Jennifer’s Ode to a Clam (Chowder)

April 1, 2012 § 5 Comments

What we have here is a guest post. My first guest – awesome! And it’s from none other than the best chef I know personally—my dear wife, Jennifer. She’s the real cook in the Dainty household. Who needs a recipe? Not her, not really. Today’s topic  happens to be one of those recipe-less recipes that she just developed from experience. You eat enough chowder, you’re gonna know how to make it eventually.

So, without further ado, here’s Jennifer’s brilliant rendition of clam chowder.

Ode to a clam. Yes, I said clam. Many of you out there have an aversion to shellfish, which are easy to ruin in unskilled hands. Perish the thought. I know one former Eastern Long Island resident (editor’s note: That would be me) who had such an aversion, until she was able to experience what shellfish cooked well tastes like … manna from heaven. Well, actually the sea—the sweet, briny, bountiful sea.

Inspired by photos posted by dear friends who did some late-winter clamming, I suddenly remembered the quart-sized pouch of clams frozen in our freezer; harvested New Year’s weekend during an unseasonably warm morning outing in the flats of Provincetown Harbor.  I had frozen the clams along with the liquor they produced, waiting for the right moment to make a chowder. Not your typical Monday night meal, and it only took moments to whip up!

-I thawed out 4 cups of clam broth and 2 cups of fish fumet

Jennifer's clam chowder

-Diced into 1 inch cubes 3 potatoes

-I cooked the potatoes in the clam liquor along with 2 bay leaves for seasoning. While the potatoes were cooking I sautéed up a mirepoix (fancy way of saying celery, carrot and onion).

-2 medium carrots

-2 celery stalks

-1 large onion

-Once the veggies were mostly soft I added 4 oz. of shitake mushrooms. I had them in the fridge, and thought, why not?!

-When the potatoes were done (15 minutes or so), I used an immersion blender to break down the potatoes, but not completely. I wanted to leave some chunks, but also give the illusion of some cream in the broth, so I let my starch be the cream substitute. To the pot I added my cooked veggies and the quart plus of clams, warmed the mixture through and wished I had some crusty bread to serve along with it.

Man, oh man that was good!  Thank you P & J for inspiring me to bust out the bounty harvested a few months ago. Food-inspired memories!

Comments? Questions? Your favorite clam chowdah experience? Leave us a note below!

Moqueca, or a Tasty Brazilian Fish Stew

October 31, 2011 § 1 Comment

This year was supposed to be the Year of Ellen Baking, right? Or was it the Year of Ellen Reading? I was supposed to run three moquecahalf-marathons this year, read 12 books, and start the engine on something Big and Awesome. It’s turned out to be more of the Year of Ellen Waffling, and I don’t mean those maple-dripped golden squares on your brunch plate. It’s not been an all-that-great year, and I want it to be over with. I’ve petitioned the International Calendarological Society to just end 2011 here and now, and to get a move on with 2012. Apparently only Popes and Julius Caesar can do that. Officially. You can imagine my regard for “official.”

I’m declaring an end to 2011 as of Oct. 31—which conveniently makes Halloween the equivalent of New Year’s Eve. November 1st will begin a 61-day period known as Daintydays. It’s a time when Dainty and anyone who may have a thread of Daintyness in her/himself says “I’ve had enough of this, and I’m just gonna do ______” (with the blank being nothing that harms others, of course; that’s not very Dainty). Two months. Two months to do what you think you couldn’t by the end of the year. Think on it—we start tomorrow.

What does this have to do with moqueca? Absolutely nothing. Unless “Making the freakin’ best fish stew ever” is that thing you want to do by the end of the year. I first had moqueca at Edwige at Night in Provincetown in 2010. When I heard they were closing for good at the end of the Summer 2011 season, I rushed over for one last order. Last week, we made our own moqueca with a little help from Emeril Lagasse. While it’s no Edwige, it’s still damn good.

Moqueca (Brazilian fish stew)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds  white-fleshed fish cut into 1-2 in. pieces —we used a combo of bluefish (from our Cape Ann Fresh Catch share) and some shrimp
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups roughly chopped tomatoes – we used a 25 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes and gave them a rough chop
  • 1/2 cup fish stock or water
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • up to 1/4 cup hot sauce – recipe calls for Piri Piri, which is a blender hot sauce, but we dumbed it down a bit
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • Steamed white rice, as an accompaniment

-Put the fish in a glass mixing bowl with the lime juice. Set aside for 20 minutes and prep the remaining ingredients.
-Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Believe me, you’ll need a larger pan than you expected. Heat up the oil, and saute the onions until translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic saute for about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste, chopped tomatoes, fish stock and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir to combine everything.
-Turn up heat a tad and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, add the limed fish, the hot sauce (try half the amount first then add more after afterward) and the coconut milk. Stir it up again and let it heat to boiling. Reduce heat to medium-low and until the flesh starts to flake, about 10 minutes. IF you are using shrimp, add the shrimp separately from the fish, about 5 minutes through that cooking period.
-Remove the cover and sprinkle the cilantro over the fish. Season with the remaining salt and hot sauce, if you so choose.
-Serve with the rice. A nice basmati rice is perfect. Make LOTS of it, you’ll need it.

mocquea - brazilian fish stew

Ahhh ... leftovers.

Homegrown Food Challenge—Day 4

October 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Day 4 … halfway through our week of eating and drinking stuff as homegrown and as local as possible. How’s it going? Great. In fact, we might have too much food. Well, we’ll make it to the end, definitely.

Okay, I had promised some scintillating breakfasts. Not happening on Day 4. The morning meal, to me, is utilitarian. I know, that’s the wrong way to think about it. You’re supposed to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper. Or something like that. I honestly don’t have the stomach for breakfast until, say, 9 am.

Day 4 was a whole two days ago. Let’s see if I can remember what we had.

Breakfast:
Flat Black coffee. Maine’s Own Organic Milk. And honestly, I may have had an apple. I know it wasn’t much. I was kinda busy and on a role with things, work-wise. Sometimes that happens. Kids, eat your breakfast and don’t be like Auntie Dainty.

Lunch:
Lunch … I have to say what I made for lunch was the best thing ever constructed out of two pieces of bread. Seriously. Some cookbook-writing chef is going to see my delicious creation and will put it front and center in his/her lunch options.

Grilled eggplant paninni with tomato and smoky mayo

It’s a grilled eggplant and tomato paninni with smoky mayo. Recall the smoky mayo originally topped the broiled bluefish on Day 2. Imagine that spread not-too-thinly on two slices of homemade sourdoughish bread. And remember the eggplant on the grilled pizza from Day 3? Lay a couple of those grilled eggplant slices down on top. Add some sliced tomato, top with another mayo-slathered slice of bread. Put a bit of olive oil in a hot cast iron pan. Lay down the sammies. And add some wait to make them “pressed sandwiches.” In this case, I used a very heavy Dutch oven. Grill both sides to a nice crispness. Smoky mayo+grilled eggplant=the world’s perfect pairing. I wanted to share it with everyone and no one all at once.

Dinner:
We still had two bluefish fillets in the fridge from our Cape Ann Fresh Catch share on Tuesday. We did another round of Broiled Bluefish with Smoky Mayo since it was so good on Day 2. And we had a small side salad. See those beans on top? Vermont Cranberry Beans – the best homegrown beans. Ever.

 

Broiled bluefish with smoky mayo and a salad

That was it for Day 4. We won’t tell you if we finish the remaining Topsfield Fair-made kettle corn. We’ll let you think on that.

 

 

Homegrown Food Challenge—Day 2

October 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

One day down in the Homegrown Food Challenge, and it went quite well. A local eatery and leftovers – we eased into it. Nothing wrong with that. Day 2, as I promised, was much more exciting.

Chopping a head off a fish-type of exciting.

But, alas, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s begin at the beginning.

DAY 2

Breakfast:

More coffee from our favorite local coffee roaster, Flat Black Coffee Company, with the Maine’s Own Organic Milk.

More Stonyfield plain yogurt with half a local apple, Topsfield-produced honey and an Effie’s Oatcake crumbled on top. Hey, they’re a local company. It counts. And I’m inspired to make my own oatcakes now.

Lunch:

A big ol’ salad using:

  • lettuce and red pepper from the farmers market
  • a homegrown carrot
  • a local apple
  • a boiled egg – the eggs are local
  • homemade salad dressing – just something I whipped up, no biggie
  • my very own and awesomely tasty pickled beets. That’s right, pickled beets on a salad. It was awesome.
  • some shavings from a homegrown head of red cabbage

Filling and tasty. I washed that down with some home brewed iced tea.

Jennifer had the rest of the leftover pasta and a local apple.

Dinner:

This is where the fish head comes in. Or I should say, where the fish head comes off. Realizing there was way too much to say about last night’s dinner, I posted about the fish and side dish separately. (Click on the lick to check out the dish.) On the menu:

Broiled bluefish with smoky mayo and roasted romanesco

  • Cape Ann-caught broiled bluefish with a homemade smoky mayo
  • Roasted romanesco
  • A glass of white wine. Okay, okay, it was Tohu from New Zealand. BUT, it had been opened a few days earlier ans was in the fridge. That counts as a leftover, right?
  • I may or may not have had a handful (or two) of kettle corn purchased at the Topsfield Fair. It was popped on site! That’s local, right?

Day 3 is already two-thirds complete, and I’m happy to say we are both still on track with this Challenge. Tonight’s dinner is just an hour away. Grilled pizza is always a fun thing to make.

Broiled Bluefish with Smoky Mayo

October 12, 2011 § 4 Comments

Fish have heads.

That’s right. Fish aren’t just big slabs of fillets that motor around on their own in the ocean or in a river. They have heads. And tails, too. And fins. They even have guts. All of that—plus the nice fishy flesh—constitutes a whole fish.

And that’s what we signed up for when we bought a 5-week share in the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community-Supported Fisheries (CSF). Whole fish one week, fillets the next.

Yesterday was our first fish pick-up.

“You know you’re getting a whole bluefish today, right?” said the pleasant assistant when I walked into the CSF pick-up location and proudly announcing this was my first-ever fish delivery.

“Yup, a whole fish.”

“You know how to fillet a whole fish?”

“Nope, but I’m gonna learn today, I guess.”

whole bluefish

Meet Mr. Bluefish

Among the millions of dogs-learning-to-talk YouTube videos and clips of hormone-laden boys throwing themselves off suburban rooftops into holly-filled foundation plantings, there are videos that are quite instructional. A quick search for “how to fillet a bluefish” netted me two great videos by none other than Tony Maws, chef over at the Craigie Street Bistro in Cambridge.

Wanna learn how to fillet a bluefish? Check out Tony’s Part 1 and Part 2. He’s a great instructor—my fillets looked pretty nearly smooth for a first-timer. Tony, I did good!

headless bluefish

Compare this photo to the one above: Notice how many more tools I have? An 8-in. chef’s knife, a rubber mallet, kitchen shears. Not kidding. And that was just to remove the head.

Bluefish fillets

In the end, I had two nice 1.5-ish pound bluefish fillets and …

Bluefish heads

… some fish heads, tails and an intact spine and bones. Those were chucked into the freezer for a future turn in a stock pot. Also put in the freezer was one whole fillet. The other fillet was quartered, and two of those slabs were stored in the fridge. The other two were headed for the dinner table.

Finally, getting on with dinner …

For those paying attention, this meal falls into Day 2 of our Homegrown Food Challenge, and we’re doing our best to keep the ingredients either homegrown or locally sourced. The fish was locally sourced: check. The mayo? Jennifer’s a mayo whipper-upper using fresh ingredients. So yes, if it didn’t come out of a Hellman’s jar, this is locally made and sourced. And boy, does she make a yummy mayo.

Smoky Mayo

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. good-quality mustard
  • 3/4 cup canola or veg oil (not a flavored or savory oil like olive)
  • 2 tsp. smoked Hungarian paprika
  • salt, pepper
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

-In a blender or food processor, add the egg yolk and super-slowly (Jennifer’s exact words) drizzle in the oil. Super. Slowly. It’ll start to thicken and look mayo-ey. That’s a good thing. Want it thick? Less oil. Thin? More oil.

-Add in paprika and give it a whir. Taste and add in salt and pepper to your liking. Then add in the lemon juice and whir some more.

homemade smoky mayo

Smoky mayo

This’ll give you WAY more mayo than you’ll need for two or even four individual fillets. Have fun with the rest of it! We’re thinking grilled eggplant paninnis. Refrigerate and use within two to three days.

Broiled Bluefish with Smoky Mayo
Serves 2

  • 2 6 oz. Bluefish fillets
  • 2-3 Tbs. smoky mayo (recipe above)

-Place your oven’s top rack under the broiler and set your oven on broil. Let that heat up good and hot.

-Meanwhile, place the bluefish fillets in an ovenproof baking dish, skin side down. Spread 1 to 1.5 Tbs. smoky mayo on each fillet. I’d even do a little more than that. Just give the fillet a nice, thick coating of mayo.

-When the broiler is ready to go, place the fillets under the heat—7 minutes should do it. But, keep an eye on them. Broiler distance varies and your mayo could scorch. Some scorching is okay, but you don’t want grizzled char.

Broiled bluefish with smoky mayo and romanesco

Broiled bluefish with smoky mayo and romanesco

The mayo holds in the fish’s moisture and adds a tasty smokiness to the fish. Really quite nice.

I know some think bluefish is … fishy. I grew up eating bluefish, so I had no worries. Jennifer quite liked the fish’s flavor, too. Plus, the fact that the fish was alive and swimming earlier that morning had a whole lot to do with the awesome flavor.

Oh, that green stuff over there on the other side of the plate—that would be roasted romanesco.

De Kas Restaurant: A Hot Table in Amsterdam

May 24, 2011 § 3 Comments

More than a week after lunching at De Kas Restaurant in Amsterdam, I’m still dreaming of the meal. It’s one of the hottest tables in Amsterdam, and no wonder, given its fresh, bright flavors, dedication to locally grown foods and airy environment. And I mean airy environment: The restaurant is under glass in a state-of-the-art greenhouse.

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas is certainly in unique surroundings. The history of the property goes something like this: Back in the 1920s, the parcel of land was home to Amsterdam’s municipal nurseries. All of the plants and flowers used for Amsterdam’s municipal plantings were grown on these grounds and in greenhouses. Over the decades, the nurseries were shut down and the buildings and greenhouses became dilapidated—such a shame! About 10 years ago the greenhouses were scheduled for demolition, but a Michelin-rated chef, Gert Jan Hageman, came up with the idea of converting one of the greenhouses into a restaurant and growing area. The dining room was designed by renowned designer Piet Boon and is lovely. The kitchen is open, and there’s even a chef’s table, where guests can enjoy their meal just steps from the hot grill (honestly, not something on the top of my list to do). And the bar area, while open and visible, is tucked away and is just shady enough for any self-respecting bar fly.

The Piet Boon-designed dining room, with the just-shady-enough bar in the background.

As I mentioned, they believe in fresh, local food. And it can’t get more local than the greenhouse adjacent to the kitchen and the gardens that surround the restaurant. The team also has a farm that produced a great deal of their produce. What they don’t grow and raise themselves is sourced from nearby farms and the North Sea.

The veggie gardens outside De Kas.

The growing area inside De Kas's greenhouse, adjacent to the kitchen.

Enough about that, let’s move on to the food. The three-course menu is fixed; i.e. you are served what they are preparing that day (they do ask if the chef should take into account for any dietary restrictions). And they do offer a wine pairing, which I eagerly agreed to. Can’t recall the first wine, but the second was an unoaked chardonnay from Spain. Tasty!

The meal was fabulous, that’s a given. And beautiful – not something every restaurant gets right. Instead of attempting to describe the meal, I’ll just leave you to enjoy the photos.

First of two first-course salads: Roasted beets and steamed rhubarb over baby beet (?) greens with a pea puree and nasturium flowers.

Second of two first-course salads: White asparagus, turnip and a boiled quail's egg over young lettuce greens with a sauce of some kind (sorry, whatever it was, it was delicious) and sweetpea blossoms.

Second course: Lobster with a bechamel sauce topped with a light frisee salad.

Third course: Pollack over roasted eggplant and cauliflower with a North Sea-shrimp and caper brown butter sauce. (Oh man, was this good.)

First dessert: Pistachio meringue with salt-touched white chocolate ice cream and pansy petals.

Second dessert: Platter of three cheeses with fruit and nut brown bread and a dot of apple-pear stroop (syrup) to the right and a candied cherry (?). Translation of cheese on right is "cheese that sticks to your knife."

While  the municipal nurseries are long gone, the remainder of the property has retained its “municipalness”—it’s now a public park enjoyed by people and wildlife alike.

Children's play area below, and a stork nest with baby on top of the smoke stack.

Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in South Beach

March 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

Where’s Dainty been these last few days? Not blogging, obviously. It think it’s a misdemeanor to blog while in the big warm world of South Beach. We jetted away last week to find some relief from this lagging winter.

While down there, I had to make good on a bet. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I owed Jennifer a meal at the Fountainebleau Hotel – a fabulous haven for the young and rich who want to be seen. We just wanted to check out the glitz.

After a little research, we found that Scott Conant had a restaurant in the compound call Scarpetta. Scott Conant – he’s one of the judges on Chopped, the one who practically had someone cuffed and thrown into jail for including cheese with a fish dish, apparently a big Italian food no-no. You don’t know me if you don’t know how I feel about such restrictions. Wanting to learn more about the man’s culinary viewpoint—and secretly wanting to put cheese on fish while on the guy’s turf—we decided that Scarpetta would be it.

The restaurant  – dimly lit, private, modernly comfortable. The front-of-house girls – Jennifer even called them vacuous to their faces and they giggled. The waitstaff – well-trained. Although our guy looked vaguely like a thin Charlie Sheen. We were seated on the veranda, which typically has ocean and pool views but was enclosed due to high winds. Maybe our seating had something to do with 50 Cent and his entourage dining inside. Who knows.

Anyway … I’m not going to tell you about our entire meal – I’m sure there are enough reviews out there for your reading pleasure. You can assume it was great. If it wasn’t, I’d write all about it. What I’m going to tell you about is my appetizer, which – and I’m not kidding – may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Burrata atop heirloom tomatoes. I will forever remember this dish, and here’s why.

A burrata is a fresh cheese creation consisting of a solid mozzarella shell and mozzarella and cream interior, served at room temperature. It takes a caprese salad and makes it look like McNuggets. The burrata is like a pillow of dairy with a creamy dairy filling. This topped a thick slice or two of fresh heirloom tomatoes, perhaps lightly tossed in evoo – it was a little hard to tell after I cut into the burrata, but more about that later. When I ordered, I was skeptical of the “fresh heirloom tomato” bit, but silly Northerner that I am, Florida can grow fresh produce during the winter. I do wish they had specified which tomato variety they used. I know they’d have to change out the menu frequently if they did that. Perhaps the waitstaff could relay that info as the “heirloom tomato of the day” like the “fish of the day.”

Now, about that burrata – this was a mozzarella that must have just begun to form and was immediately served to us, it was that fresh. And delicate. So, so delicate. Cutting into the burrata released a small dose of warm cream, coating the ripe yet firm tomato. Someone’s Italian grandmother was in the back making this. I just know it. So, there was this small bite of rich and creamy cheese contrasting with the bright light tang and texture of the thick slab of tomato. The taste and texture could make me believe angels exist, it was that good.

I had wanted to save a small corner of the burrata to put on my turbot entree, but I just could not leave a drop of it for later. I must learn to make burrata.

Dainty Rates: The burrata – off the charts.

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