Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Preserved Lemons #3 - Haddock En Papillote

I was pondering how to use my preserved lemons to make a fish dish, and I happened to watch an episode of "Top Chef: Masters", which just wrapped up, where one of the cheftestants was inspired by the concept of "Mystery" to make a fish dish en papillote, which means it was baked in paper (usually parchment, but sometimes aluminum foil or paper bags) with some other goodies. This put the idea into my head of using my preserved lemons in an "en papillote" dish of my own.

I went to the grocery store and looked through the selection of frozen fish. I settled on a pair of large frozen haddock loins, for no particular reason other than they weren't particularly expensive (as opposed to my first choice, halibut, which WAS), and it was a nice, firm fish, and relatively healthy.

To go in the paper package with the fish, I bought a box of couscous, a can of chickpeas, some scallions and some mushrooms. I had some fish stock at home I wanted to use, along with the lemons and the olives from my first attempt at using preserved lemons.

So, the day before I made this, I placed the frozen haddock loins in my refrigerator to thaw. The next day, I prepared the couscous by emptying the box of couscous into a bowl, along with the drained can of chickpeas. I brought two cups of fish stock, some turmeric for color, a generous pinch of cinnamon, and a generous pat of butter to a boil, and poured it over the couscous and chickpeas, and let them sit.

(Note: None of the measurements in this are very precise; it's a very flexible, forgiving recipe)

Meanwhile, I preheated my oven to 400 degrees. Then I diced the bunch of green onions (8 of them), and thinly sliced about 1 cup of fresh mushrooms. I also minced about 1/4 cup of green olives and I took out 4 preserved lemon quarters, which got their pulp and pith removed. These were finely sliced into thin strips and set aside. Finally, I took out the two thawed haddock loins and cut them in half cross-wise.

Now that the prep work was done, it was time to do the assembly. I took out my roll of parchment paper, and cut 4 large squares from it (side note: parchment paper is easy to find at any supermarket; it's in the same section as the aluminum foil, although you may prefer using foil). I laid one piece of paper on a dinner plate, and put 1/4 of the couscous and chickpeas onto it. Then I sprinkled over 1/4 each of the green onions, olives, and mushrooms. On top of that, I laid one piece of the haddock loin and then carefully laid out one bunch of the sliced lemon peel over that, and salted and peppered the mixture. Finally, since I was feeling a bit fancy, I finished it off by pouring a generous splash of white wine over everything. Then I took the four corners of the paper and brought them to the center over the fish, and bound them together by wrapping some twine around the bunched paper and tying it off. Into the oven they went, for 20 minutes - the bag the haddock came in said 15, but I wanted to be sure. And...

Everything came out nice and neat and perfectly done. The flavors all melded together nicely, and the parchment paper held up to cooking just fine - no drips, tears or leakage making a mess in my baking dish. The fish was flaky and delicious, and tasted faintly of the lemon peel. The couscous had absorbed all of the flavors in the parcel - the onion,mushroom, fish and lemon were all detectable and it was delicious. A definite cook-again, although next time I'm going to use bigger fish fillets or maybe try it with some large shrimp or even mix some bay scallops into the couscous with the lemon and make a sort of miniature fish casserole.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cooking with Heart

And I don't mean that in a "taste the love, hootie-hoo" kind of way, either.

Valentine's Day 2007 found me in a particularly black mood. I decided to celebrate the holiday of love by taking one of it's most beloved symbols - the heart - and doing something special with it.

So I took a beef heart, slow-cooked it in red wine and beef stock for three hours, and ate it. Like I said, a black mood. And actually, it was quite tasty. Seriously, I would recommend everyone trying to cook with a beef heart at least once - it's a cheap cut of meat, and it's nutritious, flavorful, and if cooked properly it's quite tender. Good stuff.

So, recently I'd been thinking about that dish and decided to try doing something a little fancier with it. I pondered making a classic Bœuf bourguignon, but I found an old church cookbook my grandmother gave me that had a simpler, somewhat bastardized version of that recipe, which had an appropriately less-fancy name of Beef Burgundy.

I purchased a nice two-pound heart from the grocery store (you can see in the picture the valves were trimmed out - are we hungry yet?). Beef heart is actually quite cheap, and I was hoping that by braising it and slow-cooking it in the crockpot for several hours, it would turn into a nice, tender, tasty cut of meat.

Ah, Flossie - nobody had a heart as big as yours, old girl. Or as succulent.

So, the first step was to make a seasoned flour mix of flour, thyme, salt, and pepper, and dredge the beef heart in it. While that was sitting and allowing the flour to permeate it, I heated up some oil and some chopped bacon in a large pan and fried until crispy. The bacon was removed and into the bacon-y oil I chucked some onions and some nice quartered baby bella mushrooms. After those were cooked a bit, they were set aside and it was time for the heart to get browned in the frying pan. Typically for Beef Burgundy (or bourginion, if you prefer), you used cubes of stew beef, but I decided to leave the heart whole while it simmered and carve it at the end of cooking.

So, with the heart browned all over, I set it aside and took out my crockpot. I heated up some beef stock and some Burgundy wine, and added the heart to the liquid. Lid on, set it on HIGH, and I went off to clean house a bit while the heart cooked, and slowly tenderized from the acidic wine.

Three hours later, the onions and mushrooms joined the simmering heart in the crock pot for one hour, and voila - done! I wasn't very happy with the thickness of the liquid in the pot, though, so I whipped up a little thickening agent with some flour, melted butter, and some juices from the crockput, and stirred that back in and cooked it for another 15 minutes.

Now that it was finished, I took the heart out of the crockpot and cut it into cubes.
You can see from the picture that the appearance and texture of a cooked heart really isn't that distinguishable from other cuts of beef.

I boiled some whole-grain egg noodles to go with, and dished myself up a plate. I thought it was quite tasty - the hours of slow-cooking had made the heart tender and easy to cut. It still had a very slight rubbery texture to it and also a slight gamey taste that made me think of venison, believe it or not, but still delicious. However, a 2-lb heart made a LOT of Beef Burgundy, so decided to take a bit in to work and see how people liked it.

Not that I was going to TELL them what it was, mind you.

So, I dished up some noodles and beef into a Tupperware container and gave it to my boss' assistant. She took it home for lunch, and I took the container I brought for myself and heated it up in our break room. The first person I gave this to was our accountant, who took one bite, and proclaimed it "good". She wasn't fooled for a second, though - apparently she'd eaten much stranger foods, and while she didn't quite get what it was she was eating, she knew it was not typical beef and she didn't really care. Poo - I was hoping for a more dramatic reaction. Oh well.

As I was heading back to the break room, I crossed paths with one of the ladies from our HR department. I asked her to try it. She took a bite, and proclaimed it delicious and it was "sooo gooooood".

Then I told her what she'd eaten. Her eyes bugged out, and she immediately turned and hurried into the ladies' room. AH, now that was more like it.

Meanwhile, my boss' assistant came back from her lunch break. I asked her if she liked it. She gave me a VERY tight-lipped smile, and said "I liked the mushrooms."

Me: "How about the beef?"
Her: "Yes, I had a piece of the beef. I liked the mushrooms."

Enough said.

The final unwitting subject was our receptionist. I honestly wouldn't have offered her a taste, but she could smell it and remarked that it smelled delicious, so of course I HAD to offer her a taste. She tried it, and liked it. At least, she did until I told her what part of the cow she was eating, and without the slightest hesitation, she turned her head, opened her mouth, and leaned forward slightly, letting the half-chewed piece of heart hit the countertop with a splat.

Her: "I can't BELIEVE you let me eat a cow heart, you ASSHOLE!"
Me: "I can't BELIEVE I didn't wait until you'd actually SWALLOWED it to tell you!"

I still have a Zip-loc bag of the leftovers in my freezer. I think I'll save it for the next church potluck.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

S'mac me upside the head

I'm trying to stay on a diet at the moment, and so far I'm doing good (7 lbs in 2 1/2 weeks - yeah, baby), and feeling good...

...and then I stumble across the website of a restaurant like this, and Oh. My. Gawd. I suddenly want to bolt to my grocery store and empty out their dairy aisle.