September 27, 2011

Cod Provençal

Ah, the power of suggestion.

The other day I was talking to my sister on the phone and I asked her what she’d cooked recently. She told me about this cod Provençal. So easy, she said, and quick and healthy and tasty. (My sister's balancing a full-time job and 7-month old, so if she says something is quick and easy, I believe her.)

Of course I immediately wanted to try this dish. 

The base of the dish is fennel, onions, garlic and tomatoes. Fennel has a very strong, licorice flavor if you eat it raw, but it gets really subtle and tender when you cook it.

The fish cooks right in the sauce. The beauty of it is that the fish picks up the flavors of the sauce, and the sauce picks up the flavors of the liquid that the fish releases.

The only caution is to not overcook the fish. Remember that the fish will continue to cook in the sauce even after you turn off the heat.

If you want a sauce with a little more punch, add some crushed red pepper flakes, capers, or olives.

Gather the ingredients for your sauce – fennel, onion, tomatoes, garlic and thyme.

Prep your fennel. To do this, cut off the stalks (you can save the fennel fronds for garnish). Cut the fennel horizontally, down to the base. Then cut each half vertically. Hold each quarter upright, then cut diagonally down the middle to remove the tough core.

Slice the fennel and onion.

Saute the onion, fennel and salt in olive oil. Add garlic and sauté.

Add the tomatoes, wine, thyme and pepper. I used fresh tomatoes instead of canned. If you do this, you’ll need to add some extra salt.

Once the mixture is at a boil (and some of the excess liquid has evaporated), nestle the cod into the sauce.

Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the fish is just cooked. Transfer the fish to a plate. Reduce the sauce further if necessary and taste for salt and pepper.

Serve warm with crusty bread to soak up the sauce.

Cod Provençal

Halibut, snapper, tilapia, bluefish, monkfish, or sea bass fillets are all good substitutions for the cod. Serve this with a loaf of crusty bread to sop up the extra sauce.

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, halved and sliced thin
1 bulb fennel, halved, cored, and sliced ¼ inch thin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained (or use fresh tomatoes)
½ cup dry white wine or vermouth
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried
4 skinless cod fillets (8 ounces each)
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

1.      Heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.

2.      Add the onion, fennel and ½ tsp salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds.

3.      Add the tomatoes, wine, thyme, and ¼ tsp pepper. Bring to a boil.

4.      Pat the cod dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Nestle the cod into the sauce and spoon some of the sauce over the fish. Cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cool until the fish flakes apart when gently prodded with a paring knife, about 10 minutes.

5.      Transfer the fish to individual plates. Stir the parsley into the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Reduce further if necessary.)

6.      Spoon the sauce over the fish and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Serves 4

September 23, 2011

Apple Crisp

In our house, September means family birthdays, back to school, Michigan football, and apple picking.

I’m not sure if apple picking is a typically New England activity. But it’s not something I did growing up in New Jersey.

We went apple picking for the first time a few years ago and we were hooked. It quickly became an annual tradition that we all look forward to.

We usually choose a Saturday in mid-September when the MacIntosh, Cortland and Honeycrisp apples are ripe for the picking. My husband makes sure we pick some Bosc pears too.

We start off with a hayride into the orchard, then eat and pick our way through the fruit trees. This year we got great weather – bright blue skies and just enough nip in the air to remind us that fall is on its way.

A trip to Honey Pot Hill Orchards is never complete without a stop at their farm store to pick up some cider donuts and a peanut-covered caramel apple. 
Check out all the nuts on this caramel apple!

As usual we picked many more apples than we could possibly eat. Good thing I’ve got lots of apple recipes to try. Some went into this apple crisp. I love this recipe because it’s heavy on the nuts and doesn’t have oats in the topping. I’ve tried crisp recipes with oats and they always end up soggy or chewy.

This recipe goes easy on the spices so you can really taste the apples. The topping is just sugar, cinnamon, flour and nuts. It’s sweet and crunchy and delicious enough to eat on its own. And it’s a great topping for the sweet, gently spiced apples underneath.

Start with some (freshly picked!) apples.

Peel the apples.

Then core them (I don’t have an apple corer so I just cut around the core).

Cut the apples into small chunks.

In a bowl, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Toss the apples with the sugar/cornstarch mixture as well as the lemon juice and cinnamon. You can add other flavorings like nutmeg, crystallized ginger or orange rind if you’d like.

Put the apples in a baking dish and bake until the apples are hot and have released their juices.

In the meantime make your topping. Combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and nuts (I used walnuts) in a food processor.

Pulse a few times.

Add the melted butter and pulse again until the mixture looks like wet sand.

Put the topping in a bowl and work it with your fingers. I added some more walnuts at this point because I wanted to some bigger pieces of walnuts mixed in with the finely chopped nuts.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the hot apples.

Put the baking dish back into the oven until the topping is golden brown and the apples are bubbling underneath. Let the crisp cool for 10 minutes before diving in.

Serve warm, topped with vanilla ice cream.

Apple Crisp

Apple filling:
3 pounds (6 to 9) apples
1 tsp cornstarch
2 to 4 Tbsp sugar (use less if your apples are sweeter, more if your apples are tart)
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp cinnamon

¾ cup chopped, toasted slivered almonds, walnuts or pecans
¼ cup chopped, toasted slivered almonds, walnuts or pecans (optional)
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1.      Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.      Peel, core and cut the apples into ½-inch chunks.

3.      In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch.

4.      In a large bowl, toss together the apples, sugar/cornstarch mixture, lemon juice and cinnamon.

5.      Transfer fruit filling to an 8-inch square baking dish. Cover with foil and set on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (for easy cleanup).

6.      Bake the fruit until it is hot and has released its juices, 20 to 25 minutes. (This step took me closer to 40 minutes.)

1.      Pulse the nuts, flour, sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together in a food processor until the nuts are finely chopped, about 9 pulses.

2.      Drizzle the melted butter over the top and pulse until the mixture resembles crumbly, wet sand, about 5 pulses.

3.      Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. (Add the remaining ¼ cup chopped nuts, if using.) Pinch mixture between your fingers into small pea-sized pieces (with some smaller loose bits).

1.      When the apples are hot, remove the fruit from the oven, uncover, and stir gently.

2.      Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit.

3.      Bake the crisp until the topping is deep golden brown and the fruit is bubbling, about 15 minutes, rotating the dish halfway through baking.

4.      Let the crisp cool for 10 minutes before serving.

5.      Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 6 to 8

September 19, 2011

Creamy Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie

Creamy, peanuty, chocolately, delicious. Yes, this pie is all of those things.

And it is so much more.

A few weeks ago, a number of food bloggers began posting this peanut butter pie recipe on their blogs. That happens sometimes, when a particular recipe piques the interest of the food blogosphere. But this was something else.

It turns out that a fellow food blogger had just unexpectedly lost her husband Mikey.
In her intense grief, Jennifer posted the following on her blog, In Jennie’s Kitchen:
Mikey loved peanut butter cream pie. I haven't made it in a while, and I've had it on my to-do list for a while now.
I kept telling myself I would make it for him tomorrow. Time has suddenly stood still, though, and I'm waiting to wake up and learn to live a new kind of normal. For those asking what they can do to help my healing process, make a peanut butter pie this Friday and share it with someone you love. Then hug them like there's no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on.”
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t make a peanut butter pie that Friday. As always, life got in the way.
Soon after, we were invited to a barbecue on September 11th. Ten years to the day when so many people unexpectedly lost loved ones. I knew then I had to make this pie, no excuses.
On the surface this pie was a simple gesture, a dessert to please a crowd. But to me, it was a tribute to those lost on that horrific day ten years ago, and a way to honor Jennifer’s appeal to be grateful for the living.

Pulse the cookies into fine crumbs in a food processor. I put the cookies in a plastic bag and pressed gently with the smooth side of a meat mallet. Same result, less cleanup.

Stir the melted butter into the cookie crumbs. Press them into the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch spring form or tart pan with a removable bottom. A pie dish would also work.

Melt the chocolate. I like to do this in the microwave. Put chocolate chips in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, then continue to heat and stir, for 30 seconds at a time.

Pour the melted chocolate over the cookie crust and spread it evenly.

Sprinkle the chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Refrigerate the crust while you prepare the filling.

Beat the heavy cream until it forms stiff peaks. Place in the bowl in the fridge.

Beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together until light and fluffy.

Beat in the confectioner’s sugar, condensed milk, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Gently stir 1/3 of the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture.

Then fold in the rest of the whipped cream.

Pour the filling into the crust.

Drizzle the melted chocolate on top.

Refrigerate 3 hours or overnight and serve!

Creamy Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie

Recipe by Jennifer Perillo

8 ounces chocolate cookies
4 Tbsp butter, melted
4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup chopped peanuts
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1.      Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs. Alternatively, place the cookies in a plastic bag and press gently with a mallet until cookies are broken into fine crumbs.

2.      Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well. Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan (a pie dish or tart pan with removable bottom would also work).

3.      Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. (If melting in the microwave, heat for 30 seconds at a time, stirring the chocolate in between.)

4.      Pour the melted chocolate over the cookie crust and spread to the edges using an offset spatula. Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

5.      Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

6.      Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner’s sugar. Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

7.      Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream.) Fold in the remaining whipped cream.

8.      Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan. Drizzle the melted chocolate on top.

9.      Refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight before serving.

Serves 10-12

September 14, 2011

Stock, Soup, Consommé...and Matzo Balls!

Peta, of the blog Peta Eats, was our lovely hostess for the Daring Cook’s September 2011 challenge, “Stock to Soup to Consommé”. We were taught the meaning between the three dishes, how to make a crystal clear Consommé if we so chose to do so, and encouraged to share our own delicious soup recipes!

When I read through this month’s Daring Cook’s challenge — all 27 (!) pages of it — I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. There was so much to digest, and I didn’t know where to start.

As the saying goes, start at the beginning. So I did. And as I began to lay out the challenge logically, I began to relax. (A glass of wine didn’t hurt, either.)

The challenge was broken into four parts. First, make stock. A stock is the strained liquid that results from simmering vegetables, meats, fish and seasonings in water. We were to take that stock and turn it into a soup, which is essentially a dish made by combining the aforementioned stock with ingredients such as meat, vegetables, or noodles. Third, we were asked to prepare an accompaniment to the soup, such a bread, cracker or dumpling.

Finally, if we chose to — and what kind of a challenge would it be without attempting the most challenging aspect of it  we had to take our stock and transform it into a consommé. Consommé is a richly flavored, clear soup that’s made by filtering impurities out of stock. It's technically challenging, something that's taught in culinary school.

Starting at the beginning, I decided to make chicken stock. I had a clear goal in mind for that stock — I was going to turn it into chicken soup with matzo balls. Yes, matzo balls were my chosen accompaniment. I’ve always loved how they soak up the delicious chicken broth, and how their light, airy texture contrasts with their rich and satisfying flavor.

I’d never attempted making matzo balls at home. For one, I don’t live too far from New England Soup Factory, which makes a mean chicken noodle soup with matzo balls. Plus, I’d heard that homemade matzo balls often turn out as dense as hockey pucks. This challenge seemed like as good a time to give it a try.

Finally there was the consommé. This was where things got scary. In order to filter the impurities out of the stock, you have to make a so-called raft out of beaten egg whites. Depending on the recipe, the filtration process may also involve raw or cooked meat, or gelatin. The idea is that the egg whites thicken over the stock and trap any impurities as the stock bubbles through. Even if you filter perfectly, there’s a good chance of destroying your efforts if you’re not really careful about getting the liquid out of your pot.

I looked into a number of recipes for consommé and finally settled on the one I should have started with to begin with — the one by Julia Child. Julia’s recipe is intimidating in its own right.

“Clarification is a simple process if you remember that the stock must be perfectly degreased, that all equipment must be absolutely free of grease, and that you must handle the stock gently so the egg whites are not unduly disturbed,” says Julia. Have you ever managed to “perfectly” degrease your stock or clean a pot so that it was “absolutely” grease-free? Me either. Still, her recipe sounded straightforward and required fewer ingredients than most of the others.

The result was astounding. Where the stock had been cloudy, the consommé was crystal clear. It may not seem like much, but the food geek in me thought it was pretty darn cool.


Begin at the beginning with the chicken stock. The base of my stock was chicken wings. Wings are cheap and have a nice ratio of meat to fat to bone.

To the wings I added carrots, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorns, parsley, and thyme. You can add other herbs and veggies here, but the ones I used are pretty standard.

Chop up the veggies, throw them in a pot, and cover with cold water.

Bring the ingredients to a boil and skim off the grayish foam that floats to the top.

Simmer the mixture gently for about 3 hours.

Then strain through a sieve. Press down on the meat and vegetables to get as much flavorful liquid out of them as you can. Taste the stock and add salt and pepper to taste.

To cool the stock quickly, transfer it to a container and submerge in ice water.

You won’t believe how rich and flavorful homemade stock is compared to store-bought.

To turn the stock into soup I added sliced carrots and thin egg noodles.

The main event of the soup was the matzo balls. That meant matzo meal and chicken fat. You can substitute vegetable oil for the chicken fat, but chicken fat gives the matzo balls their unmistakable flavor.

To make the matzo balls, combine the matzo meal, eggs, chicken fat, salt, pepper and seltzer in a bowl. The seltzer is the key here, it’s what makes these matzo balls light and fluffy.

Mix the ingredients together then put the bowl in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Shape the matzo mixture into 1-inch balls and drop them into salted boiling water. You can also cook them in chicken stock, but I didn’t have enough extra stock to do that. At first the balls will sink to the bottom of your pot.

Then they’ll gradually float up to the top. And they’ll expand.

The matzo balls take about 30 to 40 minutes to cook. When they’re done, you’ll have these beautiful, light, flavorful dumplings.

Put a few matzo balls in a bowl with your chicken soup. Add a few sprigs of dill. Adding the dill at the end, rather than while you’re heating your soup, prevents the dill from overpowering the flavor of the stock.

Serve immediately, if you can wait that long!

Now the consommé. Defrost the soup if you’ve frozen it. Skim off all the fat from the top.

Add one cup of the stock to a bowl. Beat in the egg whites. The mixture didn’t get particularly frothy when I beat in the egg whites. I think the point is just to make sure the egg whites are thoroughly mixed into the stock.

In the meantime, bring the rest of the stock to a boil in a saucepan.

Add the hot stock to the bowl with the stock/egg white mixture, beating the mixture the entire time. Add everything back to the saucepan and heat it.

Slowly but continually run a whisk through the mixture until it comes to a simmer. The egg whites will begin to turn white and get thicker and you want them to circulate throughout the liquid.

Stop stirring the moment the liquid comes to a simmer. You’ve now got a thick layer of egg whites, called a raft, floating at the top of the saucepan. You want to leave it undisturbed so it can catch all the particles floating around in the stock.

After 5 minutes, move the saucepan to the side of the heat so that one edge is barely bubbling. After 5 minutes, move the saucepan a quarter turn. Do this two more times, until all the sides have had a chance to barely bubble, for a total of 20 minutes.

Line a sieve with several layers of damp cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl. Gently ladle the stock and egg whites into the sieve. Do this gently to disturb the egg whites as little as possible. The cheesecloth should catch all of the egg whites, letting the clear stock through into the bowl.

You should now have a beautiful, clear, consommé!

Chicken Stock, Chicken Noodle Soup with Matzo Balls, and Chicken Consommé

Chicken Stock

5 pounds chicken wings
3 celery ribs, cut into large chunks
4 carrots, cleaned and cut into large chunks
2 onions, quartered (skin-on is fine)
1 garlic heat, halved horizontally
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns
½ bunch parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 quarts cold water
Salt, to taste

1.      Add chicken wings and all vegetables and herbs to a large stockpot.

2.      Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.

3.      Gently simmer uncovered for 3 hours. Skim off froth as necessary.

4.      Pour stock through a sieve, into a large bowl. Discard the solids. Add salt to taste.

5.      Cool stock quickly if you are not planning to use it right away. (You can do this by transferring the stock to a container and putting the container in an ice bath). Refrigerate or freeze. Once the stock is cool, you can skim the fat that rises to the top.

Makes about 3 quarts.

Note: Stock may be refrigerated for a couple of days or frozen for up to three months.

Chicken Noodle Soup

2 quarts chicken stock
8 ounces thin egg noodles
1 carrot, thinly sliced
Fresh dill

1.      Heat stock in a saucepan.

2.      Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat. Add the carrots and egg noodles and cook until the noodles are tender.

3.      Ladle soup into bowl and garnish with dill sprigs.

4.      Place matzo balls in bowl, optional (see recipe below)

Makes 2 quarts

Matzo Balls

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

½ cup matzo meal
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp chicken fat or vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp seltzer

1.      Mix all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2.      Bring 1 ½ quarts well-salted water to a brisk boil in a medium sized pot.

3.      Reduce the flame. Run your hands under water so they are thoroughly wet. Form matzo balls by dropping spoonfuls of matzo ball batter approximately 1-inch in diameter into the palm of your wet hands and rolling them loosely into balls.

4.      Drop them into the simmering salt water one at a time. Cover the pot and cook them for 30 to 40 minutes.

Makes 8 to 12 matzo balls

Chicken Consommé

Recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

This recipe requires that all of the equipment used be absolutely clean and grease-free.

5 cups cold stock
Salt and pepper
2 egg whites
Optional (I didn’t use any of the optional ingredients):
            ¼ cup or 2 ounces of absolutely lean, scraped, or minced beef
            ¼ cup minced green leek tops of green onion tops
            2 Tbsp minced parsley
            ½ Tbsp tarragon or chervil
1/3 cup Madeira, port, or cognac

1.      Degrease the stock thoroughly; any fat particles will hinder the clarification process. Taste carefully for seasoning and oversalt slightly if stock is to be served cold; salt loses savor in a cold dish.

2.      Beat 1 cup of stock in the mixing bowl with the egg whites and add optional ingredients for richer flavor. Bring the rest of the stock to the boil in the saucepan. Then, beating the egg-white mixture, gradually pour on the hot stock in a very thin stream. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and set over moderate heat.

3.      Until the stock reaches the simmer, agitate it slowly and continually with a wire whip so that the egg whites, which will begin to turn white, are being constantly circulated throughout the liquid.

4.      Immediately once the simmer is reached, stop stirring. The egg whites now will have mounted to the surface. Gently move the saucepan to the side of the heat so that one edge of the liquid is barely bubbling. In 5 minutes, rotate the saucepan a quarter turn. Turn it again in 5 minutes, and once more for a final 5 minutes.

5.      Line a sieve with damp cheesecloth and place it over the bowl. The sieve should be of a size so that its bottom will remain above the surface of the liquid which is to be poured into the bowl.

6.      Very gently ladle the stock and egg whites into the cheesecloth, disturbing the egg whites as little as possible. The clarified stock will drain through the cheesecloth, leaving the egg-white particles behind. Allow the egg whites to drain undisturbed for 5 minutes, then remove the sieve.

7.      Stir the wine or cognac into the clarified stock. (I actually forgot this step, but the consommé was still delicious.)

Makes 1 quart