Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Nude Sunbathing

This Christmas was exceptionally special for us because not only were we able to spend it with family (my mother's side), but also to get out of Seattle and into the Florida sun, first in the Fort Meyers/Naples area, and then down to Miami and the Keys with my friend, Greg.

Though the temperature wasn't as high as we were expecting (not by a long shot), it was exciting for me as a chef to be in a whole new region of local ingredients. I had my list of culinary demands mentally prepared even before my feet left the plane: conch, shrimp, grouper and Florida lobster. Like any holiday, we ate ourselves silly, and aside from my standing rib roast on Christmas day we pretty much stuck to a diet of seafood.

Once back it seemed that I had seafood on the brain, and since I had the New Year's Eve menu already set before I left for Florida I felt that there was no better way to start the year than with a dish like this.

With fennel in season I decided to do one of my favorite pairings by cooking it with lobster shells and other aromatics to create a warm winter broth that's full of body and flavor but not rich or heavy to give a much needed break after a December full of eating (and drinking).

I'm a dumpling maniac, whether it's encased in pasta like last week's ravioli or on its own, or gnudi, Italian for "nude". To make these I used a medley of Pacific cod, shrimp, scallops and calamari ground up and pureed with a little cream and egg to help keep it smooth. I folded in freshly chopped chives and chervil to add more flavor and mirror the anise infused into the broth by the fennel, which was also used to poach the mini marshmallow-sized dumplings.

To accent the "stew" I steamed diced white and yellow (aka rutabaga) turnips ahead of time only to be sauteed to order with butter, onions, garlic and shredded rainbow swiss chard, adding to the dish like the way some would use potatoes and spinach, but with the turnips you get less starch and a mild radish flavor, while the chard doesn't wilt down like spinach would, offering more heft and sustenance. 

It doesn't take long for any transplant to Seattle like me to learn to (em)brace for the upcoming cold and rainy season, only I choose to forgo the hoodie and go straight to warm alcohol to help shield me ;)

With any winter comes the obligatory common cold, and since there's no cure for it the next best thing is a soothing Hot Toddy filled with that miracle worker, bourbon! But to enhance the complexity of the bourbon I decided to use 100% pure maple syrup instead of the traditional honey, and along with hot water and a squeeze from the clove-studded lemon wedge all you have to do choose which top shelf bourbon you prefer to have with it!!
Hey, at least you have something to look forward to if you get sick!!
With Love,