golden tilefish + mushrooms en papillote

On our last day of culinary school, we picked numbers out of a bowl. The numbers would determine the menu we would be making for our final that day, and the time at which we would present. I unfolded my little white slip to reveal a “B2”, written boldly in thick black ink. I would be making striped bass en papillote and pate a choux. I would be presenting first. Time starts now.

As luck would have it, I chose the better of the two menus. The alternative, a consommé and poulet grand-mere, consisted of seemingly endless components, and time would be much tighter for those students. Our fish, on the other hand, was relatively simple to prepare, and even more simple to present. There was no plating, no garnishing. Each package would be placed on a plate, left for each judge to open himself.

My tomato fondue and mushroom duxelles bubbled on the stove as I fileted my fish, dragging my filet knife across its bones just as I had practiced. I prepared my vegetables: cutting them into tiny toothpicks that I would later cook gently in butter and a splash of water. I cut my parchment paper into hearts, just like I had learned, as my pate a choux quietly puffed in the oven, just like it was supposed to. The unbearable nerves I had felt earlier that morning gave way to confidence and a sense of serenity. I was doing what I loved, and I was doing it well.

As I slid my golden, puffed packages from the oven two minutes before service, I felt a surge of pride. And, as I watched my judges rip the paper open in a puff of steam, I knew that everything I had worked for in those past months had paid off. It is a feeling that I will always associate with papillotes, and it is one that I hope I will never forget.


golden tilefish + mushrooms en papillote

Cooking en papillote is a classic French technique that involves steaming within a sealed parchment paper package. It is incredibly simple to prepare, but makes for a really special presentation. In this recipe, I took inspiration from the classic French fish en papillote that I made while in culinary school, which consists of a mushroom duxelles, tomato fondue, and fish that is topped with julienne carrots, leeks, and celery cooked a l’etuvee, a sprig of thyme, and a splash of white wine. To simplify things a bit, and to add some texture, I skipped the duxelles (which is really just finely minced mushrooms sautéed in butter and shallots), and sautéed large pieces of the mushrooms in butter and white wine. And, instead of the vegetables, I topped my fish with a large dollop of herbed butter, which melts beautifully while cooking to leave a pile of steamed herbs above the fish.

 

for the mushrooms:

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

6 oz assorted mushrooms, roughly chopped (I used a combination of shiitake, enoki, and shimeji)

1/4 cup white wine

salt

 

for the compound butter:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, finely minced

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced

1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely minced

1 teaspoon lemon zest

salt + freshly ground black pepper

 

for the papillotes:

2 pieces parchment paper, about 16-in x 13-in in size

10 oz golden tilefish, cut into 2 5 oz skinless filets (or other white, lean fish like monkfish or grouper)

salt + freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons white wine

1 egg white, lightly beaten

oil for brushing

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large sauté pan over high heat, add the butter and oil. Once the butter has melted, add the mushrooms. Sauté mushrooms, moving them very little, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid has completely evaporated, 1 – 2 minutes longer. (It is important there is no excess liquid, as it will make the papillotes too wet when assembled). Season with salt to taste, remove from heat, and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the butter, tarragon, parsley, dill, and lemon zest. Mash with a fork to fully incorporate the herbs into the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Place an empty sheet pan in the oven to preheat while you assemble the papillotes: fold one piece of parchment paper in half. Cut a half heart in the folded paper, so that when you unfold the parchment it will be in the shape of a full heart. Lay the heart open on a large working surface. Spoon half the mushrooms in a small pile on one side of the heart, about 1-inch from the crease. Top the pile with one of the fish filets and season with salt and pepper. Top the fish with a generous dollop of the compound butter (about 1 heaping tablespoon) and drizzle 1 teaspoon of white wine over the top. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush all along the edges of the heart with the egg white. Fold the heart in half, folding the empty side of the heart over the fish, and press the edges together to seal. Brush the top of the sealed edges with more egg wash, and starting at the top of the heart, make a series of short folds around the heart to seal. When you reach the end, fold the excess paper under the package. Repeat process with second piece of parchment. Bon Appétit has a great how-to video and step-by-step photos of this process here. (they don’t use egg white in the video, but I highly suggest you do, as it helps to seal the package effectively). Brush the tops of both packages with a light coating of oil (this just prevents the parchment from burning).

Carefully remove the preheated pan from the oven and place both packages on it, side by side. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 11 minutes. After 11 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and use scissors to snip a little hole in the crease of each package. Return the pan to the oven for 30 seconds – 1 minute longer (this step is optional, but it will allow for a nicer presentation, as the bag will stay puffed when out of the oven). Remove the pan and carefully transfer each package to a plate and serve immediately.

*(Ripping open the package to reveal the fish and all of the delicious aromas is the best part, so make sure to save that part for after you’ve sat down to the table)!

 

Yield: 2 main course servings


cauliflower + parsnip soup

Around this time of year, I can think of no better way to spend a day than standing over a slowly simmering pot of soup. For me, it’s a way to unwind. I find calm in watching the steam rise in lazy curls from the pot, and of bowing my head over them to inhale deeply. Nothing is hurried, nothing sudden. There is no urgency, no pressure.

After a particularly demanding week in culinary school, I longed for this slowness in the kitchen, and set out to make a soup that would be as comforting to prepare as it would be to enjoy. A couple heads of cauliflower and a handful of parsnips promised a simple, yet warming combination of autumnal flavors. To that I added some thyme and bay leaves, which released their herbaceous and lively aromas as they simmered along with the vegetables. After cooking, I added a touch of heavy cream and sweet, roasted garlic for richness and depth.  All in all, a mere seven ingredients flavor this dish – each one working together with the next to complement and balance, yet also receiving the attention it deserves.


cauliflower + parsnip soup

Like all of the soups I love, this soup demands nothing. There are no elaborate cooking techniques, no unique ingredients – just a simple, wholesome combination of cauliflower, parsnips, and roasted garlic. The perfect dish to curl up with on a chilly fall day.

 

ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 1/2 cups chopped white onion (about 2 small onions)

2 heads cauliflower, greens removed

2 pounds of parsnips (about 4 medium-large), peeled and ends trimmed

3 sprigs of fresh thyme, plus leaves for garnish

2 bay leaves

2 heads of garlic

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish

1 cup heavy cream

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a heavy-bottomed large dutch oven or stock pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onions and sweat, stirring occasionally, until translucent and just beginning to brown on the edges, about 10 – 15 minutes.

While the onions cook, prepare the cauliflower and parsnips: remove the greens from the stems of the cauliflower and cut the stems into 1-inch sized chunks. Separate the heads into florets. Reserve 2 heaping cups of the florets and set aside. Add the rest of the cauliflower to a large bowl. Peel the parsnips and cut into 1-inch sized pieces. Add the parsnips to the bowl with the cauliflower.

Once the onions are translucent, add the parsnips and cauliflower and increase the heat to medium. Cook for 15 minutes, until vegetables are just beginning to brown on the edges. Add 8 cups of water, the thyme sprigs, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer, and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, prepare the garlic and roasted cauliflower garnish: Separate the reserved 2 heaping cups of florets into even smaller florets. Spread evenly in one layer on a sheet pan. Cut the garlic heads in half horizontally, keeping the peels on, and arrange next to the cauliflower. Drizzle everything with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of coarse salt. Transfer to the preheated oven and roast. After about 25 – 30 minutes, once cauliflower is browned, remove from the pan and set aside. Allow garlic to continue roasting for an additional 10 – 15 minutes until soft and browned on the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Once soup has simmered for 45 minutes and the vegetables are tender, remove from heat. Carefully remove the bay leaves and sprigs of thyme (the leaves will have fallen off by this point) and discard. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the peels into the soup, being careful not to get any peels into the pot. Working in batches, or with an immersion blender, puree the soup until completely smooth. If using a blender, transfer the soup back to the pot after its pureed to rewarm. 

Add the heavy cream and adjust the seasoning to taste (I added 3 teaspoons of salt and a few cracks of black pepper). If soup is too thick for your liking, you can add a bit of water at this point (though I didn’t need to).

Serve the soup in bowls and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle roasted cauliflower florets and thyme leaves over the top as garnish.

 

yield: approximately 3 quarts of soup; serves 6

lima bean + beet salad

Life has been really busy lately. I have a few projects I’ve been working on [more on that soon], and school is demanding more and more of my energy. That being said, I feel like I’ve been a bit neglectful of this space, so I wanted to check in briefly.

I came across these lima beans during my weekly visit to the farmer’s market yesterday, still in their shells, and was immediately inspired by the prospect of a earthy, fall salad. It ended up working out beautifully, and so despite the simplicity, I wanted to share it with you.

The beans are sautéed over high heat in a cast iron skillet [after blanching], giving them a crisp exterior to their otherwise creamy, meaty interior. And, for some textural contrast, I made some beet chips, which add a bit of crunch and earthiness. Everything is tossed in a simple vinaigrette, meant to bring the flavors together, but definitely not to overshadow them. I think it would work beautifully served alongside something light for dinner, like a broiled salmon with lemon, although I just ate it by itself for lunch which was lovely as well.

I’m off to finish up some chores, and am looking forward a nice glass of wine and the new episode of Homeland tonight. Wishing you all a relaxing and peaceful Sunday evening.

 

lima bean + beet salad

Despite being vegetarian, this salad offers a heartiness that is perfect for crisp, fall temperatures. The lima beans impart a meaty texture, while the beet chips add a slight crunch for textural contrast. This dish would be delicious as a light lunch, or served along something light — like a broiled salmon — for dinner.

for the salad:

1 beet, peeled and green tops removed

2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

8 ounces shelled fresh lima beans

1 cup mixed greens

1/3 cup ricotta cheese

coarse salt, to taste

 

for the vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt + freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Slice the beet on a mandolin into 1/16-inch-thick medallions. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the olive and oil and season with salt to taste. Toss to combine. Arrange beet slices in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan, making sure to leave space in between each one. Transfer to the oven and bake, flipping chips halfway through, until crisp and golden on the edges, about 25 – 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Fill a stock pot or large sauce pan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the shelled lima beans and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for two minutes, drain, and shock beans in ice water to stop the cooking. Drain on paper towels.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat in a cast iron skillet. Add the blanched lima beans and season with salt. Cook, stirring only occasionally, until just starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Remove from the heat and transfer beans to a serving bowl.

Next, make the vinaigrette: in a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar and mustard. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the mixed greens to the bowl with the lima beans and drizzle over half of the vinaigrette. Toss to combine. [Add additional vinaigrette if desired]. Garnish with the beet chips and the ricotta cheese.

Yield: serves 2

heirloom tomato + watermelon salad

Three weeks have passed since the start of culinary school. In some ways the time has flown — some days I wake up feeling as though I have yet to begin, until I flex my feet against the steady ache that I can’t seem to shake, and realize that I already have. Other times, especially when I’m in the kitchen, I feel as though I’ve been there forever, so far removed from the massive uncertainty and apprehension that I felt in the beginning.

It has been quite the experience so far, and we have learned more than I could have ever anticipated learning in a few short weeks. We’ve made stocks, gallons of stocks, from veal to fish fumet and everything in between, and have learned the power they hold in elevating a sauce from something good, to something truly exceptional. We’ve made the mother sauces — béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato — and many of their variations. We’ve made mayonnaises and sabayons, soups and consommés, perserved lemons and cured salmon. We’ve fileted fish, butchered chickens and ducks, stuffed quail until they were plump and roasted them until browned and juicy. We’ve shucked oysters and clams, carefully shelled lobster, and sauteéd mussels until they released their salty brine. We’ve made the most succulent duck confit of my life in a rondeau that I’m pretty sure weighed more than I do, and braised duck legs in a rich brown veal stock until tender and rich with flavor. We’ve made more variations of potatoes than I thought possible, including a gratin dauphinois that consisted of not much more than cream, gruyere, and potatoes, but that blew my mind. My knife is starting to feel more like an appendage than a tool, and the red, raw spot that I formed on the inside of my index finger from days and nights filled with slicing, cutting and shaping has already formed a hard callous. I still come home exhausted, and my feet ache from all of the hours standing, but I’m sure that adjustment will come too, with time.

Of course going into this, I had an idea of the happiness I would feel doing what I love every day. What I was unaware of, though, was how profound that sense of fulfillment would be. The boundless joy I feel in the kitchen — the sharp, methodical swishing of knives being sharpened, the clanking of pans hitting the stove top, the first, welcomed smells of sizzling onions, sauces erupting into balloons of fire with a splash of brandy — it’s all so surreal. The satisfaction I feel to get home [soreness, exhaustion, and all] after accomplishing a day of hard-earned work is unlike any I’ve ever felt. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention my classmates: my classmates who come from different continents, speak different languages, and span in age by almost 30 years. So many of us couldn’t be more dissimilar, but we are all bound by the same passion, and a drive to pursue what we love. How fitting it feels to spend my days with them.

Of course amid all of my joy, there are hard moments — like having to cancel on time with my friends, including one visiting from Wyoming, because of an all-consuming, show-stopping migraine from a hot, dehydrating day in the kitchen, or times when I question what I want to do with this when it’s all over, or if I’ll ever make enough money in this industry to justify this expense. Even still, I find myself waking up excited to start each of my days, and going to sleep knowing that I’ve made the most of them. If that is not exactly what we should reach for in life, I’m not sure what is.

It feels unfair and a bit cheap to share a dish that requires no recipe, nor cooking, after boasting about how much I’ve learned in the kitchen. But, for all the joy that a day at the stove brings me, there’s also something to be said for taking a rest every now and again. Cooking or not, I promise this dish is worth sharing.


heirloom tomato + watermelon salad

There is no real recipe to this salad, just a loose, yet beautiful combination of contrasting flavors. Salty, crumbly feta cheese is mellowed by the sugary watermelon and summer-ripened tomatoes, both bursting with juices. Fragrant basil and a drizzle floral olive oil complements everything, and brings it all together. 

 

ingredients:

4 – 5 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced or cubed

a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes

a few handfuls of ground cherries, husked

1 small or 1/4 large watermelon, cubed

4 oz full fat feta cheese, sliced or crumbled

5 – 7 basil leaves, chiffonade

extra virgin olive oil

coarse sea salt

 

In a large bowl, gently toss the tomatoes, ground cherries, watermelon, and feta. Transfer to a serving platter. Sprinkle the basil leaves over top, drizzle with olive oil, and season with coarse sea salt to taste.

Serves 4 – 6 as a side dish