Monday, January 31, 2011

The lighter meals Project - Pan seared Cod with a Raw Asian salad

New Year, new beginning.  How many people out there have made a resolution to lose weight this year, or simply eat healthier?  I know of a few…   Eating healthier can be a challenge especially if you like to eat out or cook, or if it is in the middle of cold and snowy winter, when your body craves comforting, heavy meals.  Most people equate dieting with food that does not taste good, but this does not have to be true.  With a little imagination and knowledge of the ingredients, you can transform most dishes into lighter, healthier versions.  Just keep counting those calories!
In order to help some of you along in your weight lost quest, I will be doing a month of low calorie, healthier meals and ideas.  And even if you are not dieting, these may inspire you to cook a bit lighter.

Pan seared Cod with a Raw Asian salad.
This is a “no-sauce required dish”.  The dressing on the salad, provides just enough moisture to the fish to tie it altogether.
Each serving is about 380 calories.

4 Cod Filets at 6 oz each
2 tbs of olive oil
Salt and Fresh Ground white pepper

For the Raw Asian salad
2 small or 1 large green Zucchinis cut into long thin strips  
2 small or 1 large yellow squash cut into long thin strips   
2 carrots cut into long thin strips  
½ cup of shredded broccoli stems  
½ of red or yellow bell pepper cut into long thin strips  
2 tbs of chopped scallions  
2 tbs of chopped cilantro
1 tbs orange juice
1 tbs of rice vinegar
1 tbs of tamari or soy sauce
4 tbs of grapeseed oil
1 tsp of toasted sesame oil
½ tsp of red chili flakes
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Combine orange juice, vinegar and tamari.  Add the chili flakes, salt and pepper.  Slowly whisk in the sesame and the grapeseed oil to make the vinaigrette.  Add the chopped scallions and set aside.
Combine all of the vegetables and toss with the ready vinaigrette about 15 – 20 min before serving.
Heat a large skillet until piping hot (otherwise your fish will stick) and add the olive oil.  Season the fish filet with salt and white pepper and cook tuning once about 3 min per side or until a nice brown crust appears and the fish is opaque and cooked through.
Before serving add chopped cilantro to the salad.  Serve the salad on top of the fish and not on the side.  The dressing and vegetable juices will help create the sauce.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blood Orange Marmalade

It is bone chilling cold and gloomy almost every day now.  Winter in the North East seems even more endless than usual this year.  I try not to think about all the warm weather things that I miss terribly like fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm stand, vibrant colors and sweet scents.  Although winter brings one colorful thing that summer does not – blood oranges.  Available only in the winter, imported from a far and source of the best marmalade I make.
I fell for orange marmalade while visiting UK a while back.  The spread of clotted cream and bitter orange marmalade on what we Americans call “English muffin” is simple and fragrant start to the day.  When we returned home, I immediately tried to re-create that bitter orange flavor and a beautiful clarity of the marmalade with the candid rind.  Unfortunately the oranges in the US are very different, they lack the flavor and bitterness, they are much sweeter and the jam does not come out anything like the one I had in London.
I didn’t give up; I continued experimenting, blending oranges and lemons, finally coming up on the blood oranges.  I tried them out because I liked the color and ended up loving the flavor as well.
This marmalade tastes great on a piece of a crusty toast or an English muffin, with or without butter or clotted cream, but I swear, I mostly make it because it so pretty…

Blood Orange Marmalade
10 medium size blood oranges
6 cups of water
4 cups sugar
2 lemons
Peel and cut up the oranges and place them in a fairly large pot with all the water.  Save the orange peel.

Bring to a boil and simmer for about 20 min until the oranges are very soft.  Strain through a mesh and leave it straining for a few hours or overnight.  You can put a heavy plate on top of the oranges in a strainer to help it along, but don’t squeeze the mass too much, it will make the marmalade muddy.
Cut Lemon and saved orange peel into very thin strips, make sure that all the white under-peel has been removed first.
Combine strained liquid, sugar, juice from 2 lemons, thin strips of peel from 2 oranges and 2 lemons and bring to a boil.  Gently simmer, periodically stirring with a wooden spoon.  If any foam appears on top, remove it with a wooden spoon.
Simmer the marmalade until it is reduced and the temperature reaches about 220F.  It is generally the point when you can begin testing if the mixture has “jelled”.  To test, place a small plate in the freezer for a few minutes.  Once frozen, dab some marmalade on it and place in a freezer again for a minute.  Test by tipping the plate, if the mixture begins to wrinkle when tipped, the marmalade is jelled.

I store my made marmalade in the fridge because it does not last very long in my house, so I do not conserve the jars.  I just pour and store. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A great wine for great food and company

A few weeks before Christmas we visited one of my favorite local wineries Ventimiglia Vineyard  .  The experience was a delight as always.  Gene, the winemaker is delightful and bubbly and his passion really comes through in his wines.  He makes great, easy drinking but complex wines that are exquisite.  I first came upon Gene’s wines by taking an unexpected detour and visiting the tasting room.  That was over two years ago and I was hooked.  I find myself hoarding Ventimiglia wines, saving them for the times when I want a super special taste. 

My absolute favorite is the Fratelli, which is a blend of Cab Sav, Merlot and Cab Frank.   I am more partial to full bodied wines, this wine lighter in body, delivers and exceptional smoothness and flavor.  Like I said, I am hooked.

And what is a great meal and drink if not shared with friends.? Here is a glimpse of a very special meal which was meant to showcase Ventimiglia wines and  savor the joy of a perfect pairing.

Pan Seared Venison with Juniper Port sauce, served with Ratatouille and rosemary roasted potatoes.

Vension and Juniper Port Sauce
2 Venison Tenderloins or venison roast.
4 Juniper berries
½  tbs of whole black pepper
For the sauce:
4 juniper berries
2 shallots minced
1 clove of garlic minced
1 tbs of fresh rosemary mince
1/4 cup of brandy
1 cup of port
½ cup of dry red wine
2 tbs of butter

Grind the 4 Juniper berries with salt and black pepper in a spice grinder or mortar.  Rub the mixture on the venison tenderloins and refrigerate for a few hours. 

When ready to cook, bring the meat to room temperature.  Preheat the pan until scorching, add a tablespoon of olive oil and sear the meat on all sides no more than 1 min on each for rear.  If cooking roast, additionally cook in a 400 F oven for 10-12 min.  Take the meat of the pan, loosly cover with foil and let it rest.  In the meantime prepare the sauce.
To the same pan, on low heat, add the shallots, garlic and rosemary.  Let them sweat for a few minutes.  Add the whole juniper berries, brandy, port and wine .  With the wooden spoon scrape all the delicious brown bit stuck to the pan.  Let cook for 2 min, than strain the sauce and return it to the pan.  Let cook for another 5 min or until reduced by ½.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Swirl in the butter, pour over the meat and serve immediately. 

No, I did not get the recipe from watching the cartoon.  All this fancy French word means is vegetables sautéed in layers, what my mother called a vegetable ragu.  This dish can be made with whatever is in season and is always a colorful addition to a  simple meat preparation.

1 small butternut squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 yellow squash, cut into 1 inch cubes
½ red pepper julienned
1 small yellow onion diced
½ pint of grape or cherry tomatoes
½ cup of fresh or frozen peas
Handful of chopped parsley
1 tbs honey
½ tbs smoked paprika
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Toss the butternut squash with honey, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and olive oil.  Toss the zucchini and the yellow squash with salt pepper and olive oil.  Spread all on the baking sheet and bake for about ½ hr until fork tender.
On low heat caramelize the onions in  a tablespoon of olive oil until lightly brown, add the pepper and sauté until soft.  Add the cherry tomatoes and sauté for a few more minutes until tomatoes just burst.
Add the peas and combine all the vegetables together, top with parsley and serve.

You can serve this meal with a crusty bread to mop up the sauce, or as I did with a homemade pop-over.

Invite friends over for dinner and enjoy with a glass of your favorite red!

  We all know which one is mine!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Coffee Break

Ahh.. a peaceful moment!  A perfect cup of coffee and ten minutes of pure bliss with the most chocolaty, perfectly rich cookie.  Just what every woman with a hectic life needs.

I mentioned before that I recently bought what I consider the best baking book I ever came across.  The “Sarabeth’s Bakery from my hands to yours” by Sarabeth Levine is a wonderful book.  It may not be right for a starting home baker, as it assumes certain skill, but I found it precisely intelligent and instructive. 
This recipe for Chocolate Chubbies is from this book.  The cookies are moist, rich and intensely chocolate.

1 stick of unsalted butter.
9 oz of semisweet and / or bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped
3 oz of Unsweetened chocolate
½ cup of all-purpose flour
½ tsp of baking powder
¼ tsp of fine salt
3 large eggs
1 ¼ cup of super fine sugar ( I used regular as I was out of the superfine kind)
2 tsp of vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups of chopped walnuts
1 ½ cups of chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Melt the butter and the chocolate over a double boiler.  Remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together.  Whip the eggs in the standing mixer with a whisk attachment until light and foamy.  Add the sugar and whip until very thick and pale yellow.  Beat in the chocolate making sure it is completely incorporated.  Switch to a paddle attachment and gradually add the four mixture.  Do not over mix. 
Stir in the chocolate chips, pecans and walnuts with a spatula.  The dough will be very soft.
Using a 2 inch scoop portion the batter onto prepared pans about 1 ½ inch apart.  These cookies do not spread much.  Bake right away, if you wait the tops will not come out shiny.
Bake for 17 minutes, making sure not to overbake.  The middle of the cookie will look slightly underdone but the edges should lift cleanly from the pan.
Cool on the cooling racks.  The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days, with parchment paper separating the layers of the cookies.

Although these can be stored 3 days, I very much doubt they will make it this long… these are delicious.

Enjoy a little piece of heavenly chocolate and think peaceful thoughts!!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Simple Salmon and Shrimp pasta.

The first week of the New Year did not start out the way I wanted to.  I had all kinds of ambitions for the month of January; I had planned a series of food and wine features highlighting each local wine with a perfectly complimentary bite.  Instead I got sick with some sort of a crazy flu virus, which does not know when to quit.  As a result, I have no energy or desire to be in the kitchen, or anywhere else for that matter.  What is worse, I have lost (I hope temporarily), my sense of taste.  All food tastes strange and don’t even get me started on wine, all reds taste Ike battery acid now.  This is what hell must be like.
So in my attempt to cheat the flu gods and pretend I am feeling better; I dragged myself onto the kitchen and decided to at least make my family happy for a Sunday dinner.  The fridge and pantry yielded fresh salmon, frozen shrimp and clam juice.  So when in doubt though it all with pasta for maximum flavor with least effort.  The results came out surprisingly good, and thankfully simple.  I was out of the kitchen and back on the sick couch in a flash. 
As for the food and wine features, I promise, they are on their way.  I have a few very special treats planned.  I can’t wait to get my taste mojo back.

Simple Salmon and Shrimp pasta.

Serves 4 generously (with leftovers for lunch the next day)
2 packages of fresh pasta (I used Angel Hair)
4 oz of Salmon filet
1 lb of shrimp ( any size, I had 25-30) peeled and deveined
2 shallots finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 small zucchini julienned
2 oz of butter
1 ½ cup of clam juice
1 ½  cup of dry white wine
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
Handful of fresh basil
½ pint of cherry tomatoes
1 tsp of red paper flakes
1 tsp of white pepper
Salt to taste

Salt and Pepper the salmon filet on both sides.  Heat up 1 tbs of olive oil in a non stick skillet.  Fry the salmon filet 2 min per side until crispy on the outside and rare on the inside.  Set aside.
In the meant time put on the pasta water.   
In the large, deep skillet heat up 1 tbs of olive oil.  Add the shallot and sauté on low heat for a few minutes, then add the garlic and let both sweat for another 2 minutes.  Add the butter and let it melt and get bubbly, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the clam juice and the wine and let the whole thing reduce on medium/ low heat.  Add the pepper flakes, salt and white pepper and the lemon zest.  Add the shrimp.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the shrimp is pink and cooked through. Add the tomatoes, zucchini and shredded salmon when shrimp is almost done cooking. 
 In the mean time drop your pasta.
The pasta should be cooked al dente as it will finish cooking in the sauce, so if using fresh thin pasta, just dunk it into the boiling water for no more than 30 seconds before tossing with the sauce.
Top everything with a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh basil.