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Tasty Spring Dishes

The Saturday Early Show ushered in spring with a delicious meal from Chef Peter X. Kelly, the executive chef and owner of several restaurants in the Hudson Valley area, including Xaviar's at Piermont.

We asked our old friend to take our Chef on a Shoestring challenge once again and create a three-course meal for four on our $30 budget.

Kelly was born in Yonkers, N.Y. His parents were first-generation Irish-Americans. He is the 10th of 12 children, and he says family meals were a very important way for the family to connect.

Chef Kelly has more than 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry, and operates several restaurants in New York's Hudson Valley. But he began his career at the age of 14, working in local restaurants. He studied business administration at Marist College while holding a number of kitchen and front-of-the-house positions at various restaurants in New York's Westchester and Putnam counties.

Kelly never formally studied culinary arts. Instead, in 1983, he took his culinary interests to France to pursue his dream. When he returned to the U.S., at the age of 23, he opened his first restaurant, Xaviers, in Garrison, N.Y.

Today, in addition to Xaviers in Garrison, he owns Xaviers in Piedmont, the Freelance Cafe, and Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar.

Kelly's menu as our Chef on a Shoestring: an appetizer of Shaved Asparagus and Carrot Salad with Orange Miso Vinaigrette; an entrée of Barely Poached Halibut with Broccolini Coconut and Lemongrass Broth; and for dessert, Chocolate and Pecan Waffles Drizzled with Warm Chocolate Ganache.

Terminology:
Miso: Kelly uses miso for his vinaigrette. The New Food Lover's Companion says miso, also called bean paste, is a Japanese culinary mainstay that has the consistency of peanut butter, and comes in a wide variety of flavors and colors. The fermented soybean paste has three basic categories -- barley miso, rice miso and soybean miso -- all of which are developed by injecting cooked soybeans with a mold (koji) cultivated in either a barley, rice or soybean base.

Miso's color, flavor and texture are affected by the amounts of soybeans, koji and salt used. They are further influenced by the length of time the miso is aged, which can range from 6 months to 3 years. Miso is a basic flavoring in much of Japanese cooking. The lighter-colored versions are used in more delicate soups and sauces, and the darker-colored versions in heavier dishes. There are also low-salt varieties. Miso is used in sauces, soups, marinades, dips, main dishes, salad dressings, and as a table condiment. It's easily digested and extremely nutritious, rich with B vitamins and protein. Miso can be found in Japanese markets and health-food stores. It should be refrigerated in an airtight container.

Halibut: Kelly says he loves halibut because in spring, it's really coming into season. You can find it throughout the year, but it's most abundant from March to September. Halibut can also be found frozen in fillets and steaks. Halibut meat is low in fat, white, firm and mild flavored.

Ganache: Kelly uses ganache to pour over his waffles. Ganache is a rich chocolate icing made of semisweet chocolate and whipping cream, heated and stirred together until the chocolate has melted. The mixture is cooled until lukewarm and is traditionally poured over a cake or torte.

Recipes

Shaved Asparagus and Carrot Salad Orange Miso Vinaigrette

Ingredients:
8 asparagus spears
8 baby carrots
2 tablespoon miso
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon water
juice of ½ an orange
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 scallion, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, mix together miso and mustard. Whisk in orange juice and water. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Add ginger and scallion. Set aside.

Using a Japanese mandoline, set on its thinnest setting, shave asparagus and carrots. Blanch asparagus and carrots in boiling salted water for 30 seconds. Immediately refresh in an ice bath. Drain vegetables and pat dry on paper towels.

Toss vegetables with vinaigrette and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Mound in centers of four chilled salad plates. Drizzle a small amount of vinaigrette around each plate.


Barely Poached Halibut with Broccolini Coconut and Lemongrass Broth

Ingredients:
4 4-ounce halibut filets
2 quarts chicken broth or vegetable broth or water
1 stalk fresh lemongrass
3 dried Thai chili peppers (or 2 tablespoons of red pepper flakes)
1 2-inch piece peeled ginger
5 garlic cloves, 3 smashed, 2 sliced
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1 can coconut milk
8 shiitake caps, sliced thin
1 head broccolini, cut in 2-inch lengths
1/2 cup edamame, steamed and shelled
1 tablespoon butter
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place halibut filets in heavy baking dish and season both sides of fish with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow fish to come to room temperature.

Place chicken or vegetable broth in large pot and bring to a simmer. Using the back of a knife or heavy cleaver, bruise the stem of the lemongrass to release its perfume. Roughly chop lemongrass and add to simmering stock. Add Thai chili, ginger and smashed garlic to stock. Allow stock to simmer gently for 30 minutes. Strain stock through a fine strainer into a clean pot, pressing on solids. Return strained broth to a simmer.

Place a skillet over moderate heat and melt butter in skillet. Add sliced garlic to skillet and cook for 1 minute. Add broccolini to skillet and cook for 10 minutes until broccolini is tender. Add sliced shitake and edamame to broccolini and cook for 2 minutes until heated through. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Keep warm.

Pour 1/2 of simmering stock over seasoned halibut filets to cover. Allow to poach for 2 to 3 minutes.

Return remaining broth to a boil and add coconut milk to broth. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Spoon broccolini mixture onto center of soup plate. Top broccolini with a halibut filet and pour coconut broth around the dish.


Chocolate and Pecan Waffles Drizzled with Warm Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
1 stick butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Ganache:
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream

Prepare Batter:

Sift all dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl. Whisk all wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Slowly whisk wet ingredients into dry; do not overbeat.

Add chopped pecans to batter. Set aside.

Prepare Ganache:

Chop chocolate and place it in a saucepan with heavy cream. Place pan over low heat and cook until chocolate melts into cream. Constantly stir mixture with a wooden spoon to keep from burning chocolate. Keep warm.

Using a commercial waffle iron, prepare waffles according to manufacturer's directions.

Place a single waffle on center of each plate and drizzle each with warm chocolate ganache.

Chef's Note: Top waffle with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, if you like.