Sunday, November 29, 2009

Acqua Pazza

Fish in Acqua Pazza

Fish in Acqua Pazza is a very quick, simple, and healthy dish.  You can use your favorite white fish, and there really aren't many ingredients required that you don't already have in your refrigerator.  

Serves 2 as a main dish (From the pictures you can tell I was cooking for 4 


1 lb Red Snapper (or any white fish, sea bass, cod, etc)
1 Cup Tomato Concasse
75-100 ml White Wine or Water  
1 Teaspoon Capers 
Fresh Italian Parsley Chopped 
Red Pepper Flakes
Olive Oil


This recipe is about as easy as it gets.  The only step that takes any time or effort is preparing the Tomatoes.  Tomato Concasse are peeled seeded and chopped tomatoes.  If you are in a rush or just not in the mood to prep the Tomatoes, you can take a short cut by chopping the tomatoes without peeling them or seeding them, you can use canned whole tomatoes, and chop them, or just buy canned chopped tomatoes.  If you have cherry or grape Tomatoes handy, just slice them in half, and you are ready to go.  

If you decide to go all out by using Tomato Concasse, first bring a pot of water to a boil, and set out a bowl of ice water.  Cooking Tip:  Score the tomatoes with an X on one end, and take out the core on the other end using a paring knife so it will be easier to peel the Tomatoes later.  I used Roma Tomatoes for this recipe, but you can use any type that you have handy.  Once the water is boiling and the ice bath is ready, place the Tomatoes in the boiling water for about 15 seconds.  You will see the skin of the tomato separate a little bit from the rest of the tomato.  Put the tomatoes directly into the ice bath to cool them and prevent them from cooking any more.  Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skin either using your hands or a paring knife.  Now we are ready to chop the tomatoes.  If you want to go all out, you can chop the tomatoes in half, and remove the pulp and seeds using your fingers.  Now all that is left to do, is roughly chop them.  Again, you can take shortcuts, and simply chop up raw tomatoes, or use canned whole tomatoes, etc.

Besides prepping the tomatoes, all you have to do is chop some fresh parsley, and gather together all of your ingredients.

In a large saute pan or sauce pan, place the fish fillets skin down (if your fish has any skin, hopefully it doesn't).  Season the fish with Salt and Pepper, and drizzle with Olive Oil. Then cover the fish with the tomatoes, capers, and sprinkle some Red Pepper Flakes on top (3 to 5 shakes depending on your preference for spice).  Once again season with salt, pepper, and drizzle with Olive Oil.

Pour the White Wine in.  The wine should come about half way up the fish, but not enough to cover the fish entirely.  If you do not have white wine, or are not drinking tonight, just use water.  Bring to a simmer, then cover and let simmer until the fish is cooked through, 12-15 minutes.  Cooking Tip:  You can tell the fish is done by touch, or by separating one of the flakes with the tip of a knife to check if it is opaque and no longer translucent.  Keep in mind that the fish will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat.

Once the fish is cooked, remove it from saute pan, and place it on a serving dish.  Keep the tomatoes and the rest of the sauce in the pan.  Turn up the heat to high, and reduce the tomato mixture for 10-15 minutes.

Once the sauce is thickened , spoon it on top of the fish, and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.  Serve with rice pilaf and a side salad for a quick, healthy, and delicious meal.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homemade Chicken Stock

Homemade Chicken Stock

Making your own Chicken Stock is very easy, and the final product will be much better than any store bought option.  Chicken Stock can be stored for weeks in the refrigerator, or for months in the freezer.  Chicken stock can be used instead of water when making rice to add some flavor, or used in nearly any recipe with a pan sauce. Having Chicken Stock on hand will open up many more recipes for you to try.


Chicken Bones, whatever you have (Fat Trimmed)

3 Celery Stalks (Roughly Chopped)
2 Carrots (Roughly Chopped)
1 Yellow Onion (Roughly Chopped)

Bouquet Garni:
2 Thyme Sprigs
3 Parsley Sprigs, including stems
1 Bay Leaf
5 Whole Peppercorn
2 Whole Cloves

Chicken stock is made up of 3 basic parts; Chicken Bones, a Mirepoix, and a Bouquet Garni.  While there are a few secrets to make a lower fat stock that is rich in flavor, it is more important to realize that making a stock is easy.  If your vegetables are not the freshest, it isn't a big deal.  If your vegetables are not cut exactly the same size, it isn't a big deal.  If you don't remove all the fat from your chicken bones, it isn't the end of the world.  If you simmer your stock for too long, it won't matter much at all.

Start by prepping your Chicken Bones.  You can use bones with meat still on them, but it is important to remove as much skin and fat as possible.  If I know that I have to make Chicken Stock, I will usually buy Chicken Breasts on the bone instead of boneless skinless Chicken, and grill it up for a quick meal.  You can use Breasts, legs, wings, and even the necks, but I suggest removing the skin and fat before you start making the stock.  For this recipe, I only had 1 Chicken Breast, but my stock came out just fine.


Once your bones are trimmed, put them in a large stock pot and cover the bones with cold water.  Cooking Tip:  When cooking with raw Chicken be very careful to keep your working area sanitary.  Make sure to wash your counter top, cutting board, knives and your hands once you are done with the raw Chicken, and be mindful of what you may have touched after touching raw Chicken.

If you are making stock, you might as well make as much as you can, so use the biggest pot you have.  Turn the burner on high until the water starts to simmer.  As soon as the water comes to a simmer, remove the Chicken Bones from the heat, strain the bones, and rinse them with cold water.  You may notice that the water turned a milky white color, this is mainly fat and we want to keep it out of our stock.

While the water is heating up, we will have time to prep our Mirepoix and Bouquet Garni.  Mirepoix is a french term referring to a combination of celery, carrots, and onion.  Don't worry about measuring your Miropoix, just use about equal parts of each ingredient and cut them in roughly the same size so they give off flavor at the same rate.  As a rule of thumb I would say the Mirepoix should fill up the stock pot as high as the Chicken Bones.  It is not important for the Miropoix to be pretty, but it should be clean.  Make sure to peal your Onion, and Carrots, and to wash the Celery before chopping them.

After chopping the Mirepoix, we can move onto the Bouquet Garni.  Bouquet Garni, is a french term that refers to a bunch of herbs; normally a few Thyme Sprigs, Parsley Stems, a Bay Leaf, and Whole Peppercorns.  When making a stock I add some Whole Cloves because they add a nice flavor and aroma to the stock.  If you don't have Whole Cloves, it isn't a big deal.  Typically a Bouquet Garni would be wrapped in some cheesecloth and tied together with some twine, but since we will be straining our stock when we are finished, there is no need to do wrap up our Bouquet Garni.

Once you have rinsed the Chicken Bones, put them back into the stock pot, along with the Mirepoix and Bouquet Garni.  Fill the stock pot with enough water to cover the entire mixture by at least an inch, and heat it to a simmer. Cooking Tip:  Never boil a stock.  Boiling the water breaks up the fat particles in the Chicken and will cloud the stock.  Of course if your water is boiling, it isn't then end of the world, just turn down the heat to a simmer.  Continue to simmer the stock for 3 hours.  That is pretty much it.  The only additional step is to skim the fat off the top of the stock every 30 minutes or so.  However since we did such a good job of trimming the fat from our bones, and brought our bones to a simmer and rinsed them, most of the fat has already been removed.  There will still be some fat that rises to the top of the stock, and you might as well skim it with a spoon.

Most of the fat will come to the top in the first 15 minutes or so, so I don't want you to think that you will have to watch over your stockpot for 3 hours.  Once your stock simmering, most of your work is done.  After 3 hours or so, most of the flavor will be drawn out of the Chicken Bones, Mirepoix, and Bouquet Garni.


There is no real cooking time for a stock.  If you have only 2 hours, that's fine.  If you forget to take it off the stove for 4 hours, that's fine.  Once you remove the stock from the heat, strain the stock into freezer proof storage containers.  I suggest splitting the stock into 3 or more containers so you can keep one container in the refrigerator and keep the rest in the freezer until you are ready to use them.

It is also important to cool the stock as quickly as possible so bacteria doesn't have a chance to form.  Once you are done, you will have a beautiful amber colored stock that has much more flavor than anything you can buy in the store.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fillet Mignon with Port Wine Reduction Sauce
Serves 2 as a main dish


2 Fillet Mignon Steaks
1/2 Shallot (Finely Chopped)
1 Clove of Garlic (Minced)
Fresh Herbs (Thyme, Rosemary)
1/4 Cup Chicken Stock
1/8 Cup Port Wine
Canola Oil (Vegetable Oil)


Take your steaks out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you start cooking.  It helps if they are room temperature when you start cooking.  Heat up your over to 400 degrees.  There really isn’t much prep work for this dish outside of chopping up a Shallot, a Clove of Garlic, and some Fresh Herbs.  

Generously season both sides of the steak with Salt and Pepper.  Most people do not use enough Salt when seasoning meat, so use a little more than you think you should.  The key to this recipe is getting a good char on the steak by sautéing it before we finish it off in the oven.  Heat up a sauté pan over medium to high heat.  Get the pan nice and hot before you put any oil into it.  You can test to see if you pan is hot enough by splashing a few drops of water into it.  The water should bead up and bounce around the pan.  It is best to avoid using a non-stick pan for this recipe (and nearly any recipe) because non-stick pans do not get hot enough to properly char the steak.  Once the pan is nice and hot, coat the pan with Canola or Vegetable Oil, the oil should move around the pan freely, but should not smoke.  You do not need to use a lot of oil, just enough to coat the pan.  Cooking Tip:  Do not use Olive Oil, it will burn and fill your kitchen with smoke!  Place both steaks into the hot sauté pan turning after 1-2 minutes.  We do not want to cook the steaks in the sauté pan, but we want to get a nice brown char on both sides.  

Cooking Tip:  To prevent the steaks from sticking to the pan, give the pan a little shake 10-15 seconds after putting the steaks in the pan, they will loosen right up.  Once the steaks are browned on both sides, place the whole sauté pan right into the 400 degree oven to finish cooking.  Cooking time will depend on how well done you want your steak, and how thick they are.  Cooking Tip:  It is better to use a meat thermometer than cutting into the steak to test if the steaks are done.  Cutting into the steak will let all the juices run out.  You can use this chart to help guide you with mean doneness.  Keep in mind that the steaks will continue to cook after you remove them from the oven, so take them out about 5-7 degrees before your target doneness.  Since I want my steak medium rare, I remove it from the oven when my instant read thermometer reads about 135 degrees.  

After you take the steaks out, let them rest on a plate or cutting board for 5-10 minutes to let the juices settle and redistribute, do not cut into them, and do not rush this step.  While the steak is resting we can make our pan sauce.  In the same pan used to cook the steak sauté the garlic and shallot over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.  

Keep in mind that the pan handle will be extremely hot.  Make sure to use a kitchen towel or a pan handle cover.  Once the Garlic is fragrant and the Shallots are softened, add the Port Wine to deglaze the pan.  Use a wooden spoon or silicone scraper to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, and incorporate them into the sauce.  Let the sauce simmer for 2-3 minutes and then add the Chicken Stock.  I am not big on measuring out ingredients because I think it is a big waste of time, and leaves more dishes to be cleaned.  There is no need to measure out the Port Wine or Chicken Stock.  Just add enough wine to deglaze the pan, and add twice as much chicken stock as port wine.  If you are off by a little, it doesn’t matter, the sauce will still taste delicious.  Add the Fresh Herbs, and bring the sauce back up to a boil and let it reduce for about 5 minutes.  Let it reduce until it thickens to a sauce and is no longer just a liquid.  Season the reduction with Salt and Pepper.

  Plate your steaks, and drizzle the Port Reduction on top.  Serve with Skillet Potatoes and a simple salad.  

Skillet Potatoes

Serves 2 as a side


3 Potatoes (Russet, or Idaho) cubed in 1/4 in cubes
2 Cloves Garlic minced
2 Scallions chopped
3 Sprigs Parsley chopped
Vegetable Oil

Wash the Potatoes, and cube them. Start out by squaring off the Potato, cutting planks, then long sticks, and finally cubes.


Once you have cubed the potato, place the cubes into a pot with enough cold water to cover them. Salt the water, and bring the water to a boil. Cooking tip: When boiling potatoes, always place the potatoes in cold water and then bring the water to a boil. Once the water starts to boil set a timer for 5 minutes. You just want to parboil the potatoes, or cook them a little bit in order to reduce our cooking time once we put them on the skillet. After 5 minutes, drain the water, and set the potatoes aside. Heat up a skillet or sauté pan using medium to high heat. You want to get the pan hot before we add any oil. It is important that the pan is nice and hot before you add any oil to the pan. Coat the pan with oil, and sauté the Potatoes in a single layer until browned on one side. Do not use Olive Oil, it will burn, and fill your kitchen with smoke! You can use any high smoke point oil like Vegetable or Canola, or if you are lucky enough to have some, Duck Fat. Be careful when putting the Potatoes in the pan, if they are still wet, you may get a little splattering from the water reacting with the hot oil. Once the Potatoes are browned on one side, toss the potatoes in the pan. Cooking tip: Gather the potatoes on the far side of the pan before you try to toss them, this will allow you to toss them with just a quick flick of the wrist.

If you are nervous about tossing the potatoes, don’t worry it is easy, and you can practice with a piece of toast in a pan until you have enough confidence. Continue browning and tossing the potatoes until most of the potatoes are browned on most sides. If you are cooking a complete meal, you can remove the potatoes from the heat at this time. If everything else in your meal is ready to go, continue heating the potatoes in the sauté pan, and add the Garlic and cook until fragrant. Toss in the Scallions and Parsley along with a dollop of butter. Season with Salt and Pepper to taste. The Potatoes are ready to serve, and make a perfect side for many meals.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pasta Alla Norma

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as an appetizer


1 Medium sized Eggplant 3/4 inch dice
1/2 Medium sized Red Onion quartered and thinly sliced
1 Garlic Clove minced
5-6 sprigs Italian Parsley finely chopped
250 ml Whole Peeled Tomatoes gently blended (San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes)
2 servings Rigatoni (about 3 cups)
Parmigiano-Reggiano shredded
Ricotta Salata crumbled
Olive Oil
Canola Oil (or Vegetable Oil)
3-4 shakes Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Start out by dicing the Eggplant, and covering it a generous coating of salt. Let the Eggplant sit for 20-30 minutes on a paper towel to let some of the juices come out.  Salting the Eggplant will make it taste better and allow it to fry easier.

Bring 2.5 quarts of water to a rolling boil, and add salt to the boiling water until it tastes like the sea.  Once you dice the Eggplant and have your water heating, you will have time to prep all the rest of the ingredients.  Gently break apart the whole tomatoes in a blender on pulse, or simply by using your hands if you don't want to get your blender dirty.  It doesn't matter if there are a few chunks left in your tomato puree, it will taste just fine.

Once you have your onion, garlic, and parsley chopped and ready to go, heat up some canola oil in a small sauce pan over medium to high heat.  The oil should be hot, but not smoking.  If you sprinkle some flour in the oil, it should bubble or fry up on contact with the oil.  Before you start cooking,make sure you have everything ready to go.  Your ingredients should be chopped and prepped, pasta water should be salted and boiling, and your canola oil should be heated.  Your stove top should look like this.

Dust the Eggplant with flour and fry in Canola oil for 2-3 minutes or until lightly browned, and let Eggplant dry on some paper towels.  You may need to do 2-3 batches.  Cooking tip! When cooking with high heat use a vegetable oil or other oil with a high smoke point, do not use Olive Oil, it will burn, and fill your kitchen with smoke!


Put the Rigatoni into the boiling water.  Be sure to check the suggested cooking time, but do not rely on it, we want to slightly undercook the pasta, and finish off the cooking in our pasta sauce (my pasta called for 12 minutes cooking time, I removed it from the boiling water after 10.5 minutes).  After starting the Rigatoni, heat up a large saute pan with a generous coating of Olive Oil over medium/low heat.  Cooking tip!  When cooking with low or medium heat, use Olive Oil, it generally tastes better than vegetable oils, and is better for you!  The oil should not be smoking, but there should be some sizzle when you add the ingredients.  Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and 1/3 of the parsley.  Heat over medium to low heat for 1-2 minutes to bring out the aromas of the ingredients.

Add the Red Onion, and continue cooking for 3-4 minutes or until the Red Onion is slightly softened.

Add the Tomato puree, toss in the fried Eggplant, add 1/2 of remaining parsley, and simmer for 3-4 minutes.

Check the Rigatoni to see if it is done.  It should be Al dente or still offering resistance to the bite, but cooked through.  You can also check by cutting into a piece.  There should still be a faint white ring on the inside of your pasta, but it should not go all the way around.

Once the Rigatoni is cooked Al dente, remove it from the pasta water, but do not discard the pasta water!!!  Toss the rigatoni directly into the saute pan with the sauce, do not cool off the pasta in cold water, place it directly into the pasta sauce to finish cooking.  Add 1-2 ladles full of pasta water to the sauce, and some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano to help the pasta finish cooking, and help the sauce bind to the pasta.  This is a very important step, and the secret to making a great pasta dish.  The starch from the pasta water along with the fat from the cheese will help to bind the sauce to the pasta.

Toss the pasta in the sauce and let the sauce reduce for 1-2 minutes.  Lightly drizzle with Olive Oil, and crumbled Ricotta Salata and the remaining parsley.

Serve as an appetizer or as a main dish with a simple tossed salad