Friday, January 11, 2008

In Praise of, Well, Eating, um, Well...

i often think that the secret to wonderful food is feeling wonderful about what you are eating. aren't i brilliant? yeah, whatever. but, i have found, in my time cooking, that, truthfully, enjoying your meal totally and completely comes from being able to feel good about what you're eating. i don't mean just happy with the health factor of it, what wonderful something you're putting into your body, should healthy fare be your choice. it's more than that. it's the taste, the feel of it inside, the way it warms your soul as it fills you up, just enough, so your sated but not stuffed. the freshest ingredients, the tastiest herbs and spices. trying combos out that work for you and your tastebuds, trusting in your skill, regardless of level, by trusting in your own senses. after all, we walk into restaurants everyday, trusting our palate to people we do not and probably will never meet, to kitchens into which we will never enter with utensils we have never seen. we not only trust these places of mystery, we worship some of them to the point of creating celebrity chefs of the like of movie stars.
is that wrong?
no. that's not what i'm saying.
is it a shame we don't trust ourselves with ourselves as much?
yes. that's what i'm saying.
the wonder of food, cooking, is that we become something of a real magician, even if it's just heating up chicken fingers from the grocery. we're these master providers of tangible sustenance and in our hands, it can become anything, nothing or everything. wow, what power?
i know, i'm waxing rhapsodic ABOUT FOOD. i get it. but it's something i strongly believe and it's what made tonight's dinner so, well, gratifying. it was fresh, lovely, delicious and simple. it wasn't rocket science, L'Escoffier technique and presentation. it was more. it was appreciation.
my stomach still sorta bugs me. i'm a little iffy on it and i've been SUPER tired, so i stayed home from work yesterday in an attempt to shake this... whatever it is. i was like a huge slug all day, lying in bed, attempting to disappear into dream land, hoping not to have to move at all. i knew nicholas and brandon would be back from school soon enough and was DEEPLY happy i had bought some fish a couple of days before. fish, as a general rule, cooks up quick, easily and, in our house, is much revered. tonight we made a few quite lovely things to sooth the stomach and tempt our palates:
the book tonight was THE ITALIAN COUNTRY TABLE by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. the cover of this book always brings a smile to my face of hope and possibility -- it's this beautiful, rustic wooden bowl filled with fresh, simple ingredients -- some good canellini beans, chunks of excellent parmeggiano-reggiano, peppers, radicchio and the like. really gorgeous bowl and it makes me think of picking olives, hunks of rustic bread dipped in their oil, a ripe tomato eaten like an apple and the best salami and cheeses known to man -- i'm a real charcuterie hag. you know, cured meats, pates, cheeses and such. oh, man. the two dishes i chose from this cookbook that night were CLASSIC POACHED FISH and SEARED BROCCOLI WITH LEMON. report card at the end of both of them.

ingredients for Poached Fish:
4 cloves garlic, crushed
8 branches fresh Italian parsley, plus additional for garnish
1 tsp salt, plus more for taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1-1/2 pounds firm fleshed fish fillets or thick-cut steaks (sea bass, cod, sea trout, salmon, trout, char, haddock, halibut or bluefish) or 2 - 3 pounds whole fish
2 medium lemons, cut into wedges
extra-virgin olive oil

what to do:
1. in a 12-inch skillet or saute pan, combine the garlic, parsley, 1 tsp salt and pepper to taste in water about 2-1/2 inches deep. bring to a simmer, cover, and cook 5 minutes. Measure the fish for thickness (cooking time depends on thickness).
2. slip the fish into the water, adjusting the heat so the water shudders but doesn't bubble. cook 8 to 10 minutes to the inch, or until all but the very center of each piece is opaque. Check by making a small slit in the chickest part of the fish. as each piece is done, use a slotted spatula to lift it onto a heated plate.
3. garnish the fish with the lemon wedges and parsley branches, and serve immediately. at the table, invite everyone to season the fish with salt, drizzles of olive oil, and freshly squeezed lemon.

1 large bunch broccoli or baby broccoli (about 1-1/4 pounds)
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
shredded zest of 1 large lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
lemon wedges

what to do:

1. trim off 1 inch of the broccoli stalks. peel the remaining stalks. split thicker stalks lengthwise into thirds, slender ones in half.
2. place a collapsible steamer in a 6-quart pot containing about 2 inches of water. bring to a boil. crisscross the broccoli stalks in the steamer. cover the pot and cook 1 to 3 minutes; a stalk should still show some resistance when pierced with a knife. immediately rinse the broccoli under cold water to stop its cooking. (at this point, you can set the broccoli aside a few hours at room temperature.)
3. heat the oil in a 12-inch saute pan (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. saute the broccoli until speckled with brown on one side. adjust the heat to prevent it from burning, and watch the pan bottom for scorching. sprinkle the broccoli with the lemon zest and salt and pepper, turn the stalks over, and saute to brown on the second side. try to keep the stalks whole by turning them with wo spatulas. taste for seasoning. serve hot or warm, with lemon wedges. the broccoli is even good at room temperature, but do not refrigerate.

what we did:
first of all, we added some steamed potatoes with a little olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper and lemon tossed in with them. they were small red potatoes, so we ate them whole. and i mean, tiny. the other thing that came out of this is brandon, who does NOT like broccoli, loved it seared. he especially like the browned parts of it, because of how flavorful it was, so it is my goal to make it for him again seared all over and crunchy (as he says), but not fried.

the fish was perfect -- moist, non-acidulated -- meaning, it had no citrus or acid to toughen or put flavor to another level. it was subtle and we tasted the fish. we used tilapia filets, which nicholas and brandon adore, and it was DEEE-LIH-SHUS! they were happy guys.

we used cilantro instead of parsley -- i had just chopped my last -- and it was a delight. my sons were happy, my tummy was happy and, so, all was well with the world. a treat with this cookbook is how the entrees have all these wonderful wine recommendations and terrific suggestions. it's simple and glorious in its simplicity.

eating well, adoring, feeling the gift of what you have brought to the table is exquisite. the smiles on my sons faces made me feel better about what i am capable of doing. i don't cook for a living, i live through my cooking. and they feel my love... because i take the time... or so they think.

this took me, total, 1/2 hour. no joke.
and that was from start to finish, plating and the like.
so delightful, delicious, yummy, and feel good.
that's one of the wonderful things about cooking, that joyous accomplishment of simplicity.
you don't have to make a souffle or cassoulet (both of which i enjoy making, by the by) to impress or delight. just give of yourself. truly. all of yourself with all of your heart.
yeah, blah, blah syrup and treacle...
but truth.
trust you.
your tongue won't lie.
i promise :o)

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