True Cod and Clam Stew presents a bounty of flavors

I've got to admit, seafood is one of my favorite of the food categories. There is such an incredible variety to choose from and endless ways of preparing the dishes. As far as nutrition is concerned, you don't get any better than the fruits of the sea.

Today I chose to combine True Cod and Clams in a dish that is so incredibly savory and colorful, yet so easy to prepare. Both items were found on sale this past week and I couldn't resist picking up some of each. Oh, I threw in a bit of Chorizo for a bit of a kick and it worked out great. Here's what we need:

2 lbs of Fresh Clams
1 lb of Fresh True Cod
1/2 lb of Chorizo
4 strips of bacon
1 medium onion (yellow or white)
2 cups of chicken stock
3 Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup of chopped celery
3 cloves of chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of Anchovy paste
1/2 teaspoon of Saffron threads
2 tablespoons of Pernod (anise lacquer)
4 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Start by preparing your ingredients for cooking. Wash and scrub the clams, cut the True Cod in 2 inch chunks, slice the Chorizo in 1 inch slices, cut up the bacon strips, chop the onion, and slice the tomatoes in 1/2 inch slices.

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions, bacon, and Chorizo and saute for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next add the celery and garlic. Stir and continue to saute for another couple of minutes. Finally, add the tomatoes.

Add the Pernod and chicken stock, along with the Anchovy paste, increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Add the Saffron threads, evenly spread the Clams in the pan, and add the True Cod in the same manner. Taste the broth and salt if needed. Add the black pepper, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for about 6 more minutes until clams have opened up.

Serve this wonderful dish, along with the broth over steamed rice or boiled yellow potatoes (Yukon Gold) and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley if desired. In addition to the fork, you better have a spoon as well. The broth is absolutely to die for! Enjoy :)

The season of Figs draws inspiration for creativity

I can't remember the last time I consumed as many Figs as I have this year. In fact, the last time they were in my possession was as a child when we would pick them off the neighbors tree and eat them green and raw, stomach aches not included. This year I rediscovered and fell in love with them again. Come to think of it, I don't recall a lot of them available in the stores in years past. There must have been a bumper crop in 2010.

Figs are considered an exotic fruit in my book and therefore calls for creativity in coming up with new recipes. Previous recipes on this blog included using them in a wine reduction sauce with either lamb or beef. This time however, it is time to get my inspiration from the classification of the fruit itself and therefore have come up with a dessert. Surprisingly, combining custard and Figs has created a very pleasant and delightful dish, light and refreshing, and not loaded with heavy sweetness, a dessert that will have you and your guests coming back for more. As you will see, this dessert is a bit of  a take on Trifle but on a smaller and less complicated combination of flavors. As always, you will see that some of the ingredients accent my taste in particular flavors. Here's what you'll need:

1 dozen large Figs, ripened
1 packet of custard mix (if you're energetic, you can make yours from scratch)
1/2 cup of coconut cream
1/2 cup of whole milk
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of fine granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
2 oz. of Grand Marnier
8 small croissants, toasted (the 3 inch size)

Start by setting 3 of the Figs aside for later use. With the remainder, cut stems off and cut in halves. Add them to a small pot along with the sugar and 1 oz of the Grand Marnier. Heat over medium heat and bring to a light boil, stirring occasionally. Lower heat to low and continue to cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

Cut each of the croissants in half lengthwise and toast until crisp. Set them aside. If you can find the small variety of croissants (found in most any supermarket), use 3 regular size croissants and slice them width wise about 1/2 inch thick for each slice. Toast them as you would with the small ones. Set aside to cool and harden.

To a pot, add the custard packet, the vanilla extract, the coconut cream, and the milk.Stir until powder is dissolved. Add the egg yolk and blend into custard mixture thoroughly.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring or whisking constantly. Once brought to a boil, reduce heat to low and continue to stir for an addition 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk for about 7 minutes so custard cools a bit without creating a "skin" on the surface.

Now you have all the parts to your dessert and it's time to assemble. Start with a glass bowl that's approximately 6 inches in diameter and about 6 inches deep. Add a spoonful of custard to the bottom to coat. Next, add a layer of croissants and sprinkle them with a bit of the Grand Marnier. Slice them to fit if necessary. Now add a layer of the cooked Figs and top them with enough custard to cover them. Now start over again with a layer of croissants, sprinkles of Grand Marnier  and so on and so forth until you have used your ingredients.

The final step is to take the Figs you set aside and cut them in halves and place them cut side down on the top as the picture illustrates. Transfer to the fridge and allow to cool for at least 2 hours, longer is preferred, so that the custard will set nicely. Serve chilled with a sprinkle of toasted coconut flakes if you desire. Enjoy this along with 4 of your friends, as this will serve 5 easily.

European guests in awe of the Oregon coast

If you haven't heard from me recently, it is because during the month of August we entertained guests from Paris, France. It was their first visit to the States and will certainly not be their last.  They thoroughly loved every minute of their stay and were awe struck by the beauty of the Grand Canyon and the Oregon coast, two of the favorite places they visited. In the end, with 4 to 5 weeks of vacation time enjoyed by the French, these past 4 weeks went way too fast for them and they certainly could have used another 4, according to them.

During their final week in Oregon, I had the pleasure of taking them to the  coast and visit the Pacific, a total must do for them and a place that I must confess I haven't visited in a number of years. Sometimes we take for granted just how beautiful this coastline is from its rugged, rocky cliffs to the long and wide stretches of sandy beaches. If you're so lucky to be there when the gray skies break up to display a beautiful blanket of blue, there aren't many places that get better than that. What makes it so special is that it's not inundated with people and so the beaches and landscape remains pristine. At times it reminded them of Deauville on the Normandy coast and a quick turn of the head and you thought yourself along the coastline of Brittany, France.

A dip of the toes in the waters of the Pacific and it was clear to them they weren't in Cannes anymore. How did they put it, "oooh c'est si froid!" For those that have experienced the North Pacific, you don't need to speak French to know that means it's too damned cold. I had warned them of the chilly waters and suggested before heading to the coast that they should practice by soaking their feet in a bucket filled with water and ice, which got a chuckle out of them.

After brushing the sand off their feet (and their hair), we headed off in search of  a place to enjoy a leisurely lunch and ended up at the top of the Inn at Spanish Head. Perched alongside the cliffs, the tenth floor provided us with an unobstructed view of the coastline which seemed to stretch for miles in either direction. We dined on wonderful varieties of fresh seafood and pommes frites, finishing off with a nice glass of Port wine while watching the waves roar up the shoreline and back out again in an almost hypnotic rhythm. We could have easily stayed the afternoon; however, there were miles to go before we slept and a nap was not on the menu for this day.

One step outside and the cool breezes of the ocean air quickly reinvigorated us and off we were to our final stop, the Newport Aquarium. Although not as large as the ones found in southern California or Florida, the Aquarium in Newport is none the less a fun place to visit. The recent addition of Swamp Land (I think that's what it's called) has added a new dimension to the attractions by bringing in exhibits of live animals typically found in Florida, Central, and South America. The Aviary presented a variety of birds and other exhibits featured Otters and Seals. The finale was the underwater glass tube that allowed you to see a variety of small and large fish in all directions. They swam above and below you. I had never seen a live Shark before until now (with the exception of the ones on Wall Street).

The day was quickly drawing to a close and we still had a 2 1/2 hour drive back to Portland. So we started our trek back home. Along the way, we found a small fish market just off the road and decided to stop and pick up some fresh fish for dinner. We began talking about what we had seen and the memories they would take back with them of their first trip to America. Before long, all was quiet but for the hum of the car racing through the darkening forest. My visitors from France were getting their late afternoon nap after all.

Another year will soon have come and gone. Summer will turn to Autumn in just a few weeks, Thanksgiving and Christmas will fly through town, and 2011 will enter our lives for the first time. And then will come August, new guests will arrive, an Aunt from Paris, cousins from the South of France, and we'll do this all over again, much like the rhythm of the waves going out and coming back. I can't wait !