Friday, January 26, 2018

Pearmund Cellars Petit Verdot (2014)

If wine could be likened to a movie (by someone who not involved in making movies or wines), Petit Verdot would be a supporting actor or actress.  The grape definitely contributes to the final product, offering its boldness to bring flavor and tannins to the aroma and taste of the wine.  However, its contribution is not as great as the leading grapes.  Petit Verdot never gets top billing, which usually goes to grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

There may be many reasons why. Unlike other grapes, Petit Verdot takes longer to ripen, which means that it is harvested after other grapes.  The lateness in the harvest sometimes means that the Petit Verdot grapes are usually added during the blending process, when vintners use the bold flavors and the tannins to add character to a wine.

Nevertheless, there are wines where a grape like Petit Verdot gets top billing, just as there are opportunities for a supporting actor or actress to take center stage.  When given the chance, a Petit Verdot wine provides a bold performance, with aromatic and taste elements that feature dark berries, leather, chocolate and even smoke.

One example of a bold Petit Verdot wine comes from Pearmund Cellars in Virginia.  The wine pours with garnet tones, which, depending upon the lighting, also give rise to plum or raisin colors.  The aromas that greet the nose are full of those black fruits, such as blackberries, black cherries and even blueberries.  There is some earthiness to the aroma as well, along the lines of slate or graphite.  

Much of the dark berries carries through to the taste of the wine. The wine features blueberries up front, with plumb and blackberry notes on the back end.  The tannins enclose the flavors of the wine and fill in the finish.

The Pearmund Cellar's Petit Verdot shows how a supporting grape and truly shine.  A bottle can be purchased from the vineyard for about $32.00.  


Monday, January 15, 2018

Masaharu Morimoto's Lobster Masala

There is a quote to which I can relate.  "I'm not a fighter, but in my mind I'm fighting every day.  What's new? What am I doing? I'm fighting myself. My soul is samurai.  My roots are not samurai, but my soul is."  The person who made this statement is Masaharu Morimoto.  The chef who fought culinary battles as the Iron Chef Japanese on the well-known television show, and who now is a well known chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. 

The reason why the quote resonates with me is that I too fight every day.  As a lawyer, I spend a lot of mental energy fighting on behalf of my clients, asking a lot of questions and, sometimes, even fighting with myself.  (That latter fight is the daily battle that propels me to be the best lawyer that I can be.)  Cooking is for me is a way to find solace from that fighting, but still challenge myself to do things that may seem, at least at first glance, beyond my capabilities.  

One such challenge involves Morimoto's cookbook, Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking.  When I bought the book, I read through the recipes and, to be quite frank, I felt quite intimidated.  I thought to myself that these recipes were too complicated for me.  The book sat on my shelf for quite a long time.  The challenge went unanswered ... until this past New Year's Eve. 

Morimoto Special Spice
I always make a special New Year's Eve dinner for my beautiful Angel to celebrate the past year and to look forward to the new one.  I decided to undertake the challenge of making a recipe from Morimoto's cookbook.  The dish I chose was lobster masala, which Morimoto refers to as one of his signature dishes.  The recipe reminds me of seafood dishes that I have made with crab, even like classic Chesapeake Blue Crab, with whole crabs covered in a spice mixture (such as Old Bay).  The spice mixture used in this dish -- Morimoto Special Spice -- is a wonderful combination of chile powder, paprika, cumin, coriander, ginger, garam masala and cayenne pepper.  

The difference comes in the preparation.  The lobster is not steamed, as are the crabs.  Instead, it is sauteed.  Morimoto notes that, by sauteeing the lobster, the cook is able to control the ingredient and intensify the flavor.  I actually liked this technique, which is far easier to do with lobster than other live shellfish like crabs.

Finally, I like how the dish comes together.  The vegetable accompaniment helps to provide more color and sustenance with the lobster.   Morimoto notes that the vegetables can be changed with what is in season.  This is helpful because I could not find any golden beets.  So I used some yellow squash, so that there variety of colors remained in the dish.  Moreover, the lemon cream sauce is a simple sauce to make that provides relief to those who may find the seasoning to be a little too spicy.  While I thought the piquancy of the seasoning was just fine, the lemon cream sauce still was a refreshing touch when eating the lobster.

Recipe from Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking
Serves 4

8 baby beets, preferably golden
12 baby carrots
12 asparagus stalks
`1/2 cup broccoflower or broccoli florets
4 live Maine lobsters (1 1/2 pounds each)
6 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons Morimoto Special Spice (see recipe below)
Lemon Cream (see recipe below)

Ingredients (for the Morimoto Special Spice):
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground garam masala
3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Ingredients (for the Lemon Cream):
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons sugar
Juice of one lemon
Pinch of salt

1.  Prepare the special spice.  Combine all of the ingredients for the special spice in a covered container in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.

2.  Prepare the beets.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Wrap the beets in foil and roast for 45 minutes or until tender.  When they are cool enough to handle, rub off the skins and half or quarter the beets. 

3.  Prepare the carrots.  Peel the carrots and trim to leave about 1/2 inch of the green stems.  Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the carrots and cook for about 4 minutes, until just tender.  Drain and rinse under cold running running water.

4.  Prepare the asparagus.  Trim the asparagus to include the tips and about 4 inches of the stalks.  Use a swivel blade vegetable peeler to trim off the tough skin from the thicker part of the stems.  In another saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the asparagus and the broccoflower until just tender, about 3 minutes.

5.  Prepare the lobsters. Split the lobsters lengthwise in half down the belly.  Using a teaspoon, remove the dark "sand sack" from the inside the head, this is the only part of the lobster that is not edible.  Separate the claws with the knuckles attached and crack the claws with a heavy knife/  If not cooking immediately, wrap and refrigerate for no more than 2 hours.  The sooner you cook the lobsters the better. 

6.   Cook the lobsters.  Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a very large skillet over moderately high heat.  Add 2 lobsters to the skillet, meat side down, arranging the claws against the surface of the skillet.  (If the lobsters don't fit, use 2 skillets or cook them one at a time.)  Saute until the tail meat is golden in color, 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn the lobsters over and season the exposed meat of the lobster generously with 2 tablespoons of the Morimoto Special Spice.  Add additional oil and cover the skillet.  Cook until the lobster meat is opaque when pieced and the shells are bright red.  About 3 minutes.  Remove to a platter or large plate.  The claws will take 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Tent the lobsters with foil to keep warm.  Repeat with 2 more tablespoons of oil the remaining 2 lobsters, and 2 more tablespoons of the Morimoto Special Spice

7.  Prepare the cream sauce.  In a chilled bowl, using cold beaters, whip the ream with the sugar until soft peaks form.  Add the lemon juice and salt and whip until stiff.  Cover and refrigerate until serving.

8.  Finish the cook.  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the same skillet.  Add the cooked beets, carrots, asparagus and broccoflowers.  Toss over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes to warm through.  Arrange the vegetables around the lobsters and serve with the Lemon Cream Sauce on the side.


Friday, January 12, 2018

The Dark Hours of a Lost Rhino

Imperial stouts are somewhat paradoxical.  I love imperial stouts.  There is something about sitting out on my deck, sipping the viscous, pitch black liquid while I stare at the stars that is very relaxing and enjoyable.   I have been wanting to brew an imperial stout for a very long time.  Yet, as much as I enjoy the imperial stout, I don't drink it very often and I have not brewed it yet. 

A while back, my beautiful Angel took me on a trip through the Virginia craft beer scene.  One of the stops was Lost Rhino Brewing.  I sampled a couple of beers, which were very good, but it was the bottles in the fridge that caught my attention.  The bottles were part of the brewery's Genius Loci Series, These beers are limited-run beers, using regional ingredients, that test the creativity of the brewers.  One of the beers in that fridge was the Dark Hours Imperial Stout.  I decided to buy a bottle, stash it in my basement, and enjoy it at a later time ... on my deck while looking at the stars. 

The Dark Hours pours pitch black, like motor oil.  It is like the darkness that falls in the wilderness, with only the new moon to guide you because the nearest light is miles away.  There is that cloud of milk chocolate foam that hovers overhead.

Without sight, you turn to your next sense.  The sense of smell.  The aroma greets you with hints of cranberries, cocoa and a little booze.  Just enough to entice you to take a taste. A sip takes you to another sense.  The sense of taste.  This imperial stout fits neatly into the style, but still asserts its own character.  There is dark chocolate with a little boozy cherry on the inside.  It is that proverbial box of chocolates, only without the box and no chocolate.  Just a well bodied liquid that is able to evoke something that it is not.

This is a very good beer and provides inspiration to try more imperial stouts.  If you happen to find yourself in suburban Virginia near Lost Rhino, it is definitely worth the stop.  Until next time ...


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Italy

As I continue my personal culinary challenge, Around the World in 80 Dishes, I find myself in nearly the same situation as a few weeks ago.  Back then, my beautiful Angel bought a whole duck for me to cook; and, I decided that I would make Peking Duck.  After making that decision, and perusing the aisles of the local Asian grocery store, I realized that the Peking Duck could satisfy the challenge to make a main course for the country of China

Fast forward those few weeks to the days before Christmas Eve.  I had decided to make a Christmas Eve feast.  Drawing inspiration from the fact that the families of my beautiful Angel and myself originate in part from Italy, I decided to make the Feast of Seven Fishes, or, as it would be known in Italy, La VigiliaSeven courses, each made with a different fish or seafood.   As I prepared for this feast, which was the second largest cooking experience I have undertaken (the largest was my Guest Chef  Night experience), I decided that this would satisfy my challenge to make a main course for the country of Italy.  

This challenge presented the same fundamental issue for me as that China challenge.  Like China, Italy has numerous regions, each with its own cuisine.  Each of those cuisines has its own history, influences, and character.  However, unlike my last challenge, I had decided that each course or dish of the Feast of Seven Fishes would come from a different region.  In the end, I had a dish from Friuli-Venezia-Guilia, Apulia, Umbria, Abruzzo, Calabria, Sardinia and Sicily.  And, as some of my challenges have involved multiple dishes, I have decided that all of the dishes would be part of this challenge.  Thus, while it may have been my second largest cooking experience, the challenge to cook a main course from Italy is the largest test of the Around in the World in 80 dishes.  All of the dishes made it into this post.  So, without further ado:


The first course or appetizer begins in the region of Friuli-Venezia-Guilia, a very small region in northeastern Italy.   This region's history underlies its cuisine, with influences from Venice, with those of Austrian and Slavic cuisines.  Following northern Italian cuisine, polenta is a staple in this region, which is served along stewed meats, games and cheeses.  These meats and game include venison and rabbit.  They also include gulasch, which is a stew of beef and peppers (and, a great example of the Slavic influence upon the cuisine).  

Drawing from the shores around its capital, Trieste, I am starting with a recipe that brings together shrimp with the staple of polenta.  I digressed from the recipe by simply warming the polenta in the oven, then plating it with the shrimp and drizzling the mushrooms and sauce around the shrimp.  The result was a great start to the dinner.

Recipe from Culinaria Italia (pg. 19)
Serves 6-8

2 pounds of shrimp
1 handful of fresh mushrooms
1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
3/4 cup white wine
4 cups vegetable stock
Freshly ground pepper

1.  Prepare the polenta. Prepare the polenta to a soft consistency.  Cool and cut into slices and place them on a greased backing sheet so that the slices cover it completely, overlapping slightly.  Preheat the oven to 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  Prepare the sauce.  Clean the mushrooms and chop finely.  Peel the shrimp and saute them in a little butter in the saucepan.  Add the mushrooms, garlic and parsley.  Pour some of the white wine and vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Add the rest only if needed  Season with freshly ground pepper and nutmeg, and arrange on top of the polenta slices.  Bake for a few minutes in the preheated oven.


The next course takes us all the way down the eastern coast of Italy to Apulia or Puglia.  The southeastern region has a coastline along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, as well as the Gulf of Taranto.  This wide access to the sea allows for seafood to play an important role in the cuisine of the region, with fish, octopus, squid and even sea urchins gracing the dishes.

But it is the Gulf of Taranto that provides the oysters.  No feast would be complete without oysters.  While I love eating them raw, I found a recipe for broiling/roasting the oysters with just a few ingredients.  The recipe simply calls for breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, lemon juice and olive oil.  It is just another case where simplicity breeds deliciousness.  For this course, I used salty hog oysters, which I think come from Maine.  These oysters serve as the centerpiece for the second course, Ostriche Arrosto.

Recipe from Culinaria Italia (pg. 373)
Serves 1

Ingredients (per person):
6 oysters
Chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, chopped
Lemon Juice
Olive Oil
Salt and pepper

1.  Prepare the oysters.  Remove the upper shelves and place the lower halves containing the oyster meat on a wire rack.  Sprinkle the parsley and garlic evenly over the oysters, followed by the breadcrumbs and oregano, then drizzle 2-3 drops of lemon juice and a little olive oil.

2.  Roast the oysters.  Season with salt and pepper and broil for 15 minutes.


The third appetizer takes us north along Italy's Adriatic coast to the region of Abruzzo.  That stretch of coastline, with ports such as like Pescara and Ortona, allows Abruzzo to have a very diverse seafood cuisine of various fish and shellfish, just like its southern neighbors.

The key to a dish from this region is to use one of its signature ingredients.  Two such ingredients come to mind: peperoncino and saffron.  Abbruzese cuisine is known for being spicy, with a liberal use of peppers.  Yet, it is croccus sativus, whose dried stems give us saffron, that truly interests me.  The flowers brought to this province more than 450 years ago by a priest name Santelli, and they grow on the Navelli Plain in the L'Aquila province.  While cultivated in Abruzzo, saffron is not a common ingredient in regional cuisine.  It finds its way into the cuisines of neighboring regions, such as Le Marche or Emilia-Romagna, where it provides its signature yellow color to dishes.

It is that yellow color that makes the broth of Cozze allo Zafferano stand out.  The broth is made from white wine and water, but the saffron gives it a bright yellow color.  In making this recipe, I did make one change: I left the mussels in their shell rather than taking off the top part of the shell.  This saved a lot of time and I think the whole shell provides a better presentation.  

Recipe from Food and Memories of Abruzzo (pg. 21)
Serves 4-6

2 pounds of mussels, scrubbed and debearded
2 shallots, each quartered or 1 onion quartered
2 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup water
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon saffron
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1.  Steam the mussels.  Place all of the ingredients in a large skillet . Cook over medium heat, shaking the skillet often, until the mussels open, 5 to 8 minutes.  Remove the open mussels and discard half of the shell.  Discard the mussels that have not opened.  Place the remaining half of with the mollusk on a serving plate.  Keep warm.

2.  Finish the dish.  With a slotted spoon remove the solids from the skillet and discard.  Strain the liquid through a towel into a small saucepan.  Bring the liquid to a boil and if there is more than 3/4 cup reduce it by boiling it.  Pour the liquid over the mussels and serve.  This dish can also be served chilled. 


Given the more than 4,700 miles of coastline, it would be easy to create seven dishes from Italian regions that border either the Adriatic or the Tyrhennian Seas.  After all, fifteen of the twenty Italian regions have some portion of their territory that touches the sea.  To make this a true challenge, I needed to make a dish from one of the five landlocked regions.  The region I chose is Umbria.

The dish is a play on a traditional Umbrian dish: Polpette in Umido or Meatballs in Broth.  The meatballs are traditionally made with pork from the renown Umbrian pigs.  Given pork is not on the menu for a Feast of Seven Fishes or La Vigilia feast, I decided to make fish meatballs.  To be true to the landlocked nature of the Umbrian region, I needed a freshwater fish.  The two obvious choices are trout and catfish.  Given the meatier texture of catfish, I thought it would work better as meatballs.

Given the experimental nature of this dish, I kept the meatballs pretty simple.  Catfish, bread crumbs  (with Italian seasoning, thereby providing some basil and oregano) and eggs, with some salt and pepper.  I refrigerated the meatballs to firm them up before baking them to preserve their shape.   The meatballs were then warmed in the broth prior to serving. 

Recipe inspired by Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy (196-197)
Serves 4

1 pound of freshwater fish fillets (such as catfish or trout)
1 large egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
1/4 cup of fine dread breadcrumbs, 
Freshly ground black pepper and salt
3 to 4 quarts of seafood stock
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh parsley
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
10 peppercorns
Dried basil, oregano or pepper flakes, optional. 

1.  Make the broth.  You can make a fish broth ahead of time if you have the heads and bones.  Just bring them short of a boil with an onion, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns and cook for about one hour.  If you get pre-made seafood stock or broth, then just add the fresh herbs and bring short to a boil and cook for about an hour. .

2.  Prepare the meatballs.  Wash the fish fillets and pat them dry with a paper towel. Cut the fish into large pieces and place into a food processor.  Pulse the fish multiple times until the fish is the right texture for meatballs, about 10 to 12 times.  Do not over-pulse the fish or the meatballs will not work.  Add the fish to a bowl and then add the egg and breadcrumbs.  You can also add some dried basil, oregano and even pepper flakes, all of which is optional.  Season with salt and pepper.  Combine the ingredients together.  Make twelve fishballs.  Refrigerate the fishballs for about 30 minutes.

3.  Bake the meatballs.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes, turning them once after 10 minutes.

4.  Finish the dish.  Once the meatballs are baked, add them to the broth and let them rest for about 20 minutes more.


To this point, all of the dishes have come from regions along the Adriatic Sea, as well as one landlocked region.  It is time to head west to the Italian coastline along the Tyrrhenian Sea.  The starting point is the southwestern region of Calabria, which is the "toe' in the Italian "boot."  Calabria shares one thing in common with Abruzzo: the use of pepper to make spicy dishes.

When it comes to seafood, fish is the predominant protein for Calabrian dishes.  For the fifth course of this feast, however, I wanted to make something with squid or calamari.  I found a Calabrian recipe for Calamari Piccanti or spicy calamari.  This recipe uses red pepper flakes to give it that Calabrian character.  While I ordinarily add more pepper flakes to make a dish truly spicy, I stuck to the amounts called for in the recipe.

Recipe from Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy (pg. 339)
Serves 6

2 pounds cleaned calamari, whole bodies and tentacles
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley

1. Prepare the calamari. Dry the calamari well and put in a large bowl  Pour over them 12 cup of the olive oil and add the garlic, a teaspoon of salt and peperoncino.  Toss to coat and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.  

2.  Make the dressing.  When you are ready to cook the calamari, make the dressing.  Whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the chopped parsley until emulsified.

3.  Cook the calamari.  Set the skillet over high eat and it when it is very hot, lift the calamari out of the marinade with tongs, let it dry briefly and then lay a bat of them flat in the dry skillet.  Sear the calamari, turning several times until the edges of the bodies are caramelized and crispy, about 2 minutes per batch.  If you are using unskinned calamari, the skin will darken to a deep reddish hue.  

4.  Finish the dish  As the calamari comes out of the skillet, arrange them on a warmed platter, when all of the calamari is done, drizzle the dressing over them and serve right away.


The culinary experience leaves the mainland for the island of Sardegna or Sardinia.  I have a fascination with this island, having previously explored its cuisine when I made Insalata dell'Aragosta or Sardinian Lobster Salad.  Fish and lobsters predominate the seafood cuisine of the island.  However, I wanted to make something different.  I scoured recipes until I found one using octopus.  I love eating octopus.  I have had it many times as Pulpo Gallego (Octopus with paprika) at Spanish restaurants.  The dish is octopus served with potatoes and paprika.  I have also had it grilled at Greek restaurants, served just on its own or perhaps dressed with a combination of olive oil and lemon juice.

For the sixth course, I found an octopus and potato salad from Sardinia.  This dish connects Spain and Greece for me, bringing together the potatoes from Pulpo Gallego with the olive oil and lemon juice of the Greek version.  A nod to the historical influences that have come and gone like the waves that crash on the shores of the Island.   The addition of celery leaves and parsley leaves give this salad its own character.  

Recipe from How to Eataly (p. 240)
Serves 4

1 octopus (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1/4 cup loosely packed flat leaf parsley leaves
1 red onion
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup loosely packed celery leaves

1.  Cook the octopus.  Place the octopus in a large pot and add water just to cover.  Sprinkle in the 1 tablespoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the octopus is tender, about 50 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool slightly but not completely.  

2.  Cook the potatoes.  Place the potatoes in a separate pot and add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are easily pierced with a paring knife, about 30 minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool slightly but not completely.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and cut into 1/2 inch slices.  Place in a large bowl.

3.  Continue to prepare the octopus.  Separate the octopus head and tentacle. Chop the tentacles and place them in the bowl with the potato slices.  Remove the internal sac from the head if it hasn't been removed already, then chop the head and add to the bowl.   

4.  Continue to prepare the salad.  Roughly chop the parsley and add to the bowl.  Halve and thinly slice the onion and add that to the bowl along with the celery.  In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. 

5.  Finish the dish.  The salad benefits from sitting at room temperature for an hour or so or you can refrigerate it and bring it back to room temperature before serving. Garnish with celery leaves.


The final course of this seven course dish constitutes the challenge for my Around the World in 80 Dishes.  This course takes us to Sicily, an island well known for its fish and shellfish dishes.  One truly Sicilian dish, Cuscusu or Couscous with Fish, actually displays the wonderful influences upon the island's cuisine.  The use of couscous, as well as saffron, is a nod to the influence of the Arabs, who ruled the island from 827 A.D. to 1091 A.D.  While Cuscusu may have Arabic origins, the Sicilians have made it their own.  They steam the couscous over fish broth, made from a variety of fishes (such as scorpion fish, bogue and eel), rather than a meat broth as is done in Northern Africa.

While I could steam the couscous over a fish broth (I made one for this feast), I ultimately decided to use the fish broth to make the coucous in the traditional fashion.  The "traditional fashion" means following the directions on the side of the box.  In my defense, I have made Cuscusu by steaming the couscous in the past.  Having completed several dishes, including a couple (such as the octopus salad) that could satisfy the main dish requirement, I decided I needed a break.  The completion f the dish still satisfies the challenge of making a main course.  

Recipe adapted from Regional Italian Cuisine (pg 288-289)
Serves 4 to 6

10 ounces or 1 2/3 cups couscous
1 teaspoon saffron
1 pinch powdered cloves
1 pinch cinnamon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 cups seafood stock

1.  Prepare the couscous. Dissolve the saffron in some of the seafood stock.  Bring enough seafood stock to a boil to prepare the couscous according to the package.  Reserve the remaining seafood stock.   Season the couscous with salt , pepper, powdered cloves, cinnamon and grated nutmeg.  

2. Prepare the fish.  Bring about 2 cups of stock to a boil in a deep pot.  Place the fish in the stock and simmer on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.  Chop the remaining parsley

3.  Finish the dish.  Place the couscous on a preheated platter.  Top the couscous with the pieces of fish and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.  Serve immediately.

*     *     *   

This was an amazing culinary tour around the country of Italy.  I never thought I could complete seven dishes in one night, let alone that the dishes would come out looking presentable.   This challenge was a success in many ways and it has galvanized me toward working on the next one.  Until that time...


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Pan-Fried Tilapia with Mushroom-Onion Sauce

Author Helene York once described tilapia as "the fish everyone loves to hate."   Chefs dislike the fish because of its mild, almost bland taste.  Environmentalists cannot stand the fish because tilapia is more like a crop than a fish, cultivated in large pens or ponds where it is given soy feed.  Dietitians and  nutritionists spurn the fish because, unlike salmon, tuna or even lake trout, tilapia lacks Omega-3 fatty acids.  

Yet, this fish -- or should I say one-hundred species of  fish (as "tilapia" is just a catch all for all those species of Tilapiine Chichlids) -- is very popular with consumers, particularly in the United States.  Most of the tilapia that you would find on your grocery store shelves does not originate in this country.  Tilapia is produced (that is, farmed through aquaculture in 140 countries.  However, the five largest producers of tilapia are China, Indonesia, Egypt, the Philippines and Brazil.  The overwhelming amount of tilapia consumed in the United States comes from the largest producer, China. 

Yet, for a very long time, Monterey Sea Aquarium's Seafood Watch cautioned consumers to avoid Chinese tilapia. The reasons lie with the methods used to raise the fish.  Many of the Chinese tilapia farms are outdoor freshwater ponds where, according to some reports, the fish are fed waste from poultry and livestock.  Such waste may be contaminated with salmonella, which increases the risk to consumers from improperly cooked fish.  The waste also created environmental issues when there was runoff from the ponds.  In recent years, Seafood Watch has lessened the caution as Chinese producers improved their methods of production and even rates tilapia raised by Chinese producers in ponds as a "good alternative."  For more on Seafood Watch's recommendations as to Chinese tilapia, you can check out their report.  

The current Seafood Watch recommendations for tilapia focus heavily on the method of farming.  Seafood Watch advises that the best choices are tilapia from Peru that are raised using outdoor flowthrough raceways or tilapia from Ecuador that are farmed in ponds.  Seafood Watch also recommends tilapia from anywhere in the world that uses indoor circulating tanks.  

As a consumer, it is very hard, if not impossible, to determine how a fish was raised.  You may be looking at fresh fillets behind the glass at the fresh seafood counter.  The only information may be a sign that says "Tilapia - $3.00 per pound."  Or, you may be looking at a bag of frozen tilapia fillets, which may have some pretty pictures of the fillets, or a recipe, but nothing about how the fish was raised.  However, if you can find the country of production, that gives you at least some information that you can use in conjunction with Seafood Watch to determine whether this fish is a good buy or should be avoided. 

My beautiful Angel purchased some fresh tilapia fillets from Costco.  According to Costco, its tilapia comes from certified suppliers, including Regal Springs.   This company uses freshwater net pens to raise tilapia in Mexico, Honduras and Indonesia.  Seafood Watch rates tilapia from these countries using this method as a "good alternative."  There are some concerns about the environmental impact of the waste discharged by the fish in the freshwater lakes, but these farms have been certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and the Global Aquaculture Alliance (a discussion about this certification will be left for another time). 

With this tilapia, I had to come up with a recipe.  I was inspired by French recipes.  I decided to first coat the tilapia in  a special flour.  The flour was 1/3 ground almonds and 2/3 all purpose flour, seasoned with salt and pepper.  I then pan-fried the fish in a little butter.  Once the tilapia was cooked, I made a pan sauce by deglazing the pan with some white wine.  (For this recipe, I used a very delicious Picpoul de Pinet that I found at a local wine store adjacent to the grocery store.)  I then added some mushrooms, onions and garlic that I had separately sauteed to the sauce, allowed the flavors to meld.  I also whisked in a little more flour to thicken the sauce just a little before I poured that sauce over the fish.   

In the end, this dish was a very tasty meal, especially considering the fact that I came up with it while perusing the aisles of that grocery store.  It is a reminder that I have to get back to doing more Chef Bolek originals, as long as I keep the recipes simple and work on highlighting flavors.  

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4

4 Tilapia fillets
16 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Vidalia onion, sliced thinly
1 clove garlic, minced finely
1 tablespoon parsley
1 lemon, juice and zested
1/3 cup toasted almonds, ground into powder
1/3 cup flour, plus 1 tablespoon
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup white wine (such as Picpoul de Pinet)
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil

1.  Prepare the sauce.  Saute the mushrooms in a pan over high heat until they release their water.  Add 2 tablespoons of butter, onions, thyme and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and continue sauteing until the mushrooms, onions and garlic have cooked down.  Add the wine and let it simmer on very low.

2.  Saute the fish.  Combine the ground almond and flour, season with salt and pepper and mix well.  Dip the fish fillets to cover them with the flour.  Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat.  Add the fish fillets and saute for about 3 to 4 minutes.  Flip and saute for 3 minutes more or until cooked.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Hoppin John

As the story goes, or at least how one of the stories go, there was an old, hobbled man sold peas and rice on the streets of Charleston; and, the residents called his fare by his name, "Hoppin John."  That story is just a folktale.  And, it does a lot of injustice to the history of this dish. 

The truth is that "Hoppin John" -- the dish of rice and peas, usually made with chopped onion and bacon (or some other form of smoked pork) -- originated with enslaved Africans.  White plantation owners tried planting a variety of grains and vegetables.  In the low country of the Carolinas, rice took hold.  This led plantation owners to seek out African slaves who had experience cultivating rice.  After being forcibly brought to the United States, those enslaved Africans prepared dishes that reminded them of the food, such as the Senegalese dish, thiebou niebe, of their homeland.  

And, the truth is that "Hopping John" jumped from the squalor of slave quarters to the tables of the white plantation owners.  From there, it made its way into cookbooks, such as Recollections of Southern Matron, which was published in 1838, and Sarah Rutledge's The Carolina Housewife, which was published in 1847.   Thus, a dish that was subsistence for slaves became a side dish for white plantation owners.  

Recently, we visited Colonial Williamsburg during our vacation, where we were able to experience what life was back in the 1770s.  That visit inspired me to pull out The Colonial Williamsburg Cookbook for a couple of recipes to make for New Year's Day, which would be the last day of my vacation.  I decided to make Hoppin John because the dish is associated with having good luck throughout the upcoming year.  (There is no clear answer as to how this tradition originated or evolved.)

While I am not a superstitious person, I decided that it would be good to try this recipe, with a couple of changes.  First, I decided to use turkey bacon rather than pork bacon.  This change was so that my beautiful Angel (who does not eat pork) could enjoy this dish as well.  Second, I decided to use brown rice rather than white rice.  I thought that, along with the turkey bacon, it would contribute to a healthier start to the new year.   Cooking brown rice takes longer than white rice, so I added about 20 minutes to the cook time.  Despite these changes, I have put the original recipe below. 

In the end, this was a good start to my cooking for 2018.  I hope that there will be a lot more to come....

Recipe from The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook (pg. 141)
Serves 8-10

8 ounces (2 cups) dried black eyed peas (soaked overnight and drained)
1/2 pound lean bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups long grain rice, rinsed in cold water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or to taste

1.  Prepare the peas.  Rinse and drain the peas.  In a large soup pot or kettle, place the peas and pour in enough cold water to cover by 1 inch, about 6 cups.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium low, cover and simmer until the peas are tender, 40-45 minutes.

2.  Prepare the vegetables.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon, stirring often until crisp and the fat is rendered.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat.  Add the onion, celery and green pepper.  Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until softened, 5-7 minutes.   Add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer.  Stir in the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent, about 5 minutes. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Stir the rice mixture into the peas, cover tightly and reduce the heat to low.  Cook until the rice is dry and fluffy, 20-30 minutes.  Fluff the rice with a fork and season with salt and pepper and Tabasco sauce.  Add the cooked bacon just before serving. 

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