Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Citrus and Sockeye

There are a few foods that I have tried to force myself to like. So far I have been fairly successful at this. It may sound weird, but I believe there are certain foods that as a self-proclaimed ‘foodie’ I should like. Just like the list of books I should read to be a better person – there are some foods I need to enjoy to be a better foodie.

I don’t know how this came about, but at some point in my adolescence I determined that there were certain foods I should eat to be more classy. Class apparently was very important to me. Maybe not class so much as snobbism. Either way, I felt it was important to eat fancy food and the first thing on my list was fish.
My sisters and I had eaten our fair share of fish sticks as children but I knew this did not count as fish. Plus, I have always wanted to (and still do) go deep sea fishing. I have, however, been “off-shore” fishing a few times while vacationing on the Jersey Shore. In fact my grandmother enjoyed fishing and she did not mind baiting my hook with a slimy piece of clam, then watching me drop the line until it hit the ocean floor. And as grandma’s go, that’s pretty cool. She even watched my pole for me while I chummed over the side of the boat.
Somehow this experience inspired me to want to eat fish. Crazy, but that’s me. So the flounder we caught that day was filleted and given back to us. My grandmother broiled it and served it with a wedge of lemon. I thought it was magical. And if I recall correctly, only her, my father and I ate that fish. This may be the real reason why I was determined to enjoy fresh fish – not everyone else liked it. I could be different and slightly weird in my affinity for these creatures.

So I added flounder to my list of acceptable seafood, but knew that I needed to increase that list. I tried the Spanish mackerel and bluefish my dad caught while deep-sea fishing, but immediately moved those over to the “ewww gross” column. And then one Mother’s Day while out at a very fancy lunch I decided to try salmon. I consulted with my dad (who, since he was willing to eat any seafood, was my go-to expert on the matter) as to whether or not I would like salmon. “Sure!” he said, with a shrug of his shoulders.
Excellent! I would have the salmon, please waiter! When it came, it was very pretty, and I knew I would like a pretty fish like salmon. But as we all know 15 years ago, fresh fish was not that common in most restaurants, and this was no exception. It was fishy and dry. I choked down the first bite, played with my rice pilaf and wondered if anyone would notice that I was not eating my salmon.

My great-grandmother, who was wary of my “classiness,” snidely asked if I was enjoying my salmon. When I looked up at her, she seemed determined to hear me say that no, in fact I did not like it. My stubbornness saved me in this instance and I said, yes of course I liked my salmon, I mean it is salmon after all. Hmph! I managed to eat the entire piece of salmon and perhaps that was my tipping point. I don’t remember being skeptical of other fish, and since then I do remember enjoying salmon almost every time I have it.
This recipe is a good starter salmon option, for those of you who may not like it. However, the most important part of this dish is the salmon, so be sure to buy one that’s fresh and preferably wild caught.

Broiled Sockeye Salmon with Citrus Yogurt Sauce
As adapted from Bon App├ętit June 2005
Currently it is Sockeye Salmon season, and I recommend that you take full advantage of it. This is an easy dish that really pulls through on flavor. The citrus yogurt sauce is a very nice accompaniment to the salmon and I find that both, cold the next day, tossed with cold boiled potatoes and lettuce make a very nice salad.

1 fillet sockeye salmon, pin bones removed (size as needed for your dinner - 1 pound=4 servings)
1 c strained, greek style yogurt*
Juice and zest of 1 lime
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Juice and zest of ½ a lemon
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the zest, juices, oil and honey with the yogurt and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Preheat your broiler to low. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, place on a greased broiling pan.

Broil salmon for about 5-7 minutes, until the top of the fish is nicely browned and cooked through. (If you prefer a medium-rare cooked fish, place broiler on High and cook for less time.

Serve salmon with citrus yogurt sauce on side.

*I prefer to use the strained Greek style yogurt because it has less liquid in it. Since the recipe calls for so much added juice, it’s best to start with a fairly dry yogurt. If the yogurt you get has a lot of liquid on top when you buy it, drain that off, or let the yogurt sit in a paper towel lined strainer over a bowl for about an hour prior to making the sauce.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Baby Got Beets!

Winter vegetables can be really dismal. If there was ever something to convince me to chuck all my nutrition sense out the window, it would have to be the availability of vegetables in winter. Now, when you live in sunny California you don’t have this problem. But here in Maine, we do. 

Don’t get me wrong, when the first winter squashes hit the market I go a little nuts, roasting, pureeing and baking. But now the prospect of yet another night of hard squash, or icky grocery store produce makes me want to head for the nearest burger joint. I mean sweet potato fries totally count as a vegetable don’t they?
It’s no wonder people grow up hating brussel sprouts and broccoli. They are at their peak icky-ness currently in the grocery store. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself. Those brussel sprouts have probably been sitting there since Thanksgiving. And the broccoli has faded yellow spots or little black spots on the hidden stems. It’s almost impossible to make something like that taste good. You can always fall back on frozen vegetables, but again, I can only serve Joe so many frozen pea concoctions before he goes on strike. Sometimes you just need something vibrant, healthy and tasty. And this, my friends, is where beets come in.
Many local farmers’ markets (if you are lucky enough to have operational winter markets) will have some of their storage beets for sale. And beets get sweeter with age. That’s right, sweeter! Now before you click away from this post thinking that I have gone a little stir crazy being buried under mounds of snow up here in Maine, hear me out.

The beets I’m talking about don’t come in a can, aren’t on some gross Ruby Tuesday’s Salad bar, and are not pickled (although I hear pickled beets can be quite tasty). No these, are subtle, sweet and a bit earthy. They won’t be a soggy, falling apart, shirt-staining mess. They will be a relief to your winter vegetable rotation.
Roasting beets is easy, it takes a little while, but there is nothing more you have to do than turn on the oven, coat a baking sheet with a little oil, wash some beets, prick them with a fork, toss them on the tray and bake. That’s it! Once they are tender, peel them and slice them. This saves all their subtle flavors and enhances the natural sugars in beets, while maintaining their structure. Beets are very satisfying. Yes, it can be a bit messy, but I find that as long as you don’t let beet juice sit, it washes off fairly easily. Or you can hold the beet with a form while you peel them, and avoid touching them hardly at all.

Roasted Beet Salad
If you are fortunate to find different types of beets, I recommend trying them. Golden beets are sweeter and more tender (i.e. less scary) then your typical red beet, and the Chioggia beets are just cool when you cut into them (Candy-cane stripped).

4-5 medium sized beets, assorted types
1 tsp. vegetable oil
2 cups loosely packed arugula (optional)
1 Tb. Olive oil
Juice of ½ a lemon
3 Tb. Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 375°. Coat a baking sheet with the 1 tsp. of vegetable oil. Wash the beets well and snap off any long roots. Prick the beets all over with a fork, and place on baking sheet. Roast the beets until tender – test by inserting a fork into the beet. If it goes in smoothly and easily, the beet is done. For beets the size of golf balls – 30 minutes, for beets closer to the size of baseballs an hour and so on. Let the beets cool enough to handle then slice off both ends and peel. Slice beets into manageable pieces and place in bowl.

If you are using red beets and another kind, keep the beets separate until ready to serve, or the red beets will make everything pink. Toss the beets with olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Serve over arugula and sprinkle with crumbled feta. Spoon any reserved dressing from the beets over the whole mixture. Or just toss beets with feta and dressing and serve.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Everyday's the Fourteenth

So as most of you are probably aware, Valentine’s Day is next week. This can be a hot button topic for some people. Guys and single girls typically, but I am generalizing so don’t get mad at me ok? Yes, I understand that it is a fabricated holiday to sell greeting cards and anything heart shaped but that being said I still kind of like it. And even when I was single I still kind of liked it. Don’t get me wrong, I mostly enjoyed being able to eat the entire box of chocolates that my parent’s sent by myself and not feel bad about it just because it was Valentine’s Day.
And if anyone of you out there are thinking, well we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to tell each other that we love one another, we should do that all time – Here! Here! But sometimes it’s nice to have a specific day where someone needs to be a little extra thoughtful, and a heart shaped box of chocolates (to share, I guess) never hurts either. And if I may brag a bit, Joe is pretty good at Valentine ’s Day.
I typically cook the meals we eat at home, but Joe can (and does) cook on occasion. And Valentine’s Day is when he pulls out all the stops. If I am home, I am forbidden from the kitchen and take serious delight in hearing swear words and mutterings emanate from the other room. I think this may be the path most taken for guys trying to impress someone; with a home cooked meal. When we were in California, Joe told me about going to a local Whole Foods and being followed by another man about 20 feet behind him. Every time Joe picked up something, and then walked away, this stranger went to the same spot and picked up the exact same item. Which seems like a good idea in theory – but I am assuming this person probably also (a) did not know for sure what Joe was making and (b) even if he did, he probably didn’t know how to make it. So hopefully, someone out there had a strange compilation of crab meat, mussels, lamb shanks and various other ingredients that should have been in three different dishes. I also asked Joe, and thought it would be funny, if Joe just started picking up the most random things he could find to throw the guy off, almost like a reverse supermarket sweep. But alas, Joe was less naughty than I would have been, and continued shopping for the things he actually needed.
I have no idea what is planned for this year (but by writing this ahead of time, I can almost guarantee something will be!) And I wanted to share with you all, a dessert that might be a nice accompaniment to a night in, or an after dinner treat. It should be made the day ahead, to sit in the fridge overnight. So this means forethought, and that is what most people like about Valentine’s Day. So upon presenting it to the one you love (or are with) mention causally that you made this the day before, I think it will go over well.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
As adapted from Maggie on
This is fairly simple but does require a bit of time. It is not a typical flourless chocolate cake, but rather seems more like a rich custard or pudding. It’s velvety and very rich, and relies heavily on very very good quality chocolate. So don’t skimp! And I also recommend using free-range organic eggs; they will impart a better flavor as well.

½ c water
¼ tsp. salt
¾ c sugar
18 oz. high quality bittersweet chocolate (Ghirardelli, Valrohna etc.)
1 c unsalted butter
6 eggs, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Grease one 9 inch round spring form pan and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved, about 3 minutes, and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over simmering water in a saucepan (or in the microwave* – but be careful not to burn it!). Remove the bowl and allow to cool a bit.

Cut the butter into small cubes and stir the butter into the chocolate, a few pieces at a time. Mix in in the hot sugar-water. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the round cake pan into a larger pan and fill the larger pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

Bake cake in the water bath at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 55-60 minutes. The center will still look wet, but the edges will have begun to pull away from the sides. Chill cake overnight in the pan. To unmold, dip the bottom of the cake pan in hot water for 10 seconds and invert onto a serving plate. Release the side of the pan and remove the bottom (off of the top, since the cake is inverted).

If you don’t have a spring-form pan, you can bake this cake in a regular cake pan. Follow all the same steps but you may also need to insert a knife at angle while the pan is upside down on the plate to release the bottom. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or decorate with fresh berries.

*to melt chocolate in the microwave, place the chocolate (in small pieces) into a microwave safe bowl. Heat on high for 20 seconds. Then remove and stir. At this point, it will seem like nothing happened. Repeat. Continue doing this until the chocolate begins to just melt, then reduce the time to 10 seconds. If the chocolate is mostly melted, stir hard, to try and melt the remaining bits, rather than microwaving again. If you do burn the chocolate, discard it and start again. Oh and air out the kitchen because it will stink!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Scottish Snow Day

The first year I worked for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I worked in the Scottish Kitchen. We hosted home cooks and professional cooks from Scotland to share their knowledge and stories with the public. Although some of the public asked if Braveheart was an accurate depiction of Scotland, the participants did have a favorable impression of America as a whole.
hey I had a snow day the next day
Part of my job was to keep things running in the kitchen; prepping recipes, getting ingredients and keeping people happy, which let’s be honest is not hard to do in a kitchen. In fact, one of the women I met became so close with me that we were giggling like small children all day. We actually were told to keep it down inside the prep tent, because our laughter was coming through the stage and distracting the audience. Oops.
Now you may think that she and I were similar in age but she was about 40+ years my senior. And if you have ever wanted to meet Mrs. Doubtfire in person, that was her. Towards the end of the two weeks we were together, I had to work with her on stage; asking her questions and leading a discussion about the culture of food in Scotland. I’m pretty sure no one in the audience understood a word of what we were saying, because we were finishing each other’s sentences and laughing uncontrollably at the thought of having store bought biscuits if I ever came to visit. Can you imagine! Store bought! Ha!
Working in that kitchen with all the wonderful people I met, was what really pushed my love of cooking, and my comfort around food. The ease with which meals were prepared, advice offered and satisfaction reached was inspiring. We actually ended up making meals just for other Scottish participants because the ache for home grew throughout the festival. We had a constant parade of participants, volunteers, and staff at the kitchen tent flap, looking for shortbread, lamb curry or Scotch broth.
I got my own mini cooking lessons from women and men alike in that kitchen, and we whipped up such delicacies as cod’ head stuffed with oats and cod liver oil, haggis and black pudding. All of which was wonderful, although I could do without the cod’s head again. Most of the recipes I learned were hearty, comforting, and inexpensive to prepare. That is just the thing we need this winter.
This recipe is easy and very inexpensive. It can be stretched out with vegetables, and can be made in a crock pot or on the stove. You can get creative with the dumplings, or just keep it as simple as can be. When you take a bite, remember that this warmed many a person on a cold and foggy (or snowy) day.

Mince with Doughballs
Although the name is not that pretty, this rustic meal comes together with an almost exotic flair. The original recipe calls for just ground beef, onions, gravy powder and dumplings. But I like to add some root vegetables to make it a complete meal. If you want to make this is a crockpot, follow the steps up to the dumplings, reduce the liquid by about ½, and set on low to cook all day. But this only takes about forty-five minutes start to finish (including chopping time) if you want to make it all in one shot.

1 lb. ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 medium carrots, diced
1 medium rutabaga, diced
2 medium potatoes (I used Eastern Potatoes, because they will hold their shape)
1 pint beef broth
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. ground all spice
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste

For the dumplings
6 oz. of self-rising flour (about 1 1/3 c)
3 oz. margarine (about 2 Tb.)
¼ c. chopped parsley
Ice water (about 2 Tb)

Brown the meat in the bottom of a large dutch oven. Drain off any excess fat, and add onion and garlic. Cook until fragrant about 3-5 minutes. Then add the remaining vegetables, stirring to combine. Pour in beef broth, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan. Add all spice, bay leaf, and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

When the vegetables are tender, taste the sauce mixture and adjust seasonings as needed. The sauce should be thick, if not, make a quick slurry of cornstarch and water, and stir into pot. Next, combine the flour, parsley and salt. Rub the margarine into the flour, until combined, and small pea sized balls form. Slowly add water, stirring just until the dough holds together. Be careful not to overwork the dough, or the dumplings will be very dense.

Drop dough by the spoonful onto the top of the ground beef mixture, cover with a lid and steam the dumplings for 7-10 minutes, until they are plump and cooked through.

Serve in bowls or  deep plates with a doughball per person.