Sunday, June 26, 2011

Flounder (or Lemon Sole)

We live in the land of perennial summer, right here in Kuala Lumpur, not far north of the equator, so I am guessing our flounder is lemon sole, so-called summer flounder.  All I know for sure is that it is relatively cheap, with a delicious delicate flavor and succulent white meat.

Today being Sunday, we went to drop of our recyclable goods near Carrefour Wangsa Maju (How on earth can so few people have so many empty bottles?) and popped into one of my favorite stores for fresh baguettes.  The original French managers in Carrefour have taught the bakers well. We came across two lovely flounder(s?) in the fish department and decided they looked an awful lot like lunch.

After rinsing well and making sure that the fish guys had cleaned all the scales off, I placed the two fish on top of a piece of parchment (so the fish doesn’t stick to the foil), on top of a cross of heavy duty foil, on top of a cookie sheet.  I seasoned them simply, with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, 

cutting slashes in their sides and then topping them with the leftover molho from last night.  ( I put a little bit in their tiny cavities as well. Flat fish like flounder don't have very big insides.

I closed up the foil and popped the whole tray into the pre-heated oven (425 °F) for 20 minutes. 

Not the neatest wrap job, but it worked, okay?

At that point I took it out and opened the foil, checking for doneness. The fish was still cool when I stuck a finger in the slash (I am sure that is how the fancy chefs check for doneness.) so I set my timer for another 20 minutes. The molho began to brown and the fish was cooking beautifully.   

When those 20 minutes were up, I turned the oven off and left the pan in for a further 10 minutes.

The flounder were cooked to perfection, very moist. I served them with garlic bread and salad with a simple vinaigrette. And some cold white wine. My recycle bottle box was too empty.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Brazilian Night

A Brazilian Night feast with all the special dishes that remind me of our home in Macaé.

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you a man.” These words, this motto, attributed to Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuit Order, implies that our foundation years are our most important. When you live somewhere long enough, especially in your formative years, the culture, food, music and spirit get in your blood and are forever part of who you are.  Our daughters were not quite two and four when we moved to Brazil. We left when they were six-and-a-half and almost nine so Brazil is that way for our family. In our blood, forevermore a part of who we are.

Tonight we enjoyed the quintessential Brazilian meal. We started with caiprinhas, then picanha (top of the rump) well-salted and grilled over an open flame, chicken hearts cooked the same way, farofa, molho, black beans (so now you know we lived in the Carioca region) and rice.

Beans and rice are staples of the Brazilian daily diet but the type of bean depends on the region you live in. Around Rio de Janeiro, where the people are called Cariocas, the bean of choice is black and food is not cooked or served with much pepper. Up north in Bahia, the African influence is more obvious and the bean of choice is light brown, like a pinto bean. There, peppers are used liberally in most dishes. Down south, closer to Argentina, the Brazilians might well have blonde hair and blue eyes because they are descended from Germans and Italians, and they also favor brown beans but not spicy like the Bahians. 

The molho, which means sauce, is by far the simplest dish. Three major ingredients: tomato, bell pepper (green capsicum) and red or purple onion, all finely chopped. It also has a simple dressing of olive oil, freshly squeezed lime juice, sea salt and black pepper. 

The black beans are traditionally made in a pressure cooker, which keeps the beans relatively whole.  They are seasoned with sea salt, pepper, garlic and a variety of smoked pork parts. Tonight I used bacon and sausage.

Chicken hearts should be cleaned of the membrane and most of the fatty top should be cut off. Leave a little fat as it makes the barbecue flames rise up which gives the hearts a lovely crispy exterior. Marinate these in some sea salt, white vinegar (or lime juice) and olive oil. Grilled over the open flame of a barbecue, there is no morsel more succulent. 

Farofa is toasted manioc flour. This is hard to come by in the rest of the world and my last couple of bags (kept fresh in a Ziploc bag in the freezer) come from a little Brazilian specialty store on the west side of Houston, Texas.  Farofa is an acquired taste, a little like bacon flavored sawdust. Although the bag says Farofa Pronta, which means Ready, I fry a little bacon and add garlic to the pan before tossing the farofa around in the mixture. Traditional Brazilians would add butter as well but I could already feel my arteries hardening in anticipation of the meat. Very tasty sawdust indeed!  

The showstopper of the meal is the picanha, top of the rump with a healthy (or probably unhealthy, I suppose) layer of fat.  This should be liberally coated with coarse salt an few hours ahead of time, and then roasted over an open fire until just pink inside. (Knock the salt off as you cook it.) Once again, this is a hard cut to find outside of Brazil, but if you know a good butcher in your town, he or she should be able to provide you with the piece you need.  Some butchers are unwilling to cut the top of the rump off and then you have to buy the whole rump, but make some stew or a curry with the rest of it. It’s all good. 

 When this happens, put the lid on quickly!

 Beautifully done.All thanks to our experienced grill chef!

And last but not least was the first thing we enjoyed. Caiprinhas! Each glass has the juice of one whole lime so you know it’s healthy. Certainly you will not be in danger of scurvy. Cut the lime into quarters and use your same sharp knife to remove all the seeds you can. Put the lime into a short glass, adding two good tablespoons of sugar. 

Smash the limes with a muddler – if you are fortunate you have a lovely parrot one like mine : ) – 

and fill the glass with crushed ice. Now fill up the glass with cachaça and give it a quick stir. Ideally you would have short straws to put in these glasses. Sadly, I did not. 

I know I have not given explicit ingredients or instructions today. Blame the caipirinhas. You really want to know how? I've written it out here for you: Make caipirinhas

 The whole meal!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Marinated Baby Octopus

Baby octopi. Yum!  When we lived in Brazil, one of our favorite appetizers when we went out to eat was tender octopus, seasoned with garlic and dripping in olive oil.  This is my best guess of how it was done because the taste, it's pretty close.

5 lbs or 2.25kg baby octopus, ink sacs and beaks removed

1 cup or 240ml red wine - a perfect use for any old leftovers
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A good glug of olive oil, plus more later for frying
2 crushed cloves of garlic (or more if you like garlic - we do!)

Salt to taste - often the octopus is salty enough

Put the first five ingredients in a Ziploc bag and leave until you are ready to cook but at least half an hour.


Dump the whole lot into a thick bottomed pot with some more olive oil. Cook over a medium heat, covered, for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid will come out of the octupi and the whole thing will look very soupy. 

After the 15-20 minutes are over, take the lid off and continue to cook until the liquid gradually diminishes and you are left with just the octopi, which should be getting a bit sticky. 

(This step could take as long as half an hour.) Add more olive oil so that you are kind of pan-frying the octopi and keep at it, stirring constantly at this point until they are almost completely dry. 

I then turn the whole mess out onto a large cutting board and cut the octopi into small pieces then put them back in the pot to keep warm until you are ready to eat. Here's where you can add a little salt, if the octupi need it. I suppose you could leave them whole if you have the itty-bitty bite-sized ones, but mine were way too big to eat whole.

I promise you that if you have adventurous eaters at your house, they eat this! The pot was half empty before we were ready to serve because people kept taking the lid off and pinching pieces out. Even the kids!

Rosemary Lemon Chicken Stroganoff

Rosemary Lemon Chicken Stroganoff is made with the delicious leftovers of Nigella's Rosemary Lemon Chicken. You'll make extra just to be able to make this, I promise!

A few years ago, my cousin Connie sent me an email asking for family recipes to include in a cookbook she was compiling.  They didn’t have to be originals but they did have to be family favorites. Among those I sent her was Nigella Lawson’s Butterflied (Spatchcocked) Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary  because it is one of my go-to dishes both for company (because it can be prepared ahead and can just be stuffed in the oven when the guests are arriving) and even for weekday dinners (for the same make ahead reason.)

When it is just us, there are hardly any leftovers because I do one whole chicken with a couple of breasts (preferably on the bone for flavor) tucked in the pan extra. When we have guests, my congenital Cajun defect will not allow me to only cook how much I think people can reasonably eat; I have to cook more than enough. So, then, sometimes there are leftovers.  In the past, the leftovers have languished in the fridge, possibly being nibbled on as cold chicken, re-warmed chicken or even made into chicken salad. Inevitably, I end up throwing some away.

The last time we had leftovers, I did something different. I took all the chicken off the bones, discarded the lemon rinds, deglazed the pan and tipped the whole rest of the dish, including the pan juices, into a freezer bag and then popped it into the freezer. My plan: Rosemary Lemon Chicken Stroganoff (although I hadn’t actually named it yet) to serve over pasta. First, of course, you'll have to make the original recipe! And then use the leftovers for this lovely dish. 

Rosemary Lemon Chicken Stroganoff

Leftover chicken with lemon and rosemary – deboned, lemon discarded, plus juices from the deglazed pan. I had about a pound of stuff altogether.
2 heaping tablespoons of Greek yogurt
1/4 cup full cream
1 tablespoon corn flour or starch (and a little more cream to dissolve it in)

Remove the bag from the freezer and thaw. I cut the bag apart and popped the whole frozen lump into a pan with a lid and covered, over a low heat. Once it is thawed enough, remove the lump from the pan and chopped the meat on a cutting board.

In retrospect, I surely should have chopped my chicken up before I froze it. Live and learn. Return the chicken to the pot and add the yogurt and cream.   

Turn the heat way down because you don’t want it boil.  Dissolve the corn starch in a little more cream and add it to the pot.

Cook slowly for just a couple of minutes until it thickens. Grind in a little more fresh black pepper. That is it!

The yogurt adds a little more tartness to the already present lemon flavor and it is delicious.

Serve over the pasta of your choice (my choice is almost invariably linguine) with a side dish of, perhaps, steamed broccoli. 



Eggplant Something I can't pronounce (Papoutzakia)

Okay, it’s Eggplant Papoutzakia.

and that is the link to the recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle written by Barbara Kingsolver, with her husband, Steven L. Hopp and, daughter, Camille Kingsolver.  I first read this wonderful book more than three years ago when I was living in Singapore.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is about one family’s experiment with growing their own food and living off the land for one year and only buying what they could not raise or grow from local farms in their New England area.  It is all about the advantages (personal health, earth health) of being a locavore, that is, someone who eats food found, grown or raised within 100 miles or fewer of his or her home.

If you have every lived in Singapore, you know that not much is grown on the actual island. (There is a goat farm that I could buy fresh milk from, but that is another cheesy post altogether.)  Much comes from nearby Malaysia, though perhaps not within 100 miles, so living by the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle standards was hard to achieve but it did make me more aware of produce and the distances it traveled to be on my plate and I tried to make more reasonable choices when I could.  

Fast forward three years and we are back in Malaysia. Local produce is much easier to come by, although I must confess to succumbing to the allure of the occasional golden-red-skinned nectarine or small punnet of raspberries, both of which certainly are not grown here. Once again, it’s about making better choices as much as possible.

So on to today’s recipe. Eggplant Papoutzakia.  My mom came across the recipe while flipping through my copy of the book (elder daughter was reading it and left it lying around) and, being a lover of eggplant, she asked if we could try it. My policy is that I am happy to cook anytime, anywhere for just about anyone, if they will come up with the menu.

2 lb. eggplant
Olive oil
2 medium onions, garlic to taste (I used four cloves.)
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
6 oz. grated mozzarella (I used about eight ounces and sliced it into little pieces which I cast randomly and, I like to think, attractively about the top.)

Slice eggplant lengthwise and sauté lightly in olive oil. Remove from skillet and arrange in a baking dish. I cut my eggplant into many slices and browned them all in a non-stick skillet with just a bit of olive oil for each batch.  I stacked them on a big platter until all were browned and I was ready to assemble the dish. 

Chop onions and garlic and sauté in olive oil. Add diced tomato and spices and mix thoroughly. My family is not a lover of onion chunks so I let this cook down like a good spaghetti sauce, until there was no crunch left at all. I also added a teaspoon of sugar to counter the acid in the canned tomato.  I let it cool for a little bit, then pureed it in the blender. 

Spread mixture over the eggplants and sprinkle an even layer of cheese over top. I oiled the bottom of my lasagna dish with olive oil and spread a bit of the sauce around first. Then, I added the eggplant, the rest of the sauce and then the cheese in the aforementioned attractive manner.  

 Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, until golden on top.


If you are interested in finding locally grown foods in your area of the United States, check out this link. Buy mostly what is in season in your growing area and you are more likely to be buying local produce.

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels

This is the chocolate that started me off.   

Almost two months ago I had the good fortune to be invited to Geneva to take part in a meeting of company spouses.  We were also treated to some lovely meals and excursions, one of which was the Cailler chocolate factory in Gruyère.    I’ve traveled all over the world, but somehow I had never come across chocolate with caramel and SALT. Ordinarily not a sweet lover, I ate the whole bar, square by square, nibble by nibble until it was completely gone. Then I mourned. Just as well, you say, and you are correct, but that new taste sensation has stayed at the back of my mind now for weeks.
Yesterday, I came across a recipe online, originally from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich and I knew I had to try it.

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich (And if you, too, love Alice Medrich, check out her blog.) 

1 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
2 cups sugar (I used only 1 3/4 cups)
3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt (I used a 1/2 teaspoon since I was trying to approximate my Swiss experience, which was definitely salty.)
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground vanilla beans, purchased or ground in a coffee or spice grinders, or 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I scraped the seeds out of one fresh bean then threw the whole pod in while heating the cream, taking it out before adding the cream to the sugar mixture as required.)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks, softened

A 9-inch square baking pan
Candy thermometer

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the foil. (Really grease it well or even the foil will stick to this caramel! Mine did in places so clearly my greasing wasn’t thick enough everywhere.) Combine the golden syrup, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the mixture begins to simmer around the edges. Wash the sugar and syrup from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes. (Meanwhile, rinse the spatula or spoon before using it again later.) Uncover the pan and wash down the sides once more. Attach the candy thermometer to the pan, without letting it touch the bottom of the pan, and cook, uncovered (without stirring) until the mixture reaches 305°F. 

Meanwhile, combine the cream and ground vanilla beans (not the extract) in a small saucepan and heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep the cream hot.

When the sugar mixture reaches 305°F, turn off the heat and stir in the butter chunks. Gradually stir in the hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. 

Turn the burner back on and adjust it so that the mixture boils energetically but not violently  Stir until any thickened syrup at the bottom of the pan is dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, to about 245°F. (This part seemed to take forever. I had my fire rather low because I didn’t want the mixture to burn but it didn’t seem to go above 225 °F for the LONGEST time, so I raised the flame and the temperature finally began to climb.) Then cook, stirring constantly, to 260°F for soft, chewy caramels or 265°F; for firmer chewy caramels. (Took mine out at 260°F and they are soft and chewy and are a danger to dental fillings for sure!)

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract, if using it. (I skipped this step since the whole pot was filled with little bitty vanilla seeds and that seemed like enough vanilla.) Pour the caramel into the lined pan. Let set for four to five hours, or overnight until firm.

Lift the pan liner from the pan and invert the sheet of caramel onto a sheet of parchment paper. Peel off the liner. Cut the caramels with an oiled knife. (This DID NOT work very well for me. My well-oiled knife still stuck to the caramels. My kitchen scissors were much more effective in cutting the caramel into squares.) 

Wrap each caramel individually in wax paper or cellophane.  (I used cling film, cutting off a wide strip and lining the squares up in the middle with an inch or two in between each one. I folded the cling film over from the top and then the bottom, pressing a finger down between each caramel. Then I cut the cling film where I had pressed my finger, to separate them.)

These caramels are delicious. If I would do anything different next time, it would be to add even more salt flakes to the top. I mashed a lot of them off as I was trying to separate the caramels into squares.


Oven-roasted Tomatoes with Pasta

So I was browsing food blogs today and came across a recipe for stuffed roasted tomatoes that are served over pasta. It sounded delicious, except that it called for anchovies and pancetta and I am catering for a mixed group which includes one well-loved vegetarian.  I fully support her decision not to eat meat so I modified the recipe and, frankly, did my own thing ingredient- and method-wise.  Which is my way.

4 fair-sized tomatoes
3/4 cup bread crumbs
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan for recipe and extra to sprinkle on when serving
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon of butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground cayenne
450g (about 16oz.) of pasta
1-2 tablespoons freshly chopped flat leaf parsley

First, cut the top of the tomatoes, just under the stem base.  If the openings to the seeds are not visible, slice another thin piece off of the tomatoes, until they are.  You want to be able to scoop the seeds and the top of the core out of the tomatoes. I used a grapefruit spoon and it was the best tool for the job!  The grapefruit spoon allowed me to cut less off the top and still scoop all the innards out without a hassle. Save the top slices of the tomato and chop into small bits. Discard the tomato seeds and top of the core.

Preheat the oven 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C.  Heat a small saucepan on the stove with some of the olive oil and slice the four garlic cloves right into the heated pan. Sauteé the garlic until soft and then add the chopped tomato bits, salt and pepper (don’t forget the cayenne too) to the mixture as it cooks gently, until all the juice from the tomatoes is gone. Remove from heat.  Add the butter and let it melt.  Transfer the mixture into a small bowl and stir a few times until it cools. 

Add the bread crumbs and the Parmesan, stirring until fully incorporated. 

With a spoon (or I used a spoon and then my fingers) fill the tomatoes with the mixture and pack in the holes. Top the tomatoes with the balance of the filling.

Place in an oven proof dish, trying to keep the tomatoes upright.  At first I had mine in a non-stick baking dish, then I transferred them with tongs to a muffin pan (Thanks, Mom!) because they wouldn’t stand up.  Drizzle tops with olive oil and bake for at least 45 minutes.

About 15 minutes from done, put your water on to boil for pasta. Add salt and a little olive oil.  I boiled all 500g of the bag of rigatoni and had leftovers of the pasta because someone at my house (read: youngest daughter) will always eat leftover rigatoni but 450g will surely do, even for four generous servings.

After the pasta is done, drain it and return to pot. Drizzle with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together. (If you aren’t serving for a while, save a little of the pasta water to use to loosen the pasta again before serving and don’t put the tomatoes in yet. You will need to be able to stir the pasta vigorously while warming. ) Gently add the roasted tomatoes and the juice from the roasting pan and sprinkle with the flat leafed parsley.  Let each person scoop up some pasta and one tomato to serve.  Offer the extra Parmesan to sprinkle as needed.

(As suggested in the original recipe, I had fried crispy bacon to add but I kept it separate on the side so that each person could add or not add bacon as they saw fit.)