Vallarta scavenger hunt: Baby Octopus with Duck Sausage in Tomato Sauce

Vallarta Bounty I recently started volunteering at the Van Nuys courthouse as a mediator.  Van Nuys is the next suburb over from where I was born and grew up, in the San Fernando Valley.  My first experience with the Van Nuys courthouse was in high school when I and five of my friends very nearly got expelled after being caught for ditching our  internship there.  I haven’t always been an angel.

On my way home from court the other day I spotted a Vallarta market and I cannot resist an ethnic market.  I stopped in for some carne asada and came out with bags of dried chili peppers, tamarindo, guavas, jamaica, piloncillo, spices, saladitos (an old favorite), cheap dried beans, and a surprise find: baby octopus (previously frozen but that’s the way you’ll usually find it).  And unlike shopping at my love it/hate it Whole Foods, this octopus set me back a whopping $4.99.

Baby octopus I’ve been pseudo obsessed with octopus since falling all over myself after ordering it twice at different small plate restaurants: first at the Basque focused eatery called Racion, which has quickly become my new favorite Pasadena restaurant; and second at the much hyped (but well-deserved) Voltaggio haunt ink.  Unlike your typical chewy octopus sushi, the octopus I had at these restaurants were tender, juicy, and really really tasty.

Inspired more by the flavors of the dish I had at Racion, and the duck sausage from Harmony Farms that I needed to use up in my fridge, this is what I came up with: baby octopus with duck sausage in a tomato wine sauce, served over fregola sarda (toasted) pasta with a side of sauteed broccoli rabe.  And if I can brag for a quick sec, this was one of the best pasta type dishes I’ve ever concocted.

Next time you spot octopus at your local Vallarta, don’t be afraid of it.  The dish I prepared was no more trouble than making a decent tomato sauce.  And cooking and eating octopus for dinner really makes you feel daring and exotic, if just for an hour. baby octopus with duck sausage

Braised baby octopus with duck sausage in tomato sauce

Serves 2
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 2 hours
Total time 2 hours, 15 minutes
Meal type Main Dish

Ingredients

  • 1lb baby octopus (Large octopus also works but you may need to cook longer)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 14oz can italian crushed or diced tomatoes (San Marzano preferred or another high quality canned tomato, fresh works too if in season)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup italian parsley (chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (fresh, or 1-2 tsp dried)

Optional

  • 1/2lb duck sausage (or any narrow diameter hard salami)
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 handful canned black olives
  • parmesan cheese (fresh, grated)

Note

Inspired by and adapted from this recipe, which originates from Puglia in Southern Italy.  I added the black olives and sausage to give it a little more Italian flair and flavor.  Sausage will add some saltiness to your sauce, so go light on the salt and adjust as needed after the sauce reduces and comes together.

Directions

1.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Toss in the octopus, return to boil. Boil 2 minutes to remove impurites. Then remove from water and plunge in ice bath. Discard water. If heads are still attached, at this point you can cut them off and discard them, or you can clean everything out inside and use the heads, discarding the inner bits. Chop into large chunks.
Octopus (1 of 1)-2
2. Heat dutch oven or medium pot and add olive oil to coat. Saute octopus for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes more, don't let garlic burn.
3. Deglaze with wine and bring to simmer, reduce wine until 2/3 evaporated. Add tomatoes, chili flakes, honey, and a teaspoon of salt.
4. Bring to simmer and add oregano. Slice sausage thinly on the bias (diagonal) and add to pot.
5. Cover pot and simmer for 30 minutes. Add capers, olives, and most of your parsley (saving a little for garnish).
6. Taste octopus to see if tender (smaller baby octopus might be tender at this point). If still chewy, cover pot again and keep simmering until tender, up to 45 minutes, checking for tenderness every 10 minutes.
7.
When tender, remove lid and let sauce reduce and thicken if necessary. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if desired. Serve over Fregola Sarda pasta or any other desired pasta. Garnish with remaining parsley and grated parmesan if desired.
Octopus (4 of 4)

Recipe roulette: grill poached halibut with tomatillo and Anaheim chili “pesto”

I play a game with my husband sometimes, only he doesn’t know I’m playing it.  When I send him off to the market to pick up something for dinner and he asks me what I want him to buy,  I usually just say, “pick up a couple of proteins and a few veggies.”  I leave the rest up to him.  He then comes home with a bag full of Whole Foods and I have to figure out how to turn this bag into dinner.  It’s a recipe roulette of sorts, my own personal “Chopped” show, and I like it because it keeps my skills sharp.  You see, my husband’s choices can be random at times, but that’s the challenge and the fun of it.

Like the other night, when Big N came home with a hunky piece of Alaskan halibut, skirt steak, Italian eggplants, tomatillos, and two Anaheim chili peppers.  I let the recipe roulette play out in my head, reserving the skirt steak and eggplants for an easy grilled dinner the next night, and focused on the halibut, tomatillos, and chili peppers.  Hmm, what to do?  With some input from Big N, here’s what we came up with: olive oil poached halibut on the grill, with a grilled tomatillo and Anaheim “pesto” sauce.

I let Big N take lead on the fish, because he can make a mean “grill packet” out of heavy duty foil, the perfect vessel to poach a fish in oil on the grill, while I worked the sauce.  For the sauce, Big N grilled the tomatillos and chilis until they were charred, soft, and moist. I then peeled the chilis and threw them along with the tomatillos into the mini food processor, along with a few items I already had on hand: cilantro, pine nuts (as a thickener, which I first dry toasted on the stove to bring out their flavor), garlic, and half and half.  A few pulses and some salt and pepper later, I had a delicious, thick, creamy-tangy sauce with just a touch of heat from the peppers.

I also cooked up some quick polenta with chives and freshly grated parmesan (polenta and parmesan are two more staples I keep on hand).  And there you have it, olive oil poached halibut with tomatillo and Anaheim “pesto,” topped with grilled tomatillos, over polenta.  A winner to be sure, unlike your typical trip to the roulette table. halibut-tomatillo-4-of-4

Grill poached halibut with tomatillo and Anaheim chile pesto

Serves 4
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 30 minutes
Meal type Main Dish
Occasion Barbecue

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2lb Alaskan halibut
  • 3 tomatillos
  • 1 Anaheim Chile
  • 1/4 cup pinenuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup half and half (or cream, as needed)

Optional

  • 1 tablespoon cilantro (finely chopped)

Directions

1.
Portion out halibut into two fillets and season both sides with salt and pepper. Make grill "packet" out of heavy foil. Pour generous amount of olive oil over fish and into packet.
Halibut Tomatillo (3 of 4)
2.
Slide halibut packet onto grill over indirect heat. Also throw tomatillos and Anaheim pepper on the grill. Cover and grill tomatillos and pepper until slightly charred and soft. Grill halibut 10-12 minutes, depending on thickness, until slightly firm but still just a tad translucent and undercooked in the center. Remove and cover with foil to keep warm.
Halibut Tomatillo (2 of 4)
3. In a dry skillet, add pine nuts and toast over medium heat until they start to brown, shaking pan regularly to promote even toasting on all sides. Add chopped garlic clove and cook 1 minute.
4.
In a blender or mini food processor, add tomatillos, chile, pine nuts and garlic clove, plus cilantro if using. Pour in 1/8 cup of half and half and pulse or blend until finely blended. Season with salt and pepper. If too thick, thin with more half and half until desired consistency is reached.
Halibut Tomatillo (1 of 4)
5. Serve fish (over polenta or sautéed veggies) and spoon sauce around fish on plate.

Down the Hatch: Salmon with Hatch Chile Sauce

Late August brings Hatch chiles to the markets.  From New Mexico, these beauties resemble Anaheim chiles but are much more flavorful, with hints of apple and a smokey quality that make them perfect for roasting.  They add a tangy punch of flavor and spice to meat and fish dishes. 

At my local Bristol Farms, hatch chiles were the hype of the market, and I picked up a few along with a flyer with several recipes to try at home.  Most appealing was the grilled salmon recipe with hatch chile cream sauce (adapted to my liking below).

To really make the dish pop, I added a garnish of finger limes, another August produce find.  Finger limes aren’t like any citrus you’ve seen before.  They’re tiny and adorable and when you cut them in half you find little cavier-like lime pearls.  You can’t “juice” them per se, but the lime “caviers” added a touch of sweet soapy lime citrus to the dish and look really impressive on the plate.  Fun stuff.  (Also try adding finger limes to tuna poke. Yummy.)

The hatch cream sauce for my salmon used basic simple ingredients and was easy enough to make (though you need to bust out your blender), and anything creamy on salmon is a treat.  Grilling the salmon is the only way to go for this recipe because you want that smokiness from the grill to complement the sauce.  I served my salmon with an heirloom tomato and feta salad and an Oregon chardonnay.  A perfect late summer meal to enjoy on the patio.

*Note: if you have any extra cream sauce, reserve and refrigerate it.  The cold cream sauce will turn into an aioli of sorts.  Last night we grilled burgers and topped them with grilled hatch chiles and used the cold cream sauce in place of mayo.  Delish!

Behold: grilled salmon with hatch chile cream sauce and finger lime cavier.  Fancy, eh?

Grilled Salmon with Hatch Chile Cream Sauce

Serves 6
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 25 minutes
Meal type Main Dish

Ingredients

  • 3 Hatch Chiles (Anaheims will work if Hatch aren't in season)
  • 6 pieces Salmon (6 oz portions; I used King salmon, but any salmon will do. Get fresh and wild if you can afford it.)
  • 2 Green onions (Finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup Dry white wine
  • 1 Lime
  • 1.5 cups Heavy Cream
  • Olive oil

Note

This recipe makes enough sauce for 6 portions of salmon.  You can make less salmon and reserve leftover sauce for another use.

Adapted from Jamie's Gwen's recipe found on flyer in Bristol Farms market.

Directions

1.
First roast the chiles by placing them on your hot grill or directly on top of your stove burner. Turn with tongs until skin is evenly charred and blackened all over. Then place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 5 minutes. The steam in the bowl helps loosen the skin. Remove skin by rubbing the charred bits with a paper towl. Then slice open and discard seeds. Finely dice.
Hatch-Chiles-2-of-7
2.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan. When hot add onions and saute for 1 minute. Then add roasted and diced chiles.
Hatch-Chiles-3-of-7
3. Add white wine and simmer until almost all of the wine has evaporated.
4.
Add the cream and boil on medium heat until cream is reduced by half and sauce is thickened.
Hatch-Chiles-4-of-7
5.
Squeeze juice of the lime into the sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Hatch-Chiles-5-of-7
6.
Transfer mixture to blender and blend until smooth (be careful as mixture is hot). Return to pan and keep warm until ready to use.
Hatch-Chiles-5-of-71
7. Prepare salmon for grill by seasoning with salt and pepper and brushing with olive oil. Make sure your grill grates are clean and oiled well to prevent salmon from sticking. Depending on the thickness of your salmon and your grilling temperature, it'll take about 5-10 minutes to grill. You want it still slightly underdone in the center, not cooked through.
8.
Pour 2 tablespoons of sauce onto plate and top with salmon. Garnish with more green onions, and lime zest or finger limes.
Hatch-Chiles-6-of-7

Light and fast: poached salmon with avocado sauce and quinoa tabbouleh

Late Spring cooking should be fresh and easy.  With all of the wonderful fruits and veggies making their way into the markets, there’s plenty of reasons to put a quick and delicious meal on the table once in a while.

This dinner, inspired by my leafing though Bon Appetit magazine which I started receiving free for some unknown reason, takes about 25 minutes tops.  Plus it’s healthy, fresh, seasonal, and delicious, especially when enjoyed at sunset on the patio.

Start by cooking off your quinoa so it has a chance to cool.  Then prepare your poaching liquid.  Poaching salmon is about as easy as it gets, and there’s really no guesswork involved. Bring your liquid just to a boil, turn off the heat, plop in your salmon, and wait 10-15 minutes (depending on how pink you like your center).

And the sauce is also a breeze, throw everything in the blender and give it a whirl.

While your salmon is poaching you can finish off your quinoa tabbouleh.  Quinoa is a superfood!  It’s a cinch to make (see below) and is a complete protein high in plenty of vitamins.  Eat it often.  It has a bit of a nutty flavor on its own served hot, but also goes well in cold salads.  The tabbouleh is crunchy from the hothouse cucumbers, tangy from the acids, and fresh tasting from the parsley.  A winner with the salmon and creamy avocado sauce.

25 minutes to a healthy dinner your family will love.  Ain’t that a treat.

Poached Salmon with Avocado Sauce

Serves 2
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb salmon (preferably fresh and wild)
  • 3 cups stock (chicken, vegetable, or fish)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 sprigs thyme (or tarragon (but then omit wine and add more stock))
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 lime, juice and zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Optional

  • Chives (chopped)

Note

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Directions

1. Cut fish into 2 portions and season with salt and pepper
2. Bring stock and wine just to a boil, then throw in thyme. Remove from heat and add salmon. Let stand until cooked to medium-rare (about 10-15 minutes). Remove salmon and transfer to plate. Chill if desired.
3. Make sauce by scooping avocado, yogurt, lime zest and juice and cumin into blender or food processor. Blend until combined, then season with salt and pepper and additional lime juice if needed.
4. Spoon avocado sauce on bottom of plate and layer salmon on top. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with a lime wedge and chives if desired.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

Serves 4
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quinoa (rinsed)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus zest
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 1 hothouse cucumber (or 2 persian cucumbers)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 1/3 cup flat leaf (italian) parsley (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint (chopped)
  • 2 scallions (sliced thin)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (good quality)

Note

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Directions

1. Bring quinoa, 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 10 minutes. Let stand covered for 5 minutes, then fluff with fork. Let cool.
2. In a bowl whisk lemon juice, olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
3. Mix quinoa with cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, and herbs. Mix in dressing and season to taste.
4. Will keep one day in refrigerator.

More unfriendly pregnancy foods: Gravlax

Now that I’m in full pregnancy swing, of course I’m craving all of the foods I’m not supposed to have: sushi, sausages, anything fried, and gooey unpasteurized cheeses.  I’m not sure if they’re cravings really, more like defiant stubbornness. Gravlax sliced

Recently I was inspired (read: the pictures made me salivate) by an article I read about Marcus Samuellson, chef/owner of the chic Manhattan Nordic restaurant, Aquavit.  His recipe for Gravlax (cured salmon) seemed simple enough and I had a beautiful piece of salmon and some fresh dill calling my name in the fridge.  Rather than go with Mr. Samuellson’s recipe, however, I pulled out my trusty behemoth of a cookbook, the CIA’s Professional Chef, which had a nifty Gravlax recipe that seemed more fun (see my adapted recipe below).  Mr. Samuellson’s recipe uses a simple dry cure, but the one in my CIA bible also used a wet component that included some brandy.  Can’t go wrong there.

We Jews love our smoked or cured salmon, which we lovingly call “lox” (after Gravlax presumably).  On a bagel with some schmear, on a chic blini, or by itself, lox is just plain good.  If you don’t have a smoking gun (and I don’t, yet), curing it is your next best bet.

Making the cure was easy.  The tricky part is leaving the darned thing alone in your refrigerator for 2 days while it cures, and then controlling yourself and not eating the entire slab of salmon in one sitting, which would probably give you a salt heart attack.

Once my salmon was cured, scraped, and thinly sliced, I placed it on top of mini Melba toast squares (thank you Trader Joe’s) with some creme fraiche and chives.  Simple appetizer, tasty snack, and sublimely irresistible to this pregnant lady.  Plus it’s the perfect Sunday brunch food.

Like I said before, don’t judge.  I’m a self-admitted foodaholic.  (Incidentally, the salmon I chose was fresh as could be and I’m ServSafe certified so I wasn’t worried about endangering my kidney bean with icky bacteria).  Well worth the little cheat.

Try it.  If you’re not pregnant you have nothing to feel guilty about.

Gravlax on toast

Gravlax: Cured Salmon

Serves 6
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 48 hours
Total time 48 hours, 20 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Breakfast

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Salmon (Fresh, high quality)
  • 3 oz Kosher salt
  • 1/3 oz Cracked white peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 oz Dill (Finely chopped)
  • 8 oz Brown sugar
  • 1 oz Lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Olive oil
  • 1/2 oz Brandy

Note

Adapted from The Professional Chef, 8th Edition (the Culinary Institute of America's cookbook).  You can also find Marcus Samuelsson's simpler gravlax recipe here.

Because this salmon will be cured but not cooked, it's important to use fresh, high quality salmon from a reputable market.

Directions

1.
Combine the dry ingredients (sugar, salt, pepper, dill that's been finely chopped) and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (lemon juice, oil, brandy).
2.
Place salmon on a piece of cheesecloth and brush the wet mixture on both sides.
3.
Pack the dry cure evenly on both sides of the salmon and wrap it tighty in the cheesecloth.
4.
Place the wrapped salmon in a pan or dish, with another pan or dish on top and weigh it down. Put the assembly in the refrigerator and let it cure for 2-3 days (minimum 48 hours).
5.
After 2 days, it will look like this.
6.
Unwrap the salmon and scrape off the cure.
7.
Slice salmon as thinly as possible (with a long sharp knife) on the bias and serve.
8. The cured salmon will keep in the refrigerator, covered with plastic, for 6 days. You can also freeze it.

Redondo Beach Fish Market: Fresh Clams

Taking advantage of this fine winter 80 degree weather we’ve been enjoying in LA, Big N, Griffin, and I took a fieldtrip down to the Redondo Beach Pier. I’ve never been before. Griffin loved watching the fisherman fish in vain and giggled at the gigantic pelicans that plant themselves firmly on the pier and dare you to scare them away. Those crazy birds let you walk right up to them and practically pat them on the bill before they move.

My favorite part were the open air fish markets. The markets were bustling with people pigging out on plates piled high with lobster, crabs, oysters, and sea urchin.  The distinct sound of hammers  cracking crab claws (conveniently available for rent) filled the air.

While Big N took Fin for a stroll, I stopped in Quality Seafood to check out the fresh catches.  The counter is nearly a block long, separated into stations where you can order steamed and sauteed fish to eat outside, or where you can buy by the pound to go.  I went a little crazy and bought a few oysters (Kushi and Pacific) that were freshly shucked for Big N and I to shoot on site, as well as two pounds of clams and three pounds of steamed Dungeness crab claws.

Clams Staring at about 10 varieties of clams with wonder, the clam-monger took pity on me and recommended the Manila and the Savory clams, which are smaller but, in his opinion, tastier than the larger varieties available.  Happy with my purchases, which they packed on ice for our trip home, I couldn’t wait to make dinner that night.

And I discovered something awesome.  With a few pantry items I had in my kitchen, plus a loaf of crusty bread, I had a delicious and healthy* clam dinner on the table in about 15 minutes flat (once my clams were cleaned, see note below).  Bonus.  To be perfectly honest, I didn’t taste that much of a difference between our Savory and Manila clams, but they were both tender, juicy, and briney.  The saffron sauce provided a richness that made them special.

See my quick and super easy clam bouillabaise recipe below.  Next time you’re in Redondo, don’t pass up the fish market.  It’s worth a detour.

(And if you’re wondering, we ate the crab for dinner the next night: spicy crab cakes with roasted red pepper aioli, served with creamy parmesan polenta and sauteed asparagus.  Big N ate them too fast to photograph.)

Clam Bouillabaisse

*Clams are packed with iron, which most of us women don’t get enough of these days.  They’re also loaded with other good minerals, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.  Go clams!

(Since I forgot to take photos of the fish market, doh!, I borrowed a couple from K1sworld).

Quick Clam Bouillabaisse

Serves 2
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 15 minutes
Allergy Shellfish
Meal type Appetizer, Main Dish

Ingredients

  • 2 lb Clams (I prefer smaller clams (Manila, Savory, Littleneck), but your choice)
  • 1 cup Chicken stock
  • 3 cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon Saffron
  • 4 tablespoons Butter (Unsalted)
  • 1 can Cannellini Beans (Drained and rinsed)
  • 1 handful Parsley (Chopped, Italian/flat-leafed, not the curly kind)

Optional

  • 1/2 cup White wine
  • 2 Shallots
  • 1/2 cup Tomatoes (Cherry or grape work best, cut them in half)

Note

You can clean the clams ahead of time by putting them in a large bowl with cold water and a few tablespoons of flour or oatmeal, then stir. Put them in the fridge for 1 hour. The flour causes the clams to spit out any sand in their shells. Give them a quick rinse before using.

Also, make sure all of your clams are still alive. If any shells are open, give them a quick tap. If the clam closes up, it's still alive. If the shell doesn't close after you tap it, it's dead. Discard any dead clams. Also discard any clams that have cracked or broken shells.

Directions

1.
Melt butter in large pan with tight fitting lid. Add shallots (if using) and saute until fragrant, then add garlic and saute 1 minute.
2. Add wine (if using), chicken stock, and saffron and simmer 1-2 minutes until saffron colors the cooking liquid.
3. Add tomatoes (if using) and drained/rinsed beans and stir.
4. Add clams and sprinkle with the chopped parsley, quickly cover the pan, and steam them until the clams just open up (about 5 minutes on medium heat). Do not overcook your clams or they'll be tough.
5. Remove from heat, pour into bowl with sauce and serve with crusty bread for dipping.

Sushi night: tuna poke on crispy rice

Whenever I see sushi grade tuna at my local Whole Foods or Trader Joes, I buy it.  Every time.  I can’t help myself — I’m a sushi addict.  Plus, making tuna poke at home doesn’t require any cooking (a plus after a 9-hour shift at the restaurant), and it’s just as good as the spicy tuna you get at your local sushi bar.  (See my easy recipe for spicy tuna poke below, look for the ingredients at your local asian market or in the asian food aisle at Whole Foods).

The other night for dinner I decided to put a little spin on our typical tuna poke and served it over a bed of crispy sushi rice.  (See a simple sushi rice recipe here, except I add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar to my rice as it’s cooking to give it a little extra flavor).  I made the sushi rice, formed it into square cakes in my square mold, then fried them in grapeseed oil until GBD (golden brown & delicious).   I layered a nice brick of the tuna poke over the crispy rice.

Boy oh boy was it good.  Spicy tuna with creamy avocado over crispy sweet/salty rice with a generous helping of wasabi paste in between.  I take it back.  Homemade spicy tuna cakes are better than those at my local sushi bar.  You try!

sushi-night

Spicy Tuna Poke

Serves 2
Prep time 20 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Main Dish
Region Japanese

Ingredients

  • 1/2lb Ahi tuna (Be sure it is sashimi grade only!)
  • Sesame oil (To taste, I use spicy chili sesame oil (it's red in color))
  • 1/2 teaspoon Toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup Scallions or green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 Avocado
  • Salt (To taste, I prefer crunchy Hawaiian red salt for this recipe)
  • Nori sheets (Dried seaweed sheets, as needed)

Directions

1. Finely dice tuna, discarding tough white veiny parts.
2. Toast sesame seeds by heating them in a dry pan until they brown slightly and become fragrant, cool.
3. Add scallions to the tuna. Stir in chili oil to taste, add salt to taste. Add sesame seeds, chopped seaweed flakes, and diced avocado just before serving.

Summer Freshness: Halibut with papaya salsa and heirloom tomato salad

Summer is a foodie’s paradise.  Produce aisles and farmers’ markets alike become Candyland cornucopias.  I can’t seem to get enough of stone fruits, summer squash, and especially ripe juicy heirloom tomatoes, and I fill my basket to the brim with every trip to the market.  Speaking of tomatoes, I recently read a blurb about how the commercial farming industry has eradicated the flavorful tomatoes of old and has literally enslaved tomato pickers.  Tragic.  One of the reasons you’ll spot those familiar tomato trellis thingees in most backyard gardens is because home grown tomatoes taste nothing like store bought.  Home grown tomatoes are lower in sodium, higher in vitamins, and bursting with sweet juiciness, unlike their hard and waxed store-bought distant cousins.  If you’re like me and your thumb hasn’t yet turned green (all I can manage to grow are herbs), then heirloom tomatoes are the answer to bland and rock hard Romas.   When in season, you can find heirloom tomatoes in most decent grocery stores, but they’re not cheap.  They come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes and make an elegant summer salad.  I keep my tomato salads simple by picking out a few different colors and slicing them thick.  I drizzle good quality olive oil (not EVOO), and sprinkle course salt (red Hawaiian if you can find it at Trader Joe’s) and fresh cracked pepper on each tomato, then layer the tomato slices with cheese and other toppings.  For this particular heirloom tomato salad I sliced boconccini (mini mozzarella balls) in half along with sliced hot house cucumber for crunch, and home grown basil leaves.  Drizzle a little balsamic reduction on top and you have a fresh colorful tower of tomatoes.  If you want to get even more crafty try layering heirlooms with slices of watermelon, mint, and fresh ricotta cheese, or try them with burrata cheese, melon, prosciutto, and basil.  The combinations are endless.

Heirloom tomato

Heirloom tomato salad makes a perfect first course to fish, and what better way to enjoy another summer treat than to sear off fresh sustainably raised Alaskan Halibut.  You can find fresh (not frozen) Alaskan Halibut, the king of all flat fishes, in the early to mid- summer time.  Halibut works best when seasoned simply with salt and pepper and seared in a hot pan then finished in a hot oven.  Because the fish is mild in flavor, it lends well to tangy fruit salsas with just a little spice.  When Big N’s father came to visit Fin, I served heirloom tomato salad and halibut with papaya mango salsa for a light dinner al fresco.  I served my halibut with sauteed spinach, and for extra punch, I fried up some artichoke hearts.  The meal was a hit.  As was the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc we served with it.  New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, especially those from Marlborough, are known for their tropical notes and our bottle of Whitehaven delivered.  So pairing it with tropical papaya mango salsa was a no-brainer.  It doesn’t get much fresher than this.   Halibut with papaya salsa recipe below.

Halibut with papaya salsa

Halibut with Papaya Salsa

Serves 4
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 35 minutes
Meal type Main Dish

Ingredients

  • 4 Halibut fillets (6 oz each)
  • 1 Papaya (ripe)
  • 1 Mango
  • 1 Red Onion (small)
  • 1/2 bunch Cilantro
  • 1-2 Jalapenos (Seeds removed, use to taste)
  • 1 Lime (Juice and zest)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Finely dice fruit and onion. Remove seeds from jalapenos (use gloves) and finely chop jalapenos and cilantro leaves, to taste. Mix ingredients together and add the zest and the juice of the lime. Season with a little salt to bring out the flavors and let that sit while you prepare your fish to allow the flavors to come together.
3. Wash and pat fish dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
4. In a heavy bottom pan, add oil (I prefer grape seed but canola or peanut work fine too, olive oil doesn’t have a high enough smoke point). When oil is hot and slides across the pan easily, sear fish on the top side. When you have a nice brown crust, flip fish carefully and immediately put in the oven to finish. The fish is done when a toothpick goes into the center of the fish without any resistance. Depending on thickness, between 8-12 minutes in the oven. You want your fish slightly translucent on the inside so it flakes nicely.
5. Plate fish with fruit salsa on top.
6. I served mine with sauteed spinach and a fried artichoke hearts (drain a jar of unmarinated artichoke hearts with stems attached, season with salt and pepper, coat with flour just before frying and then fry until golden brown, easy!)

TamaraEsq’s First Catering Gig: Miso Black Cod, Escarole, Black Forbidden Rice

My neighbor, the cardiologist/budding photographer, and I, the lawyer/budding chef, get along very well.  He’s taught me a thing or two about photography, and generously set up his home studio to take pictures of Fin for his sixth month birthday.  I appreciate these things, so I decided to thank him in trade: dinner for his family on me.  I’m treating it like my first (pro bono) catering gig.

Since he’s a heart doctor, he wisely limits his intake of red meat, so I went with fish and made an old favorite, miso black cod with coconut miso sauce, forbidden black dirty rice, and sauteed escarole with red peppers and mandarin oranges.  I made everything at home, packed it to go, then plated dinner up at my neighbor’s house.  I had to return to Fin and feed Big N, so I didn’t stay to hear their review.  When I made the dish a few minutes later for Big N and I, I realized that my miso marinade could have been sweeter, my escarole could have been crisper, and my rice could have been warmer, but I hope they enjoyed it anyway.  I hate when my food doesn’t meet my own standards.

I do think the sauteed escarole recipe, a concoction I invented last night, contrasted nicely with the fish.  The fish is a little sweet, and the escarole slightly bitter, but not as bitter as mustard or dandelion greens.  Plus the mandarin oranges went well with the asian coconut flavors I had going on.  Escarole is healthy leafy green vegetable that’s simple enough to make at home when you’re sick of the usual spinach, kale, or chard.  Try it.  Even better, be neighborly and make enough to share.  Sauteed escarole recipe is below.

Sauteed Escarole

Serves 3
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 20 minutes
Meal type Side Dish

Ingredients

  • 1 head Escarole
  • 1 Red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup Grilled corn (use left overs or Trader Joe's sells grilled corn in the frozen section)
  • 1 can Mandarin oranges
  • Olive or grape seed oil (as needed)

Directions

1. Wash and spin or pat dry the escarole. Chop into 1/2 inch chiffonade.
2. Roast and peel bell pepper: place on open gas burner with flame on high. When skin blisters and turns black, turn. Continue to turn over the flame until all black then immediately place in bowl covered with plastic wrap. Wait 5 minutes while steam loosens skin. Then peel with hands or rub a paper towel over it. Slice the roasted bell pepper in thin 1/4? slices.
3. Heat grape seed oil in saute pan on medium high. Add escarole, stir until escarole starts to wilt. Cover and simmer to let steam slowly cook escarole until just al dente, about 5 minutes.
4. Add bell pepper, grilled corn, and mandarin oranges and cook until just heated through. Season with salt and a little white pepper to taste.

Fillet ‘o fish: Branzino with Tarragon Pesto

At my local Seafood City or Whole Foods, I used to pass up beautiful whole fish glistening on ice in favor of boring prefabricated fillets because I was too scared to fillet them myself.  Now that I’ve dabbled in fish fabrication, I march right up to the fish monger and say, with total confidence: “gimme 2 of the whole Branzino over there and will you dress* them for me please?”  (Of course, shopping while still wearing my lovely checkered pants from culinary school may not be fashionable outside of the food industry, but at Whole Foods the pants give me street cred).

Branzino is a European bass species and is a delicate white fish that tastes like a cross between sole and trout.  You’re welcome to cook them whole, but Big N doesn’t like to work so hard for his food so I filleted mine, plus I needed to practice my filleting chops.  After filleting, I put the rest of the bodies into the freezer to be used for fish stock later (I think I’ll make a shrimp bisque for a future post).  I then pan sauteed the branzino with the skin on and served them drizzled with tarragon pesto, my own little concoction.  For sides I blanched some haricot vert (skinny French green beans), then sauteed them with roasted red pepper and lardon (bacon), a dish we made in class a while back.  (See branzino with tarragon pesto and haricot vert recipes, below).  I also had a gorgeous yellow beet so I cut it into rounds, drizzled with oil and salt, and roasted the sliced beet in the oven for about 45 minutes until nice and tender.

No wine last night– it’s good to take a night off once in a while (says Big N).  The fish didn’t need it anyway.  The branzino was light and delicate but flavorful, and the tarragon pesto with the lemon juice brought a freshness to the dish.  The green beans and red peppers with the delicious golden beets contributed nice color and flavor without the need for any carbs or starchy sides.  Totally satisfying.

*Lingo lesson: “dressed” fish are gutted and scaled but with the head, fins, and tails still in tact.  I’m not afraid to do this myself, but scaling is a messy job and the fish mongers wear waders for protection from flying scales.

branzino-5-of-5

Branzino with Tarragon Pesto

Serves 2
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 25 minutes
Meal type Main Dish

Ingredients

  • 2 pieces Branzino (whole is best, or 2 fillets per person, trout works too)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Tarragon (chopped)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Parsley (Italian or flat leaf)
  • 1/4 cup Olive oil (I like regular, not extra virgin for this recipe)
  • 1/8 cup Pine nuts
  • 1/2 Lemon
  • 2 pieces Branzino (whole is best, or 2 fillets per person, trout works too)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Tarragon (chopped)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon Parsley (Italian or flat leaf)
  • 1/4 cup Olive oil (I like regular, not extra virgin for this recipe)
  • 1/8 cup Pine nuts
  • 1/2 Lemon

Directions

1. Filet the fish, leaving skin on. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Filet the fish, leaving skin on. Season with salt and pepper on both sides.
3. Toast pine nuts in a dry hot pan until they just start to turn brown and become fragrant.
4. Toast pine nuts in a dry hot pan until they just start to turn brown and become fragrant.
5. Make the pesto: using a food processor, blender, or stick blender, blend tarragon, parsley and pine nuts. Squeeze in the juice from the lemon (no seeds). Slowly add oil while running blender until incorporated. Add a little salt.
6. Make the pesto: using a food processor, blender, or stick blender, blend tarragon, parsley and pine nuts. Squeeze in the juice from the lemon (no seeds). Slowly add oil while running blender until incorporated. Add a little salt.
7. Place oil in saute pan and heat on high until it slides easily across the pan but isn’t smoking. Place fish in oil, skin side down, for about 3 minutes depending on thickness of fish. Turn and cook another minute or two until fish is cooked through but still just a tad translucent inside.
8. Place oil in saute pan and heat on high until it slides easily across the pan but isn’t smoking. Place fish in oil, skin side down, for about 3 minutes depending on thickness of fish. Turn and cook another minute or two until fish is cooked through but still just a tad translucent inside.
9. Serve skin side up, drizzled with tarragon pesto.
10. Serve skin side up, drizzled with tarragon pesto.

Haricot Vert with Roasted Red Pepper and Lardon

Serves 2
Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 10 minutes
Total time 15 minutes
Meal type Side Dish
Region French

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Haricot vert or green beans
  • 1 Red bell pepper
  • 2 oz Thick cut bacon or salt pork
  • 8 oz Haricot vert or green beans
  • 1 Red bell pepper
  • 2 oz Thick cut bacon or salt pork

Directions

1. Blanch green beans by placing in boiling salted water until just starting to get tender but not too soggy. Remove from water and immediately place in ice bath. Remove from ice when cool and dry on towel.
2. Blanch green beans by placing in boiling salted water until just starting to get tender but not too soggy. Remove from water and immediately place in ice bath. Remove from ice when cool and dry on towel.
3. Roast red pepper by putting directly onto gas burner with high flame. When the skin turns black then turn it and continue to turn until the skin is all charred black. Immediately put in container covered with plastic wrap to sweat. When cool, remove the skin by rubbing off with a paper towel. Cut in half to remove seeds and white pith, then slice in 1/4" slices.
4. Roast red pepper by putting directly onto gas burner with high flame. When the skin turns black then turn it and continue to turn until the skin is all charred black. Immediately put in container covered with plastic wrap to sweat. When cool, remove the skin by rubbing off with a paper towel. Cut in half to remove seeds and white pith, then slice in 1/4" slices.
5. Slice bacon in 1/4" pieces.
6. Slice bacon in 1/4" pieces.
7. Saute bacon until fat is rendered. Add blanched beans and roasted red pepper. Add salt to taste. Saute until beans are cooked but still slightly al dente. Drain on paper towel if too greasy just before serving.
8. Saute bacon until fat is rendered. Add blanched beans and roasted red pepper. Add salt to taste. Saute until beans are cooked but still slightly al dente. Drain on paper towel if too greasy just before serving.