Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dinner Impossible to Dinner Fabulous

Pan Seared Halibut with Lemon Caper White Wine Sauce and Saffron Rice: It might seem like a long title, but in reality this dish was pretty easy to prepare, really delicious and would make a lovely week-night dinner.

After a long day of yard work this Sunday, I looked in the kitchen to figure out what to make for dinner. We were starting to run out of things, so I was little worried about what I would come up with. I was so tired, it seemed impossible. After rummaging through my freezer and fridge, I found a couple of frozen halibut fillets, a lone lemon rolling around in the crisper drawer, some leftover chopped onions, and a jar of capers. Halibut is a mild white fish that is really versatile, and I knew that with the ingredients I had on hand, a lemon-caper sauce seemed pretty easy to top it off. Once I noticed white wine in the wine rack, I knew that couldn't hurt either.

Now I just had to decide what would go with it. White fish with white rice just didn't seem appealing to me, but yellow rice would at least give the plate some color. I remembered I had a packet of saffron threads in the pantry, so the rice would be pretty easy too.  I had some baby spinach, so I threw together a little spinach salad on the side and dinner was set!   Pretty tasty if I do say so myself. 

First things first, start the saffron rice, since that will take a little while to cook.  "Steep" your saffron threads in a little bit of warmed chicken broth before adding them to the mix.  Now, on to the details:

Saffron Rice (printable recipe)
2 Tbsp. butter
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 tsp. saffron threads
1 c. white long-grain rice
2 c. chicken broth

In a medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and saute until it becomes translucent.   Add saffron and continue cooking for another minute.  Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is opaque and starting to toast.  Add chicken broth and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve.

Pan Seared Halibut with Lemon, Caper & White Wine Sauce (printable recipe)
2 halibut fillets, skin removed (about 1 lb. total)
2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 shallot, minced
1 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 glove garlic, minced
1 c. white wine
Zest of a lemon
Juice of half a lemon

Pat halibut fillets dry with a paper towel. Combine flour, salt and pepper in small dish or on small plate. Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until it begins to shimmer. When oil is ready, press top and bottom of halibut fillets into flour mixture, then transfer to hot pan. Cook halibut until browned, about 4 minutes, then flip fillet over and continue cooking until the other side has browned, about 4 minutes. Remove fish from pan and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the butter. Let the butter melt, then add the shallot, capers, parsley garlic and lemon zest, sauteing for about a minute (don't let the garlic get brown). Then add the lemon juice and white wine. Simmer over medium heat until the sauce has reduced by about half. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over the fish fillets and serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sign of Spring: Rhubarb at the Farmers Market

Most of the farmers markets in southeast Wisconsin open the first weekend of May.  Since I was too busy sunning myself on vacation in Florida and the Bahamas that weekend, I missed the first one.  As much as I didn't want to on this past cold and rainy Saturday, I dragged myself out of bed because the farmers market was calling my name.  I wasn't sure what I would find, because I've never actually gone to a farmers market this early in the season.  I usually wait until summer is in full swing to venture out, since that is when most items are ripe for the picking.

I could tell at first glance the items in abundance this early in the market season.  There were tons of hanging baskets and flowers, as well as various vegetable and herb plants.  If I wanted to start a garden, this felt like the place to go!  If I didn't live in a condo, and if I had even the palest of green thumbs, I would have come home with a lot more than I did.  There were also the usual bakery items, kettle corn, cheese and mushroom vendors who keep me coming back over and over again.  I purchased some huge molasses cookies, a basil plant which I thought would be easy to manage out on my deck this summer, and a couple of huge portabello mushrooms (may be posting something about those later).

Valentine Rhubarb
I stopped in my tracks when I spotted the rhubarb.  Beckoning me in beautiful red bundles were one of my favorite flavors of spring.  I couldn't even remember the last time I had rhubarb, but I knew I loved it.  Growing up, I was lucky enough to reap the rewards of the plant that our best friends/neighbors were willing to share with us on occasion.  I think I might have stolen some rhubarb my aunt had given my mom a few years ago too, but since then, I have missed it!  My husband had mentioned strawberry-rhubarb pie a few times over the last couple of months, so when I saw the rhubarb, all I could think of was that I wanted pie ASAP.  I love the tart flavor of rhubarb, especially when it it is mixed with sweet strawberries in a tasty pie.  I opted to by the Valentine rhubarb which is a little less acidic and a little thinner than the standard type.  Since it is still early for strawberries at the market, I made a quick stop at the grocery store and them home to bake.

This pie could be one of the easiest you could ever make, especially if you buy pre-made pie dough from the grocery store.  I opted to make my crust from scratch using an America's Test Kitchen recipe.  It is a little more time consuming, but the crust is just so fantastic, it is worth the effort - buttery and flaky, with just a hint of sweetness.  When coupled with the tart rhubarb filling, optimum deliciousness is achieved.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (printable recipe)

3 1/2 c. rhubarb, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3 1/2 c. strawberries, sliced
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. instant tapioca (uncooked)
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of half a lemon
Double-crust pie dough (recipe follows)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the first 6 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside for 15 minutes.  Depending on the sweetness and amount of liquid produced by your rhubarb and strawberries, you can adjust the sugar and tapioca measurements accordingly.

Roll half of pie dough into a 12 inch circle and place it into a 9 inch pie plate.  Spread the rhubarb mixture over the unbaked crust.  Roll the other half of the dough into a 12 inch circle and place on top of the rhubarb mixture, crimping the edges to seal both layers together.  Make several slits in the top of the pie to allow the steam to escape during baking.  Alternatively, you can do a lattice top like I did.  Brush top of pie with egg yolk, then sprinkle with sugar.
Place pie on a rimmed baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for an additional 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juices are bubbling.  Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.  Cooling is necessary to allow the filling to thicken properly.

Basic Dough for a Double-Crust Pie 
from America's Test Kitchen

2 1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 c. vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2 inch pieces and chilled
3/4 c. unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces and chilled
6-8 T. ice water

Process the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor until combined.  Scatter the shortening over the top and process until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds.  Scatter the butter over the top and pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water over the mixture.  Stir and press the dough together using a stiff rubber spatula, until the dough sticks together.  If the dough seems dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does.

Divide the dough into two even pieces, form into a 4 inch disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for about an hour.  Before rolling the dough out, let it sit on the counter to soften slightly, about 10 minutes.  Dust rolling pin and board with flour to prevent sticking.  You can also roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper or parchment.