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"depth of flavor" and stuffed bell peppers

stuffed peppersOne of the biggest cliche lines in any cooking show or competition is 'depth of flavor.' Depth of flavor refers to the layers of flavor within a dish. Using various techniques: toasting or blooming spices, fresh vs dried herbs, adding flavorings at the beginning or end of cooking, reduction, roasting and caramelizing ingredients, seasoning, et al, a chef can manipulate the flavor of a dish. The technique is absolutely true - if overused as a measure of a truly great dish on television.

I re-learned this recently when I used leftovers from several other dishes to prepare a simple dish of stuffed peppers. My leftovers were a tomato sauce used the night before in Ciopinno - and a korean broth I'd used in ramen for lunches during the week. (homemade ramen is a WHOLE other post/story, idea) So when I set out to make my stuffing for the peppers I used the broth to cook the bazmati rice and I added the leftover cioppino sauce to hamburger along with a single diced habanero pepper. 

My favorite broth for ramen is Doenjang Jjigae or Korean Fermented-Bean-Paste Broth. 

  • 2 1/2 cups (600ml) rice-rinsing water or water (see note)
  • 10-15 dried anchovies, heads and entrails removed
  • 1 piece dashima (also sold as kombu, which is the Japanese name)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste), such as Togul

In a medium saucepan, combine rice-rinsing water (or water) with anchovies and dashima and bring to a low simmer. Cover the saucepan halfway with a lid and maintain low simmer for 15 minutes. Taste an anchovy; if it still has a noticeable amount of flavor left in it, continue simmering until most of the flavor has been cooked out. Strain, discarding solids. Then - whisk in the doenjang. It should dissolve easily in the broth creating a miso soup like consistency. 

for the Cioppino tomato sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice, fire roasted if you can find them
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 5 cups seafood stock (or chicken stock if you make this sauce only for this recipe)
  • 1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots, and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

for my stuffed peppers recipe - I cooked bazmati rice according to directions in the Doenjang broth. It comes out very hydrated - and with that distinctive umami flavor from the anchovies. I cooked a 1/2 pound of hamburger - seasoning with salt and pepper - then added a cup and a half of the Cioppino tomato sauce to the hamburger mixture - and then also the rice.

I prefer stuffed peppers that are still crunchy versus completely soft - so I parboil the peppers for three minutes each - then remove them from the hot water and submerge in a water bath to keep them from continuing to soften.

I then prepare them in a baking dish - and stuff them almost full with the hamburger rice, mixture. I top the pepper with several tablespoons of the tomato sauce - and then top each pepper with feta cheese.

I then bake the peppers for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. They are PIPING hot when they come out - so I usually give them five, ten minutes on the counter before serving. 

To say that the depth of flavor on this dish was off the charts - is an understatement. I did not think how nicely all these flavors would combine.  I have been eating a bowl of the leftover hamburger stuffing the last couple of days for lunch on it's own. 

It's great to have a traditional cooking lesson reflected so clearly in one recipe. Now - would you go to all the trouble of making the seperate broth and sauce everytime? maybe not - but it shows that that little extra bit of effort - truly pays off in spectacular ways.

 

Happy Cooking! 

 

The photo used on this post is not my finished dish. While delicious - none of my photos of this preparation turned out post-worthy. this is stock photography - very close to looking like ours did with a better lighting coordinator and a less hungry husband on set.

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Caponata Pasta

caponata

This caponata sauce stars eggplant, olives, capers, and sherry vinegar, creating a magical marriage of sweet and sour flavors that’s perfect over fresh pasta.Incredibly versatile - caponata can be served by itself or with just about any protein. I've made it with chicken, halibut or tofu. You can also add all sorts of ingredients depending on taste - I've seen caponata with carrots, bell peppers, potatoes, pine nuts, and raisins. It's a very easy, personal stew - and I encourage you to add ingredients to it and make it your own.

Ingredients

  • 7 ounces penne
  • 1 organic globe eggplant
  • 1 or 2 organic shallots
  • 1 or 2 cloves organic peeled fresh garlic
  • ¼ cup pitted Castelvetrano olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 4 or 5 sprigs organic fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup diced tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan

1: Prep and cook the eggplant

Bring a medium saucepot of generously salted water to a boil for the penne. Separate the penne so the noodles don’t clump together during cooking.

Remove the stem from the eggplant; cut the eggplant into ½-inch cubes.

If you have time, you can remove some of the bitterness of the eggplant by “sweating” it before cooking. Slice the eggplant into ½-inch-thick rounds, sprinkle with salt, and spread in a single layer on a paper-towel-lined sheet pan. Let stand for 10 minutes, then pat dry, cut into ½-inch cubes.

(you can skip this above step, I do, but some people are turned off by eggplant's 'bitterness' - which for me is a plus. I just cut it up into cubes and went straight to the frypan)

In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 2 to 3 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate and lightly salt.

Do not clean the pan.

 

2: Cook the penne

To the pot of boiling water, add the penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the penne, reserving ½ cup (¾ cup) pasta cooking water. Return the penne to the pot; toss with about 2 teaspoons (1 TBL) oil to keep the noodles from sticking and cover until you are ready to serve.

 

3: Bringing it all together...

Peel and coarsely chop the shallots.

Finely chop, press, or grate the garlic.

Coarsely chop the olives, checking for any pits.

Rinse the capers.

Strip the parsley leaves from the stems; coarsely chop the leaves for garnish.

In the same pan used for the eggplant, warm 1 to 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking.

Stir in the shallots, garlic, olives, and capers and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the penne and reserved pasta cooking water, and toss to coat. Stir in as much sherry vinegar as you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the penne and caponata sauce to individual bowls. Garnish with the Parmesan and parsley and serve.

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I love this sauce and strawberries are just beautiful this time of year. The sauce comes together quickly and is very versatile - - it can be used on desserts like icecream, breakfasts like oatmeal or granola - or as a sauce for an entree like halibut or pork chops. It's one of my favorite summertime recipes.

Ingredients

  • 10 ripe strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. warm the pan on medium high heat - add the olive oil
  2. saute the strawberries for five minutes in the olive oil, then add the sugar - cooking two more minutes, until strawberries begin to soften
  3. add balsamic vinegar and turn the heat down to medium until vinegar mixture reduces by half into a thick syrup
  4. add orange juice - stir to combine and remove from heat. 
  5. Serve immediately

How to Video:

halibut with strawberry sauce

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Grilled Curried Nectarine Salad

grilled nectarine salad

  • 1 pound firm but ripe apricots, halved and pitted
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil x2 - one for the nectarines, one for the pumpkin seeds.
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • fresh mint
  • ground black pepper to taste

 

  • Preheat oven to 425F
     
  • In a large bowl, toss nectarine halves with olive oil; season with salt. Set cut side-down on the grill and cook until lightly charred on cut side, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip and grill until browned and softened on skin side, about 2-3 minutes. 
    Let the nectarines cool, then chop them up into bite-sized pieces, and set aside.
     
  • Spread pumpkin seeds on a rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until golden and crisp, 12—15 minutes. Watch these carefully, they can go from perfect to burnt in the blink of any eye. Set them on the counter to cool and move on to the next step.
     
  • In a saucepan - melt the butter over medium heat - once melted and foaming add sugar and curry powder. Cook until aromatic - perhaps 1 or 2 minutes - and until complete combined. Take off the heat - add the nectarines and orange juice and gently stir to coat the fruit with the syrup. Drizzle the honey over the top of all of it when you finish. 
     
  • Sprinkle feta, pumpkin seeds and fresh mint over the top, again to taste. Remember that the feta will add saltiness - so be careful not to salt the dish before adding feta. I love mint so I went a bit crazy with it, so I didn't put an amount, its the amount that you like. Fresh spearmint is always the best to use.
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snapper
Tarragon Butter

1 stick butter
1 bushel of fresh tarragon, rough chopped
1 tablespoon of finely diced garlic

melt the butter over medium heat, then add the tarragon and garlic and saute until fragrant - then remove from the heat. Best part of this trick is you could make this batch, then put it in a jar in the fridge and it'll keep for several days.


Carrots

4 carrots run through a mandolin or thinly sliced
1/2 of your tarragon butter from above
2 tablespoons honey

Bring the butter up to bubbling then turn the heat in the pan down to medium low, saute the carrots in the butter then drizzle the pan with two tablespoons of honey. Set the carrots aside.

Snapper

Debone your snapper filets and liberally dust them with fine ground black pepper - add the rest of your tarragon butter to the pan you cooked the carrots in - and cook the snapper turning the heat up to medium-high. 4 minutes per side - then set the fish aside on a plate under tin foil

Finishing the Pasta

the fresh pasta cooks up in about 4 minutes - so you can start that after you flip the snapper.

Drain it carefully - because you are about to add the pasta to the hot butter that you just cooked the fish in - bring the heat up till the pan sizzles with the pasta - and add the carrots back to the pan and toss to make sure carrots and pasta are coated in the butter sauce.

Plate up and top with the pan fried snapper filets.

 

honey glazed carrotsfinished pasta

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Homemade Ceviche

cevicheMaking ceviche is not exactly rocket science - you marinate raw seafood in a high acid solution until lightly cooked. The fact is, If you can use a knife and own a refrigerator, you can make your own batch of ceviche, a money move whether you’re throwing a cookout, planning a picnic or need a light meal idea. Of course the most important part is sourcing the freshest, highest quality seafood you can find: If you wouldn’t eat it raw, you should not be turning it into ceviche. Whole Foods usually has very knowledgeable folks who’ll tell you exactly where and when their seafood was harvested.

Any reputable fish man should help you out. This recipe will probably not work with frozen/thawed scallops - the texture will be a whole lot different than fresh. The extra cost is totally worth it.
Scallops are particularly great but this marinade will work with tuna, fluke, strapper or bass. You can switch up the garnishes or leave them off entirely. You could serve the ceviche naked and put out bowls of condiments so people can customize.

Ingredients:

Marinade:

  • 2/3 cup fresh lime juice (approximately six large limes)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about three large lemons)
  • 1/3 cup fresh orange juice (about one large orange)
  • One serrano chili seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • One heaping tablespoon of chopped garlic
  • One large pinch kosher salt

Ceviche:

  • 1 lb fresh and cleaned base scallops
  • 1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup diced mango
  • 1/4 cup diced strawberries

Instructions:

1. Strain the citrus juices to remove pulp then add the juices, chili, garlic, honey and salt to a glass or ceramic bowl and whisk to combine
2. Quarter scallops and add them to the marinade stir and cover. Refrigerated for 45 minutes.
3. This time of year mango in particular is not always the ripest, so I helped soften it a little bit by marinating as it as well in a quarter cup of lemon juice.
4. Remove ceviche from the fridge. Scallop should be opaque white and feel slightly firm. strain the marinade away into a bowl reserving scallops and chilies separately.
5. Wish together half a cup of coconut milk with a cup of the remaining marinade. At scallops and chilies back to the marinade and stir to combine.
6. Strain the mango and strawberries
7. Plate up ceviche and garnish with strawberry and mango, as well as a sprinkling of cilantro. Very lightly salt right before serving.

A lot of recipes call for plantain chips, but I am personally a big fan of serving this with tortilla chips instead.

Ceviche is a technique that a lot of people are afraid of, but you really shouldn’t be. It’s delicious, fast to prepare, and a good source of protein.

Go get yourself some!!!

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Creamed Leeks and Fennel

  • creamed leeks3 Leeks, cleaned and sliced white and light green parts only
  • 1 Large fennel, cored, sliced thinly, fronds reserved and chopped lightly
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon of Herbs D'Provence with Lavender
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  1. Heat a pan on medium heat and add the butter.
  2. When it is foaming add in the fennel and leeks, season with Herbs D'Provence and black pepper and saute over over medium heat for 15-20 minutes.
  3. The vegetables should be soft (not mushy) and very slightly caramelized. Add in the cream and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat, sprinkle with reserved fennel fronds, adjust seasoning and serve.
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crab salad

Apple & Celery Root Roulade with Fresh Crab on Fresh Greens with homemade Tomato Vinaigrette Celeriac remoulade is the French answer to coleslaw. Shredded ribbons of celeriac are tossed in a sauce of mayonnaise, lemon, and mustard. I found this lovely espelette pepper mustard. Espellete is from the basque region of spain, and it adds a spicy heat to the recipe that really works. I mix in flecks of sweet-tart green shreds of Granny Smith apples for sweetness, crowned with nubs of jumbo lump crabmeat. I'll serve it over fresh greens from the farmers's market dressed in a tomato vinaigrette. _________________________________ Apple & Celery Root Roulade (recipe adapted from seriouseats.com) Ingredients: Juice of 1 lemon 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard (or your favorite spicy mustard) 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard 1 tablespoon chervil, chopped (fresh parsley will work very nicely here as well) 4 cups grated celeriac (about 1/2 large celeriac; a food processor works wonders here) 1 Granny Smith apple, grated 8 ounces jumbo lump crab meat In a bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustards, and chervil with salt and pepper. Toss the celeriac and apple with the remoulade sauce as soon as they are grated to prevent browning. I like to ring-mold the remoulade, and top it with the simple crab meat, and serve with lemon wedges. You could also toss everything together, and serve with crusty bread, or even lettuce cups. Tomato Vinaigrette (recipe from my Mom's recipe cards, source unknown) Ingredients: 8 ounces very ripe tomatoes 1/4 cup sherry vinegar 1 tablespoon honey 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 clove garlic, grated 1/4 cup olive oil Halve the tomatoes. Squeeze the halves into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. You should get about 1/2 cup of tomato juice and pulp. Add the vinegar, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, mustard, and garlic to the bowl and whisk to combine. While whisking, slowly pour in the oil. Continue to whisk until emulsified. Taste and season with more salt as needed.

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Sugar Tomato and White Peach Chutney

I adore chutneys - and here is a quick one that is made with seasonal white peaches and sugar tomatoes. It comes together quickly, but for the flavors to really explode when served - you should let the chutney sit for at least eight hours - or best 24 hours, before serving. It is colourful and flavorful and would make a great compliment for any pork or lamb entree. (and would be great with chicken, beef or tofu as well) I, personally, love the combination of sweet and spicy with any main course protein.
  • 1/2 pint sugar baby tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 ripe white peaches, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon hot curry powder
  • 2 medium shallots, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
Add olive oil to a pan on medium-high heat and immediately add the shallots, once softened, add the curry powder and ginger until fragrant. Turn the heat down to medium and add tomatoes and peaches and stir just to coat - let the tomatoes and peaches cook for 8-10 minutes till you start to notice the juices thickening. Make sure to carefully scrape any browning off the pan and into the juices. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely. Put in a Tupperware or jar for at least 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator. You can either serve it warm or cold.
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Tuna Sashimi with Curry Oil Flash

  I saw this trick tableside at a restaurant in Las Vegas. So easy to do at home and SO delicious.   1/2 pound Ahi sliced into cubes 2 tablespoons Madras curry powder, toasted in a dry pan Pinch of salt 1/4 cup canola oil ½ tablespoon finely julienned fresh ginger toast the curry powder in a dry pan - as it becomes fragrant add the oil and heat until near smoking. Stir in the ginger, remove from the stove, and immediately spoon a bit of the oil over one portion of fish. The fish should sizzle when the oil hits it; garnish with chopped chives and sesame seeds then serve immediately
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