Sea Bass, Roasted Goodness

Augh, I’m so behind lately. It’s called, “I don’t handle humidity so well when I run, so I’m dead by the time I get home.” You can’t call it laziness if you crash as soon as you get home because of running, right?

Anyway, the other night I stumbled upon something kinda magical. I’ve used sea bass myriad times, frequently in fish tacos. It’s a substantial, almost buttery white fish that takes on different flavors so well. It’s a good fish to grill, but I’m coming to find that it’s especially flavorful when roasted. So, that’s what I did.

I adore rustic recipes, and I consider this to be one. A simple, lemony marinade really makes the tomato and fish sing, as cliche as that reads. It’s a bright, refreshing dish, the perfect way to start the summer send-off (thank god, because seriously humidity–I am done with you; but fresh seasonal tomatoes, I shall mourn your passing when the time comes).

My husband loved this one, and it’s earned sacred status as a possible pre-race meal. (His pre-race meal, mind you. I’ve tried fish the night before a race. Um, not a good idea. Not a good idea.)

Roasted Sea Bass and Tomatoes
Notes: I prefer to use a rainbow of cherry tomatoes as it makes for a more visually appealing dish. Tomatillos, which for some reason are often confused as being part of the pepper family, are actually of the ubiquitous nightshade family. Generally called “green tomatoes” in Mexico, they are the stars of salsa verde cruda (or tomatillo salsa). Tomatillos are tangy and complement the lemon used here quite well. If you don’t have easy access to locally grown tomatillos, just sub in more cherry tomatoes.

1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 tomatillos, husked, washed, and quartered
1 lemon
Fresh rosemary and oregano, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 lb. sea bass (I use chunks since that’s what our local fishmongers have on hand)

In a large mixing bowl, stir the tomatoes, tomatillos, a few zests of the lemon, the juice of half the lemon (the other half may be refrigerated or frozen for later use), chopped fresh herbs, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle enough olive oil in the bottom of a baking dish to coat; place in oven to allow the oil to heat.

While the oil is heating, add the sea bass chunks to the tomato mixture. Cover again with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes (do not leave any longer because the acidity of the lemon can actually cook the fish, which will leave you with ceviche, which isn’t a bad thing, but we’re roasting here).

Pour the fish/tomato mixture into the heated baking dish. Roast for 25 minutes or until fish is slightly golden on top and flakes easily with a fork.

Serve with a green salad or potatoes cooked to your liking (I went with what The Joy of Cooking called pan-broiled potato shreds, but really it was just hashbrowns. Don’t try to be fancy, Joy of Cooking.)

The Great Cornbread Debate

I have to admit, it’s going to be hit and miss around here during the next week due to deadlines, of both the full-time and the freelance nature. You may see a guest post from my husband in the meantime. I don’t know. I’ve kind of usurped the kitchen the past 5 years, so he’s not sure what he can cook other than a killer PB&J sandwich. At any rate, this may have to tide you over for a few days until I can come back up for air.

So, cornbread. I know there’s debate among cornbread lovers whether it should be sweet or savory. I don’t really care which is right or wrong. I just know what I prefer, and it’s usually cornbread with a touch of sweetness. If you prefer the savory, just leave out the honey from the recipe below. Simple solution; no need to get your panties in a bunch. Really, there’s much more to worry about than cornbread.

I made up this recipe, so it could use some fine tuning (like more honey). But, for the first go-round, it did the job pretty well (meaning it was at least edible). When coming up with new recipes, I find it’s best to turn on some Alabama Shakes and just go for it. Sometimes with a beer as a backup confidence booster. Also, it’s apparently necessary that I burn the shit out of myself at some point.

I baked the cornbread for 20 minutes, and it came out a mix between cake-y and spoon bread consistency, which I actually prefer. Obviously, if you want less spoon bread consistency, bake it 5 or so more minutes.

The yogurt? Some cornbread calls for sour cream, and this is about as close as I could come given what was in our fridge. I decided I wanted a bite of heat in the cornbread, thus the jalapenos. If you don’t like them, just leave ’em out. The same with the corn. It’s all subjective, all up to you, but below is the basis I used. I served this with catfish and tomato “jam” (although I decided to just grill the catfish and season it with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika). To counterbalance the jalapeno, I just threw together a cold salad of chopped watermelon (an ingredient I’m currently obsessed with), chopped cucumber, and some mint.

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Cornbread
3 jalapenos, whole
Kernels from 3 ears of fresh corn
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. soft white flour (aka pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/4 c. yogurt (I use a raw yogurt, but Greek yogurt or sour cream would probably be comparable here)
1/2 c. milk
1/2 Tbsp. honey
Duck fat or oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of duck fat (or oil) into a glass baking dish or roasting pan and place in the oven to heat. When the fat/oil is heat, carefully add the jalapenos and corn kernels; roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and honey. Fold the egg mixture into the flour, stirring until just combined. Set aside.

When the jalapenos/corn are finished roasting, remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of fat/oil into a small cast iron pan and place in oven to heat.

While the pan and fat/oil warm, add the roasted corn kernels to the cornbread mixture. Slice the jalapenos (either with or without seeds; with seeds will add more heat) and add to the cornbread mixture. Stir until the corn and jalapenos are incorporated.

Remove the cast iron pan from the oven, drop in the cornbread mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes (see above notes for consistency/baking times).

Serve warm with honey, butter, or a great piece of fish.

 

Thighs ‘n Veggies

I can make a mean mess in the kitchen and somehow end up using every pot and pan within reach. That’s why one-dish dinners are appreciated around here, especially by my husband who normally takes on the task of washing whatever I dirty.

Most of my one-dish dinners are kind of a spinoff of a Jamie Oliver recipe. They’re simple, rustic (my favorite kind of presentation), and feature lemon. And yes, I know lemon isn’t locally sourced around here, but I balance it out (hopefully) by buying from a local store, not one of the chains. Trust me, if lemons could grow around here, we would have an entire backyard.

Roast dishes should never be limited to the fall/winter because they are a great way to utilize seasonal veggies. Of course, a more summery version is going to include tomatoes, squash, onions, etc. In the fall/winter, root vegetables can easily replace the ingredients used here.

To top the dish off, I went with gremolata (because I just can’t serve something without a green in it). It’s a simple condiment, traditionally accompanying ossobuco and made with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. I subbed in basil and added olive oil and some salt, just because I think recipes are made to be adapted (and I kinda hate parsley). At any rate, gremolata adds a nice “pop” of bright flavors and could easily be used on fish, steak, etc. Since herbs are so abundant during the summer, it’s easy to locally source leafy ones (or, even better, to grow some at home with minimal space needed).

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Summer Vegetables (serves: 2, with some veggies leftover)
Note: It takes some time, but you may want to pick out the lemons before serving so no one accidentally takes a big bite. Especially if you use yellow squash. Trust me. It’s hard to spy the difference when you’re hungry.

1 lb. chicken thighs
1 lemon, thinly sliced (If you make gremolata, just use the lemon you zested.)
2-3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 c. assortment of seasonal vegetables (carrots, onions, yellow squash, etc.)
1 Tbsp. duck fat (or olive oil)
Salt
Pepper

Put the duck fat (or olive oil) in a large glass casserole dish. Place the dish in the oven while heating the oven to 400 degrees (this warms the fat and helps prevent sticking). When the oven has heated, add to your dish the chicken thighs, lemon, garlic, and vegetables and toss to coat with the fat/oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring the vegetables halfway through. The chicken should get brown and golden on top. (Alternately, if you want brown, crispy thigh skin all over, sear the chicken while the veggies roast the first 20 minutes. Then, add the chicken for the remaining roasting time.)

Serve over a bed of rice (we went with a wild rice medley) and top with the gremolata (below).

Gremolata
Note: The traditional parsley could be used here instead of basil.

Zest of 1 lemon
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 c. basil, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt

Mix the lemon zest, garlic, and basil. Add the olive oil and season with salt.

What She Order, Fish Filet?

The title seemed appropriate given that this has been stuck in my head and sea bass was on the King menu.

For once, I decided not to do fish tacos (because I’ve had WAY too many carbs swimming around in my tummy lately). Instead, I wanted fish and pasta and tomatoes. But what to do when I didn’t want any more processed carbs? Zucchini and squash!

Yep, there’s a hella easy way to use up that excess zucchini and squash that doesn’t involve baking: faux pasta. It’s simple, it tastes just as substantial as pasta, but without all the guilt. Topping it off with some roasted tomatoes and nectarines (inspired by a recent trip to River and Rail, have you guys made your reservations yet?!) is a great, summery take on the classic pasta and tomato sauce. Sea bass holds up well, with a crispy exterior and a moist, fatty, almost meaty texture on the inside. But, any white fish could be just as good here. I opt to treat fish simply–just some salt and pepper, perhaps a little lemon. Quality fish doesn’t need much else.

The side here was just sweet potato fries: slice sweet potatoes into matchsticks of desired thickness, coat in olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 to 1 tsp. garam masala (a classic Indian spice), drizzle with honey, and season with salt. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Roasted Tomatoes and Nectarines (serves: 2, with some leftovers)
Note: I prefer to use a mix of tomatoes, both in size and in taste. For this, I used cherry, Roma, zebra, and golden tomatoes. It’s just much prettier in presentation. Nectarines are perfect with tomatoes; remember, both are fruits.
1 lb. assorted, fresh tomatoes, quartered if they are larger (no need to cut the cherry tomatoes)
1 to 2 nectarines, sliced into 1-inch chunks
Olive oil
Salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat the bottom of a glass casserole dish or roasting pan with olive oil. Add the tomatoes/nectarines, drizzle with more olive oil, and season with salt. Roast for 35 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Zucchini and Squash “Pappardelle” (serves: 2)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 small or 1 large zucchini
3 small or 1 large squash
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Heat over medium low enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a saute pan. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini and squash into thin ribbons (mimicking the look of pappardelle; you’ll end up with about 4 cups). Add the minced garlic to the saute pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini/squash mixture, drizzle with more olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

Grilled Sea Bass (serves: 2, with leftovers)
Note: A thinner white fish could be used here; just reduce the grilling time.
1 lb. sea bass (our fish peeps remove the skin, but skin-on is fine), cut into 2 to 3 strips
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat over medium high enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a grill pan. When heated, add the fish and grill for about 20 minutes. (You want the exterior to be crunchy and golden.) Place over the zucchini/squash “pappardelle” and top with the roasted tomatoes and nectarines.

Fun to say, just as easy to make: Gazpacho

Gazpacho. It just sounds fun, right? Even better? It’s simple. I’m talking 10-15 minutes of simplicity. And it doesn’t require heat, which is a bonus in this jungle-like weather we’re experiencing lately. (Which hasn’t exactly stopped me from cranking the oven up to roast a chicken. I’m a gluttonous sadist like that sometimes.)

I don’t remember the first time I had gazpacho, but I know it wasn’t in a restaurant. I know I made it, and I believe I used a recipe from Joy of Cooking. I’ve since found you don’t really need a recipe for this. The bases of gazpacho are innumerable; there are versions utilizing day-old bread or avocado, versions topped with ceviche, others enhanced with stock. But, when local markets such as ours are rife with heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, I say go with the tried and true, the simple and classic.

As long as you prep your mise en place (which is just a fancy way of saying you have all of your shit together and ready to go), this takes no time at all.

The start of prepping mise en place.

This is taking fresh, local ingredients, giving them a rough chop, and throwing them in the food processor. (Which isn’t to say the culinary history of gazpacho is simple. As with all foods, I encourage anyone interested in cooking to conduct a little research into what it is they are fixing, particularly if the food’s roots are found within another food culture. A little extra education never hurt anyone–unless it involves educating yourself about something illegal, in which case, nevermind–plus I guarantee you’ll discover new ways to utilize ingredients or enhance a meal.)

Because I’m also a sucker for fresh corn during the summer months (just ask my husband who is probably about two weeks shy of asking me when I’m going to stop using it so much), I served grilled corn on the cob as a side. (If you leave some husk intact, it makes for a more rustic presentation, or just a handy way to grab the corn and tear into it, so really it’s fancy and utilitarian.)

Simple Gazpacho (serves: 2, with some leftovers)

Note: You can really alter the presentation of gazpacho depending on the color of tomatoes you utilize. I’ve used all red tomatoes here, hence the bright red presentation. Obviously if you use yellow tomatoes or ripe, green tomatoes (such as zebras), you’ll have a corresponding color presentation and a different taste. Likewise, you can use orange or yellow bell peppers instead of the green and red used here. If you want a thicker consistency, add day-old bread, roughly chopped. Or, you know, save the bread (um, preferably a fresher loaf) to serve on the side.

7-8 medium-sized heirloom tomatoes, cored and quartered

1/2 medium red onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 to 1 roasted red bell pepper (I made a batch of these a day or two prior, so I really wasn’t counting this step. So, I totally lied to those of you without roasted red peppers on hand. No worries, though–simply roast whole or halved peppers drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt in a 400-degree oven for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway through. Afterwards, place in a paper bag and let cool. When cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin, which should slip off easily at that point. Feel free to bitch about how I said earlier this whole thing takes 10-15 minutes to throw together. Whatever–just take it as a lesson to always have roasted red peppers on hand. Seriously, they pep up other soups and are great on salads or egg sandwiches. Or in omelets. You know what? We’re even now because of all the extra meal ideas I just gave you, so no bitching.)

1 medium cucumber, seeds removed and roughly chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed and roughly chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

2 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar (sherry or red wine vinegar could be subbed here)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp. salt

3-4 dashes hot sauce or 1 roasted jalapeno (optional)

In a food processor or blender, pulse all ingredients until desired consistency is reached. (I prefer a smoother soup, so I pulsed this about 30 times. If you like it chunkier, pulse less.) Taste and season with more salt as needed.

Grilled Corn with Cilantro-lime Butter

Olive oil

2 ears of fresh corn, husks peeled back and silk removed (husks should remain intact if you want a more fresh-from-the-farm look)

Cilantro-lime butter (I’ve cheated and used butter from a terrific vendor at our market, but you could make some at home by smashing chopped fresh cilantro and lime zest into softened butter. Or, you could use an herb such as rosemary or oregano with lemon zest. It’s butter. You’re not going to screw it up if it’s of good quality to start. That means no margarine. Seriously. Chuck it and get real butter.)

Heat over medium high enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your grill pan. Place the corn on the grill with the husks slightly draped across the side to avoid burning. Grill for about 15-20 minutes, rotating the corn every few minutes so each side makes direct contact with the grill pan. (And yes, there will be much popping occurring in your kitchen with the corn placed directly on a hot surface. Don’t worry, though; after the first one or two times, you’ll get used to it and stop yelling, “What the hell was that?!” It’s fine, relax. Or, if you want to avoid a possible coronary, pull the husks back up around the corn after you’ve de-silked the ears and let soak in water for about 30 minutes prior to grilling. Me? I like to be kept on my toes in the kitchen.) Remove, plate up, and serve with the cilantro-lime (or other flavored) butter.

Twisting Classics: Julia Child’s Roast Chicken with Grilled Grits Cakes and Peaches

For lovers of all things food, whether professionals or home cooks, Julia Child (who would be celebrating her 100th birthday next month) is one of those models of excellence. To me, she’s simply a class act and represented all I wanted to become: a chef who came into her own at a not-so-tender age, confident, striking, bold enough to get on TV and suggest that if you drop a chicken just pick it up and move along (if the guests aren’t in the kitchen, they won’t see your mistakes). She also inspired some of my favorite “Cosby Show” scenes during which Cliff Huxtable would mimic her unique timbre.

I envied, and still do, Julia’s life as a cook, and I still look to that classic French cookbook for guidance (even reading the section about how to properly handle a knife worked wonders).

By now, that cookbook automatically falls open to one section: roast chicken. It’s a butter-spattered page, one well used. I think it was Anthony Bourdain (or maybe I just like attributing most culinary wisdom to him because he’s just as equally inspiring as Julia: everyone needs a little devil on their shoulder dropping the f-bomb once in a while in the kitchen) who once said that all home cooks should learn to roast chicken. And for good reason. When done right, it’s just simple perfection (although I admit my love of roast duck now exceeds my love of roast chicken). It’s versatile in that leftovers can be used for myriad purposes (sandwiches, soups, etc.). And really, it’s not a difficult meal to master. For the sake of full disclosure, yes, my roasting has resulted in quite a few dry chickens in the past, but that’s because I would always doubt myself. The trick here is one I follow when making anything involving yeast: just go into it sure of yourself. Be confident, be cocky. Success will happen, and the reward is slices of juicy chicken dripping with fat and oil, all surrounded by a perfectly salted, crispy skin. What more could you want?

Now, I’ve tried other roasted chicken methods. There are tons out there. But none–none–beat the Julia Child method. Yes, it requires extensive time at the stove (we’re talking more than an hour), but it’s a small sacrifice to pay. And yes, maybe this recipe is more suited to cooler, fall-like temperatures, but screw it. I want chicken, I fix chicken. The recipe involves flipping, basting, and (ugh) math. But don’t freak out. Just grab a pen and paper and write all the necessary times down in advance, using it as a checklist. (I’m sorry, I majored in communications, my brain is just automatically geared to hate numbers.) It beats the hell out of getting 30 minutes into the process and forgetting if you have another
10 minutes, or are you supposed to flip after this? Shit, I should have taken notes. So just, you know, take notes from the start.

I’ve labeled this entry “twisting classics” because the original recipe uses butter and oil with only salt sprinkled and butter smeared in the chicken cavity. (Yep, if you’re squeamish just reading the term “chicken cavity,” you’re not going to last long in this process because it involves the use of a whole chicken, not those sanitized chicken breasts. Just get over it and be thankful you didn’t have to cut the chicken’s neck and de-feather it.)

I’m not sure if what I’ve done here would make dear Julia roll over in her grave, but I did it anyway. I used cilantro-lime butter and stuffed the cavity with a cut lemon. I also added fresh, whole jalapenos during the roasting process in lieu of the traditional carrots (and to supplement an onion). I’m sorry Julia, I am, but if you tried the final result, you couldn’t possibly be upset with me. This was make-you-wanna-slap-your-mama-it’s-so-good chicken. (And I don’t know why you’d want to slap your mom if something is good, but there you have it.)

Technically, I can’t reprint the recipe because I don’t have permission from the publisher, and I didn’t adapt the recipe enough to really claim such. So, you know–go buy the cookbook. You’ll get your money’s worth with the roast chicken recipe alone, trust me. But don’t be afraid to change it up, as I’ve done. Add a lemon or even an orange or quartered apple in the chicken cavity (after salting and smearing with butter, of course). Try out a flavored butter (the cilantro-lime version can be made by smashing fresh cilantro
and lime zest into softened butter). Add veggies other than onions and carrots. Try out the jalapenos if you like some heat or toss in red peppers for a milder bite. But, above all, do not overcook your bird. If you’re at all hesitant, things will go wrong. Follow the cooking
times prescribed in the cookbook, bearing in mind that, as I’ve found, a chicken that has been purchased from a local farm (e.g., not stuffed to the gills with antibiotics) cooks faster than its less fortunate grocery store kin. (Yes, even if the fresh chicken has been previously frozen.) I used about a three-pound bird I purchased from a local farm (Weathertop Farm), so I opted for a 1:10 total roasting time. Eagle-eyed readers will note my “cheat sheet” says 1:20, but I backtracked because it’s always easier to stuff the
bird back in the oven to undergo some additional roasting than it is to recover
from a dried-out chicken.

Now, I can include my recipe for grilled peaches and grits cakes topped with feta, roasted onions, and honey. I’ve become fond of grilled fruits, especially peaches, which pair well here with the roasted onions and the creaminess of the grits. Remember my catfish n’ corn from the previous night? I made enough grits so that I could have some leftover for this meal. A simple way to use up leftover grits, as I’ve done here, is to pour them into a glass baking dish (I used an 8×8 dish), press the grits down into the pan to mold to its shape, then pop in the fridge to chill and set overnight. The next day, just slice and grill. They’re great topped savory or sweet, for breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner.

Grilled Peaches and Grits Cakes with Feta and Honey (serves: 2)

Olive oil

2 ripe peaches, peeled

4-5 slices of grits cakes (see above method)

Roasted onions (these were roasted with the chicken, but you could easily roast whole onions for about 40-50 minutes in a 400-degree oven)

Fresh feta (I prefer locally made, but whatever you have available)

Honey

Over medium high, heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your grill pan. Add the grits cakes on one side of the pan, the peaches on the other. Drizzle both with more olive oil. Grill about 8 minutes per side, or until grill marks form. Plate the grits cakes, top with the roasted onions and peaches, crumble over some feta cheese, and drizzle over some olive oil.

Duck, duck…FAT!

In this tub? Glorious duck fat.

You guys, while I’m knocking out posts covering my cooking/baking spree this weekend, can we talk about duck fat for a minute? Because it. Is. GLORIOUS. I know duck, particularly foie gras, has been catching a lot of attention in the culinary world. I’ve never had foie gras, I admit, so I won’t add my two cents about its possible ban. (But really? Really?! Do you know what’s in grocery store meat? Do you think it’s actually healthy to fatten cows with grain? Seriously? Those ducks raised for foie gras are raised better than anything that’s behind those glass counters at your local grocery store. Okay, maybe I won’t keep my mouth shut.)

Anyway, I may never have had foie gras, but I have had duck. And it’s, god, it’s just the best. I love pork, I like chicken, I eat red meat, but duck? It’s something else entirely. When done right, it’s melt-in-your-mouth sinful. And most of that is due to its high fat content. One day soon I’ll do a post about roasted duck, but for now, it’s duck fat. I picked up a tub of it at Two Boroughs Larder during our last trip to Charleston, and I now use it when roasting potatoes, among other things. It imparts a wonderful flavor, though it’s not overwhelming. Scooped out by the tablespoon, it looks like an even more decadent, fat-filled version of ice cream. And yeah, that’s because it’s pure, unadulterated fat.

Now, I don’t advocate smothering everything in animal fat, but a tablespoon or two here and there is a great treat and acts as a flavor enhancer, especially when roasting. Also? If you add the fat to a roasting pan and pop it in the oven as the oven heats up, the fat will melt, which further prevents your veggies from sticking to the pan as they roast.

I had some adirondack blue potatoes in the pantry from a recent farmers market trip (and I really do prefer this kind of potato; not only are they visually appealing but adirondacks contain increased levels of anthocyanins, pigments that act as powerful antioxidants [think blueberries]).

So, I sliced the potatoes, a red onion, and tossed them in the pan with the melted duck fat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Just roast at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, stirring halfway through.

If you’ve tried duck fat and have some great suggestions for additional usage, let me know!