Wednesday, October 13, 2010

barramundi with noodles in miso broth + caramelized shallots + steamed bok choy

D and I did P90X in the fall of 2007 while we were living in Manhattan. All of the workouts. And the meal plan. In our 450-square-foot studio apartment. And survived. Without destroying furniture, windows, bones, or each other. Oh, how I grew to despise Tony Horton's voice. I still have nightmares about him chanting ominously, just towards the end of the warm-up for the Plyometrics workout, "Get reeeady... 'cause it's comin'...!"

I lost around 15 pounds in those three months. That sounds like a modest amount, so let me clarify. I got very slim and cut, my physique completely changed, and my net weight loss didn't exceed 15 pounds because so much of my body turned to muscle, which is heavier than fat.

Anyway, lately - and I admit that it's largely my fault because I've been cooking so much decadent food - we've been talking about how we should do P90X again. It can be a little tricky making time for the workouts - and the excruciatingly sore muscles you have for the next several days - but the meal plan isn't so difficult or weird. So here's a less indulgent recipe that I think even Tony Horton would approve of: big protein, high fiber, low fat and carbs, and a pile of greens. The only potentially iffy aspects are the pasta and the sodium content contributed by the soup mix, but you can leave the noodles out, and if you spoon less of the broth into your bowl at the end, you can cut the salt, too. (And to be fair, given their menus, P90X doesn't worry overly much about your sodium intake.)

Two notes about ingredients: I want to say outright that I made a version of this with sea bass when we were living in NYC that actually used authentic miso paste from Gourmet Garage, and it was fabulous. However, if you're working on a schedule and/or a budget, know that Kikkoman makes a lovely, cheap powdered miso soup mix that tastes exactly like what you'd get in a sushi bar, complete with rehydrated tofu cubes, seaweed, and green onion tops. I get it at Wal-Mart (I know, I know - if I could quit it, I would), and I keep packets of it in my office so I can make myself a cup of soup on particularly long days when I need something on my stomach to tide me over until dinner. This tastes much nicer than a plain glass of water - and requires almost as little caloric commitment.

Secondly, Dreamfields pasta is a recent Publix discovery that I highly recommend, while simultaneously divulging that it has lots of questionable (i.e. possibly genetically-engineered) "indigestible" carbs, as well as tons of fiber, along with - ahem! - the digestive consequences of that extra insoluble material.

Thirdly, we also recently discovered barramundi ("Australia's favorite fish!" declares the package) because Whole Foods carries it in their frozen seafood cooler. It's excellent, inexpensive, easily thawed in cold water, and not watery and wimpy textured like flounder or cod. In fact, it actually reminds me a little of sea bass (or a Real Housewife, I guess): rich and thin.

As a final note, let me just add: this dish would probably taste obscenely delicious just after a grueling round of Legs and Back followed by Ab Ripper X.

barramundi with noodles in miso broth + caramelized shallots + bok choy

3 thawed barramundi fillets

2 envelopes Kikkoman miso soup mix
1 cup water

2 green onions, green tops chopped and white parts cut into thirds
1 small piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in half
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1 head bok choy, washed well and sliced into one-inch ribbons

2 good-sized shallots, halved and sliced into rings
2 tbsp. dry white wine
1 tsp. unsalted butter
3 tsp. olive oil, divided

4 oz. Dreamfields linguine

Cook linguine according to package directions. Drain, rinse, keep in water, and set aside.

Heat one teaspoon each of butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook until they are beginning to brown. Add wine and cook until almost all liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Boil water in microwave and combine it with miso soup packets in a bowl. Let it reconstitute. (It will be twice the usual concentration of mix to water.)

Grind some black pepper over the patted-dry barramundi fillets. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high. Add fish to pan and sear on both sides until lightly browned. Add miso soup concentrate to the skillet and turn fish gently to coat. Cover tightly and cook over the lowest heat setting for 10 minutes, carefully turning fish again halfway through.

Heat the last teaspoon of oil over medium. Add green onion white pieces, ginger, and garlic and cook for a few seconds. Add bok choy and 1/4 cup water. Cover and steam for 4 to 6 minutes. Uncover and let water evaporate. Add chopped green onion tops and stir. Remove ginger pieces.

Mound pasta in a shallow bowl, followed by bok choy. Perch fish on top of the pile, and pour broth over it. Garnish with a teaspoon or two of the caramelized shallots.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter + crispy country ham

This recipe is the amalgamation of several I've seen on various menus, both local and far-flung. I've never seen it garnished with country ham, though, and somehow, I think it's what gave this dish a little je ne sais quoi (or, in my own native tongue, a little salty awesomeness).

So, if there's one thing I've learned from TV show cooks, it's that wonton wrappers are your best friend if you want to make quick gourmet-style ravioli. In fact, I just saw a recipe for edamame and ricotta ravioli in the latest issue of Rachael Ray's magazine (she calls it "Green Alien Ravioli," in a Halloweeny attempt to get kids to eat veggies) that I would really like to try. However, in the meantime, I'm trying to use what's fresh, and the only things in my pitiful, dried-up garden that seem to be happy are the sage, the oregano, and possibly the romas. The sage in particular looks crazily robust, though we haven't had rain in forever. Maybe it thinks it's in Italy.

Anyway, while D and I were both cutting into the first test ravioli, neither of us spoke. We each tasted it, and then we looked at each other, and I said, "I like this." D said, "This may be the best thing I've ever eaten." Right after dinner, he was called back to the hospital to see a patient - which makes me happy for the patient but regretful for D, who has been on call all weekend - but before he left, he cast a glance back at the leftovers and said, "Please don't put this up. I want to finish this with you later, when I get home."

For my part, I openly confess: if someone fixed this for me, I really might consent to being his or her slave forever. You should make this for someone you adore, like I did.

butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter + crispy country ham

1 medium butternut squash, cubed

1 to 2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. dried sage
salt and pepper

1/2 stick + 2 tbsp. butter, divided
1 medium shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp. raw turbinado sugar
15 square wonton wrappers
1/2 cup half-and-half
1/2 slice Smithfield country ham, chopped
small bunch of sage, chopped
a few tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss butternut squash with olive oil, and spread it out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with dried sage, salt, and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing once, until golden brown. Cool completely and mash well into a paste. (Note: at this point, I refrigerated the roasted butternut squash for several days, so this step can be done way ahead of time.)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add minced shallot and cook for a couple of minutes until it's beginning to turn golden brown. Add white wine and cook for a minute. Add mashed butternut squash and mix into the shallots. It should be fairly dry. Cook for a couple of minutes over medium-low heat. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, grind a little pepper over top, and stir. Cook for another minute or two. Add half-and-half and stir for yet another couple of minutes. Let mixture cool completely. 

Heat a teaspoon or so of olive oil over medium-high to high heat. Fry chopped country ham until it's browned and crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to a paper towel to drain.

To make the ravioli: take a wonton wrapper and put a generous teaspoon-sized ball of the butternut squash mixture onto the middle of it. Dip your finger into a cup of water and run it around the four edges of the wonton until they're all wet. Fold it over into a triangle shape, working from the center by molding the filling into the very middle of the ravioli, squeezing out any air bubbles, and sealing the edges well. Remove to a large plate and lay them out carefully in a single layer, not touching one another, if possible. Repeat for remaining 14 ravioli. (I had about half of the butternut squash mixture left over. If this happens to you, too, you might want to freeze it for a future batch of ravioli.)

Boil a medium saucepan full of salted water. Working in three batches of 5 or 6 ravioli, boil them for 2 to 3 minutes, and then remove to a colander with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle salt on each batch and then continue with the next one. 

In the meantime, melt remaining butter in a large skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Add fresh sage. Cook until it begins to smell a little nutty (and utterly wonderful). Add drained ravioli to the pan and toss gently with the sage butter. Remove to a large platter and sprinkle with crispy country ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

lady peas in country ham and thyme broth

Yes, sir - it's officially fall. Happily, despite the cooler weather, there are still field peas to be eaten. I had never made lady peas or, truthfully, even heard of them until I came to live in Alabama. I've seen them often enough on local menus, and Frank Stitt spends at least a page in his gorgeous cookbook, Frank Stitt's Southern Table, explaining the delicious nuances that distinguish various kinds of beans and peas, including a mention of this particular legume. 

Anyway, there's a vegetable stand on Rocky Ridge, and after my run on Friday I stopped by to see what they had. I left with a bag of okra, a ziplock of homemade boiled peanuts, and a couple of pounds of already shelled lady peas. I saw them and thought, hey, they have to be something like black-eyed peas, right? Which are awesome, by the way. 

Now for the second part of this recipe idea. Last fall, D and I went to see U2 play in Atlanta, and we ended up making a short vacation of it and spending two nights at The Mansion on Peachtree, which is entirely lovely - probably because it's also an apartment building in addition to being a hotel. P.S.: any hotel where you can order middle-of-the-night hot fudge sundaes and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from room service is all right by me. 

We had read that Craft, one of Tom Colicchio's restaurants, was next door to our hotel, and as longtime Top Chef fans, we really wanted to try it. (I have loved Tom Colicchio ever since, in an earlier season of the show, he roundly lectured a contestant who had made some terrible fish concoction, and his most pointed criticism was that she had not shown sufficient respect for the creature who gave its life to make that dish. That profound gratitude and reverence for ingredients, particularly animal-derived ones, is one reason why I am also a huge fan of Eric Ripert.) We didn't arrive early enough on the first night for dinner at Craft, which ended up being fortuitous, because the lunch we enjoyed instead the next day was one of the best meals of my life so far. I had perfectly pan-roasted trout with gnocchi that were like pillows of mashed potato souffle, served over a succotash of fresh corn and beans, and swimming in a shallow bowl of (miraculously!) perfectly seasoned country ham vinaigrette. D's lunch was no less amazing: short rib cannelloni baked in bĂ©chamel sauce, possibly the richest thing I'd ever tasted. 

Yesterday I looked at my huge pile of fresh lady peas, and I thought: these want country ham. This recipe does take a little time and effort - like everything else I seem to make - but it's worth it. Two bits of advice: firstly, think carefully before adding any additional salt to this recipe. Believe me, I know it's second nature to season as you go, but the country ham broth, while tasty, is very salty already. You may find that you taste the final result and don't need to shake anything on top of it - this recipe was one of the few times that has ever happened to me, and I really like salt. Secondly, when you serve yourself up a bowl of this, make sure that you get plenty of the pot liquor. It is like liquid gooold.

lady peas in country ham and thyme broth

for the broth:
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 slices Smithfield country ham, cut into one-inch strips
about 4 cups water
6 to 8 stems of thyme
2 green onions, chopped (including green tops)
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns

for the peas:
1 tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
8 to 10 stems of thyme, half of them stripped
3/4 cup dry white wine
country ham broth
2 lbs. shelled fresh lady peas, picked over and rinsed
1 slice Smithfield country ham, roughly chopped

Make the broth: Fry country ham strips in a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, turning once, until they’re browned some on both sides. Add ham and any remaining pan juices and bits to a medium saucepan filled with about four cups of water. Add a pat of butter, thyme stems, green onions, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and simmer for at least 30 to 45 minutes, until you have about a cup to a cup and a half of liquid remaining.  Strain broth and reserve as much of the ham and green onions as you can. Chop them roughly. Discard thyme stems and peppercorns.

In the same unwashed saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and olive oil. Let butter sizzle a little until it smells slightly nutty, and then add chopped onion. SautĂ© for 3 to 5 minutes until onions are somewhat caramelized, adding thyme leaves midway through so that they infuse the butter and oil. Pour in white wine and crank up the heat to high. Reduce until there’s about 1/4 cup of liquid remaining.

Pour in country ham broth, chopped country ham and onions from it, lady peas, and 4 to 5 whole thyme stems. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Skim foam as it rises to the top, and continue until the peas stop foaming. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or so, just until they’re tender. Remove thyme stems.

While the peas are cooking, heat another teaspoon or two of olive oil in a pan over high. Fry chopped country ham slice until it’s browned and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.

Serve lady peas in a small bowl with a generous scoopful of broth and a sprinkling of crispy country ham on top.