"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another Food List, or Melissa Can't Keep Up with Her Own Bad Self

Gingerbread houses, figgy pudding, mincemeat pie! GOD, WHEN WILL IT END?!?!?!

Oh. It just did.

I'm kidding, people. I love this time of year, kind of. No, let me be more specific. I love the seasonal uniqueness of certain food items and rituals. I don't like the time compression. When I am Mistress of All Time and Space (I'll be getting my merit badge in that soon) I'll be stretching out this season so we all have a little more time to b r e a t h e.

So last week was my big hors d'oeurvres week (you know, after typing that word fifty times in the last week I can finally spell it without looking it up).

This week was Feed The Hungry Crowd with a Seasonally Appropriate Yet Dietarily Sensitive Menu Week.

In the Feed the Hungry Crowd Dept, I served up (among other things):

Garlic- and Soy-Marinated Pork Roast with Shiitake Mushroom Gravy and
Pineapple Upsidedown Cake.

In the Whee! It's Christmas!! Dept, I served:

Mincemeat Pie and reprised:

Savory Pureed Limas
Figgy Pudding with Rum Butter

I can see that I've been a bad Christmas Elf and have not even mentioned those last two here before EVER even though I've made the Limas about a million and one times and I made the Figgy Pudding for Christmas last year, slyly replacing the traditional Plum Pudding.

So I will discuss them all, complete with more brazenly stolen photos. Again, please please do not sue me. All I can give you if you sue me is a sink full of dirty dishes and you're welcome to those, buddy.

Garlic and Soy Marinated Pork Roast is one of those dishes that is kind to the harried cook, which is to say you throw a big hunk of meat into a bag or a bowl with a marinade, let it soak overnight, then roast it in the oven until it's done. I LOVE these kinds of recipes.

How was it? What do you think? If you like roasted flavorful meat, this should be right up your alley.

I deviated from the Pineapple Upside-down Cake a teeny little bit because I did not, as the recipe directs, make individual cakes in muffin tins. I doubled the recipe and made a big gigantic cake in the traditional format, which is to say rectangular. Maybe the traditional format is square, or maybe it's round, WHO CARES? Anyway my point is I don't get too fussy when there are drooling, slavering people clutching my ankles asking for food.

You know, it's harder than you would think to find a photo of a rectangular or even square pineapple upsidedown cake that doesn't have cherries (which mine didn't)--OK, here's one that has cornmeal which mine didn't but who cares at least it doesn't have those nasty cherries:

This cake was scarfed down in record time. I had to pull my hand back quick.

I've had my eye on the Mincemeat Pie recipe from the beginning. For some mysterious reason, I'm intrigued by beef suet, which this recipe insists adds an "earthy" flavor that one would miss were it not present. Now, every mincemeat pie I've ever tasted (maybe two) had a filling that was horrifyingly sweet and gloppy--some kind of raisin-y brown stuff. Like this:


Would this recipe produce something similar? Was beef suet all we were missing to transform this into something worth eating? Inquiring minds want to know, and nothing like Christmas dinner for a little culinary experiment.

Oh and by the way, are you noticing this? How I blithely just cook things I've never ever cooked before by way of experimentation, on the most important (and largest) family holiday dinner of the year?

That's because The Gourmet Cookbook kicks ass. Yay Gourmet Cookbook!

This is a lattice top pie (I love doing lattice top pies--it makes me feel like a competent baker) and the pie crust is straightforward from the back of the book (though I modify it when I'm making sweet pies by adding about 3 tbsp of sugar). The filling is apples diced fine, currants, golden and dark raisins, lemon and orange zest, spices, suet, and my favorite, brandy.

Oh, one thing I didn't do. I didn't let this stuff sit for three days like the recipe asks. I was like oh, I think I'll make the mincemeat pie today, and la la la, reading the recipe and WHAT? THREE DAYS TO SOAK THE FILLING???????

Well since the next day was Christmas, BLEEP THAT but I did let it soak for 24 hours as a concession to the fact that somebody may know something I don't know (imagine that) and contented myself with feeling productive about making the pie dough.


OK, and now I can't find a picture of a pie as beautiful as mine was but this one comes close:

And the filling looked liked this:

OK, see how the little pieces of apple and raisins are kind of loose, discreet units? That's what the filling is like in this recipe. Although it must be acknowledged that if I had waited two more days it might have stuck together better (ahem).

And does the beef suet give it an earthy flavor that I'll miss should I ever make it without it? Well, quite frankly I couldn't detect any beefiness, or suet-y-ness, so when it comes right down to it what the suet is adding is fat, and I'll take butter any day in the fat department.

So vegetarians, I think it's safe to say you can make this without the beef suet and you won't ruin it. And I'm sorry I didn't tell all the vegetarians at the dinner that there was beef suet in this pie--I forgot to mention it in all the excitement.

I can't believe I've never mentioned Savory Pureed Limas before because I've made them, like, fifty times. If you don't like limas beans I'll bet you ten dollars you'll like these.

Why? Because I think people who don't like lima beans (ok, I'm one of them) don't like them because of the texture. Who could argue with the taste? It's not really assertive, it's just kind of bland and bean-y. But limas have this gross kind of skin that just bugs me.

So here's what you do. Cook the limas in boiling salted water until they are super soft. Then put them in a food processor, add butter, milk, a little sauteed garlic, nutmeg and pepper, and turn it on. Then WALK AWAY.

The trick to this is letting the machine process away all that yucky skin. Easier when you use baby limas, but it takes a little longer if you use the big ones. Just go empty the dishwasher or something--you can't ruin them now.

What you get is a puree of the most beautiful green...this photo gets the color right but not quite the texture:

Feed this to your kids. Feed it to old people (they'll love it). Feed it to your nutritionally deprived self. I'm serious--it's a crowd pleaser. Limas--who'd a guessed?

As I mentioned way up yonder, I served the Figgy Pudding for two years in a row which is why I had the beef suet in the house. Our big triumph with the figgy pudding was not so much the pudding, frankly, but the fact that we got some seriously flammable rum to set it on fire.

I'm such a chicken about fire that I make one of the grandsons (age 15) carry out the flaming platter. Is that child abuse? He does like to live dangerously.

Anyway, this is the big finale of the meal--the cake gets heated, put on a metal platter with little valleys to hold the flaming rum, and it gets a little sprig of holly on top. Then the whole family sings "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" with special emphasis on "now bring us some figgy pudding" while somebody (not me) carries the fireball through the darkened dining room.

This is the idea:

Just add fire.

This cake, I can take it or leave it, mostly because steaming pudding is a big, fat pain in the ass. Why? Because if you don't have the lid on really tight, water gets inside, which is what happened to me last year--it was a miracle the cake actually tasted good. This year I tied up the mold with kitchen string--it looked like I was ready to fed-ex it somewhere.

And then, to re-heat it, you know what you're supposed to do? Re-steam it for another couple of hours! Forget that, sister. I use the microwave.

You may ask why I even make it in advance--because you can. And because being the crazy little control freak I am, I want to make sure it actually comes out of the mold in one piece so I can rest easy and not be up in the middle of night before Christmas worrying about the figgy pudding.

So PHEW!!! Another big Christmas dinner come and gone.

Oh and by the way, here's why I lovelovelove the home health aides who work in the house. They do the dishes.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Week of Hors D'Oeurves, or Melissa Makes Up For Lost Time

Regular readers of this blog know that there are some chapters I cook out of with regularity (like Cakes, Cookies Bars and Confections; Vegetables) and some that I don't (like Frozen Desserts and Sauces; Pasta Noodles and Dumplings). Hors D'oeurves and First Courses definitely falls into the latter category.

Why? They are fiddly, people! Don't ask me why I can spend a million years on a cookie but stuffing a cherry tomato makes me crazy--it just does. Also, I think that in the arc of my work day, the afternoon (when I bake) is relatively leisurely compared to the crash and rush of pre-dinner, and the LAST thing I want to do when I'm trying to get food out for a crowd is fuss over a decorated carrot stick.

I'm just kidding about the decorated carrot stick. Not that I'd want to fuss over one. There are no recipes for decorated carrot sticks in this book.

But here it is, the holiday season, and I was presented with not one, but TWO opportunities to spend some time making hors d'oeurves. Bring me your carrot sticks, your cherry tomatoes, your walnuts yearning to breath free! Or at least, to be candied and eaten!

The first was our employee Christmas party. This party has evolved over the years from a very small, brief gift exchange to a full-fledged party, albeit without the booze. It was my privilege to plan and cook for this group of hard-working, amiable folks and it came at the perfect time--before the descent of the family, my last remaining days of peace before the holiday craziness. This was my menu:

Mulled Cider
French Hot Chocolate
Candied Walnuts
Deviled Eggs
Baked Cheddar Olives
Spicy Lemon-Marinated Shrimp
Exotic Mushroom Pate
French Pea Soup

There are certain among you who will be scratching their head that there is no dessert listed here. Well, I did plan to make Grapefruit and Coconut Angel Pie, because I love that pie and have been looking for an excuse to make it again. But I just ran out of time, and besides--two of the employees planned to bring some sort of dessert so I left the sweets to them.

I made the Candied Walnuts last year but see that I didn't blog about them (tsk, tsk!). They were a HUGE hit so I reprised them. One of the things that I love about this cookbook is that even before I've gotten anywhere near finishing with it, some of the recipes have become old standbys for me.

So, the Candied Walnuts--they're a pain, but worth it. Boil them first, for five minutes, then set them out on paper towels to dry for an hour or so. Then toss them with powdered sugar, and drop them in hot oil until they're brown and crispy. Set them on a baking sheet to cool, sprinkle them with cayenne salt, and then put them on paper bags to soak up some of the grease.

The Deviled Eggs were pretty straightforward, and I've made them before (and blogged about them, see link in my list above). What is it about deviled eggs? Everybody loves them. And you can't really screw around with the filling too much or people get upset. And for pete's sake--don't forget the paprika!!

Baked Cheddar Olives...mmmmmmmmm. I had made these before out of The Joy of Cooking and I knew they were winners. This is pretty much the same recipe--it apparently was a 50's stand-by so I guess it's canon now. The idea is a cheese pastry wrapped around small olives, and baked in a 400 oven. What cracks me up is the instructions, which goes something like: toss flour with shredded cheese and softened butter, and rub with your fingers until a dough forms. Obviously this was in the days before food processors. I followed the directions just for the heck of it, but next time I'll use the machinery--it's quicker. The home health aid who helped me roll these was so excited by the concept that she vowed to be exactly on time so she could get her hands on the finished product. Kevin, I'm stealing your photo--thanks.

I was a little worried about the Spicy Lemon-Marinated Shrimp because it involves red chili peppers. Also, it has the word "spicy" in the title. When you're working with old folks, you pretty much want to avoid "spicy". But since this crowd was mostly middle-aged I figured I'd risk it, and so proceeded.

The nice thing about this recipe is that you can make it in advance, and the day of your party you just drain the marinade and serve in a pretty bowl. I love recipes like this. And the recipe isn't hard either--boil the shrimp in pickling spices, then put them in a lemon-based marinade for a long soak--in my case three days. And I worried for nothing about the chili--it wasn't prominent. If you're expected to bring something to a dinner party this week, try this recipe out--it's low stress/high-satisfaction-yield.

Exotic Mushroom Pate was definitely the time-suck in the food preparation department, but I wanted to make something sort of showy and vegetarian-friendly. Basically the idea is this--you use the mushrooms in three ways: as a pureed base; as a chunky filling, and then sauteed with almonds on top. You do this all with two kinds of mushrooms, shitake and oyster. Almonds are prominent in the recipe, so don't serve this to your allergic friends.

I screwed this recipe up by over-cooking it (you use a water-bath) by about half an hour. I was so mad at myself, since I had labored over it in a major way, but knew that it would only be a texture issue, and in fact the texture was just fine--not as moist and pudding-y perhaps as it might have been, but seriously tasty.

I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a photo of this because it's very showy--but I still have some in the fridge and it's going to make an appearance at lunch today so I'll have my camera ready.

The French Pea Soup I've made before (see above link) but I will say that if you're tripling the recipe give yourself some extra time. Oh, and take the time to make the croutons. They're worth it.

Merry Christmas, fellow employees! Let's do it again next year.


More? There could possibly be more?

Oh yes. I told you I had TWO events that called for hors d'oeurves, and the second one was my family Christmas gathering this past Saturday. My family decided that instead of eating hors d'oeurves all day and following it up with a big dinner, that we should just, well, eat hors d'oeurves all day.

Melissa is on board with that.

I decided to bring BL Tomatoes and Parmesan Walnut Salad in Endive Leaves.

OK. Remember how I was complaining above about fiddly, annoying recipes that have you stuffing cherry tomatoes? This is what I was talking about, but here's the thing.

These cherry tomatoes are effing awesome.

It's SUCH A PAIN to scoop out the innards with a teensy tinesy melon baller, and to ever-so-delicately put in the bacon/mayo/scallion/iceburg filling with the tip of a knife.

But it's SO worth it.

It's like, you know how some irritating food people talk about "complete proteins"? Something like, you should only eat bread with corn or beans with nuts--it has something to do with the order in which you digest things to get the maximum benefit from them (so where do I fit in the chocolate chip cookies? but I digress)

Anyway, eating these little stuffed tomatoes somehow feels complete. You seriously don't need anything else with them. And I'm so mad that I left the leftovers at my parent's house because I wanted to eat more of them. Make these when you have an army of slaves in your kitchen to do the fiddly work.

OK, the Parmesan Walnut Salad in Endive Leaves. I discovered, much to my irritation just about a second ago that I've actually already made these but didn't mark it in the book (I put a dot next to the recipe title) AND I've blogged about it. Here.

So it WAS a year and a half ago, and I didn't really write about it because our computer apparently had been on the fritz, but still. I wondered why it seemed so familiar!

Toasted walnuts and parmesan is a great combination, and endive is an elegant, cool and crunchy vehicle to get these goodies into your mouth. I have to confess that I waited too long at my parents to make these and everybody was full on everything else, so these never got trotted out. And I forgot them too. Oh well, hopefully they're being enjoyed in some form or another, but SINCE I've already made them I can tell you that they're great. Use the good parm--it's worth it.

By the way, none of the above photos are mine. I am an unrepentant photo thief. Please don't sue me, I don't have any money.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cranberry Coffee Cake

One of the chapters in the book that I don't often utilize is the Breakfast and Brunch chapter. And out of all the recipes in that chapter, the ones I despaired of never getting to were the coffee cakes. At work, they just don't like sweet things for breakfast, and at home, well, it's more like Bran Buds for us.

So you can only imagine my delight when the house manager told me that the family had requested a couple of coffee cakes for Christmas morning. Not only could I bake something from the book, I could do it in advance and freeze it. Hooray!

I got right down to business. Cranberry Coffee Cake was make-able without even going to the store, since I had a bag of cranberries in the freezer. And people, it's super-easy--you don't even need any fancy bundt pans because it's baked in a loaf pan.

Here's the basic idea. Chop your thawed cranberries in a food processor with sugar and let them sit in a sieve to drain. I didn't see the "thawed" part and when I realized they couldn't drain while they were frozen, I sat down and read the paper for a while. Bonus.

Then make a cake batter. Now, in my last post I said that Lady Baltimore Cake was a straightforward cake batter, but it was the straightforward: pain-in-the-ass version. This is really, truly straightforward: cream butter and sugar, add eggs, then add flour mix and milk in alternating batches. Voila--cake batter.

Layer the batter and the cranberries in a loaf pan, and bake. So easy! My major regret is that since it's to be served on Christmas I couldn't slice it open and taste it--I'm sure it's beautiful inside and tastes fabulous, because cranberries just do.

(thanks to Lisa Hubbard, who took the above photo for Epicurious)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lady Baltimore Cake, or Melissa Overcomes Her Apprehensions About Life Imitating Art

Lady Baltimore Cake, the helpful note on this recipe states, was created by a fictional character in the 1906 Owen Wister novel entitled "Lady Baltimore". Somehow it made the leap from fiction to kitchen and was all the rage with American housewives of the day.

I have been avoiding this cake ever since I got The Gourmet Cookbook as a Christmas gift two years ago. You might wonder why, since I am not only a chef who loves baking (especially cakes) but a writer as well. What a perfect combination of sensibilities, you might think.

This is true. This is all true, and here is why I had my reservations. I give you, below, an excerpt from my novel-in-progress:

"...all of a sudden I had this idea for a dessert. A napoleon made with poached mulberries and sugared baby rosebuds, drizzled with honeysuckle nectar.”
“Yeah. And also, have you ever had yak cream?”
“Yak cream? Are you crazy?”
“I know, me neither, but somehow I can taste it on my tongue! It’s so weird! Dusted with...oak pollen. And cinnamon.”
“Oak pollen?”
“Yeah. I think it would go great with chicken.”

Now. Do I want some crazed fan to go out and make a yak cream sauce dusted with oak pollen and cinnamon? No, I do not. In fact, I'm pretty sure such a dish would be a major histamine punch, if not completely inedible. And I'm saying that writers come up with nutty stuff, stuff that we should not imitate in real life but should leave safely on the pages.

So this Lady Baltimore Cake, how do I know, I mean REALLY know that it's safe to eat? The Gourmet Cookbook has a few stupid recipes in it (not many, but a few), and perhaps all those housewives were under the effect of some sort of mass hysterical delusion akin to the swooning, screaming Twilight fans of today. Not that these teens are baking cakes, but I bet if Bella made Edward a cake and the recipe was in one of those books we'd have a big home-ec boom on our hands. Even if that cake had bear blood in it.

But here it was, my father's birthday coming up, and when I asked him what sort of dessert he wanted he told me he loved pecans. Pecan pie could have been the easy answer (and there is a pecan-pumpkin pie recipe I have my eye on) but I didn't think that would serve our large family.

Lady Baltimore Cake had all the right ingredients, including no chocolate which my dad thinks is OK but not swoon-a-licious like some people I know (me). So I plucked up my courage, got the ingredients, and went to work.

Upon further investigation, this is a pretty straightforward three-layer white cake with what the old-timers (my parents) call a boiled frosting--1/3 of which is mixed with chopped toasted pecans, figs, and raisins to make the filling. The Kitchen Aide gets its exercise with three different uses--the first to make the cake base, the second to beat 7 egg whites which are then folded into the cake base, and the third to whip yet more egg whites (what shall I do with 13 yolks??) into which boiled sugar syrup is poured, and then beaten and beaten and beaten until it's a cooled meringue. Do I hate cleaning out that mixer bowl and the beaters? Yes I do. In my fantasy world, I have three Kitchen Aides so I can avoid that step.

And was it a straightforward cake-baking process? No, it was not.

When I took the three cake pans out of the oven, I set them on top of the stove for their five-minute cooling period. One of them seem slightly less baked than the others. I poked a wooden skewer into it and it came out clean, but O'Malley and I watched in amazement as the hole emitted a steady stream of steam--sort of like a cakey volcano. I figured it was still cooking somehow, in its slightly underbaked state.

This happened at the same time that I was beating egg whites for the frosting, and by the time I got back to them to pour in the syrup, they were overbeaten--a first for me since I usually err on the side of underbeating.

How could I tell they were over-beaten? They were chunky, and sticking to the whisk. Undaunted, I poured the hot syrup into the bowl in a not-quite-so-thin stream, and hoped for the best, all of this while I was trying to answer O'Malley's question about passive voice and why the Microsoft Word grammar editor would flag it in his English paper on "The Gift of the Magi".

While I was leaning over the computer screen, I distinctly smelled something burning. I knew nothing was in the oven. While I was investigating, I noticed that the skewer hole in the underbaked cake layer looked sort of brown...

Yes, I had put a cake pan on top of a glass burner that had recently heated syrup up to 248 degrees. And that burner was now ever so gradually burning the crap out of the bottom of my dad's birthday cake.

And to make matters worse, the meringue frosting just wasn't looking the way I thought it should, all smooth and shiny-like:

See the little bumps? I hate little bumps.

But I am UNDAUNTED in the face of these challenges! Once I commit, baby, I commit.

So I trimmed the burned stuff off the cake layer once it had cooled,

and mixed the toasted pecans, raisins and figs into some of the frosting.

Then I assembled, frosted and (most fun of all) decorated:

How was it? Well, keep in mind that this is my family, and they love me no matter what, but even considering that wonderful unconditional love thing they LOVED this cake. Thought it was spectacular. Kept saying the frosting tasted like marshmallows. I finally said, yes, it's marshmallows even though I have no idea how to make marshmallows.

I personally can tell you that the toasted pecans are what made it so incredible...something about that flavor with the marshmallow-y flavor of the frosting just put it in realms far beyond Betty Crocker and her ilk. It was light (thank you, egg whites folded into the cake base), lured some of my non-sweet eating relatives into the dessert conga line, and was the perfect way to celebrate the 70th year of my dad's life.

Yay Dad! Happy Birthday to you from Owen Wister, Lady Baltimore, and me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pan-Seared Ancho Skirt Steak

Friends, a few posts ago I talked about substitutions in a recipe. Being the obsessive little creature I am, it makes me nuts when I can't find EXACTLY what the recipe calls for. And then, what to do? Continue anyway, with an approximation? Bag it and hope for a more successful shopping expedition elsewhere, another day? Can I really honestly evaluate a recipe if I can't cook it as it's written?

Such was my dilemma when shopping for Pan-Seared Ancho Skirt Steak. People, it only has 8 ingredients, and that's including olive oil and salt. But Stop N Shop has inexplicably stopped carrying dried peppers (so no dried ancho or New Mexico chiles) and the butcher not only didn't have skirt steak, he had never eaten it himself.

The moment of decision. Do I go to a spur-of-the-moment Plan B, or make some intelligent substitutions?

There are many types of recipes in The Gourmet Cookbook. Fussy, labor-intensive ones, building blocks, easy-but-impressive, and the category this recipe falls into (or is supposed to): quick, mid-week dinner recipes for hectic days or no-fuss situations. I figured I'd follow the spirit of the recipe if not the letter and substitute as I could.

A quick conference with the butcher led me to flank steak as a substitution for skirt steak. As for the chiles, I decided on jarred, diced hot chiles from the Exotic Foods aisle, even though they seemed to be sort of pickled in some liquid.

And then--onward.

I can testify that this recipe is indeed as advertised--quick and easy. I did not sear the flank steak, I cooked it as suggested in the recipe that comes right before it in the book, Flank Steak with Chimichurri--broiled for 12 minutes, turning halfway through.

But basically you're just making a chili/OJ vinaigrette to flavor the meat--it gets cooked with half, and the other half goes over the meat as a sauce. Then the whole shebang gets topped with sliced avocado.

My husband and son were impressed and appreciative--O'Malley had three helpings, in fact. It's good stuff, folks. Give it a try. And I WILL be sourcing skirt steak--there's at least one more recipe in the book that calls for it, and I'd like to try this mysterious cut of beef.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Best Rice Pudding

There are some desserts you swoon over because of their artistry, or complex layering of taste. Fancy tarts. Layered mousse cakes.

And then there are the desserts that take you right back to childhood, and Best Rice Pudding is one of them.

I made it for my book group last night, and David said his mother used to make this for him when he was a child. Elizabeth said, my husband's grandmother used to make reesgylbrkh (well, that's what it sounded like, and translation: rice gruel).

This particular recipe is not on Epicurious, though you can find a million variations, even one that features black rice.

But it's easy enough: cook one cup of long grain white rice with butter and a little lemon zest, then cook the cooked rice with a quart of whole milk, half a vanilla bean, and a cup of raisins. Dust with cinnamon and serve warm. I kept mine in a 175 oven until we were ready, and people, there's nothing quite as comforting as warm rice pudding on a chilly December evening.

I'll note that David is Irish, and Elizabeth's husband's grandmother was Norwegian, so perhaps this is more a European thing since rice pudding was never really a part of my childhood (it was more of a Jell-O and Cool-Whip life for me). But I'm glad to have it be a part of my adulthood.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Halibut with Spicy Asian Vinaigrette and Wasabi Cream

There's a certain point when I'm trying to follow a recipe when I pull the plug on writing about it, and it has to do with the compromises I make while shopping for the dish. So I was on the fence about Halibut with Spicy Asian Vinaigrette and Wasabi Cream right up until the moment I put the first bite into my mouth.

Why the vacillation?

1. no halibut--I got haddock instead
2. I couldn't find sambal oelek and bought Spicy Thai Sauce instead, hoping it was the same thing
3. I couldn't find pickled ginger and bought preserved ginger instead.
4. 2 lbs of haddock in even my biggest pan does not sear, it steams due to the close proximity of all that fish. I could have done half at a time but it was 8:45pm and I was STARVING. No fussiness when I'm starving.

So my fish did not look anything like this pretty picture:

But folks, let me tell you--when I took my first bite all doubts ran away because the magic in this dish is the combination of the fish, the chili vinaigrette, and the wasabi cream. Seriously yummy. The sear, the ginger, the parsley--that's all window dressing. Well, the ginger is a taste factor and I'm going to try to find some just for the full experience--but I'm glad I stuck with it in spite of the ingredient challenges, and even MORE glad that I've got leftovers. This dish was discovered at Highland's Garden Cafe in Denver, Colorado, so lucky Colorado readers, go eat there and tell me if the food is still this good and I need to buy a plane ticket.