Monday, March 31, 2008

Cod in creamy fennel ragout

(4 servings)

4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 fennel bulbs (sometimes called anise; 2 lb), stalks discarded and bulbs cut lengthwise into 1-inch wedges
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped drained sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 (7-oz) pieces cod (about 1 inch thick, cut into cubes)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Garnish: chopped flat leaf parsley

Cook bacon in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.
Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate and let it drain on a piece of kitchen paper.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to fat in skillet. Add fennel. Cook with salt and pepper over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add broth, cream, tomatoes, and garlic to fennel and cook, partially covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until fennel is tender and cream is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Ten minutes before the ragout is done, add fish and let it cook in the ragout.

Stir mustard and half of the bacon into fennel ragout and season with salt and pepper.

Garnish with chopped parsley and the remaining bacon.

I serve this dish with pasta.

(Adapted from Gourmet, December 2003)

I got a flower!

My good friend Anneli was helping me chopping radishes for dinner the other day.
Suddenly she gave me a little glass of water with a raddish in it. She had cut a pattern into the raddish while I had my back to her.

"Leave the raddish in the water overnight. It will swell in the water and look like a flower in the morning", she said.

And she was right.

Can you believe that a simple raddish can turn into a decorative flower?
This flower will look great as a decoration in a salad or a pie!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fish tacos

I'm not going to join the debate wether the fish in fish tacos should be dipped in a batter and fried, grilled on the BBQ or butter fried. I like mine the latter, because I think the batter coated and fried fish often gets too greasy.

This is how I make mine. Fish Tacos (4 -6 servings).

Preheat oven to 400F.

First I make the cumin sauce, which is a must-have with the tacos.
Then I wrap up the tortillas in aluminum foil and heat them in the oven for 15-20 minutes.
I then chop up the vegetables for the tacos.
I fry the fish at the very end, because the fish can easily dry out and you want to serve it on the table while it's stille hot.

Cumin sauce

1 cup plain yoghurt
1 large tablespoon of sour cream
1 large tablespoon of mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon cumin
juice from one lemon
salt to taste.

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and refridgerate until it's ready to be served. The taste of the sauce will mature in the fridge. Taste it before you place it on the table. If it tastes too bland or too yoghurty, add more cumin. Some of you like food tasting hotter than I do, and those of you who do, might want to double the amount of cumin.

Berfore you start chopping the vegetables, remove the tortillas (I use flour tortillas, but use corn if you like them better) from their original package and wrap them in aluminum foil. Place them on the middle rack in the oven.


I serve my tacos with:

cabbage, sliced thin and roughly chopped
Tomatoes, cut in chuncy bits or wedges
raddishes, halved and sliced
lemon wedges to sprinkle over fish

chunky tomato salsa, mild or medium taste

Put each of the ingredients in a bowl, or serve them placed separately on a platter (see below).

For the fish:

1 lb cod filet, cut into finger thick strips
1 lime
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons butter

Place fish in a soup dish. Sprinkle with lemon juice from one lemon, canola oil, salt and pepper.
Let marinate for 15 minutes.

Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter in a pan. Add fish, and fry for about four minutes, then turn and fry for another two minutes. Transfer fish to a serving dish.

Serve the flour tortillas still wrapped in the aluminum foil. It keeps them warm all the way to the table.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring time moment

Spring can give you some of the most beautiful scenic moments.

A freezing cold night with combined with strong winds that threw sea water ashore at full speed created this free form ice sculpture.

Sometimes Mother Nature creates amazing sculptures. This one, unfortunately, melted after a few hours in the sun.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Salt is salt, or maybe not?

As I walked up and down the aisles at the grocery store yesterday, my eyes suddenly fell on a shelf of salt. As I looked closer, I saw that salt occupied several shelves.

Call me ignorant, but so far my use of salt have gone by "flaky" or "fine".

Those days you can choose between exotic salts like French Fleur de Sel, Himalayan Pink, Hawaiian Red, Blac Coral, California Sea, Cyprus Black, Australian Pink, Danish Viking Smoked and Balinese Coarse, to name a few.

Salt comes in a wide range of colours, from white, pink, red and gray, to golden, brown and black.
I bought a few jars and decided to taste and see if I could tell the difference. Let me tell you, salt tasting is nothing like wine tasting or cheese tasting. Be prepared to drink a lot of water afterwards. (- and to reduce your salt intake for the next few days because salt is hard on the kidneys!)

I have to admit, the designer salts (as some like to label them) do indeed look fancy. But I must say, it was still the texture - size of the salt crystals - and not the type of salt, that tinkered my palate. As fine salt crystals will spread more evenly on the tongue and give you an all over salty taste, the larger crystals salt will act as surprising little salt bombs on the tongue.

Salt is 99 percent sodium chloride. The rest are minerals that will give some salts a hint of pink colour, others turn black. All in all, I think the amount of minerals in salt are in such low numbers that you won't be able to taste the difference when the salt is mixed with other ingredients.

When you use salt in a recipe where the salt is to dissolve, there is no point in using a fancy label, in my humble opinion.
If you are an avid cook, you'll see that many recipes ask for kosher salt. Kosher salt doesn't contain additives like calcium silicate, dextrose or potassium iodide like many other salts do. Also, kosher salt has larger crystals that makes it easier to sprinkle than many other salts.

One question is, can you substitute one for the other?
If used in stews, sauces and cooking in general, I'd say yes. Just be aware of that the large salt crystals take up more volume than finer grind salt, like table salt. If you substitute large crystal salt with finer grind, you can reduce the amount with 50 percent. If you go the other way and use large crystal salt in a recipe that calls for fine grind, then you can double the amount.

But, in baking you should go with the salt the recipe calls for as the ingredients in salt can affect the finished result. Also, when salt is sprinkled over a dish right before it hits the table, nothing beats using the large crystals.

So, do we need designer salt or not?

Probably not. Even though most of the celebrity chefs have their favourites (Jamie's is Maldon salt, Stefano di Pierie uses Murray River salt, for instance), I wasn't able to tell much difference. Also, in the times of environmental awareness, transporting salt all across the world is probably not helping the pollution problem.

Next time I buy salt, I will probably get the same salt as I have used for ages. But I have to admit, the pink Himalayan salt looks indeed fancy on my table.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hello there, white beauty.

I took the dog for a walk down by the harbor this evening.
I enjoy looking at the boats and the birds down there, but rarely do the birds come up to me and say "hello".

I was walking back and forth by the seaside when I saw a white swan swimming towards me. I took a few pictures from distance, but suddenly I realized that the bird was just 5-6 feet away from me. He looked at me, and I looked at him back. He was such a beautiful sight. I have to admit, I was a little scared that he would rush out of the water and come up to me and bite my nose, but my curiosity got the better of me. He was too beautiful to turn my bak on.
The bird did a couple of graceful turns in the water, before he swam back out.

It was such an intense moment. I only wished it had lasted a little longer (and now I wish I had had a little more ligt too, because the picture is too grainy for my liking.)

Then we got winter...again!

After a cold winter with very little snow, the Weather Gods have suddenly decided to shower us with snow.
As much as I like snow - and I really think it looks good when it is laying on the ground like this - most of the time it has swirled around in the air because of the strong winds.
Besides, I was really getting ready for spring now.
I can't wait to have my first cup of tea outdoors in my garden. But as it looks now, I have to wait another few weeks for that to happen.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Russian tea, anyone?

Kusmi tea is one of my favourite teas.
The tea house Kusmi tea was established in the Russian city St. Petersburg in 1867 by Pavel M. Kousmichoff.
During the russian revolution, his son Constantin fled to Paris and in the process, moved the tea house permanently to France.
The Kousmichoff family ran the business until 1975. Today it's owned by a family in Paris who have modernized the tea house. Today Kusmi tea offer everything from classic Russian tea, to organic rooibos and spicy chocolate tea.

My favourite is still the old Russian classic Prince Vladimir.
With it's strong taste of Ceylon and China tea flavoured with orange, lemon, vanilla and cinnamon, it's the best thing that can be mixed with hot water, in my humble opinion.
The milder tasting Anastasia, is a close second.
Some like their tea flavoured with sugar and lemon. I prefer mine plain. But when the tea is served plain, the taste needs to be full bodied, it must please the palate and have a smell that tinkers the nose. Kusmi tea is a little more pricy than most other teas, but it's well worth the money.

I'm addicted to spices

I love spices. I literally have a drawer full.

I use them every day, but I have to admit, some I have bought just for the fancy jar!
Whenever I travel somewhere, I can't wait to go to the nearest grocery shop and check out the spice shelves. I love the paprika I bought in Hungary, the oregano from Greece and my Jamaican nutmeg.
But even with a drawer full, I still miss some. I haven't found smoked paprika yet. If you know a great source, please let me know.

Halibut with tomatoes, capers and cinnamon

This recipe is adapted from Gourmet magazine (December 2007)

Makes 6 servings

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 (15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons drained capers
1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 (6-ounce) pieces halibut fillet (about 1-inch-thick)

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Chopped flat leafed parsley to garnish

Heat cumin in oil in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir in tomatoes, capers, cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Pat fish dry and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
Add the fish to the skillet, cover and simmer until fish is just cooked through, about 7 to 10 minutes.

This dish can be served with a green salad and boiled rice garnished with sliced and lightly toasted almonds.