Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Newberry Sandwiches, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans

Sorry for my silence over the weekend. I went to Rochester, NY with my family to visit my daughter who's in college, so I didn't do any cooking. We got back yesterday and went out for dinner. So, today was my first day back in the kitchen after a few days off.

Years ago (nay, decades; in fact, it was the past millennium) when I was in high school, a group of my friends (including my now wife, Vicki) and I frequented a little bistro in Richfield called The Pantry. It was located at 76th and Lyndale Avenue S.; the same building now houses Naviya's Thai Kitchen. They had great hot chocolate, French onion soup, burgers, and an open-faced sandwich we loved called the Newberry - a piece of crusty bread covered with sliced turkey, slathered with cranberry sauce, topped with Swiss cheese and broiled. It's comfort food, good for a night like tonight with sleet and snow blowing around outside.

Newberry Sandwiches
Mashed Potatoes
Green Beans

Newberry Sandwiches
(per person:)
1 large or 2 medium slices of crusty white bread (I like Vienna bread)
several slices of turkey breast
1-2 T jellied cranberry sauce, mashed with a fork to loosen
1-2 slices of Swiss cheese

Turn on the broiler and place the rack in the middle of the oven (not too close to the broiler). Place the bread on a baking sheet and toast lightly on one side under the broiler. Watch carefully - it will burn easily. Flip the bread over and lightly toast the other side. Top each slice with turkey breast, layering it in folds to create texture. Spread cranberry sauce over the turkey - add more or less to taste. Top with enough cheese to cover the whole sandwich. Return to the oven and broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly and just starting to brown. Serve immediately.

I use canned cranberry sauce most of the time, but you can, of course make your own. Here's a simple recipe (I make this every Thanksgiving...it's well-worth the work): 1 lb. fresh cranberries, 2 c. sugar, 2 c. water, a pinch of cloves, and a pinch of cinnamon. Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the cranberries have popped and are falling apart - 20 minutes or longer. Better to over-cook than under-cook. Press the pulp through a food mill, or use a fine-meshed sieve. Press as much of the juice through as possible. Discard the seeds and pulp. Chill the sauce in a mold or other container. No gelatin is required - the pectin in the cranberries will firm it up beautifully. If they don't set, you didn't cook them long enough. You could easily halve this recipe and freeze the unused berries for later use.

Mashed Potatoes
(per person)
1 medium Yukon Gold or russet potato, peeled and quartered
about 1 tsp. butter
1-2 T half-and-half
freshly ground pepper

Place the potatoes in a saucepan large enough that water completely covering them only comes up 2/3 of the side of the pan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to medium-low and slow-boil until tender. Drain completely, add butter and half-and-half. Grind a generous amount of pepper over them, and sprinkle in a generous pinch of salt. These are all per-person amounts. Mash with a potato masher. Taste for salt and texture. If they're dry, add a bit more half-and-half. Don't be afraid of fat! I believe in using the real thing and eating in moderation. However, a delicious substitute for the butter and half-and-half is low-fat yogurt - give it a try. Don't use margarine EVER, and don't use fat-free half-and-half...what the heck is fat-free cream? Use real ingredients all the time, or just don't make the dish.

A comment on mashed potato texture. People have varying tastes for lumps in mashed potatoes. I personally love to have some chunks of unmashed potato in the mix. However, if a pure, smooth texture is your desire, use a potato ricer rather than a hand-mixer or other power-utensil. Over-working the starch can produce glueyness...never pleasant.

Green Beans
(per person)
2-3 oz. (about 1/3 c.) fresh green beans, ends trimmed, and halved

If you read my Walleye dinner post last week, you know my method for cooking broccoli. The same goes for green beans. Put just enough water in a saucepan to cover the beans (but don't add the beans yet). Add enough salt such that the water tastes as salty as sea water. Make sure you are dissolving the salt completely before tasting so you don't over-salt. If you accidentally add too much, add a little more water to dilute it. Bring to a boil, add the raw beans, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook, stirring every 2-3 minutes, to desired tenderness. I cooked mine for about 12 minutes tonight, but timing will vary with the freshness of the beans. I like them a bit al dente, but don't under-cook them...they shouldn't crunch. Also, the flavor will develop more fully if they're more done. Beans are more forgiving than broccoli and won't be as easy to over-cook.

Drain and serve ASAP. Do not rinse! No butter or other flavor enhancers required; you'll love them just like this.

The potatoes will take the longest, and can sit the longest while other items are getting done. For this reason, I do them first, and while they're cooking prep the rest. You can toast the bread for the sandwiches while the potatoes are cooking. When the potatoes come off the stove, put the beans on. While the beans are cooking, mash the potatoes, then broil the sandwiches. Everything will be hot and done at the same time. The whole meal, starting with peeling potatoes, took me 45 minutes, and there was a lot of down time.

Nothing complicated tonight. I reprised the technique for cooking fresh green veggies in salted water, and we talked about mashing potatoes. This is a fast, delicious meal that's easy to make.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Egg Salad Sandwiches, Assorted Pickles, Chips

We had a pretty simple dinner last night, but sometimes egg salad is just the thing. And garnishing with a variety of interesting pickles and some good chips makes it even more fun. Plus, this gives me an opportunity to talk about my quest for the perfect technique to hard-boil an egg.

Egg Salad Sandwiches
Assorted Pickles

Egg Salad
10 eggs
1/2 c. mayonnaise (I only use Hellman's or make my own)
2 T or more yellow mustard (I use Plochman's or French's)
1 T or more sugar
(serves 4)

Ahhh, the hard-boiled egg. Ideally, its white is firm, yolk creamy and cooked all the way through but not green at the edges, and is quick and easy to peel. For years I had inconsistent results. About 4 years ago, I began a quest for the perfect technique to hard-boil an egg. I consulted some of my favorite cookbooks, including The Joy of Cooking (if I could only keep one cookbook, it would be this one), Jeremiah Towers' New American Classics, which contains a lot of technical advice, and the voluminous Larousse Gastronomique, a kind of single-volume encyclopedia of food and cooking. I also conducted an extensive Internet search. The most common approach involved placing the eggs in cold water, bringing them to a boil, turning the heat down to low and covering for 10 minutes to gently cook, then draining and bathing in cold water. This approach yields a perfectly cooked yolk, but the whites are a bit soft, and they can be a bear to peel. I learned during this search that fresh eggs are the hardest to peel, and eggs that are older - 2 weeks or more - are easier...the reason for this seems to be something of a mystery, though I've found it to be true. The trouble is, sometimes you can't wait 2 weeks: you gotta buy those eggs and boil 'em today!

As you have probably guessed, I did solve this mystery on my own, after a bit of experimentation. Here's my method: place cold eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and cover with warm (not cold) water with at least an inch of water over the tops of the eggs. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and simmer (uncovered) for 11 minutes. Turn the heat back to high, bring to a vigorous boil, and cook for 2 more minutes. Drain, put the pan in the sink and fill with cold water. I usually swirl them around for a bit, then drain and replace with more cold water to really draw the heat out. After adding cold water the second time, take the eggs out one-by-one, gently crack the shells all over, and put them back in the water to continue cooling. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then peel.

I've found this method to give me very consistent results. The virogous boiling at the end firms up the whites, giving them a nice firm texture and making the shells easier to peel, but leaving the yolks yellow and creamy-textured. Cracking the shells while soaking helps loosen them a bit, further facilitating peeling. I have a gas range. If you have electric burners, you may have to experiment with the timing. I would go so far as to pre-heat one burner on high, and another on low, and move the pan back and forth to get instantaneous change in heat level.

Now, to make the egg salad. Make the sauce in a small bowl. Mix the mayo, mustard and sugar. Dissolve the sugar completely. Taste. The acid in the vinegar and the sugar should be balanced. Trust your taste, and adjust as needed. Chop up the eggs and place in a medium-sized bowl. You can gauge the size of the dice to your tastes...I like it a little chunky. Add about 2/3rds of the sauce and mix. If it's too dry, add more until the consistency is right. That's it!

If you want an extra-creamy and rich texture, remove the yolks from the whites and mash with a fork. Dice the whites and add to the yolks, then mix with the sauce as above.

Choose your favorite sandwich bread. Lately, I've been grooving on Pepperidge Farm's Dark German Wheat Bread. Sandwich buns, or toasted Vienna bread are also favorites at our house.

Assorted Pickles
I love good pickles. With this meal, I served pickled beets, midget dills, and pepperocini. Don't skimp here - it adds a lot to the meal.

For fun, make your own fresh beet pickles. Trim and wash fresh beets, and cook at a low boil for about 40 minutes until tender. Drain and cover in cold water. When they are cool enough to handle, slip off the skins, and cut into slices or wedges. Sprinkle with good quality red wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and a couple pinches of salt. Let sit for 15 minutes, and serve.

We used classic Lays last night. I also love salt & vinegar chips, or gourmet chips of whatever variety jumps out at you.

This meal cries out for lemonade or ginger ale. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake; Green Blender Salsa

Hey, foodies, I'm not cooking tonight...meetings and activities, so eating on the go. However, I've done a little cooking the past two days that I haven't blogged about, so I'll give it to you in lieu of a meal tonight.

It's Vicki's (my wife) birthday on Monday, and she brought a coffee cake to work today to celebrate as she's off next week. Here's the recipe. Don't think about fat grams on this one...just enjoy the sheer deliciousness of it.

Also, as a sort of encore, I'll give you one of my two favorite salsa recipes on earth - Chuck's famous Green Blender Salsa - super easy, and addictively good. Enjoy!

Blueberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1.5 c. packed brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 T cinnamon (I use Vietnamese cinnamon from Pensey's Spices...it's TOTALLY worth going out of your way to get it)
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter (if you use unsalted, add 2/3 tsp salt), room temperature
2 small containers of fresh blueberries

2.5 c. flour
2 sticks (1 c.) butter (if you use unsalted, add 1-1/3 tsp salt), room temperature
3 eggs
1.5 c. sour cream
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla (I use Pensey's double-strength...again, well-worth it!)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Grease the bottom of a 9x13 pan.

In a medium bowl combine all filling ingredients thoroughly. Set aside.

Make the batter: In a large bowl, cream butter & sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add baking powder, salt and flour, and mix well. Mix in the sour cream. The batter will be stiff.

Spread half of the batter in the pan. It will be sticky and hard to spread, but keep working it from the center toward the edges, trying to make an even layer. Spread half of the brown sugar filling over the batter, and sprinkle on on pkg. of blueberries. Repeat with a second layer, which will be even harder to spread, but just do your best. Using a butter knife, cut through the layers all over the cake.

Bake for about 45 minutes until set and just browning on top. Allow to cool before serving. You won't believe how fabulous this is. Be sure to use good cinnamon...it's key!

It's easy to half this recipe...just use a jumbo egg or beat the second egg in a small bowl and just use half of it.

Green Blender Salsa
This is one of my two favorite salsas, and it's absolutely the easiest ever. (I'll give you the other in another posting sometime.) I invented this salsa about 2 years ago.

1 can of tomatillos - about 14oz., I think, look in the Hispanic foods aisle at the grocery store
1 medium onion, trimmed, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and quartered
about 1 c. (lightly packed) fresh cilantro, stems and leaves, rinsed of sand & dirt
juice of 1-2 limes - depending on size and juiciness
generous amount of freshly ground pepper
2 pinches of salt (the tomatillos are canned with salt, so you don't need too much)

OK, the technique is tricky...here goes: put it all in the blender and puree for a minute or two. Whew! Check salt, and serve.

If you want a little heat, throw a rough-chopped jalapeno into the blender as well.

For both heat and texture, mince a few scallions and a jalepeno and add them after blending.

You can use fresh tomatillos (about 1/2 pound) - just remove the husks, simmer in salted water until cooked through (about 10-15 minutes), and drain. However, canned tomatillos are almost as good.

This salsa doesn't keep well...there's so much pectin in the tomatillos that it tends to gelatinize when refrigerated. You can stir it back up to loosen it up again, but the flavors and texture are best right away.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chiles Relleños, Enchiladas, Homemade Tortilla Chips

OK, it's day two and I'm already going to be contradicting myself and making embarrassing revelations. Tonight's dinner was not quick, and not entirely from scratch. However, it's what I made, so here we go.

We love Mexican food. There are lots of opinions out there about what's authentic. I've read many recipes and eaten in many Mexican restaurants. I also have the tastes of my family to satisfy, so there are some compromises. To me, authentic means home-style and packed with flavor, and this meal is a pretty good example of my take on it.

Full disclosure: I spent 2 hours making dinner tonight...more than most people would ever commit. Self-contradiction #1...so much for quick meals. However, much can be done ahead of time, or you can save this meal for a Saturday night when cooking and enjoying a beer or margarita is all part of the fun.

Chiles Relleños
Scallion & Cheese Enchiladas
Homemade Tortilla Chips
(Serving 2 adults, 1 child)

Chiles Relleños
2 fresh poblano chilies (one per person)
5-6 ripe roma tomatoes
1 T light olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp tomato paste (I use Amore brand, in a tube, so I can use a little whenever I want)
1 tsp good quality chili powder (I make my own - see below)
1/2 tsp ground cumin seed (see tips below)
freshly ground pepper
~1/4 c. grated Monterey Jack (I buy shredded)

Step 1 - roast, peel and seed the poblanos. Poblanos are a medium-sized and medium-heat green chili, ideal for this dish because of their rich flavor and meaty texture. Most grocery stores now carry them year-round. Their heat can vary quite a bit by source and season, so be careful - you may find yourself with super-hots from time to time. Roasting them gives them a smoky depth that is fantastic. Rub the chilies all over with a little oil, and place them over a grill, the flame of a gas burner, or under a broiler. Char and blacken them evenly all over. On my gas grill, this takes about 15 minutes, rotating somewhat frequently to ensure evenness. They should be quite black all over, or the skin will be difficult to peel. If the chilies split open a bit, don't worry about it. When they're done, immediately place them in a bowl and cover with foil or a lid and let them steam for 10-15 minutes. Remove them from the bowl to a cutting board, chop off the very top, and carefully, trying not to tear the flesh, peel off the blackened skin. It'll be a little sticky, but most of it should be flaky, detached, and come off in small sheets. Then, carefully - with a small spoon or your fingers, remove as many of the seeds as you can, again, taking care not to tear the chilies. Set aside. (Can be overnight.)

Step 2 - peel, seed and dice the tomoatoes. I do this step concurrently with step 1. Together, they take about 30-40 minutes. Heat about 1 qt. of water to a boil in a 3 qt. saucepan. Add the tomatoes, and swirl them around with a spoon for 15-45 seconds. The skins will split slightly when they are becoming loosened. Locally-grown, vine-ripened tomatoes will be ready faster. Immediately drain them and cover them with cold water to stop them from cooking. Remove them to a cutting board, cut them in quarters, and slip off the skins. If they are stubborn, use a small paring knife to loosen the skin, and peel it back away from the tomato, leaving as much flesh as possible. With a small knife or the handle of a teaspoon, scrape out all the seeds. Chop the peeled, seeded tomatoes into small dice. Set aside. (Can be overnight.)

Step 3 - cook the sauce. Heat the light olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, add the shallot and garlic, and cook for 30-45 seconds until sizzling, but not browned. Add the diced tomatoes and heat through. Add the tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, a generous amount of fresh ground pepper, a pinch of salt, and about 2-3 T of water. Stir together, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered. The tomatoes should start to dissolve, and the mixture will be chunky, not a smooth sauce. Taste for flavor balance. You will likely need to add more salt - you don't want this sauce to be aggressively salty, but it should have a hint of saltiness. Also, typically fresh tomotoes in a sauce like this will want some sugar to balance their acid. You don't want it to taste sweet. Add 1/2 tsp or so of sugar, stir, and taste. You should notice a bit more depth and balance in the flavor, less acidic bite. If you think it needs more, add a bit more. Cook for about 10 more minutes and check the balance of flavors again. Set aside.

[Tip: Make your own ground seasonings for this dish! I make my own chili powder, and I'll NEVER go back - it's soooooo much better. And, it's very easy. Buy dried ancho chilies at the store, heat the oven to 250, put the chilies on a baking sheet, and roast until their color deepens and your house smells like chocolate is baking. Remove from oven, cool, crack in half and shake out the seeds (it's OK if a few remain), then break into pieces and grind in your coffee grinder to medium-fine powder. Store in a small tupperware or gladware container; stays delicious for months.

Do the same with cumin: buy whole seeds, place 2-3 T in a small frying pan and roast over medium-low heat, shaking the pan frequently. When the seeds start to smoke and smell roasty and wonderful, remove them from the heat, cool, and grind in your coffee grinder. You won't believe how they're transformed, and they keep for months.]

Preheat the oven to 400. Scoop a couple spoonfuls of the sauce into the bottom of a small glass pan - I use a glass loaf pan for 2 chilies. Fill each chili with a small handful of the grated cheese. If the chili is torn, fold it shut where it's torn and put that on the bottom. Place each in the pan, and cover with the remaining sauce. Bake until the cheese is melted and everything is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.

Scallion & Cheese Enchiladas
8 fresh corn tortillas (I use La Banderita brand...the key is to use FRESH, and CORN, not flour)
~1.25 c. + 1/2 c. grated Monterey Jack cheese
2 bunches of scallions, sliced very thinly - all of the white and about 3-4" of the green
1 can of Old El Paso Enchilada Sauce (hot or mild, depending on your taste)

OK, true confession, I use canned enchilada sauce. Sure, I've made it from scratch, but this stuff tastes pretty darned good, and it's a heck of a lot easier, so I wimp out. You could add meat to these enchiladas if you like - shredded chicken or pork would be best. If you do, mix them with a little of the enchilada sauce or a bit of the Chiles Relleños sauce. I also use pre-made tortillas. If you find a good product, they're as good or better than you can make yourself...and making tortillas is a lot of work.

Enchiladas are super-easy, but there's an initial step I've learned by trial and error. A lot of recipes talk about frying the tortillas before making the enchiladas - lots of work and they get greasy. I've found better results with this: heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat, then, one at a time, place each tortilla in the skillet, heat it until just barely beginning to brown - about 30 seconds. Flip and cook the other side. Stack on a plate. They will steam one another in the stack, which is key to the process. When all 8 are done, flip the stack over so the top tortilla can get steamed on the bottom.

Preheat oven to 400. Pour a little enchilada sauce on the bottom of a glass casserole to cover. Mix the 1.25 c. cheese and scallions together. Working with your stack of tortillas one at a time, spread a small handful of filling across the tortilla, roll it up, and lay in the pan with the seam down. Pour the remaining enchilada sauce all over the enchiladas in the pan, top with the 1/2 c. cheese and a little extra chopped scallion, if you like. Bake until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbly, about 15-20 minutes. (I bake them with the Chiles Relleños.)

Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips
12-16 fresh corn tortillas (again, La Banderita brand, or homemade, or another favorite brand)
1 qt. canola oil
popcorn salt

Self-contradiction #2 - I said yesterday that I use Kosher salt for pretty much everything. But for freshly-deep-fried chips or French Fries, I use popcorn salt, which is ground super-fine. I find it nearly disappears on the surface of the chips, and yields a delicious saltiness.

I deep-fry in a wok. It has several advantages: high, wide sides mean less splatter; woks conduct heat well; they have large capacity; I avoid getting oil sludge on my good pots and pans; and it adds depth to the "seasoning" on the surface of my wok.

Stack the tortillas, and, making three cuts, cut into six equal-sized wedges. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. I don't mess with thermometers, but you want about 350. Cover a sheet pan with a double-layer of paper towels, and get out a large bowl. Use kitchen tongs for the deep-frying. Tongs are the most under-utilized tool in most home kitchens.

Working one stack at a time, drop the cut tortillas into the hot oil and, using the tongs, swirl them around to spread them out and ensure they are covered. After they start to firm up, turn them. Continue frying and turning fairly frequently until they are beginning to turn golden brown. At this point, they'll darken quick, so you have to be focused and move fast. Using the tongs, grab a few chips at a time and lift them out of the oil, drain them briefly, and lay them on the paper towels. Spread them out so they can drain, and while they're still very hot, sprinkle with a little of the popcorn salt. While they're cooling, start the next batch. Once they've drained and cooled a bit, dump them into the large bowl to make room on the paper towel for the next batch. Repeat until all tortillas have been fried.

I LOVE these homemade chips...and my family gobbles them up.

As I said, this is NOT a quick meal, but the flavors are rich and wonderful and worth the time. If you do the peeling and seeding of the chilies and tomatoes ahead of time, the rest can be done in about 45 minutes to an hour. I find I have about the perfect amount of time to fry the chips while the enchiladas and chiles are baking.

Tonight's key techniques were: (1) peeling and seeding chilies by roasting them. This technique works with any chili - red bell peppers are fabulous this way. (2) peeling and seeding tomatoes. The French term for peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes is concassé, and it is called for in many dishes. It is considered more refined than simply diced tomatoes because removing the skin and seeds produces a more pure texture and flavor. (3) seasoning by adding both sugar and salt - we did this with the Chiles Relleños sauce. Seasoning means balancing salt, sweet, acid, bitter, heat, and even earthiness. Tonight we added the elements of sweet and acid.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Springtime Walleye, Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli

Welcome to my new blog about cooking and eating fresh, homemade foods. The concept is simple: I'll simply publish what I've made for dinner or another occasion each day, along with recipes, techniques, sources for special ingredients, names of favorite cookbooks, etc. I love food and cooking, and have mastered many techniques over the years. I've found that with a little preparation, I can make delicious, even semi-elaborate meals every night, without it taking hours and hours.

I'm a busy guy - a professional career, lots going on. Yet I've made it a priority to cook well and from scratch (or mostly from scratch) pretty much every night. I've decided to start this blog to help others see how they can cook dramatically better food - fresh, delicious, and not too much work. Well, sometimes I go overboard, which you'll see!

I hope you enjoy reading this, and are inspired to try some of these dishes in your own cooking at home! So...let's get started.

At this time of year, I start craving fresh veggies, grilled foods, springtime delights. Dinner tonight was a simple, quasi-seasonal riff on that theme.

Broiled Seasoned Walleye (inspired by the Tavern on Grand in St. Paul)
Roasted New Potatoes with Rosemary and Parsley
Boiled Broccoli
(Serving 3 people)

Roasted Potatoes
about a pound of baby red potatoes, cut in quarters
1 sprig fresh rosemary, minced
fresh parsley, minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
generous amount of Kosher salt 1 - 1.5 tsp, or even more
freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 400. Cover a sheet pan (one with sides so the oil doesn't spill) with foil. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and spread evenly on the sheet pan. Bake until golden brown or even darker (about 30-40 minutes). The keys with this dish are to get enough salt on the potatoes, and to use fresh rosemary and good olive oil. I keep a rosemary plant in the house through the winter because this herb is so important to me.

Boiled Broccoli
2 medium-sized heads of broccoli

I'm going to talk a lot about salt in this blog, starting now. Unless you have hypertension and/or have been told by a doctor to cut back on sodium, salt is your best friend in the kitchen. What separates the pros from the rest of us is proper seasoning (which involves more than salt, but salt is the foundation).

[Tip: I always use Kosher salt. Always. Except rarely when I use sea salt. Kosher salt is chemically equivalent to regular salt, but it is processed into flakes, not granules. This has two benefits. First, it dissolves better, and second it takes more volume to deliver the same quantity of salt. Why is that good? Because it's more forgiving. Every under-seasoned dish can be fixed with a little more salt, but an over-seasoned dish is ruined. I find it's harder to over-season with Kosher salt - though I still do it on occasion!]

People like to steam veggies. I like to gently boil or simmer them in salt water. Alice Waters, in her cookbook on vegetables, says that most veggies should be gently boiled in very salty water - about the salinity of seawater. And that's how I do my broccoli - no butter, no cheese, no lemon, just the pure goodness of broccoli. And my kids go crazy for it. You will too.

So - fill a 2 or 3 quart pan 1/2 full with water and salt it generously. Dissolve the salt, and taste it. It should taste like seawater. If it's not salty enough, add more. If it's too salty, add water. Bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, cut up the broccoli, cutting the flowers into bite-sized pieces with as much (or little) stalk as you like.

[If you've never tasted seawater, try this: gradually add salt to a small bowl of water, fully dissolving the salt and tasting it as you go. The salinity is right when the water tastes quite salty, almost but not quite unpleasantly so - too salty to drink, but in small drops on the tongue, still pleasant. Get used to that flavor - that's what you're shooting for.]

Drop the broccoli into the water, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until beginning to soften but still firm. Watch it carefully! Another mark of a good chef is proper cooking of veggies. Mushy broccoli is not good - better to be a bit on the al dente side. Plus, it will retain heat and cook a bit more after you remove it from the stove. Drain immediately in a colander and place in serving bowl.

Broiled Walleye
1 lb. walleye fillets, de-boned and cut into 3-4" pieces
1/4 c. salted butter, melted
1/2 of a fresh lemon
Seasoning Salt, such as Morton's Nature's Seasonings, or Lawrey's

I go old school on Walleye, ever since eating it at the Tavern on Grand in St. Paul. Good old fashioned seasoning salt and paprika, plus butter and lemon - it just doesn't get any better.

The trick to cooking any fish is getting it done without over-cooking. When I prepare this meal, I get the fish ready while the potatoes are cooking, then switch the oven from bake to broil immediately after removing the potatoes. I keep the oven rack in the middle - not too close to the broiler.

Again, I line a sheet pan with foil (easier clean-up), drizzle a little butter on the foil, arrange the fish, drizzle the remaining butter over the fish, followed by a squirt of fresh lemon juice, a light sprinkle of the seasoning salt and paprika, and on the thicker pieces, I sprinkle a bit more plain salt - not too much...there's salt in the butter, too.

Put them in the hot oven under the broiler and close the door - that way they bake and broil simultaneously. This will brown them slightly on top and cook them through beautifully. Typically, they take about 4-6 minutes - again, watch them. Walleye is done when the fish easily flakes apart and is white all the way through. Test a piece you'll serve to yourself, chef. Remember, the thicker pieces will cook slower.

Timing is almost always a challenge when cooking. You get better at this with lots of practice. For this meal, I do the potatoes first and get them in the oven. Then I trim the broccoli and put the water on to boil. While the water's heating up, I prep the walleye and let it sit until the potatoes come out. I put the broccoli in the water just before I put the fish in. Total time start to finish: 40 minutes.

You'll notice that this dinner is very simple in terms of ingredients and most of the technique. Which dish did I talk about the most? The broccoli...with only two ingredients (plus water) - it's almost 100% technique. The two techniques that matter in this meal are: proper seasoning, and proper cooking time - not over or under-done. These are the two most important techniques to master in all of cooking. Every ingredient will have slightly different requirements for proper seasoning and proper cooking. Mostly, just paying close attention will guide you to the right outcome.