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Thomas The Accidental Gourmet

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Halibut "Toscano"--Just for the helluvit


We have a lack of willpower chez nous. Every time we go grocery shopping, we give ourselves a little pep talk about how we're not going to spend a lot of money.

And then we go to our crack dealer, Central Market.

We'd be much better at this game if we only shopped at Fiesta. Nothing wrong with Fiesta, mind you. I'm just sayin'...

But, we went to CM this weekend, and they had halibut on sale. Who can resist? Figuring out how to cook it on short notice presented a bit of a problem. Fortunately, they also had fresh sun-dried tomatoes, and my sister in-law had just bought us some Texas-grown olives. From there, the meal pretty much cooked itself.

Halibut "Toscano"

What you need:

2 tsp olive oil
1 lb. halibut
1 tbsp italian parsley, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp oregeno (minced, if fresh)
1/2 roma tomato, sliced thin
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 cup cannelini beans
1/8 tsp salt

1 cup israeli couscous
1/8 cup calamata olives, minced
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped and with about 1/2 tsp olive oil
1/8 cup fresh basil, chopped (or chiffonade)
salt to taste

What to do with it:

Preheat an oven to 425. Mix together the parsely, salt, garlic and oregano. Add the olive oil to the sun dried tomatoes and let them sit.

Place about 2 cups water, some salt and a dash of olive oil in a pot, and start the water boiling. (Once the water starts boiling, throw in your couscous, but don't wait to start cooking the halibut.)

While waiting for the water for the couscous to boil, put 2 tsp olive oil in a pan and turn the pan up to medium-high.

At the point when the oil begins to recede from the center of the pan (just before it starts smoking), put the halibut in, skin side up for 4 minutes.

Take the halibut up, put it skin side down on some aluminum foil. Cover with the parsley mixture, squeeze half the lemon juice on top. Put the tomatoes on top, and surround with the beans. Squeeze the remainder of the lemon on the beans, the fold up the edges of the foil to create a packet, and place in the oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, once the couscous gets to al dente (about 11 minutes after you put it in, drain, place in a bowl, and mix in the sun dried tomatoes, basil and olives. Mix, and salt to taste.

Pull out your halibut, plate with beans and couscous. Enjoy with a chardonnay, or maybe even a chianti!

Oh, and you should check out! Someone other than my mother thinks I've got something interesting to say!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tamales, Vato!

If you're from Texas, you know that tamales are considered one of the important food groups, right behind Bar-B-Que. For those of you that aren't from Texas, tamales are traditional south-american fare, often made with beans or pork. They are wrapped in corn husks and steamed. Unlike former President Ford, it is not recommended that you eat the husk.

The holidays, especially, find all the Gringos out searching for their dozen or so Christmas tamales from the most authentic tamaleria (tamale store) they can find. Or if they're lucky, from the person you know that makes them at home. Home-made tamales are made during a tamalada, or tamale-making party.

Although I myself am a Gringo, I also live in Texas, so tamales are muy importante to my diet. This year, I decided to make my own tamales. So far, I've made three batches. I don't see how people can make money selling a dozen tamales for $10, but they are a lot of fun, and you get a certain satisfaction from rolling your own.

What You Need

Something in which to steam the tamales (e.g., something that lets you put water on the bottom and the tamales on some surface above the water). A tamale pot (a tamalera) can hold hundreds of tamales, while a lobster pot can hold about 45 tamales.
Corn husks

4 cups masa harina (it is different from corn meal, so make certain your masa has been treated with lime)
5 cups lukewarm water
1 cup manteca (that's lard)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt


Queso Quesedilla
Jalapenos or minced chipotles

Rice (lightly seasoned with sugar and cinnamon)

Chicken (prepared with 2 tsp cumin and a can of Ro-Tel)

What To Do with It

Soak the corn husks in warm water beginning about 1 hour before you're ready to start spreading masa.

Start your fillings. If you're doing the chicken, add a couple of chicken breasts to the Ro-Tel and cumin, add enough water to cover the chicken, boil, then simmer rapidly until about 95% of the liquid has evaporated and the chicken shreds with a fork.

For the rice, make some white rice (about 2 servings). Add a few sprinkles of cinnamon, 1/3 cup of raisins and 2 tsp sugar.

For the pepper/cheese filling, slice the jalapenos into quarter strips and de-seed. Cut the cheese into 1/4" strips, each about as long as your jalapeno slices. Mince some chipotles (about 1/4 cup).
Mix your dry ingredients. Add the water and, using your hands, knead until all the dry ingredients are wet. Separately, whip the lard until fluffy.

Combine the masa and lard, and mix (using a dough hook, if you have it) until slightly spongy.

Start your water on medium-high heat. If you're not using a tamale pot, make certain that your pot has an insert that will allow you to place the tamales above the water.

Take a couple of husks and pull apart until you have several corn threads (about 40 for starters). These should be long and thin to use as ties later.

Get some kitchen shears and cut the other husks to about 7-8" long (cut the pointy ends).

Start spreading masa. Ideally, your husks should be about 4-5" wide, and you should use 2-3 tbsp masa. Feel free to use a knife to trim the husks to the correct width. You want to go from side to side with the masa, and leave about one inch on each end. Place your ingredients toward one edge and roll. Tie the ends with your husk threads.

Once you have about 12 (or double the amount that will fit on one layer) tamales done, place 1/2 in your pot, leaving space between them, and begin steaming. After five minutes, add another layer, let steam 5 minutes, add another layer, etc. Once your final layer has been added, steam for 45 minutes (depending on thickness: my tamales are about as big round as a quarter).

Pull them out, let them rest for 15 minutes to firm up, and serve!

Roasted Cornish Game Hens

Sometimes, we get a wild hare up our you-know-whats and feel a sudden, inexplicable need to cook an involved dinner. This happened to us Friday on the way home from work, so we called some friends and invited them to dinner Saturday.

The thing that was burning a hole in our ovens was a package of cornish game hens we had bought stupid cheap a few weeks earlier. Interesting thing about cornish game hens: they're not game birds, and they're not necessarily hens, either. It's a breed of chicken, developed in Connecticut in the 1950s, that is ready for processing in 2/3 the time of a normal chicken. It is similar to a poussin, except that it must be from a "cornish chicken or the progeny of a cornish chicken," or at least so says the USDA.

So, in chicken terms, it's a teenager from back east. As good a reason as any to kill it and eat it, I suppose.

Before you begin, a couple of safety tips: First, taking the birds out of the freezer and leaving them on the counter for 9 hours may not be sufficient time for them to thaw. If they're not thawed, run warm water over and through them until the meat is room temperature. Secondly, soup is hot, and I do not recommend coating your hand in it.

Roasted Cornish Game Hens

What You Need

2 birds
2 slices of lemon
1/2 cup of Beaujolais (not the nouveau variety)
1/8 tsp minced rosemary
2 cloves minced garlic

What To Do with It

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.

Kosher the birds. Well, not a full-on kosher, but rub some kosher salt on the skins and set them aside. This will remove some of the moisture from the skins and help them brown up.

Combine the other ingredients in a roasting pan. You want enough wine to just barely cover the bottom (1/8" or so). Squeeze in the lemon slices. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning.

Wipe off the salt from the birds using first a paper towel, and then your hands. This probably goes without saying, but since the object is to dry out the skins, don't use water in this process. Rub each bird with olive oil (about 2 tsp each).

Truss the birds: tie the legs together in the back, and tie a string around the bodies to keep the wings in tight. Place the birds in your roasting pan. I did mine breast side down because I didn't want to baste them to keep the meat moist. Cooking them breast up will give you crispy skin over the breast, but you'll need to baste the birds about every 15 minutes.

Cook at 475 for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 325 for about 45 minutes. Cook until they're 180 degrees on the inside. If they don't get quite brown enough, you can bump up your temperature at the end for a couple of minutes, and then pass the hens under a broiler for about 2 minutes.

Remove the hens and let them rest for 10 minutes. Empty the remaining liquid into a flat-bottomed pan and reduce to about 1/3 volume for a sauce. Cut each bird in half (just press down with a chef's knife in the middle of the back), plate and serve.

We drank the wine we cooked with, and served with white asparagus with a beurre blanc sauce, wild rice, and a very thick and hot potato leek soup.