatant, spoken by a child who was having trouble keeping what he knew bottled inside, and needed an answer.

Turns out the answer was lunch time, our friends would be here at lunch time. The Gathers are friends who were forced to move away last summer for an Ear Nose and Throat Residency 3.5 hours away. They are a family with a close friend for each of us plus a bonus 2 year old. Malcolm, the 2 year old, is strong willed in a remarkably similar way to Julian. A lesson every day to his mother, Katherine, for ever marveling at Julian and my ability to cope. She made the mistake of commenting on it when she was still planning on having one more child.

I have always been hard to surprise, even before I had children to tell me out right. Lewis is often amazed and horrified at how little information I need to make accurate conclusions.
I have had 2 attempted surprise parties before in my life and I figured out both of them. There is often too much maneuvering to the time and destination. Both previous attempts involved outright arguing, one about when I would return from going out with another friend. My surprise 12th birthday party my friends asked if I could have a birthday party (my mother was very ill and I could not have one) who would I invite. When they argued with me about the guests for my fantasy party, I knew something was up.

As my friend Katherine tried to guide us to my husband's office to meet him for lunch my suspicions were aroused. So I quietly changed my shirt, grabbed my camera and stopped arguing about where we should eat. Then in case I doubted my own instincts, Sebastian turned to Julian as we left and said, "Don't worry, the party is at Daddy's office and there will be food there."

And there was food, wonderful food that Lewis had chosen with local caterers, all simple but delicious and fresh. There was also a room with some of my favorite people. At one point there was a row of children, whose families do not eat processed foods, happily drinking florescent orange gatorade. The only thing missing was cake, Lewis could not decide on a cake that would be right so he decided on none. So a few days later, I made my own. A strawberry shortcake made with a spongecake base instead of biscuits.

Strawberry shortcake was a specialty of my mom's, and in honor of my mother I used one of her spongecake recipes. I used the one where she rewrote the steps, whited out what she wrote and then rewrote the steps again. I am not sure this is the best sponge cake recipe ever, but I just love the audacity of the white out in my mother's cookbook, something I can not bring myself to do.

I did receive a true surprise in the end as Katherine and her children stayed in my tiny house with Sebastian and Julian while Lewis and I went to stay at their condo at Sugarbush. I have been pining for weeks for a chance to eat without anybody whining and sleep as late as I want without having to worry about anybody. So this gift was perfect, especially as I really missed my children as I tried to go to sleep in a building they were not in. I guess I am not one of those mothers who is destined to take a long vacation from her children.

Strawberry Shortcake

Sponge Cake
Adapted from James Beard and my mother

4 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
4 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups of sugar (divided use)
3/4 cups hot water
grated rind of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
4 egg whites beaten until stiff, but not dry
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

Melt the butter slowly in a small saucepan over low heat. When the butter is melted whisk in the 2 Tbsp flour. Brush the flour/butter mixture on the insides of two 8 inch cake pans and set aside, not next to the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°.

Beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon colored (this is much easier with the best quality eggs, which I happily gather from my own chickens). While beating the eggs slowly add 1 cup of sugar. Mix in the hot water, lemon rind, lemon juice, salt and baking powder and the rest of the sugar.

James Beard says to fold in the beaten egg whites. Once the egg whites are thoroughly incorporated sift the flours over the batter and fold it in. My mom said to fold in the flour first and the egg whites second. I will leave the choice up to you.

Pour the batter into the two prepared cake pans and bake in the center of the oven for 20 - 25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans on a cooling rack.

Heavy/whipping cream
Organic strawberries (in season I will happily use local non organic strawberries that I know are not sprayed at all once the fruit is set).

Put the whipping cream in a bowl and whip using an electric beater, stand mixer or immersion blender to until soft peaks form. Remove the cakes from the pan by inverting on to a plate or cake stand. Spread the bottom layer heavily with whipped cream and cover with sliced strawberries. Spread the strawberries with more whipped cream and then place the top layer on the cake. Spread the top with more whipped cream and place sliced strawberries on top. Serve at once

Refrigerate any leftovers (Ha)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kosher for Passover Brownies

I grew up in Manhattan in a predominately Jewish neighborhood and attended a school were most of the students were Jewish. I am not sure when I first realized that this was not the case for the rest of the country, or even the state. I do remember in 10th grade one of my history teachers, Mr. Gatch, told of a time he subbed for a 7th grade history class. Midway through the lesson he realized that the class believed the majority of U.S. citizens were Jewish. So after taking a poll of the class where students said they believed the U.S. was 90 to 95 percent Jewish he told them about the town in Ohio where he grew up.

He told them about the one Jewish family in the whole town. "Imagine what it would be like to be the only Jewish family in your town. Imagine how you would feel if you and your brother were the only Jewish children in your school". Mr Gatch just stood there for a minute to allow the students to try to picture what he said, try to place themselves in the shoes of Mr Gatch's classmate. Then one boy in the back raised his hand and asked, "Mr Gatch, what was it like for you being the only Jewish family in your town?" My whole class laughed at the inability for this student to even comprehend that their teachers were mostly not Jewish. Our laughter was stronger because of our faint chagrin that we only recently (some while Mr Gatch told his story) learned otherwise ourselves.

Now 24 years later I am living in Burlington, Vermont. My children do not go to a school that is predominately Jewish. This time of year it feels like every adult who talks to them asks what the Easter bunny is going to bring them. They never get asked what gift they received for the Afikomen or how their seder was. Everyone here seems to assume children are part of the predominant culture, waiting expectantly for the Easter Bunny.

This is the first year since Sebastian was born that I have not hosted a seder this week. We are going to wait to have a belated seder with family in New York the last week of April. Vermont seems to have an independent streak when it comes to school holidays, so our April break does not coincide with Passover and Easter as it does in most states. Last year we took Sebastian out of school for the week of Passover so we could celebrate with my family. However it felt like we came home just in time for April vacation. This year we will wait to have our seder, we could have celebrated with local friends, but my boys like this opportunity to celebrate with my family. I think they like feeling like one of many Jews at the Passover table, or maybe I am just projecting.

It feels really weird not to be marking this week, not to have gathered with either family or friends to read through the Haggadah I have written. It feels strange that I have not slaved in the kitchen for 2 weeks to prepare for our seder. I will still make my family crazy with the smells of brisket braised for hours only to be sliced and placed in the freezer for the future, just not yet.

In the midst of this weirdness I read an article about the White House Seder. I love the story of the start of the new tradition, a box of matzo and a bottle of Manishevitz after a long day. The Jews at the seder unable to answer all the questions asked by those new to the holiday celebration. I have to admit I also love the idea of gefilte fish being served on white house china. My non Jewish husband has embraced all other Jewish foods but draws the line at gefilte fish. I wonder what the Obama's think of it. This gathering really sounds like the best Passover seders have to offer.

So perhaps in recognition of what most other Jews (and the Obamas) are doing this week, I made Kosher for Passover brownies. My boys are all ecstatic to have brownies. These brownies don't taste of struggle or matzo, instead they are rich and chocolatey. The first year I made them one of the children at my seder, who is not Jewish and did not comprehend the matzo slight of hand that makes it possible to be so creative at Passover, asked me to teach her mother how to make brownies. Somehow I have lost my original recipe and had to play around and create my own. I was not happy with my first attempt, so I adjusted the recipe and made another half batch. Everyone agrees that the second batch is much better. However I am not worried that the first batch will go uneaten, it just needs to wait its turn.

Passover Brownies

These brownies can be made pareve (can be eaten with a dairy or meat meal) by using Kosher for Passover margarine, and of course you can use Kosher for Passover chocolate as well. My family celebrates Passover more as a way to connect with our ancestors and the rituals and celebrations they engaged in, so I use Callebaut chocolate and butter.

6 ozs bittersweet chocolate (Kosher for Passover if you want, I use Callebaut)
3/4 (1 1/2 sticks) cup butter (if you wish to make this pareve use Kosher for Passover margarine)
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp chocolate extract
3/4 cups matzo cake meal
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 9" by 13" pyrex pan with butter or margarine and set aside.

Melt butter (or margarine) and chocolate in a heavy pot over very low heat (if you want you can use a double boiler but the butter or margarine will protect the chocolate from the heat). Once the chocolate is all melted and smooth turn off the heat and add the sugar. Stir until well blended. Add the eggs, salt, vanilla optional chocolate extract. Stir in matzo cake meal and nuts if using. Allow to rest for 5 minutes to let the matzo meal soak up some of the batter before spreading in the prepared pan.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out with little or no batter on it.