Monday, February 29, 2016

Bonkers, Intense, Sassy, Crazy – My New Favorite Cookbook
What’s cooking? Pepperoni-crusted Cod with Pineapple

The Kitchen Goddess has been laid low with a cold for the past week. No cooking, no writing. We apologize for the interruption.

I know, today’s recipe sounds a little strange. Ok, maybe a lot strange. But so worth taking the chance.

One of my 2016 resolutions was to expand my palate, to explore new foods, new seasonings, and new ways of cooking in ways that won’t endanger me or my family. In the current Age of the Foodie, chefs the world over are trying new combinations of ingredients and flavors and textures, and it’s good to take a small leap when an idea shows up from a cook you trust. Try to see these combinations as creative and adventuresome, not weird or scary. After all, it’s only food. So come along on the ride with me.

One way to seek out these new challenges is to pay attention to the younger chefs. In that vein, I’ve recently discovered a guy named Justin Warner. Warner, who is 32 but looks and acts more like a member of the 15-19 age category, is probably best known for winning Season 8 of the Food Network series, Food Network Star, with Alton Brown. He’s self-taught – no formal culinary training, which by itself is remarkable.

He became part owner of a restaurant in Brooklyn called Do or Dine, which transformed a forbidden neighborhood into a culinary mecca, attracting even the Michelin gang, then closed abruptly after four years. (The cryptic note on their Facebook page: “Dreams>$.” Sounds like a funding issue.) In any case, the star’s wacky food sense has resurfaced in the form of a new recipe book, The Laws of Cooking, which I recently bought. (You can also find him in lively short-form video online at The Food Network.)

The “laws,” as Warner describes them, are those combinations of tastes and textures that inspire almost universal pleasure. There’s the Law of Peanut Butter and Jelly, the Law of General Tso’s Chicken, and the Law of Pesto, to name a few. Then Warner uses his genius to extrapolate a range of other dishes from each of the featured laws. After taking the plunge on a few of these creations, the Kitchen Goddess has emerged a complete convert, even more willing to try others she might have eschewed in her more conservative past.

Warner’s writing is fun and exuberant, the instructions easy to follow. None of the snooty tone you often find in the tomes of classically trained chefs. Even the occasional “project” recipe looks easy enough if you have the time. Warner is clearly enjoying himself in the kitchen and wants you to, as well. There’s lots of guidance on gear, and the occasional substitution if you haven’t got – or don’t want to buy – what he uses. Best of all, he gives do-aheads and a plating suggestion for each dish, so you’re not left wondering how the heck to serve it.

Take today’s recipe, for instance. In his chapter on The Law of the Hot Dog, Warner celebrates salty/cured foods. (And if Burger King’s announcement that they’ll be offering grilled hot dogs is a trend, this recipe may be a gourmet answer to it.) Now the Kitchen Goddess admits to a fair degree of skepticism when she first cast her baby blues on this dish. But on the heels of three previous successes out of the book, she took a chance. And was amazed. Even her hubby and son – both even more skeptical – pronounced it good.

The KG recommends that you endeavor to make each bite include bits of pepperoni, fish, and pineapple. Mmm-mm. The Kitchen Goddess trusted Justin Warner, and we know by now that you trust the Kitchen Goddess. So dive in. You won’t be sorry.

Pepperoni-crusted Cod with Pineapple

Adapted from Justin Warner in The Laws of Cooking (Flatiron Books, 2015)

Serves 4.

1 20-ounce can pineapple slices
4 thick cod fillets, 6-7 ounces each*
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 egg, beaten
3-4 ounces thinly sliced pepperoni (large deli slices)*

*Kitchen Goddess note: (1) Cod doesn’t come in nice even lengths or thicknesses for this dish. But you can take a single thick fillet and cut it down the center seam to produce two fat “tubes” of fish and cut them into segments weighing 6-7 ounces each. With the thinner ends, I doubled each fillet under itself to create a piece of fish that was about the same thickness as the fatter ones and would therefore cook in the same amount of time. (2) I recommend getting your pepperoni from your grocer’s deli counter, where it’ll be in larger rounds and they’ll slice it thinner than you can get with pre-packaged meat.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Line a large rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. For each serving, place two slices of pineapple in a line. Pat the fish dry with paper towels, then salt/pepper both sides. Using a pastry brush, brush both sides of the fish with the beaten egg and lay a piece on top of each pair of pineapple rings.

Layer the pepperoni on top of the fillets, like fish scales. Press the pepperoni down onto the fish to get it to adhere, and brush the remaining egg on top of the pepperoni.

Bake 20 minutes at 350°, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Use a large fish spatula to move the stacked fish and pineapple together from the parchment to the plates.

Kitchen Goddess note: Warner recommends serving this dish with cooked beans. (I used a combination of small red beans and pinto beans.) He’s right – it’s a delicious combination.


  1. Great! And under the heading of "sounds strange, tastes great," we were introduced to an odd side dish in Los Angeles many years ago: The person who gave us the recipe called the dish "Gower&Sepulveda" because those two streets don't intersect in LA and it sounds like this one won't work, either. But it's delicious. Banana & Spinach Casserole:

    2 LB Spinach
    5 Bananas
    1 Cup grated cheese
    Bread Crumbs
    1 TBSP Thick Cream
    Butter as required
    Salt & Black pepper

    Melt TSP Butter in deep sauce pan, add spinach & cover at a low heat, cooking spinach until tender. Puree spinach. Place spinach puree with thick cream & TBSP melted butter in a greased casserole. Peel & quarter bananas & saute them lightly in butter, then place them on the spinach. Add a thick layer of bread crumbs & grated cheese. Pot with butter & bake in hot oven til brown on top.

    1. Well, Steve, you're right -- it sounds strange. But I trust you, so might just have to try it. Thanks!