Friday, February 26, 2016

Zuppe di Pesce

We had dinner at M.s house last week and she made Zuppe di Pesce, translated from Italian meaning “fish soup.” This soup invites a bunch of fish to the party, traditionally the this-and-that pieces that didn’t make it to the market.  These castaways are tossed into a wonderful, tomato-based broth creating quite the escapade for the taste buds.  Included in this brothy tomato-based soup are shell fish, such as shrimp, clams and mussels and meatier sea inhabitants such as scallops and monkfish.

Have you ever seen a monkfish?  I was watching a Martha Stewart video on preparing monkfish and her guest,Eric Ripert, Executive Chef at Le Bernardin in NYC, explained the bottom-dweller monkfish is so scary looking that most fish mongers cut the head off before displaying it at market. Monkfish are abundant off the coast of Europe which explains its popularity in French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese soups, stews and other dishes.  

Monkfish has a mild flavor and texture and is often called the poor-man's lobster.  Serving a loin of Monkfish, perhaps roasted in a casserole of mushrooms, snow peas and asparagus, would certainly be a fancy treat for grateful dinner party guests.

This slurp-worthy recipe is adapted slightly from  

Zuppe di Pesce
1½ pounds of Monkfish Loin, cut into pieces
8 Sea Scallops
8 Jumbo Brown Shrimp, cleaned, tail left on, shells reserved(*see notes)
4 anchovies
1½ pounds clams
½ large sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 medium bulb fennel, thinly sliced, a few fennel fronds reserved (see note)
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups San Marzano tomatoes, strained through a food mill
4 cups broth or water
Extra virgin olive oil
Rustic, crusty bread, rubbed with garlic, and drizzled with olive oil
Note:  The green feathery fronds look a lot like dill but the fennel herb has a much stronger aniseed flavor.
Pat the monkfish and scallops dry and season with salt. Coat a heavy bottomed pot with olive oil and place over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, sear the monkfish on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove from pan and place on a rimmed plate or shallow bowl. Add more oil if needed and sear the scallops on both sides, 1-2 minutes per side. Remove and reserve, along with the monkfish.
During any point in this recipe, add a little more olive oil if the pot seems dry.  In the same pot, sauté the anchovies, onions and fennel until tender but not browned, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add garlic and red pepper flakes to a clear spot and sauté until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Deglaze with about a cup of white wine, scrapping up all of the bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Let most of the wine evaporate then add the crushed tomatoes and broth or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until flavors have united. After 15-20 minutes of simmering, add the monkfish, nestling it into the tomato-y broth, along with any accumulated juices. Continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes
Add the shrimp and clams and continue to simmer until the shrimp have almost cooked and the clams and almost opened, 5-10 minutes, depending on the size. At this point, add the scallops, along with any juices, and simmer for another 2 minutes or so until the clams have all opened, the shrimp are cooked and the scallops are heated. Taste broth, add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, as needed.  Divide seafood between bowls and ladle broth, fennel, and onions over the top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds. Serve with toasted, garlic-rubbed bread.
Image of monkfish from

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chicken and Mushrooms with Tarragon Cream Sauce

A few years ago, Sister got me an electric skillet for Christmas.  I requested one after we went to a friend’s house for dinner and she made an amazing chicken scaloppini in her electric skillet.   I thought, what a handy little apparatus, and added it to my wish list.

Then, I promptly forgot I had it.

Then, my dryer died.

Then, I cleaned my basement so the Home Depot delivery people would not kill themselves navigating the cluttered labyrinth when I finally buy and have a dryer delivered.

Then, during the excavation, I found my unopened electric skillet.

Then, I decided to put this small and handy appliance into active service. 

So I searched “electric skillet recipes” because mine, strangely, did not come with a recipe booklet, and one from Cuisinart appeared in the search.  Included were several tempting recipes, Asparagus and Prosciutto Frittata, Bolognese Sauce, Turkey Meatballs, and the one I made for dinner this past week Chicken and Mushrooms with Tarragon Cream Sauce. I love it in my Chicken Pot Pie recipe.

I love mushrooms and tarragon, with its distinctive licorice/anise flavor and aroma is a highly underrated herb.  I may hesitate to use tarragon in sweet things like I would rosemary, thyme and sage (thyme shortbread cookies are the best!) but eagerly look for for savory chicken, meat, fish and egg dishes to use the leafy herb.  Chop some up and toss it in a salad or use it to flavor butter or white wine vinegar.

What I did not know is that French tarragon is only grown by root division and not by seed because its flowers are sterile.  And, apparently, tarragon tea is a traditional cure for insomnia.  The things I learn writing these posts!!!

Oh, I forgot our Dinner Night was Ash Wednesday so I could not eat the chicken, but I enjoyed it the next day and I made Chicken Salad with the other leftover pieces.

This absolutely delicious recipe is written for an electric skillet but can be easily adapted for a regular stove top skillet.  I served with fresh tagliatelle and roasted asparagus.


6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (5-6 ounces each)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided 8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced 
1/3 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup vermouth or dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock, nonfat, low sodium
1 tablespoon freshly chopped tarragon divided
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil), slivered, divided 
1 cup light cream (I used Half & Half)
Season chicken with salt and pepper.

Preheat Electric Skillet to 300°F; melt oil and butter. Add chicken breasts and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes; turn and cook 2-3 minutes longer. (Do not cook through – they will finish in the cream sauce.) Remove chicken, cover loosely while making sauce.

Heat remaining oil and butter and brown mushrooms, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add shallots; stir constantly for 30 seconds or until softened; do not let burn. Add wine, chicken stock, 1/2 tablespoon tarragon, 3 teaspoons sun-dried tomatoes. Cook until liquid has reduced to about 1/2 cup; add accumulated juices from the chicken breasts and cook 1 minute. Add cream and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. 

Push the mushrooms to one side; return chicken breasts in a single layer. Cover and reduce heat to 200°F; simmer until chicken is cooked through, 5-6 minutes longer.

To serve, place chicken breasts on a warm plate; cover with sauce and mushrooms. Garnish with remaining fresh tarragon and sun-dried tomatoes. * If you do not have fresh tarragon, substitute fresh parsley and add 3/4-teaspoon dried tarragon with the sun-dried tomatoes.

We had a velvety and delightful homemade chocolate pudding for dessert…how long is Lent?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Coq au Vin

It was C.’s turn to cook last Wednesday and for inspiration, she pulled out the November/December 2006 edition of Cook’s Illustrated.  

It’s comforting to know that some things never change.

Anyway, A. told us that she has subscribed to Cook’s Illustrated for many years and each year, for Christmas, Mr. A. gives her the bound compilation of recipes from that year.  She, in turn, bundles the individual magazines from that year, ties a bow around them and gifts them to one of her lucky friends.  In 2006, it appears that lucky friend was C.!

In this edition of the magazine, there is a treasure-trove of culinary gems, including a gussied-up version of Green Bean Casserole, Penne alla Vodka (that I will make to see if it stands up to mine!), Chocolate Pots de Creme (that I will also be making!) and Coq au Vin, which literally translated means Cock in Wine.  

C. made us the Coq au Vin.

If you are familiar with Cooks Illustrated,  then you know the stories and preparation that precede the recipe are just as informative (and entertaining!) as the recipe itself.  The goal for the provincial favorite — Coq au Vin — was to reduce the 2 1/2 hours of cooking time and still produce chicken succulent enough to make any country French cook swoon.

Coq au Vin was originally made with roosters no longer suitable for breeding. To make the tough meat tender, it was cooked for hours in wine, mushrooms, carrots, onions and herbs.   Modern haute-cuisinesque recipes that Cooks Illustrated researched shaved some time off the recipe preparation but those versions still seemed a bit fancy for this rustic French chicken stew that has its roots in basic, simple cooking.  So after some trial-and-error, the recipe below was the hands-down favorite and published winner.  It takes half the time to prepare, uses boneless chicken thighs (that tolerate a longer cooking time nicely), is packed with rich and complex flavors and returns the recipe to its humble beginnings.   And to quote Cooks Illustrated “no past-its-prime rooster required.”

Cooks Illustrated’s, Sandra Wu, also notes that “a medium-bodied, fruity red wine such as pinot noir or Rhöne Valley grenache is best for this recipe….avoid bold, heavily oaked red wine varietals like cabernet, and light-boded wines like Beaujolais.”  Use mushrooms with a earthy quality such as cremini, which is merely a more mature version of the common white button mushroom.

Serve immediately over with egg noodles or mashed potatoes.  C. served with mashed potatoes and crusty rolls to help us sop up every last bit of the wine-based and totally delicious sauce.  

Licking the plate was optional with judgment suspended.

Coq au Vin
Cooks Illustrated

1 bottle (750 ml) medium- bodied red wine, divided
2 cups chicken stock
10 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley plus 2 tbsp. freshly minced flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
4 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4 -in. pieces
21/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat and cut in half crosswise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
24 frozen pearl onions (about 1 c.), thawed and patted dry
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, wiped clean, stems trimmed, halved if small, quartered if large
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tbsp. flour

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine all but 1 tablespoon of the red wine (reserving for later use), chicken stock, parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cook until mixture is reduced to 3 cups, about 20 to 25 minutes. Discard herbs and reserve wine-stock mixture.

Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, cook bacon, stirring occasionally, until browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Reserve 2 tablespoons bacon fat in a small bowl, and discard remaining fat.

Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Return Dutch oven to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking. Add half of the chicken, in a single layer, and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate. Add remaining 1 tablespoon bacon fat and heat until just smoking, and repeat with remaining chicken.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in now-empty Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When foaming subsides, add pearl onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. 

Add tomato paste and flour and cook, stirring frequently, until well-combined, about 1 minute.  Add reduced wine mixture, scraping bottom of pot with a spoon to loosen browned bits. Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper, cooked chicken (and any accumulated juices) and cooked bacon. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer chicken to a large bowl and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer until sauce is thick and glossy and measures about 31/2 cups, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and reserved 1 tablespoon wine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Return chicken to pot. Top with minced parsley and serve immediately over noodles or mashed potatoes.