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Cod with Pancetta, Spinach, Apple Cider Reduction and Israeli Couscous

March 11, 2012

How did life get so complicated? There was a time when I hung out with my good friends several times a week…now, it takes 147 text messages and two years to get together for dinner. Yes, I did say two years. Sure I have seen Annabelle and Cory around and about town. We have chatted over cocktails at The Wolf or laughed at another friend’s potluck. The last time the three of us sat down together ALONE to discuss life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and everything in-between was literally two years ago. So much has changed since then. New jobs, moves to different states, loss, new relationships…hell, these girls hadn’t seen my house since it was down to sub-floors and studs for my wedding…almost two years ago! We tore down and rebuilt an entire house in-between heart to hearts.

Last night, the stars were in alignment and we finally got back together again. A meeting this special needs a meal just as momentous. We did not fail.

Many years ago (maybe 8) I ate a delightful meal at a restaurant called Zoe in Seattle. Funny enough, that meal too was a special occasion with three college friends who I rarely see. I ordered a halibut dish with a bacon and apple cider reduction served over Israeli couscous. I had never had Israeli couscous before. It was magnificent. The size and texture were unlike anything I had ever had before. Unfortunately it was 8 years until I was able to find that couscous in a grocery store. I had dreamed of recreating that meal for a long time and now I had the couscous to make it happen and a date set with my dear friends.

Annabelle and Cory asked for the recipe, so here it is ladies. Thanks again for a delightful evening. I look forward to the next rendezvous…may it happen in less than two years.

Cod with Pancetta, Spinach, Apple Cider Reduction and Israeli Couscous


Israeli couscous can be difficult to find but I just can’t imagine this dish made with anything else. I am sure you could try it with orzo if you are in a pinch. Most of these steps can be done at the same time. Apple Cider can be reduced earlier in the day.

  • 1 1/2 cups Apple Cider
  • 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, diced
  • 1 cup Israeli Couscous
  • 2 cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 Large Shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, minced
  • 6 ounces Baby Spinach (or Swiss Chard if you prefer)
  • 4 Pieces Halibut, Cod or other White Fish rinsed and patted dry (you choose how large of pieces)
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 1 Large Granny Smith Apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter

Place apple cider in a heavy sauce pan, turn on high and cook until reduced to 1/2 cup of liquid. This should take about 15 minutes. Set aside.

While apple cider reduces, heat a large skillet and add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan. Add pancetta and cook until pancetta begins to crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove pancetta from pan and set aside.

While the pancetta cooks, start your couscous. Place Israeli couscous and chicken stock in a pot, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer until the liquid is almost entirely soaked up by the couscous. Check for doneness after 10-15 minutes. Couscous should be cooked through, but still have a nice chew. If you need to add more liquid, add a little water. If there is too much liquid remaining and couscous is done, drain in colander like you would other pastas.

Once pancetta has been set aside, return the pan to heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, shallots and garlic. Cook over medium heat until shallots begin to soften and caramelize, about 5-10 minutes. Add spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted. Add spinach mixture to pancetta and set aside, return the pan to heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Season fish and add to pan, cooking 1 1/2 minutes to 2 1/2 minutes per side depending on thickness of the piece. Remove fish from pan. Set on a plate and cover with foil.

Return pan to medium heat. Add apple cider reduction and diced apple to skillet. Cook for 2 minutes or until apples begin to soften. Whisk in butter. Add pancetta and spinach mixture and Israeli couscous to pan and toss to coat. Check for seasoning.

Serve couscous mixture in bowls with a piece of fish on top.

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Custom Meats

December 18, 2011

I have many childhood memories of being dragged to multiple stores on the south side of Chicago to get various sundries.  We headed to County Fair, the big supermarket, for staples, Dicola’s for fish, Java Express for coffee beans and always to Belmont Foods for meat and produce. I never understood the extra stop at the small neighborhood market known as Belmont Foods. I didn’t get the need to take a number and wait to ask a butcher to cut up our meat. Why couldn’t we be like all the other families that I knew who bought their roasts prepackaged in the refrigerator section at County Fair?

30 Years later I get it.  Having the option to cut your rib eye to the desired thickness or asking for the giblets along with your whole fryer chicken can turn a good meal into a great one. Teton Valley has seen the tradition of custom cut meats taken to a different degree over the years. Valley residents often purchase half or whole farm animals or take the bounties of their hunts to meat packing plants like Rammell in Tetonia or Jones in Rigby. If you, like me, did not purchase a large animal but still want some local meat, there are still options.

Derek Ellis of Ellis Custom Meats has given us new options. Derek left the valley a year and a half ago to go to butcher school in New York. When he returned he set up shop and has been processing animals for individuals, as well as selling meat cuts, sausages and bacon to those of us who are interested. Last Thursday he had a holiday meat selling party at the Wildwood Room in Victor. A few other vendors also sold their wares, mainly hot sauces, farm fresh eggs, beeswax candles and locally designed cloth grocery bags. The Wildwood Room was serving dinner and drinks. Many people took the opportunity to hang out and drink beer somewhere different than the Knotty or the Wolf. Derek had several sausages on hand, as well as bacon, pork chops and a spread called pork rillette, which is a spread made of pork cooked in its own fat. While Derek called it heart attack in a jar, I thought deliciousness in a jar was more apropos. A few patrons from Ohio got their early and cleared Derek out of much of his meat, so if he does one of these events again, I recommend getting there early.

So far, we have indulged in BLTs from Derek’s bacon and a delightful simple breakfast of toast, purple hash browned potatoes, sauteed spinach, scrambled eggs and breakfast sausage. I have to say, best breakfast sausage I have eaten in a long time.

You can find out more about Derek from his website  or friend him on facebook so you can get updates as to the next open meat sale.

Teton Family Magazine Potluck Article

December 16, 2011

Here is a link to my latest published piece with Teton Family Magazine. The article is about potlucks. Although Jeff and I had a potluck for our wedding, I am usually not the biggest fan. Why not? People bring the same junk every time. For our wedding, people stepped it up. There were dishes I had never before considered. In fact, people are still commenting on the food from our lovely day a year and a half later.

This article is my battle cry. Let us all challenge ourselves to revive the potluck from a last minute cheap standby, to an exciting economical, yet delicious party! The recipes I used for this article were extremely simple and straight forward. (No one is going to take an author seriously who says make a 35 ingredient fancy dish). But, hey, if you have the time and the drive…I say go as complex as you can.

http://digital.publicationprinters.com/publication/?i=90800

Memories Through Recipes: part one

November 23, 2011

A few weeks ago I headed back to Chicago to take care of business. The contents of my parents’ condo had been sitting in storage for almost two years. It was finally time to go back through it to determine what was worth saving and what would be better off going to Salvation Army. There wasn’t much left in terms of furniture or clothes. We were able to get rid of most of that a couple of years ago. What was left were boxes of photos, slides (yes there were still slide wheels), linens, china, kitchen utensils and one box of my parents’ most cherished cookbooks.

Before my folks moved out of their giant townhouse and into the condo, they had a large collection of Bon Appetit magazines and various cookbooks ranging from the classics like Joy of Cooking to a book dedicated entirely to muffins…when they ever cooked a recipe from that book I do not know. My mother did not bake. Ever. Thankfully epicurious.com came along with an archive of all the past Bon Appetits that my mother had been hanging on to and Mike and Sue Flynn gave away all but the most important culinary tomes. The remaining texts were splattered with tomato sauce, caked in flour and filled with memories of meals past. Interestingly enough, this collection numbered only six…and of those, four were cookbooks by Julia Child. The other two? First was the 1972 printing of Joy of Cooking and second was the 1948 edition of the Antoinette Pope School Cookbook.

Because my parents are no longer around, I can’t ask them, why these six. I will never know for sure what was so important about these books that they kept them while forsaking dozens of others. I can only dig through my own memories…trying to remember the dishes that they held sacred. My parents cooked a lot, but a few dishes stand out in my mind… French Baguettes with Chicken Soup…Spinach Casserole for Thanksgiving (one with mushrooms for me, one without for my aunts)…Chocolate Mousse…Grand Marnier Souffle…but the meal that always warms my heart and makes my stomach growl when I remember it, is my mother’s Chicken A La King. My father and I tried to make it for my aunties after my mom died…something was missing. My brother and I attempted it again a few weeks ago…too rich. Sometimes, I wonder if there was some special ingredient that she never told us about. Now looking through the cookbooks, I am curious…did she use the Pope Cookbook of Joy of Cooking Recipe? I guess I have a lifetime of my own to figure that out.

What other recipes from my childhood are hidden between the covers of these publications? Time and a lot of cooking will tell. Thankfully, my quest will not only bring back old memories but will also create new ones.

Chicken A La King

 

(Antoinette Pope School Cookbook version which has a stain on the page…does this mean this is THE recipe)?

  • 5 lb roasting or stewing chicken or 4 lb quick frosted drawn chicken (?)
  • 1/2 lb fresh mushrooms or 4 oz can of mushrooms 🙂
  • about 1/2 c pimentos (my mom used red bell pepper)
  • 1 package frosted peas
  • 1/2 c butter (or rendered chicken fat)
  • 1 c sifted bread flour
  • about 4 c lukewarm chicken stock or milk (remove some of fat from stock if it appears too rich, or reduce amount of butter)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wash chicken thoroughly, and cook it whole on a trivet, until tender in 4 cups hot water, in covered saucepan. Roasting chickens will take about 1 to 1 1/2 hours; stewing chickens will take several hours. Drain well, and when cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and cut into about 1inch pieces. Saute mushrooms for 5 minutes and then combine with peas.

In medium-sized saucepan, melt butter; add bread flour forming a paste. When well blended, add to it very slowly stock (or milk) and cook over low flame until smooth and thick, stirring constantly. Cook several minutes longer after it thickens. If too thick, add more stock or milk. Season with about 1 tablespoon salt. Add chicken, mushrooms, peas and pimento. Cook slowly all together about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, just before serving. Taste and season further if necessary.

If Chicken a la King is to stand for more than a few minutes after it is cooked, keep in a cool place, or it might sour. May be reheated in a double boiler, or directly over very low flame, adding a little milk if very thick, and stirring gently until smooth and hot. Serves 8-10 large portions, or 12 small.

*If you are Sue Flynn, you serve this in little Pepperridge Farm Puff Pastry Shells. If you are a 7 year old Melissa Flynn, you eat the raw doughthat Sue Flynn pulls from the center of the lids after the shells are cooked. If you are Sue Flynn, you find this disgusting, but just shake your head at your odd little daughter.*

Lovin on Polenta

October 18, 2011

I have a new love interest…and it is polenta. Specifically I am obsessed with a creamy polenta served with spicy Italian sausage and roasted root vegetables. I rarely make the same thing two times in a short period of time and this dish has been on our table now twice in a little over a week. It is simple, elegant ridiculously flavorful with a nice contrast of sweet and spicy and I think you could find it on a restaurant menu for $25! I think the cost per serving is something in the actual ballpark of a few dollars.

Here is what you do…pick your veggies. First time around I diced carrots, beets, onions, and garlic. Second time around I sliced beets, carrots and butternut squash in the mandoline. Then I roasted them in a bit of olive oil with a dash of salt and pepper along with a smidge of sage and rosemary from the garden. The dice took a lot longer to cook if you are pressed for time. Thin sliced was about 30 minutes. 1/4″ dice took about 45 minutes.

Next place your Italian sausage in a skillet over medium heat and cook until done.  Depending on the size of the sausage it could take 15-25 minutes. While your sausage cooks, make your polenta.

Polenta is an Italian dish made from medium to coarse ground cornmeal. Some stores actually sell dry “polenta” grain in boxes or bulk bins…but really it is just a cornmeal. You can also find a precooked polenta in tubes at the grocery store. The precooked stuff is ok, if you plan on grilling slices to use under meat and veggies but really it has very little flavor. If you like sliced polenta, try my method of cooking, spread the cooked polenta on a sheet pan, cool it and slice it once it has hardened up a bit.

After many years of bland or dry polenta, I think I finally have a method. It is a mix of two different Mark Bittman techniques.

  • In a medium sized saucepan, whisk together 1 cup of medium to coarse cornmeal with 1 cup of milk.
  • Turn the heat onto medium low and begin adding water a little at a time (about 1/4-1/2 cup). Whisk the polenta and cook until the liquid is incorporated. After a cup or so of water, you can add spices to the polenta. I love rosemary. Keep adding water until the polenta is no longer crunchy and is cooked to your liking.
  • This is my favorite part…add a pat or two of butter and some grated parmesan cheese (about 1/4-1/2 cup). Stir it in, season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.
The polenta should take about 15-20 minutes…just about as much time as your sausage. Try to time them together, so that you can plate up your polenta right when it is finished. This is when it is its most creamy and delightful. To make the dish restaurant quality, place your bowls in the warm oven (it should still have some heat after roasting the vegetables) for about 30 seconds. Layer some of the veggies on the bottom of the bowl, place some polenta on top of the veg and top with slices of the Italian sausage. You can even be cheezy like me and garnish with a fresh sage leaf.
All I can say is I am in love.

Fall is in the air, time to highlight the summer in food.

October 10, 2011

This summer has been a full one and as promised, I did not spend time on the computer. But as the fall crisp air starts to blow into the valley, I thought it time to post a slideshow along with some highlights of the last few months.

Our garden had many successes and a few failures this year. While last year I could not eat enough kale, this year swiss chard has been my green of choice. Good thing as the cabbage worms have decided that kale, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, brussels sprouts and horseradish leaves are for their consumption alone. After I write this post, I need to sit down with my garden journal and make notes for next year…see, I am learning to plan for something in life!

With the bounty of the garden, I have begun the process of learning to can. So far this summer I have canned pickled garlic, orange rhubarb marmalade, cherry jelly, rosy red radish relish, pickled swiss chard stems, pickled jalapenos and pickled beets. Next up, more jam or jelly perhaps and hopefully some tomatoes if it is not too late!

I also whipped up some delicious meals…though i must admit, I finally put the phone/camera down and stopped taking pictures of food ometime in late July. It just didn’t seem like the best use of time.

Ans so, I present, the slideshow of L’estate della Pazza Ragazza (The summer of the crazy girlfriend for you non-Italian speakers…and those Italian speakers out there, yes I am aware that it should be ragazza pazza, but I like it the other way).

 

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taking a break

August 4, 2011

just thought i should probably let those folks who do check this out that i will be taking a break from writing here. it has been a good experience, but the fact of the matter is, as stated before, i am not a blogger. i thought perhaps blogging would be good practice for me, but i am finding that if i write here, i do not have the time to work on freelance pieces. i think food blogging is an interesting thing, but not so much for me. after taking a class of web design and learning what you need to do to get your website or blog noticed, i have come to conclusion that i don’t have the time. people who are into blogging and getting their blog noticed have to read and comment on other blogs. sorry, if i have extra time i am going to be cooking, not reading about other people’s cooking. and so i thank all of you who followed my cooking here. i will likely post something here again, so if you are interested in seeing that, just subscribe to the feed and you will get notified.  thanks again for all your feedback and encouragement. until next time…

mel

you can see my cheezeball website here:

http://melp.netne.net/