Fennel-y-dee

One of the downsides to losing the Iron Chef battles, or rather the downside to losing, is that you don’t get to choose the ingredient next time around. Okay, I retract that statement; there is another downside – crushing of pride. Embarrassment. Resulting fear and anxiety about the next one, another losing battle for sure. Soul-stealing. Losing leftovers – who wants those?! I couldn’t even look at the sliders from last time.

Wow, that was intense. And maybe a little dramatic. Whatever.

But when you don’t get to pick the ingredient, you just never ever know how you’re gonna feel about it, until you do. Know, that is, which generally doesn’t happen until the Wednesday before the actual event. So you wait two months in anticipation, since you, er, lost. Remember?

And then someone announces that FENNEL is the god-forsaken theme ingredient. Fennel. Shitfire (yes, this is a word).

As it turns out, f-ing fennel is not my most favorite ingredient on the planet. I was hoping for, I dunno, cheese? Bacon? Crabs? Fire-breathing dragons? Rattlesnake? Durian? Definitely not fennel.

And dang, here I go being dramatic again. I really don’t hate fennel. Honest. I just, as my gramma would have said, I just don’t love it. And these secret ingredients – they need to be loved. You need to be excited about them. You need to want to slather them all over your body, and eat them till the cows come home.


dishes, left to right: fennel crackers with roasted fennel dip, fennel-lamb kebabs with fennel chutney, green salad with shaved fennel and parmesan, fennel ice cream sundae, random shot of food, homemade smoked salmon and pear crostini with fennel cream, porchetta-fennel pulled pork with pickled fennel, fennel ice cream with chocolate fennel tuile, fennel angel food cake with candied fennel

Or do you?

The top three:

  1. Heather’s Fennel Dessert Sundae (fennel ice cream, fennel-manchego shortbread, and orange-fennel caramel) AND Jeff’s house-made smoked salmon with fennel and fennel cream fraiche)
  2. Elizabeth’s fennel ice cream (which was better than mine) with chocolate fennel tuile
  3. Kevin’s lamb-fennel kebabs with fennel chutney

 

Four SF battles in, I finally made a dish worthy of a win, or at least a shared win. With fennel, of all things. But I sucked it up and I liked it, and I liked ALL of the dishes made. And my dish? I just stuck with things that I do LOVE – ice cream, caramel, and shortbread. I figured, even if I don’t LOVE fennel, I’d at least love the mediums that included it.

So here we are – at an Iron Chef first – a tie. Picking the next ingredient (or ingredients, depending on what we decide) should be fun. Plus, my pride will be intact – for once. 🙂

ps – the shortbread recipe is coming soon. but it’s so dang good, I just had to give it it’s own post. had to.

Fennel Ice Cream
From Gourmet 2007 via Epicurious; makes ~1 quart

time commitment: variable. at least 3 hours (1 hour active time), or you can do this in steps and make the base the night before and freeze the ice cream the next day.

printable version

ingredients
1 2/3 c heavy cream (or 1/2 & 1/2)
1 T fennel seeds, crushed
1 c whole milk
3/4 c sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks

ice cream maker

instructions
Bring cream and fennel seeds just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then cover and let steep about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring milk, 1/2 c sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.

Whisk together yolks and remaining 1/4 c sugar in a large bowl, then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a heat-proof bowl. Strain fennel cream into the same bowl, pressing on solids while straining to extract as much flavor as possible. Mix together.

Quick-chill by setting bowl in an ice bath and stirring occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes. You can also just chill the mixture in the fridge overnight, if you allow an extra day for this.

Once mixture is chilled, freeze in ice cream maker according to machine’s instructions (usually 15-20 minutes). Transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, about 1 hour.

 

Orange-Fennel Caramel Sauce
original recipe; makes ~1/2 c

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 c sugar (+ more to thicken, if needed)
1/4 c water
zest of 1 orange
1/2 c fresh orange juice
1 T fennel seeds
1/4 c heavy cream
1 T butter
1 t sea salt

instructions
Combine sugar and water in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil and DO NOT STIR. Also, DO NOT WALK AWAY. On occasion, pick the saucepan up and swirl the mixture, but don’t stir. Somewhere between 5-8 minutes the mixture will begin to turn from clear to a light golden color. Once the golden color is more noticeable, remove from heat more often and swirl the mixture. The caramel color will quickly change colors, and will continue to cook in the pan once removed from the heat, so don’t wait to remove the pan when it’s dark, or your sauce will burn. What you want to end up with is a nice, deep golden color that isn’t burnt, so if you don’t get the right color after removing from the heat and swirling, then add it back to the stove for a few seconds at a time. Make sure it’s spot-on before you continue to the next step – it’s better to toss out a little burnt sugar and start over than to have to start all over once you finish everything and realize your caramel tastes burnt and gross.

Once the sauce is the right color, carefully add zest, orange juice, fennel seed, and heavy cream (mixture will bubble vigorously). Stir over low heat until smooth and any caramel bits dissolve. Strain the mixture (twice, if needed) through a fine mesh sieve and pour back into the saucepan.

Now, once I got to this point my sauce was a tad too “watery” for my liking, so I added about a teaspoon of sugar at a time, cooking on medium-low, until it thickened up. I adjusted the amount of sugar on the front end when I wrote this recipe, so yours should be thicker, but feel free to do this if you want to thicken up your sauce and just slowly cook it without a ton of heat until it gets where you want it. Once it does, finish the sauce with the butter and sea salt, and remove from heat to let cool completely. You can strain at the end if you want, but straining earlier was helpful for me to check the thickness.

The sauce will keep for a few days (weeks?) in the fridge. Zap it the microwave for ~30 seconds before serving.

After the Pie

Man, what a week. I feel like I need another juice cleanse to get back in the swing of eating non-crap. Of course, everything eaten over the past 7 days has been fantastic (and not literally crap..), but as we all know, it adds up pretty quickly.

But that’s what the Holidays are for, right?!

I don’t have many Thanksgiving pictures to share with you all this year, but imagine a smallish San Francisco condo packed with 14 hungry people, and empty bottles of beer, wine, and cava all over the place. Imagine plates of tasty food, from appetizers to the main feast to a table full of fresh made ice cream and 8 pies at the end of the night. And of course, a little bit of Rock Band (though not nearly enough, in my opinion) was certainly part of the fun.

It was a good day, and while there wasn’t nearly as much chillin‘ as we normally like, it was a nice long holiday week/weekend and we were, as Chris would say, über happy to have our favorite people with us for so long. Next year, we’ll do it all over again, except we plan to make the trip to Minnesota this time around, giving up control of hosting duties for the first time in 7 years.

I can’t wait.

Like the two of us, perhaps you’re filling your dinner menu with light items for the next couple of weeks? Have you eaten so much pie, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole that you broke out your fat pants again? If so, another fish recipe will most definitely fit the bill. Surprisingly, I’ve actually done a decent job of keeping up with the early weekday fish tradition, so this is one made a few weeks back.

It’s pretty perfect for Fall, even though a fish dish isn’t normally something I think of during this time of the year. I think it’s the saffron, which seems to invoke all sorts of feelings of richness and decadence. Who knows.

Either way, it’s a pretty easy dish to toss together in under an hour, and it’s all sorts of good for you. It might make you feel better about all that pie, but I’m not making any promises there…

Cod with Tomato Sauce & Fregola
Adapted from Food & Wine, September 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~50 minutes (30 minutes active)

printable version

ingredients
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t crushed red pepper
3 lbs tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/8 t saffron threads, crumbled
5 marjoram sprigs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 orange, in short, thin strips
5 bay leaves
3 whole cloves
2 c toasted fregola*
Four 4-oz skinless cod fillets
Chopped parsley, for garnish

*fregola is a toasted semolina pasta that looks like Israeli couscous. If you can’t find it, you can easily use arborio rice instead (which is what F&W uses). Also, the fregola isn’t gluten-free, so if you need that you’ll definitely have to sub the rice in.

instructions
In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook over moderate heat until the garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and saffron and cook over moderate heat until the tomatoes just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the marjoram and season with salt and black pepper. Cook the sauce over moderately low heat, stirring and crushing the tomatoes with a spoon, until the sauce is thickened and the liquid is reduced, about 35 minutes. Discard marjoram.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, combine the orange zest strips, bay leaves, cloves, and fregola and cook until the fregola is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the fregola, discarding the zest, bay leaves and cloves. Return to pot and season with salt and pepper.

Nestle the cod in the tomato sauce and cook, turning the fillets once, until just opaque throughout, about 10 minutes.

Spoon the fregola into bowls or plates and top with the cod and sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.