Girl + Fire = Food



Sunday, June 27, 2010

Braised Fennel & Purple Potatoes

Apologies for the unexcused absence. I didn't abandon my little blog. The event planner part of me had to work a little more intensely for the last few weeks. But now, back to the Fire.

I've been enamored with fennel as of late. Bad timing on my part because it's out of season. But just before summer began, I was able to get my hands on a sizeable one that hadn't sprouted flowers yet (the sign they're past their prime). But I still didn't know what to do with it.

A fridge with tomatoes, Chinese eggplant, and purple potatoes propelled me to find  Braised Fennel Tomatoes with Potatoes on Group Recipes. It calls for Yukon potatoes and there is no mention of any kind of eggplant, but who cares? Independently, both vegetables are delicious. Together, they're deliciouser!

Chinese eggplant is a lighter color than its American or globe counterpart, has a thinner skin, and a more delicate flavor. I don't actually like "regular" eggplant, but I'll munch on the Asian variety with no problem.

I didn't peel any of the ingredients: the tomatoes, potato, and eggplant all kept their skins. I'm sure the presentation would be prettier if I'd removed them, but isn't that where the nutrients are?

I also omitted the Pernod. I hate the taste of licorice (which is why I cook the fennel) so I don't keep licorice-flavored alcohol in the house. You can keep your Galliano and absinth. I'll stick to the single malt.

I forgot to stock up on fennel seeds too, so I used dill weed. And then there were the addition of the extra veggies too. The original recipe states it yields 4 servings as a side dish. As a main dish--if you're being vegetarian about it--you only really get 2 servings, though your mileage may vary.

Final note: I went completely against character and used real salt and real freshly cracked pepper, not my usual fallback mix. I've slightly fallen out of love with cumin of late, so there you go.
Braised Fennel with Tomatoes, Purple Potatoes & Chinese Cabbage
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 Chinese eggplant, chopped into 3/4-inch cubes
1 large bulb fennel, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
1 teaspoon dill weed
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 large purple (or Peruvian) potato, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2-3/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or water, divided
A few fennel fronds for garnish

1. Chop the eggplant and soak in slightly salted water for about 10 minutes. (Because Chinese eggplant is less bitter than regular dark-purple, globe eggplant, you can skip this step if you're short on time.)

2. Heat oil in a 10-12" skillet or sauté pan over high heat.

3. Add fennel and cook, stirring often, until it starts to brown, 4 to 5 minutes.

4. Season with dill weed, salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cook until the tomato juices are slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.

5. Add potato and eggplant chunks with 1/2 cup broth (or water); cover the pan tightly and simmer over medium-low heat, checking every 10 minutes to make sure the pan juices don’t run dry. (If necessary, add more broth or water, 2 tablespoons at a time, to prevent scorching.)

6. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

7. Serve garnished with parsley (or fennel fronds), if desired.

Yields 2 main servings, 4 as a side dish.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Peanut Sauce Dressing

I had a mad hankering for peanut sauce the other day. Not anything that traditionally goes with peanut sauce, like a beef or chicken satay, just the actual sauce. So off to the interwebs I went.

And that's when I found Cooking with Amy and a really great recipe with a slew of suggestions for variations. Since we all know how much I love to play with ingredients, this was the perfect peanut sauce recipe.

The picture was rushed because A) I was starving by them time I finished cleaning/searing the scallops, frying the polenta, and plating it on some yummy red leaf lettuce, and B) see A. Yes, I know it could use some color. Maybe some red bell pepper or carrot matchsticks would have lent more visual interest and even texture/flavor. But again, see A.

Some notes: Amy's recipe called for natural peanut butter. I had a generic, so in it went. It also calls for 1/4 cup of coconut milk. Wasn't in the pantry, so I substituted more water. Finally, the "secret ingredient," or the one I chose from her list of optional additives, was Worcestershire sauce. It was a damn good choice. Below is the edited recipe pictured above.

Peanut Sauce Dressing

1/4 cup peanut butter
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup water
red chili flake to taste
1 clove crushed garlic
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

Whisk everything in bowl, adding the water last. Pour into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until sauce begins to bubble and thicken. Serve hot or cold.

As you can see, I used mine as a dressing over a monochromatic array of seared scallops and polenta, delicately thrown onto a bed of greens, since it was a rather thin sauce (at least in comparison to most satay sauces I've had in Thai restaurants). I really enjoyed this one. It's going to become one of my standard, go-to dressings.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What's for Dinner?

I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really driven by the desire to try new dishes as much as I am to try new ingredients.

I realized this yesterday, when I pulled out a bunch of cookbooks that have been hiding in a kitchen cabinet and tried to find something that inspired me to cook. There were recipes from the greatest Latin chefs, magazines dating back 10 years with wonderful looking summer salads and delicious pictures of cake, even clippings from my brief love affair with tofu (obviously pre-allergy). But nothing tickled my fancy.

Nada. Zilch. Zero.

And then it hit me. There's nothing wrong with these recipes. It's me. I'm bored. Yeah, I can make chicken/fish/cow a bunch of different ways, but I don't want to. I want something new.

New spices, new combinations, new textures, anything that's just plain different. So if you have something exotic worth sharing, please let me know in the comments. I'll post a follow-up if I try your recipe.