Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Saying Cilantro

I was going to give you a different recipe originally, but then I looked and I had already shared it – last year! So in an effort to not repeat myself just yet, Joe and I experimented a little and came up with something quite tasty. And in honor of some family members who will be spending time in Alaska salmon fishing – this is for you. But I think the recipe would be just as good with chicken or pork too, so don’t feel locked in to the salmon idea.
The main star of this show is cilantro, but the whole combination is really spectacular. The only downside would be for people who do not like cilantro, but then you have your own genetic mutations don’t you. For the rest of us with whatever gene makes us love cilantro – this recipe is the bee’s knees.

Well, I guess I shouldn’t be so cruel to people who dislike cilantro. It’s just that at a restaurant once in Long Beach, Joe and I were enjoying a little happy hour on the beach, when a woman near us started complaining about cilantro. And it was not just ordinary complaining – oh no. She felt the need to over enunciate the (perhaps) proper way to say it, with a roll of her r and everything. Seeeee-Laaahn-Trrrroh. And an accurate pronunciation is fine when you do that to everything, but imagine normal cadence, normal pronunciation peppered with Seee-Laaahn-Trrrroh every 4th or 5th word. I’ll demonstrate.
“Oh does this dish have Seeeee-Laaaaahn-Trrrrroh? Because I can’t have Seeee-Laaaahn-Trrrroh. I’m allergic to Seeee-Laaaahn-Trrroh.” The server replies that there is none. “Oh good, so I’ll have the ____ as long as there’s no Seeee-Laaaahn-Trrrroh.”
When the food arrives she looks at her plate “Excuse me, but I believe there is Seeeee-Laaaahn-Trrrrroh in this, and I can’t eat Seeee-Laaaahn-Trrrrroh.” The server removes the plate and walks past me as I am wide-eyed staring at this woman who continues to her dining-mates; “I thought there was no Seeeee-Lahhhn-Trrrroh. Because I just can’t have Seeee-Laaaahn-Trrrroh, I’m allergic to Seeee-Laaaaahn-Trrrroh.” This went on a few more times, because the server returned with the plate and assured her what she saw was parsley, but since parsley is not nearly as excruciating to say as cilantro, she did not believe him and ordered something else instead.
To this day Joe and I will always toss in one Seeee-Laaahn-Trrroh for good measure while shuddering at the memory of that dinner. Well, that and we sat near a divorcing couple where the man was very intoxicated and possibly on other drugs (he told us about the coke) who kept trying to include us in their fights. The whole evening was capped off by that same man getting injured on his bicycle after he left the restaurant and the server appearing on the restaurant’s deck with binoculars so we could watch the whole thing. Ahh yes, California, how we miss your kind of crazy.

Well, so back to the recipe. This is good. Make it.

Roasted Salmon with Cilantro Sauce
I used some Sockeye Salmon for this but I think pork chops or tenderloin or even chicken would be great, but you may have to adjust the cooking time.

For the sauce
1 bunch cilantro, including stems, washed
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lime
Olive oil

For the Salmon
3 bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tb olive oil
¼ tsp. ground cumin
1 firm ripe tomato
1 8oz. piece of salmon
Salt and Pepper

To prepare the sauce, put garlic, cilantro and lime juice into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times to chop everything up. Then with the motor running, stream in the olive oil until well combined and creamy looking. Season with salt if needed.

Preheat oven to 400°. Toss together the peppers, onion, garlic olive oil and cumin and place in a large baking sheet. Place the piece of salmon on top and sprinkle everything with a little salt and pepper. Next, spoon some of the cilantro sauce over the salmon, coating it evenly, and spoon some onto the surrounding pepper mixture. Slice the tomato and lay the pieces on top of the salmon, sprinkle tomato with a bit of salt and pepper. Bake uncovered until salmon is cooked and the peppers and onions are softened about 20 minutes.

Serve with some of the reserved cilantro sauce.

P.S. I just got a new camera, and I am showing off the new pictures - notice how they aren't washed out with flash!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

If You're Going to Eat Chocolate...

I tried to swear off desserts recently. It lasted about 2 hours. I told myself (and Joe) that I wasn’t going to buy anymore ice cream. Actually I have said this numerous times this summer. But then I picked blueberries, so we needed some vanilla for those, and then I had a coupon, so I needed to use that. Do you see how really these things are out of my control?
Well, I finally did clear the freezer of ice cream and I told myself that now would be a good opportunity to go dessert free for a few weeks. But then we realized we had some leftover chocolates from Hawaii, and in a pinch I am ready to make dessert should it come to that. And it did.

I had bought the ingredients to make something chocolaty and delicious when Joe and I were watching our friends’ daughters for the evening. But we live less than a block away from miniature golf and ice cream so any at-home activities for that evening were trumped immediately by those two prospects. The weather threatened rain, and I thought baking would be a good babysitting time waster.
I like to be prepped with games, activities and ideas whenever babysitting. This is probably because I secretly still want to belong to the Babysitters’ Club. That, and the last time I watched the girls at my house we played with chocolate and it went very well. I think kids should be able to let loose when they are with a babysitter, plus if they are all wound up at the end of the evening they go back to their parents anyways. (Sorry Bess!)
The last time I watched the girls we made truffles. I make pretty good truffles and I promise to maybe one day divulge that recipe. When I began telling them about the steps and ingredients for the truffles, the eight year old told me “Oh yeah, my friends and I always say – if you’re going to have chocolate, it should really be Ghirardelli.” I heartily agreed.
As we got into the melting, rolling and forming I realized that this was going to turn into a giant mess. It looked like I took the six year old girl and dipped her in the bowls of chocolate. I also was unprepared for the amount of finger, hand and apparently arm licking of that melted chocolate which lead to an immediate sugar high. At one point the six year old was running circles in my kitchen screaming and licking chocolate off herself. Later she confessed to her mother that the truffles were good for her because they didn’t have any sugar in them – just chocolate and cream.
The truffles turned out fine, and we only ingested a small percentage of the total yield that afternoon. I was much better prepared this second time around to thwart any appendage dipping into melted chocolate while making brownies. But, as I said before mini golf and ice cream are powerful draws for two small girls.

What I am getting at here, is that I had the ingredients for these brownies just lying around. And I really needed something to post this week – and I needed dessert. And as my friends always say; if you’re going to eat chocolate…

Chocolate Raspberry Brownies
as adapted from Sue Lawrence's Scottish Kitchen
These brownies are super rich and not at all healthy thus making them delicious. This recipe comes from a Scottish chef who made these brownies then placed them in a trifle – yowzer. The original recipe called for muscovado sugar but I can never find it here, so I have done some swapping and I think they turn out just as deeply flavored.

6 oz. good quality dark chocolate (60% Cacao is good)
3 oz. good quality Unsweetened chocolate
2 sticks plus 1 Tb unsalted butter
3 eggs
1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar, not hard packed
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
6 oz. fresh or frozen raspberries

Preheat your oven to 325°, lightly grease an 8” square pan.

In a small sauce pan melt the butter and chocolates together over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once melted and combined, allow to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until glossy, about 2 minutes. Add melted chocolate to the bowl stirring to combine.

Next add the dry ingredients and fold to combine. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan.

Sprinkle evenly with raspberries and pour the remaining batter over top. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the brownies have set and a toothpick comes out clean.

Let brownies cool and serve.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer's Selection

We are in full produce swing here in Maine (finally). I always pine for the first tomatoes and even zucchini of the season; cursing our neighbors to the south of us who get to enjoy the fruits of the summer weeks before we can. But due to the very warm temperatures this summer, the first tomatoes and other high summer harvests have arrived. Joe has been dutifully heading to the farmers’ market every week, whittling down our CSA shares and depositing a vast array of vegetables into our kitchen much to my delight.
You see if I go to the farmers’ market after work, the masses have already depleted the stocks and I am left with some wilted kale and vegetable seconds. Not that I mind the seconds, it’s just that I can feel the reproach from farmers eyeing me as though I should have left work early to get there if I wanted the gorgeous multi-colored heirloom tomatoes or the best of what they had to offer. Trust me – I want to take off of work, but getting caught frolicking through farm stands, swinging your reusable bag around joyfully two full hours before the end of the work day is not a good idea. (Picture Ferris Bueller at the Cubs game). Once was enough for me, so instead I send Joe.
What this means however, is that I get very excited to see what lands in the refrigerator every Thursday afternoon. I rush in the door, kick off my shoes and toss my lunch bag and purse off to the side, blowing past Joe with a dismissive wave and a muttered ‘hi honey’ while I bee-line it to the kitchen. First I scan the counter for potatoes and onions, and the occasional loaf of fresh bread. Next, I head to the refrigerator to check for all things vegetal. This spring upon seeing some delicate model thin asparagus in the bottom drawer, I shouted with glee, closed the refrigerator and jumped on an unsuspecting Joe. I was overjoyed.
Next, comes the task of preparing and consuming all of these wonderful items. Which is something again, I look forward to during the week. But it was thinking of something to share here that had me stumped. A cold tomato salad; sure but it’s a bit boring. A warm potato salad with green beans; I think I did that already. Or maybe a dessert with the blueberries I picked earlier in the week. It’s not as if I am not cooking and baking up a storm, I’m just trying to be selective with what I give to you. You are very important to me, and I do not want to give you something off the cuff or as an afterthought.
I made blueberry jam and double berry pound cakes. I made some chile verde enchiladas for a couple with a new baby, along with our standard weeknight meals. But nothing seemed good enough. Until I looked at the produce bins in the fridge and thought I would do a risotto with all the goodies of summer.

Well, this was a good thought, but in application it turned out to be more like a rice casserole than it did a delicate risotto. But I thought I would share the basics of it anyways, because if you have lots of tomatoes, summer squash, and greens this summer, this is a flavorful way to use them up. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a risotto, but I also don’t want to assign some weird hybrid name in Rachel Ray fashion. So we’ll just call it a summer rice hot pot (hot pots are very German, so it works here, no?)

Summer Rice Hot Pot
This will heat up the kitchen, but will be great on the next rainy day that you have. Feel free to substitute your favorite veggies, or make this vegan by omitting the cheese and switching to vegetable stock. Or make this even heartier with some Italian style chick sausage. Also, I used a tomato wine we got as a gift and it added a very nice summery flavor, so experiment with wines and other additions here as well.

3 TB olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 Tb garlic, diced
¾ c Arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
½ white wine
4-6 cups chicken stock
1 summer squash, sliced into ¼” pieces
1 small zucchini, sliced into ¼” pieces
1 bunch of kale, stems removed, and leaves torn into 1-2” pieces
1 c cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 Tb. Each fresh basil and parsley, chopped
½ c freshly grated Parmesan or other dry cheese like Romano
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh lemon juice

In a large skillet, sauté onion until translucent about 3 minutes, then add garlic and rice, stirring to coat. Sauté until rice is opaque about 3 more minutes. Add wine and stir until wine is evaporated.

Next add 1 cup of chicken stock, stirring occasionally until mostly evaporated. Continue adding chicken stock one cup at a time until the rice is almost completely cooked about 15 minutes.

When the rice is mostly cooked but still has some crunch in the very center, add in the kale and ½ a cup of chicken stock. Stir to incorporate the kale. At the next addition of stock, add in the summer squash and zucchini.

Once that liquid has evaporated, add in the tomatoes, basil, parsley and cheese. Stir gently to combine. At this point the rice should be done, and there shouldn’t be too much liquid left over. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze half of a lemon over the whole pan.

Serve with more cheese sprinkled over top of each plate.