Thursday, April 30, 2009

...and then we eat

I have just changed the name of this blog. Why? The old name didn't mean anything to anyone but a few close friends. So, what is the new one about?

One of my many passions in life is sailing. "...and then we eat" is the favorite phrase of most sailors when they show you their vacation photos. There would be pictures of exotic lands, glorious full sails on a run, crew members happily pulling lines or hiking out on the close reach, wind and ocean spray in their faces, a proud skip at the wheel, with the islands just left behind in the background. And for the end of each day there would be at least a couple of food photos to show.

Food (and drink!) is an important part of any travel. In a sailboat cruise, it's the central part; you sail from one meal to another. Being on the water makes you hungry.

Smoked salmon on rye bread, Nothern Norway 2006.

So I would like this blog to be an adventure. A culinary adventure in the kitchen, on the road, at sea, in the mountains, at the market, by the grill in the back yard, anywhere. And then we eat.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Comfort Food: Sauteed Chicken Livers

When summer?

This wind has been blowing for a week now non-stop. It knocks down fences, falls trees; my flower pots fly across the back yard. And it's cold.
This weather is driving all life out of me. I need comfort. Food.

Chicken liver is one of the least glamorous foods, it's cheap, people think it's not healthy, and it doesn't look like much. But it's tasty, and it keeps you warm. Here I used a few fancier ingredients like duck fat (left over from cooking foie gras and kept in the freezer) and truffle oil to add shine to this old-style home cooking, but it would actually be as comforting without all this, just use half butter - half olive oil for sauteeing.

Sauteed Chicken Livers with Marsala and Truffle Mushed Potatoes
serves 2
1 lb chicken livers, dried with paper towels and trimmed
2 Tbsp duck fat or 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup Marsala
salt, pepper

for the mushed potatoes:
8 new Yukon Gold potatoes, with skins
3 Tbsp heavy cream
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced, plus 2 sprigs for serving
salt, pepper
6 drops of white truffle oil

Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water until tender, checking with a fork. Drain. Place the potatoes in a bowl, add the cream and minced parsley, coarsly mash with a fork, skin and all.
Season with salt, pepper and truffle oil. Keep warm.

In a large heavy pan over medium heat melt the duck fat or butter and oil. Add chicken livers. Make sure the pot is large enough to hold all the livers in one layer. Sautee until golden-brown.
Add shallots, Marsala, season with salt and pepper, reduce the heat. Cook until the wine is reduces by half, about 10-15 minutes.

Serve over the mushed potatoes, with a glass of wine, by the fireplace.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring Market

Heirloom tomatoes are here! Still very expensive, but as good as I remember them from the last summer. The little Armenian cucumbers have delicate skins and don't need to be peeled.
Kohlrabi that I sampled on the market was so sweet and crunchy that I had to take home a couple. Leeks and carrots for a soup, oranges for juice, regular stuff.

After a few hot days it's cold and windy again, but people realized that the winter is over and it's this season again - it was difficult to find a parking at the market or to get through the crowd.

Creamy Vegetable Soup

serves 4

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 leeks, white part only, halved, washed and chopped

2 carrots, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 small can whole tomatoes, minus 2 tomatoes that I ate

2 large cloves of smoked garlic (or raw garlic), chopped

1 Qt chicken stock

4 Tbsp heavy cream

salt, pepper

to garnish:

4 slices of baguette

1 tsp olive oil

1/2 cup grated cheese (any, to taste)

1 Tbsp minced herbs (parsley, oregano leaves)

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add leeks, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook untill tender, about 20 minutes, without browning. Add tomatoes with the juice, crush with a spatula, cook 10 more minutes. Add the stock, bring almost to boil. Let cool, puree in blender.
Brush the baguette slices with olive oil, broil on both sides untill golden. Top with the cheese, broil to brown.

Warm the soup gently over low heat. Wisk in the cream. Serve with the toasts, sprinkle with herbs.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Smokin' fish

It must be my childhood spent by campfires, or the Russian traditional love for smoked food, or both. I just cannot pass a slice of smoked meat or sausage, I'm addicted to some smoked cheeses (braided mozzarella, oh yes!), and I would actually enjoy the smell on my fingers after cleaning a smoked fish.

So after my friends bought a simple electric smoker and started smoking trout in their backyard, I come to their place more often now. And, after a few successful cookouts, I wanted a toy of my own. And of course my had to be the real thing, charcoal. About the same price, twice the headache. That's my way.

Got it for about $40 in Home Depot, spent a whole afternoon assembling some 50 pieces of fine Chinese craftmanship that didn't really fit together - and now it works!

It's basically a metal cylinder on legs, and on the inside wall of the cylinder there are little shaky metal supports that hold the bowl for the charcoal on the bottom, the water bowl above it, and two grills for the food. If you remove the water bowl and put one of the grills right over the charcoals, it can be used for grilling. The thing is topped with a lid with a termometer that doesn't have numbers, but "low", "ideal" and "hot", so it's useless, need to replace it. The ventillation is provided by holes and gaps in the construction. Cheap and simple gadget, just the way it should be for this ancient cooking method.

I've already used my smoker to barbeque pork ribs and to smoke-roast beef.
Now it's time for fish.

I like to buy fish in Oriental markets, they have the best selection, including some exotic seafood, and it's usually much fresher than in your local supermarket. However, since I moved to Marin, getting fresh fish is not easy anymore. There is not a single Oriental market in the entire Marin county. There are bridges to cross, and traffic on the bridges, so if I plan to buy fish I have to remember to bring a cooler, and then go straight home, and fast.

This week it all came together nicely (lots of planning over the weekend), and I am the happy owner of a whole farmed salmon trout, a large sturgeon steak, and a couple of pounds of frozen sardines.

The sardines are not in season, but these ones defrosted so nicely (in the fridge, covered) that they almost looked alive!

There is no precise recipe for smoking fish, because all smokers are different, conditions affect the proccess a lot, and yes, we all have very different tastes when it comes to smoked fish.

What I did is this:

Brine the salmon trout and the sturgeon steak in the brine made of 8 cups of warm water, 3 Tbsp. kosher salt, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, and a handful of Key limes, juice and rinds. Refrigerate for 4-5 hours. Remove from brine, rinse and dry with papper towels.

Defrost and clean the sardines. Rub them with a little kosher salt, leave for a few minutes, rinse and dry with paper towels.

Lite charcoal in the smoker. I used hardwood lump charcoal from Home Depot, about 1/4 of a bag. Pour approximately 2 Qt. of hot water in the water bowl, and try to set the bowl in the smoker without burning yourself with either fire or water. Brush the fish and the grills with oil (I used grapeseed oil), arrange fish on the grills, and place into the smoker. Close the lid.

Add a handful of applewood chips to the charcoal to create smoke. Add more chips every 30 minutes or so (when the smoke stops coming out).
If I were to trust the little termometer, my smoker never went higher than between "low" and "ideal". It was hot, however, and the big fishes registered the internal temperature of 140F after 3 hours. Sardines I took off the grill earlier, after 2 hours.

Sardines came out on the dry side but not overly dry, the flavor concentrated and blended with the smoke wonderfully. Eat them with your hands, right off the bone (little bones are edible), or fillet them and toss with a salad or pasta.

The sturgeon is firm but still very oily. Next time I'll smoke the flesh only, and save the skin and cartilage for an excellent soup. After smoking the trimmimgs had be discarded, the strong smoky flavor is great for the flesh, but it's probably too much for the soup.

Almost forgot: I tossed a whole head of garlic, with the top removed, on the grill for the last hour of cooking. This scent is heavenly. I am making salad dressing with it.

Here the cold sturgeon fellet is served with sorrel and other greens from the garden, and a market tomato. The tart flavor of sorrel is perfect with the oily fish. Dressed with just a splash of good olive oil.

Added slices of boiled egg as an afterthought, for color and texture.

The salmon trout was perfect (and is, I had to freeze half of it, it's big).

Served the smoked salmon trout filet on top of the salad of Boston lettuce, tomato and avocado, with smoked garlic dressing.

Smoked garlic salad dressing
makes about 1 cup

1 head of garlic, smoked as described above, peeled
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp brown sugar
salt, pepper to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine garlic, lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper in a blender. Blend untill smooth. Add olive oil in small portions, blend in each portion. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Scallops in Garlic Cream Sauce

Here is one of my "fast foods". It takes about 5 minutes, serious. Actually, since it takes 20 minutes to cook the rice, some planning is still required. Or serve them over a toast.

The key to getting sauteed scallops with a nice golden crust is to have dry scallops. "Dry" is a technical term here, it means that the scallops were not treated with a solution that makes them absorb water. Scallops sold frozen (or previously frozen) in the supermarket are usually treated, it makes them keep longer, gives them bright white color, and yes, increases weight. When you try to sautee them, they release their water and steam instead. Steamed scallops are great, but the golden crust is out.

I got my dry scallops in the sashimi section of Ranch 99 market, and they were light pink in color, had nice dry (not dried) surface, and were even not as expensive as the word "sashimi" implies.

To make scallops with garlic cream sauce, have the guests at table, rice ready on hot plates, and move fast.

Scallops with garlic cream sauce
for 2 servings

about 10 dry sea scallops
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp heavy cream
salt, pepper
2 tsp minced fine herbs, like parsley and chives

Heat oil and butter in a large sautee pan over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking.
Add the scallops, making sure they don't touch each other, and cook them without moving for about 90 seconds. Lift one with a spatula and see if the underside is a nice golden color. If the color is right, turn them over and cook on the other side, without moving, for one minute. Remove to a hot plate.
Reduce the heat to medium, sautee the garlic until it gets some color, about 30 seconds.
Add cream, salt and pepper, cook for about a minute to reduce a little, add back the scallops, toss them with the sauce, sprinkle with herbs, and serve over pasta, rice, or on toasts made of nice country-style bread.