Orange is the new black

Healthy and easy to make. It's time for some orange and black.

Every once in a while something truly inspired comes together without much thought. Maybe it has to do with last week’s Halloween celebration or maybe it has to do with the Giants crushing the Rangers in the World Series that made us think of black and orange. Tonight’s dinner consisted of our last piece of halibut from this summer’s catch in the bay, some left over mashed sweet potato and a little inspiration. It ended up being our tribute dish to the San Francisco Giants and their awesome World Series win. A reduction of balsamic vinegar with a little soy sauce drizzled at the end was all this dish needed to go from bland to fantastic.

The recipe for this dish is so simple that it’s a little silly to write it out, but here it is:

Seared halibut with sweet potatoes and balsamic reduction

2 sweet potatoes

2 pieces firm white fish (e.g., halibut or sea bass)

Olive oil

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Salt and pepper

Bake the sweet potatoes in a 450 degree oven until tender, approximately 30 to 40 minutes. Allow to cool and peel or scope out the orange flesh into a bowl. Mash and season with salt and pepper.

After potatoes are made, salt the fish, heat a skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil and sauté the fish for two minutes per side (more or less depending on the thickness of the fish).

While the fish is cooking, reduce the balsamic vinegar over high heat in a small skillet until caramelized. Watching the pan constantly to avoid burning. Add the soy sauce and place off heat until ready to assemble. Reheat briefly before serving.

Place the fish on top of the potatoes and drizzle a small amount of the balsamic reduction on top of the fish and around the plate. Enjoy!

Sweet Summer Corn

Summer’s here and so is our first taste of farm-fresh corn. Two ears arrived in our weekly delivery from Capay Valley, just enough for us to get a good taste of a garden treat we rarely eat. Why rarely? Well, we love corn, but considering the hell genetically modified (GM) corn is raising out there, it’s hard to know if you’re getting organic corn or something bio-engineered in a lab. Of course, knowing your farmer helps resolve the dilemma. But if you’re not lucky enough to buy your produce from a local farmer, you can still ask your grocer for information on the source of the food you’re buying to feed your family.

Last April, we visited Capay farms during their annual strawberry-picking event. While we didn’t get to talk with Thaddeus or any of the other farming Barnes brothers one-to-one, the guided tour and Thaddeus’ willingness to answer visitors’ questions put our minds at ease with respect to the question of “where” our vegetables come from and “how” they’re grown. There’s nothing like walking the rows of an asparagus or lettuce field to be reminded that food, all food, ultimately comes from sun and soil and water. Our farm tour brought all of this into focus and inspired us to work harder at understanding how our food comes to us.

Corn is best young and fresh and these ears needed to be eaten quickly. Neither of us is particularly fond of corn on the cob unless it’s picked and eaten at its most perfect sweet ripe tenderness. Corn disappoints once the ears mature past their first ripe moments on the stock. Sadly, classic varieties don’t store well for very long and must be eaten as soon as they’re picked. We needed to figure out how to put these ears to work with other summer veggies and this delicious Bittman-inspired corn and shrimp chowder seemed the perfect choice!

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

4 slices bacon
6 patty pan, or long necked summer squash,  (roughly diced)
1 large onion (diced)
4 gypsy or red peppers (chopped)
6 medium red potatoes (roughly diced)
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 stalks minced celery
2 carrots, minced
2 ears of corn
2 cups whole milk
1 Tbs. Fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried
Fresh basil
4 cups vegetable stock

Slowly cook the bacon over medium to low heat until all the fat is rendered and the bacon strips are crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes, in a large Dutch oven or stockpot. Remove the bacon and set it aside for use later on.

Add onions, peppers, carrots and celery to sauté in the bacon fat. The moisture from the vegetables releases allowing you to scrape up the nice brown bacon fond from the bottom of the pot. The first round of vegetables should cook just until the onions are translucent and the celery, carrots and peppers have softened, approximately 5 minutes.
Into the pot go the potatoes, squash and mushrooms. These cook until slightly softened.

Now add the thyme.

Next comes the chicken stock and milk. Bring the pot back up to a simmer and cook the vegetables in the liquid for approximately 10 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.

Finally, toss in the shrimp, corn and crumbled bacon. Remember that both shrimp and corn cook quickly. Just a couple of minutes in that hot pot will do the trick. Add basil, ladle the soup into warm bowls and serve.

Our pepper grinder is a permanent fixture on our dining table and, when soup’s for dinner, the Tabasco joins it. This soup is particular good with a sprinkle of cracked black pepper and a dash of hot sauce. Enjoy!