Loving leeks! A fish confit…

Apparently, the word confit comes from the French verb confire (to prepare), which in turn comes from the Latin word (conficere), meaning “to do, to produce, to make, to prepare”. The French verb was first applied in medieval times to fruits cooked and preserved in sugar.   These days, confit generally indicates food that is cooked in fat, oil or sugar water/syrup at a lower temperature than deep frying.

When cooked en confit, leeks become luscious, sweet, and oh-so-tender.  Paired w/ fresh halibut, cooked just until flaky and moist, it becomes a wonderful weekday meal that barely requires any supervision before it is ready for the table.

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Halibut Confit with Leeks, Coriander, and Lemon

Halibut Confit with Leeks, Coriander, and Lemon (original recipe from here) – makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tbl coriander seeds, plus more very coarsely chopped for serving
  • 2 leeks, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 2″ pieces
  • 4 sprigs cilantro, cut into 2″ pieces, plus leaves for serving
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1.5 pound skinless halibut fillet, halved lengthwise

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Coarsely grind 1 tablespoon coriander seeds in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, you can coarsely chop with a knife.)
  2. Toss leeks, cilantro sprigs, oil, half of lemon slices, and 2 teaspoons ground coriander in a large roasting pan; season with salt. Roast, tossing occasionally, until leeks are tender and starting to brown, 15-20 minutes.
  3. Remove roasting pan from oven and carefully pour infused oil into a large heatproof measuring cup.
  4. Reduce oven temperature to 275°F. Season halibut with salt and arrange over leeks in roasting pan. Top with remaining lemon slices and ground coriander and pour infused oil over fish. Roast until halibut is just cooked through and starting to flake, 30-35 minutes.
  5. Cut halibut into large pieces and serve with leeks and lemon topped with chopped coriander seeds and cilantro leaves.****Prep notes: Halibut can be roasted 1 hour ahead. Let cool and cover.

Unplugged.

J and I decided that for our next brief trip (all of 4 days!), we were going to be completely unplugged from work.  Since starting, I have yet to be separated from my work inbox, with its daily onslaught of patient messages, calls, labs, staff messages, prescription refills, etc, etc.  I try to clear it by the end of the day, only to log in several hours later to find that it is once again filled with new things to address.

To that end, I brought my phone along on our trip but otherwise made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I admittedly had separation anxiety and was fidgeting to check in as day 1 approached.  By day 2, I couldn’t believe how it felt to be unplugged.  It. was. so. l-i-b-e-r-a-t-i-n-g!  As grateful as I am to have an electronically medical record and the technological advances we have, it has so blurred the lines between work and home that I never feel completely done with work.  It makes it hard to find some semblance of work-life balance…I went into this field knowing it could and would consume most of my waking hours and energy, but I do not think this means neglecting personal priorities.  Physician, heal thyself – otherwise, how can I possibly hope to care for others?

And so, during one of our mornings free, I made this lovely frittata – it felt celebratory in more ways than one, featuring spring’s fresh and sweet asparagus.

IMG_3433 IMG_3439Asparagus, Leek and Mushroom Frittata (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 12-ounce bunch thin asparagus, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup sliced stemmed shiitake mushrooms
  • 8 large omega-3 eggs
  • 1 cup diced Gruyere cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Heat olive oil in 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add leeks and sauté 4 minutes. Add asparagus and shiitake mushrooms, sprinkle lightly with salt, and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl.
  5. Add egg mixture to skillet; fold gently to combine. Cook until almost set.
  6. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese and Parmesan cheese over. Broil until frittata is puffed and cheese begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

Saffron: worth its weight in gold

Or more, if you attach to it the immense thoughtfulness that my friend Erika had in bringing back a good quantity of it for me from her travels in Turkey, Morocco, and Greece.  I couldn’t join her on her travels, but she helped me get a taste of her adventures by bringing back this cherished spice and inspiring me to experiment with it in the kitchen.

Saffron, with its sweet and grassy notes, is truly a labor-intensive spice to collect.  It is derived from the stigmas of Crocus sativus.   Each plant bears up to four flowers, which each only have 3 stigmas.   It takes 150,000 to 170,000 flowers to glean just 1 kg of the precious saffron threads, and requires the equivalent of 40 hrs of labor.  It is widely used in the cooking of many cuisines, including the paella of Spain, the Milanese risotto of Italy, the bouillabaisse of France, and the biryani of South Asia.  Its vibrant beautiful color adds brightness to all of these dishes, as well as a unique flavor.

J and I have used it lately to make paella (recipe to come later!) but tonight I used it very simply to poach cod, with delightful results.  I paired the poached cod and saffron broth with a refreshing shaved asparagus salad.  It was a quick and healthy weeknight meal, full of bright and interesting flavors!

Gently simmering the cod in the broth is key to achieving buttery, flaky cod (and avoiding rubbery fish).

IMG_3432Poached Cod with Saffron-Tomato Broth (adapted from here)

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ~1 cup (8 oz) of quartered grape tomatoes
  • ~2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • bay leaves
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • two 4-5-oz. skinless cod fillets

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes) and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (garlic should not take on any color), about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, wine, bay leaf, saffron, and ~1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until flavors meld, 5–7 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low; season cod with salt and pepper and place in skillet. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until cod is opaque throughout and beginning to flake, 5–7 minutes (thicker pieces will take longer to cook).
  4. Gently transfer cod to shallow bowls and spoon poaching liquid over.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing (original recipe from Food and Wine)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound large asparagus
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (3/4 ounces)
  • 3/4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.
  2.  In a small bowl, mix the Parmigiano-Reggiano with the lemon juice, water and olive oil. Add to the asparagus and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at once.

How do you like your crab cakes?

Apparently, I favor my crab cakes more crab-by with little filler, while J prefers his not quite as dense with crab.  I guess it’s too filling to have less filler, and he’d rather be able to eat more crab cakes!

We have both spent a good amount of time back East, and we both remember gathering with friends to devour bushels of Maryland blue crab smothered in the ubiquitous Old Bay seasoning.  I’m pretty sure the salt content in that rub would send more than several of my patients’ blood pressure through the roof, but in moderation it is very tasty indeed!   Learning to pry open crabs with my fingers, drenching humidity, and the addictive spices in Old Bay seasoning are some of my vivid associations with summers in D.C.

I used a recipe from Cooking Light to make crab cake sliders the other night for dinner, and they were perfect with the warm weather we are having.  After a run along the beach and soaking in the sunshine, these little sliders reminded us that spring break and summer fun are not that far away.  J enjoyed his with a cool, refreshing beer.  I enjoyed mine with extra dill sauce ;).

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Crab Cake Sliders with Yogurt Dill Sauce (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 8 whole-wheat slider buns
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice (I used Meyer lemon)
  • 1/2 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
  • 6 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt, divided
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, divided
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup whole-wheat panko
  • 8 ounces lump crabmeat, drained and shell pieces removed
  • 4 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups baby arugula or mixed baby greens

Instructions:

1. Preheat broiler to high. Hollow out buns, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell. Arrange buns in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until lightly toasted. **

2. Place 1/4 cup vinegar and sugar in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at HIGH for 45 seconds. Stir in red onion. Let stand 15 minutes. Drain.

3. Combine  1 tablespoon lemon juice, 3 tablespoons yogurt, and  1 tablespoon dill in a small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Combine remaining 3 tablespoons yogurt, 1 tablespoon dill, bell pepper, and next 5 ingredients (through yolk). Add panko and crab, stirring to combine. Working with damp hands, divide crab mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping each into a 3/4-inch-thick patty.

5. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add crab cakes to pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until golden and thoroughly heated.

6. Spread 1 teaspoon yogurt mixture on bottom half of each bun. Top with 1 patty. Divide onions and arugula among sliders. Top with top halves of buns.

**J wanted to use fluffier bread for the crab cakes, so we used a cookie cutter to cut rounds from garlic naan bread, which we then pan-toasted until lightly crispy on the outside to use in lieu of hamburger buns.  

Let it be, let it be…

Since I have no formal culinary training and learned to cook by reading cookbooks or by watching and talking to my mother and grandmother, I have had to painfully work my way through many mistakes.  And I’m still learning!  There always seems to be some new ingredient, technique, or flavor profile to learn and explore.  I love making the kitchen my lifelong science experiment.

That said, one of the earlier lessons I had to learn was how to ‘let it be’ and let a protein properly sear.  Less is more.  So here’s to less poking, prodding, and moving around, in order to allow for a proper maillard reaction and the tasty results that ensue!  The seared protein will release on its own from a well-heated pan once it’s ready to be flipped.

For a quick weeknight dinner the other night, I made Seared Scallops with Avocado and Watermelon Radishes, inspired by this gorgeous recipe from Epicurious.

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Seared Scallops with Avocado and Watermelon Radish

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 small watermelon radishes, very thinly sliced on a mandoline
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yuzu juice
  • Kosher salt
  • 8 sea scallops (about 1 pound), side muscles removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 avocado, very thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
  • a few sprigs of cilantro, as garnish

Instructions:

  1. Toss daikon, vinegar, and yuzu juice in a medium bowl; season with salt.  Set aside.
  2. Pat scallops dry and season scallops with salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over high heat until almost smoking. Add scallops and cook until seared and golden brown but still raw in the center, about 2 minutes per side; transfer to a plate. Let cool slightly, then slice each scallop crosswise into 2 rounds.
  3. Divide avocado among plates; drizzle with lemon juice and season with salt.
  4. Set scallops on avocado and drizzle grapefruit juice and oil over.  Top with grapefruit zest and season with salt to taste. Arrange reserved and drained watermelon radishes over and among the scallops.  Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

When life gives you kumquats…

…make a salad!  Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but that is quite literally what I did the other day, instead of simply snacking on these delightful little fruits.

I love the orderly chaos that is the kitchen.  Unlike life’s chaos, there is a method to the madness:  all the chopping, slicing, dicing, sauteeing, simmering, roasting, and basting ultimately comes together to make a cohesive dish, with all its disparate components somehow harmonized.

For dinner the other night, I made a riff on Plenty More‘s Celery Salad with Feta and Soft-Boiled Egg, using instead my beloved kumquats.  So simple and satisfying.  And so therapeutic, to shift my focus to slicing everything as thinly and uniformly as I could.

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Celery Salad with Feta, Kumquats, and Soft-Boiled Egg (serves 2 as a light dinner or side salad)

Ingredients:

  • 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp superfine sugar
  • ~10 kumquats (or as desired), thinly sliced into rings, with seeds removed
  • 1/3 cup celery leaves
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 tbl capers
  • 1 green chile, seeded and finely sliced
  • 1 tbl olive oil, plus extra to finish
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz/100 gm) feta, crumbled into large chunks
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. After slicing celery, green peppers, and onion thinly, place in a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and 1/4 tsp salt, and mix well.  Set aside for 30 minutes to allow the vegetables to soften and to draw out some of the juices, which will comprise part of the dressing.  IMG_3242
  2. Add the kumquats, celery leaves, parsley, cilantro, capers, chiles, and olive oil to the softened vegetables.  Mix gently to combine.  Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.  IMG_3243
  3. Just before serving, carefully spoon eggs into a saucepan of boiling water and simmer gently for 6 minutes.  Run under cold water until the eggs are just cool enough to handle but still warm, then peel gently; the yolk should still be runny.
  4. Arrange the salad on individual plates, dot each with feta, and place a soft-boiled egg on top, broken in the middle.  Finish with a few drops of olive oil and freshly ground pepper and serve at once.

Miso…hungry!

Have you ever had days when the hours flash by so quickly that by the time you’ve stopped spinning and finally have the chance to catch your breath, you realize that you’ve been running on fumes and that you are now officially…HANGRY?  Considering that I do not have that many mouths to feed (yet), this worries me a little…how am I going to feed co-dependents not so keen on fumes for sustenance?

All silliness aside, I have slowly been working on my repertoire of quick meals, precisely for these HANGRY times.  It also helps to be less than 10 minutes from a decent grocery store with organic produce.  Even in NYC, I was among the few denizens who did not routinely order delivery, to the consternation of my roommates.

One of the items I always have in my pantry is miso.  Made from fermented soybeans, miso is chock full of protein, vitamins, and minerals and adds a salty, sweet, earthy, and savory dimension to sauces, marinades, and soups.  It lends itself well to both traditional and modern cooking, and is extremely versatile.  I used it to make a quick side dish to pair with my Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass the other night, and it made one hangry MD much happier after a long day.

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Miso Butter Glazed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 16 oz variety of mushrooms – wiped clean and sliced if larger (e.g. crimini, oyster, shiitake)
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced with white and green parts divided
  • 1 tbl white (shiro) miso
  • 1/2 tbl water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil

Instructions:

  1. Heat well-seasoned wok over medium heat.
  2. Melt 1 tsp butter and stir-fry white scallion parts and mushrooms, allowing some time between stirs for the mushrooms to get some color.
  3. Combine miso, water, and sugar.  Add to mushroom and white scallion mixture, tossing to coat.  Sauce will thicken slightly.
  4. Drizzle with 1-2 tsp sesame oil, toss in sliced green scallions, and remove from heat.  Serve immediately.

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Pan-Seared Sake Sea Bass with Ginger and Scallions (serves 2)

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz sea bass filet
  • 2 tbl canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 3 1/4-inch slices of ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • ~2.5-3 tbl sake
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger, julienned
  • 2 scallions, sliced thinly on diagonal, green parts only
Instructions:
  1. Bring sea bass to room temperature by leaving out on the counter for at least 10 minutes prior to cooking.  Season liberally with kosher salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil and heat, adding smashed garlic clove and slices of ginger to infuse the oil while it is heating.
  3. Once the ginger and garlic are fragrant, sear fish, skin side down, about 6 minutes, or until skin is golden and fish is 3/4 cooked.  Baste a few times with oil in the pan.
  4. Lower heat slightly to medium, turn fish over and cook 2 minutes more, until just cooked through.  Transfer to heated plate and keep warm.
  5. Remove ginger and garlic used to infuse the oil, add julienned ginger to remaining oil and lower heat while ginger cooks for ~10-15 seconds.
  6. Deglaze the pan with sake, scraping up browned bits.  Remove pan from heat, add scallions and stir to wilt slightly.  Spoon scallion and ginger mixture over the sea bass and serve immediately.

Lemon Roasted Asparagus

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bunch asparagus
  • olive oil
  • lemon zest
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Wash asparagus and trim tough ends.  Pat completely dry.
  3. Toss with just enough olive oil to coat.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Grate fresh lemon zest over to taste.
  5. Roast until crisp-tender, ~10-15 minutes.