Thursday, April 28, 2011


After recently admitting to myself that I just don’t like (cooked) salmon very much (although this recipe for it is definitely the best I’ve found), I’ve been getting more and more interested in white fish. Of the (relatively few) varieties I’ve tried, halibut is by far my fave, but lately it’s seemed hard to find and hellishly expensive, so I’ve been substituting cod in my fish and chips or fish tacos, with decent results. Looking for other recipes to expand my horizons in the realm of affordable fish, I stumbled across this enticing-looking one at Serious Eats. Lord knows I love anything in fritter form, and the flavors sounded fresh and springy: chunks of gently poached fish mixed with fluffy potato, green herbs, creamy mayonnaise, and zingy Dijon mustard (my growing obsession). A was a bit put off by the name “fish cake,” but when I explained it as a cousin to the crab cake, rather than some horrific seafood pastry, he was game to give it a shot. And, even though we’re both recovering pescophobes, we really enjoyed them! (Small pieces of fish mixed with a bunch of other ingredients are so much less daunting than a big slab of plain fish.) They were easy to put together (except for baking the potato, it doesn’t take too long), tasty, fun but rather elegant-feeling, and all in all a welcome addition to our limited fish repertoire.

The original recipe called for pollock, but I went with old reliable cod instead, and I threw a little dill in there for added interest. As noted, you could pretty much try these with any fish and herb combo you want (salmon and basil? tilapia and cilantro?). I was also intrigued by the suggestion of trying them in a sandwich, but they were certainly plenty good—and a bit lighter—on their own. The recipe says it feeds four at two petite fish cakes apiece, but that’s as a brunch dish, and for dinner the two of us had no difficulty polishing off four apiece, along with the recommended green salad dressed with lemon vinaigrette, without feeling overfull in the least (that’s just half a potato and 5 ounces of fish per serving, after all). I also whipped up some homemade tartar sauce (mayonnaise + sweet pickle relish + lemon juice), and a dab of it on each fish cake added some welcome moisture and tang.

1 medium russet potato
10 ounces cod
2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup chopped parsley, plus a handful of reserved parsley stems
1 tablespoon chopped dill
2 scallions, finely sliced
1 egg
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Wash potato and pierce all over with a fork. Bake until fully cooked, about 30 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then remove skin and grate potato through the large holes of a box grater. Place grated potato in a large bowl.

2. Place cod, garlic, and parsley stems in a large frying pan, cover with water, and bring to a simmer until cod is just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Gently flake fish into large chunks and add to bowl with grated potato.

3. To the bowl, add chopped parsley, dill, and scallions. Beat egg with mayonnaise and grainy mustard in a small bowl, then add to fish/potato/herb mixture. Mix until all ingredients are fully combined, being careful to keep fish from falling apart too much. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Divide fish mixture into eight even pieces (about ¼ cup each) and gently press each portion into a ball, then flatten it slightly with your hands. Place panko crumbs in a shallow bowl and press each cake into panko until coated on all sides. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan until shimmering and fry four of the fish cakes until golden brown on both sides, then repeat with remaining oil and fish cakes, keeping finished fish cakes warm in a 250-degree oven if desired. Serve with green salad with a lemon vinaigrette (1 part lemon juice + 1–2 parts olive oil + salt + pepper), and tartar sauce if desired.

Serves: 2 as a main course, or 4 as a side dish or light brunch/lunch
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Low.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


We don’t eat much lasagna at Chez Bookcook; A likes the traditional meaty-cheesy variety, whereas I prefer something lighter, more vegetably, and more interesting, so we’re forced to make do with the other 3.7 billion (er, 51 at last count, to be precise) pasta recipes in my repertoire. I’ve only dabbled in making it a few times (my only recorded effort is here) and have never hit upon a recipe I found particularly noteworthy…until now (cue trumpet fanfare).

This iteration from Baking Bites isn’t wildly exotic, but it strikes a perfect balance between the traditional tomato-beef lasagna and my vegetal cravings by adding mushrooms to the sauce and spinach to the ricotta, and it contains just enough cheese to be comforting without being greasy or heavy. It’s kind of like a cross between my spaghetti sauce and stuffed shells recipes, and it pleased both factions in our home equally well. A even got excited over eating the leftovers, which is high praise indeed from him. Plus, it’s fairly easy to make and used up some of the ancient no-boil noodles I had in the cupboard (I know some people don’t care for them, and granted it’s not difficult to boil noodles, but in addition to their convenience I actually like their more al-dente texture). I’m tossing out my old recipes and sticking to this one from now on.

Aside from adding basil to the sauce, the only changes I made to the recipe were by necessity: since my tomato sauce came in 15-ounce cans and my ricotta in a 15-ounce tub, I was a few ounces short on liquids, and my lasagna came out a tad on the dryer side. I may have exacerbated this by squeezing the liquid out of my thawed spinach—the recipe didn’t specify this, but every other recipe I’ve seen that uses frozen spinach calls for it, so I did it as a matter of course. It made for a rather crumbly ricotta mixture; instead of “spreading it into an even layer” on the lasagna, I found myself dabbing it in dollops. So I think I’ll experiment with not squeezing the spinach next time, or at least squeezing it less enthusiastically. For now, I’ve just put “drained” in the recipe, because I don’t think it should be swimming in liquid.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups cremini mushrooms, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 pound lean ground beef
Salt and pepper to taste
32 ounces tomato sauce
10 ounces chopped frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
16 ounces ricotta cheese
⅓ cup Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
9 no-boil lasagna noodles

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 2–3 minutes, until just beginning to soften. Add mushrooms, garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, and basil and cook for an additional 3–4 minutes, until mushrooms are softened. Add ground beef and cook just until meat is no longer pink, breaking it up with a spatula as it cooks. Add tomato sauce, turn heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

2. While the sauce simmers, combine spinach, ricotta, and Parmesan in a large bowl and mix well.

3. Cover the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with about 1½ cups of the tomato-meat sauce. Evenly space three no-boil lasagna noodles on top of the sauce layer. Top noodles with about half of the spinach mixture, spreading it into an even layer. Top with about half of the remaining sauce. Top this sauce layer with three more noodles, followed by the ricotta spinach mixture, followed by the remaining noodles. Pour all of the remaining sauce over the noodles and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, then uncover the lasagna and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until sauce is slightly bubbly. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Serves: 8
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good.

Friday, April 08, 2011


Apparently I need to remember to bake bread more often, because when I told A I would be making rolls for our BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches instead of buying them, he looked surprised and a little alarmed. (Probably, not unfairly, he was envisioning the fit I would throw if they didn’t turn out and we had to run to the store to buy emergency bread at the last minute.) But when I fell in love with those sandwiches last summer, part of the charm was the delicious rolls we’d found at the farmers’ market to accompany them. The sandwiches became a regular feature of our menu rotation, but it turned out that the rolls were not such a regular feature of that bakery’s offerings. After a few disappointing iterations of subpar grocery-store replacements, I became convinced that the only solution was to learn to make my own sandwich rolls. Luckily, I had bookmarked this recipe from Baking Bites several years ago.

As usual when I bake bread, the process was fraught with uncertainty, even though this recipe is very simple and not too labor-intensive. My dough seemed really sticky, even after I added all the flour to it—in retrospect, I probably could have added even a little more flour, but I was afraid of making the rolls too stiff and dry. Consequently, it was really hard to knead and then hard to shape. My rolls weren’t very neat-looking, and then I worried they were too close together on the baking sheet. But what do you know, they turned out beautifully anyway. Baking smoothed out all their little imperfections, and even though they grew together, they were easy enough to pull apart again. They tasted delicious (just your standard white bread, with a mild tang from the yogurt and sweetness from the honey) and the texture was absolutely perfect: delightfully moist, pillowy, tender enough to bite into easily but with a tantalizing bit of chew and enough integrity to hold their juicy contents without getting soggy and falling apart. These will be my go-to BBQ chicken vehicles from now on; I think they would also be great hamburger buns, if I ever get into making my own burgers, and I’m sure they would be lovely with cheese and some simple cold cuts on a summer picnic. I can vouch that they are very satisfying with butter and jam, as well.

3½ to 4½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt (I used Greek-style)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1½ teaspoons salt

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine ½ cup flour, the yeast, the honey, and the warm water. Stir well and let sit for 10 minutes, until slightly foamy.

2. Stir in yogurt, vegetable oil, salt, and 2 cups of the remaining flour. Gradually stir in more flour until you have a soft dough that sticks together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (This can all be done in a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, as well.)

3. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding additional flour if necessary to prevent sticking, until dough is smooth and elastic, or about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

4. Turn risen dough out of bowl and onto a lightly floured surface. Gently deflate, pressing into a rectangle. Divide dough into 10 even pieces with a board scraper or a pizza cutter. Shape each piece into a round roll. (To do this, take all the corners of one of the squarish pieces you just cut and pull them together, pinching them to create a seal. This will pull the rest of the dough tight across the top of your roll, giving you a smooth top.) Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining dough. Once all rolls have been formed, press down firmly on each one to flatten. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for 25 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

6. Bake rolls for about 20 minutes, until deep golden on the top and the bottom. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Yields: 10 rolls
Time: About 2½ hours
Leftover potential: Good; will stay soft and moist for several days in an airtight container at room temperature, or can be frozen.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


I love lemon more every day, and I downright crave it in the springtime, so I will take a second glance at any recipe that has it in the title. Add fennel, one of my latest vegetable fascinations, and I’m downright powerless to resist. This recipe from The Kitchn has the added virtues of being ridiculously quick and easy to prepare. The chicken turned out well (chicken thighs stay so moist and flavorful, even when boneless and skinless)—and the fennel was absolutely phenomenal. I don’t know if it was the roasting, the chicken juices, the lemon, the wine, or a combination of all four, but it achieved a level of caramelization and flavor previously unknown to me. Even A, the fennel skeptic, thought it was terrific. (In fact, he loved the dish as a whole, specifically praising the chicken, which I’d found pleasant but unremarkable and basically an excuse to get to the fennel.)

Our sole complaint? Not enough of it. The chicken thighs were petite, and I would have gladly eaten three or four times the amount of fennel I ended up with. I’d already used a bit more than the recipe called for, and I’m glad I did, because it shrank down to a few mouthfuls per serving. Next time I’ll use more chicken and even more fennel, then increase the oil, wine, and lemon accordingly (the version below reflects that).

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 large or 3 medium fennel bulbs (about 2 pounds)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine
1 large or 2 medium lemons
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the chicken thighs in a large bowl.

2. Trim the stalks and fronds off the fennel bulbs. Cut each bulb in quarters (I like to remove the hard center core at the base and discard it), then slice each quarter into ½-inch-thick slices. Add to the bowl with the chicken. Mince about 1 tablespoon of fennel fronds and also add to the bowl.

3. Add the minced garlic, olive oil, and white wine to the bowl. Zest and juice the lemon, and add both to the bowl. Toss all the ingredients together, and add the salt and a generous amount of black pepper.

4. Spread the chicken and fennel on a large baking sheet (coated with foil or parchment, if you want to minimize mess and sticking), arranging the fennel around the outside and placing the chicken pieces closely together in the center. Pour any remaining juices in the bowl over the chicken.

5. Roast for 30 minutes, or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of about 160°F, and the fennel is tender and beginning to brown around the edges. Take the pan out of the oven, and cover with foil. Let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good.