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February 2013

Family Dinner: How Do You Do It?

The Family Dinner  is suddenly more in the news than usual. It was the subject of a recent NPR story, and Bon Appétit has a big story this month devoted to how to pull it off.

Any reader of this blog will know that I’m a big supporter of the family dinner, with one important caveat—it all depends on the family. I spent countless family diners as a kid where all I did was stare at the clock on the wall, and all the alleged benefits that come from eating together—better grades, reduced drug abuse, a lower golf score (I made that last one up)—turned out to be as real as the tooth fairy. At least in the family I grew up in (some of us are terrible golfers, that’s all I’ll say).

I will say that food and cooking is the chief way I bring people together, and I’m proud to do that. It means the world to me when we do sit down together as a family and talk and laugh. We really have only one rule: No screens at the table (that goes for adults, too). And strive for a few other things: we try to wait until everyone is at the table to get started, and we clear our dishes at the end (the kids, too). These few little things can make a huge difference, at least to judge from the cacophony I heard on the NPR story. 

Check out the Bon Appétit feature, which has great tips from Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward (be sure to visit their excellent site:  Dinner A Love Story), and let me know what you think. I can vouch for the Bon Appétit feature because it has a lot of ideas I use already—such as making the most of my freezer, starting dinner in the morning, and keeping a solid shop list. Any tips you want to add?


Valentine's Day Recap: The Mystery of Black Cod

429px-Raimundus_Lullus_alchemic_page
In romance, a bit of mystery is a good thing. When it comes to cooking, though, the opposite is true. The fine folks at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute sent me a package of Black Cod for my Valentine’s Dinner, and while I thought I knew what Black Cod was good for, I was wrong. I completely botched the dinner.

I knew of Nobu’s famous Black Cod in Miso, and I think I had the rich and delicious fish on my recent trip to Alaska. But what I didn’t realize (though I should have, given the way almost all the recipes for the fish treat it) is that the fish really needs a good marinade, if not a good sauce.

The local seafood that I cook during the summer from my neighborhood greenmarket has spoiled me. I get off easy making that fish—you really don’t have to do anything to it to taste the freshness of the sea.

Black Cod, it turn out, is better known as Sablefish, and Sablefish is most commonly found smoked. The fish is silky and rich and it can stand up to smoking very well. I opted to go in the opposite direction when I cooked it on Valentine’s Day, and as a result, I failed. I put just a bit of honey and lemon and thyme on it, and I broiled it just long enough to get it brown on top and moist in the center. It looked delicious, and after much fanfare I brought it to the table, where Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria all more or less spurned it. The best thing I can say about that meal is that no one—the chef included—ended up crying.

I didn’t give up on the Black Cod, though, and this weekend I make a killer chowder with it. The afternoon was cold and rainy, and the chowder was rich and warm. I got the recipe from the ASMI folks, who got it from Christine Keff, chef at The Flying Fish, in Seattle, Washington.

Her chowder recipe was for any Alaskan whitefish, and I adapted it a bit to accommodate the Black Cod. I stepped up the flavors, adding a bacon, and a touch of smoked paprika. This time, the Black Cod sent Santa Maria into spirals of joy, and there was no mystery about why: The chowder was delicous!

Alaska Black-Cod Chowder

  • 2 oz. butter
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Half an onion, chopped
  • 2 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 small leek, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 and 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (canned is fine)
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups fish stock or clam juice (I used chicken stock)
  • 3 or 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
  • 2 cups Alaska Black Cod, cut into 1 inch cubes.
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in the oil and sweat the chopped vegetables, bay leaf ,and thyme slowly until the onions are translucent.

Add the garlic and the paprika and sauté a bit more

Add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the flour and cook on low for about 10 minutes, or until the floury taste is gone. Add the wine and simmer until the alcohol is cooked out.

Add the stock or clam juice and the potatoes and season to taste.

Simmer until the potatoes are almost soft, about 15 minutes, depending on how large you cubed your potatoes.

Add the cream and the fish and simmer for about 10 minutes more.

Add the parsley, correct the seasoning and serve.

Serves: 4-6

Note: The original recipe called for four cups of cream. Four cups! I started by pouring one cup in, and it looked about right to me. If you want more liquid, consider adding the extra cream, or—if you care about your health—adding a bit of milk instead. And I had the next day with another big fillet of the fish (cubed, of course) so you can always up the amount of fish you include.


The Eggs Stay In the Picture: An Oscars Guest Post

Big-night
The Oscars are coming up on Sunday, and while I wish I had something interesting to say about them, the truth is that I get to the movies about twice a year. I can tell you that the latest James Bond film was actually very good, but I don’t think it’s up for an award.

Fortunately, I heard this week from my Boston-based friend in the kitchen Paul Kidwell (who has contributed to this blog before; his most recent post was particularly poignant), and it turns out that he is a big movie buff. He offered the following guest post. Enjoy!

For many who follow movies, this coming Sunday is their Super Bowl as Hollywood's best and brightest are honored at the film industry's annual Oscar ceremony. Movies used to be one of my passions, but growing out of Hollywood's target demographic means two things. You come head on with the demands of home and family that keep you away from the local art house or cineplex, and reach a certain age where you realize that movies are made for your kids and not for you. It has been a while since I paid attention to the movies, although I remember that as a young graduate student in Boston I used to steal away to the old Harvard Square Theatre with my brother to watch double features like "Last Detail" and "Chinatown," or "Take the Money and Run" and "Bananas." There was a time when I could almost recite the entire dialogue in "Chinatown" which I have seen more than 50 times.

Movies have been replaced by cooking in my life and, of course, it makes me wonder about food's place in many of the movies I have seen in years past or the current crop of films that I will never watch. Some of my favorite food scenes include “The Godfather,” where Michael Corleone stakes his claim in the family business by killing Virgil (The Turk) Sollozzo in a little Italian joint after they order dinner. "Try the veal, it's the best in the city," says Sollozzo. Then, BLAM!! An other favorite scene is a very young Jack Nicholson in "The Last Detail" talking about the virtue of Heineken Beer. "It's only the best God-damn beer in the world. President Kennedy drank Heineken." Plus, the movies like "Dinner Rush," "Tortilla Soup," or "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman," all of which have food at center stage. But, my all-time favorite movie food scene, and one that deserves Oscar consideration as best food scene ever is the final kitchen scene in "Big Night."

Two brother restaurateurs, played by Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub, put all their resources into creating a night that would finally put their struggling Italian restaurant on the map by preparing a feast for then-famous bandleader Louis Prima. When Prima pulls a "no-show," the brothers are crest-fallen and we assume the restaurant's days are numbered. A visibly forlorn Tucci enters the kitchen and whips up some eggs for his equally depressed brother and waiter (played by Mark Anthony). Few words are spoken, yet the elegance in how he prepares and cooks these eggs, and shares with the other two men is beautiful. Food at its simplest and most captivating, as it nourishes a broken heart and tortured soul. As a pre-Oscar dinner, why not try a frittata with a side salad; and maybe a hot bowl of tomato soup. It’s still winter after all. The envelope please.

Paul Kidwell's Oscar Night Frittata

  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup liquid, such as milk, tomato juice, broth
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme leaves OR herb of your choice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup filling, which could include leftover meat, chicken, seafood or a couple of handfuls of cheese like Gruyere.
  • 2 tsp. butter OR vegetable oil

BEAT eggs, liquid, herb and salt and pepper in medium bowl until blended. ADD filling; mix well.

HEAT butter in 6 to 8-inch nonstick omelet pan or skillet over medium heat until melted.

POUR IN egg mixture; cook over low to medium heat until eggs are almost set, about 8 to 10 minutes. 

REMOVE from heat.

COVER and LET STAND until eggs are completely set and no visible liquid egg remains, 5 to 10 minutes.

CUT into wedges.


Handy Way to Make A Fast Sandwich: Roast Red Peppers Ahead of Time

Red_Peper_Sandwich
I relish taking care of all my girls by cooking for them, but sometimes I like to cook just because I want to make something with my hands. Pesto is a good example of this. I just like watching the blender slowly swallow the basil and turn a big head of green leaves into a long-lasting and savory sauce.

The other day, I got caught up in making roasted red peppers for much the same reason. Roasting a pepper is easy. Here's how to do it:

Just rinse a red pepper and put it on a gas burner, and turn on the flame. Using tongs, rotate or otherwise move the pepper around so every side of it becomes charred all over, and starts to look like this:

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When it is as black as you can get it, put it in a bowl and cover the top tightly with plastic wrap. Leave it for about fifteen minutes, or longer, and after the pepper cools its skin will slide right off. Knock off the seeds and any bits of charred skin, then slice it and put in a container with enough olive oil and vinegar to cover, with a bit of oregano in it.

It is fun to make roasted red peppers, and they keep a good while, too. The nicest thing about them, though, is come some Saturday when you need a nice sandwich in a hurry—say when you have about ten minutes of free time to ejoy—they will be there for you.


Valentine's Day Surprise: Two New Ways to Cook Salmon

I’m off to cook a Valentine’s Day dinner, and in keeping with tradition I will post about it later. Santa Maria reads this site, and I don’t want her to know what I’m making. Last year I prepared a sage-and-bacon rabbit stew, and the year before that I made I had some suggestions for a bunch of great things, before settling on Mushroom Risotto. This year, it is a surprise, though the big package that arrived from Alaska yesterday, and the murmurings of Nina and Pinta, who this year are in on the celebration, might have given things away already.

In the meantime, I have two great ideas about cooking salmon, which readers of this blog sent me in response to my experimenting with a honey-soy-lime glaze for the fish. The thing I found interesting about these two recipes is that they are quite opposed in their approach. But just like husbands and wives who might look at things differently, I’m sure the results will be equally delicious.

Bill and Teri Winton, from California, roast their salmon on a very low heat:

We cook salmon frequently and I've just discovered the best way to cook it is to roast it at 225!!!!!   It took about 25 minutes last night for 2 6 oz. pieces of fish.  I brushed on a similar sauce before putting it in the oven (on an oiled piece of aluminum foil on a cookie tray).  The slow cooking produces the finest piece of fish EVER.  Try it.  The idea came from a famous Monterey CA chef-John Pisto. 

Lezlie Real from Port Perry, Ontario, Canada, bakes hers a high heat:

Lezlie's Lemon Pepper Salmon

  • Spread the salmon with a thin layer of mayonnaise.
  • Sprinkle with lemon pepper. I sometimes add dill.
  • Lay thinly sliced lemon on top to cover salmon.
  • Bake at high heat (approx. 550 degrees F.) until cooked through.

Why don’t you try them and let me know how it goes. In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day to all. 


Valentine's Day Surprise: Two New Ways to Cook Salmon

I’m off to cook a Valentine’s Day dinner, and in keeping with tradition I will post about it later. Santa Maria reads this site, and I don’t want her to know what I’m making. Last year I prepared a sage-and-bacon rabbit stew, and the year before that I made I had some suggestions for a bunch of great things, before settling on Mushroom Risotto. This year, it is a surprise, though the big package that arrived from Alaska yesterday, and the murmurings of Nina and Pinta, who this year are in on the celebration, might have given things away already.

In the meantime, I have two great ideas about cooking salmon, which readers of this blog sent me in response to my experimenting with a honey-soy-lime glaze for the fish. The thing I found interesting about these two recipes is that they are quite opposed in their approach. But just like husbands and wives who might look at things differently, I’m sure the results will be equally delicious.

Bill and Teri Winton, from California, roast their salmon on a very low heat:

We cook salmon frequently and I've just discovered the best way to cook it is to roast it at 225!!!!!   It took about 25 minutes last night for 2 6 oz. pieces of fish.  I brushed on a similar sauce before putting it in the oven (on an oiled piece of aluminum foil on a cookie tray).  The slow cooking produces the finest piece of fish EVER.  Try it.  The idea came from a famous Monterey CA chef-John Pisto. 

Lezlie Real from Port Perry, Ontario, Canada, bakes hers a high heat:

Lezlie's Lemon Pepper Salmon

  • Spread the salmon with a thin layer of mayonnaise.
  • Sprinkle with lemon pepper. I sometimes add dill.
  • Lay thinly sliced lemon on top to cover salmon.
  • Bake at high heat (approx. 550 degrees F.) until cooked through.

Why don’t you try them and let me know how it goes. In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day to all. 


The Sweetness and Light of Banana Bread

Banana_bread
Santa Maria is the one who fills the Stay at Stove Dad household with sweetness and light, to borrow and bend a phrase from Matthew Arnold. She does it in so many ways, but the relevant one here is through her baking. One of her stalwart sweets (perhaps only I could view a treat as hardworking) is Banana Bread.

I’ll confess to sometimes buying too many of the ubiquitous fruit, in the hopes that some will get overripe before we can eat them. In which case, Santa Maria, given her proudly frugal upbringing, occasionally feels compelled to bake the bread. She started with a Bittman recipe, but quickly—and quite fantastically—made it her own. I think my mouth is watering just writing about the bread. It is that good.

And she’s a good one with words, too. For though I love bananas, Nina and Pinta have developed an almost comical aversion to them. They detest bananas, and I think their reaction is an early form of rebellion that I would consider healthy were it not for the fact that they are missing out on the potassium and other nutrients in the fruit. But Santa Maria knows how to convince them. “My girls both hate bananas, and although they understand clearly that there are bananas in the bread, they eat it with alacrity!" she says. "And they like that I call it, when talking with them, 'Golden Calypso Bread.'"

Banana Bread  (a.k.a. Golden Calypso Bread)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix:

  • 1 ¾ cup unbleached flour with germ
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (yum!!)

 

In a separate bowl, cream together:

  • 7 Tablespoons butter (one short shy of a stick)
  • 1/3 cup sugar  (you can reduce it to ¼ cup)

Then add to butter mixture:

  • 4 very ripe smallish bananas (that you’ve smooshed up with your hands.  If this makes you squeamish, you can also use a fork, but it’s much quicker and pretty darn fun to squish squash smloompch.  **Excellent activity for your kid helpers).

A note on buxom bananas:  even organic bananas can vary widely in size from 7” to 12” and more.  If you have the huge bananas, you are fine with three; for the smaller ones, 4 or even 5 will work.

 

Add:

  • 2 eggs to the butter mixture.

Then:

Fold the flour mixture in quickly and gently into the egg/butter mixture (ie. Don’t overmix, you can still see some flour-y parts.  If you do overmix, it activates the gluten and makes it tougher).

Bake for 30 minutes and check center for done-ness.  The knife should be clean.

I bake this mixture in three standard size loaf pans (greased lightly w butter).  You can make a thicker loaf, and divide it into just two loaf pans that will cook 45-60 minutes. 

Serve topped with more butter on freshly sliced hot bread, drink with a glass (you’ve frosted in the freezer) of cold milk.

Note: It is especially nutritious if you add walnuts.  Also, this bread freezes well and you can just slice off a piece or two and then toast it in a toaster on the ‘defrost’ setting.  If you’ve used walnuts, they toast up very nicely.


The Quick-Meal Quest: A Shifty Trick to Cook Rice in Five Minutes

Ginger_Spiced_Rice
Cooking always takes time, and, usually, the quest becomes how to do it faster. Take one of the most e-mailed article in this weekend’s New York Times, “One Dish, One Hour,” which considers Martha Rose Shulman’s quick meals. I like Shulman’s approach:

You may have a different opinion than I do about what constitutes a quick meal. There are quick meals that involve little or no cooking — paninis and sandwiches, uncomplicated omelets, scrambled eggs, and meals that combine prepared items with foods that you cook — but I chose to focus on dishes that are made from scratch.

I like to cook things from scratch, and I have strong opinions on what a meal makes. A Panini? Call that a meal around my house, and I’ll tell you to call a cab and go home. I need to eat, and I need to eat a lot. A meal for me has a protein, a starch, and a green vegetable.

My answer to a quick weeknight meal is to shift the time-consuming parts of the meal to other parts of the day or other parts of the week. Yesterday morning, while making bacon and eggs, I started a pot of Bolognese—which will become Wednesday night’s super-fast pasta dinner. I’ve been making that sauce long enough now, so I can do those two things at once (though I did burn some of the bacon, so maybe I need more practice), and while we had breakfast and then played around the house, that sauce cooked down without my involvement.

Last week, I wrote about a new way to cook salmon, and I received a couple of responses from readers with good ideas for the fish. I’ll post those soon, but right now I want to talk about the side dish I served with my salmon. I have a super quick way to dress up rice, by seasoning it with a bit of ginger, garlic, and some scallions.

The first thing you need to do, though, is to get the cooking of the brown rice out of the way.  You need to shift the cooking from the p.m. to the a.m. Brown rice takes about forty-minutes or so, and if you do that in the morning, between making sandwiches and getting the milk and cereal on the table, you’ll have shaved a lot of time off making your dinner.

I cook my rice like I’m making pasta. I boil a big pot of water, salt it a bit, and then dump whatever amount of rice I think I might want—say a cup and a half or so—into the boiling water without measuring anything. I bring it back to a boil, uncovered, and simmer until its done, about forty minutes. I test it when it is getting close to being finished by biting into a grain or two. When it is ready, I strain the rice, discarding the water, and then I let the cooked rice, in the strainer, sit on the stovetop all day long, with a cover on it. I don’t bother to refrigerate it, and it keeps just fine (I usually stand the strainer over the pot I used to cook the rice, thus shifting the cleaning of that pot until much later, too).

When I come home from work and I want a flavorful side dish, I chop a bit of garlic, some fresh ginger, and I slice up some scallions. I sauté the scallions a bit first, with a chili pepper, and then add the garlic and ginger, followed by the rice. I give it a good swirl with the spatula, and I’m done. One part of a quick meal is easly at the ready.

“Five-Minute” Spiced Rice

  • Cook the rice ahead of time (see above).
  • A bit of canola oil (one tablespoon or much less, depending on how much rice)
  • 2 or 3 scallions, trimmed and sliced into little disks
  • Couple of cloves of garlic, minced
  • A bit of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • Maybe one chili pepper, if so desired 

Sauté the scallions(and the chili pepper, if you are usuing it)  for a minute or two in a bit of canola oil.

Add the ginger and garlic and sauté a few minutes more.

Toss the rice in the pan and give a good couple of stirs.

Turn the heat off and serve when ready. 


Honey Glazed Soy and Lime Salmon

Honey_Soy_Salmon
After spending last week getting ready for, and then enjoying, the Super Bowl, I feel okay mentioning the fact that I read Family Circle magazine (and especially after Santa Maria actually complained that I had spent that Sunday night “drinking beer and sitting on the couch”—What a rare and luxurious experience that was, I tell you!). I’m interested in any publication that can help me make cooking for my family easier, and running my kitchen better (the magazine I’m really looking forward to is Car and Driver & Cooking, if only someone would start it). Family Circle just comes into our house (we must have gotten on a mailing list somehow, and I don’t ever remember paying for it), and I like to flip through it for recipes and suggestions.

The current issue has a a recipe for Honey and Soy Glazed Salmon that caught my eye (It’s here online for free, but you’ll have to jump through a bunch of registration hoops to see it). I cook wild Alaskan salmon for my kids about once a week, but I have yet to find a good sauce to go with it. I cook it straight on the pan, to just this side of done, and usually that’s good enough. They eat it with a bit of lemon, and though they complain, it goes down just fine. The fish is superb.

Still, I'm always looking for a tastier way to cook it. The Family Circle recipe—which has lime, soy sauce, garlic, and honey—sounded appealing. I adapted it for one fillet last night. I was cooking three fillets for the family, but didn’t want to risk that the kids wouldn’t like it. I’m happy with the way it turned out, and will be doing something along these lines again soon.

Pinta, on the other hand, tried it and made a face. She didn’t like it. When I told her that it had honey in it, she made a little joke. “Honey’s sugar and that’s not healthy," she said. "You shouldn’t eat it!” That made it all the sweeter for me.

"Family Circus"  Honey-Soy-Lime-and-Garlic Glazed Salmon

Note: These measurements are for one, six-ounce fillet, serving one person. Increase the amounts proportionally for larger amounts of fish.

  • A bit of honey, maybe a teaspoon, warmed in the microwave
  • A tablespoon of soy sauce
  • A clove of garlic, diced
  • Half a small lime, juiced.
  • 1 six-ounce salmon fillet

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Combine the honey, soy sauce, garlic, and lime juice in a bowl.

Place the salmon on a baking sheet lined with foil.

Spread about half the sauce over the salmon and place the fillet in the oven.

Bake for about five to ten minutes, then spread the rest of the sauce on the fish.

Place fillet under broiler until crispy on top and cooked through, a few minutes more, depending on thickness of the fillet.