Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fish Chowder

We've lost sight of what a good fish chowder** is. Too frequently chowder is a restaurant dish: a gloppy, salty bowl of soup, lacking seafood flavor. It's usually clam chowder and it most likely comes from a can or a box in the freezer. Ironically, most of us can get reliably good seafood and a great chowder is well within our reach.

Go make this chowder. It's perfect for a cold night and we've got quite a few of those coming up. This recipe is liberally lifted from a recipe by Jasper White. For those of you who don't know Jasper White, or know of him only through his Summer Shack restaurants, I'll point out that he was a major force in Boston's restaurant scene in the '80s and '90s. When Dave and I first moved to Boston, a table at Jasper's was an experience to celebrate. We ate there a few times (in fact, we were even going to get engaged during dinner there, except I got a stomach bug and the proposal we held over until the follow day. I said yes by the way. :-) ).

Fish Chowder
Serves 4

Fish chowder seems like a rather boring name for this dish because it is fantastic. All through dinner we just kept marveling over the flavor. Use the freshest fish you can find. I used a side of pollock from our latest community supported fishery delivery and it was fabulous. I also had some fish broth (fumet) in the freezer from this summer's CSF share, but feel free to use a light chicken broth, clam broth or just plain water.

This recipe is easily doubled or tripled to feed a large group.

This looks like a long recipe, but it takes about 30 minutes, start to finish, and about 15 of that is unattended time while the potatoes are cooking.

  • 2-4 ounces salt pork or bacon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup of chopped onion)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/3" thick slices (cut the potato slices in half or quarters if they're bigger than soup spoon size)
  • 2-3 cups fish broth, chicken broth, clam broth and/or water
  • 1 pound skinless fish fillets (try cod, pollock, haddock, hake, etc. any mild white fish will do)
  • 1/2-1 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped chives, parsley, fennel and/or dill
Chop the salt pork or bacon into 1/4" dice. Put the pork into a large saucepan or soup pot and cook over medium-low heat until the cubes are starting to crisp and about 2-3 tablespoons of fat have rendered out (this will vary depending on what kind of pork you're using). Raise the heat and cook the pork cubes until they're crispy. Remove the crisped pork from the saucepan and pour off some fat if a lot has rendered out. Reserve the pork for serving time.

Add the onion to the pot and saute in the pork fat, adding a little butter or olive oil if the pan is too dry. Cook until the onion is soft and just starting to brown. Add the thyme and the potatoes. Add enough stock or water to just cover the potatoes (I needed only 2 cups). Bring to a boil and them reduce the heat to keep everything simmering. Cook until the potatoes are soft enough to crush against the side of the pot, about 10-15 minutes. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the fillets to the pot and stir them gently into the soup. Keep cooking on low heat until the fish is cooked through enough to break into large flakes when you stir (the fish isn't cut into chunks before it goes in the pot - the cooking process will allow the fillet to break into bite-sized pieces). When the fish is cooked through, add the cream - adjust the amount to your taste: I used about 1/2 cup of cream in ours and it was rich enough for a weeknight dinner. Recheck the seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper to taste (I like a fair amount of pepper in this).

Ladle into bowls and garnish with the crispy pork and chopped herbs.

** An aside: I can't think or write the word "chowder" without thinking of The Simpsons episode where Freddie Quimby tries to get the family's French servant to say "chowder" properly. Dunno what I'm talking about? Here you go:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Week of December 13

I am pleased to announce that this year I am participating in the 6th Annual Menu for Hope fundraiser. Menu for Hope was started by Pim of Chez Pim as a response to the tsunami in Southeast Asia.This year, all proceeds from the Menu for Hope go to the UN World Food Programme. WFP is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

In the last two campaigns, we helped support a school lunch program in Lesotho. This year we're changing our direction a tiny bit. We're highlighting a new initiative at the WFP called Purchase for Progress (P4P). P4P enables smallholder and low-income farmers to supply food to WFP’s global operation. P4P helps farmers improves farming practices and puts more cash directly into their pockets in return for their crops. This will also help buoy local economy by creating jobs and income locally. We food bloggers understand the importance of buying locally and supporting our local farms, P4P helps do the same for farmers in low income countries around the world. More on P4P at http://www.wfp.org/purchase-progress.

This year, I have put an item up for auction. The Bacon-Lover's Candy Pack (that's it up there). The pack is a collection of bacon-based candies to delight the bacon lover in your life. The pack includes: Bacon brittle, a crunchy, smoky treat that’s great on ice cream or on its own. Bacon caramels, made with lard and bacon fat and topped with Australian pink flake salt. Bacon fudge, dark chocolate fudge layered with crisp, candied bacon. The pack includes 8 ounces of brittle, 8 caramels and 8 pieces of fudge.

The pack makes a great gift for a bacon-lover, candy-freak or someone with a taste for the deliciously different.

My prize code is UE17. To bid, go and make a donation to Menu for Hope 6 at First Giving and follow the instructions about placing a bid. There are a ton of other great prizes out there. Click on the links below to see what else is up for the bidding! Bidding is open until December 25th, so you won't be able to give any of these gifts as Christmas presents, but I think January is a great time for gift giving too, especially if that gift is to yourself!

Europe (hosted by David Lebovitz)
Asia Pacific (hosted by Ed of Tomatom)
USA: East Coast (hosted by Helen of Tartelette)
USA: West Coast (hosted by Shauna of Gluten Free Girl)
Canada (hosted by Tara of Seven Spoons)

This is a pretty busy week. I've got a lot of special orders for the holidays, so I'm trying to keep meals easy and delicious. A trip to the farmers' market yesterday yielded a bounty of easily-cooked, delicious vegetables to frame my meals around.

Menu for the Week


  • Pollock chowder (with fish from our CSF share) and biscuits


  • Greens and feta pie


  • Medley of roasted vegetables
  • Fontina polenta with parsley pesto


  • Avogolemono soup (Greek egg-lemon soup) with rice


  • Duck-fat fried potato pancakes topped with smoked salmon and creme fraiche
  • Green salad


  • Pizza night (time to resurrect this tradition!)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sausage with Vinegar Peppers and Potatoes

This is a dish I ate many, many years ago at Artu Restaurant in Boston's North End. I had it on two different visits and really enjoyed it. I am guessing this is a traditional "rustic" preparation not deemed worthy of inclusion in cookbooks. I don't see it on many menus in our area, and I can't find it referenced many places on the web either. So I figured I should share my rendition with you.

The only ingredient that might be hard to find is the vinegar peppers. I think you should be able to find them in jars at the supermarket with other Italian ingredients. They should be labeled "vinegar peppers" not cherry peppers. They are bell peppers (red, yellow and/or green) not spicy ones. If you can, go to a great Italian market and buy them there if you can; the vinegar won't be as strong and the peppers will be juicier.

To me a key component of this dish is using good (homemade if possible) chicken broth in the final assembly of the dish. The broth mingles the puckery vinegar with the richness of the sausage and then gets all of that lusciousness to absorb into the potatoes.

Sausage with Vinegar Peppers and Potatoes
Serves 2-3
Note: This recipe looks more complicated than it is. All you're doing is combining cooked sausage, potatoes and peppers, simmering them with broth and seasoning to taste. My ideal proportions are equal amount of potato and sausage and half that amount of peppers (eg. 2 cup potato, 2 cups sausage, 1 cup peppers).
  • 1.25 pounds Italian sausage (hot or sweet, your choice)
  • 3-4 vinegar peppers, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces, to yield about 1-1.5 cups
  • 1.25 pounds potatoes (about 2 large russets), cut into bite-sized chunks and roasted until cooked through and browned (you can use left-over roasted potatoes - left over potatoes will need a little more broth)
  • 2-4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, preferably homemade (you will need the greater amount if you are using left-over potatoes)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (your choice), sliced thin
  • handful of chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Start by searing off the sausage on all sides in a large skillet, then cut the sausage into bite-size pieces (Searing off the sides lets you cut the sausage into neat pieces. If you did this without searing the casing, the sausage would shred.). Cook the sausage pieces until they are cooked nearly all the way through. Add oil if needed to lubricate the pan - most sausage will release enough fat so this won't be necessary.

Add the cooked potatoes, peppers and garlic to the skillet. Saute them together until they are all heated through. Add about 2 cups of chicken broth and bring it to a lively simmer. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by about half and the potatoes are starting to break down a little. Add more broth if needed (if your potatoes are left-over from another meal, you'll need more broth to rehydrate them through).

Sprinkle the parsley into the skillet. Add salt and pepper to taste (I like this to be pretty peppery). Depending on the kind of vinegar peppers you use, you may not need much salt.

It's nice to serve this with some great bread to soak up the juices in the bottom of the bowl.

Menu for the Week of December 6

Woo, getting into the thick of the holiday season now. We had our first snow of the season on Saturday night. It was a very considerate snow: falling overnight and melting off the roads in time for me to get to the farmers' market to set up my booth.

I have been gazing at Beth McKinney's gorgeous ceramics since the beginning of the market season in June. I finally decided to add two of her pieces to our table. Aren't these teacups just gorgeous? They're perfectly sized to be held in my hands; I can't wait to sip my tea by the fire with one of these warming my hands. Beth doesn't have a website, but you can reach her at coppermoonstudio@comcast.net to find out where to purchase her wares. She has a lot of beautiful pieces that would make fabulous holiday gifts.

We've been eating a lot of meat lately, so I decided to make an effort to put a few more vegetarian meals back on the meal. The duck in the duck ragu is from a roast duck test drive and the sausage dish is a craving both Beppo and I both have.

Menu for the Week
Lentil soup with greens (this is a play on my traditional lentil soup recipe, with no tomato and bitter greens stirred in toward the end of cooking)
Tomato focaccia

Sausage with vinegar peppers and potatoes
Braised greens

Cauliflower soup with Indian spices and sweet potato croutons
Tomato focaccia

Duck ragu with home made pasta
Turnip salad

Bibimbap with fried egg

Final Julia Child class of the year. Bon appetit!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Drink of the Week: Repeal Day Special

This Saturday, December 5, is the 76th anniversary of the repeal of the Volstead Act (which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol). Repeal Day is an easy holiday to celebrate: just raise a glass in celebration of the repeal of the 18th Amendment! Read more about Repeal Day at Jeffrey Morgenthaler's Repeal Day page.

To help you get off to a great start, here are a few classic cocktails I've featured in the past, plus a new one for you to try.

The Chauncey Cocktail
I was introduced to the Chauncey by the folks over at Live the Lush Life. The ingredient list may cause you to raise an eyebrow, but trust. This combination produces a delicious, well-balanced cocktail. Stir this drink -- do not shake.
  • 3/4 ounce rye
  • 3/4 ounce gin
  • 1/2 ounce brandy
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • dash of orange bitters
Combine all ingredients in an iced shaker. Stir until very cold and strain into a cocktail glass. Cheers to Repeal!

Other drinks to add to your celebration plans:
  • Jack Rose: a great "gateway" cocktail into the world of classic cocktails. If you're a cosmo or lemon drop drinker - try a Jack Rose ASAP.
  • Sidecar: another great classic "gateway" drink, perfect for those who want a citrusy drink.
  • The Rosita: a delicious combination of tequila, vermouth and Campari.
  • The Seelbach: a festive sparkler, guaranteed to light up any celebration.
  • Pisco Sour: a great introduction to Pisco, a Peruvian brandy

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Braised Fennel: Beet 'n' Squash You

Mel of Bouchon for Two and Leela of She Simmers are proud to present Beet n Squash YOU! -- a monthly food- fight wherein the stupendous virtues of vegetables are extolled.

I'm always a fan of a good food fight, especially one that gets people to eat their vegetables. Battle Fennel is on the calendar for December. I really enjoy fennel: its crisp crunchiness, the gentle hint of anise (I grew up drinking ouzo, so I came on board to licorice love early), its gentle palate-cleansing ability.

Fennel's other side comes out through braising. The anise flavor is muted by the braising, crispiness is traded for melting tenderness, and a deep rich flavor comes through. Braised fennel can be used as a side dish, baked into the top of a focaccia or as a pizza topping. Make a sublime cream of fennel soup by pureeing the braised fennel with a cooked potato and enough stock to make it soup-ike. Finish with a tot of cream and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Braised Fennel
Yields about 3 cups of braised fennel.
This braising method works with lots of other vegetables too - try carrots, celery, leeks, etc.
  • 2 large heads of fennel, cut into wedges, tough core cut out
  • 2-3 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable stock if you want this to be vegan/vegetarian)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter or oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter or oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the fennel until it is browned well. This will take about ten minutes, depending on how sweet your fennel is.

Pour enough stock into the pan to nearly cover the fennel. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cover the pan. Simmer gently until the stock is absorbed into the fennel, about 10 minutes.

The fennel will be fork tender and the broth will have made a light glaze on the bottom of the pan. If the fennel is tender but there is more liquid than you want, take off the cover, turn up the heat and cook down the broth to a glaze.

Season with salt and pepper. Gild the lily, ahem the fennel, by adding a little butter if you wish.

Enjoy, and fear not the fennel!

2009 Thanksgiving Wrapup

I always think it's a good idea to writeup an event right after it happens ... Or when you can get to it. Therefore, better late than never, here's a quick summary of what we did for our Thanksgiving dinner this year.

We spend this holiday at home, just t
he two of us, so I have the opportunity to try something new or different win no worries of disappointing the masses.

I made a smaller menu than I have in the past, which was a wise decision. It made the evening a lot more relaxed for me, the cook.
  • Local turkey, turchetta-style
  • Goat-cheese stuffed baked potatoes
  • Focaccia stuffing with mushroom and onion
  • Escarole with toasted pine nuts and crispy bacon
  • Sauteed local chanterelles
  • Cranberry sauce (didn't make it into the picture, alas)
  • Mini pumpkin and pecan tartlets
A tweet from Anthony Strong (chef of Pizzeria Delfina in San Francisco) with a photo of his turchetta inspired me to follow his lead. Mine is much less beautiful, but was pretty delicious.

I boned out the turkey, reserving the skin in one large piece and leaving the wings on (this is called a ballotine, click over here for a demo done by Jacques Pepin). Then I laid the breast pieces down onto the inside and rolled them in garlic, marjoram, sage and salt and pepper. Then I wrapped the skin around the breasts (I reserved the legs for another project) and tied it in place. As evidenced by the lumpy, bumpy dish you see here my tying skills are pretty poor. Roasting was pretty speedy: into a 375 oven for about 45 minutes. When the temp got to 130 (if there was dark meat in the ballotine, I would have taken it to 155), I pulled it and let it rest for 15 minutes to finish cooking.

Were I to do this again, I'd remove the wings--we thought it looked pretty weird and it made handling the roast more difficult. I will definitely do this again. Carving was a breeze and there were no bones to deal with at table. Try this with a chicken some weekend - worst case, you end up making chicken stew instead.
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