Monday, October 18, 2010

NEW ENGLAND CLAM CHOWDER




"A New England clam chowder, made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. To fight for. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought for--or on--clam chowder; part of it at least, I am sure it was. It is as American as the Stars and Stripes, as patriotic as the national Anthem. It is 'Yankee Doodle in a kettle.' "



Yup, it sure is. I can't agree more. My favorite soup. Clams! Chowder! New England Clam Chowder! A favorite soup of the New England region, and one that New Englanders have no problem sharing with the rest of the world.

The soup was very good.  I did some things to save time in the kitchen: I used frozen corn instead of fresh, and I bought fresh clams all ready cleaned and chopped. I can't trust myself to clean clams in their shells, because as hard as I try, I always wind up with some sand in the pot.  So forget about it.  Get ready cleaned clams, I say to myself.  In hindsight, I should have not used bacon in this recipe.  I like bacon, but I don't often buy it because it's something all of us here at home need to stay away from. So next time, no bacon.



Ingredients:


6 strips bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 ribs celery, strings removed, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup small pearl onion, peeled
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups unsalted clam juice
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 large sprigs fresh thyme
2 containers fresh, raw chopped clams, rinsed really well.  (they can usually be found next to the fresh crab meat).

1 cup frozen corn
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt





Potatoes and herbs simmering in the clam broth.... and all of it smelling delicious.





Directions:
  • Cook the bacon until crisp. Drain it on paper towels and and set it aside. I a stock pot heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onions.  Sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the onions are translucent, about 7 minutes.
  • Sprinkle flour over the onions and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the clam juice, 1 cup water, the celery, potatoes, bay leaves, and pepper, cover and bring to a boil. Pick the thyme leaves from their stems and add both the leaves and the stems to pot. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the potatoes are almost fork tender, about 15 minutes.
  • Add the corn and cook 5 minutes.
  • Add the clams and cook 5 minutes.
  • Add the milk and butter and cook until the butter melts, about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the bay leaves and thyme stems, season with salt and pepper, garnish with bacon pieces and serve.

Bon appetit!  ( My recipe is based on one from MarthaStewart.com)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

1: STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES WITH RICE 2: WHOLE FISH STUFFED IN GRAPE LEAVES


The Daring Cooks hostess for October 2010 is Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness. Lorie has challenged The Daring Cooks to make stuffed grape leaves. I chose to make a recipe of stuffed grape leaves with a rice filling, and a recipe of trout stuffed with rice, wrapped in grape leaves and grilled.






Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice

Grape leaves cooked with some type of stuffing have been around since antiquity. I guess you could say they were the first sandwich that was invented. I have been eating them and loving them since I was a child, and this is the recipe that we've been making at home since my grandmother's time - minus the raisins. If you add the raisins you will get grape leaves that are sweeter in taste.
In Greek homes grape leaves with rice are served cold, usually as a first course or as part of an appetizer menu.
It's always nice to have fresh grape leaves on hand, but they are a luxury item here in the USA, not readily available. The solution is to get grape leaves in a jar.  They are preserved in a brine solution, and need to be thoroughly rinsed in order remove excess salt. When I buy preserved grape leaves I always have my fingers crossed. Sometimes they'll be too tough with lots of veins, sometimes too small, sometimes torn. Of course, sometimes I am lucky and they are just right. Ideally, grape leaves should melt in one's mouth as they are being eaten. If they don't, that means they were too tough prior to cooking. One solution for softening them is to cook them in boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes before stuffing them.  If you like making stuffed grape leaves, experiment with different brands and methods until you find the one that works for you. Happy cooking!



Ingredients:

1 jar preserved grape leaves, drained
1 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup long grain rice
Juice of 2
lemons
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons dill, chopped
1 teaspoon mint, chopped
2 tablespoons raisins, chopped (optional)
1 small jar pine nuts
1 cup water



Directions:
  • Carefully separate the grape leaves, place them in a large bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let the leaves soak for an hour, and change the water a couple of times.  Drain and rinse.  This is done to excess salt. Cut off the stems and allow the leaves to dry.  


  • In a large saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the olive oil, add the onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook over medium heat until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
  • Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and stir in the rice and green onions. Cover, reduce the heat to low and cook the rice until the broth is absorbed, about 10 minutes or so. The rice will not cook all the way, but will finish cooking inside the grape leaves. In this way the end product will not have a mushy filling. Also, this method gives the rice a chance to expand inside the grape leaf, thus making a firmer and well filled little bundle.

  • Transfer to a large bowl, and mix in the juice of one lemon, parsley, dill, mint, raisins, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to taste.

I love this rice... In addition to using it as a stuffing one can make it to use as a side dish. It tastes marvelous on its own.
  • Place one leaf on a flat surface, vein side up, shiny side down. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of the leaf, near the stem edge. Fold the stem end over the filling, then fold both sides toward the middle, and then roll the leaf with the stuffing to form a nice bundle. You should now have a stuffed grape leaf. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
  • Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with leftover or torn grape leaves. You can also add any stems that are left over from the herbs used in the recipe. Arrange the bundles seam side down, packing them close together. Layer more bundles on top, keeping the same layering pattern so that the cooking liquid can surround all of them.

  • Combine the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, the rest of the chicken broth and the lemon juice. Pour over the stuffed grape leaves. The liquid should just about cover the grape leaves. Have a cup of water handy to use if more liquid is needed before the cooking time is up. You don't want your bundles to dry up, but you also don't want them swimming in liquid.
  • To keep the bundles from floating around in the liquid place a heatproof plate on top of them to weigh them down.

      • Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for about one hour, or until the  leaves are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
      • Cool the grape leaves the pan, and then chill. Grape leaves stuffed with rice are served cold.



      Whole Fish Stuffed in Grape Leaves


      Fish wrapped in grape leaves is a popular summer dish in Greece, were it's grilled over a fire. It tastes good. Trust me. What happens during grilling is that the grape leaves and the skin of the fish char together to form a distinctive, crunchy and delicious outer layer. In addition, the grape leaves keep the fish nice and moist.
      I used trout to make this recipe just because it looked good at the fish store.  It was fresh, well cleaned, and it was on sale. However, many other types of fish can be used. Try it with any fish that grills nicely. Especially delicious when using this method are small fish such as red mullet or mackerel. If using small fish, it's not necessary to stuff them. If you still want to stuff the smaller fish, you can use the recipe included here, but omit the rice.

      Ingredients:
      • 2 pounds of trout (two fish), cleaned of fish guts and bones
      • about 16 preserved grape leaves (you may need more-it depends both on the size of the leaves and the size of the fish), drained and rinsed.
      • 1 cup cooked rice
      • Juice and zest of one lemon
      • salt and pepper to taste
      • olive oil
      • 1 shallot chopped
      • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
      • 2 scallions, chopped
      • 1 tablespoon dill, chopped
      • some fennel fronds
      Directions:
      • Rinse the fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels.
      • Cook the rice according to package directions. Do not overcook.
      • Saute the scallion, green onions and garlic in some olive oil and add to the rice. Add the lemon zest and parsley, season with salt and pepper and mix well.
      • Sprinkle some olive oil and lemon juice in the cavity of the fish. Season with salt and pepper.
      • Spoon the rice mixture into the cavity of each fish. You'll probably have some rice left over, and that's always good because you can snack on that later.



      • Fold the fish closed, and sprinkle it again with olive oil and lemon.
      • Use about 8 grape leaves per fish. Make sure they are nice and dry from being rinsed, then lay them on your work surface, slightly overlapping. Set one of the trout on top and wrap the leaves up and over the fish. Lay another leaf or two on top of the trout to fully encase it. Tie a few pieces of kitchen string around the fish to secure it. Repeat with the other fish.




      • Brush the grill with oil and cook the fish until its flesh appears opaque (make a small slit through the leaves to check), about 6 minutes on each side.
      • I chose to serve the trout on a bed of fennel fronds, and that looked good and gave off a nice anise aroma.

      Friday, October 1, 2010

      GOUGÈRES


      I told myself to have one gougère in order to celebrate. Celebrate what? The first, the inaugural post of French Fridays with Dorie (FFwD). An online club in which we will be cooking our way through Dorie Greenspan's new book, "Around My French Table." This is a large tome, newly published and filled with beautiful pictures and recipes of French home cooking, gathered by the author over her many years of living in France. I've been a fan of Dorie's ever since I tried her recipe for pâte brisée. The recipe was very good of course, but most impressive were her directions, which were clear and precise and full of hints on how to make a "successful" crust. By following those carefully written instructions, I was able to make a wonderful short pastry. Excuse me, it's time for gougère number two.


      Delicious! Why not have one more? I'll stop at three. These teasingly-tasty, buttery spheres were chosen by Dorie herself as the first recipe to be made for FFwD.


      Gougères are savory cheese puffs. They are closely associated with the Burgundy region of France, and the're famous all over the world.  Gougères are made by heating milk and water, and then melting butter into the mixture. While the ingredients are still hot, flour is added and stirred to blend. The tricky part comes next. The mixture is moved over to the electric beater and eggs are added into it one at a time. Then the cheese is added. I chose to use cheddar and some Parmesan for that extra zing. It's important to beat the mixture very well in order to introduce air into it. The air, which will help to make steam, is the reason the puffs will rise while baking. Therefore, without vigorous beating the cheese puffs will remain flat.

      The gougères are placed on trays lined with parchment and baked for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is to be dropped with a spoon onto the parchment and formed into small, perfect mounds. Forming these little mounds required more dexterity than I possess, so some of my puffs came out misshaped. Other than that they were great. These little guys can be stored unbaked in the freezer and taken out to be baked as needed. They make great appetizers.


      What a great beginning to FFwD. I'm looking forward to many, many more cooking adventures with recipes that come from Dorie's French table and find themselves on top of my Greek-American one. 


      Here is the recipe, based on the one by Dorie, which makes about 36 puffs:
      Ingredients:


      1/2 cup whole milk
      1/2 cup water
      8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1/2 teaspoon black pepper
      1 cup all-purpose flour
      5 large eggs, at room temperature
      1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
      1 1/2 cups grated cheese, such as a mixture of Gruyere and Cheddar 

      Directions:
      • Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to    375° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
      • Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt and pepper to a rapid boil over high heat in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to low and quickly start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring, with all your vim and vigor, for another 2 to 3 minutes to dry the dough. The dough should now be very smooth.
      • Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.   Add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Don't be concerned if the dough falls apart - by the time the third egg goes in, the dough will come together again. Beat in the grated cheese. Once the dough is completed, it should be used immediately.
      • Using about 1 tablespoon of dough for each gougère, drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between each mound of dough.
      • Slide the baking sheets into the oven, bake for 15 minutes, then rotate the sheets from top to bottom and front to back. Continue baking until the puffs are golden and firm, another 10 to 15 minutes. Serve the gougère piping hot as soon as they come from the oven.


      Keeping: You can shape the gougère and freeze them for up to 2 months before you bake them. There's no need to defrost the frozen puffs, just bake them a couple of minutes more.