Chef Morimoto vs Chef It Yourself

Last week¬†Houston enjoyed a healthy dose of real¬†Winter weather (finally!),¬†on Wednesday¬†I was manning a booth for Dress For Success Houston at my neighborhood Whole Foods, the location¬†was appropriate¬†for food thoughts. There I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, I knew that¬†The Hubbz would enjoy something warm and comforting as much as I would, so a soup of some sort seemed in order. Something creamy, rich, with fish and Panamanian flavor, that’s what I wanted.¬†CHOWDER!

I quickly started jotting things down, instead of clams, fish. No potatoes, let’s use chayote¬†instead. Skip the cream and go for some coconut milk and some salty, fatty pork was mandatory. So I ended up with El Fish Chowder-o. It was delicious, I used some leftover rice to thicken it up a bit and should’ve¬†ran it through the blender, but I got lazy and hungry. Aside: Hubbz, if I had a handy immersion blender I would’ve never skipped this step…, hint, hint. No matter. I took a whisk and made sure all the rice grains were completely obliterated and it was pretty velvety.

You may be wondering what any of this has to do with Iron Chef Morimoto. Well, let me tell you. I know you will have some doubts about this part of the story, but I’ve never lied to you and never will. On day 2 of El Chowder-o, The Hubbz¬†and I were watching Iron Chef Morimoto¬†battle Chef Mehta, the mystery ingredient: Coconut. Morimoto¬†proceeds to work his magic with coconut in every conceivable variation and then it happened. He started making a clam chowder. He cooked a bit of rice in coconut milk and used it as a thickener for the chowder and added more coconut milk to make the broth. Of course my dish styling wasn’t as gorgeous as his, but I had a Morimoto genius moment!

El Fish Chowder-O

1 lb fish (I used some striped bass and salmon), cubed
Salt pork or bacon, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 culantro leaves or 3 cilantro sprigs
about 6 cps broth
1/2 cp rice, cooked
1 can coconut milk
2 chayotes, peeled & cubed
3 green onions, diced
Salt & black pepper

In medium pot, render the fat from the bacon, add the garlic and cook until soften, add the coconut milk, broth and rice, season with salt and pepper, simmer for about 30 minutes until rice disintegrates. At this point you can run it through the blender to get a smooth broth.

Return to the pot and add the chayote, allowing to cook until fork tender. Once the chayote is cooked, add the fish and 1/2 of the green onions. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked and flaky. Add the rest of the green onions and serve with crusty French bread.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Iron Foodie Contest: Allez Cuisine!

UPDATE:

What I really want to do is bounce around with a placard yelling EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT! But this will have to do.

Santa Marx has opened the polls for voting, so if you missed the elections, get you fix there. Click on this link¬†to go to Marx’ post and choose your favorite use of the secret ingredients. I will tell you there are 25 fabulous entries, yes, I’m including mine. Go check’em out and vote for me your favorite one. It’s one vote per IP address, so be choosy when you imagine me spending those $200 on Marx goodies.

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Just before Thanksgiving madness started, I mentioned I had thrown my apron into the Iron Foodie contest hosted by Marx Foods (aka Santa Marx) and Foodie Blogroll. It was too tempting to pass it up. The challenge was set up a la Iron Chef / Chopped; we would receive mystery ingredients that we would then incorporate into an original creation.

 Let me tell you, there was all kinds of excitement at home for about a week. It all started out with the Iron Foodie contest. I had to submit the application post and wait a few days (read: eons) to learn if I had been selected. Once selected, I waited another few eons days to receive the mystery box. We knew we would receive a total of 8 items and had to use at least 3 in the recipe.

The waiting was killing me, so in the meantime I decided to torture myself with the offerings on the Marx site. That’s when it happened. I found their blog… and another opportunity for freebies. I tell you what, I was like a crack addict. Every time I saw the UPS or FedEx or USPS trucks I would start pacing around, hoping for that hit, I mean knock on my door. And when I received all my deliveries, I yearned and longed for the knock again. OK, sorry.

This post is about what I did with the mystery ingredients. Once I had the hot little box in hand and discovered what was in it, I went from giddy with excitement to totally freaked out in about 2.2 seconds. Some of the ingredients¬†left me dumbfounded i.e., Dulse Seaweed???? Others, I had heard of but never tried before: Fennel Polen, Maple Sugar. At first I wanted to try making something sweet because I don’t seem to offer you enough desserts, but the sweets just don’t speak to me.

I will tell you that I made an earlier attempt which included the seaweed, chile panca, vanilla bean and peppercorns. I kept thinking about a savory flan and because the seaweed is, well, from the sea, I went with shrimp. I incorporated the maple sugar and Telicherry¬†peppercorns in the bacon. It was good, but I should’ve made a sauce for it and, overall, I didn’t see myself making that dish ever again. Back to the drawing board I went.

I had planned on a dessert and I WILL make it in the next few days, but then I was struck by a thought or a memory or something. I love Chinese Salt & Pepper Shrimp or Calamari. I’ve never made it, but I loooooove it. So I thought, I could make that with the Smoked Salt¬†and Tellicherry¬†peppercorns! That’s how this came to be. Instead of deep-frying, I pan-fried. Instead of shrimp or calamari, SALMON! I finished it up with a creamy sauce incorporating the chile panca¬†and fennel polen. YUM!

Salt & Pepper Salmon with Fennel & Panca Cream

Salmon fillets, skinless
Smoked salt
Telicherry Peppercorns
Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cp heavy cream
1 small chile panca, finely chopped
1 tsp fennel polen
Smoked salt
Telecherry pepper

Though I love salmon skin, I chose to have it removed for this application. I started out with 2 fillets cut from the thick part of the fish, those fillets were then halved into 2-inch sections (approximately).

Grind the peppercorns; if you don’t have a spice grinder (like me), place them in a baggie, put the bag over a towel and use a rolling pin to break the peppercorns. Another alternative is to use a mortar and pestle. Combine about 1 tablespoon smoked salt and pepper.

Dip the salmon pieces in the salt/pepper mixture (top and bottom).

Heat a nonstick skillet over high heat, add a swirl of olive oil and sear the salmon pieces on both sides–about 2 to 3 minutes per side depending on thickness and how done you like it. Set aside and keep warm.

Rinse out the skillet, heat over medium and add a bit of olive oil. I removed the seeds from the chili before chopping, I wasn’t looking for heat, just the fruity flavor.

Add the panca¬†chili, stirring constantly. Add the cream and fennel polen, season with smoked salt and ground pepper. Remember the salmon will be heavily seasoned, so don’t add too much salt to the sauce. Allow it to come to a soft boil for a minute or two. Run through a blender before serving.

I grilled a few asparagus spears, poured the cream on the bottom of the plate, then came the asparagus and salmon over that. This salt is incredibly flavorful, the salmon tasted as though it had been smoked. And the peppercorns are strong! They really wake up your palate.

Finally, the creamy sauce brought it all together. It was silky, rich with a hint of sweetness from the fennel, but not at all overpowering. This one goes in the archives and you, you should really try it.

For more shots, click here.
Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Salmon, you shiver me timbers!

I’ve told you about my love affair with this little fishy, haven’t I? It sends me into a frenzy, the mere thought of it gives me goose bumps. I do a happy schammy¬†dance. The dance looks suspiciously like the Bill Cosby’s no-movement dance. It makes me smile. It makes me feel clean. Salmon. Joy!

When I was putting together the menu for the Foodbuzz 24, 24,24 meal I, OF COURSE, found a way to add salmon to it. It represented the Pacific Northwest, and BOY, did it do that region proud!

I think salmon is perfect just the way it comes out of the water, so I don’t tend to dress it up too much. For this recipe, I allowed the fillets to¬†marinate in¬†some basic seasonings, then¬†seared and served¬†it with a beer sauce. While searching for ideas to prepare it, I found a clever little recipe for ‘Beer Blanc‘. I loved the play on words/concept (beurre blanc is a traditional French butter sauce). And since I often throw in beer into my sauces, it was off to the skillet. *I went with a Samuel Adams Irish Red.

Pan Seared Salmon with Beer Blanc Sauce

4 salmon fillets (approx 4 ozs each)
2 tsps sea salt
1 tsp black pepper, ground
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsps extra virgin olive oil

For the sauce (about 1 cp)
1/4 cp shallots, thinly sliced
8 oz red ale beer*
2 tbsp Malt vinegar
1 tbsp thyme leaves, fresh are best
2 tbsp butter, cut into pieces

Mix the salt, pepper, garlic and 1 tsp of olive oil in a shallow container, preferably glass. Work these ingredients into a paste and rub it on the salmon fillets. Set aside for 15-30 minutes.

Note about cooking the salmon: Do you like sushi? If you do, then allow me to suggest you cook salmon to medium. IMHO, the best way to enjoy this fish is just underdone. Salmon is naturally creamy, almost buttery, and this quality really comes through when you show some restraint when cooking it. I cannot tell you how often I’ve seen this cruelly overcooked to a dry, powdery, overly oily, and strong tasting mess. Please don’t do that salmon. It really deserves better.

See? Flaky but still creamy

Heat a nonstick skillet until it smokes, add the other teaspoon of oil and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the skillet. Carefully place the fillets on the skillet, skin-side down first. Sear the skin for 1-2 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. The ones I had were about 1-1/2 inches thick. You can look at the fillets from the side, the portion closest to the heat will begin to turn opaque. This is a good time to flip them onto the other side. Sear for another 1-2 minutes before removing from the skillet and allowing them hang out on a warm plate.

Once you’ve seared all the fillets, remove some of the oil rendered–you only need about 1 tbsp left in the skillet. Reduce the temperature to medium, add the shallots and cook until tender,¬†about 4 minutes.

Deglaze the skillet with the beer, lower temperature to medium low and simmer until 3/4 of the liquid has evaporated. At this point add the vinegar and thyme and reduce the remainder of the liquid by another half.

Reduce the temperature to low and add the butter pieces separately until incorporated. Check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Simply spoon the sauce over the fillets before serving.

These fillets were accompanied with Melted Leeks, a beautiful combo!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

The Couscous Chronicle.

You’d think this wasn’t a cooking blog, like I somehow schemed you into believing it was then just stopped cooking. My cooking has been placed o hold by a vicious allergy attack. Injections, inhalers and super harsh antibiotics and I’m back. Sorta.

It’s almost time for the next round of entries to be submitted for the Top Chef It Yourself challenge. For a few days there I thought maybe *I* wasn’t going to submit anything. But I’m here, I cooked, I’m posting.

I selected the ingredients.¬†I should’ve¬†picked something easy, familiar, but nooooo. I had to push myself. Go where no Anamaris had gone before. Glad I did.

But first, let me tell you what I found out about couscous. It’s tricky. I had never cooked it before. It was easy enough to prepare, but someone should warn you that it grows and multiplies like, like… I dunno. Like in the cartoons when they drop a droplet of fertilizer and suddenly a whole backyard is full of grass. Like that. I had beucoup couscous! I used the instant-ish kind, no real cooking required (not that I knew there was a different kind).

See? I started out with 4 cps of water and 2 cps of couscous. NOBODY needs that much couscous!

Then there were dates. My only experience with those was from my mom’s fruit cakes, those are usually rum-soaked and generally not my favorite. I found these Medjool dates at my local Middle Eastern grocer. I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, but it worked out quite nicely.

Here’s my entry:

Couscous Fritters with Date & Ginger Sauce

For the fritters:
2 cps water
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 cps couscous
1 egg
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
1-2 tbsp olive oil for frying

In a microwaveable bowl, heat water, garlic and salt for about 2 minutes, then stir in the couscous and cook for about 1 more minute. Remove the bowl from the microwave and cover with a plate or plastic wrap and let it sit for 15-20 minutes or so.

Uncover the bowl and fluff the couscous with a fork. Check the seasoning. Allow it to cool before mixing in the egg, parsley, salt & pepper if necessary. It will be a bit sticky, while still seeming dry at this point. Don’t worry, it works out.

Pat the dough into patties, this is easier if your hands are slightly moist. Make them into patties that are 3-4 inches wide and 1/2-in thick. Put them on a tray or plate and cool them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Heat a medium-sized skillet and add 1-2 tbsps of oil. Brown the patties on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side if your skillet is over medium high heat.

Date & Ginger Sauce
1 cp dates, peeled and seeded
1/2 cp ginger, coarsely chopped
2 cps water
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Add the dates, ginger, water and salt in a small saucepan bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Once it boils, lower temperature to medium, cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the dates cook down, it will become thick, like a paste. Turn off the heat and pass the paste through a strainer. I added a bit more water to help the paste strain, about 1/2 cup.

Rinse the saucepan, return the strained paste to it and add the vinegar, oil and pepper. Cook it over medium low heat until it thickens, about 10-15 minutes. I have to say I think I needed to cook my sauce a bit longer to keep the liquids from separating (see photos). All in all, it still tasted awesome!

Serve the sauce alongside the fritters and enjoy. I made this for dinner, it was the side for some pan seared salmon. Can you say Yum!?

The salmon is delicious and OOH so easy. Check out the recipe here.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Salmon, you… complete me.

Yes you do. Do you love salmon? Even if you do, I *know* you don’t love it like I do. No one does. I love it so much, I do a happy schmmy dance whenever I eat it. I have only 1 condition. Do NOT overcook my schmmy! There’ll be hell to pay.

Salmon is delicious. Salmon is beautiful; have you ever seen a more beautiful color? I think that raw salmon tastes like avocado. It is so rich and creamy all on its own. If you enjoy sushi, please promise me you’ll try some fresh salmon sashimi, that is,¬†if you haven’t had it yet.

OK. Enough of my antics.¬† So, I made some salmon yesterday. It was pan seared and served with a creamy avocado sauce.¬†It was… happy schmmy dance-worthy. It was sooo good. Terribly simple. Incredibly fast. Wanna know what I did? Huh? Huh? Check it out.

Pan Seared Salmon and Avocado Cream

For the salmon:
2 salmon steaks or fillets (skin on)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, crushed

Combine the oil, salt, pepper and garlic and make into a paste. Rub this paste over the salmon. Set it aside for 15-30 minutes.

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Heat up a medium-sized skillet and drizzle a bit of olive oil. When it’s hot, place the salmon pieces with the skin side down.

Since I was making steaks, I started with the sides then turned to the other side. It takes about 1 minute on each side to get that skin to crisp. Then it’s time to flip them.

These steaks were about 1-inch thick, maybe a tad bit more. I seared them for a total of 6 minutes or so. One minute on each skin side, close to 2 on the top and bottom sides.

They turned out perfectly. You’ll see.

For the Avocado Cream Sauce:
1 avocado (I used Haas)
1/2 sour cream
Sea salt
White pepper (black is fine, too)
Peel the avocado and put it in the blender/food processor with the sour cream. I ended up having to add 1 tbsp whole milk because there wasn’t enough content for the blender to effectively pick it up and make it creamy–sidenote: I *SO* need to get a food processor–If you’re using a food processor, the milk is probably not necessary.

Anyway, once it’s all nice and smooth, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Set aside.

To serve, place about 2 tbsps of the avocado cream on a plate, then lay a piece of salmon right next to it. Savor it!

See? Perfectly cooked.

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris