Fennel is my F-Bomb

Long ago, The Gourmet Dad, by Dean McDermott, caught my attention on a Denver bookstore shelf. It promised “Easy and Delicious Meals the Whole Family will Love.” It had great recipes that included  modified versions to appeal to children. A surreptitious photograph of book cover was taken to remember to look at the book in more detail after the trip.

Stumbling on that photo a couple of years later prompted a visit to Amazon and subsequent purchase of the electronic version of the cookbook. It does have some very good grown up recipes; even the kid versions sound good. The books photos attest to the plating skills of an accomplished professional chef and inspire emulation.

McDermott has a wife and five children which seems to a cadre of sous chefs in the house to help with the prep of the books “easy” meals.  There are no quibbles with the “delicious” description.

The below recipe with the Fennel F-word begged to be made. Seared scallops with it made it imperative! As a single empty-nester with no sous chests around, prep for most recipes takes some time. This recipe was worth the time on multiple levels. As a desert dweller, using watercress was a new adventure well worth the price for a handful. Who knew it has a peppery bite! It is always a thrill to try something new. McDermot’s instruction on searing scallops is simple and produces beautiful results. Gaining a new skill is always appreciated.

McDermott’s original recipe is for four salad servings topped with two scallops each. Hah! Reducing the volume of apple and fennel and upping the count of scallops to six per serving and the addition of a little garlic and  herb bread made in a meal instead of a side dish.  No point on shorting oneself on scallops, or fennel! A bonus was some leftover roasted shallot vinaigrette for another evening.

Seared scallops and apple and fennel salad justify the use of the F-word FENNEL!!!

Seared Scallops, Shaved Apples and Fennel
with Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette
 

Vinaigrette
Ingredients
4 shallots, peeled and cut lengthwise into quarters
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus ½ cup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs fresh thyme, minced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, minced
Juice of 1 orange
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salad
Ingredients
8 sea scallops
1 Honeycrisp apple, cored and thinly sliced (may substitute Pink Lady, Gala or Jonagold)
2 fennel bulbs, stem trimmed and shaved
Juice of 2 lemons, halves reserved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 bunch watercress, all but ½ inch of the stems removed
1/8 cup hazelnuts, toasted and crushed, plus 1/8 cup for garnish
Method
Preheat oven to 400°
Spread shallots on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the thyme and two springs’ worth of the rosemary. Roast the shallots until tender, 10 – 12 minutes.

Allow the roasted shallots to cool, then mince them. Combine them with the remaining rosemary, orange juice, lemon juice and zest and garlic in a small bowl and mix well. Whisk in the remaining ½ cup olive oil and season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Pat the scallops dry and allow them to come to room temperature. In the meantime, combine the apple, fennel, lemon juice and lemon halves in a medium bowl and set aside.

Preheat a large sauté pan over high heat. Using a sharp knife, carefully score the top of each scallop in a crisscross pattern and season both sides with salt and pepper and a drizzle of grapeseed oil.

When the pan is hot, carefully place the scallops in it with the crosshatched side down. Do not move the scallops until they release from the pan, about 3 – 4 minutes to get the best sear and coloring.
Once the crisscross side releases and is a golden brown, flip the scallops and add the butter.  Once the butter has melted, baste the scallops a few times and then remove the pan from the heat. Residual heat from the pan will finish cooking the scallops to perfection.

Drain the reserved apple-fennel mixture and discard the lemon halves.  In a large salad bowl, toss have the watercress with the fennel-apple mixture. Add the reserved vinaigrette and 1/8 cup of the crushed hazelnuts and toss gently. Season with salt and pepper.
 
Arrange the salad on four salad plates, and top each with two scallops. Scatter the remaining watercress on top and garnish with the remaining hazelnuts and serve.

Notes: I forgot to buy hazelnuts, so I didn’t use them this time.  I wonder how pecans might work instead. The garlic cloves I uses were quite strong, but mellowed nicely in the dressing as it sat on the counter for a few minutes.

 

 

Chard No. 3

The “3 Ways to Use Chard” feature in Cooking Light magazine has been the source of some great meals over the past several days. Chard with Shaved Fennel started the binge. Fennel is always a siren’s call around here. Then came Charred Chard and Shallots, just because it was fun to say out loud and charring greens in the oven or on the grill is a taste treat that keeps greens interesting. Completing the trifecta was a Sweet Potato and Chard Salad. The clincher on that one is farro.

It wouldn’t be honest to say the chard binge is over. There’s another bunch in the crisper awaiting another chard challenge.

Sweet Potato and Chard Salad with a sprinkle of scallions.
The salad was just right with that second pork chop from the package!

SWEET POTATO AND CHARD SALAD
 Ingredients
10 oz  cubed sweet potato – about ½ inch
6 oz chopped rainbow chard
1 cup hot cooked farro
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp tarragon vinegar
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp sliced scallions

Method
Cook sweet potato in 4 cups water over medium-high heat. Bring water to a boil and reduce to medium low for three minutes. Stir in chopped chard and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain well.
Combine potatoes and chard, the cooked farro, olive oil, vinegar and salt and pepper. Toss well to combine. Sprinkle with sliced scallions.

Notes:

This salad will be a hit at the next potluck dinner gathering.

Follow package directions for cooking farro. You can put the farro and water in the refrigerator overnight to soak and reduce it’s cooking time. This works with steel cut oatmeal, too. The texture and nutty flavor of farro made this salad extra special.

Good ol’ El Paso groceries… it took shopping in three stores to find tarragon vinegar. The Heinz tarragon vinegar was a disappointment.  It was very weak and not really vinegary nor was there much tarragon flavor. Even with more than the recipe called for, it was sad. Next time I’m out of town, I’ll search for a more potent brand.

Charred Chard

Doing fun things with greens keeps them exciting. Grilled romaine and steamed curly endive are welcome changes on the menu at my house.  I found a recipe for charred chard. I enjoyed saying charred chard out loud (I’m easily amused). Saying “charred chard” three times must have been a mystical incantation because then the recipe demanded to be made.

Charred chard and shallots compliment a pan-grilled pork chop and a few grape tomatoes.

Charred Chard and Shallots

Ingredients
1 lb rainbow chard
1/2 cup sliced shallots
cooking spray
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp kosher salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper

Method
Spray two baking sheets with cooking spray. Trim stems from rainbow chard. Divide chard leaves and shallots evenly between prepared pans. Spray vegetables lightly with cooking spray. Broil on high, one pan at a time until most of the chard is wilted and some is partially charred – 4 to 5 minutes.

Chop cooked chard into large pieces. Place chard mixture on a platter, top with golden raisins, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Notes
Do you ever really measure 1/8 of a teaspoon of anything? I keep a jar with a mix of 40% coarse ground black pepper and 60% kosher salt right by my stove for seasonings. A pinch or two of the mix does the trick for most things.

Watch the chard as it broils. You want it mostly wilted with a little char, not a pan full of ashes! The charred chard retains some texture and can be strongly flavored. It needs a touch sweetness.

I didn’t have golden raisins on hand. I used grape tomatoes on the side for sweet balance and was very happy with it. I’ll be making this again when I pick up some raisins.

The recipe suggests adding chickpeas and crumbled feta to make a vegetating main dish. I expect substituting a mildly salty vegan cheese world work, too.
 

Indecision Sparks Creativity

Breakfast can be a challenging meal.  Traditional fare is good, but one can get in a rut. Waking with a craving complicates the whole thing – what to do? A BLT sounded good, but so did  simple toast and jammy eggs with bacon. Time to play with my food and get the best of both, with a twist, of course.

Open-face BLT and Jammy Eggs breakfast.

No recipe, just taking what was on hand and playing with it as described below.

Open Face BLT With Jammy Eggs
Ingredients
2 slices 21-grain toast
2 slices sharp cheddar cheese
a big handful of curly endive lettuce torn from the stem
a generous handful of sliced grape tomatoes
3 slices of ready-to-eat bacon, crisped in the microwave for 30 seconds
a generous schmear of mayo
scant Tbsp olive oil
two eggs
light splash of white vinegar
light sprinkle of kosher salt and black pepper

Method
Bring enough water in a small pan to a boil; gently lower two eggs into water and simmer for EXACTLY seven minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and place in an ice bath for two and a half minutes, remove from ice water and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a small skillet, add sliced tomatoes and sauté until soft and getting a little char. Add endive and let wilt, you might need to add a Tbsp of water (use twice as much as you think you need because is loses volume when cooked). Stir in a light splash of white vinegar and a very little pinch of salt.
Toast bread, schmear with mayo and top each with a cheese slice while toast is hot. Add cooked tomatoes and endive. Halve bacon slices and put three pieces on top of tomatoes and endive. Peel jammy eggs (start on the big end where the bubble is), place on sandwich and slice in half. Sprinkle eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper.

The Whyfors (Whyfor did I do that?)
Think about the flavors of the ingredients and what you can do with them. Multigrain toast, mayo and sharp cheddar is a great foundation for any sandwich, open-face or closed. Traditional bacon, lettuce and tomato are a wonderful filling. Cooking sliced grape tomatoes a little enhances the sugar in them and kicks them up a couple of notches. Curly endive is tantalizingly bitter. Cooking it reduces its bitter bite and a little white vinegar takes out a little more of the bitter while emphasizing the sweetness of the tomatoes. The eggs feature cooked whites and a thickened “jammy” yolk that gives the whole sandwich wonderfully rich mouthfeel and flavor.

Modesty forbids my raving (too much) about this creation. Odds are it will be breakfast again this morning and a regular on the morning menu until the next idea comes along.

After making the earlier post, I had to rush out the the kitchen an play with this idea more for this morning’s breakfast. I did a few things differently. I put the sliced grape tomatoes in a heated dry pan and let them yield some juice and take on a little char. Then I added a Tbsp of water and cooked it off to steam the tomatoes and cook them faster.  When they were tender, I added the endive. I added twice as much as I did yesterday and think it would be good to add even more.  I added 2 Tbsp water with the greens and cooked it off to steam-wilt them and get a little darker.  When the water was cooked off, I added it and stirred the tomatoes and endive until the vinegar had mostly evaporated.  Cooking the vegetables both ways tasted about the same because of the vinegar. The advantage of the dry pan and water is that there was no spatter mess as there was with olive oil.  I plated one open-face BLT and one with a jammy egg. The were equally good, but I do have a weakness for jammy eggs any number of ways.

  

As I enjoyed this breakfast, I thought about how it might be with English muffin, Swiss cheese, a poached egg and hollandaise sauce. Watch this space and see what happens.

 

Just bragging.

I’m honored and excited to be invited back to Tucson again to do cactus cooking workshops at the Sonoran XII conference.  Check out the website to find complete information on an excellent meeting.

Great meeting in Tucson coming up. The Gringo Gourmet is doing two workshops there.

 

 

Here’s the workshop schedule.

 

Meatless Monday Night

Pure luck: Found a good sounding salad recipe and had the main ingredients oh hand – fennel and red chard. A little thinking and the richness of baked feta balanced with the mild tang of a Cara Cara orange sounded like the rest of a meal.
Confession: Only dinner was meatless. It’s a start.

Wilted chard, fennel, baked feta, Cara Cara orange for Meatless Monday.

Wilted Chard and Shaved Fennel Salad
 Ingredients
1 lb. rainbow chard
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
¼ cup water
¼ cup chopped pistachios
2 Tbsp fennel fronds
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp kosher salt
Method
Coarsely chop chard leaves; thinly slice stems to equal 1 cup. (Reserve remaining stems for another use.)
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chard stems and fennel and cook, stirring often until starting to soften – about 3 minutes.Add chard leaves and ¼ cup water, cover until just starting to wilt – about a minute and a half. Drain. Toss with apple cider vinegar and salt and pepper.
Divide into four servings. Top each evenly with the chopped pistachios and fennel fronds.

Baked Feta
Ingredients
Block feta to allow 4 oz. per person
Olive oil
Method
Heat oven to 400º
Cut feta into individual servings. Brush all sides with olive oil.
Put feta on a foil-covered baking sheet and cook for 20 minutes. Turn on broiler and put feta under it for 2 – 3 minutes until it gets a little color. Carefully transfer to plates and garnish with a fennel frond or two. Serve warm.

Way Back When Revisited; if it happened in the last century, it must have been way back when.

Back in the late 1990’s new job responsibilities lead me to discover the Big Bend area of Texas and introduced me to a world full of splendorous topographical extremes, to folk in remote communities and to surprise pockets of sophistication where I’d least expected it. My adventures included hiking in the national and state parks, having astronomers on a mountaintop  ask me to send some classical music cassettes their way because their resource was a mail order record club (this was long before the internet and Amazon) and the rustic cafe at Terlingua Ranch, reached by driving over 18 miles on gravel roads off the highway. The cook waited on the highway once a week for supplies from the Schwan’s Frozen Foods Truck. I worked with a remote frontier clinic physician assistant who used telemedicine in providing health care and arranged delivery by bus for medicines from the nearest pharmacy about 80 miles away. I have many warm memories of the people of the area and how much I learned from them and with them. I still go back as a tourist. In the ensuing 20-something years, some of the people are new to me.  While things have grown and changed,  the frontier spirit remains. I still love to spend time on the porch at the Terlingua Mercantile and and the Starlight Theater next door, now an amazing restaurant. And, when in Alpine, going to the Reata Restaurant is a must.

Grady Spears, a city boy turned cow puncher, chuckwagon cook and restaurateur is a man I have long admired and but  not yet to met.  He was the founding cook of the Riata and, with what he learned from ranch cooks, elevated cowboy cooking to cowboy cuisine. He went to Ft. Worth and opened the Chisolm Club downtown. After a tornado, he moved to the Caravan of Dreams building and opened a second Reata. I’m sure that somewhere, he is still making good old ranch hand food into amazing fare for city slickers. I was thinking about the Big Bend Bluebonnets the other day and wondering if there had been enough rain for a good bloomout this year. That lead me to the bookshelf and my three Grady Spears cookbooks.  I got a hankerin’, looked up a recipe I hadn’t made in years and got to cooking. He calls it Cilantro-Nut Mash. I respect that very much.  These days, people seem to call any vegetable or green leaf chopped in a food processor a pesto. Grady’s Cilantro-NutMash is what it is , so don’t you be callin’ it cilantro pesto where I can hear you!

Cilantro-Nut Mash with pan-browned, then roasted chicken breast, corn on the cob and garnishes of roasted green onion and grape tomatoes.

The Cilantro-Nut Mash is a great accompaniment for chicken and fish. In the photo above, the chicken had a mild chipotle rub, was browned in a skillet and finished off in the oven while corn, green onion and grape tomatoes were season, wrapped in foil and  roasted.

Cilantro-Nut Mash
Ingredients
1 Cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (loosely packed)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped pecans (I like them lightly toasted)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp smooth goat cheese
Kosher salt to taste
Method
Combine cilantro, cheese, pecans and garlic in a food processor. Pulse and gradually add oil. Add goat Cheese and season with salt, pulse until just slightly smooth.

Frittata for One

Broccoli and Feta Frittata with a stack of Dave’s Killer 21-grain Bread Toast and a Schmear of Butter.

Here we go again! I did some browsing and found a good-sounding frittata that called for 8 eggs.  That’s a lot for one guy at breakfast! Here’s a version using most of the ingredients called for and to make recipe for cooking without a recipe for a great breakfast for one.  With a side of fruit, it could easily become a breakfast for two. Do some elementary arithmetic and expand it for more if you want to impress folks.

Broccoli and Feta Frittata for One
Equipment
8-inch ovenproof sauté pan
Small bowl
Small whisk or fork
Kitchen knife
Ingredients
Two or three eggs
1 Tbsp chopped onion
1/2 – 3/4 cup small broccoli florets
2 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
1 pat butter
Optional – a sprinkle or two of chile flakes to taste
Method
Heat broiler in oven with a rack about 4 inches below the flame.
Melt butter in sauté pan on stovetop. Add onion and cook on medium temp for 3-4 minutes until soft. Add broccoli and cook about 6 minutes. The broccoli will turn a beautiful bright green and be tender but still have a little “tooth” to it. You can speed this up by adding a table spoon of water to the pan at a time and letting it steam and evaporate to help soften the onion and broccoli.

While the onion and broccoli cook, beat the eggs until whites and yolks are well blended and stir in chile flakes and about 2/3 of the crumbled feta.

Pour egg mixture over the broccoli and onion and stir to distribute broccoli and feta in the eggs. Let cook a couple of minutes to set the bottom of the eggs. Sprinkle remaining feta over the top. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 5 minutes, check frequently to see that the eggs have set and the sprinkled feta is lightly browned.

Remove from oven, remembering the pan handle is very hot! Plate and enjoy.

Non-paid testimonialI am a great fan of Dave’s Killer Bread 21-grain loaf. Great flavor and usually the only bread in my house. Read the package for the story behind it and the good things it makes happens for Dave’s employees. If you like it, buy two loaves in a bag at the big warehouse stores and save considerably over the price of one loaf at the chain grocery stores.

Dave’s Killer Bread

Note
I’ve been looking at a lot of “cooking for one” cookbooks and the all see to being with a chapter on how to stock a pantry and what kitchen gear one needs. I began this post with a list of equipment because of that influence. Surely your kitchen looks as much like the the kitchen store at the mall as mine and you don’t need a list of equipment. But, just in case, it is here this time.

Tampiqueña Rules

El Paso’s absolutely very best ribeye sandwiches are at the Untamed Chef food truck. The Untamed Chef does wonderful things with ribeye steak sandwiches. I’m sure his pulled pork is just as good, but I can’t get enough of this ribeye sandwiches! He has added a ribeye tampiqueña sandwich to the menu and it may be addictive! Tampiqueña topping is traditionally roasted or grilled chiles, onions and tomatoes served on steaks, pork chops or chicken breasts.  Sometimes there is a sprinkle of cheese or cilantro with it. The Untamed Chef adds a little crema (a thin Mexican sour cream) and a slice of asadero cheese to his ribeye sandwich when he plates it. I’ll be watching him closely next time and learning more about that.

Addiction: I had a couple of long days last weekend and instead of coming home to cook, I went to the food trucks. Friday night, I had my favorite Untamed Chef ribeye sandwich with jalapeño potato salad and a little lettuce on the side. Bliss on a bun! I noticed that a tampiqueña ribeye was new on the menu, so, I went back Saturday night and I tried the new treat. Now wish I could eat one of each sandwich at a meal, but, alas, I can’t. I’ll have to alternate or go on binge streaks!

Memories of the Untamed Chef Tampiqueña Ribeye Sandwich are making me drool on the keyboard.

I abstained from another ribeye sandwich on Sunday.  By Monday, I was in tampiqueña withdrawal and forced myself to admit that ribeye sandwiches three out of four nights might not be the best idea. I decided to lighten things up a little and made chicken tampiqueña to get my chile fix.  Of course, I didn’t use a recipe!

Tampiqueña Chicken
Ingredients
1 chicken breast half as big or small as you think you can manage
Tajin chile and lime powder
Granulated garlic powder (never garlic salt!)
Koser salt and pepper
Sliced onion
Handful of sliced grape tomatoes
Roasted and peeled liced long green chiles or sliced fresh jalapeños
Thin slices of Panela or Asader Mexican cheese
Just a little bit of olive oil for the chicken and for the vegetables

Method
Put chicken breast in a plastic bag or wrap loosely in plastic wrap, pound to an even 1/2 inch thickness. Remove from back and season both sides of breast lightly with Tajin poweder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan, add chicken breast and brown lightly on both sides. Breast is done when an instant read thermometer reads 160º – 165º. Remove to a plate and tent.

While chicken cooks, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a fry pan with a lid. Add vegetables and sauté over medium until vegetables are softening and onion is getting a little color. Add a light splash of water and cover the pan. When there is almost no steam escaping the pan, remove the lid and take the pan off the heat.

Top the chicken breast with sliced cheese and cover with the tampiqueña-style vegetables.

I served mine with sliced avocado and uncooked grape tomatoes and a light sprinkle of chopped cilantro.

Chicken Breast  Tampiqueña inspired by a sandwich at the Untamed Chef Food Truck

Pizza and Salad for Breakfast or for Supper

Savory, rich, sweet, tart and a hint of bitter make an individual breakfast pizza or supper.

You can take a recipe for four and reduce it to a just-right serving for one or two. You can also play with it and have a good time. The original recipe called for refrigerated whole wheat pizza dough. I substituted a package of two ready-made bake-it-yourself crusts. I actually tried two different crusts on two different mornings – first, a  thin crust and, the second time with a thicker crust.  Both were good. When I followed the cooking directions for the thin crust, the time needed for the baked egg n the recipe made the crust more like a crispy cracker. Good, but not what I had expected. When I used the thicker crust, I baked it for three minutes, turned it over on my sheet pan, added the toppings and baked it 8 minutes to set the egg white and leave the yolk soft the way I like it! The recipe used lemon and oil dressed arugula as a garnish.  I like arugula, so I made it a side salad instead of a garnish by adding a few sliced grape tomatoes and a sprinkle of grated parmesan.  Next time I make this, I’ll sprinkle some crisp crumbled bacon or pancetta on top. Play with your food and make it yours!  Below is the original recipe for four servings from Cooking Light Magazine. It divides in to two or one serving easily.

Mini Breakfast Pizzas
Ingredients
12 oz. whole wheat pizza dough
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1-1/4 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp kosher salt, divided
1/4 tsp ground pepper, divided
4 large eggs
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
4 cups packed baby arugula

Method
Let dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Divide dough into 4 pieces.
Place a pizza stone or large baking sheet in oven; preheat to 450º with stone or baking sheet in place as oven heats.
On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a 7-inch circle. pierce liberally with a fork.
Arrange two dough circles on the hot pizza stone or sheet pan and bake for 3 minutes. Remove from oven and flip so cooked side is up. Repeat with remaining two dough circles. Depending on the size of your stone or pan and your oven, you may need to baked two pizzas at a time instead of all four at once.
Stir together ricotta cheese and lemon zest. Divide ricotta evenly among cooked sides of dough circles, sprinkle evenly with 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. (I question 1/8 tsp seasoning on 4 pizzas and used a light pinch of salt and pepper on each one after adding the egg as instructed below.) Top each circle with 1 egg and 1 Tbsp parmesan. Bake at 450º until whites are set and yolk is still a little runny.
While pizzas bake, Whisk together oil, juice, and remaining salt and pepper I (or to taste as I did!). Toss arugula in dressing.
Remove pizzas from oven, plate and top with 1 cup dressed arugula.