April 28, 2015 Salmon Piperade

DSC_2394aMy local big box store always has one bargain that I can never pass up, sweet peppers. Six in a bag, two each of red, yellow and orange, they usually cost about 6.49. Supermarket sweet red peppers occasionally are on sale at a 1.99 per pound but can go as high as 4.99 a pound in the off season. Orange and yellow ones never seem to go on sale. Since we only have access to local and peppers from our garden only two months out of the year, I don’t mind buying them.

The peppers are grown in greenhouses in Canada and have consistent good flavor and texture. I like using them in salads, stuffing them with chili and cooking them on the grill. We had a few left over recently that weren’t grilled and was looking for a way to use them in the next several days. Then I remembered piperade.

Classic piperade originates from the Basque country in the southwest region of France. It is a versatile preparation that compliments everything from eggs to chicken to fish dishes.  A simple saute of bell peppers, onion and tomato, piperade is enlivened by the addition of piment d’espelette. Piment d’espelette is a pepper native to France in the Basque country. The flavor is fresh and fruity with just a hint of smoky heat.

Piment d’Espelette has AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) status. This is a protective designation of origin and means the pepper only comes from a 22 square kilometer region around the town of Espelette. The peppers are harvest by hand, air dried and finished in a kiln. They are sold dried, whole or pulverized into a flaky powder. Since we are not in tomato season I used diced canned tomatoes for this recipe. The once 16 ounce can has shrunk to 14.5 ounces, when will this madness stop? I used Hunts because Cooks Illustrated put them on top of their most recent testing. Their flavor was reported to be fresh, bright and sweet-tart. Sounds good to me.

Espelette pepper is sold by specialty grocers and can easily be found on line if you are an intrepid spice hunter like me. If not, substitute smoky paprika or Aleppo pepper with a dash of cayenne pepper. The piperade comes together easily. Saute an onion until translucent, add garlic, peppers and piment d’Espelette. Cook another minute until fragrant then add the tomatoes and their juice. Bring the mixture to a boil, season well and cook slowly for about 45 minutes or until the juices have thickened. Keep piperade warm while you cook the fish. Serve salmon on a bed of piperade and garnish with parsley. Serve leftover piperade with poached or scrambled eggs the next day.

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I used finely chopped peppers and onion in my preparation.

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Piment d’Espelette is a protected designation meaning the peppers can only be grown in a specific location.

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Salmon Piperade

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 1T olive oil, plus 2t for cooking salmon
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 1T finely chopped garlic
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced (about ¾cup)
  • 1 red pepper, diced (about ¾cup)
  • 1 orange pepper, diced (about ¾cup)
  • 1t or to taste, piment d’Espelette, substitute smoky paprika and a dash of cayenne if necessary, additional to sprinkle on fish before baking
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 6-ounce boneless skinless salmon fillets
  • 1-2T chopped parsley

Directions

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the onion. Cook, stirring frequently until the onion is translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, peppers and piment d’Espelette. Cook, stirring frequently until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices, season well with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook slowly for about 45 minutes, stirring every now and then.
  3. Brush salmon fillets with olive oil, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and piment d’Espelette. Cook fish according to your favorite method, this is how we bake our fish. Spoon warm piperade on serving dish, nestle cooked fish on the piperade. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

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April 21, 2015 Shrimp Scampi

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It’s not every day that fresh Florida shrimp are available at my local fish market, that was reason enough for me to prepare a dish that showcases their pristine sweet flavor, shrimp scampi.

Most “fresh” shrimp  sold in supermarkets are shipped frozen and thawed for the seafood counter. That means the shrimp you will find with the frozen seafood is exactly the same and maybe even a little cheaper than what is being presented as fresh, it just hasn’t been sitting on a bed of ice all day. Thawed shrimp are a convenience to use only when you need them immediately.  The shelf life of thawed shrimp is only a day or so at best, while frozen shrimp retain their quality for several weeks in the freezer.

Most shrimp sold today are IQF or individually quick frozen, so it is easy to remove the amount of shrimp you need for a recipe. The best way to thaw shrimp is to put it in the fridge overnight or for a quicker thaw, put it in a colander of cold water and let some cold water trickle into the bowl while the excess goes down the drain. The shrimp should be ready to cook in about 15 minutes.

Shrimp are sold by the count, the number of shrimp to make a pound, so the lower the count, the bigger the shrimp.  The names that correspond with the sizes range from extra colossal, under 10 per pound to extra small, 61 to 70 shrimp per pound. The descriptions are not standardized however so one vendor’s extra large could be another’s jumbo. So it is always best to stick with looking at the count when buying shrimp.

According to Italian cookbook author Lidia Bastianich, shrimp scampi is one of the those creations in which immigrant cooks adapted Italian techniques to American ingredients. Scampi is the Italian word for a prawn or langoustine, more closely related to lobsters.   One traditional way of preparing them in Italy was to sauté them with garlic, onion, olive oil and white wine.  When Italians immigrated to America they adapted the preparation, substituting  the more readily available shrimp. The dish was called shrimp scampi and the name stuck, meaning shrimp prepared in the scampi style.

This recipe is from Melissa Pellegrino, cookbook author and contributing editor to Fine Cooking magazine,. What makes this interpretation of shrimp scampi unique is the addition of shrimp stock which further enhances the flavors in this dish.

Begin by peeling the shrimp, you can leave the tails on for presentation if you choose. The next step is to devein the shrimp, which isn’t a vein at all but the digestive tract. It is not absolutely necessary and you can eat shrimp with the vein still in, but one thing I know for certain, it will always get you Chopped. To devein, make a shallow slit down the middle of the back which exposes the intestine. Lift the vein out with the tip of a paring knife and wipe the blade with a clean paper towel. You can also do this under cold running water. There are also inexpensive tools that allow you to devein in one fell swoop.

The shrimp stock is made with the shrimp shells along with the usual ingredients used in stock making, onion, celery, carrot and a bay leaf. The ingredients are brought to a boil, simmered and strained. Only ¼ cup of the stock is needed so the rest can be frozen for future use.

Aromatic garlic, parsley and lemon peel are added to melted butter in the skillet. The shrimp are cooked in this mixture until they turn pink. Wine and shrimp stock are reduced to make a sauce with a final additon of pepper flakes, lemon peel and, of course, more butter. Served over pasta, rice or just accompanied with some crusty bread, shrimp scampi is a quick delicious entree easy enough for weeknights and elegant enough for special occasions.

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Shrimp shells are used to make a flavorful stock.

Shrimp shells are combined with onion, celery, carrot and a bay leaf.

Shrimp shells are combined with onion, celery, carrot and a bay leaf.

I used the juice and peel from our Ponderosa lemon.

I used the juice and peel from our Ponderosa lemon.

 

Shrimp Scampi

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1½ lb. 16-20 count shrimp (these may be called jumbo or extra jumbo) peeled and deveined (shells reserved) tails may be left on if you choose
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium rib celery, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, halved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4T unsalted butter
  • ¼c finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 2T minced garlic
  • 1T finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼c dry white wine
  • 1t fresh lemon juice
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Directions

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan , combine the reserved shrimp shells, carrot, celery, onion and bay leaf. Add four cups of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
  2. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve ¼cup for the scampi. The rest of the shrimp stock can be frozen for future use.
  3. Pat the shrimp dry and season with ½teaspoon salt and a grind of pepper.
  4. In a 12-inch heavy skillet, melt 3Tof the butter over medium heat. Add the parsley, garlic and lemon zest and cook, stirring occasionally until the garlic is lightly golden, 1-2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the shrimp and cook until they start to turn pink, about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and crushed red pepper flakes and stir to coat.
  5. Transfer the shrimp to a serving plate using a slotted spoon. Whisk the remaining 1T butter into the sauce. If the sauce seems too thin, simmer for a minute or so to thicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper, pour over the shrimp and serve with lemon wedges on the side.

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April 14, 2015 Beet Chutney

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The good thing about cooking a ton of food for a holiday is that chances are, you will have lots of leftovers.  The challenging part is finding ways to repurpose those leftovers into something different and delicious. Smoked turkey was good on a salad, leftover roasted vegetables topped our homemade thin crust pizzas. In previous years I made moussaka with leftover lamb, this year we decided on lamb wraps. In addition to the usual tzatziki sauce that I would serve with lamb, Joe suggested  “something spicy.” I had some ideas but after googling it, found an interesting recipe for beet chutney.

As a beet lover, I enjoy their earthy quality and thought the sweet and sour quality of a chutney would be a nice contrast to the creamy coolness of tzatziki. The chutney comes together quickly and benefits from being made ahead, allowing the flavors to blend together. The recipes calls for a two inch diameter beet, which turned out to be just a little bit less than a cup. Tweak the sweet and sour elements to your own liking. I used golden raisins because that’s what I had on hand, dried cranberries might be nice as well. Dried cranberries would fit the color scheme and would fit right in with a Thanksgiving menu. The chutney would also be good  as a appetizer on top of a cracker spread with goat cheese or Brie.

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Beet Chutney

Makes about a cup

Ingredients

  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1 ½c red onion
  • 1 2-inch diameter red beet, peeled, cut into ¼ inch cubes
  • ½c water
  • ½c red wine vinegar
  • 3T raisins (I used golden raisins)
  • 3T sugar
  • 2t chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 1t yellow mustard seeds
  • Pinch of cumin seeds

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Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan  over medium heat. Add chopped red onion and beet cubes. Cook until onion is tender but not brown, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes
  2. Add ½c water. Increase heat to high and boil until mixture is thick, about 5 minutes. Add vinegar, raisins, sugar, ginger, mustard seeds, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until beet cubes are tender and the chutney is thick, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool.
  3. Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.

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April 10, 2015 Cheddar Pepper Bread

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Back in the seventies, my early forays into bread baking were less than successful. Armed with my Betty Crocker and Good Housekeeping cookbooks I made multiple attempts at white, wheat and whole grain breads. My biggest problem then was yeast and my lack of success in proofing it.  My loaves would turn out dense and leadened, thrown outside as crumbs for the birds. My dad used to say, the birds wouldn’t even eat my bread, it was too heavy for them to  fly away with!

But I was determined to find success and stuck with it. The early eighties introduced a new bread making tool, the food processor. The processor was capable of kneading the dough in a fraction of the time needed to do it by hand.  Many of the recipes I found back then were from a magazine called The Pleasures of Cooking. Published by Cuisinart founder Carl Sontheimer, it inspired and fed all aspects of my love of cooking.

Pleasures has been out of circulation for years but I still have all of my well used issues.  Many of the recipes became part of my catering repertoire, including several bread recipes. Although I use the stand mixer now for most of my bread recipes, I still pull out the food processor for classics like this. Cheddar pepper bread is still one of my favorites.  It is key to use an assertive “extra sharp” cheddar so that it’s flavor will shine through in the final product.  I served this along side the creamy leek and potato soup we had for Easter dinner. The recipe calls for the bread to baked in a loaf pan but it could be baked as a round loaf or even as rolls.

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Cheddar Pepper Bread

Makes 1 1½ lb. loaf

Ingredients

  • 3oz extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1t instant dry yeast
  • 3 ½c all purpose flour
  • 2T unsalted butter
  • 1 ¼t cracked black pepper
  • 2t fine sea salt
  • ¼t hot pepper sauce
  • 1c warm water and a little more as needed

Directions

  1. Process the cheese with the medium disc of the food processor. Set aside.
  2. Place the yeast, flour, butter, black pepper, sea salt and hot pepper sauce in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process the ingredients for about 20 seconds.With the food processor running, pour the water through the feed tube in a steady stream as fast as the flour absorbs it.
  3. After the dough cleans the sides of the bowl, add the shredded cheese, and process for  about 45 seconds more to knead the dough.
  4. Remove the dough from the processor, shape it into a ball and place it in a large ungreased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm place for 1½ to 2 hours.
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat it down to deflate. Shape the dough into a loaf and place in a greased 8 by 4-inch loaf pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the center of the loaf rises up 1½ inches above the rim of the pan, 1 to 1½ hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating pan half way through the baking time. The loaf should be well browned and sound hollow when tapped.
  7. Remove the bread from the loaf pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely before storing.

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April 2, 2015 Roasted Salmon with Ginger Shiitake Glaze

 

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Salmon is on our dinner menu once a week and I am always looking for new and interesting ways to prepare it. Always a healthy dinner choice, salmon is a good source of protein, potassium, selenium, B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids. This recipe from Fine Cooking magazine , salmon with ginger and shiitakes has become a new favorite for us.

The original recipe called for broiling the salmon but I have adapted it for the way we cook salmon most of the time in non grill months, roasting. The fish is seasoned simply with salt, pepper and  ground coriander, you can use whatever seasoning blend you choose that compliments the recipe. What makes this recipe special is the topping, a marriage of a glaze and chunky vegetable mix that is spooned right before the fish is done. A flavorful combination of red pepper, shiitake mushrooms, ginger and scallions is seasoned with honey, ginger, rice vinegar, soy and sriracha. The topping is easy to do and  can even be made several hours in advance,

I substituted tamari for the low sodium soy sauce that was called for in the original recipe. Maybe you have seen tamari on you supermarket shelf next to the soy sauce and wondered what makes it different. Tamari and soy are both the by-products of fermented soybeans.Tamari is a Japanese soy sauce and is thicker, less salty with an umami quality to it.  It is made by collecting the liquid that drains from miso, fermented soybean paste. Since it is brewed only from soybeans, water and salt, it is gluten free. Sriracha, once a product I could only find in Asian markets is commonplace in supermarkets today. Add Sriracha to your own liking, if you don’t have it, another hot sauce or a few pepper flakes can stand in.  In case you didn’t know, sriracha is a Thai hot sauce made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt. I recommend the Huy Fong brand that has a rooster on the label. I plan to make my own version from the large collection of hot peppers we have in the near future.

Roasted Salmon with Ginger Shiitake Glaze

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2lbs salmon filet
  • 2T canola oil
  • 1/4t ground coriander
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3c finely diced red pepper
  • 4 scallions, finely sliced, white and green parts separated
  • 2T finely chopped ginger
  • 1c shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into fine dice
  • 1/4c honey
  • 3T rice vinegar
  • 1T Tamari style soy sauce
  • 1t Sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1t cornstarch mixed with 1t of water

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Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut salmon into individual servings and salt and pepper lightly (kosher or sea salt) and sprinkle with ground coriander. Let the fish sit at room temperature while you prepare the sauce.
  2. In a 12″ skillet over medium heat,  cook the red pepper, scallion whites and ginger in 2 tablespoons of canola oil.
  3. Stir occasionally until the pepper and scallions start to soften and brown, about 3 minutes.
  4. Raise the heat to medium high and add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt. Cook stirring until they soften and brown, about three minutes.
  5. Add the honey, vinegar, tamari, chili sauce and a 1/4c water. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Whisk the cornstarch and water together and stir this into the glaze. Return to a simmer and cook until the glaze thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
  7. Coat a pan that will hold the filets comfortably with 1T canola oil or non stick spray. Measure thickest part of filet with a ruler (every 10th of an inch equals 1 minute of cooking time at 450° F.)
  8. At 1 minute prior to calculated time of completion, raise oven temperature to broil,  remove fish from oven and coat evenly with the glaze. Return the salmon to the oven to broil the topping, this could take 1-2 minutes. Watch this step carefully.
  9. Serve immediately or be sure to remove from baking pan immediately (so that the fish does not continue to cook.)
  10. For a more translucent preparation decrease cooking time by 1-2 minutes.
  11. Serve fish on warmed plates.

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March 19, 2015 Beer Battered Fish Tacos

DSC_1911aFresh white fish encased in a crispy batter wrapped in a warm corn tortilla slathered with creamy and spicy tartar sauce and a sprinkling of cabbage and a spritz of lime, what’s not to love?

After all the fish tacos we consumed on our trip to Florida, you might think we would be tired of them about now. But we can’t get our fill of this delicious south of this border treat, so it was time for us to try our hand at them in our own kitchen.

Fish tacos are native to the Baja peninsula of northwestern Mexico, most likely originating in the town of Ensenada. An hour and a half south of the San Diego-Tijuana  border, Ensenada is surrounded by the beautiful Sierra de San Pedro Martir mountains and sits on an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Fishing is one of the major industries of Ensenada and fishing boats pull up to the dock to unload their abundant fresh catch at the local seafood markets. More than ninety species are commercially fished or farmed in the area. A large portion of the catch is shipped to Asia, but some of it is sold by local vendors.

Though some fish taco recipes call for grilled or blackened fish, the classic fish taco recipe uses fish that is cooked in a tempura like batter. Many believe this is a result of the influence of Japanese immigrants who began settling  in Mexico at the beginning of the twentieth century. A firm fleshed white fish will hold up best for frying. Bass or cod are good choices, but at the suggestion of my fishmonger, I chose triggerfish.  Triggerfish is a delicious fish that takes well to any cooking method. The name refers to  an unusual interlocking dorsal fin that has to be “unlocked” by releasing a trigger shaped spine. They are usually about a foot long and weigh about 2 pounds with strong scales and tough skin.

In addition to the usual pico de gallo or tomato salsa, these tacos are accompanied by a spicy tartar sauce. It is a simple sauce of mayonnaise combined with pickle relish, yellow mustard, lime and pickled jalapenos. I am fortunate enough to have my own stash of pickled jalapenos that I canned several years ago. They are nice and briny with quite a potent kick. A little shredded cabbage and a squeeze of lime are the finishing touches to these tacos.

Corn tortillas are the wrappers of choice here. There are several methods to keep them warm. Put five or less on a microwave plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave in 30 seconds intervals and heat until warm. Wrap a small stack in aluminum foil and warm them in a 300 F oven for 15-20 minutes. You can also heat them one at a time in an ungreased skillet.

Beer Battered Fish Tacos

Serves 4-6

Yields 12-16 tacos

Spicy Tartar Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1c mayonnaise
  • 1/4c minced fresh cilantro
  • 3T minced pickled jalapeno
  • 2T dill pickle relish
  • 1T fresh lime juice
  • 1t yellow American mustard
  • 1/4t kosher salt

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl, can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Pico de Gallo

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/4 c chopped white onion
  • 1/4c coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 3 fresh serrano or jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Put the onion, cilantro and peppers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Fish for the tacos

Ingredients

  • About 2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
  • 1c all purpose flour
  • Kosher salt
  • 1c beer
  • 2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks
  • 1lb firm fillets of mild white fish, I used triggerfish but bass, cod or haddock can also be used, cut into strips about 41/2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide

Directions for the fish

  1. Fill a large, deep heavy pot with vegetable oil to about 1 1/4 inches deep. Heat the oil to about 350°F. Check the oil temperature with a deep fry thermometer or add a cube of bread to the oil, it should bubble immediately.
  2. Mix the flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and stir in the beer until smooth. Gently fold in the egg whites.
  3. Season the fish with salt. To cook the fish, work in batches of about three or four pieces at a time. Using kitchen tongs, dip each piece in the batter, let any excess drip off, carefully submerge the fish in the hot oil, and fry until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels

To assemble the tacos

  • 12-16 corn tortillas (5-6 inches wide), warmed
  • 1 1/2 cups finely shredded green or purple cabbage
  • 2 limes quartered
  • Pico de Gallo

To serve: Just after the fish comes out of the fryer, arrange on a heated dish on the table. Set out the tartar sauce, hot tortillas, shredded cabbage, lime quarters and pico de gallo for each person to assemble their own tacos.

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March 15, 2015 Shredded Romaine Salad with Yogurt Dressing

DSC_1889aI enjoy all aspects of cooking, but if asked what I enjoy making the most, it would be salads. My first choice, of course, would be greens picked fresh from the garden. Right now, while the last of the snow is being washed away by the rain, like everyone else, I depend on the greens available in the supermarket. The selection of packaged greens has improved over the last several years and one local supermarket carries greens grown in nearby greenhouses.

When using clamshell or bagged greens, check the date and first be sure you will be able to use what you purchase well before the expiration date. It is better to buy a smaller container that you will use than end up with something that resembles lettuce soup! I examine the package from all angles before I purchase because the freshest container can have quite a few soggy leaves.

The first step is to wash your greens thoroughly, even the packaged lettuces that are “triple washed”. I find that washing revives packaged greens and allows you to remove any damaged leaves. I fill a very clean sink with cold water, add the greens and swish them around, after a minute or so, the dirt and sediment will sink to the bottom.  For very delicate just-picked micro greens that might wind up in the drain,  I put them in the bowl of the salad spinner filled with cold water. The dirt sinks to the bottom and you can scoop the leaves out with your hands. Transfer the greens to the colander part of the spinner. I give them a shake in the colander portion first over the sink to remove excess water then I will start spinning.  I spin and dump the excess water several times. It is also important not to overfill the salad spinner, or the water has nowhere to go, three-quarters of the way is a good stopping point. If you are not using all the greens you have prepared, store them in a gallon storage bag. I like to put a flat paper towel in the bag first to absorb any excess water. Store in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, and be sure not to store anything on top of it.

Thinly shredded romaine was a new twist on a green salad for me. In this recipe, again from Ana Sortum in the latest issue of Fine Cooking magazine, romaine lettuce is cut crosswise into quarter inch slices almost giving it a slaw-like quality. The shredded romaine is combined with spicy arugula and a trio of fresh herbs, dill, mint and parsley. Crispy grated cucumber and toasted walnuts are added to the salad.  A creamy yogurt based dressing is the perfect compliment to the greens. A little Aleppo pepper sprinkled on at the end gives a little kick.

Spring starts this week and Joe is more than ready to go out and work the soil.  He started the first crop of salad greens several weeks ago in the Aerogrow and transplanted them yesterday in the greenhouse. So it won’t be long before we will be enjoying our own home grown salads.

Shredded Romaine and Cucumber Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the dressing

  • 2T fresh lemon juice
  • 1T Champagne or Chardonnay vinegar
  • 1 1/2t granulated sugar
  • 1t minced garlic
  • 1/2c plain whole milk or low fat Greek-style yogurt
  • 1/4c  plus 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad

  • 1 large head of romaine lettuce
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1c baby arugula
  • 3/4c lightly toasted walnuts, halves or pieces, reserve 2-3T for garnish
  • 2T chopped fresh dill
  • 1T chopped fresh mint
  • 1T chopped fresh flat leaved parsley
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4t Aleppo pepper or a scant 1/4t red pepper flakes

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Directions

For the dressing

  1. In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and garlic. Let stand for about 10 minutes to mellow the garlic. Whisk in the yogurt. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use. Dressing can be made up to 3 days in advance.

For the salad

  1. Core and separate the romaine leaves, discarding any bruised or damaged outer leaves. Wash and thoroughly dry the romaine, this is important because the dressing won’t cling if the lettuce isn’t dry. Slice the leaves into 1/4 inch crosswise pieces and place into a large bowl.
  2. Peel, halve and grate the cucumber on the large holes of a box grater. Squeeze out the excess water with your hands and add to the lettuce. Add the walnuts to the salad.
  3. Coarsely chop the arugula and add to the bowl along with the herbs. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
  4. Toss the salad with dressing to coat generously. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the Aleppo pepper and reserved walnuts and serve.

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March 10, 2015 Imam Bayildi Revisited

DSC_1861aImam Bayildi translates “the priest fainted”. Was it because the dish was so delicious or was it a reaction of this frugal priest  to the copious amount of expensive olive oil his bride used to make this dish? This is my second interpretation of this popular Turkish dish, one of a group of vegetarian recipes referred to as zeytinyagli or olive oil foods, served cold.  This recipe cuts down considerably in the amount of olive oil traditionally used in the original dish but definitely not on the flavor.

This is another recipe from Ana Sortum, chef at Oleana restaurant in Cambridge Massachusetts.  This recipe is similar to the first one I made in some of the steps.The eggplants are sprinkled with salt and brushed with olive oil and baked until the flesh is soft.  In the first recipe the flesh is scooped out and mixed in with the other ingredients, in the second the other ingredients are combined and pressed into the cooked eggplant, I liked that method. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, oregano and parsley are found in both recipes. Finely diced cauliflower, star ingredient of the moment, is a unique component for Imam Bayildi and adds a different texture and flavor to this dish that I liked. The second recipe also uses green bell pepper, an ingredient that I am not a big fan of. Green peppers are less expensive but not quite as nutritious as their red, yellow and orange counterparts. As a gardener, I have just considered them to be peppers that someone wasn’t patient enough to let ripen.  I am now coming around to seeing green bell peppers as a unique ingredient. In this dish they add an interesting  slightly bitter edge to the sweetness of the onion and the creaminess of the eggplant.

This is the first time I have ever grated tomatoes for a recipe. Choose ripe firm tomatoes and grate them over a shallow bowl with the largest holes of your box grater. Keep your hand flat and grate until the tomato flesh is scraped away from the skin. Discard the skin and you are left with tomato pulp that can be used in a variety of dishes. I am sure this is a technique I will use again.

Aleppo pepper is one of my favorite ingredient discoveries of the last several years. It is dark red, flaky and somewhat oily in texture. It takes it name from the ancient city of Aleppo in northern Syria, just east of the Turkish/Syrian border.  The flavor profile is rich, sweet and fruity with hints of cumin. The heat profile is moderate, just a bit hotter than paprika. As a result of the conflict in Syria, what now is sold as Aleppo is actually an identical pepper plant, Maras, that is grown in Turkey.

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Imam Bayildi

Serves 8 as a side dish or 4 as an entrée

Ingredients

  •  4 small eggplants, about 1/2lb each
  • 10Tolive oil divided,  4T for brushing eggplants, 3T for sautéing, 3T for drizzling over finished dish.
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 1/2lb tomatoes, halved
  • 2c diced sweet onion
  • 1c diced green bell pepper
  • 1/2c finely diced cauliflower
  • 1T finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2c chopped Italian parsley, more for garnishing the finished dish.
  • 1t finely chopped fresh oregano or 1/2t dried
  • Aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4c crumbled feta, more for garnish

Directions

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375°F.
  2. Halve the eggplants lengthwise and place cut side up on a large rimmed baking sheet. Season the cut sides generously with kosher salt and brush with the first 4T of olive oil. Flip the halves over and bake cut side down until soft, about 30-35 minutes. Set aside until cooled.
  3. While the eggplant bakes, grate the cut sides of the tomato on the large holes of a box grater. It is easiest to put the grater in a bowl. Discard the skins. Drain the pulp in a fine meshed sieve until most of the liquid has drained through, about 20 minutes.
  4. Heat 3T of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the pepper, cauliflower and garlic, cook, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables have softened somewhat, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the tomato pulp, parsley and oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the feta.
  5. Use a spatula to flip over the eggplant halves. With a slotted spoon, divide the filling among the eggplant, using the spoon to gently push the filling into the flesh.
  6. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and bake until hot, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with more crumbled feta and parsley and serve.

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March 4, 2015 Turkish Tarator Sauce

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What’s in a name? When it comes to food, it may depend on what country you are in. Tarator is a prime example of this. In the Balkans, it is a cold yogurt based soup made with cucumbers and seasoned with dill and lemon, similar to the ingredients in Greek tzatziki. In many Middle Eastern countries, Tarator is a sauce or a dip based on sesame tahini. The tarator of Turkey is a savory sauce, thickened with nuts and used with a wide variety of foods.

This recipe, a Turkish tarator sauce from Fine Cooking magazine is courtesy of  James Beard award winning chef Ana Sortum. Her travels as a young chef exposed her to the exciting, flavorful home cooking of Turkey. When she returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she opened her first restaurant, Oleana combinig the bold flavors of the eastern Mediterranean with farm fresh ingredients.

Tarator is very easy to make. As with many traditional sauces, it was first made with a mortar and pestle, but a blender brings this sauce together in less than five minutes. Nuts are the base of the sauce and provide it’s richness. I have seen everything from walnuts, to hazelnuts to pine nuts used in different versions of this recipe, blanched almonds are the chef’s choice in this recipe. Some recipes also include bread as an additional thickener but I found this unnecessary.  Combine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, water and garlic in the food processor. Blend until smooth and thick, scrape down the sides several times during this process, it takes about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. When serving, garnish with some toasted almonds.

Use good ingredients, not those nuts that have been sitting in your cabinet for months, fresh lemon juice and a quality extra virgin olive oil. I purchase my best oils from The Tubby Olive. Their oils are sourced from small farm producers and I am able to taste what I buy. Unfortunately not every bottle of olive oil labeled extra virgin, actually is.   If you are interested in some good information regarding the misrepresentation of the origins and quality of some brands of olive oil, check here.

Tarator is traditionally served with a wide variety of dishes, ranging from grilled eggplant, beets and fried seafood. I served it with roasted salmon and lightly blanched sugar snap peas.  It would also be a flavorful dip for crudite or a sauce for fried calamari.

Turkish Tarator Sauce

Makes about a cup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c blanched whole almonds
  • 2T toasted and chopped almonds for garnish
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 2t fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2t chopped garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

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Directions

  1. In a blender, puree the whole almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and 1/2c water until completely smooth and thick, at least 3 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sauce keeps covered and refrigerated up to 3 days.

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February 21, 2015 Chinese New Year Retrospective

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I shouldn’t be home, I should be landing in sunny Florida about now but a snowstorm changed our plans. Since Chinese New Year was this past week, I thought I would share some pictures from our celebrations of previous years.

I make spicy gingerbread cookies with the appropriate cutter for each year.  The dragon (2012) is said to be vital, confident and gifted.

I make spicy gingerbread cookies with the appropriate cutter for each year. The dragon (2012) is said to be vital, confident and gifted.

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A Chinese soup dumpling. Making and sharing dumplings is a New Year’s tradition that fosters family togetherness and cooperation of spirit. Since dumplings are shaped like gold ingots, eating these “golden nuggets” confers prosperity for the New Year.

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Potstickers and dipping sauce.

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Yu Sheng, the New Year’s salad that probably originated in Singapore. It is served on the seventh day of the celebration and brings diners prosperity and good fortune.

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Combining the East with the West, adzuki bean ice cream.

 

Noodles symbolize longevity. Spicy Sichuan Noodles feature the unique flavor of Sichuan peppercorns, banned in the United States until a few years ago.

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Ingredients ready for the Chinese Hot Pot, everyone gets in on the cooking with this one.

 

Lion's Head meatballs in a clay pot cooker.

Lion’s Head meatballs in a clay pot cooker.

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Wontons and pork buns.

 

 

Menu for the Year of the Pig (Boar)

Menu for the Year of the Pig (Boar).

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