About Kate Schmidt

The other drunkard.

Braised Cabbage with Halibut

Here we are, recipe number six – Braised Cabbage with Halibut from another “why have I never used this book” book, Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters. I think once spring rears its head, we’ll be using this book a lot more. It’s chock full of really beautiful and simple recipes. (shocking, right?)  Alas, as it is the dead of winter in coastal Maine, the available seasonal vegetables are…few. There’s lots of squash and leeks and kale and potatoes and regular cabbage, but that’s about it, so I had to resort to out-of-season nappa cabbage from the supermarket.

Halibut, however, is plentiful, if a little pricier than almost everything at the fishmonger’s. But it’s soooo delicious. I can’t resist its smooth, buttery flesh. There’s not a lot one can do with it that I don’t like, but cooking halibut in moist heat has magical results. In this recipe, the pieces of halibut are briefly cooked in wine, butter and chicken stock. When it comes out of the oven, it’s served over a bed of oven-braised nappa cabbage (the recipe calls for savoy, but, Maine in winter…) and roasted potatoes. It’s totally simple and so damned tasty. And it looks like fancy restaurant food, so people will think you slaved over it. But you didn’t!

Next up in the Alice Waters bookathon, Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza and Calzones, a book full of things we’re really not supposed to be eating, but we’re committed.

Chaudrée au Pineau (Fish Baked with Braised Leeks and Pineau de Charentes)

We love projects around here, and since July 2016, we’ve been attempting to cook everything out of Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France. Inexplicably (oh, who am I kidding? We’re slackers) we have never blogged about this, but have put photos in an album on Facebook. It’s lazy, but we do have the enormous honor of having the amazing Paula Wolfert be a follower of this album. Every time she comments or ‘likes’, we squee.

As with our other cookbook project, we’ve made everything harder on ourselves by being on Weight Watchers. WW is not exactly friendly to foie gras, cream, sweet, life-giving butter, confit and duck fat, which are, of course, essential ingredients in southern French cooking. BUT we are determined to finish this book, largely because there has not been one single recipe that hasn’t been utterly wonderful. This new one is no different.

So, recipe number forty-six, Chaudrée au Pineau. It’s super simple, as are many of the best recipes in this book. It’s braised leeks, which are a bed for filets of fish, mussels and scallops. But the devil is in the details. To the braised leeks, you add white wine and Pineau de Charentes. Pineau is an amazing aperitif that’s made from Cognac and sweet unfermented grape juice. It tastes like…(runs downstairs to have some) maybe a young sweet white port? It’s hard to describe but worth tracking down. 

 

The braised leeks go into a casserole, then the filets of fish (we used gray sole and haddock) get rolled up and placed on top, then stuck in the oven, then mussels and large scallops are added and put back in the oven. Once this comes out, it’s finished with an utterly decadent sauce of crème fraîche and brined green peppercorns (thanks, Amazon), and parsley, tarragon and chives.

Holy cow, this was good. The fish was perfectly cooked and lightly perfumed with all the fragrant herbs, and the leeks – OMG, the leeks. They were rich, buttery, silky, leek-y, and a genius-level contrast with the simple fish. The one thing that went a little amiss (and it’s not us if something doesn’t go amiss) was that the enormous mussels Nathan bought weren’t quite done. Next time we’ll buy smaller mussels or put the big ones in earlier. The cooking time in the recipe was spot on for everything else and it would have been a crime to let it cook longer. But still. Wow. Sadly, we did not have bread to sop up the juice, but never fear, we did not hesitate to drink it straight from the bowl. This was totally worth using more than half of our allotted daily WW points. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.

 

Mussel Soup with Saffron, Fennel, Cream and Spinach

This wasn’t the recipe I’d intended to make. Initially, I skimmed past it because it contained (ominous music) cream and butter, our forbidden friends. I skimmed past a lot of recipes in Paul Bertolli’s gorgeous Chez Panisse Cookbook (book #3) ’cause oil, butter, cream…sigh. We’re also constricted by the fact that we live in semi-rural coastal Maine, and we can’t just pop down to the Berkeley Bowl for any unusual ingredients we might need.

My first two choices had been fish soups. Glorious, complicated project soups. Given the proximity of the, you know, ocean, one would expect that there ought to be fish heads all over the place here, but nooo. None of our local-ish fishmongers had any whole fish other than salmon, which isn’t what I wanted (or, rather, Paul Bertolli wanted) for fish broth. Starting to feel desperate, I re-read the seafood chapter again and decided that this mussel soup wasn’t as pointy as I’d initially estimated.

 

And I’m glad I settled. This was outrageously delicious, and very simple. The mussels are steamed in wine and herbs, then you make a sauce with the wine, butter, cream, saffron, fennel and spinach. We got a new jar of Iranian saffron, and its perfume was heavenly. We’d toyed with making a full batch and freezing it, but wisely decided against it. The servings in the recipe are fairly small, and there’s no way we wouldn’t have gobbled up the whole batch of mussel-y goodness. This is a DEFINITE make-again. It’d be a terrific first course for a dinner party. It’d also be good for lunch like, right now. Next time we’re serving it with bread so we don’t have to lick the bowl.

Next up: Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II.

Oh, and coincidentally, this time last year we were finally having dinner downstairs at Chez Panisse to celebrate Anton’s and my birthdays. It was…exceptional. If you can go, go. The power went out early in the meal, so the place was lit only by candles and by the massive brick oven in the kitchen. Alice herself came out and mingled with us all in the darkness. The experience could not have been more magical. I’m glad that we’re paying tribute to her vision this week.

Too Many Cookbooks

After more than five months, we finally have the cookbooks unpacked and shelved. There are possibly more in the garage of doom, but as of today, we own 413 cookbooks. (Thanks, Librarything for the counting!) A few dozen of those are on Kindle only. Still, that’s a lotta cookbooks.

The cookbook library nook. We decided to put the books up now before we remodeled the room. Who knows when we'll get rid of the hideous wallpaper and parquet floor?

It was great fun to unpack the books and put them on new, uncrowded shelves. Inevitably as we sorted and shelved, there was much reading aloud. There were old, much-used favorites, yet many, many books we’d never cooked out of. It seemed sort of ridiculous that there was so much knowledge at our fingertips, yet we were not utilizing it. After about a hundred cries of “we should make this,” I said, “Hey, let’s cook something out of every book!”

So we’re going to! We flipped a coin and we’re going to go backwards alphabetically through general cookbooks, then hit baking, vegetarian and international, then historical cooking and anything in food writing that’s applicable. (Oh, and there are about three dozen cocktail books in the bar closet! Should we do those, too?) The recipe from any given book can’t be one we’ve made before, and it needs to be typical of the book. For example, in a book about (foreshadowing!) salads, we can’t just make an accompanying bread or soup. It’s gotta be salad.

Well, no time like the present! The first (last) book in the collection is The Nero Wolfe Cookbook by Rex Stout. I’ve never actually read any Nero Wolfe, but after exploring this delightful book, I’m keen to get the fiction unpacked. It was very challenging to find a doable recipe in this book, due to the extravagant nature of the recipes. We’re doing Weight Watchers right now and can no longer throw cheese and butter around like drunken sailors. But one recipe leapt right out – Lamb Chops with Walnuts.

This was an extremely simple recipe with ingredients that I would never have thought to put together. It’s chopped green bell peppers, shallots, black walnuts, and lamb chops. Strange, but it works. You cook up the chops in sweet, forbidden butter and set them aside, then sauté the peppers and shallot in the lamby buttery drippings, then add the weird, tannic black walnuts and cook a little longer. Then plate up the chops (I roasted a few small local potatoes to go with) and top them with the pepper/walnut mess. Deglaze the pan with white wine, then pour the lamby winey goodness over the chops and then HAVE AT IT.

It was SO good. The local lamb Nathan got from Pinkham’s was very, very lamby. It beautifully complemented the assertive, tannic peppers and black walnuts. And of course, the fluffy young potatoes were perfect for mopping up the butter and wine sauce. With it we drank a Wente Monterey County (Arroyo Seco) pinot noir, which was just right. It was very rich and full-bodied for a pinot, and stood up to the gamey lamb and the strong nuts and vegetables like a champ. A lighter, more floral pinot would have disappeared.

So that’s recipe #1 out of at least 413. Who knows how long this will take, or if we will finish, and how many more cookbooks we’ll acquire in the meantime. We’re still working on cooking through the genius The Cooking of Southwest France  by our dear acquaintance Paula Wolfert, (See how I name-dropped there? YEAH, Paula knows who I am! Don’t you wish you were me?) and we’ve also got this enormous 215 year-old house to finish restoring, and places to go, and people to meet, but you know us – we’re always up for a challenge.

Up next: Patricia Wells’ Salad as a Meal. Oh boy, salads in pre-winter rural Coastal Maine. This is going to be interesting.