Fennel and Leeks

Fennel and Leeks

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hazelnut-Crusted Halibut with Apple Vinaigrette

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

This recipe was inspired by a cookbook that my mother-in-law gave me this past week. The author is a Seattle-based chef named Kathy Casey that writes a monthly column called "Dishing" for the Seattle times, owns a food and restaurant consulting firm, as well as operating a fresh made food-to-go company and offering a line of retail specialty products. Basically, she is highly accomplished and I now own her sixth cookbook. If only this made me as accomplished by association. :)

Over the past year plus of searching for new recipes, I have developed a routine with cookbooks. When I have a new one, I first leaf through the book to look at the photos and titles of each recipe. I then tag any page that houses a recipe of interest. I immediately go back through the tagged recipes and read the ingredients and directions in detail. If a tagged recipe appeals to me, I stop there and move forward with planning and preparation. Simple, right? I learned quickly that if I choose several recipes at once, I never make any of them.

This Hazelnut-Crusted Halibut with Apple Vinaigrette recipe appealed to me immediately. First of all, my grandparents gift us with a box of hazelnut products from an Oregon-based company called Hazelnut Hill every Christmas. (We highly recommend their Chocolate Covered Hazelnuts and Almonds, Chocolate Covered Razzcherries and Chocolate Hazelnut Toffee). Needless to say, I did not need to purchase hazelnuts in order to prepare this recipe.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Next, Brad is a big fan of halibut. I try to make it at least every month or two since he appreciates it so much. Finally, I am drawn to recipes that encourage the use of local and/or organic products. I used Oregon hazelnuts, Washington apples and thyme from my own garden for this recipe. I also used organic spices, lemon, shallots and mustard from PCC and served organic zucchini as a side dish.

Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1 unpeeled red apple, halved and cored
3 Tbsp hazelnut oil (walnut oil, almond oil and olive oil are all acceptable substitutes)
2 tsp minced shallot
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp minced fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp water

Crust Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups (8 oz) hazelnut, lightly toasted and skinned
pinch of dry mustard
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp dried thyme leaves

4 skinless 1/2-inch-thick halibut fillet portions; 4 to 6 oz each
4 Tbsp butter, melted (I used Canola spread to reduce amount of fat)
fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme sprigs for garnishing

To make vinaigrette, chop half of apple; reserve other half. In small skillet, heat hazelnut oil over medium-low heat and add chopped apple. Cook for 1 minute, then add shallot and sugar. Continue cooking until apple is soft, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice and remove from heat.

Let cool, then puree in blender until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into medium bowl, add mustard, then slowly whisk in olive oil. Add thyme and season with salt and cayenne. If vinaigrette is too thick, add water to thin. Cut remaining apple half into 1/4-inch dice. Toss into dressing. Refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease rimmed baking sheet with oil. Dip each piece of fish in melted butter, coating well. Immediately press each piece firmly into crust mixture, turning to coat all sides well. Place coated halibut pieces on baking sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, or until fish is just cooked through. Carefully transfer fish to individual plates and drizzle some of vinaigrette over top. Garnish with thyme sprigs. Pass around extra vinaigrette.

This dish was quite tasty. I was a bit worried about the vinaigrette overpowering the halibut but Kathy Casey knew exactly what she was doing when she wrote this recipe. The acidity of the vinaigrette cut right through the richness of the hazelnuts. In return, the cayenne and thyme in the crust tamed the vinaigrette. Every bite was well balanced and flavorful.

The only alteration I made to this recipe other than substituting olive oil for hazelnut oil, was to cook the halibut for 9 minutes instead of 6 minutes. At 6 minutes, the fish was still a bit raw but the extra 3 minutes finished it perfectly. This difference in timing was more than likely caused by the thickness of the halibut fillets. The only reason I used olive oil instead of hazelnut oil is that I didn't want to spend $13 on hazelnut oil that I would hardly ever use. I googled hazelnut oil substitutions and learned that walnut oil, olive oil and almond oil all work well. I am learning that there are good alternatives for many ingredients. If I don't have a certain spice, oil or other ingredient, I make sure to research possible substitutions before I cross the recipe off my list. This has panned out quite well for me on several occasions.

A special thank you to my little blonde sous chef and to Brad for taking one of the most beautiful photos on my blog for this entry.

Recipe Source:
"Kathy Casey's Northwest Table" by Kathy Casey
Page 107

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

What better way to get back in the swing of things than to prepare a recipe that uses a few of my favorite ingredients? I have already mentioned my love of sweet potatoes many times but I may not have mentioned my preference for corn tortillas. I have never been a huge fan of soft flour tortillas so every time we go out to a Latin restaurant, I choose corn over flour. I have come to the conclusion that the slightly gritty texture of cornmeal is much more pleasing to me than the smooth texture of flour. Needless to say, Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos, using corn tortillas, was a natural fit. The chipotle sauce was then the icing on the cake.

This recipe requires a method of tortilla preparation called Tortillas Dorado that I was not familiar with prior to today. Tortillas Dorado is a Mexican style of taco that involves toasting cheese-topped tortillas in a skillet before serving. I am always up for a new cooking experience so I was happy to give it a whirl. Before I provide the recipe, I want to tell you that this dish delivered on every level. I highly recommend paying close attention to this one because it is that good!

1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
1 large poblano chili or green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 medium orange sweet potato, cut into 1/2" dice
1 cup black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
12 (6") corn tortillas
2 cups (6 oz) shredded Oaxaca or Monterey Jack cheese
chipotle sauce (recipe follows)
Pico de gallo (optional)

Chipotle sauce ingredients:
1 (7 oz) can chipotles in adobo sauce, include sauce
3/4 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat heavy ovenproof skillet (I used my Le Creuset pot) over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan, then onion and poblano chili or green pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly caramelized. Stir in garlic and 1 teaspoon salt.

In medium bowl, toss sweet potato with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add to skillet and cook, stirring, one minute, then place in oven and roast for 15 minutes.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Meanwhile, prepare Tortillas Dorado. Heat frying pan over medium-high heat. Brush one side of tortilla lightly with oil and place oil side down in pan. Scatter generous spoonful of cheese over center of tortilla and cook until cheese is melted and tortilla is lightly golden on underside but still flexible. Place on cookie sheet and repeat with remaining tortillas and cheese.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

To make chipotle sauce, combine chipotles in adobo sauce, mayonnaise, lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt in blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If sauce is too spicy, add more mayonnaise. Use extra sauce on sandwiches, grilled corn or roasted vegetables.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Remove skillet from oven and stir in black beans and black pepper (beans will warm through from heat of the pan). Top each tortilla with sweet potato mixture, a drizzle of chipotle sauce and pico de gallo if desired.

Wow, this was delicious! "Wow" was literally the first word to come out of my mouth after taking my first bite and Brad had the same reaction. The onion and peppers were beautifully caramelized, which added a savory quality to the sweetness of the potatoes. Tortillas Dorado is absolutely delicious. The texture of the tortillas was ideal and the melted cheese served as a mild background flavor. The chipotle sauce was divine. It added the perfect level of creaminess and spiciness to the dish. The recipe made a lot of extra sauce so I plan on using it in another dish tomorrow night. Maybe another type of vegetarian taco or chipotle burritos of some sort? Hmmm.......decisions, decisions.

As a side note, I should mention that I added a small diced banana pepper to the dish, just because it seemed like it would be a good idea. I used green pepper instead of poblano so I wanted to add another spicy-sweet layer to the taco filling. There is nothing about this recipe that I would change and I already plan on preparing it again soon; this time for the McCoys. This recipe is right up Natalie and Dave's alley and I know Brad will be happy to eat it again.

Recipe Source:
Oprah Magazine, February 2012

Our Sweet Valentine's Day

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

This entry has very little to do with cooking and almost everything to do with celebrating Valentine's Day. We had just returned from a week-long trip to the Oregon Coast and had grown weary of eating in restaurants. Olivia and I decided that the best way to celebrate Love Day was to invite Brad (a.k.a. Daddy) to be our Valentine by spending the evening at home. He of course, accepted our invitation so Olivia and I started devising our plan.

We decided that the first thing we needed to concentrate on was decorating. As you can see in the photo above, there was a big commitment to cutting and punching hearts. We even dug out taper candles and crystal candle holders for the centerpiece. Finally, we set the table with great care and set to work preparing dinner.

We decided to make one of Brad's favorite dishes, lasagna. Half of the lasagna was prepared with turkey sausage and half with zucchini, mushrooms and olives. I made the sauce from scratch and my little blonde helper was in charge of assembly. She did a beautiful job concentrating on the task at hand. We also decided to purchase mini heart cookie cutters in order to create heart-shaped red pepper, zucchini and cucumber slices for a spinach salad. Isn't the final result cute? We meant to include heart-shaped beets but forgot about them until after the fact.

Photos Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Finally, we put together a platter of Valentine goodies from the Metropolitan Market bakery because their options never disappoint. Our favorite treat was the Death By Chocolate bite that is located at the top of the platter in the photo below. It was absolutely decadent.

Photo Courtesy of Brad Lovejoy

Brad arrived at 5:30 sharp for our Valentine date with one dozen red roses for me and one dozen coral roses for Olivia. The roses were beautiful and they smelled heavenly. We served our lasagna and salad with a nice bottle of red wine and then proceeded with our sweet Valentine's Day dinner. Brad and I agreed that our evening qualified as one of the best Valentine celebrations of our past ten years together.