Monday, July 30, 2007


Monkfish Brodetto

Between the ages of 11 and 22, I could not eat fish, or any seafood for that matter. I was suddenly allergic to it during the onset of puberty and couldn't tolerate it in any form, though I happily ate fish as a younger kid, being from the island nation of New Zealand. My angelheart Eric has tried over the years to get me to eat seafood, from sweet and properly cooked shrimp (until coral-coloured) to the mildest of most fish, cod, battered and fried or steamed en papillote with rice wine, vegetable greens of some variety, and citrus. I've come leaps and bounds in the last year or so, handling most mild fish, including their skin (though some species are still too fishy and just about make me gag at the mere inhalation of them miles away - only a slight exaggeration) and loving jumbo shrimp, crab, and lobster.

Now that I love lobster, I am reminded of an episode of Lidia's Family Table on PBS that I saw last year. I took note of this episode because Lidia Matticchio Bastianich called monkfish an ugly fish with a tail that tastes like lobster. Back then, I wasn't thinking of it as something I would like as I had not yet entered the world of lobster, but as something Eric might want to try - he did and loved it. Before following this recipe, I had not yet tried monkfish, and I was keen to compare its taste and texture to lobster. Also, brodetto, which is to say a savory, brothy preparation, is a perfect way to serve fish, for it is usually applied to accent it.

Monkfish Brodetto
(From Lidia Mattichio Bastianich's Lidia's Family Table)

8 cloves of garlic, peeled
3 cups and 3/4 cup water
1 3/4 pounds monkfish, membrane removed if the fishmonger hasn't done it
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
3/4-1 1/2 cups canola oil
2 tablespoons butter, cubed
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup white wine
1/8 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/8 cup basil leaves, shredded

1) Put the garlic in 1 1/2 cups water and boil for 15 minutes. Drain, then boil again in another 1 1/2 cups water for 30 minutes.
2) Puree the garlic cloves with a few drops of the liquid in which the cloves boiled. I actually used all of the liquid to make more of a garlic liquid as opposed to a garlic puree, preferring to dilute the flavour a little as I didn't want it to overpower the monkfish on account of it being my first taste of monkfish. If you want to make the puree, you want about 1/6 cup for this quantity of monkfish.
3) Cut the monkfish into 2"/5cm-wide chunks.
4) Sprinkle salt over the chunks of monkfish.
5) Roll the monkfish in flour and shake off the excess.
6) Pour enough oil into a pan to come about halfway up the monkfish chunks. Heat oil until it bubbles rapidly for a couple of minutes.
7) Fry the breaded monkfish pieces in batches and until golden, approximately 6 minutes in all, but keep an eye on them should your chunks be irregular. My angelheart and I wanted them less than golden brown - just golden suited us.
8) Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.
9) Pour the oil out of the skillet, then place it back on the oven over medium heat.
10) Melt the cubes of butter and return the fried monkfish pieces to the skillet.
11) Turn the pieces on all sides in the butter until there is a sizzle.
12) Scrape in the garlic puree, and once it is sizzling, toss amongst the monkfish pieces. As we had more a light sauce than a puree, we just turned the monkfish pieces in it.
13) Add the lemon juice, followed by 3/4 cups water (or vegetable broth), and the wine.
14) Bring the sauce to boil, turning the monkfish pieces in it.
15) As the sauce thickens, add the toasted pine nuts (we used slivered almonds instead).
16) Once the sauce has your preferred consistency, toss in the basil and serve immediately.

Ms. Mattichio Bastianich suggests serving the monkfish with either grilled country bread, polenta, or boiled rice. As you can see, we served ours with noodles that were tossed in sesame oil and finely chopped garlic. The monkfish stands up to the entire process, staying quite meaty. The lemon, basil, and broth complement the fried monkfish pieces really well and do not overpower its mild sweetness.

It must be noted that one should only buy fresh monkfish, for some frozen monkfish imported into the US appears to have been mislabelled and was actually pufferfish, which contains life-threatening tetrodotoxin! Information on the FDA website can be found here. Also, it is the tail of the monkfish that is supposed to have the "properties" of lobster.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007


7 Random Cookery Books

I don't know where your cookery books are, but - more often than not - my cookery books are in piles on a sofa, on a bedside table, or in the kitchen. It was with great satisfaction to put them all on the bookshelf, for my good friend, the talented and quick-witted Susan at The Well-Seasoned Cook, tagged me to participate in a meme that is meant to showcase seven randomly selected cookery books. How one randomly chooses from books piled up in two houses that are in two different countries is a bit of a problem because it eliminates some possibly whacky combinations. On the other hand, at least I don't have to get all of my cookery books into one room before randomly selecting seven of them. That presents a methodological issue anyway, for pile-making is not necessarily amenable to random selection on account of stabilising the piles by putting the largest on the bottom, thereby eliminating some books on account of where in the pile they fall. Instead of following any scientific method for random sampling (taking statistics papers at university has its upside), I went for an artistic approach. I went to the lounge, where the grand bookcase is, and just grabbed seven cookery books. I didn't really look or think - a blur of book spines passed before my eyes.

This is what I came up with:

Field Guide to Herbs and Spices by Aliza Green - A compact book that gives information on the general description of, season for, purchase information about, and storage ideas for all the herbs and spices you can think of - and then some. There are recipes, too, though not many for main courses. There are photos of the herbs and spices in their various forms and recipes for spice mixtures also. If it wasn't for this book, which my angelheart Eric came across, we would not have fallen in love with allspice and would not have made Green's recipe that features this unique spice in a vinaigry Jamaican Jerk-Spice Chicken. The information is dense and broad - if you ever wanted to make Moroccan majoun, which requires cannabis, there is a recipe for you, or if paprika is more your thing, try Ms. Green's Hazelnut Romesco Sauce. It is a handy and easy-to-use go-to book.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table by Suzanne Goin with Teri Gelber - Well, you have already seen some of my results from using this book with the Sweet Cherry Compote and the Braised Chicken with Saffron Onions. Largely informed by her Southern French proclivities, this chef creates rich and tasty dishes with seasonal Californian produce. The chapters are divided by season and the content for each is divised by menus, preceding which are details on what to look out for at farmers' markets. This book taught me how to make good use of the Long Beach and Santa Monica farmers' markets, and every time I flip through the book, there is a new recipe I want to try, like her kabocha squash and fennel soup. The menus make you feel sophisticated, but, more importantly, they teach you how to combine and highlight different flavors.

How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson - This is the British cookery book that defined a generation and got the kitchen shy X-generation into the kitchen. With her gift for prose, making even the lengthiest recipe seem achievable, Ms. Lawson writes like your best friend - full of advice and tongue-in-cheek laughs, she is there for you every step of the way. This is the first cookery book my angelheart Eric and I received - from the sassy sauciere queen Lily - and the first thing I made was the 7-Minute Steamed Chocolate Pudding, which was made in a microwave (I was a kitchen virgin, after all) and taught me that not only was chocolate messy to cook with but I might actually enjoy myself in the kitchen. The next baby step I took was in the salad direction, Chestnut and Pancetta Salad. There are classic recipes, seasonal menus, tips for entertaining and pantry-filling success. If not within grasp in the kitchen, this book is found on the bedside table. A must have. Really.

Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks by Linda Carucci - When I first started cooking at home, I thought I had best learn some of the principles to cooking. I didn't want to burn the house down, and I didn't ever want to serve inedible food. Though recipes tell one what to do, they don't often say why one should do it. This book is packed with cooking methodologies, "recipe secrets" (such as how to make the perfect hard-cooked eggs, which cream cheese is best for cheesecakes, and how to make the perfect risotto, to name a few) and information on how to make the most of your palate, kitchen equipment, and produce. Dense and interesting reading for those with inquiring minds.

Eat This Book: Cooking with Global Fresh Flavors by Tyler Florence - I am indebted to this man for his Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Lemon and Herbs. This is the method that really works well for me and my angelheart Eric, though we have since changed the citrus and herbs out for others that we prefer and we use less oil. I know that 'roast chicken' are fighting words in the world of cooking, but this recipe is a great introduction for those who don't know how or are afraid to make one - this is indeed the very recipe I taught to my galpal, the cocktail-swilling and sparkling Sarah. Otherwise, the book features largely Chinese-inspired twists on food, with forays into the territories of Argentina, Spain, India, and Mexico, to name a few. This is the go-to book for big flavors, whether you're making sauces, spice mixtures, vegetables, poultry, meat, seafood, or dessert. Mr. Florence's Curried Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Tomatoes and Argentinian Gaucho Steak (which first introduced me and my angelheart Eric to chimichurri) are swoon-worthy.

Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless - In California, the Mexican food is great, but this book is designed to show that there is more to this cuisine than pork burritos and guacamole, though I happen to love both. Mr. Bayless' recipes constitute the great Mexican food found predominantly away from the tourist traps. There is an excellent introduction to Mexican ingredients, and his "riffs" peppered throughout the book provide good alternative methods or ingredients to his recipes. I cooked a lot from this book last Summer, particularly when my good friend, the cocktail-swilling and sparkling Sarah stayed with my angelheart Eric and I for one month - and her view of Mexican food was transformed. Mine has been, too. I have had incredible and repeated success with Sinaloan Grilled Roadside Whole Chicken with Knob Onions and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa .

The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey From Samarkand to New York With More Than 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi Recipes by Claudia Roden - This book is a carefully documented text that examines various aspects of Jewish life all over the world - from history (the 'discovery' of Jews in China), to cultural insights (how gefilte fish came about), to recipes (including an account of bagels). The recipes are divided into two sections: first presenting Ashkenazi recipes, then those Sephardi. This is not a book for those who need photos, though there are black and white stills of people (as opposed to food). Ms. Roden's prose is engaging and precise, painting a better and more erudite picture than any photo could. This is the book I use for Chicken Stock and Knaidlach, and there are hundreds more incredibly interesting recipes (from Plum Soup to Lokshen Kugel to Trieste Yeast Roll) to follow. This book will expand your culinary repertoire whilst giving you superlative cultural insight.

This is a really fun meme for foodies, who are usually known for constantly reading cookery books. I have decided to pass the baton to:

Freya at Writing At the Kitchen Table
Cenk at Cafe Fernando
Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict
Pille at Nami-nami
Sara at i like to cook
Emma at The Laughing Gastronome
Joe at Culinary in the Country

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Friday, July 20, 2007


Plum Frangipane Cake

I remember when I first started to really pay attention as I read recipes for baking. I like chocolate as much as the next person, but pies and cakes that use fruit always get my heart racing - especially stone fruit. I would always sit bolt upright as I read the many marvellous ways to do more with fruit than eat it directly from a tree - not that that isn't heaven itself. I had not given much thought to flour, an important cake ingredient, until, I read that one could turn almonds into a flour. Since then, I have not looked back, often substituting a third of the flour in any cake recipe with the same amount of ground almonds.

For some time now I have told myself to make use of the abundance of almonds, one of California's largest agricultural exports. This is not only because they are brilliantly nutty, but their ubiquity makes them affordable (in New Zealand they can be prohibitively expensive, especially since I love them so much). I am a sucker for almonds, whether they be chopped and scattered over a sweet syrup as a finishing touch for baklava, infused in scalded milk before being added to a custard and chilled for ice cream, or used in their slithered form, incorporated in a tagine.

When I saw Molly's recipe for Almond Torte with Sugared Apricots over at Orangette, my mind was made up - now is the time to make use of those ubiquitous almonds and turn them into a frangipane. In the loosest terms, frangipane is any cream or batter made with almonds; in stricter terms, it is an almond cream filling for tarts and pastries. For a cake batter, almonds all but guarantee a dry but light texture and always add a nutty complexity.

Plum Frangipane Cake

For the ingredients and method, please see Molly's recipe.

If you have almonds, you need one third cup of them ground. This can easily be done in a food processor within seconds. If you're using a mini blitzing machine, like a Magic Bullet, be sure to keep an eye on the almonds as they may clump up. If you see this happen, stop blitzing - they are ground enough already. If you do not have almonds, substitute with 1/3 cup flour, but I suggest you give it a try, especially if you haven't before, for the texture is toothier, adding some gusto and substance to stand up to your chosen stone fruit. Also, I love to see the flecks of almond dotting the batter, much like sun-kissed freckles on a Summer face.

I veered from Molly's path just a bit. I don't particularly like apricots, so I went with plums, which had been picked from the divine poetess Suzanne's tree. I greased my vessel, a 9.5"/24cm oval stoneware platter, whereas Molly recommends an ungreased 9"/23cm springform pan. I wasn't sure of the logic behind ungreasing, but I was sure of the fact that I wanted nothing to stay behind in my pink Le Creuset stoneware dish. I used one egg and 1/4 cup full fat milk instead of 2 eggs. Into the batter also went 1 teaspoon of bitter almond extract, which, with this small quantity, has the taste of marzipan more than one of bitterness.

Although it was the middle of the day and potentially too la dolce vita, I served the cake with homemade vanilla bean and brandy ice cream. The combination of plums and almonds seem to bring out the Italinate desires within me. Elegant Marcello Mastroianni and charming Giorgio Locatelli, I am not, but this cake helps me live out my delusions of having an Italian afternoon tea.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007


Weekend Cookbook Challenge # 18 - Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs with a Fennel Seed Crust and Sweet Cherry Compote

If I were still in New Zealand, I'm not sure that I would have participated in this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge, for the theme is Red and White. What food has these colours during Winter? There is salsify, parsnip, and...what? Red onions maybe. And that is a bit of a stretch. Under the glorious Summer sun of Southern California, I find almost too much inspiration. Clearly, I am just difficult.

Reading Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers At Lucques has been a great ally in almost one year of cooking, and I purposely left it in the US for me to come back to. It was the first text I turned to for inspiration. I especially liked the sound of Ms. Goin's Roman Cherry Tart, though it technically falls under her Spring collection of menus, and I did not fancy making pastry - not yet anyway. The cherry compote sounded promising; it got the ball rolling.

For my first home-cooked meal back in the States - that I cooked, I mean - I did not want to miss out on using fennel, which is expensive and does not seem to be available all year in Auckland. And I have been having serious withdrawal issues. Roasted vegetables is a fabulous idea for a Summer lunch, but white vegetables? Ugh...I couldn't figure out what to do until I rummaged through the vials of spices...fennel seeds. Now we're talking.

I pretty much followed Ms. Goin's Sweet Cherry Compote, but used half the amount of cherries, more vanilla bean and kept the same amount of brandy (she suggests using grappa, too, if you happen to have any on hand). Of course, use whatever cut of meat you prefer - I'm just a thighs kinda guy. (Sorry, if you're vegan or vegetarian - you're on your own here.) We served these with a simple salad of mixed leaves (radicchio and romaine), walnuts, and a vinaigrette.

Sweet Cherry Compote
(From Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers At Lucques)

1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon and 1/5 cup water
1 vanilla bean
1/5 cup sugar
1 pound cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons brandy

1) Make a slurry by stirring 1/2 tablespoon of water into the cornstarch. Reserve.
2) Split the vanilla bean, empty the innards out into a medium sized saucepan with a paring knife. Throw the now hollow pod in, too.
3) Add sugar (not in a mound, but scattered all over the base of the saucepan) and 1/5 cup of water.
4) Turn heat on to medium and cook the mixture without stirring.
5) When the mixture turns an amber colour, swirl the saucepan to ensure even colouring.
6) Once darker amber, add the cherries and swirl the pan.
7) Pour the brandy over the vanilla and caramel-slicked cherries, then turn down the heat to low, allowing the cherries to simmer and soften.
8) Take the cherries out with a small sieve and put them in a bowl. Keep aside.
9) Turn heat up to medium-high and stir the slurry into the juices. Keep stirring until liquid has thickened (approximately 90 seconds).
10) Pour liquid over the cherries, stir, and let cool. The cherries should hold their shape but will easily yield to the touch (or teeth!).

Pan-Fried Chicken Thighs with a Fennel Seed Crust

4 chicken thighs, approximately 1.25 pounds, at room temperature
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1) With a mortar and pestle, crush the fennel seeds, salt, and pepper, or at least until reasonably ground. You don't have to be perfect here if you don't mind munching on the odd whole seed or two.
2) Cover both sides of the chicken thighs with the fennel seed powder.
3) In a 10"/25cm frying pan, swirl in the olive oil and turn the heat up to high.
4) Put the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down.
5) Once the skin is golden, flip the thighs over. This could take 6-8 minutes.
6) Fry on the other side until the thighs are cooked all the way through, approximately 3 minutes.

This is a beautiful pairing. Sweet but not tooth-achingly so on account of the savoury dimensions of the fennel seeds. You can serve your glorious red cherry compote in a separate bowl for people to help themselves to or even serve it on the side of the chicken. Instead of crossing both knife and fork over to a pile of compote, I spread the compote around the chicken. This does not make for a glamourous presentation, but it ensures that I easily get a cherry half with each mouthful of chicken.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007


The Living Is Easy

It is Summertime, and though there is corn towering in my angelheart Eric's mum's backyard, it is the fig tree to which I gravitate, as if magnetically pulled - and when they have had their run, the stands at the Long Beach farmers' market will wonder what's hit them. That's right, folks, Shaun is back in town!

I have arrived in LaLa Land and have yet to overcome the concomitant jet-lag, which is a bit of a shock because it usually takes me "one sleep" to adjust to either LA or Auckland time. Maybe I'm just getting older - I will be 30 next year. Or maybe I'm a little dehydrated, which can be remedied with loads of water, wine, and fruit. The days seem clear (contrary to popular belief about Los Angeles' incessantly overcast smog) but the effects are hazy (I've been clouded because of jet-lag).

I have already had peaches sozzled in bourbon, juices of plum dripping down my forearms as I ate them freshly picked from the divine poetess Suzanne's tree, armfuls of cherries (their season is far too short)...There is nothing like the glorious bounty of the fruits of Summer. I'm one of those people that usually "does" something with fruit, but this time, I will eat the figs as they perfectly ripe and plump. They will be savoured as I contemplate making the first of many homemade Summer ice creams and sorbets.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007


Cumin Flatbread

Some time last weekend, in between long stints in front of the computer formulating sentences as I was making sense of my readings for the theory chapter of my Master's thesis, I tried to make flatbread. My longtime friend, uproarious glamour queen Julie, invited me over for a night of relaxation: raspberry daiquiris, "nibbles", and good, old-fashioned bantering and chattering. I didn't want to turn up empty-handed and decided that finger food was going to come in the form of mezze. Well, the flatbread didn't work out then (I had an amount of flour by weight when I didn't have a scale, and more yeast was needed), so I tossed the idea of making all the mezze dishes on my own out the window. I didn't have time to look at what I did wrong and just decided to cut my losses.

But I have one of those inquiring minds, even when it is overloaded. I cannot say that I did exhaustive research, but what I can say is that with more information about flatbreads, I felt comfortable enough to embark on my own path. Of course, this is quite a basic bread to make. I know that baking bread is a combination of chemistry, weather, and feel, to name a few contributing factors to a successful product. In addition to the niggling query I had, I was fuelled by the Daring Bakers' bagel exercise (feel free to read my friends' posts: Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict, Freya at Writing At the Kitchen Table, Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice, Kelly-Jane at Cooking the Books, Pille at Nami-Nami, and Sara at i like to cook) and Bruno's baguettes at brunosdream.

I knew that I was successful as soon as the bread wasn't becoming stickier but smoother (the opposite of what happened last weekend). Reconfirmation came when I punched the dough down after it had proved for an hour. It gave way like a marshmellow. The indentations of my knuckles left the appearance of slept-on memory foam. I knew from here on out that the bread would turn out well.

I am not going to offer any substitutes because my recipe is based on seven different recipes, which allow for too many variants should you want to diverge from my path. I understand that choice is a good thing, but I fear sending you down a misguided path on account of my inexperience. Keep extra warm water and flour at the ready in case you need them to: 1) create a firm and soft dough; 2) to stop the dough from being too sticky. This recipe makes 6 flatbreads.

Cumin Flatbread

For the bread:
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (you may end up needing more)
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons heavy/double cream
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/3 cups warm water (you may end up needing more)

For the glaze:
1 egg
1 teaspoon warm water
1 teaspoon heavy/double cream
1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1) Combine the flour, yeast, salt and ground cumin in a large bowl, then make a well.
2) Combine the cream, olive oil and water in a measuring cup.
3) Stir the dry ingredients into the centre with a wooden spoon as you slowly pour in the liquid. If, for some reason, a firm but soft dough is not being produced, add more warm water - only 1/8 cup at a time.
4) When you have a firm and soft dough, turn it out onto a foured surface.
5) Flour your hands.
6) Knead the dough, lightly adding more flour until you have a smooth and elastic dough. It took me about 7 minutes to get to this stage, but I understand it can take as long as 10 minutes.
7) Lightly oil a bowl.
8) Put the ball of dough into the oiled bowl, and roll it around so it, too, is oiled.
9) Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave in a warm, though not draughty, place to rise to the desired lightness ("to prove") for one hour.
10) Punch the dough down then leave for 10 minutes.
11) Preheat the oven to 210 C/425 F.
12) To make six flatbreads, tear the dough into thirds, then each third in half.
13) To get the appearance of Jasmine's slipper, form each piece into an oval then roll flat with a lightly floured rolling pin on a lightly floured surface.
14) Place on baking sheets approximately 3cm/1.1" apart. Leave covered to proof again for 20 minutes. You may need more than one baking sheet, in which case you will have to bake in batches.
15) Using the back of a knife, cut a decorative design into the bread. I did a wave-like pattern so that I could break the bread more easily (by following the lines, I mean).
16) In a small bowl, beat together the ingredients for the glaze, except for the cumin seeds.
17) Brush the glaze onto the flatbreads just before baking and sprinkle with cumin seeds.
18) Bake for 8-10 minutes until the loaves are golden and slightly puffy, though cooked through.
19) Cover for a few minutes when they first come out so they don't get too crusty. (Thank you for tip Ms. Lawson, per How To Be A Domestic Goddess.)

The flatbread is chewy and easy to tear apart. The cumin is a comfort when the warmth of the bread is lukewarm, and it can support any mezze or zakusi plate with which you may want to pair this bread, for example: argan oil and dukkah, hummus bi tahini, muhammara, or charkhlis pkhali (a Georgian beetroot, coriander and walnut puree).

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