Entrees

Spring Soup by Anne Livingston

Why is it so hard to get—and stay—healthy with food in this day & time (& place)? It’s a question I ponder almost daily. Our country is so bizarre when it comes to food. How do we navigate all the pyramids, diets, charts, supplements, and plans? How do we do it cheaply, quickly, without too much thought? I guess we can’t, that’s the thing. But sometimes, we can.

When Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page said at IFBC last year that one of the hottest food trends in the U.S. is vegetables, I was optimistic. No chart or diet or plan will disagree: vegetables are where it’s at, man. Of course, they always have been, but making them sexy to the general public could lead to some interesting culinary developments. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next few years in restaurants, cookbooks, and grocery stores. Let’s watch it develop together.

So meanwhile, vegetables! There’s never a bad time to eat them, but now that it’s spring, it’s an especially good time. According to both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principles, now’s the time to be extra nice to your liver and gall bladder after a long winter of heavy comfort foods and hibernating. I have been studying Chinese 5 Elements and nutrition, so I’m starting to understand some ways to support those parts of the body.  Right now we need to focus on foods that are:

  • GREEN  all the green vegetables. Leafy greens, such as spinach, chard, kale, and fresh herbs
  • RISING QUICKLY – If it grows quickly or shoots up as it grows, it’s great for spring. Asparagus, bamboo shoots, and radishes
  • ACIDIC/SOUR – citrus, vinegars, pickles, kimchi
  • YOUNG – young shoots or roots, such as mung bean sprouts, baby carrots or beets

All this sounds like a chance to pull out the blender and make a green smoothie, right? Yes, if you live in southern California or Arizona, where it’s already hot. But if you are like me and live in cooler climes, our bodies need it warm and cooked until the weather warms up some more.  This will ease our digestion and ultimately give us more energy. We need something like a green smoothie in our regular rotation, but cooked. And delicious, of course.

This “recipe” is easy, quick, and has interchangeable ingredients. I’ve mixed and matched several soups and have loved them all. I also throw in a few young (unsprayed!!) dandelion leaves from the front yard. Being a wild food, dandelions are beyond ridiculously good for you in the spring, although they’re also intensely bitter, so be sparing if you have a sensitive palate. Shiitakes or other mushrooms also enrich this soup as a garnish. The soup pictured above is asparagus, with a few sauteed shiitakes sprinkled in at the last minute.

I also have some edible flowers growing in the garden, so I use them for festive garnishes. In case you didn’t know, dandelion petals are edible! It takes no money to be fancy around here.

SPRING SOUP

Serves 4 | Start to finish: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 1 pound green vegetables, such as trimmed asparagus, spinach, chard, or broccoli
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion, scallion, or shallot
  • 2 cups stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 cup assorted herbs, such as parsley, chives, dill, mint, and a few dandelion leaves
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup yogurt or crème fraîche, plus more for garnish
  • Sea salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cook the vegetables and onion with the stock for about 10 minutes over medium heat, or until just cooked and still bright green.
  2. Place the fresh herbs, cream, and yogurt into a blender, and pour the stock and vegetables over the top. Place the lid on the blender, remove the inner “plug” to allow steam to escape during blending, and cover the hole with a kitchen towel to avoid splattering. Blend until completely smooth.
  3. Pour into bowls and garnish with edible flowers and more yogurt or crème fraîche. 

Easy Polenta Squares Using Piggyback Cookery by Anne

butternut squash polenta squares Can you get "slow food" out of quick steps?  Turns out, yes.  Three nights in a row we ate really well, even though I was feeling deeply lazy. The only thing keeping me from ordering pizza delivery on Saturday was that something was about to go bad in the fridge. 

Monday's polenta squares started as Saturday chicken guilt.   

Saturday

The "use or freeze by" date was upon us.  I cleaned and rubbed the waning chicken with lots of rosemary, thyme, sea salt, and peppercorns.  It went into the mini-rotisserie (or a low-heat oven would have been fine) for an hour and a half.  Nestled on top of some fresh greens, that chicken was mighty fine, considering the amount of hands-on cooking time was about 10 minutes. 

After dinner we threw the bones in a pot with chunks of onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and bay leaf, with enough water to cover.  I brought the pot to boil while cleaning up the kitchen, and let the pot simmer until it was time to go to bed. 

When we strained the stock into a bowl, we tasted it.  It was a rockstar quality stock, though a mite salty.  I knew it would become a science project if I didn't use it up quickly, because I would be too lazy to find the right dish to freeze it in. 

Sunday

I was late getting home.  The quickest stock-using solution I could think of was to peel a butternut squash, shred it in the cuisinart, and boil it with the stock, along with some nutmeg, honey, and white pepper.  The cooking was quick--about 10 minutes--because the squash was in small shreds. Rinsing the cuisinart during boiling time and using it to puree the soup added almost no time to the whole deal.  We had butternut squash soup, along with bacon sandwiches (bacon prepared on a cookie sheet in the oven).  Dinner took about 15 minutes to make. 

After dinner, we had lots of leftover soup, which I was sure would become next week's compost if we didn't morph it into something new, ASAP.   So it became two other things:  the base for a lunchy lentil soup (Easy! Boil rinsed lentils in the soup with some extra water for a little over half an hour),  and the liquid for cooking polenta.  

While Michael gave Rosalie a bath I made the polenta, washing dishes in between polenta stirrings.  When it was ready, I spread the polenta in a flat layer on a greased jelly roll pan, covered it with wax paper, then slid it into the fridge.  I was feeling super smug at that point.  Most of the work was done now!

The next night, a tired Monday night, all I had to do was cut the smooth, flat polenta into squares, dip it in egg and bread crumbs, and fry the squares in olive oil with slices of onion.  I served the squares with tomato sauce, the fried onions, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.   These little squares were crispy on the outside and full of butternutty, corny richness on the inside.  We ate so well and so happily.  I felt truly recharged by this accidentally thoughtful meal.

Is there a cookbook out there that shows how you can do this on a regular basis?  Using part of one night's meal to make the next night's meal  is not just efficient; it's bringing love and luxury into your day.  It's the gift of time that you somehow stole, the pleasure of slow food by staggering or layering your meals.  You get something slow out of something quick!  Magic.

Layering Flavors by Anne

thyme.and.thyme.I It’s not an actual secret or anything, but I like to think of layering flavors as an ace in my pocket.  It's a trick that may be obvious, but doing it intentionally makes me feel like a cooking genius.  Hey, I'll take it.  At this moment, the kind of “layering” I’m talking about is actually the repetition of a flavor in different ways.

For example, you could include both the fresh and dried version of an herb, or mushroom, or fruit, in your recipe.  Using both fresh and dried can make a flavor impact that is more than the sum of its parts. You can also layer a flavor by repeating it over the course of the cooking time—such as adding onions at different times during the cooking of a soup.  Also, adding a flavor in different forms, such as incorporating it within a sauce and then adding it to another part of the dish, can augment that flavor.  And of course, garnishing with one of the key flavor elements of a dish will also enliven it.

I have a mushroom and leek crêpe filling (that could also fill omelets beautifully) that uses all of these concepts, and they result in a deep and savory, mushroom-y experience.  Thyme is repeated three times and is both fresh and dried.  Mushrooms are also both fresh and dried, and even the liquid from rehydrating the mushrooms is used in the sauce.  The gruyere cheese also participates in three different places—within the filling, the sauce, and atop the two.  Hmm, what else.  Oh yes, butter is everywhere.

Layering the flavors in this filling takes a bit of extra time, but it is deeply, deliciously worth it.  In fact, if you like mushrooms, I’d call this filling an ace in your pocket.

Mushroom Leek Filling for Crêpes

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 leeks, white and very green parts sliced in thin half-rings
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • Several thyme sprigs
  • A total of 1 lb mushrooms – one part of them dried and rehydrated.  Best if some of the dried mushrooms are morels.  Portabella mushrooms make good additions for fresh, especially if you cannot get your hands on morels.  When gathering your mushrooms, note that the packaging on dried mushrooms will usually indicate what the fresh equivalent weight will be once rehydrated.
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Optional: a few tablespoons of port or sherry
  • 2 T cream
  • 4 to 5 ounces Gruyere, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups).  If you cannot get Gruyere, try two parts Jarlsberg to one part parmesan mixed together.

Ingredients for the sauce:

  • 3 T Butter
  • 3 T Flour
  • The liquid from soaking the dried mushrooms (above)
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • Some of the cheese from ingredients above

Directions to make the filling:

  1. Place dried mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl.  Pour boiling water over mushrooms to cover, plus a little more.  Mushrooms will likely float to the top, so place a saucer, lip side down, over the mushrooms to keep them pushed down into the water.  Also, cover the bowl with a large lid to retain the heat.  Steep the mushrooms for about half an hour to an hour.
  2. During this time, slice leeks lengthwise, wash any dirt from between the layers, and slice thinly into half-rounds.  Set aside.  Chop fresh mushrooms into a small dice, about a half-inch square or less.  Remove enough leaves from thyme sprigs to make about 2 teaspoons’ worth.  Set aside into a small bowl.
  3. When dried mushrooms have finished steeping, remove mushrooms from liquid and keep liquid handy.  Chop rehydrated mushrooms and add to fresh mushroom bowl.    Place steeping juice in a small saucepan and boil over medium heat until reduced to ½ cup of mushroom broth.   Set aside.
  4. In a large pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add leeks and thyme and sauté for 3 minutes, or until leeks are soft.  Bring heat up to high, and then add mushrooms (and port or sherry, if you are using it).  Stirring frequently, cook until mushrooms have given off their liquid—about 10 minutes.  Turn heat off, and add the cream, 1 tsp of fresh thyme, ¼ cup of the grated cheese, and black pepper.  Set filling inside.

Directions to make the sauce:

  1. Briskly whisk together butter and flour over medium heat for 3 minutes, continuously whisking.
  2. Add the mushroom broth and the milk, whisking as you gradually pour in the liquids in a small stream.  Continue to whisk over the medium heat until thickened slightly, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add about a cup of the cheese into the sauce, and continue to stir until the cheese is melted.

Assembling Crêpes with Mushroom Filling

A saucy filling like this one needs a crêpe fold that contains it well.  This one fits the bill.

To fill crêpes:

mushroom.crepe

  1. Place a crêpe on a flat surface, with its’ best-looking side facing down.  Once its folded, it will be the part that shows.
  2. Place 2 - 3 T of mushroom filling in the center of a crêpe (Make a test one to see if you like the crêpe-to-mushroom ratio).
  3. Pour 2 – 3 T of sauce over the filling (use best judgment—you don’t want to overwhelm your filling with sauce, but you don’t want it to be dry, either).
  4. Sprinkle a few cheese flakes and a few thyme leaves over the top. This makes a difference!

To fold crêpes:

folding.crepes

  1. Take the bottom edge of the crêpe and fold it up over the filling.  Then fold in the two sides flaps over the first one, and over each other.   Finally take all the folded parts and fold the whole crêpe and filling over on top of the last flap, so that the bulk of the crêpe is sitting on top of the final flap.  You should have a neat little square or short rectangle.
  2. Repeat this for all the crêpes, making an effort to fill and fold them in a consistent fashion so that they look good together.
  3. Arrange your crêpes on a large rectangular serving platter or on a cookie sheet lined with parchment, wax paper, or foil.  These crêpes can be served at room temperature, or you can warm them up for a few minutes in the oven at a moderate temperature. Cover the crêpes with foil if you do this, so that they don’t dry out when heating.
  4. You can garnish the top of each crêpe with a sprig of thyme, or at the very last minute before serving you can add a bit of the sauce to the top of the square and place thyme on top of that.  The sauce should hold the thyme in place.

Makes enough filling and sauce for 12 to 15 crêpes.

Crêpes Are for Everyone by Anne

crepe.opener.picCrêpes satisfy the part in my heart that is obsessed with paper.   So soft, thin, and light, you could almost send a crêpe as a wedding invitation, layered with vellum and scrolled up with a silk ribbon.  Their forgiving, slightly stretchy quality makes them easy to fill and roll up, too.  They even open back up for do-overs if you aren’t pleased with the shape you folded, unlike wrapping paper, once its creased.  Flipping crêpes also feels amazing.  Each time I lift a delicate round from the pan, I feel grateful and amazed that it neatly responds to my spatula, being stronger than it looks.   The only thing more wonderful than making them—and of course, eating them—is that they are incredibly versatile.  A crêpe can be a snack wrapped in a napkin, a flambéed finale for a dinner party, or a morning cure for too much weekend.   So it might seem odd, now that I think about it, how long it took me to start making them.  Here’s the deal. 

About 10 years ago on a Saturday morning at 7 a.m., the phone rang.  Was it an emergency?  Yes.  Sort of.  It was a crêpe emergency.  Actually, a crêpe party emergency.  The party-thrower, our usually unflappable friend Adam, had a couple of flaps in his voice.  “I need some help.   Can you come over?”   We were on our way. 

The crêpe party was to start in a few hours, and it was going to be a doozy that would later go down in friend history reminisced about for years to come.  Adam had undertaken this crêpe extravaganza singlehandedly, and he took weeks to prepare for it.  He would come home after work and start flipping crêpes, then packing, labeling, and freezing them in airtight containers, ready to be filled with innumerable sweets and savories.  But here it was, the day of the party, and many people would be coming, ready for a feast. It was down to the wire. 

We walked in without knocking, to find Adam at his usual spot, flipping crêpes.  Like I said, Adam is generally cool as a cucumber, but he looked relieved to see us.  He didn’t need help with the crêpes themselves; it was the rest of the house that needed attention. So for several hours we made his home party-ready while he continued to flip and flip, fill and fill. There must have been a dozen different types of fillings. I can’t even remember them all, but I remember once the party started, we had the pleasant problem of not knowing where to begin, because there were so many flavors spread out before us.  

It was a fabulous party, an extravagance fit for the turn of the century, which it was.  I can’t believe this was almost 10 years ago.  The memory of this morning burned so strongly in my mind that I avoided even trying to make crêpes.   What, did I think it would be difficult? Drudgery? I’m not even sure.  Apparently, though, it left a powerful subliminal impression that Making Crêpes Would Make You Lose Your Cool. If Adam was a little ruffled, where would that leave me, a more ruffle-y person?  Did I want to make myself that stressed out on purpose? 

Now I realize.  Now that I’ve bitten the bullet and tried my hand at crêpes, I see that the problem with crêpes is neither drudgery nor difficulty.  The problem is that crêpes could possibly drive you to real obsession.  They are so pleasant and satisfying to make.  Next thing you know, you're trying to come up with more reasons and ways to make them, possibly even resulting in making hundreds and hundreds of them for hordes of friends, like Adam did.  In the course of a week I brought crêpes to a barbeque, a brunch, and a baby shower.  Today I made some crêpe batter, “just because.” Just because what?  Why in the world did I do that?  Well, that’s the cool part.  As soon as they are made, they will be welcome in just about any situation, on any doorstep, and in any hand.  Might as well make ‘em.

 

Basic Crêpes

If this is your first or second time making crêpes, I recommend making a double batch so you’ll have enough to practice.  You can easily freeze the extras you make, or you can distribute them to friends and neighbors. They won’t mind. A first-time double recipe relieves the pressure to make perfect ones every time, and you can learn from any problems that arise.  I’ve made a troubleshooting guide below this recipe for your reference. 

Ingredients 

  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ t salt
  • 1 T plus 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup melted butter

 Directions: Making the Batter

  1. In a medium-large bowl, beat eggs with salt and sugar with a whisk*. 
  2. Add milk and flour alternately, starting with some of the milk (the flour seems to make less lumps this way), and blending well after each addition.  You will need to whisk somewhat briskly to get rid of flour-lumps.  When the batter is well-blended, beat in the melted butter.   
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter chill and rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, preferably several hours.  Even better would be overnight, but don’t store it for more than 24 hours. 
  4. Right before cooking crêpes, remove the bowl from the refrigerator and stir to reincorporate the ingredients into a smooth batter.  Batter should be thin--considerably thinner than pancake batter, for example.

*When making the batter you can also use an electric mixer, but use it judiciously.  If you beat at too high a speed for too long, your batter will have too many bubbles and might come out “lacy” when it cooks—which will cause a problem if you fill the crêpe later.  If, when beating, you wind up making quite a few bubbles in order to get rid of flour lumps, just make sure you give the batter more time to rest in the fridge.

Directions: Cooking Crêpes

These directions are for crêpe pans over a stove. If you have a crêpe maker, follow the instruction manual for your model.   

A note before you begin: Because the pouring/swirling process is so quick, I like to use a ¼ measuring cup with a handle for ease of pouring in the proper amount.  I don’t quite fill it, and I only pour/use the amount needed to evenly coat the bottom, but then there’s a tiny bit left in the cup if I need to finish off a small gap where the pan didn’t get covered in time while swirling.

  1. Prepare your station.  Next to the stovetop, place a plate or platter lined with a piece of wax paper —for the finished crêpes.   Position the batter bowl on the other side of the pan, and put a small plate next to the bowl for the pouring cup to rest on when not in use (this helps cut down on drips and cup-sized circles all over your counter and stove).  Crêpe making is a quick process, so it’s nice to have everything set up how you want it before you start.
  2.  Pre-heat pan over medium-high.  No butter is necessary if the pan is non-stick.  If you use butter, you won’t need to use very much.   Too much will make the crêpe greasy, and it also might interfere with the proper cooking of the crêpe (see Troubleshooting Guide below).
  3. Once pan is hot, lift up the back edge at an angle.  Pour about 3 T of batter all at once onto the back/highest end of the pan, letting the batter flow down and around one side.*  Immediately tilt pan in different directions to thinly coat the entire bottom of the pan in a smooth circle.  The batter should be so thin that the crêpe already starts cooking all the way through as you finish swirling.  Set pan back down on burner.  
  4. When the top seems nearly completely cooked—in only one or two minutes—and the bottom is golden brown (you can peek by lifting up an edge with the spatula), slide the spatula under the crêpe and move it around underneath the crêpe to make sure that it is not sticking.  Flip and cook for one or two seconds longer. 
  5. Slide crêpe out onto the plate.

*Most recipes say to pour batter in the middle of the pan in an outward spiral pattern, then start swirling.  I also found that the method described above works well for me.  It seems to give me a better idea of how little batter I can get away with.

making.crepe

Note: This is not a traditional crêpe pan.  It's possible, though not always as easy, to use a regular skillet, such as this one.

Storing Crêpes

Right after making your stack of crêpes, cover the plate with a larger bowl or a large pan lid to retain moisture until you are ready to wrap with or serve them.  They can also be stored in a large ziplock bag in the refrigerator for about 4 days.  They will last even longer in the freezer; just make sure you separate each crêpe with wax paper.

In the next post, I will share some ideas and techniques for filling and folding crêpes.

Crêpe Troubleshooting Guide 

Crêpe batter can be very forgiving if you know some basic tricks and principles about the batter.   I’ve seen some troubleshooting guides out on the Internet and in books, and I’ve also made crêpes “wrong” on purpose (I swear!) and can confirm that the following troubleshooting tips all seem to be true; the fixes worked for me.

problem.crepe

Problem

Possible Cause

Solution

Crêpe is lacy Too many bubbles in the batter Let batter rest longer
  Batter is too thin Add 1 or 2 T of flour
Edges of crêpe crack easily because they are dry and thin Batter is too thin Add 1 or 2 T of flour
  Heat is too high Bring heat down slightly and wait a moment before starting next crêpe
Crêpe does not swirl properly Not enough batter added to pan Finish this crêpe and add more batter next time
  Batter is too thick Add 1 or 2 T milk, testing to see if problem is solved
Batter sticks to pan Heat is too low Wash and dry pan thoroughly; re-season with a bit of butter and bring heat up a bit, making sure pan is fully heated before adding batter
Batter does not stick to pan when swirling, or begins to bubble or curdle Too much butter in the pan Finish this crêpe and wipe out pan with paper towel before starting next crêpe

Make Salmon Your French Sweetheart this Summer by Anne

salmonenpapilloteI love it when I “invent” an easy and delicious way to prepare something, only to learn that it has an elegant name, especially a French one.  It was a double whammy when I unwittingly created Salmon en Papillote with Mangos and Orange Suprêmes.   I was not aware of my utter elegance when I first made it.  At first it was really Salmon en Reynold’s Wrap with Some Onions and Impulse-Purchase Fruit I Needed to Use Up Before it Spoiled.  Far from being high-minded about the process, I was just fooling around and hoping for the best.  I was thrilled with and surprised by what came out of the oven. 

How can something taste both vibrant and delicate?  The marriage of the bright and sweet fruit steams and permeates the salmon to create a tender, delicate flavor in the fish.  Onions also add deeper, but not cloying, sweetness.   Simple, perfect.   I first ate my dish still standing in my kitchen on a Thursday night, astounded by the alchemical magic of heat and steam.

This dish gained further oh-la-la-factor when I learned that aluminum reacts to acidic foods, so I later tried a method sans foil. At the Century Ballroom*, they used to serve entrees sealed in adorable, individual parchment packages.  Serving food en papillote (which surprisingly means “in parchment” in French) allows for a delicate steaming that seals the flavor and juices in a gentle, butter-brushed embrace.  Your dinner arrives like a tidy present just for you.  

Not remembering the folding technique for keeping the parchment closed, and also running short on parchment, I tried folding a rectangle in half, then enclosing the fish and fruit in the fold, envelope style.  I folded the ends over several times.  They would surely come undone once the steam started to form in the envelope, though.  What would you do?  Well, you might think, parchment IS paper, after all.  Why NOT use staples?  I suppose there’s no reason not to, if you don’t mind a whole bunch of butter on your stapler.  I have a whole bunch of butter on my stapler.  That was fun, though.

For those of us without a kitchen stapler, I’ll share the ideal (and perhaps classique?) parchment shape for folding and serving food en papillote. You fold your rectangle in half, cut out a big, second-grade valentine, and place the portion inside the fold.  Then you fold around the edge of the half-heart in a series of overlapping folds.   This culinary origami keeps everything in place and also adds an undeniable air of 1st period homeroom romance.

With its simplicity and its efficient, sweet design, I thought this dish to now be invincible and bloggable.  I was wrong.   It's important to tell you that a flavor roadblock arose one time when I used Sockeye salmon, with surprisingly miserable results.  Sockeye is the type of fish chosen to use in canned salmon, because it is favored for its bright color and strong flavor.  It turns out that Sockeye’s intense and savory flavor, while fun on the grill and delicious in a salmon burger, does not pair well with this fruit.  After double checking with the friendly fish purveyors at Fresh Fish Co., I recommend using King (also called Chinook) or Coho salmon, because they are milder in flavor.  Take it from me: a mild-flavored fish works best with this treatment. If you only have Sockeye, head to the grill and make a separate fruit salad.  If you can’t get salmon at all, try it with the delicate and lovely sole.  I’m sure going to. 

After eating this dish many times I finally decided that it needed just a touch of tart to offset the near-perfect sweet and savory.  With that sweetheart-themed shape, how could you resist little dots of red?  I added dried cranberries to lightly brighten both the flavor and the color. 

And there you have it.  A Thursday night fridge-cleanout slowly unfolds into a simple yet refined and elegant way to say Je t’aime to your fish.  Bon Appétit.

*By the way, The Century Ballroom now has a great restaurant called The Tin Table, a delectable way to start your evening—whether you are dancing or not.  They don't have the dinners en papillote any longer, but they have other inspirational dishes on their menu.  It has some French words, too.

 

Salmon en Papillote with Mangos and Orange Suprêmes

  • 1 lb salmon – preferably a piece that is consistent in thickness throughout*
  • 1/3 onion, cut into rings
  • 2 oranges, cut into suprêmes, then squeezed for juice
  • 1 mango, cut into cubes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 2 – 3 T minced chives (and chive blossoms, if you have them), for garnish

*Cooking time will vary based on the thickness of your piece(s) of fish, which is why you want consistent thickness. 

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut salmon into four pieces. 
  3. Cut 4 large pieces of parchment, around 16 inches long each.
  4. Fold each piece of parchment in half and cut out half a heart, as if you were making a valentine.  It will help if your valentine is very rounded, like in this picture.salmonhearts
  5. Place salmon filets onto the hearts, at the edge of the fold in the center of the shape.   Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  6. Cover each filet with ¼ each of the onion rings, the mango cubes, and the orange suprêmes, along with some of the orange juice.  Top with dried cranberries.
  7. With a pastry brush, spread melted butter all along the edge of the heart on both sides, then fold the heart over to close.  Now you will seal this packet closed.  Starting at the top of the heart at the crease,  make a 1/2-inch-deep fold in the open edge of the parchment.  Because the shape is curved, you can hold this fold down and make another fold overlapping the first one, which holds it in place.  Do this again and again around the round part of the heart.  Once you get to the bottom tip and run out of curve, make one last good fold to hold all the previous ones in place, then twist the bottom firmly several times to secure it.salmonopenclose
  8. Brush the top of each sealed packet with more melted butter.
  9. Place packets in a shallow baking dish and bake for 12 minutes for an inch-thick fillet, which is the fatter part of many salmon you’ll find at the market—the medium-large ones, not the really big ones.  For the skinnier part of a salmon steak, cooking time will be more like 8 minutes or even less.  Watch for the puffing up of the packet, which will indicate sufficient steam has been produced in the packet to cook the salmon well.
  10. Remove packets from oven and let them rest for a few moments to finish steaming before serving.
  11. To serve, place each packet on a plate and cut a cross in the top of the packet, right in the center, then fold back each of the four flaps to create a square hole that reveals the salmon and its toppings underneath. If the salmon has shifted over, just gently tilt the plate so that the fish slides over and becomes centered.  Sprinkle with chives and chives blossoms, if you have them.  Serve immediately upon opening.

 Makes 4 servings

Salmon En Papillote With Mangos and Orange Suprêmes on Foodista

Cherry Power Meets Pork Chops by Anne

 

porkchopscherrysalsaeditOnce I asked my mom how to clean the grout between tiles. She said, “I would apply a solution of bleach to the tiles and let it sit awhile.”

I asked, “What do you mean by ‘a solution of bleach,’ exactly?”

She paused and said, “Straight bleach.”

Like Mom, I don’t always opt for the subtle approach.  Naturally, this zeal affects my big-flavor decisions in the kitchen.   Now that it’s cherry season in Washington, I’m thrilled for some intense and sweet opportunities to experiment.  The possibilities range from desserty, to savory, to sitting on the front steps eating “a solution of cherries.” 

The full flavor of fresh cherries does not stand up to the heat of cooking—that’s more of a job for a dried cherry—so I chose a tart, pico de gallo-style salsa to complement a commanding and savory grilled meat.  This salsa is like the Hallelujah Chorus for cherries.  Joyous, unadulterated cherry power.

 

Grilled Pork Chops with Cherry Salsa

If the idea of cherry salsa doesn’t appeal, or if you cannot get good cherries, the marinade itself is still delicious with grilled pork.   If you’re cherryless but still in the mood for a fruit salsa, you could even substitute the cherries with pineapple, adding a couple tablespoons of minced cilantro.  With either salsa version, you could also add some fresh mint.  Myself, I was looking for a punch of sweet and tart, and the mint takes it off that course a bit.

  •  One recipe of Gorgeously Good Pork Marinade (below)
  • 1 lb boneless pork chops (add 6 or so ounces if bones are in)
  • One recipe of Fresh Cherry Salsa (below)
  1. Place the pork chops in a large ziplock bag and pour in the marinade.  Rub the marinade into both sides of each piece of meat, then seal the bag, making sure as much of the meat as possible is in contact with marinade.  If you don’t have much time to marinate, leave the bag on the counter for 30 minutes.  If you have time, marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of hour--up to overnight.
  2. Preheat grill to medium-high.  If you are cooking with a pan on the stovetop or with a George Foreman-type grill, a higher heat may be necessary.
  3. Remove pork from the marinade and loosely shake off the extra marinade.  Cook pork about 4 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of meat. 
  4. Serve pork on plates with cherry salsa nestled on the side. 

 Serves 2-4

 

Gorgeously Good Pork Marinade

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 ½ T fresh sage, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large shallots, coarsely chopped (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp salt

 Place all ingredients in a blender or food processer and blend until smooth. 

 

Fresh Cherry Salsa

  • 1½ cup diced fresh cherries
  • 3 T lime juice
  • ½ cup sweet onion, chopped finely
  • ¼ tsp grated ginger (too much of this will overwhelm the other flavors; if you don’t have fresh ginger, in a pinch you could use the same amount of powdered ginger.  It’s not the same, but it still provides the necessary flavor to help complement the pork).
  • ¼ tsp sugar (optional—if salsa is a bit too tart for your taste.  Add right before serving if you don’t want cherries to macerate and lose their juices)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl, and refrigerate until ready to serve.  This salsa tastes best if made right before serving. 

 

 

 

 

Cooking with Sea Beans by Anne

whitesalmoneditAfter a couple of happy experiments with sea beans this week, I think we have a winner.  When I go to Ballard Farmers’ Market this Sunday, I’ll definitely stop back by the Foraged and Found Edibles booth in search of sea beans.   So if you find yourself at that booth too, staring at those funky-looking stems, listening to people murmer "Sea Beans..." quizzically aloud to themselves as they pass, and you're wondering whether to try them or not, you could consider these ideas for starters. 

First, they perked up a regular old tuna salad.  In the salad, the sea beans provided salt and a compelling crunch.  That crunch compelled me, actually, to keep adding more of them to the salad as I ate it, so you might find that ¼ cup from the recipe below is not enough for you, either.  I was surprised that while the sea beans have a distinctive taste on their own, once in the salad they did not command attention—rather they seemed to enhance the flavor of the tuna like good backup singers.  For the tuna salad magic alone I want to keep buying sea beans. 

 

Tuna Salad with Sea Beans

Tuna salad lovers often have their own favorite versions.  Here is a simple version that I used to give the sea beans a chance to have a say-so in the flavors, although they were subtler than I expected.

Ingredients

  • 1 can of tuna packed in oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 2-3 T of mayonnaise
  • 2 stalks celery, diced finely
  • 3 T minced sweet onion
  • A few turns of ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup rinsed and chopped sea beans

Directions 

  1. Pour the whole can of tuna, oil and all, into a medium mixing bowl.  Begin flaking tuna with a fork, then add mayonnaise and continue to flake tuna to get a fine texture.  
  2. Add celery, onion, pepper, and sea beans. 
  3. Enjoy with crackers or on a sandwich.

Serves 2. 

 *  *  *  *  *  * 

 

This week I also tried sea beans in a salmon dish, which was another hit, although I have to say it was a bit lacking in color.  Isn’t it a bummer when something delicious doesn’t look very pretty?  Well, I’ll take delicious any day. For color, though, this might shine next to some sliced fresh tomatoes, as soon as tomatoes start coming this summer.   By the way, if you cannot get sea beans, this dish would still taste lovely all on its own.  However, they add texture and a satisfying crunch, as well as hints of salty seaside. 

Seaside White Salmon

Marinade Ingredients (modified from The Bride & Grooom First and Forever Cookbook):

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 3 T fresh rosemary or other herbs of your choice (rosemary stands up to cooking, though)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Half of an onion

Main Ingredients

  • 1 lb white salmon
  • 2 medium red potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large fennel bulb
  • 1 cup sea beans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚.
  2. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth.  Place the fish into a shallow dish and pour marinade over it. Let it rest on the counter for 20-30 minutes. 
  3. While the fish is marinating, chop the onion and the fennel, and slice the potatoes paper-thin.  Using a mandoline is helpful here but not necessary. 
  4. Combine the onion and fennel at the bottom of a baking dish that will later easily accommodate the salmon.  Then arrange the potatoes in a layer over the onion and fennel, overlapping the slices, if necessary. 
  5. Place salmon on top of the potatoes, and spoon most of the marinade over the fish and the potatoes. 
  6. Cover tightly, and cook for 30 minutes.
  7. While salmon is cooking, rinse sea beans and chop them coarsely.
  8. After removing the dish from the oven, lift salmon from the bed of vegetables, transfer it to a cutting board, and slice it into 4 pieces.
  9. Gently mix the sea beans with the vegetables and sauce.
  10. To serve, place a few large spoonfuls of the vegetables and sauce on a plate, and place salmon atop the bed.   

 Serves 4.

 

Mac & Cheese Theory by Anne

macncheese4

 

Ahhh…nothing says “summer” like piping-hot mac & cheese.  Ice cream? Sno-cones? Overrated! 

 

Well, I’m kidding.  However, if your cheese plate from that backyard gathering left you with some tired leftover slices of cheese, you now have the beginnings of the best mac & cheese ever made. Yes, it’s 90 degrees outside, and you are a piping-hot person.  But I’m talking an easy dinner that will blow your mind with its deliciousness, not to mention a zesty, lunchtime companion to your crisp salad tomorrow.  And virtuously, you didn’t waste that beautiful cheese that people were too full to finish off earlier today.  How much better does it get? How can it be better than the Best?

 

Beecher's "World's Best" Mac & Cheese

The aptly named “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese comes from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a cheese shop located at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.  Beecher's creates their mac & cheese with their own artisan cheese made from local cows’ milk, along with a few other key ingredients.  I went down to Beecher’s a couple of years ago to sample some of this legendary stuff, having already tasted another World’s Best macaroni & cheese at Sylvia’s, a soul food restaurant in Harlem.  That was some good eatin', and very hard to beat.  Yes, I was a little jaded.  How could it be better than Sylvia’s?  

 

So I bought a tiny cup of the stuff and stood casually near the cashier’s station, planning to browse the cheeses while sampling.  Zounds!  Sylvia who?  My first bite announced itself with rich and zesty-red surprise.   I literally had to go and take a seat so that I could be alone with this new experience.  Beecher’s mac & cheese is distinctive among the others because it makes a unique statement with smoky-hot, multi-layered flavors.  It is possible that I surreptitiously licked the sides of that empty cup.  It is possible that people next to me were doing the same; I don't know about them, because I had already turned around and bought another cup, with plans to bring friends and loved ones to Beecher's immediately.

 

You can have this.  Beechers’ Cheese founder Kurt Beecher Dammeier was generous to share the recipe in his cookbook, Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh All-American Recipes From The Pacific Northwest.  I have made this recipe many times and can tell you a few things about it:  Like most mac & cheese recipes, it is very forgiving.  It is very easy.  You won’t even need the recipe, really (although it's posted here, too).  All you need to know are the key factors for making the Best:

 

Fundamentals for "World's Best" Mac & Cheese 

  • Like many mac & cheese recipes, start with a roux-based white sauce, then add good cheese. 
  • Make more sauce than you think you need, using more cheese than you can possibly believe.
  • Use several varieties of cheeses, giving the sauce a complex flavor—the greater the quality, the finer the outcome.  However swanky you get, though, do include some yellow cheddar. 
  • Use a small amount of a spice that brings heat—such as cayenne—to augment cheese flavors.  If you are hoping to recreate the Beecher’s version, though, chipotle chili powder is essential.
  • Include a hint of garlic.
  • Use any tubular or ridge-filled pasta that will hold lots of sauce (read: cheese). Beecher’s uses penne.
  • Combine sauce and pasta, making sure the high sauce-to-pasta ratio leaves it almost soupy.
  • Put it in a casserole dish.  Cover with, yes, more cheese and some spice. 
  • Bake until you have some of the crunchy parts at the edges—for more variety in flavors and textures.

Note: These are factors specifically for creating a Beecher’s style of mac & cheese.  Other excellent recipes have “secret”  ingredients or techniques as well.  Have you tried mustard?  How about a custardy, casserole type with egg?  Sylvia uses egg in hers, along with sugar and an impressive amount of pepper, for a dreamy, more traditional macaroni & cheese

 

Food Safety

If you really are using some leftover cheese from today’s event—like I just did—then you can tear up the slices and add them to the grated cheese mix that will go into the sauce.  An afternoon’s lack of refrigeration won’t make aged cheese go bad (I hear that the industry standard for safety is four hours, and that includes more volatile ingredients such as meat or mayo), but I think that returning cheese to the fridge after sitting out a bit causes it to taste “off.”  This is why using it right away in tonight’s dinner is my favorite solution.  Seeing how I’m not going to recommend you do anything unsafe, I’d officially recommend heeding the four hour rule.  However, it was more like five hours for my cheese, and the whole family is doing great after eating substantial servings.

 

About the Cheese Ratios

In the recipe below, it’s not necessary to obsess too much about measurements and weights with the cheese.  Use mostly semihard cheese, throw in a bit of semisoft cheese, and have the whole amount add up to at least 4 cups grated. You can even add small amounts of true hard, flavorful cheese such as Asiago or Parmigiano Reggiano to add depth, but don’t use too much, because it will affect the texture.  About an ounce of the hardest stuff is great.

 

Chipotle Chili Powder and Adding Heat to Mac & Cheese

Chipotle Chili Powder is part of the Beechers’ Mac & Cheese signature flavor. I recommend you give it a try at least once, even if you, like me, don't usually actively seek out chipotle flavor.  Here it merges seamlessly with the complexity of the multi-cheese sauce, further deepening the flavor.  However, this chili powder is quite spicy, so be attentive to how much heat you are adding to your sauce.  Alternatively you can add a small amount of cayenne to taste.  Cayenne will add heat, depending on the amount, and augment the cheese flavors, but will not taste as distinctive as Beecher’s does with the chipotle.  Even if you wish to have a heat-free dish, I recommend even the tiniest pinch of one of these spices.  Adding a tiny pinch of cayenne is a fantastic secret for augmenting the flavor of many dishes, not just mac & cheese. 

 

Beechers’ Style “World’s Best” Mac & Cheese

Adapted from Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh All-American Recipes From The Pacific Northwest.  

 

For Cheese Sauce

¼ cup unsalted butter

⅓ cup all-purpose flour

3 cups milk

14 oz semihard cheese, grated, ~3 ½ cups (cheddar, Gruyère, Swiss, Gouda, Provolone, Emmenthaler, Beecher’s Flagship)*

2 oz semisoft cheese, grated, ~ ½ cup (Colby, Fontina, brick, Havarti, Montery Jack, mozzarella)*

½ tsp kosher salt

⅛ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ to ½ tsp chipotle chili powder

For Pasta and Toppings

12 oz tubular pasta (high-quality, pasta would be welcome here)

Kosher salt for pasta water

2 oz cheddar, grated ~ ½ cup

2 oz Gruyere, grated ~ ½ cup

½ tsp chipotle chili powder, or more, if desired (this will be to sprinkle atop your final product.  See above for the chipotle chili powder notes.  If you are not using chipotle and do not wish to add more heat with cayenne, you can also sprinkle the top with sweet paprika, which adds a lovely color and some flavor without added heat.) 

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
  2. Set a large pot of water on high heat.
  3. Meanwhile, begin the sauce by making a roux: in a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour.  Continue to stir this roux over medium heat for two to three minutes.   The roux should be “cooked” and free of the flour flavor but still light in color.
  4. Gradually add milk, whisking briskly to maintain a smooth sauce.   
  5. Cook the sauce for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching.   When sauce thickens slightly, turn heat to very low.
  6. If you have a moment, place the salt, garlic powder, and chili powder together in a mortar and pestle and grind them together to coax additional flavor from the spice and to coat the salt with the spice’s flavor. You could also use a bowl and the back of a spoon for this.
  7. Add cheeses and spice mixture to the sauce, and stir until all the cheese has melted.
  8. Somewhere during this sauce-cooking process, your pasta water has started boiling.  Add a generous palmful of salt to the water and cook the pasta until almost—but not quite—al dente (two minutes before the package directions indicate).  You want barely undercooked pasta so that it can finish in the oven later.  Halt the cooking by draining the pasta and rinsing with cold water.  Return pasta to pot.
  9. Pour sauce over pasta and stir until completely incorporated.  The combination should be fairly saucy, almost soupy.  Dish the mixture into a buttered 9”-13” pan and sprinkle with grated cheeses and chipotle powder.
  10. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, until you have beautiful, browned edges.  Those edges will be a welcome and flavorful addition to each serving.  Let the dish sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Serve small portions with something raw and fresh; this dish is rich.

Makes 8 small yet decadent servings.