Friday, November 06, 2015


It was a wonderful dinner no restaurant would dare serve. It was too simple, but it was delicious.

I got a filet of flounder just under half a pound from The Fishery. I squeezed some lemon juice onto it, sprinkled some Celtic sea salt, floured it lightly and put it in the skillet where the high-heat sunflower oil was shimmering and cooked it 2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other. Served it with brown rice cooked with a little butter and salt and a wedge of lemon. Accompanied with a Cote de Provence rose (last of our summer stock).

The fish was fresh, moist, with all those subtle, mild flavors a white fish can offer, and the brown rice complemented it with that nutty saltiness. A restaurant would have had to gussy it up with a red pepper sauce or something to lend a little color to the plate and to justify the price of an entree. In fact, I recently had a great flounder in a restaurant (Pesce?) but mine was, in all modesty, much better.

I've loved flounder since I discovered it in Hamburg, where one of the regional specialties is Scholle Finkenwerder Art (with a bacon sauce). But it doesn't really need the bacon to shine. I often have a fish night when Andrea has an evening meeting because she is less fond of fish than I am. I'm not ready to join my pescavore friends because I like meat too much, but a meal like this makes me want to keep up my fish nights.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Late summer grilling

Getting some creamy marinades for grilling in the late summer. A recipe off the Web involved blending a cup of coriander and mint together with oil and ground spices to slather over pork tenderloins. While you scrape off the marinade before grilling, it is enough to give the pork a nice dark crust and seal in lots of flavor.

Another recipe, from Feeding the Fire, was a "Cornell chicken," which entailed a mayonnaise-like marinade made from mixing 1 cup oil, 2 cups (!) cider vinegar, and an egg together with a poultry blend of dried herbs. The vinegar must have tenderized the chicken -- a small one from Broad Branch, cut into quarters -- because both white and dark meat were incredibly tender and moist, sealed into the nicely charred skin that was full of flavor from the herbs.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bar Civita

This "casual elegant" restaurant has a kind of cucina rustica that is supposed to be Italian-inspired American but is, thankfully, heavy on the Italian. The menu is limited like a hostaria, and in fact none of the main dishes appealed to us, but both the antipasti/appetizers and pastas were delicious.

We had a pot of pork rillette with a crema mortadella that at $4 was a steal -- a generous portion with crispy crostini to spread it on. The crostini with feather light ricotta were as advertised -- feather light cheese topped with grilled melon on bigger slices of costini.

The part of Italy doing the inspiring, btw, seems to be Puglia, because my strascinati pasta is attributed to that region. This had a tomato sauce with the rich, deep flavor of long simmering, with spare rib pork ragu, house pancetta, basil and ricotta salata, served hot and a completely satisfying entree amount. Andrea's gnocci with a fresh summer vegetable succotash was a wonderful invention. The vegetables tasted like they were purchased that day at a farmer's market, and the corn in particular seemed to be from a fresh cob. We had a very nice Puglia red at an appealing price of $35.

We were quite happy with this newcomer and it was proof, if we needed it, that Tom Sietsema, who panned the restaurant in a First Bite column, has become cranky and unreliable in his reviews.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Simple flavors

Or simply flavor. Fact is, the quality of our food nowadays is so high you don't have to mask it with a lot of spices or long cooking. It can be enough to enhance the flavor with just a little salt and pepper and butter and some basic cooking techniques.

Case in point was an easy weekday meal consisting of pan-roasted pork tenderloin and braised fennel. The single tenderloin got some salt and pepper and sat in the fridge for 4 hours uncovered. Then I seared it in the cast iron skillet for about 4 minutes and put it in a 350 oven for 20 minutes, until it reached an interior temperature of 140.

To accompany, I had cut three medium-sized fennel bulbs into five or six wedges each and sauteed those in butter and oil. Then I added 1/3 cup water, salt and pepper, and covered at a simmer for about half an hour.

I let the tenderloin rest and deglazed the skillet with some of the braising liquid from the fennel, sliced the pork and napped it with the deglazing juice, serving the braised fennel on the side.

The Niman Ranch pork from WF was tender and flavorful, cooked medium rare, with a wonderful saltiness from the early seasoning. The fennel was surprisingly sweet from the caramelizing during the initial sauteeing (I probably could have done this a little longer and gotten even more flavor). Both were exquisitely natural and unadorned, and perfectly paired.

The roasting technique was from the ever-reliable Molly Stevens and the braised fennel recipe from Susan Hermann Loomis's Cooking at Home on Rue Tatin. Fennel is not a Mediterranean vegetable so I though I'd have to go down and get Julia Child for a recipe until I spotted it in this French cookbook.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Beef short ribs with tomatoes, roasted poblanos and herbs

Celebrating New Year's Eve with friends we went to Mexico with another New Year's, we cooked a Mexican-themed dinner, courtesy of Rick Bayless.

Short ribs is one of our favorite dishes anyway, so this simple recipe, which braises the ribs in roasted and peeled poblanos, onion, garlic and tomato was an easy choice. It was also an easy dish to double and use our big Le Creuset Dutch oven. The ribs get browned and then braised in a slow oven for an hour and a half. The herb is either epazole or thyme (our choice). To accompany, we fixed the classic Mexican rice (arroz blanco), which fries the rice with onions and garlic before adding the broth to cook. Andrea baked up some of her famous corn sticks for bread.

For a starter, Andrea fixed salmon ceviche with orange, capers and roasted green chile from the same Bayless book, Mexico One Plate at a Time, and for dessert a Mexican chocolate pot de creme recipe she found online.

The short ribs were very flavorful and were a big hit, even with those who are not big red meat fans. The ceviche and dessert were also very popular. We had champagne beforehand with cute little cauliflower fritters topped with a salsa, as well as chips and guacamole.

Every time we use a Bayless recipe we resolve to do it more often; we have several of his cookbooks. Maybe this year we will!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Standing rib roast

This is not rocket science -- even the Washington Post had a short blurb about how to do it correctly -- but what I appreciate about Molly Stevens' All About Roasting is that she has all the details in one place that is easy to find and refer to.

The roast was stupendous, crispy brown on the outside, with tender, pink, full prime rib flavor on the inside. We had a three-rib roast weighing 8 lbs (they go up to 5 ribs and 12 pounds). Stevens suggests seasoning it at least a day and up to three days ahead with salt, dry mustard and chopped rosemary, and let it sit uncovered in the fridge. You take it out three hours before roasting, start at 425 for 20 minutes, then turn it down to 325 for one to two hours, until it gets to an internal temperature of 120 for medium rare. Then let it stand 20 to 40 minutes, as the temperature continues to rise and the juices spread back through the meat.

Stevens explains how to shop for standing rib, why you tie it between the ribs (so the slab of fat won't come loose and flip back), and two different ways to carve it. I took the easier way after presenting it to the dinner guests out of the oven, and carved it in the kitchen, cutting along the bone to remove the eye of the beef whole and then slicing it into half-inch slabs. It was gorgeous.

She also had a great recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with a sauce made of butter slowly browned with mustard seeds and with capers and lemon juice added. You toss the sprouts out of the oven in the sauce and it made for a really yummy accompaniment to the beef.

Roasting is a great way to cook and this book is so useful even for these very simple recipes and techniques because our generation simply doesn't have the savoir-faire that comes from doing all these things regularly and often.

Earlier in the week we used her recipes for pan-seared salmon fillets, finished in a hot oven, and roasted potatoes, with just salt and oil, but very good.

Like her earlier book on braising, this book won James Beard and IACP awards for single subject cookbooks.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sausages and lentils in the style of Umbria

Another winner from Domenica Marchetti, this was the ideal comfort food for a winter weekday. The lentils get cooked separately in water with a little end of celery, garlic and a bay leaf. The sausages -- I got the sweet Italian sausage from Broad Branch -- is sauteed, and then the chopped onion and more garlic is sauteed in that fat. For the finish, the sausage is added back into the pot, along with the cooked lentils, tomato sauce and beef broth and everything simmers for half an hour before you ladle it into a dish and enjoy. It is a soupy stew that has absorbed all the sausage flavor and developed a rich sauce.

Photo by Ankara via Wikimedia Commons
Earlier in the week, we tried another recipe from Morisson, equally simple. This was just boneless, skin-on chicken breasts seared in a skillet and then finished in the oven with green onions that have been sauteed in the chicken fat. The recipe calls for deglazing the skillet with Vin Jura, or as a substitute, dry sherry. Since I had some fino left over from a recent dinner, that's what I used and it was yummy. Served with brown rice.