Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Cioppino

I have childhood memories of Christmas Eve suppers with Mom’s homemade soup, usually a vegetable beef blend, simmered slowly on the stove and accompanied by fragrant loaves of white bread, still warm from the oven. Decades later I continue the family soup and bread supper tradition, but now we enjoy a NorthWest cioppino with crusty sourdough loaves. I tried to follow tradition for Christmas Eve 2012, but life got in the way.

On the morning of the 24th I made an early-morning run to my favorite seafood market, Mutual Fish, at least I thought it was early. Customers must have lined up very early that morning, long before the usual 8:30 opening. As I pulled plastic tag number 54 to mark my place in line, tag number 4 was called – and Mutual had run through an entire set of 100 tags once already prior to this round! The minutes flew by as I hung out, made new friends, compared recipes with strangers, and marveled at the patience and good cheer shown by everyone in that crowded market. Finally it was my turn at the counter. Soon small packages of cod, shrimp, crab, scallops, calamari and clams went into a sack and traveled home in my cooler. The seafood went directly into the refrigerator and I went directly to bed... damned flu bug! I should be recovering, not relapsing. Niece H phoned to report her last-minute call out on a 3-day trip, and our Christmas Eve supper was officially postponed until later in the week... whenever. 

About that fresh seafood... clams prefer an underwater life, don't like to hang out in the fridge very long, and certainly don't improve with age. So we had a simple supper that night, eating a few clams steamed with wine, diced chorizo, peppers and aromatics. The uneaten clams were scooped from their shells, the broth reserved, and all of the seafood tossed into the freezer until that indefinite later in the week

Fast forward to later in the week when H returned home and my flu bug was less pesky. We celebrated being together for the holiday and enjoyed a new recipe for an old favorite, cioppino. Fresh seafood is always the best, but recently-frozen worked out just fine for this holiday.

Christmas 2012 Cioppino
serves 6+

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and cut in half-moons
2 teaspoons salt
4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
5 cups fish stock (or use clam broth and chicken stock)
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and oregano 
2 pounds manila clams, scrubbed
1.5 pound firm fish fillets (halibut, cod, etc) cut into 2-inch chunks
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 pound mixed scallops and calamari
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped
Dungeness crab meat sauteed in butter  (optional garnish)

Heat the oil in a very large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, red pepper, leek, and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock, bay leaf, thyme and oregano. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, until the flavors blend, at least 30 minutes. (I like to make the broth a day in advance, then reheat before proceding on.)

Add the clams and to the cooking liquid (or cook the clams separately and add to each bowl before serving.) Cover and cook until the clams begin to open, about 5 minutes. Add the fish, shrimp, scallops and calamari. Simmer gently until the seafood is just cooked through, and the clams are completely open, stirring gently, a few minutes longer (discard any clams that do not open). Season the soup, to taste, with more salt and red pepper flakes.

Optional topping: melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a small saute pan over medium heat. When bubbling add chunks of Dungeness crab meat or additional prawns and cook briefly. Sprinkle with a pinch of cayenne or pimento if you like.

Ladle the soup into bowls, add the clams if you cooked them separately, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, add a small mound of warmed crab chunks and serve with crusty bread. Add a green salad and a glass of wine and there's a dinner to celebrate any holiday or special event.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Corn Chowder with Shrimp

Who knew that Corn Chowder could be such a luxurious, indulgent surprise? It sounds simple enough, almost boring, with frozen corn, sweet yellow bell pepper, onions and potatoes cooked in a broth. Ahhh, but then there’s the bacon and butter, and honestly, what doesn’t taste better with a bit of fat? Cream adds another level of sweet deliciousness, a scant tablespoon of chipotle pepper pack a subtle punch, parsley and black pepper bring a tangy bite and the garlicky, smoky shrimp bits take it over the top. Corn Chowder is definitely luxurious… indulgent… surprising. Oh yes, altogether a damned good bowl of soup! 

Fresh ingredients would be a bonus, but December isn't corn or pepper season. Frozen fire-roasted corn and peppers from Trader Joe's work just fine, as do frozen cleaned and peeled raw shrimp. Still, I can't wait to try this recipe in Fall with fresh produce and just-caught prawns, though it's hard to imagine corn chowder being any tastier. 

On Day One I topped the soup with bacon, green onions and parsley. Hmmm, I might have been overly generous with the chipotle chili powder and a slow burn built up, bite by bite. Tasty, but a large dollop of sour cream added to my bowl helped to tame the heat. Note: RL was quite happy with the level of chili heat.

Many corn chowder recipes add fresh crab to the soup, but I thought crab would add another heavy, rich, sweet flavor to this already decadent dish. Shrimp, however, might bring a brighter, cleaner note making this more of a soup-for-company choice. So on Day Two, when H came to lunch, I covered several large shrimp with a dusting of garlic powder and smoky Spanish paprika, sauteed them quickly with a dab of butter and and slid them onto each bowl along with the other toppings. That's it; no more fiddling with this recipe. We love it as is.

Fully-Loaded Corn Chowder with Toppings
Serves 6-8

4 slices thick-sliced bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 small to medium poblano pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon chipotle chili powder (more or less, to taste)
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 heaping tablespoon flour
3 to 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled & diced
1 package frozen roasted corn kernels (16 oz or more)
1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half, or cream and milk combo)

Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Green onion, chopped
Sour cream
Raw Shrimp, peeled & cleaned (3 to 4 large shrimp per serving, or equivalent of other sizes)
1 tablespoon butter
dash of garlic powder
dash of smoky Spanish Paprika (pimenton)

Add the bacon to a heavy-bottomed pot and cook over medium heat until the bacon is crisp and browned. Remove with a slotted spoon; transfer to a paper towel to cool and reserve. Don’t nibble too much, you will use it later. 

There should be 3 to 4 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan (add butter or oil as needed). Add the onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 more minute. Sprinkle on the chipotle chili powder, thyme and flour; heat and stir for another minute. Add the chicken stock and stir vigorously until thoroughly combined. Add the bay leaf and potato chunks and simmer until the potatoes are soft but not quite tender. Add the corn and simmer for 10 more minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in the cream and bring back to a low simmer, but don’t let the soup boil; it won’t be happy. Taste, then season with salt and lots of freshly ground pepper as needed. Use an immersion blender to whiz up a portion of the soup, thickening it slightly. OR put a scant ¼ into a blender, cover with the lid and place a towel over the lid, carefully puree and return to the pot. Let the soup continue to simmer over low heat, barely bubbling, while you prepare the shrimp. (Add a bit more stock or cream if you think the soup is too thick at this point.)

Peel and devein the shrimp. I used 4 large shrimp per person, but you can adjust quantity according to size (of shrimp, not people). Slice each shrimp into 3 or 4 pieces and sprinkle lightly with garlic salt and smoky paprika. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook quickly until they just turn color, barely a minute per side.

To serve
Ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream, the reserved bacon, minced parsley and green onion and cooked shrimp.
OR, pour into a heated serving bowl or small tureen and sprinkle on the toppings. Ladle it up immediately.   

Note: check out the Recipe Index for other soups and chowders you might enjoy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Daring Cooks' Pate Chinois

Shepherd's Pie or Cottage Pie: meat pie with a crust of mashed potato

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2012 Hostess is Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook! Andy is sharing with us a traditional French Canadian classic the Paté Chinois, also known as Shepherd’s pie for many of us, and if one dish says comfort food.. this one is it!

I must admit I approached this challenge with caution, reluctant to prepare a dish I have successfully avoided my entire life. It has always reminded me of some oddball Hamburger Helper concoction, and not in a good way. But that's just me. The concept of a meat pie with a potato crust is hardly new, it's been around for centuries. Wikipedia notes:

The term cottage pie is known to have been in use in 1791 when the potato was being introduced as an edible crop affordable for the poor (cf. "cottage" meaning a modest dwelling for rural workers). In early cookery books, the dish was a means of using leftover roasted meat of any kind, and the pie dish was lined with mashed potato as well as having a mashed potato crust on top. The term "shepherd's pie" did not appear until 1877, and since then it has been used synonymously with "cottage pie", regardless of whether the principal ingredient was beef or mutton. More recently, the term "shepherd's pie" has been used when the meat is lamb, the theory being that shepherds are concerned with sheep and not cattle.
These were interesting factoids, and I was especially cheered at the mention of leftover roasted meats. That made it easy to ignore the recommended ground meat preparation and work instead with a favorite recipe for Boozy Beef Stew in Wine Sauce, aka Boeuf Bourguignon. I've already raved about that recipe in a previous DC challenge (link). This choice was an invitation to prepare an extra-large batch of stew and a largish pile of gremolata. We served the stew to friends P and R for dinner earlier this week and still had quarts left to play with. Some mashed potatoes from the same dinner were re-seasoned, piped into mounds similar to Duchess Potatoes (link), and voila! I had a great start on a personalized version of cottage pie.

The short version: 
Using your favorite stew recipe, ladle a generous serving of warm stew meat, vegies and gravy to fill small ramekins. 

Sprinkle a teaspoon of minced flatleaf parsley and lemon zest gremolata over each bowl. 

Whip some sour cream, additional butter and shredded parmesan cheese into warmed "regular" mashed potatoes; fill a bag fitted with a large star-point tip, and pipe the potatoes into circular mounds on a silpat or parchment-covered baking sheet. 

Broil or heat in a 500 F oven until the potatoes brown slightly.  

Cool and place atop each ramekin.
OR you could pipe the potatoes directly onto each stew-filled ramekin, but my potato-piping skills needed developing.
Bake in a hot oven until warmed through (or use a microwave).

The Results: Version One 
The ramekins resembled cute savory cupcakes; an interesting if slightly strange presentation. As usual, the gravy was my favorite part of the dish. It tasted divine and bathed the meat in a silky sauce, keeping it moist and tender through the reheating. Carrots and onions retained their texture, though the mushrooms melted away a bit more than I would have liked. Mixed reviews on the potato topping though: the browned outer edges contrasted nicely with the soft, flavorful interior but the potatoes cried out for more gravy. A side pitcher of gravy will take care of that in the future.

A Second Try:

Fill a small 8"x8" baking dish about two thirds full with the same BoozyBeef Stew with Vegetables and Wine Sauce. Loosely scatter parsley/lemon zest gremolata over the top like edible confetti. Frost the cottage pie in irregular peaks and valleys with cheesy, sour cream mashed potatoes. Heat in a 500 F oven until the potatoes brown slightly. 

The Results: Second Try

The dish looked like lumpy potatoes, nothing more. It was still tasty, but not as attractive or appealing as serving the elements separately in a wide soup bowl. Picture the vivid colors of carrots, parsley and lemon zest plus a snowy mound of potatoes nestled in a pool of mahogany gravy with golden slices of mushroom and richly browned cubes of beef.  I missed that colorful visual when I gazed at my tater-topped cottage pie. 

Conclusions: Pate Chinois/Cottage pie/Shepherd's pie is much tastier than I had imagined. All those years of wrinkled-nose avoidance and rejection were a silly, uninformed response to an unfamiliar dish. Playing with your food is always fun, and I might pipe potato mounds again. Sigh! embracing the dish is another matter; it's still all about the abundance of a great gravy and it's hard to beat the original presentation. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Apple and Nut Coffee Cake

What do you like to eat for breakfast? I have so many answers to that simple question, many of which begin with "That depends..."  On any given day breakfast choices depend on the time available, who else is dining, what's in the refrigerator or on a restaurant menu, how healthy or happy I felt when I woke up... and on and on. Breakfast just might be my favorite meal of the day, especially when there is time to enjoy it. 

The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham is a treasure chest of 288 recipes, some familiar classics from childhood and more than a few totally new temptations. I bought it on a whim last year, based on Orangette's enthusiasm for Cunningham's waffles and fresh ginger muffins. If Molly raved about the book, I'd give it a try, risking an online purchase without first checking out a library copy. The book became nighttime reading, and I covered chapter after chapter, marking countless recipes to try "sometime soon". Then life got busy, the neglected book sat hidden on a shelf and I forgot all about it... until last week.

Following a stroll through the Volunteer Park Conservatory, Mom and I stopped for coffee and a treat at the nearby Volunteer Park Cafe. We shared a large wedge of coffee cake that was scrumptious, so good that we ate every last little bit.

Its coarse yet airy crumb, the thick ribbon of sweet berries and a generous streusel topping all served to rekindle my interest in finding new breakfast treats, coffee cake recipes in particular. 

Heading back to The Breakfast Book for inspiration I found Cunningham's basic recipe for Great Coffee Cake. Using her Apple and Walnut variation as a guide, I strayed a bit from the recommended ingredients and added some Apple Pie spice to brighten the tart appleness

substituted thick Greek kefir cheese for ordinary sour cream, 

swapped almonds for walnuts 

and baked in small pans instead of a 10-inch tube pan. 

It didn't matter, the flavor was deeeee-licious. Though I did reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes, for the next batch I'll check for doneness a few minutes earlier; my mini Bundt pan cakes were a touch overdone. Not that it slowed us down a bit; when sliced in half on the horizontal, toasted under the broiler, then slathered with butter and served warm, the cakes still rated two thumbs up. Cunningham herself noted:
"The breakfast cakes in this chapter are meant to be sliced, toasted, and buttered, not frosted. With good cake the wholesomeness will shine through without the added frill of frosting. Breakfast cakes are wonderful, particularly if you are a sweet and not a savory breakfast person."
Ignoring the printed caution, RL, who is a sweet breakfast person, experimented with accompaniments. He first tried a dollop of Greek honey yogurt on the side, then a generous tablespoon of dark cherry preserves on top of the Greek yogurt. Positive response with both. The next morning he warmed a sauce of 3 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon lime juice to drizzle over the top of a warmed mini cake. Oh joy! most of the thin sauce soaked into the cake, a little pooled on the plate as a dipping sauce, and RL's contented sighs filled the kitchen as he ate every morsel. This sauced version has now become the standard for our new recipe.   

Apple and Nut Coffee Cake
Based on a variation of Great Coffee Cake from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book

One 10-inch tube cake or 8 mini Bundt cakes or ramekins

½ pound (2 sticks) butter, room temperature, cut in chunks
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 ½ cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon Penzey’s Apple Pie Spice (or cinnamon)
1 cup sour cream (I used Greek kefir)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped tart apple (unpeeled Granny Smith)
1 ½ coarsely chopped walnuts (I used almonds) 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan (or spray with cooking spray).
  2. Put the butter in a large mixing bowl; beat for several seconds. Add the sugar; beat until smooth. Add the eggs and beat until light and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture; beat until smooth. Add the sour cream and mix well. Add the apple bits and chopped nuts; stir to distribute them well throughout the thick batter.
  3. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan(s). Bake for about 50 minutes (40-45 if using smaller pans), or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. You really don’t want to overcook this cake or it will be dry and heavy instead of moist and rich. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Invert onto a rack and cool a bit before slicing. Serve warm. 

    *My favorite tastetester RL recommends serving with a drizzle of a 3-to-1 honey/lime sauce, or a dollop of Greek honey yogurt and cherry preserves.
    *Cover tightly to store: individually-wrapped cakes in plastic wrap works well for storage and microwave reheating.
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