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.
 

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.

Potluck Appetizers

A group of friends get together every other month for a potluck dinner. Sometimes the dinners are true potluck. At other times, they are themed with a menu of dishes individuals may bring. It makes for pleasant evenings with good people and good food.  It is hard to beat that combo!
Our March dinner had an Italian theme.  I was asked to bring appetizers. I made a personal favorite – skewered mozzarella balls, basil leaves and grape tomatoes. Last fall, I discovered how wonderful baked feta can be, so I made baked feta with a borrowed idea for a fruit confit and and decided this was an opportunity to share a delectable treat. The warm roasted feta has a wonderful creamy texture nothing like you might expect from crumbled feta on a salad.

Skewered mozzarella balls, basil and grape tomatoes – a refreshing appetizer.

Ingredients
The name says it all.  If you need an ingredients list, you should be making reservations for dinner. (Wasn’t that tacky!)
Method
I’ll share a fee hints.  I roll the basil leaves and put them between the cheese and tomato on wooden skewers that are a little longer than toothpicks.  I used a telera roll anchored to the plate with a blob of peanut butter as a base for the skewers.  Curly lettuce leaves tucked under the roll make the plate more attractive.  Telera rolls are a Mexican sandwich roll widely available in El Paso.  You could use a brioche instead if you wish. The important thing is a half-round base for the skewers/

What wowed the group was the Roasted Feta with Blackberry and Herb Confit. It was an amazing pairing of flavors and textures best served warm.

Roasted Sheep’s Milk Feta with a Blackberry and Herb Confit served warm on pita chips.

Several months ago, I served roasted feta as the protein for a vegetarian bridesmaid luncheon in Oregon. The El Paso group dinner was a chance to do a riff on that feta with the addition of a blackberry and herb confit as an appetizer.

Roasted Feta
Ingredients
One 8 oz. block feta, patted dry (sheep’s milk feta is great if you can find it.)
2 tsp. olive oil
Method
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Brush the feta with the olive oil and place in a small oven-proof baking dish, preferably the one you can serve from.

Bake the feta until it starts to soften, about 8 – 9 minutes. Switch the oven to broil and broil for about three minutes to start to brown the top of the feta. Watch that is doesn’t burn.

Remove from oven and spoon the warm confit over the feta. Serve immediately.

Blackberry and Herb Confit
Ingredients
3 black peppercorns or a few good grinds of black pepper
4 juniper berries (or 1 bayleaf)
1 sprig fresh rosemary (about 1.5 to 3 inches)
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1 pint black berries
Method
Tie peppercorns. juniper berries and rosemary spring in a single layer of cheesecloth. They will be easier to remove later.

Place all ingredients, including the cheesecloth bundle in a small saucepan over medium heat. Be sure the cheesecloth is under the blackberries. When the mixture has begun to simmer and the berries have begin to break up and yield their juices, reduce the heat and simmer, stirring gently occasionally until syrupy -25-30 minutes. You should have about a cup of confit.

Remove the cheesecloth bundle and discard. Confit may be used immediately. If you let it chill a few hours or overnight, the flavors meld. I lprefer the texture of the berries in the confit. If desired, you can strain the confit through a fine mesh strainer and mash all the liquid you can from the confit to have a smoother, but lesser volume syrup.

Spoon warm confit over warm feta and try not to swoon.

 

 

 

Welcome 2018!

The Gringo Gourmet has a new look with an easier to read color scheme.  Please feel free to comment on it.

The end of the year us always hectic and 2017 was no exceptions.  A number of things got me way behind in posting here. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is better organization of time and tasks and more posting here.  Wish me well on that one!

I’ll start off with a recipe for an amazing and colorful slaw that looks and tastes as bright as fireworks welcoming in the new year, even if I’m doing it a couple of days early!  In the next day or so I’ll post an interesting vegan dish we made for Christmas.  It was a recipe from Jamie Oliver and all the measurements were metric.  Fortunately, my daughter had a scale that could to metric weights as well as the weights we are used to in the U.S.! Keep an eye our for that one.

My pre-happy new year treat was part of a birthday party for one of my great grandnieces who turns 3 on New Year’s Eve.  (Note: I have 10 great grand nieces and two great grand nephews.  The consensus is I am a great, great uncle!) There was a luncheon featuring brisket, beans, fruit, guacamole, chips and salsa. Good TexMex eating on the border.  I made a standard Cole slaw with a. creamy dressing and then, go fiesta with a Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets.

Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets.
Even when they heard the word “beets”, they seemed to like the salad!

Red Slaw with Spiralized Beets

Ingredients
1 tsp lime zest, grated
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove(s), medium garlic clove(s), crushed through a garlic press
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
3 medium uncooked beets, peeled (about 3/4 lb)
2 cup(s) uncooked red cabbage, thinly sliced
2 medium uncooked scallion(s), thinly sliced
3 or 4 sliced shishito peppers
3 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
6 Tbsp queso cotija, or Parmesan cheese, coarsely shredded
3 Tbsp roasted salted pepitas, (pumpkin seeds)

Method
In a large bowl, whisk together lime zest and juice, oil, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper.
Spiralize beets; add to dressing.
Add cabbage, scallions, shishito peppers and oregano to beets; toss to coat. Sprinkle with cheese and pepitas.
Garnish with a few additional spirals.
 

 

 

 

Even in the Desert, You Can Get a Craving for Seafood

When you live about 1,000 miles from the coast, seafood is something exotic.  We know about shrimp and sometimes see live lobsters can be found in a tank at the grocery store.  We get salt cod and a few varieties of frozen “fresh” fish are good, but pretty mundane.  Now that we have a Whole Foods market, we see different varieties of seafood that I hope to learn how to cook someday. In the meantime, I fall back on the tried and true.  I do grill the occasional swordfish steak and I love to sear ahi tuna with a crust of crushed wasabi peas when I’m feeling exotic. I’m more likely to do a soup or stew or to try a version of baked cod.  I found a new baked cod recipe in an article on sheet pan suppers and, of course I had to try it and am happy to share it.  It was a recipe for four servings that I was able to reduce to one serving successfully in keeping with my new search for how to make one or two serving meals.  I’m including the full recipe below, but have added a couple of notes about my experience

Sheet pan Provençal Cod, Potatoes and String Beans fulfill a desert craving for seafood!

Provençal Cod, Potatoes and String Beans
Ingredients:
1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, thinly sliced
¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp herbes de Provence, Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 oz yellow wax beans and/or green beans, trimmed
2 small tomatoes, diced
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2Tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 6-oz cod fillets (1 to ½ inch thick)
Chopped fresh parsley for topping
Method:
Put a rimmed baking sheet in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 475°. Combine potatoes, 2 Tbsp olive oil and ½ tsp herbes de Provence in a large bowl; season generously with salt and pepper.  In a separate bowl, combine the beans, 1 Tbsp oilive oil and the remaining ½ tsp herbes de Provence; season generously with salt and pepper.

Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven; add the potatoes in a single layer on one side of the pan and the beans on the other side.  Roast until the potatoes and browned and the beans are tender – about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, olives, remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, the lemon juice. ½ tsp salt and pinch of pepper in a small bowl; set aside. Season the cod all over with salt.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. If potatoes and beans are done, remove and keep warm. If not done, push to their sides leaving a space in the middle.  Place the cod in the middle of the pan and top with half of the tomato mixture. Roast until the cod is opaque – 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle the potatoes with parsley. Serve with the remaining tomato mixture.

Notes: In my oven, the beans and potatoes were done at 20 minutes.  I left them on the the cod and the beans were a bit overdone by the time the cods was done. Check them while the cod is cooking, to be safe.

I could only find a long filet of cod with a narrow end. I folded the narrow end under the thick end sandwiching some of the olive and tomato mix in between.  It worked fine and was colorful and tasty.

This recipe reduced easily to one serving with a single cod filet and smaller portions of beans and potatoes.  I did the full recipe of the olive, tomato lemon mix and enjoyed what didn’t fit on the cod right out of the bowl with a spoon!

 

 

A Detour on Memory Lane

Remember the wedge salad from the late 50′ and early 70’s? A wedge of iceberg lettuce, that must have been a quarter of a head, drenched in creamy chunky bleu cheese dressing, and if you were lucky enough to be in the right restaurant, heavily sprinkled with crumbled crispy bacon. It still appears on the occasional menu.  When it does, I look for beef carpaccio to be there, too.  Creamy bleu cheese and delicately thin sliced raw lean beef! Forget the rest of the menu, these two appetizers become my meal, and no, you cannot have a taste!

I am addicted to food magazines and websites.  When I saw a new take on a wedge salad in one, I was up and off the the grocery store.  Actually it turned out to be two stores were needed to find all the ingredients.

My excitement was a grilled bok choi wedge salad.  One small to medium bok choi, split in half and spritzed with olive oil, then grilled over low heat until the leaves wilt and get a little char and the stem is warmed through, but still retains it crunch. I topped the bok choi with halved yellow grape tomatoes, thinly sliced raw ripe shishito peppers and marinated Peruvian peppers.  Then I drenched the salad with creamy bleu cheese dressing and lots of extra crumbles.  The salad was served with a small sirloin steak, grilled to 145 and tented to rest for five minutes. It was a perfect medium rare.  I wish I had sliced and photographed it, but I couldn’t wait do dig into the plate.

My standard three baby potatoes halved and grilled provided a bit of starch for the meal.  Because I am still working on my bag of shishito peppers, I grilled a few of the ripe ones.  Their caramelized sweetness was a great foil for the slight saltiness of the bleu cheese!

I cooked this on the grill last night after the temperature dropped to 100.

Grilled bok choi wedge salad with “sides” of beef sirloin, baby potatoes and grilled ripe shishito peppers.

Something New on the Plate!

Last fall, the Master Gardeners were looking at some new ideas to enhance the varieties of produce at their market garden. They were looking at eliminating some that were not the best for us such as okra which does’t respect our work and market day schedules.  It  grows too fast and gets woody before we can harvest and market it. For something different, I suggested shishito peppers (enunciate the name carefully). They are a  mild wrinkled green Asian snacking pepper that is usually sautéed. I found them at a local grocery store last year, tried them and really enjoyed them as something good and different! About one in ten has a kick which adds to the excitement of eating them. I have been tossing a few on the grill until they are tender and pick up a hint of char.

Last weekend, one of the garden co-chairs brought me a bag if shishitos to try.  It had both green peppers and some that had ripened to a bright red.  On the drive home, I had to taste one of each – a green one, with the expected not quite raw bitter flavor, rather than pepper heat, and a red one which was surprisingly sweet!

I grilled a couple of chicken thighs and a few green peppers. I also made a salad of mache greens, yellow cherry tomato slices and slices of red shishitos with a light vinaigrette.  It was a wonderful salad!

Visit Ardovino’s Farmers Market on Saturdays and give the shishitos a try. You’ll enjoy them green or red.

Grilled chicken thighs with grilled green shishito peppers and a salad mache rosettes yellow grape tomatoes and sliced raw ripe shishito peppers in a light vinaigrette. Dinner cooked on an outdoor gas grill after the temperature dropped below 100.

Still Playing with My Food

We made a late morning decision to stay home rather than fight the Mother’s Day crowds at restaurants today. That saved a couple of chairs for lucky Mom’s out there!

I had some ideas for putting together a late started meal that would look better planned, so I rushed off to the store for pork tenderloins, baby white potatoes and asparagus. Luckily for me, one of the stores had  sugar snap peas, so I was able make a spring vegetable salad side dish.  The potatoes became crispy smashed potatoes, an idea lifted from last night’s dinner.

I didn’t have a recipes for this meal, so I played around and came up with some good stuff!

Pork Tenderloin, Spring Vegetables and Crispy Smashed Potatoes

Ingredients and What I Did

Spring vegetables: asparagus, sugar snap peas, red onion boiled together for about 5 minutes until tender/crisp and bright green, then plunged into an ice bath, cooled, strained and patted dry. They were dressed with . red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes: baby red and white potatoes tossed with olive oil and salt and roasted in a 425º oven until done enough to pierce with a fork.  Take about 30 minutes. Halfway through, turn and make sure they are still covered with olive oil.  When you can pierce them, gently press them with a potato masher to flatten them to about a half inch high. Make sure the are still covered with olive oil.  Return to the oven for about 10 minutes, turn them and give them another 20 minutes too get good and crisp.  Remove from oven and let coo.

Pork Tenderloin with Mustard Sauce: I used a pack of two tenderloins so I’d have left overs.  Increase the oven temp to 450º.  Remove silver skin from the tenderloins carefully. Tuck thin end under tip for even cooking.

I combined smooth Dijon mustard, whole grain Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and brown sugar adjusting ingredient volume one at a time until it tasted good. At a the end, I stirred in some smoked paprika for color and a hint of smokey flavor.  The tenderloins were basted well and put on a rack in a foil-lined baking pan popped them in the oven.  At 15 minutes, I checked their internal temperature with a meet thermometer, turnned them over and basted the underside.  Back in the oven for 20 minutes, another temperature check, a last turned over and light brush with olive oil to encourage browning. Back in the oven for 8 minutes.  One last temperature check and they had reached 145º.  Out of the oven and on to a platter, tented with foil to rest for five minutes.

The salad and potatoes were carefully tossed, then plated. I pulled the now dressed potatoes out and made the plating you see above.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ingredients you know go together to do something like the mustard sauce. Mix the sugar and mustards and use the vinegar for balance and to thin the sauce a little.