Monday, March 25, 2013

Cape Cod Miso Stew

One of my all time favorite comfort foods is miso soup. Fermented soy products are the healthiest to eat and miso has been an integral part of the Japanese diet for centuries. Our favorites are the mellow white and red soy misos made by Miso Master. I try to weave miso soup into our diet a couple of times a week, but sometimes my best-laid plans go astray, so when we haven't had it for a while I like to add a piece of fish and a few other trimmings which transforms this bowl of soup into a satisfying meal.

Miso's a living food that's loaded with beneficial microorganisms such as Tetragenococcus halophilus. So the next time you're wondering how to get your daily allowance, come on back and try this recipe. I've even been known to have if for breakfast, sans the fish, which is quite common in the macrobiotic diet, but perhaps if you're new to it you'll stick with lunch or dinner for now.

Cape Cod Miso Stew
Serves 2 as a meal, or 4 as a starter

The Soup:
4 cups of water
3 inch piece of kombu
2 carrots (diced)
2 stalks of celery (diced)
1 cup of diced Kabocha squash
1 tablespoon red miso
2 tablespoons mellow white miso

Add the kombu to the water and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Put the miso paste in a small bowl and add some of the soup broth to it. Mix until it forms a nice creamy paste. Add that paste back to the soup. Let it simmer (not boil) as that will destroy those wonderful microorganisms. Remove the kombu before serving.

The Fish:
3/4 pound of fresh cod
Marinade for fish:
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ume plum vinegar

Cut the fish into two pieces and place in a baking dish or small cast iron skillet. Pour on the marinade and sprinkle with the ginger seasoning. Allow it to sit for about 15 minutes before baking, basting with the marinade every few minutes. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until cooked through to your liking.

The Greens:
4 leaves of collard greens (chopped)
1/2 small sweet white onion (cut into crescents)
2 cloves garlic (diced)

Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to a skillet. Add the onions and garlic, cooking until tender. Add the chopped collard greens (use the stems, too) and saute over high heat until the greens are tender.

Assembling the fish stew:
Divide the miso soup into two large soup bowls. Lay the greens in the middle and place a piece of fish on the greens, then pour the juices from the cooked fish over the top. Add a handful of toasted unsalted sunflower seeds. Get ready for a cacophony of tastes and textures that are the ultimate in soothing comfort food.

What's next, perhaps a lobster miso?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Almond Cake for Avalon

I offered to make a cake for Avalon's sixteenth birthday celebration. Our families have been friends since my daughter and Avalon were in kindergarten and they're big fans of my cooking, so naturally I love feeding them. We share a love of all things almond, so an almond cake it would be. 

A cake by David Lebovitz, blogger and baker extraordinaire, came right to the top of my Google search. I made some adjustments to his recipe (to accomodate a bundt pan) by increasing the almond paste, butter and dry ingredients by 50%, the sugar not quite as much, and using the same number of eggs. The result was a moist, delicious and not overly sweet cake. I drizzled an almond glaze over the top and sprinkled it with toasted almonds. We served it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and when I tell you this cake was perfection, I'm not exaggerating.

Almond Cake for Avalon
Adapted from David Lebovitz's Almond Cake recipe
Serves 12 slices

12 oz / 310g almond paste
1 and 1/2 cups / 375g sugar
1 and 1/2 cups / 220g flour, plus 1/2 cup / 75g flour
12 ounces / 340g unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons almond extract
6 large eggs, room temperature

Mix the following ingredients in a food processor: sugar, almond paste and 1/2 cup of flour until combined and it looks like sand. Add butter and mix until well blended. Move this to a bowl, add the vanilla and almond extract and beat in the eggs, two at a time, using an electric mixer or whisk.

Add the remaining flour, baking powder and salt to another bowl and mix well. Fold this into the wet batter until combined. Try not to over mix it. Place the batter in a greased and floured bundt pan. I like this swirl pan.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 1 hour, or until it's set when pressed in the middle. It will be golden brown on top. If you insert a toothpick it will come out with just a little bit on crumb on it.

Almond Icing
2 cups confectioners sugar
4 tablespoons of butter (softened at room temperature)
1/4 - 1/3 cup of milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together. Start with 1/4 cup of milk and add more, if needed, to thin the glaze. Pour over the cooled cake and sprinkle with toasted almonds. Allow icing to set, then dust with powered sugar before serving.

Nothing says happy birthday quite like the fontaine de célébration candles from Paul's in the UK. Let me know if you need one as I usually have a stash on hand. I think they're outlawed in this country which is such a shame.

 Happy sweet sixteen, Avalon. xx

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Baked Stuffed Cape Cod Conch

While strolling the beach the other day I found two nearly perfect conch shells. There are loads of broken ones, but finding one intact has so far eluded me, and I've been looking for decades, so it was a good day. 

It was also my first encounter with the sea snail that lives inside as these two came fully loaded. As I was contemplating how one gets them out of the shell, recipes were coming to mind. It was a toss up between conch fritters and baked stuffed conch prepared in the style of stuffed quahogs. The latter won out as I wanted to bake it inside the shell. Kind of the ultimate in sustainable eating, no? Plus, it would make for an awfully sweet presentation, and the perfect opportunity to show off my prize. 

Broken conch shell that caught the refection of the sun.

Google came through with instructions on how to dislodge them. There were a few options. The first involved piercing a hole in the shell to release the suction of the snail, which was totally out of the question since I intend on displaying mine for time immemorial, and option two was to boil them for about 10 minutes. I opted for the latter. After boiling, remove them from the water and use kitchen tongs to grab on to the hard end (sometimes called the toenail) and pull until it releases from the shell. Cut this end off and remove the digestive gland at the top. Wash the meat well to remove any sand. The meat can be roughly chopped in a food processor on pulse, or with a sharp knife.

Baked Stuffed Cape Cod Conch
Serves 4 as an appetizer

Meat from two large conch
6 slices of good french bread (cut into small cubes)
1/3 green pepper (diced)
1/3 red pepper (diced)
1/4 of a small sweet white onion (diced)
2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 oz clam juice
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Fresh lemon
Hot sauce

Add two teaspoons of olive oil to a skillet. Saute the garlic, onion and peppers until they just start to brown. Remove from heat, add chopped conch, Worcestershire sauce, bread, calm juice, pepper flakes and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Mix well. Stuff into a clean conch shell, or use a casserole pan. Place a few pats of butter on top, cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and brown the tops under the broiler. Serve with fresh lemon wedges and your favorite hot sauce.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vegetable Soup with French Lentils

We just had our third major winter storm here on Cape Cod with winds gusting up to 60 mph and a mixture of rain and snow spitting down from the sky. Not the ideal weather for taking the dog out, but perfect for diving into a big bowl of steaming hot soup. A bag of French lentils, or lentils du Puy,  have been staring me in the face for weeks.

Once I discovered these little green beauties, which are grown in the Le-Puy-en-Velay commune in the Haute Loire department of south-central France, I've never used any others. They remain firm after cooking and have a nutty flavor that I quite enjoy. While they're perfect for soup, they're also a nice addition to a salad, and I've used them to make Nepalese Dal.

So as Mother Nature unleashed yet another storm on the Northeast, this hearty soup made it just a little bit easier to bear.

French Lentil Vegetable Soup
Serves 6-8
1 yellow squash (cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
1 zucchini (cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
1/2 white onion (diced)
1/4 of a buttercup or butternut squash (cut into 1/2 inch cubes)
2 carrots (diced)
2 large leaves of kale (chopped)
1 quart (32 oz or 946ml) vegetable stock
1.5 cups of leftover red sauce (I had some homemade marinara on hand. You could also use peeled, chopped tomatoes)
2 cups of water
1.5 teaspoons dry basil
1.5 teaspoons curry powder
1.5 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking the lentils: Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and add 1 cup of French lentils. Simmer over medium heat until the lentils are tender. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water (after they're finished cooking as this keeps the legumes tender) and allow to sit for a few minutes.

Dice the onion, cut the buttercup squash into 1/2 inch cubes (peel first if using butternut). Add a tablespoon of olive oil to your soup pot, then add the onions, carrots and buttercup squash. Allow to cook for 5 minutes. Add the spices plus 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for another 3 minutes. Toss in the yellow and zucchini squash, then add the stock, tomato sauce and water. Cook over low to medium heat (gentle boil) for 15 minutes. Drain the lentils and add to the soup with the chopped kale. Allow to simmer another 5 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, then serve.

Soup toppings:
We added crumbled goat cheese and roasted rosemary cashews, which give the soup a tangy flavor and nutty crunch.