Monday, July 27, 2009

Roasted Halibut with Red Potatoes, Lemon and Tomatoes

The last few weeks I've been working on a lot of painting and home decor projects. One thing I'm pretty excited about is that I've finally been able to work on my family photo wall. You know, all the old pics you keep in boxes and swear you'll show off one day. I have dozens that I have pulled out and finally put into frames, giving them the sentimental place of honor they deserve.

When I came across this one of yours truly, age 4, I couldn't help but laugh and start thinking of some good times with my Dad. Around the time this picture was taken, my Dad took me on my first fishing trip. This was back in the late 60's, before every video game and high dollar toy was ever imagined, so the idea of going fishing was real exciting to me. We went to a little lake and Dad baited my hook for me- I wasn't quite ready to touch those worms yet. Dad helped me cast out my line, and then I waited. It wasn't more than a minute that my Dad told me to start reeling it in. I had caught a fish!! All of about 4" long, I was so excited, so proud, and so snotty to my older brother who hadn't caught one. Yup, I was cool...

For years I teased my brother with that. Then, somewhere around my teenage years when I was being bratty, my brother spilled the beans and totally burst my perfect fishy bubble. Dad, it seems, had placed that little fishy on my hook just before he helped me cast out my line. I never saw it. I never knew. I had never really caught a fish after all. I was crushed... Of course I survived and it's just one of those stories that gets brought up from time to time.

Remembering that story got me thinking of fish and how it would be perfect for dinner that night (and you thought I was going no where with this, huh?!). So I pulled out my copy of Roasting-A Simple Art, by Barbara Kafka, and adapted a dish that I've been wanting to try for some time, Roasted Monkfish Felix. Phoenix is not the place to find the best selection in seafood, so I had to rely on what was available at my market. Nothing there came close to Monkfish, so I settled on Halibut, and was quite pleased.

I loved the lemon in this dish, the rind being tender and completely edible. Roasted with the tomatoes and onions, it created a fantastic sauce that is deserving of a nice home baked crusty bread.

Roasted Halibut with Red Potatoes, Lemon and Tomatoes
adapted from Barbara Kafka

1/4 c olive oil
2 lemons sliced thin and seeds removed
1 medium (or 1/2 large) onion thinly sliced
6 small red potatoes, thinly sliced
1 Tbs dried thyme
5 Roma tomatoes, sliced and seeded
3/4 c canned crushed tomatoes with basil
1-1/2 lbs Halibut fillet
Kosher salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 F. Pour oil into a 13 x 9 roasting or baking dish. Layer one of the sliced lemons down the center of the pan. Layer onions around lemon slices. Layer sliced potatoes over top. Sprinkle with 1/2 of dried Thyme and a little kosher salt and black pepper. Layer tomatoes on top of potatoes. Top with remaining lemon slices, kosher salt, and pepper. Pour crushed tomato and basil evenly over top of vegetables and lemon. Place in oven for about 30-40 minutes, until potatoes are almost tender.

Salt and pepper Halibut, and sprikle with remaining thyme. When potatoes are almost tender, remove pan from oven and place halibut fillets on top of vegetables, and baste fish lightly with some of sauce in pan. Continue roasting an additional 15 to 20 minutes depending on the thickness of your fish, until fish flakes. Serves 2.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Vanilla Bean Cake with Vanilla Bean Lime Buttercream

In between painting and organizing my youngest daughters room this past few weeks, I have been craving something, anything, with a vanilla bean and lime combination. I have seen so many recipes using either of those ingredients from the grill to the dessert table, on various different blogs over the last few weeks, and those two flavors spoke strongly to me. I absolutely adore most anything lime. Isn't it funny, though, that I have never enjoyed any recipe for a key Lime Pie..? But if you feel you have one that is simply outstanding, please, let me know. I want to like it!

Another flavor that I am simply crazy over is vanilla. Specifically anything with fresh vanilla beans. The aroma is just so amazingly intoxicating, and I have always been so intrigued with how something that starts out as a simple green looking bean, has the ability to become such a complex, heavenly scent and flavor. Ever since I read last year about how amazing homemade bourbon vanilla is, over at A Yankee In A Southern Kitchen, I have always made my own, never to look back. The longer it sits, the more amazing it smells and tastes.

So while craving something rich and vanilla, I stumbled across this blog, Confections of a Foodie Bride, and her adaptation of Tahitian Vanilla Bean Cake. I had to adapt that recipe, somewhat, for what I had on hand, which resulted in a slightly dense, yet moist cake. I thought that would be a perfect combination with a lime buttercream. Now, I've made basic Italian Buttercream frosting for many years, but never thought to play with it and make a lime buttercream. Until now. Replacing the water in the recipe with fresh lime juice, zest, and vanilla bean resulted in a refreshing summertime buttercream. Not overly rich, not overly sweet. Just refreshingly "right".

Vanilla Bean Cake

3 c cake flour
1Tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 c unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c sugar
5 eggs
1- 1/4 cups whole milk combined with 1-1/2 Tbs vinegar (or use buttermilk instead)
1 Tbs liquid vanilla

In medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter and vanilla scraped from pod. (You can use the remaining pod to make vanilla sugar by placing in a container with a cup of sugar and letting sit a few weeks). Beat butter and vanilla until very light and creamy.

Scrape bowl and add the sugar, about a 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down sides of bowl, then add eggs one at a time, until well combined.

Stir the liquid vanilla into the whole milk/ vinegar mixture. Then add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternatively with the milk mixture. Mix until combined well.

Pour the batter in 2 greased and floured 8" pans, and bake for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes before removing to wire rack for continued cooling.

Vanilla Bean- Lime Italian Buttercream

1/2 c fresh lime juice
2 -1/4 c sugar
5 large egg whites
2 sticks salted butter, cubed and very cold
2 -1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cubed, and very cold
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
Zest of 3 limes
Few drops of green food coloring, if desired

Candy thermometer necessary!

Pour the lime juice, scraped vanilla beans, and sugar into a 1 quart saucepan and place over medium heat. When you see bubbles starting to form, clip a candy thermometer onto edge of pan.

Meanwhile, place egg whites into large mixing bowl with whisk attachment, and whip on medium high until whites hold soft peaks. (A stand mixer works best).

When the lime-sugar mixture reaches 250 degrees (soft ball stage), remove from heat, and very slowly, at the edge of mixing bowl, drizzle hot mixture into the continually beating egg mixture. Add lime zest. Beat the mixture until it resembles a glossy meringue, and gets warm but not hot, about 15 minutes.

When the outer part of bowl feels warm, stop mixer and add very cold cubed butter all at once (doing so will allow the mixture to cool immediately, and incorporated well, without melting. Mix on medium high until well blended and cool, about 15 minutes. Stop mixer, add food coloring (if desired), scrape bowl, and mix about a minute till all is blended well.

Place the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, level top of cake by slicing off (eyeballing it) crowned portion of cake (Makes a fantastic "cooks treat"!). I then took each layer and torted, or sliced in half.

Once buttercream is nice and cool, place layer on cake platter and spread buttercream 1/8" to 1/4" thick, depending on preference. Once all 4 layers are stacked, frost cake completely, and decorate with remaining buttercream and garnish with lime zest, if desired.

Perfect with a tall glass of ice tea, or milk. Not too sweet. Summer citrus and vanilla bean at its best!

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Monday, July 13, 2009

German Apple Pancake

This is the time of year that I try to convince myself that winter is only a stones throw away. People, it's HOT out here! Today, in the shade, it was 115 F. Just a tad warm, wouldn't ya say..? When I first moved here 32 years ago, I remember stepping off the plane and having the heat hit me like an oven door dropping open. Back then it truly was a "dry heat". Over time though, it seems like more and more humidity has crept in, and it's not as dry as it used to be.

This weekend, I was trying to think of something for breakfast that would make me feel like Fall was here. How can you think of Fall and not have crisp apples come to mind..?

My favorite variety are Gala apples. They have the perfect amount of sweetness, are nice and crisp, and hold up perfectly when baked, especially in a baked German apple pancake. Now I know many of you might think that turning on the oven here in the summertime is crazy. But my choice was to set my thermostat at 78 F and bake breakfast, or to stand in 115 F and grill it... not a difficult decision. With the addition of fresh grated nutmeg, and a bit of cinnamon to my apples, my delusion that Fall had arrived was complete.

Actually, I have been thinking about an apple pancake ever since we were on vacation in San Diego a few weeks ago, and had dined at Richard Walkers Pancake House. I had seen a waiter walking by with one ordered by another guest, and wished I had ordered it myself. I wasn't able to find their recipe, but remembered I had seen this recipe prepared by Emeril Lagasse on Good Morning America, so I gave it a try. I always love an excuse to use my cast iron pans.

What I really liked about it was that it had just the right amount of sweetness. Just a bit of brown sugar to carmelize and compliment the apples, and enough eggs to give a nice, custard- like texture. I liked it best dusted with a teeny bit of confectioners sugar.

Brrrrrrrrr baby, I'm feelin' a chill coming on....

Emeril's German Apple Pancake

4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 apples (large), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
pinch salt
powdered sugar, for serving
maple syrup, for serving

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, milk, flour, and vanilla extract and whisk until just blended, being careful to not overmix. Set the batter aside to rest while you prepare the apples, at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a heavy, ovenproof (preferably nonstick)12-inch skillet (I used a cast iron pan), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over high heat. Add the apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the apples are soft and lightly golden around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add the sugar and cook, stirring, until the apples are caramelized and very soft, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and stir to melt.

Working very quickly, pour the batter evenly over the top of the apples. Using oven mitts or potholders, transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the pancake is golden brown and puffed, about 15 minutes. Don't be alarmed when you see the edges of the pancake puff up and extend above the top of the inner edge of the pan – this is supposed to happen!

Using oven mitts or potholders, remove the skillet from the oven and serve the pancake, sprinkled with powdered sugar and drizzled with maple syrup, if desired.

Yield: One super-large pancake.

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