Stir-Fried Veggies and Tofu

stir-fry veggies

What makes a good stir-fry?

Sometimes all I want for dinner is a big bowl of steaming rice (or noodles) topped with stir-fried veggies, tofu, perhaps a little meat, and, maybe (always) a fried egg. And so, my friends, I ask you, what makes a good stir-fry?

Is it the farmers’ market veggies?

Is it the wok?

Is it the non-farmers’ market add-ins?

Is it how the veggies are chopped?

Is it the sauce?

Stir-Fry Sauce
Adapted from this 1995 Bon Appetite recipe

¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Sherry
1 T. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. orange zest

Whisk ingredients. Set aside until ready to cook.

Note: I often add some finely minced ginger as well. It adds a wonderful flavor.

Is it the rice?
(This is brown basmati, but I would love to get my hands on some of that short-grained brown rice served at Chinese restaurants.)

Is it the Sriracha?
Dousing the bowl with Sriracha is a must.

Simple Stir-Fry:

I wish I could give more detailed instructions/measurements, but this truly is a no-measure recipe.

1. Cook rice — whatever you like. Set aside. Prepare sauce (recipe above). Set aside.

2. Chop all of your ingredients. The stir-fry takes five minutes of cooking once all the veggies are prepared, so it’s best to have everything chopped ahead of time. This is what I used: onion, cabbage, baby bok choy, rapini, cilantro, snow peas, zucchini, scallions, tofu and peanuts. Be sure to wash the bok choy.

3. Heat wok with about one tablespoon of canola oil until smoking hot. (Alternatively, heat wok without oil, then add oil once hot — I’m not really sure what the difference is, but I think it depends on your pan.) Add tofu cubes and let brown until nice and crispy on one side, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove tofu from wok and set aside.

4. Add onions and zucchini to wok. Let cook until onions are slightly browned. Refrain from stirring — just let the vegetables brown. Add the cabbage, rapini, and bok choy and cook for another two minutes. Stir briefly. Add, the snow peas, scallions, cilantro and peanuts. Add about a ¼ cup (or less) of the sauce and let cook for about a minute. Add the tofu. Turn off the heat. Top rice with veggies and douse with Sriracha.

Pizza Pizza

pizza7

I am resolved. I am resolved never to make another recipe for pizza dough. Seriously. This is it. My family has been making this recipe for years and it is incredibly delicious. Tried and True. Foolproof. No tweaking necessary. Caramelized onions, grapes (or figs), gorgonzola and mascapone (or some other creamy cheese like ricotta) is one of our favorite combinations.

These strong feelings stem partly from several recent failed experiments but also because I am realizing now truly wonderful homemade pizza is. Really, for me, the idea of a perfect dinner is this: several of these thin-crust pizzas (each topped differently), a salad (a homemade Caesar salad sounds nice at the moment) and a glass of wine.

I can think of only one thing that might — MIGHT — improve this recipe: A wood-burning oven. Which I intend to build soon. Or, let’s say within the next six months. Seriously. It only takes a day-and-a-half to build. It’s just a matter of getting organized. I saw the construction of a wood-burning, adobe oven in San Francisco at Slow Food Nation last month, and I have been wanting my very own ever since. There are two pics at the bottom of this post of the oven I plan to build and there are several other pictures of the adobe-oven-making process here.

This recipe yields enough dough to serve about 6 to 8 people. I am submitting this recipe to the World Food Day blog event. Created by Val of More Than Burnt Toast and Ivy of Kopiaste, this event seeks to raise awareness about world hunger: Around the globe there are 862 million undernourished people. Since 1945, October 16 marks World Food Day, an event created by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. To participate in the blog event, follow these instructions.

Want to build your own adobe oven, too? Buy this book: Build Your Own Earth Oven. I met the authors at SFN and they were pretty awesome. I also just found this article on Sunset.com — it might be interesting to compare the two methods: Sunset’s Classic Adobe Oven

These pizzas take about 10 minutes at 500ºF. When they emerge from the oven, all they need is a sprinkling of fresh herbs and perhaps, but not critically, a drizzling of olive oil.


One key to making a good pizza is this: keep toppings to a minimum. A thin layer of yummy ingredients is all this is needed. It helps keep the crust crisp and allows you to taste the dough. (I may have over done it a bit here. Refraining from overloading the dough is a true skill.)

This adobe oven was made in one-and-a-half days. Supplies, if I recall correctly, cost under $50. I am dying to make one.


Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes 4 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. (Or knead by hand. I have not had luck making this in the food processor — the engine starts smoking after about five minutes.) Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, under 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin (or continue using floured hands if you are skilled at making pizzas) and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.

Note: This dough freezes beautifully. After the initial rise, punch down the dough, wrap it in plastic and place in a Ziplock bag. Freeze for several months. When ready to use, let sit at room temperature for about an hour, then proceed with rolling/topping/baking.

Baking:

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper. Place rolled out dough onto parchment paper. Drizzle dough with a little olive oil and with your hand, rub it over the surface to coat evenly.

2. Top with a thin layer of your choice toppings. Here I used caramelized onions, grapes, gorgonzola and mascapone cheese. (The mascapone is really wonderful). Place in your very hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until the crust is slightly brown and the cheese is melting.

3. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh basil. A drizzling of extra-virgin olive oil is nice. I used a little bit of truffle oil, which would be wonderful over a mushroom pizza.

Swiss Chard Tart

cuttart2

I have an excellent recipe for a buttery, cornmeal tart shell. It NEVER fails to please. Why then, I ask you, must I continue to experiment with other recipes? Oiy. Rarely do they measure up. Tonight I’m annoyed. Truly. I mean, this tart would have been unbelievably delectable had I just stuck to the tried-and-true recipe I know.

Alas. This tart closely resembles the breakfast pizza I made several months ago. The topping is nearly identical: sautéed Swiss chard with garlic, grated cheese (whatever you have on hand), and a couple of eggs — a combination I really adore. OK, fine, I adore eggs on everything, but you know what I mean.

So, I can’t in good conscience leave you with a foolproof recipe today, but I can give you some guidance. Use this recipe for the tart shell and follow this recipe for the topping. Combine the two and you’ll likely create a yummy dinner. Again, I regret, I am leaving you with yet another recipe that must be revisited shortly.

My Swiss chard plants are still going strong. In fact, they have been consistently productive since I planted them. For all of you novice gardeners out there, Swiss chard is a great vegetable to start a garden with — it is easy to grow and very tasty.

Leftover Tortillas? Make a Quiche

tortillaquiche

I hate wasting food. I really do. But sometimes, I stash things in the freezer merely to avoid the guilt of trashing food at the present moment. By “things” I mean 4 tortillas or 6 egg whites or the heels of a loaf of bread. I have good intentions. I really do. With the tortillas, I envision making a quick wrap for lunch one day. With the egg whites, an angel food cake. With the bread, homemade croutons.

These things sit — preserved, certainly — but effectively, trashed. Inevitably, I clean out the freezer several months down the road and toss the cracked tortillas and frost-encrusted heels of bread into the garbage can.

Anyway, last weekend, I rescued four flour tortillas from meeting their cold fate. When I spotted them in my fridge, I recalled a recipe I had seen on the Blue Heron Farm Web site for asparagus quiche that used tortillas as a shell. And then I played a game called “use every possible item of food in your fridge that can be sautéed and packed into a quiche shell.” Never played? Give it a go. It’s a great time. What’s most fun about the game is that there are no rules: Expiration dates should be overlooked; mold, scraped away and sent down the disposal; shriveled, wilted vegetables, scrubbed and chopped as if they were new.

I wish I could say I were exaggerating. I’m not. I cut off serious mold from a pepper. I gave a block of cheese a chemical peel. I browned a questionable piece of several-days-old hamburger meat. The result? A yummy yummy quiche.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Step 2: Prep your ingredients. Here I have 1 bell pepper, 1 zucchini, 2 chipotles in adobo, 1 hot chili pepper, 1 tomato, leftover sautéed leeks, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and cilantro. Cook your ingredients. Sauté peppers and onions and such together. (I also had a leftover uncooked hamburger patty, so about 6 ounces of ground beef.) Season with salt and pepper. Add zucchini and tomatoes and cooked leeks. Add cilantro at the end. Note: This is just what I had on hand — use anything you have.

Step 3. Line a buttered dish, such as a 9-inch round baking or pie pan, with about 4 tortillas.Whisk together 3 eggs with 1/2 cup of milk in a large bowl. Add the prepped ingredients. Add the cheese and stir.

Step 4. Pour into prepared tortilla-lined pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until set. Mixture should jiggle just slightly when shaken.

Step 5: Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before cutting. Ta-da! A simple simple quiche.

Farmers’ Market Quesadillas

vegquesadilla

I found corn masa! Real corn masa. Like freshly made every day corn masa. El Toro Rojo (in my town, San Clemente) receives a delivery of this tortilla base every day precisely because real corn masa perishes that quickly.

Tonight, I made quesadillas following a method prescribed in Rick Bayless’ Mexico One Plate at a Time cookbook.  In this method, the freshly pressed, uncooked tortillas are placed on a hot griddle. The filling gets placed atop the side facing up (the uncooked side), and the tortilla is folded over and pressed to create the traditional half-moon shape. The tortilla gets flipped back and forth every minute or so and cooks in less than five minutes. I worried about the uncooked side tasting, well, uncooked, but it doesn’t — it becomes wonderfully crispy and golden on the outside while the cheese melts and the filling all melds together.

Now, if you can’t find fresh corn masa, don’t fret. This vegetable sauté will taste delectable in any tortilla. Just use whatever variety of flour or corn tortillas you prefer. In fact, while I am thrilled with the results of the fresh corn masa tortilla, this recipe is all about the filling: quickly sautéed farmers’ market veggies mixed with chopped fresh basil and topped with grated cheddar cheese. I used corn, zucchini, poblano peppers, onion and cherry tomatoes, but use whatever vegetables you find. I am loving the taste of corn with basil right now. Such a good combination.

Once the vegetables are all chopped, this sauté takes five minutes to complete. Use high heat and cook the peppers and onions first. Add the corn with the zucchini once the onion bits look a little brown. Cook for another minute or so, and add the chopped cherry tomatoes and basil at the end with the pan off the heat.

So, I made this filling for quesadillas, but this quick sauté could be served over rice or mixed with orecchiette pasta (the perfect shape for vegetables this size) or served with polenta or whatever. I have a feeling a poached or fried egg atop this vegetable medley would only enhance its deliciousness. Try it! It is so yummy.


Farmers’ Market Quesadillas
Serves Two

1 onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 ear corn, kernels scraped from cob
1 zucchini, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
basil to taste, chopped

olive oil
kosher salt
Tabasco, optional

Tortillas, corn or flour
Cheddar cheese, grated
Salsa, sour cream and lime for serving, optional

1. Over high heat, sauté the onion and pepper together until the onion looks slightly browned. Add the zucchini and corn and cook for one to two minutes. Season the whole mixture with salt to taste. Turn off the heat and add the cherry tomatoes and basil. Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary. Add a splash of Tabasco if desired.

2. Proceed with your preferred recipe for quesadillas. (See below if using fresh corn masa.) Here is a good method: Brush a cast iron or non-stick pan with a thin coating of olive oil. Place a flour tortilla in the pan and brush it lightly with olive oil. When the underside starts to get little light brown bubbles, turn the tortilla over and top it with the cheese and vegetable mixture. Fold the tortilla in half so it looks like a half moon. Place a smaller cast iron pan on top to weight down the tortilla. When one side is brown, flip over the tortilla and brown the other side. Make sure that the tortilla cooks until it almost could crack like a bisquit. You’ll have to play with the heat — it should be hot enough to brown, but not to burn.

3. Rick Bayless’ method for using freshly made masa tortillas: (Note: see below for instructions on how to make the tortillas themselves.) Heat a well-seasoned or nonstick skillet over medium heat. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. One by one, make the quesadillas. Lightly brush one side of each tortilla with oil, then lay it oiled side down on the hot griddle. Spread with a thin layer of cheese, leaving a 1/4-inch border all around. Spoon the vegetable filling into the center of the cheese-covered tortilla. When the cheese begins to melt, but before the tortilla begins to crisp, fold the tortilla in half to create a half moon. Cook, flipping the tortilla every minute or so, until the cheese is completely melted and the tortilla crisps, about five minutes. (I only flipped once, and my quesadilla probably cooked for about 3 minutes.) As each quesadilla is done, transfer it to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven.

4. Serve with salsa, sour cream and lime wedges.


Making tortillas. Rick Bayless’ method:

1. Knead the masa with just enough water to make it soft (like cookie dough) but not sticky. The softer the dough, the more tender the tortillas — but don’t make it so soft it sticks to your hands. (Note: I purchased my fresh masa at El Toro Rojo, and I didn’t need to add any water to the mixture.)

2. Open the tortilla press and lay one square of plastic wrap on the bottom plate. Scoop out a walnut-sized piece of dough, roll it into a ball and center it on the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic wrap. Close the press and use the handle to flatten the ball into a 5- to 6-inch disk. Turn the plastic-covered disk of masa 180 degrees and press gently to even the thickness.

3. Open the press and peel off plastic. Proceed with quesadilla recipe (above) or line a sheet pan with parchment paper and top with your pressed tortillas. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to cook.

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread (Pappa Al Pomodoro)

At an adorable café in San Clemente, a bowl of tomato-and-bread soup sent four ladies knocking on the kitchen’s door. Through an open window, the women praised the chef for his creation, swooning over the soup’s deep, rich flavors, begging him to disclose any secrets. Flattered and unafraid to share, the chef rattled off the ingredients: tomatoes, basil, onions, bread, salt.

The women stared in disbelief. They wanted something more. They wanted to hear that the soup was drizzled with white truffle oil; that it was lightened with a goats’-milk foam; that it was finished with an 80-year Xeres vinegar. Alas, simplicity, it seems, triumphs again.

Several of you out there recommended I roast or dry my small tomato harvest and store the tomatoes indefinitely in my freezer or fridge to be used as I please. I did in fact follow these instructions, but upon hearing this exchange between the chef and patrons at Cafe Mimosa last week, I couldn’t resist pureeing my tomatoes into a soup. Roasting, I discovered, sweetens and intensifies the tomato flavor, making the need for any exotic, unexpected flavorings unnecessary. Chef Tim Nolan surely wasn’t holding anything back. This rustic soup originates in Tuscany and, like so many traditional recipes — panzanella salad, bread pudding, bruschetta, French toast — was created as a way to prevent day-old bread from going to waste. Simplicity (as well as bread) is the common denominator of all of these recipes.

Whether the soup at Cafe Mimosa is vegetarian or not, I do not know, but my vegetables certainly needed some sort of a stock to bring the mixture to soup consistency. I used chicken stock and coarsely pureed the mixture with a large bunch of basil and a few dried out pieces of a French boule. Many of the recipes I found on the web for pappa al pomoodoro called for a fair amount of olive oil, but I didn’t think this soup needed any more than what was used while roasting them. Adjust this recipe, however, according to your liking — this batch of soup has been made completely to taste. If you start with a base of slow roasted tomatoes, onions, garlic and shallots, I assure you your soup will be a success. Served with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and a piece of crusty bread, pappa al pomodoro makes a wonderful late summer meal.


Slow roasted tomatoes, onions, shallots and garlic form the base of this Tuscan tomato soup.

Roasted Tomato Soup Thickened with Bread
Inspired By Café Mimosa’s Tomato Bread Soup
Yield = 1½ to 2 quarts

Notes: I now use water, not stock, in this recipe. See updated recipe here.

tomatoes, halved if large, left whole if cherry or grape, enough to fill a sheet tray
1 onion, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 shallot, peeled and chopped into big chunks
1 head garlic, cloves removed and peeled
a few carrots, peeled and cubed
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper

3-4 slices bread (French or Italian)
about 2 cups chicken stock (or water), preferably homemade or a low-sodium variety
1 bunch fresh basil
crushed red pepper flakes
Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and crusty bread for serving, optional

Note: This recipe is all done to taste. Adjust as necessary.

1. Roast the vegetables. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a rimmed sheet tray with all of the vegetables. This tray should be filled in a single layer. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand — I threw in the carrots because I had them, but leeks, celery, thyme etc. would all make nice additions. Drizzle olive oil over top. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and roast for about three hours until vegetables are soft and slightly caramelized.

2. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Slice the bread into ½-inch thick pieces. Place on the counter to dry or toast briefly in the toaster. You just want to dry out the bread; you’re not trying to brown it.

3. Puree the soup. When the vegetables are done, place them in a pot with chicken stock. To give you a rough idea, I had about 5 cups of roasted vegetables and used about 2½ cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Season with a pinch of salt and crushed red pepper flakes if using. Add the bunch of basil. Break two slices of bread into medium-sized cubes and add to the pot. Using an emersion blender or food processor or traditional blender, puree the soup roughly. It should be slightly chunky. Taste and add more salt or bread if necessary. Add more stock until soup reaches desired consistency.

Note: If you leave this soup relatively chunky, it would make a wonderful sauce for pasta.

Fish Tacos, Whisk n’ Ladle, Mango-Jicama Slaw, MSC-Certified Halibut & Reamers

MangoJicama

I’m feeling sort of overwhelmed by everything I want to fit into this post. Bullet points, I hope, will help my cause.

• So, after a week of feasting, I considered, for the first time ever, making tofu for dinner. As I passed down the freezer aisle of Ralph’s, however, a blue-and-white label caught my eye. Much to my surprise (and delight), that label marked an MSC-certified package of halibut steaks. Unlike many labels today, an MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) label truly means something — it is a guarantee for consumers that the purchase of the product will not contribute to the social and environmental problems of overfishing. It also guarantees that the fishermen receive a fair price for their catch. Holding the world’s most rigorous sustainability standard, the MSC has awarded their coveted eco-label to only 31 fisheries worldwide. (You might recall that American Tuna also bears the MSC label.)

• With my discovery, I took the opportunity to make a dish I have been meaning to make since dining with my cyber friend, Melanie Lytle, of Livin La Vida Local at Whisk n’ Ladle in La Jolla. This restaurant strives to use all local ingredients and makes nearly everything in house, including the delectable scone — pistachio-orange, if I recall correctly — with which I began this memorable brunch. (Incidentally, Melanie has just completed a year of eating locally: Read her Long-Winded Summary To a Year of Eating Locally here.)

• Last night, I discovered that the mango-jicama slaw served with the tilapia fish tacos at WnL is surprisingly easy to recreate. Please don’t be frightened or turned off by the idea of julienning or using a mandoline. Dicing the fruit would be just as tasty and effective. In diced form, in fact, the mixture becomes even more versatile — it could be served with tortilla chips or toasted baguette slices for a nice appetizer. Really, this slaw could not be simpler to prepare — you just mix everything together and season with salt and fresh lime juice according to taste. It could be served with chicken, beef, maybe even tofu.

• Last night I also got over the idea that fish should never be frozen. These frozen halibut steaks fried up beautifully, and once wrapped in the tortilla, spread with a dab of sriracha-sour cream and topped with this tasty slaw, the fish becomes a second-string player. Fresh fish, in a way, is better used for simpler preparations, with lemon and herbs, for example, where the flavors of the fish can really shine.

• Lastly, a word about reamers: There is no better tool, I profess, for extracting juice from citrus fruit than a wooden reamer. This one from Sur La Table is fantastic.


Fish Tacos with Mango-Jicama Slaw
Inspired by tacos recently savored at Whisk n’ Ladle restaurant in La Jolla. This recipe calls for julienning the jicama and mangoes, but dicing the fruit will work, too. In fact, this mixture, in diced form, would be yummy served with chips.

For the Slaw:
1 jicama, peeled
2 mangoes, not too ripe, peeled
1 small red onion, peeled, diced to yield about ¾ cup
1-2 chili peppers such as Thai bird or jalapeno or Serrano, finely diced
cilantro to taste, washed and chopped
kosher salt
1-2 limes

1. Using a mandoline, julienne the jicama to yield about 2 cups. Place in a large bowl. Julienne the mangoes (to yield about 2 cups as well) and add to the bowl. (Alternatively, just dice the fruit.) Add the onions, peppers and cilantro to the bowl. Season with a big pinch of salt. Juice one lime over top of the mixture. (A reemer is a great tool for this step.) Toss gently, then taste. Adjust with more lime juice or salt. Set aside until ready to serve. Note: Can be made ahead, but not too far ahead — no more than an hour is ideal.

Sriracha-Sour Cream
Whisk n’ Ladle spread some sort of creamy, tomato salsa across their tortillas. It definitely was something more substantial than sriracha sauce, but this combination served the purpose quite nicely.

1. Mix sriracha with sour cream according to taste.

Assemble the tacos:

fish: Any white fish — halibut, tilapia, cod, sea bass, etc. — works really nicely in fish tacos. I found MSC-certified halibut steaks in my Ralph’s freezer section.
small, white flour tortillas

1. Heat the oven to about 450ºF. Wrap as many tortillas you want in foil and place in the oven to keep warm. Make sure the tortillas are hot and pliable before serving.

2. Season the fish lightly with kosher salt. Pan-fry or grill the fish until done.

3. To assemble, spread a small amount of the sriracha-sour cream on the bottom of the taco. Top with the fish. Top with the slaw. Repeat.

When you see this blue-and-white eco-label, you can be confident your purchase has not contributed to overfishing or the harming of marine ecosystems. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the best environmental choice in seafood.

A dab (or a dousing) of sriracha mixed with sour cream adds a nice kick to fish tacos.

Fish En Papillote

fish en papillote

fish en papillote

I have decided I sound too freaky to speak on camera.

And so, I present to you a silent film: Fish en Papillote:


(The video seems to stall a bit at 1:18. Just help it along by scrolling past that point.)

Yesterday, 2,438 miles away from me, two very good friends resolved to make fish en papillote for their Sunday night dinner. I tried to explain the process to them via a series of emailed pictures, but I have yet to hear if they were any help. I hope this video might assist them in the future.

In any case, en papillote is currently my favorite way to prepare fish. These parchment packages are magical. How so? Let me tell you:

1. When cooked en papillote, a fish fillet retains its heat to the last bite. I love fish, but it’s tricky to cook — so easily overcooked — and it cools down quickly. These packages somehow manage to keep the fish fillets hot without drying them out one bit. And by keeping the fish piping hot, the en papillote method helps you eat more slowly, allowing you to savor your dinner, which I appreciate. I tend to eat very quickly. Like its a race or something.

2. Because I like to eat cake for breakfast these days, fish en papillote makes for a very healthy finish to the day. Seriously, not even a splash of olive oil or a dab of butter is used when assembling the packages. These added fats are truly unnecessary because all of the juices from the fish and the vegetables combine to make a nice little sauce. Served with a simple salad and homemade bread, fish en papillote makes a wonderful summer meal.

3. The packets can be prepared ahead of time — perfect for entertaining. I know summer is prime barbecue season, but it’s OK to give the grill a rest every now and then. You can still eat your en papillotes outside. (Warning: Because of the lemon juice and the salt, these packets should not be assembled for more than two or three hours ahead of time — I prepared them and stored them in the fridge for two hours when I made them for my parents last weekend.)

4. This recipe is so versatile. Although I’ve only experimented with sea bass and halibut, I suspect many fish species would take well to this preparation. Please let me know if you find success with any other varieties. Here, I’ve used Mexican sea bass because I can find it fresh at my Sunday farmers’ market.

Fill the packages with whatever you like: squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, scallions, herbs, etc.

The package keeps all of the juices inside, creating a steaming hot, tender, flaky package of goodness.

Ta-da! Perfectly cooked fish every time. Seriously, this recipe is foolproof.

Fish en Papillote
Serves 4

4 18×13-inch (approximately) pieces parchment paper
about 16 leaves Swiss chard, washed and dried
4 6-oz fish fillets, I buy the Mexican sea bass from my farmers’ market, but any fish will do
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons caper
2 lemons, quartered
½ cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup sliced zucchini
sliced basil, parsley or tarragon

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF.

2. Lay one sheet of parchment paper on the counter and fold it in half lengthwise just to make a crease. Open the parchment paper. Place about four leaves of Swiss chard in the center of the parchment paper just below the centerfold. Top with fish fillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with shallots and capers. Squeeze half a lemon on top and tuck lemon half next to fish. Sprinkle olives and tomatoes around fish.

3. Fold top half of paper over bottom half and begin folding tightly from the center to one of the sides. Go back to the center and fold tightly in the opposite direction. (See video for more assistance.)

4. Repeat with each fish. Place packages on a cookie sheet and cook about 10 minutes. (Estimate about 10 minutes per inch — if the fillets are a little bit thicker than one inch, add 1 or 2 minutes.)

Good Stock

Tinga

I’m sort of embarrassed about posting this video, but after I shot it, I couldn’t resist. I sound like such a freak. I’m pretty sure I don’t sound like that normally.

Anyway, I happened to be preparing tinga, which I’ve described before, and thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about stock. I know the thought of making stock from scratch can feel like a lot of work. But making stock really is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter. The gelatinous stock shown in the video was prepared with nothing more than chickens and water.

Let me tell you about this dish. I learned how to make it from a woman named Patricia who I worked with at Fork back in Philadelphia. Patricia often prepared tinga — chicken stewed with onions, tomatoes and chipotle in adobo sauce — for the “family meal” and served it with rice or soft tortillas. It’s incredibly delicious over crispy tortillas, too, served with a poached egg on top.

This recipe calls for one chicken, but it can be easily doubled. (Tinga freezes well — I have quarts of it ready to be thawed at a moment’s notice.) You also can make chicken stock with the carcass: After you pull off all of the meat, put the remaining bones back in the poaching liquid and let the mixture simmer for another couple of hours.

Chicken, pulled from its bones after simmering in water for about an hour.

Cilantro, soaking to remove dirt.

Chicken carcasses in water ready to be simmered.

Fat, scraped from a quart of chicken stock after sitting in the refrigerator overnight.

Stock, fat removed, ready to be frozen.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Note: As I mentioned above, making stock is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter.

These days, I simply remove the legs with their bones from a whole chicken (to be used for one meal) as well as the breasts (to be used for another meal) and throw the two wings and remaining carcass into the stock pot. (Watch the video here for help breaking down a chicken.) I cover these bones/meat with water and let simmer for about 2.5 hours without any additions (carrots, celery, etc.), and I get about 1.5 qts of really flavorful stock.

The below recipe is what my mother does, but truly, you don’t have to be so fussy.

3 lbs chicken, such as a whole chicken or wings or legs or just bones
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 onion, cut in half, studded with 4 cloves total (2 in each half)

1. Place chicken or chicken bones into a large pot. Add remaining ingredients. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the water is gently simmering. Scoop off and discard any scum that bubbles up at the surface. Let simmer for about 2 hours.

2. Place a colander over a large bowl. Pour contents of stock pot through the colander. Discard all of these pieces once they have cooled. Transfer stock to storage containers and place in the fridge overnight or until completely chilled and fat has formed a solid layer at the top of the container. Scoop off this fat and discard. Freeze stock or store in fridge for at least a week.

Mexican Tinga
Serves 8

1 3-4 lb. chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, sliced
1 small can chipotles
in adobo sauce
1½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch cilantro

1. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so the water just simmers, and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer chicken to a large bowl to cool. When chicken is completely cool, remove the meat from the skin and bones, and place in a clean bowl. (Place bones and skin in a pot, cover with water, and let simmer for several hours. Strain, and transfer the stock to plastic storage containers. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, scrape off the fat and discard. Freeze stock.)

2. In a medium-sized soup pot add the oil and place over medium heat. Sauté the onion over medium heat until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add 3 of the chipotles and 1 tablespoon of the sauce from the small can of chipotles (or, if you like spice, add the whole can as I did).

3. Stir for one minute until the onions are nicely coated in sauce, then add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Season with a pinch of salt, then add the chicken meat to the pot, breaking up the big chunks as you add the meat.

4. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture very gently for 30 minutes. Coarsely chop the cilantro, add to the pot and stir to incorporate. Taste mixture, add more salt if necessary. Can be made a day ahead. To reheat, simmer mixture very slowly adding chicken stock if liquid becomes too thick.

Onions and chipotles cooking before the chicken, stock and tomatoes are added.

Summer Squash Tart & Happy Fourth!

SummerSquashTart

Hi everyone. Happy Fourth. Just a quick post here. I made this tart, as you may recall, once last summer. This year’s version, made with squash entirely from my garden, is far more special.

I must admit, however, this recipe could be improved, namely because it calls for puff pastry. I don’t want to diss puff pastry or anything, but i’m just not wild about its taste. In a pinch, its great — it saved me this passed Monday when I needed to whip something up for a potluck. If I had more time, however, I might have experimented with a different base. The thin pizza dough, I don’t think would have held up too well for a potluck. A thicker pizza dough might work. Or a savory galette dough. Or the buttery cornmeal crust used in the heirloom tomato tart. I definitely want to try something other than puff pastry because everything else about the tart is great, from the ricotta-parsley spread to the caramelized onions to the blanched squash rounds to the barely melted feta crumbled on top at the last moments of baking.

Also, the pictures here show a tart that has been made with one-third of one sheet of puff pastry. The box I bought came with two units of puff pastry, and I used one and two-thirds for the potluck tart. I had left over ingredients and so made a mini tart, which I ate for breakfast on Tuesday.

Happy Fouth! Oh, and here’s a festive dessert for the holiday: Patriotic Ice Cream Sandwiches

First, you must blind bake the tart shell. I have a stash of beans I use over and over again for this purpose.


Then, you whisk together ricotta, parsley, an egg, and salt and pepper, and spread it across the bottom.

Then, you top the cheese spread with a layer of caramelized onions.

Then, you top the onions with blanched squash rounds. You bake it for 15-20 minutes. Brush it with butter. Bake it again. And you sprinkle on the feta and parsley at the very end.
Summer Squash Tart with Ricotta and Feta
Serves 6

1 10” x 13” sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
parchment paper
pie weights or dried beans wrapped in plastic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs. mix of zucchini and yellow squash
½ cup fresh ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
¼ cup feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place pastry on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. With a paring knife, gently score (being careful not to go all the way through) the pastry about one inch from the edge on all sides. Prick bottom of pastry all over with a fork, line center area only with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack. Remove weights and parchment paper.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and let sauté until slightly caramelized about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat to cool.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Cut the squash crosswise into ¼ – inch thick rounds. Add to the pot of boiling water, cook for 30 – 60 seconds, drain and let dry on a paper-towel lined cookie tray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spread onto puff pastry. Top with the onions. Arrange squash pieces in overlapping rows until tart is filled. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, brush with butter and return to the oven for five minutes longer. Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with feta, and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Lastly, Ben says Happy Fourth, too!