Scallop, Egg, Orange, Endive

Today I did something I haven’t done in a long time.

I ruined some really good food. Or an idea of good food. I had this great recipe lined up. Seared scallops with orange saffron cream. While the sauce was going on the stove I started to arrange the photographs, the still lifes, like I do. For the first time ever I got to play around with my dad’s fancy digital camera. And…I got carried away. So that when I finally remembered the sauce, finally checked on it, it had…broken.

And when I say broken I mean this sauce was devastated. Unsalvageable. This is what happens when you ignore sauce. You leave butter and cream unwatched on the stove for too long and it will overheat. And when a fatty sauce overheats it de-emulsifies; it separates into its basic elements, grease and protein, and you’re left with chunks of milk curd floating like pond scum in liquefied butter. When this happens, you throw it away. There’s no saving it, no going back. I had to figure out something else. Continue reading

End of Summer Peking Duck

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I feel like there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the preparation of Peking duck.

At most good Chinese restaurants you have to order it at least a day ahead if there’s any hope of getting it on your table. This has to do with the fact that there is a very narrow bridge of time in which the duck can be enjoyed as intended–that is, with supremely crispy skin and liquid fat.

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So Chinese restaurants aren’t trying to annoy you when they ask exactly what time you will be enjoying your duck, they’re trying to protect your eating experience, which I think is great. No self-respecting Chinese cook would ever leave Peking duck just sitting around. In fact my mother had this spasm of annoyance with me when I interrupted her process to take these pictures. So if the photographs are not up to their usual standard, blame the perfectionism of an exquisite cook. Continue reading

Sea Bass, Watercress, Salmon Roe

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I find that out of misery often comes… pretty things.

My computer broke this week. I thought it was gone for good. Luckily, my roommate Alan was on hand to reign in the situation. I’m now blessedly typing this from my very own computer, which despite being a little worse for the wear, runs great. Anyway, my point is, out of anxiety for my computer (and all the files on my hard drive, including not-yet-published photos for this blog,) was born this dish: sea bass with sauteed spinach, watercress, radishes, poached potatoes, and a salmon roe garnish. Not having my computer, and the distractions it brings, freed up my time to do whatever else I wanted. And I always want to cook.

One other happy accident made this possible–the discovery of a gigantic Korean supermarket, H-Mart, in Niles. I’m speaking now directly to my neighbors in Evanston: if you have a car, stop shopping at Whole Foods and Jewel Osco. They’re ripping you off. I got all the ingredients for three servings of this, plus enough meat and produce to last me for the next two weeks (and…for the record, it was a whole lot of meat and produce), for 35 bucks. Continue reading

Salmon, Leek, Canellini Bean

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Let’s talk about writing recipes for a minute.

It’s easier than you might think. More than anything, it’s about knowing what tastes good to you, and what doesn’t. My favorite way to come up with recipes is to re-invent dishes I don’t like very much. For example, ever since I was little, I never really liked salmon. Cooked salmon, I mean. The raw stuff is, has always been, heavenly. It was something about the way the fatty bits would form strings of white film on the surface of the broiled meat, like membranous seafoam or toothpaste. It turned me off.

So when I ordered a salmon dish at an Italian restaurant in Evanston, I was a little out of my comfort zone. Pan-seared salmon with canellini beans, pancetta, and sundried tomatoes. I figured pan-fried was better than baked, and I would at least escape that white stringy stuff that grosses me out so much. The meal was good. Not great, but good. I thought I could do it better. Continue reading

Put an Egg on It

eggs benedict

Is there any meal more indulgent than brunch?

I don’t think so. It’s an excuse to drink hard liquor before noon, an excuse to fry pancakes and eggs in bacon grease and eat too many bagels. Do I need to say it? I love brunch.

My favorite brunch meal is Eggs Benedict. I order it at restaurants whenever I can, but for me there’s nothing quite like the homemade version. Because at home, even despite the famous fussiness of Hollandaise sauce, I can make it the way I like it.

And that is with salmon cakes. Not Canadian bacon, not smoked salmon, but salmon cakes. You know–like crab cakes, but… with salmon. It has the richness of a crab cake but not the overwhelming saltiness of smoked salmon. The recipe I used is based on Ina Garten’s salmon cake recipe here. This recipe makes four gargantuan servings.

Continue reading

Two More for the Smorgasbord

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I met crisp bread this weekend.

It is a Nordic cross between cracker and bread (think matzah) made of rye flour. The Scandinavian poor have been eating it for centuries. The hearty crackers travel well and keep for months. This fact hints at crisp bread’s gastronomic charms. It is, in every way–appearance, texture, taste–a little like cardboard. The earliest form of crisp bread was probably carried into battle by the Vikings. That dates this food at at least 1000 years old. Continue reading

Oysters on the Half Shell Three Ways for Valentine’s Day

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”

– Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Before we set to work preparing these guys, Alan was in our dining room shucking 20 blue point oysters with a flat edged screwdriver. His hands were cut and red and the floor and his sweater were littered impossibly with oyster shell shavings.

But then our apartment was filled with the smell of the sea, which he said he loved. From floor to ceiling the atmosphere was all salt water, sand, tide pool, sea anemone. Oysters. There is no smell like it in the world.

To me it smells like memory, like watching the gray backs of dolphins peep out from beneath the white caps at Zuma beach. I can’t think of a more romantic food in the world.

When buying oysters, ask your fish monger when they were harvested. If they have been out of the water for less than a week, you’re good to go. And as for the flat-edged screwdriver, it’s a great tool for shucking oysters if you don’t have a shucking knife. Just be sure to hold the oyster with a kitchen towel to protect your hands from small cuts.

The best way to eat oysters is plain. A squeeze of lemon juice and you’re golden. But for Valentine’s Day, these three oysters are a nice departure from the norm and a fancier take on a food I love.

– Angela M.

Oysters with Lemon Chive Cream and Caviar


Ingredients:
– 6 blue point oysters
– 3 tsp sour cream
– 6 tsp American black caviar
– Chives cut into 1/2 inch pieces
– 1 lemon

Directions:
Top each oyster with 1/2 tsp of sour cream and 1 tsp of American black caviar. Place 2 1/2 inch chive slices over the sour cream and caviar. Squeeze fresh lemon juice onto each.

Oysters with Summery Watermelon Relish

Ingredients:
– 1/2 dozen blue point oysters, shucked
– 6 tbsp diced salted watermelon
– 1 tbsp julienned mint
– 1 tsp minced ginger
– 1 lemon
Directions:
Place 1 tbsp diced salted watermelon onto each oyster, along with a small dab each of julienned mint and minced ginger. Finish it off with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Japanese Style Oysters

Ingredients:
– 1/2 dozen blue point oysters
– 3 tbsp smelt roe
– 1 tbsp thinly sliced scallions
– 6 tsp ponzu sauce
– 1 lemon

Directions:
Place 1/2 tbsp of smelt roe on each oyster along with a pinch of thinly sliced scallions. Top each with a tsp of ponzu sauce and a squeeze of lemon juice.