Be Prepared When Preparing Miso Glazed Cod

Miso Glazed Sea Bass With Sauteed Spinach

Be Prepared – I think those Boy Scouts are on to something…

In the late ’90s I had a job that took me all around the world. I spent so much time on airplanes that I seriously thought I could be losing bone mass. See there was a study released at the time about the astronauts who spent long periods in space losing bone mass due to the lack of gravity or something. I was pretty sure that was happening to me.

Even though I often traveled alone, when I went to Tokyo for nine days back then I was traveling with a colleague. We were on a mission to gain more distribution for our brand. For nine days we traveled around Tokyo meeting with retailers and securing positioning for our products. For nine nights, we checked out the hotspots and mixed with the ex-pats.

Geronimo! Shot Bar Roppongi

Geronimo! Shot Bar Roppongi

On the last night there, we were at Geronimo! Shot Bar (ex-pat hotspot in Roppongi) spending our remaining Yen. At about 11pm, we called it a night and walked out to grab a taxi to the hotel. Then the strangest thing happened…In my pocket I found 40,000 Yen. 40,000! 40,000! Such a big number, but was really only equal to about $10. Still,Yen are useless in the States and I wasn’t about to take any home.

So back to the bar and when we exhausted our 40k, we managed to locate some lovely bad boy ex-pat bankers who hadn’t yet spent their per diem…bar led to bar..Roppongi never closes…And, I think I may have stumbled back to the hotel around 4am.

The next morning – really later that morning – I was scheduled to take a 7:30am bus to the airport to get the only direct flight back to New York. So, I set my alarm and called for a wake up call.

I’m sure both of those things happened.

But I woke instead to a pounding on my door and someone screaming my name…Furious that someone was interrupting my much needed sleep, I tried at first to ignore it. But it wouldn’t stop. It just kept pounding and pounding on the door. I got out of bed, opened the door and saw a hotel employee…He was screaming:

‘Your bus is here! Your bus is here!”

I was so confused and grabbed in disbelief at his wrist…Indeed, he was correct. His watch read 7:30am.

I looked at him and started to cry. I hadn’t packed and my life was strewn all over the hotel room. I couldn’t miss the one direct flight back to NYC. Tears. Panic. Gasping.

One thing about fancy hotels in Tokyo…Amazing service. And the guy at my door took about one second to assess the situation, put his fingers to his mouth and blew out a loud shrill whistle. Suddenly, three other hotel employees appeared as if out of no where. My guy, let’s call him ‘The General’ went into action:

‘We pack for you! We pack for you!’

‘You brush teeth! You brush teeth!’ – not too subtle hint from The General.

‘We pack for you!’

And they did. In no more than :40 seconds the room was packed, my teeth were brushed, I was dressed and they were carrying me downstairs. They poured me onto the bus and I was off.

Be prepared. Might have been a better idea to pack before going bad-boy-banker-bar-hopping in Roppongi. Yep. That might have been better.

One of the reasons certain foods are so intimidating to cook is that they’re just too delicious  and you can’t believe yourself capable of mimicking such mastery. One of these such dishes is what I call the ‘magic cod’ that they serve at Nobu. The magic cod – officially known as the Miso Glazed Black Cod – is A-mazing…

It’s all about being prepared – but, it’s so easy to make! And when preparing in a small kitchen, there are some useful tips…

Miso Glazed Black Cod (Or Sea Bass), (serves 4-6)

1. In a small saucepan over medium/high heat combine 3 tbsp of Mirin (looks like soy sauce and in the same section of the grocery store) with 3 tbsp Sake and bring to a boil.

2. Add in 1/2 cup of White Miso Paste – kept in the refrigerator section. Whisk until the miso is dissolved

Mirin and Miso Paste may not be in your regular grocery store. I’ve found them at Fairway, Whole Foods and Japanese specialty food shops (even in the midwest).

3. Add in 1/3 cup Sugar continuing to whisk over medium heat until just dissolved

NOTE: If you have a whisk with a longer handle, use it. It’s a lot of whisking over the heat and you can burn your wrist….

4. Remove the mixture from heat, transfer to a baking dish and allow to cool

Sea Bass marinating in the Miso, Sake, Mirin, Sugar mix

5. Put 4-6 7ish OZ Black Cod fillets into the marinade and spoon the marinade over the tops of each…The recipe calls for Black Cod…but, right now Black Cod is crazy expensive – like $40/lb – so the stores aren’t carrying it. You can use Sea Bass or Halibut. That’s Sea Bass in the pic.

Refrigerate for 24 – 48 hours – see what I mean about being prepared…

NOTE: The recipe also calls for the skin to be removed..But I leave it on and all is AOK

6. To cook…preheat the oven to 400 degrees and heat and veggie oil a grill pan over high heat

7. Scrape the excess marinade off of the fish – it’s more like a grainy pasty cover – and place skin side up on the grill pan. Cook until the fish is browned – about 2-3 minutes.

NOTE: The fish is covered in sugar. Sugar burns -OK. Sugar pops spewing burnt sugar beads all over your small kitchen – Not OK. I loosely cover the grill pan with tin foil to avoid having to pick charred sugar off of my ceiling.

8. Once browned, flip the fish onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for 10 minutes

9. Transfer to a plate and serve.

I’m so grateful to ‘The General’ who called in the troops to Pack for Me! and instruct me to Brush Teeth! But, the tears, gasps and panic could have been avoided if I had only been prepared. The Nobu Miso Glazed Cod/Sea Bass is perfectly simple to make…if you have some time to Be Prepared.

The Great Reveal: Salmon Wellington

At the gym today I might have stumbled upon the Maury Show. Riveting television. Seems Maury has changed the formula for these types of programs and is now the great rapid revealer of all truths. Today’s program was filled with cheating husbands, lying wives and  paternity mysteries. Previously, these types of programs would make you wait :56 minutes before finding out the results of the DNA or lie detector tests. Not anymore. The new formula: Maury revealed results in six different cases in rapid fire succession. 4 men were forced to accept children as theirs, a wife had to forgive her spouse who turned out to be faithful and a woman met her grandson for the first time. I had chills.

Before each commercial break Maury solicits people for upcoming programs. Today, this message flashed across the screen:

“Are you engaged to your online lover but have never met? If so, contact the Maury Show at 1-888…..”

Seriously? I laughed out loud and caught the attention of the treadmillers around me.

But, then I remembered a friend who once told me that Beef Wellington was his favorite food. As a lover and annual recreator of Paula Deen’s Individual Beef Wellington’s in a Sherry Cream Sauce (recipe tips to come at Christmas time) I asked him where he had experienced his favorite food. Turns out, just like the online lovers who have never met..Beef Wellington was my friend’s favorite food that he had never had.

One of the best parts of the beef wellington is the puff pastry. You wrap up an amazing piece of beef in a pretty package – like keeping a wonderful secret. I’ve made it a dozen times, but the anxious anticipation is still there when I go to cut it open. So why not infuse more drama into your dinners and wrap other things in puff pastry throughout the year.

One of my favorite things to wrap in puff pastry is Salmon.

Salmon Wellington (serves 4)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees

2. In a medium skillet heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.

3. Stir in 1 clove peeled, minced garlic. You can add more – but garlic isn’t my thing…and you don’t want to over power the taste of the fish.

Wilting Spinach with Garlic and Olive Oil

Wilting the Spinach

4. When the garlic becomes fragrant (about 2 mins) add a 5oz package of washed, fresh spinach leaves and wilt over medium heat. This only takes a couple of minutes as well. Once wilted, set aside.

Dufour Puff Pastry from Whole Foods…The Best!

5. Unwrap 2 sheets of Dufours Puff Pastry. It’s the best – and it costs like a million dollars…but, it’s so much better than the others…So splurge here. I get mine at Whole Foods.

Cut each sheet in half

On a floured surface, roll out a half sheet just a little – you don’t want to lose all of the thickness.

6. Remove the skin and season 4 5oz salmon fillets on both sides with Salt and Pepper.

Skinned Salmon Fillets ready for wrapping

7. Place one Salmon fillet in the center of the sheet and top it with the wilted spinach. Using an eggwash (just beat an egg with a little bit of water) paint the outer border of the pastry.

Salmon Fillet In Center of Puff Pastry topped with Spinach

8. Fold the bottom corner of the pastry over the salmon lengthwise.  Then fold the right and left corners creating an ‘envelope’. Finally fold the top corner over and pinch closed with your fingers.

Repeat with remaining 3 fillets and spinach.

9. You can decorate the tops of each fillet using more puff pastry dough and cookie cutters…Or, if you’re all creative and such, go free-hand.

Place each fillet on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush with egg wash.

Salmon Wellington Ready for the Oven

Salmon Wellington Ready for the Oven

10. Into the oven for :25 mins and you’ll have a beautiful, wrapped mystery meal to reveal! Inside the salmon is moist and tender, perfectly cooked. Outside, the pastry is warm and flaky.

Cutting into puff pastry and finding salmon and spinach instead of beef and mushroomy goodness may not be as dramatic as finding out who your baby daddy is or meeting your online fiance for the first time… But, it’s just as suspenseful and twice as delicious!

Maury isn’t the only one with secrets to reveal.

Beauty and the Beet

Beets

Raw Chioggia Beets with amazing white and red stripes

Ah, Beets:  the ever so intimidating, polarizing, rutty, root vegetable. You either love ’em or hate ’em. Barack and Michelle Obama hate ’em. I saw Michelle Obama on her book tour – she was promoting her best selling cooking/gardening book ‘American Grown’ – tell the audience at The View that the only vegetable that was not welcome in the White House Garden was the beet. And, the Obamas are not alone. There are beet-haters everywhere.

I, on the other hand, am a beet-lover. Still, even with my love of beets, I agree there are many things about them to hate.

Beets Farmer's Market Great Barrington MA

Three Varieties of Beets Farmer’s Market

1. They’re sort of creepy-ugly  – like all root vegetables at the market, they’re dirty…like covered in dirt dirty.

2. They’re really really really hard to peel

3. They’re hard in general…so, if you don’t have a super sharp knife, peeling and cutting them can be dangerous.

4. The deep red variety (Detroit Red Beets) will stain your clothes, hands, any porous cutting board

On the flip side…when prepared well…they’re delicious, beautiful and make a perfect side dish. This past weekend I was the boss of beets.

Roasted Beets (serves 6)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

2. Peel, clean and cut 10-12 beets into cubes.

They ARE hard to peel. I’m not going to lie. I used a vegetable peeler at first, but found that using the peeler was too messy and difficult.

HINT: Switch to a paring knife and cut the skin off like you might with a pineapple – cutting off the tops and bottoms, then carefully working from top to bottom and skinning the sides.

Three varieties of beets, peeled, cubed and awaiting a good cleanse in a colander.

In this picture there are three different varieties of beets that I found at the local Farmer’s Market: Chioggia (red and white striped), Detroit Dark Red and Golden. They have similar taste – the difference is in color and size.

When cutting, try to make sure they are all about the same size.

3. Put the cut pieces into a colander. When all 12 beets are peeled and cut, rinse the pieces thoroughly.

4. Toss the peeled, cut and cleaned beet cubes with 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp sea salt, 1 tsp lemon zest, and 3/4 tbsp fresh thyme leaves. If you use dried thyme, just use 1/2 as much and crush it in your palms before sprinkling over the beets. Make sure all beet pieces are sufficiently coated.

5. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and put into the oven for 40-45 mins

Peeled, Cubed and Rinsed tri-variety beets ready for roasting

6. When the beets are browned and softened to taste…remove from the oven and THEN – thank you Ina Garten, great suggestion – toss in about 1 tablespoon of fresh orange juice. The orange juice adds a secret tang and also enhances the natural sweetness of the beets themselves.

7. You can crumble some feta cheese over the top and serve warm

Roasted Tri-Variety Beets

What was once so terribly ugly, intimidating and frankly, dirty, has emerged tender, gently roasted and absolutely as beautiful as it is delicious.

I’m not going to beat anyone over the head with my love of beets. And, I know that this roasted recipe won’t change the minds of self-professed beet-haters everywhere.

That said….I do think that it really couldn’t hurt the Obamas in their quest for re-election if Michelle embraced the beauty in the beet and could find just a little corner for beets in her White House garden. Could it?

Guerillas in the Midst of Shrimp Tacos

I’m a little bit of a homophone-ophobe. This is a real condition. Seriously. It describes a person who fears words that sound similar but have two entirely different meanings. Like it was so sweet of the hotel to give us this suite. And I loved the kind maid who made the bed. Just typing it makes me shutter.

In the ’70’s there were constant news reports about the Sandinista Guerillas in Nicaragua. In our house, once my father was home, we watched the news. Well, at least the news was on. I can’t say I really was watching it. It was more like background noise I had to endure until prime time programming (Dallas, Taxi, Different Strokes etc) was available. We had one TVone. So, everyone watched the same thing and the bigger people generally got to dictate what that one thing would be.

Anyway, the fighting in Nicaragua had been going on for years, but really heated up in 1979 after the formal unification of the Sandinista guerillas.

This was also around the time that you could find Planet of the Apes television series starring Roddy McDowall reruns on TV.

And, I was pretty young.

So, when the din of the news reported on the guerillas in Nicaragua, I was certain that they meant gorillas.

Yes, to answer the obvious question, the news rolled footage of the guerillas – but it was 1979 and the footage was grainy, not all high def like now. Even when I would watch the reports, I thought the soldiers could totally be gorillas – like the ones on Planet of the Apes.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned about guerillas and then even more time passed before I was able to admit to my mistake. I’ve had homophone-ophobia ever since.

Recently, I was taking my first stab at using tomatillos – which I was a little afraid of. See ‘Tomatillo’ sounds a lot like ‘Tomato’ (though not an exact homophone). But, just as guerillas are completely different than gorillas, – tomatillos not like tomatoes at all. If you’ve never used them and want to google ‘tomatillos’, you’ll be told that tomatillos are more like gooseberries. This information didn’t help to ease my fear as I’ve never used those either.

This is the recipe from FoodNetwork Kitchens that I used for reference and then tweaked. It’s for two pretty decent sized servings.

Shrimp Tacos with an Avocado/Tomatillo Salsa

Marinate 1/2 lb of large, cleaned and deveined raw shrimp in a mix of lemon and lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper for about an hour. I do use frozen ones and it’s fine. Just fine.

Put 1/2 of a small chopped onion, 1/2 a chopped and seeded jalapeno and 1/2 clove of garlic mashed in a food processor. I often sub shallot for garlic – but since the garlic is going to be processed, it won’t dominate the sauce. Finely chop.

Add in 2 peeled and rinsed chopped tomatillos, 1/2 an avocado chopped, 1/2 tsp of salt, the juice of 1/2 a lime and pulse the mixture until chopped but still chunky.

You can stir in a little bit of sour cream at this point. The sour cream is a nice juxtaposition to the spiciness of the jalapeno and garlic.

Transfer to a bowl and top with some fresh chopped cilantro. Set aside.

Pre-heat a grill pan to med/high. Spray with cooking spray.

Take the marinated shrimp and, if you want some spice,  toss with 1/2 tsp of chili powder and immediately place on the grill pan. The shrimp will cook quickly – about 2 minutes per side. I like a little char on my shrimp. Why? Because as per Anne Burrell: ‘brown food is good food’.

In a second pan, warm up 4 flour tortillas. Put a pan on medium and drop the tortillas in there for a minute or so per side. You just want them warmed, not toasted. You can use wheat or corn, but I really prefer flour.

Topped each warmed tortilla with a heathy schmear of the avocado/tomatillo salsa and 2-3, depending on size, shrimp. Garnish with some more cilantro (remembering that cilantro seems to be polarizing – you either love it or hate it) and a lime wedge.

The salsa makes this meal. And, helped me to overcome my fear of those tomato-sounding tomatillos.

You don’t hear a lot about the guerillas in Nicaragua anymore…or much about the original Planet of the Apes for that matter. Still, when I think back on my homophonic mistake, I know I can’t be the sole soul who made such an error. I mean, didn’t anyone think that Jane Goodall as played by Sigourney Weaver was In the Midst of Guerillas?