Week Night Yum Yum: Opah with Spring Vegetable Orzo

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I like to change it up in the kitchen, and we definitely eat fish at least once a week (usually I aim for 3 times). Opah is a fabulous fish. It's meaty like swordfish, but has a much more delicate flavor (reminds me of Mahi Mahi). Plus, if you're a bit new with working with fish or aren't that comfortable, it's a super easy fish to work with. Minimal preparation required and yielding itself to a variety of cooking methods, the fish will turn opaque white as it cooks, clearly marking for you when it's done. It does not get any easier than that.

Opah, aka Moonfish, comes for us in the US courtesy of Hawaii. Raw, the color of the flesh is a rosy pink but when cooked, turns white. The skin is this beautiful, shiny polka dotted patterned that gives off a rainbow when exposed to the light. Not usually sought out by fisherman, they are usually caught as by-catches when fishermen go for tuna. Which is why you won't steadily find opah in the markets. But when you do, be sure to pick up this special fish!

The simplest way to prepare opah is with a good seasoning of salt and pepper, and a nice sauté in a hot pan. It compliments pretty much anything. I chose to do an orzo with spring vegetables -- English peas, asparagus, and spring onion mixed with a little baby spinach for a healthy and tasty side dish. A well seared opah fillet right on top perfects this healthy low cal meal.

Opah with Spring Vegetable Orzo
4 opah filets, skin removed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups orzo pasta
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup cooked English peas (can sub with regular peas)
2 spring onion, trimmed and finely sliced
2 cups baby spinach, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon
good quality extra virgin olive oil

Make the orzo first. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook orzo according to package directions. Drain and transfer orzo to a large mixing bowl. While the orzo cooks, heat another pot of water and add the asparagus. Cook until turns bright green, then remove from water. Toss the orzo with the cooked asparagus, peas, spring onion, spinach, and garlic all while the orzo is still warm. The warmth will help wilt the spinach and absorb the vinaigrette. Season the orzo with salt and pepper to taste, then add about 1 tsp's worth of zest from the lemon, the juice of the entire lemon, and a good drizzle of olive oil. Toss very well to combine. Set aside while you make the opah.

Let opah stand on counter to get to room temperature -- this will ensure even cooking and a nice crust. Season both sides of the filets with salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan to high heat. You want the pan quite hot to develop the proper sear. You know it's hot when you can hold you hand over the top, about 5 inches away from the bottom of the pan for about 2-3 seconds before you have to remove your hand. Add a little olive oil to the bottom of the hot pan -- just enough to thinly coat the bottom -- and place your fish into the pan. Depending on the pan's size, you'll need to do them two at a time or all 4. The oil will jump when the fish is introduced, so be careful and work confidently but quickly.

Sear the one side of the fish. You'll start to see the fish turn white from the bottom; when it's about halfway up the thickness of the filet, it's ready to be flipped. Flip and finishing cooking the fish on the other side. Add more oil if you need to. When the fish totally becomes white, it's ready. Remove promptly from pan and serve with the orzo.

Week Night Yum Yum: Quick Roasted Chicken, Baby Potatoes and Broccoli

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I love my a good roasted chicken, but with 3 little ones and finishing up school for the year, I still have to do weekly dinners on the faster side. A trick I learned was to get a whole chicken, but have the butcher break it down for me into the separate parts. They have fancy knives and do it in nanoseconds, cutting down on my prep time too (pun intended). I use the same seasonings I work with for a traditional roasted chicken recipe, and the separate portions cook faster too, making this a very feasible week night meal.
To make it even easier, because I love me a "one-pot" type situation, I add baby potatoes right in the bottom of the pan with the chicken. They soak up the gorgeous flavor and juices from the chicken sitting on top, so the chicken does the seasoning job for me. They come out super tender and flavorful this way, and you can serve potatoes and chicken in one scoop directly to plate. I added some steamed broccoli for an easy and healthy veg, and a small side salad if you like and you're done!  

Quick Roasted Chicken with Baby Potatoes and Broccoli
1 whole chicken, cut into parts (have your butcher do it) -- you want 2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 legs, 2 wings
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
herbs de provence (about 1 Tablespoon is great)
baby potatoes -- washed and scrubbed then patted dry
olive oil
broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Take the chicken and season all over with salt, pepper, and herbs de provence to taste.

Take the potatoes and place in a roasting dish large enough to contain the chicken (I used a simple Pyrex lasagna dish here). Drizzle a little olive oil and toss to coat well. The oil will help prevent the potatoes from sticking (and burning) to the bottom of the pan. Season with a small pinch of salt and pepper -- remember, they'll get a lot of seasoning from the chicken during cooking too. Place the chicken on top of the potatoes in one even layer. Drizzle a little bit more olive oil right on top of the chicken -- this will help it brown and get golden.

Roast in oven until cooked all the way through, about 35 minutes (depending on your oven's strength). The chicken should be golden brown, skin crispy, and juices to run clear when pierced. Potatoes should be fork-tender.

While the chicken is finishing up roasting, simply bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add your broccoli to the water and cook for 5 minutes, until they turn a bright color and are your desired tenderness (having a 6 year old about to lose a tooth and a 16 month old with barely any has me cooking our veggies a bit longer than I normally would; cook your broccoli less for a crunchier texture). Remove from water and shock in an ice bath if desired (literally a bowl of cold water with ice in it to stop the cooking process).

Serve chicken with potatoes and a side of broccoli.

Happy Birthday Cake! A super easy cake to make with kids (or yourself!)

Monday, June 10, 2013

This one goes out to Pinterest...

Sometimes a post will just get into my head on Pinterest and I'll basically become obsessed until I make it. Such was the case with Paula Deen's recipe for 1-2-3-4 Cake. Super, super easy using ingredients you should have on hand, you can literally whip this cake up in minutes. It's super versatile too -- you can basically match any frosting or filling you like to this basic vanilla recipe. Some ideas include coconut with passion fruit filling, raspberry frosting and berry preserve, even tiramisu with coffee-flavored frosting and freshly shaved chocolate all around. This is a great basic recipe to keep in your arsenal that you can play with and adjust for the occasion or season, or simply with what you've got on hand. If you find yourself with unexpected guests or need to pull a cake out of your ass on short notice for a party or school function, this is your Go To Cake Recipe.

Here is my version based on Paula's recipe. I add a little orange zest to the batter for a subtle bright fragrance and flavor that compliments the batter perfectly. And here's my recipe for a super easy non-chocolate-melting chocolate frosting. Again, comes together very, very fast with a standing or handheld mixer. 

Because I made this cake with the kiddos for my birthday this year, I'm calling it Happy Birthday Cake. They had a blast adding the simple ingredients and tasting as we went. I let them decorate the top -- note the thick layer of rainbow sprinkles. And of course, what birthday cake is complete without requisite candles?!

Happy Birthday Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup milk, at room temperature
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp orange zest
2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups sifted cake/self-rising flour*
4 eggs
recipe for chocolate frosting (follows)
rainbow sprinkles for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 (9 inch) cake pans and set aside.** Doing 3 cake pans will give you a fabulous, easy 3 layer cake (and cake will cook faster!).

Sift the flour and set aside.

Place the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (conversely, you can certainly make with a handheld mixer using the beater attachments). Beat until butter is lighter in color and fluffy in texture. Add the sugar and continue to beat on medium-high speed until well incorporated and butter is fluffy, another 5 minutes or so.

Add the eggs, one at a time and beat on lower speed until egg is just combined. It's important to add each egg one at a time (not all at once) to ensure an even texture. Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat to combine. Add one cup of the flour and mix until just combined, then add half of the milk and beat, then another cup of flour, then the rest of the milk, then the last cup of flour. Each time you want to mix the ingredient in just until it's pretty much combined (about 90% is good) so as to not overmix the batter.

Divide the batter evenly into each pan and bake in oven until a tester comes out clean, and tops are just beginning to get golden. Bake time should be around 25 minutes, but will vary depending on your oven's strength. Again, you want to start checking the cake around 15-20 minutes for doneness; if it overbakes it will be dry. When you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean (i.e., without batter goo on it), it's done!

Take out from oven and let stand to cool about 10 minutes in the pans. Invert onto a cooling rack -- place your cooking rack on top of the pan. Slide one hand under the pan (you may need to use an oven glove if the pan is still too warm for you) and place the other hand securely on top of the rack right over the top of the cake. Pick both up keeping them connected to each other, and flip it so the cake pan is now on top of the cooking rack. Set down on counter. Gently pop off the pan and voila! you have your cake layer! Repeat with each pan. Let these cool for an hour before frosting.

When ready to form cake, simply place one layer on a cake stand or platter. Add a little frosting on the top. Gently add another cake layer right on top, then frost, then add final cake layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake. I did a very rustic, easy large swirl pattern because I wanted my cake to look very homemade and casual; if you want to go nuts you can do a smooth finish or pipe a pattern or whatever your cake decorating heart desires. Add sprinkles if using and candles and serve!

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve; will keep well for about 3 days.

 *Cake flour aka "self-rising flour" is basically all purpose flour with baking powder added to it. You can be this mix in a box at the store, but a lot of people (including myself) don't because (a) it's expensive (about $4-5 a box!) and (b) the shelf-life is very, very short. Unless you plan to do cakes and cupcakes on a pretty regular basis, you don't really need to invest in it.

To make your own at home, all you need is regular all-purpose flour. I personally like King Arthur brand. And any baking powder will do. The simple ratio is:

 1.5 teaspoon baking powder: 1 cup flour.

So if you need more than 1 cup for a recipe, like for this cake recipe that calls for 3 cups of self-rising flour, you'd simply sift together in a bowl 4 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder with 3 cups of all purpose flour. You can also add salt if you like. For this cake recipe, you can add 1 teaspoon of salt if you wished.

**You want to be extra careful buttering your pans. Do not skimp here -- every single part of the pan needs to be generously slathered in the butter. This will help release the done cake easily from the pan. If you are sparse with the buttering then parts of the cake will stick to the pan when you try to remove it; this will break your layer and you'll end up with pieces. You can also use a baking spray (I recommend PAM's with butter and flour).

Quick No-Melt Chocolate Frosting
1/4 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups powder sugar (aka confectioner's sugar)
2/3 cup good quality cocoa powder
4 Tbsp heavy cream
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp freshly brewed coffee (room temperature is great)

Using a standing mixer or handheld mixer fitted with the paddle attachment/s, cream the butter for a minute or so. Add some of the sugar -- you don't have to be precise -- and mix on low speed until combined. Add the sugar and cocoa a little at a time -- a little of each -- and a tablespoon of cream at a time as you mix everything together. Go slowly -- the sugar and cocoa will puff in your face like a cloud if your speed is anything above the lowest speed when you're adding these ingredients. You don't have to be precise in measuring here -- the idea is to slowly add the sugar and cocoa to mix into the butter, and you use the cream to help smooth it out each time.

Once you've incorporated all of the sugar, cocoa, and cream into the frosting, start beating it on higher speed to give it body. The air from the higher speed is what will add volume to the frosting and make it fluff up, so don't be afraid to work on medium-high speeds here.

Once you've established a good frosting consistency, add the vanilla and beat in until combined, then the coffee and beat until combined. The vanilla helps to mellow out the bitterness in the cocoa while the coffee helps to bring out the sweetness in the frosting.

At this point it's ready to frost the cake -- you can go directly to frosting. If you're doing this in advance, wrap the frosting and keep in fridge. Bring it out at room temperature (about 20 minutes or so) to make it more spreadable and then frost your cake later. Always refrigerate unused frosting.

Torta de Almendras (Cherry Almond Cake): European Throwback

Friday, June 7, 2013

This past month for The Hubsters birthday the kids wanted to bake him a cherry cake. Random? Yes. But I like random. Thankfully so does he. Cherries are beginning to pop up in the area, so I was thrilled when the kids came up with the idea to use cherries in the cake. I know The Hubsters isn't a huge fan of frosting, so I thought we'd make a simpler, more European style cake where the cherries could really shine.

 As I was researching for ideas, I remembered this one cake my grandma would make a lot during the summer. It was a really simple butter cake flavored with almond extract, vanilla, and used sour cherries (Eastern Europeans and Balkan folks are big on the sour cherries!). Sometimes she'd use fresh berries. I thought it would be perfect -- something lighter, very pretty, and included almond which was also a favorite flavor for The Hubsters.

We ended up making a version called Torta de Almendras -- an almond-flavored cake that we added fresh pitted cherries to. I sort of combined the traditional recipe with my grandma's -- added orange zest and cognac, and used buttermilk instead of whole milk mainly because that's what I had on hand. The cake turned out great -- a sort of sturdier clafoutis kind of cake with a stronger step in the almond direction. If you like almonds and cherries, you'll love this dessert. A simple dusting of powdered sugar on top in lieu of heavier frosting and it's a done deal.

Torta de Almendras -- Cherry Almond Cake
1 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
1 Tbsp freshly grated orange zest
1 Tbsp brandy or cognac (optional)
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/1 tsp fine salt
1 1/2 cup pitted cherries
powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a spring form pan and set aside.

P.S. This is how a buttered pan looks like.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. These are your "dry ingredients."

Lightly whisk together the buttermilk, vanilla, almond extract, orange zest, and brandy or cognac if using. Set aside. These are your "wet ingredients."

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale yellow in color, and light and fluffy in texture, about 8 minutes. A standing mixer or handheld mixer will work great. Add the egg and mix until incorporated in.

Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix on low speed until just combined. Add 1/2 of the wet ingredients and continue to mix, then 1/3 of the dry, then the rest of the wet, and finally finishing with the final 1/3 of the dry. Each time you want to mix just until the ingredients are about 90% mixed all the way in. Over mixing the batter will give you a tougher cake in the end.

Remove from the mixer and using a spatula, gently scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix in. The batter will be actually quite thick; thicker than a box cake mix batter for example. This is a denser cake, so don't panic about how thick the batter is -- you did it right.

Transfer the batter into the buttered spring form pan. Make sure it's evenly distributed in the pan. Next, add your cherries.

You can sprinkle them about in a rustic fashion or even create a pattern; up to you. You can also fold the cherries into the batter if you wanted them dispersed throughout the cake. Totally up to you. In the picture, I chose to do a pattern to show you.

Bake in oven for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, then decrease the temperature to 325 (keep the cake still inside) and continue to bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about another 30 minutes or so (depending on your oven's strength). Remove from oven and let stand to cool.

Transfer cake to a serving platter and dust with powdered sugar when ready to serve.

Beer Food: Pondhopper Mac n Cheese with Chive and Smoked Paprika

You will love this recipe....

Here in Seattle it's no big deal to have access to some pretty amazing cheeses. "Locally made" includes here in Washington or a little south into Oregon; anything in NorCal is apparently enemy territory (p.s. I'm still pissed Whole Foods won't carry Point Reyes bleu cheese!). It's either made within 100 miles of my house or it's imported from Europe; anything in between is simply not good enough for us here. And I fucking love that about living here. So, there's a new cheese in town I'm seriously obsessed with.

Meet....the Pondhopper:

This gorgeous cheese is locally made using Cascade hops -- the same hops used to brew beer locally -- are used to flavor this effing amazing cheese. It's a goat milk, semi-hard cheese with (I think) a slightly nutty flavor packing a punch of tanginess but like in the best way possible. Basically if fontina and cheddar had a threesome with beer, they would produce this cheese.

And it's effing amaze balls.

The texture is a little like fontina -- easy to snack on but also melts very nicely. The flavor is sharp like a cheddar (or Beecher's Flagship even), so you get a nice salty taste for your dishes. And it's one of those cheeses you can eat on its own just perfectly or use to make incredible dishes. I've been snacking on it for a few weeks and got a tip from the cheese people to make mac n cheese with it. Game. Fucking. On. The result was incredible and p.s. -- this goes with beer perfectly.

Here's my version for the Pondhopper Mac n Cheese. I agree completely with using the smoked paprika, and add a little more with a crunchy topping using panko, garlic, and fresh chopped chive. Make this now. You will love it.

Pondhopper Mac n Cheese with Chive and Smoked Paprika
1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cream, at room temperature
1 1/4 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
2 cups grated pondhopper cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 Tbsp fresh chives, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook until just under al dente, about 8-9 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

Now make the cheese sauce. First, make the roux. Heat a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the butter all at once and melt it completely, then add the flour all at once and begin whisking them together immediately and vigorously. This is a roux. You need to stir it constantly to prevent it from browning in color (which would give the dish a darker shade; we want to keep it white to compliment the color of the cheese we're using). Cook this roux for about 4 minutes, stirring it constantly.

Next, slowly add the cream to the roux, continuing to stir as you add. You can warm the cream and whole milk which will make them blend in easier and faster; or using cold cream and milk, just note it'll clump the roux when introduced. Don't panic -- just keep whisking together to smooth it all out if it clumps on you. Keep the heat under the pot around medium-low to low to prevent burning the roux.

Once you've added all the cream, begin to slowly add the whole milk. Again, continuously stir to make sure the sauce is blended well and incorporated. Now you have a classic béchamel sauce.

Season the sauce with salt to taste and the peppers, and the smoked paprika. Whisk again to combine. Take the sauce off the heat and add the cheese a little at a time, again stirring to help it melt in. The warmth of the sauce should melt the cheese on its own, but if you find you're having trouble you can go ahead and put the sauce back under the lowest heat while incorporating the cheese. Keep stirring (you can continue with a sturdy whisk or switch to a wooden spoon for the cheese) until all of the cheese is melted and you have a lovely, thick creamy sauce. Remove from heat.

If the saucepan is large enough, go ahead and add the pasta directly in and mix to coat; or combine pasta and sauce in a large mixing bowl. Make sure to mix quite well, careful not to break up the pasta, so each piece is coated in the sauce. Transfer to a baking dish of your choosing and prepare the topping.  (if you're skipping the panko topping, you can eat the mac n cheese right now)

In a small bowl combine the panko, garlic, and chives. Add the oil and mix to combine. Sprinkle over the top of the mac n cheese and place in oven. Bake until top begins to get golden brown, about 25 minutes (depending on your oven's strength). Let stand a few minutes before serving.

Turnips...Who Knew?! A Simple Recipe for Delicious Roasted Baby Turnips

It's been a few weeks now and I keep walking past these adorable baby turnips at the local market. Admittedly, I had no idea what a turnip even tasted like, let alone how to cook one. Not one to fear the unknown, I finally grabbed a bunch and came home to work with it. After a quick collaborative effort on Facebook, I decided to simply roast them with some salt and pepper. The result -- EFFING AWESOME. Will be making baby turnips on a regular basis now.

The little bulbs are sweet and have a wonderful caramelized flavor when roasted, while the stems balance with a slight bitter-nuttiness that's irresistible. The prep time and cook time for these were super fast, making them easy for a weeknight side dish. Beautiful and delicious, the whole family enjoyed them. They'd be perfect with a grilled steak or roasted chicken. Enjoy!

Roasted Baby Turnips
2 bunches baby turnips
olive oil
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Take the turnips and cut off the leaves, leaving about 3 inch stem. Cut off the little bottom of the bulb. You can save the greens (the leaves) and braise them for another dish (recipe to follow soon!). Trim and wash the turnips and pat dry. Toss in a little olive oil (just enough to lightly coat them, about a good teaspoon or so) and season with some salt and pepper. Toss with your hands  until evenly coated and place in a baking dish or baking sheet. Roast in oven until just turning tender, and beginning to caramelize, about 25 minutes (depending on your oven's strength, more or less time is needed). Serve!