Fruit

Pink Ladies and Other Candidates by Anne

reclining pink ladies

I've been experimenting this week to maximize the deliciousness in a menu I'm cooking for somone's 40th birthday party on Friday.  I love this menu so much!  It's meant to be munchies, but for people who like interesting flavors.  Fun, fun, fun!

Apple slices with salted caramel dip will be one of the sweets.  I chose this item because I've been fixated on caramelizing sugar lately, ever since that flan.  More on flan some other time--that's a whole separate post.  Meanwhile, about these apples & caramel.

You might have heard that caramel pairs nicely with sour apples, to offset the sweetness of the caramel.  Well, does this really apply to salted caramel, the kind that is made from scratch with grey sea salt?  The kind that is full of depth, mystery, and even the remotest hint of bitterness?  After trying it with the lovely Pink Lady, I'm feeling doubt about the combo.  I tried this with a Jazz apple, which is one of my favorite apples, but it didn't quite do it for me.  I actually paired the Jazz apples with flan, and it tasted lovely, but I think it's because the caramel in the flan is mellowed by the custard. 

Right about now I'm wishing I worked for America's Test Kitchen.  I am a collaborator by nature and thinking into a vacuum like this feels a bit...slow.  I'll bet the people who work for Cook's Illustrated drive to work thinking, "Well, I sure love my job."  They get to do all of this experimenting and they have a bunch of co-workers to talk with about it! How cool would that be? 

My mom just arrived five minutes ago--she's visiting fora couple of days--and she asked if I have tried Fuji with this yet.  Well, no.  So I'll give that a whirl next.  What do you think?  What would you pair with a dark and rich salted caramel?

Tired Turkey Sandwich? by Anne

cranberry relish spoonRaw cranberry relish.  I didn't even know this was possible.  For me, raw cranberries have had the taboo quality of all those other shiny,  forbidden berries I was tempted to eat off the shrubbery when I was 5 years old.  Really?  You're allowed to eat these raw? When Rosalie's teacher was telling me about it the other day, though, she explained that her favorite cranberry sauce is raw cranberry relish, especially on her turkey sandwiches.  Well, this thought stuck with me, and by the time I was ready to give it a whirl today I had already forgotten the ingredients that she had mentioned.  

Fortunately, there are many intriguing-looking raw recipes out there.  I borrowed a simple one from simplyrecipes.com.  I almost didn't get a chance to taste it on a sandwich, because I kept eating it straight from a bowl with a spoon.  It's delicious. 

I'm anxious to try other versions, too, though.  From what I've seen, there are many exciting directions you can go with this raw relish.  I have seen recipes that include ingredients like horseradish, sour cream, dates, lemon, sweet onion...so many possibilities!  By the way, those ingredients were not all in the same recipe.  Don't worry.  Anyway, try this raw relish if you'd like a little zest in your leftover sandwiches this week.

Now I have the opposite problem than the usual one at this time: I need more turkey to work with!

Raw Cranberry Relish

Adapted from Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, washed and picked through
  • 2 tart apples, such as Grannysmith, chopped into large chunks
  • 1 seedless orange, chopped into large chunks--with the skin still on
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, or to taste.

Directions:

  1. Place the cranberries, apples, and orange chunks into a food processor.  Pulse for as few times as possible--you want to avoid a mush--perhaps around 8 - 10 very brief times.  
  2. Pour the processed food into a bowl and pour over the sugar, stirring until incorporated. 
  3. Let the mixture stand for at least a half an hour to let the fruit macerate in the sugar.

Makes about 3 cups

cranberry relish I ingredients

Apple Inspiration by Anne

honeycrisp apples The other day I offered an apple slice to my friend, Heather.  She doesn't care for apples, but I had forgotten this fact.  She politely took it from me, then exclaimed in a surprised voice, "This is delicious!  What kind of apple is this?!"  It was a Honeycrisp. 

This apple is indeed crisp--in an incredibly light and sweet way.  It's an ethereal, angelic apple.  Heather was converted.  That week, she started doing research on Honeycrisp apple trees, to see if she could grow one in her yard.  Her husband kidded her about it, but she said, "Look.  There's a fruit I have hated my entire life.  The other day I ate one that completely converted me.  That is pretty significant."  Wow, when she put it that way, I was pretty moved.  I love foods that change your mind like that.

One thing I don't adore is pie.  I wonder if I can have a conversion experience, too.  The other day I was in a cookie bakeware shop called "Cookies" in Ballard, and the owner and I were chatting about various baking challenges.  She mentioned that Kathy Casey makes apple pie by placing a thin layer of marzipan on top of the crust before filling it with apples.  The marzipan acts as a barrier between the liquidy filling and the crust, which gives the crust a chance to have its own independent, crust-y texture.  This is very intriguing to me, even though I also am not a huge marzipan person, either.  It keeps coming back to me, though.  I'm feeling a pie experiment coming on.  Have you ever done this (with marzipan)?  

I could even use Honeycrisps, which supposedly keep their shape well in baking.  However, for this upcoming pie experience, I want to use the trick I read in Cook's Illustrated:  Use a variety of apples in the same pie to create a complex apple flavor.  Wowza.  Bring on the conversion.

Procrastination, Port, and Pears by Anne

port braised pears

Ways to Procrastinate in the Kitchen:

  • Clean it
  • Sort beans for photo shoot
  • Forget what you were just doing
  • Start several projects simultaneously -- this can slow you down considerably if you try hard enough
  • Tend to your crying toddler
  • Talk on the phone while trying to read a recipe
  • Try to find something in the back of the fridge
  • Ignore the fact that you're about to feed 65 people in two days and instead read your new chocolate tempering machine manual (!!!). Again.

Ways to Augment Existing Joy in Kitchen While Actually Cooking

  • Listen to music that makes you happy
  • Think about how beautiful the food is while you cook it
  • Get your toddler involved in a "cooking" project (squeeze bottle filled with water, plus pastry brush, plus measuring cups, then ignore mess) while you also cook
  • Make something that smells amazing, like port-braised pears

This pear recipe is lovely.  It's so simple that you can memorize it, and yet it's the epitome of elegance.  Five ingredients.  You can make it ahead of time.  It's also versatile--goes well with ice cream, cheesecake, pound cake, cookies, chocolate--and it's not too heavy.  It's hard to mess it up.  If I had a star rating for recipes, this one would be a whole mess of stars. 

Port-Braised Pears

Modified from The Art & Soul of Baking.  I used less sugar than the recipe called for.  You could add even less and still have a sweet dessert.  This recipe will keep well for several days in the refrigerator.  The longer it sits, the more it takes on the color of the port.  Beautiful!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup ruby port
  • 3 T sugar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 3-inch long strip of lemon zest
  • 4 Bosc pears, crisp-ripe

Directions:

In a large saute pan, stir together the port, sugar, honey, and lemon zest over medium-low heat.   Check it every few minutes, giving it a good stir to ensure the sugar dissolves.

As the port mixture is warming up, peel, core and slice the pears.  It is very fun--and attractive!--to use a melon baller on pear halves to remove the seeds.  Slice each pear into eight slices.

With the pan still on medium-low heat, pour the pears in and gently spoon sauce over the pears.  Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.  Depending on the ripeness of your fruit, this time could vary from 10 to 20 minutes.  When the pears are tender and easily pierced with a fork, remove them to a bowl with a slotted spoon.  Remove lemon zest and discard.

Increase the temperature to high and reduce the sauce until it is very syrupy.  Pour sauce over the pears and let them cool to room temperature to serve, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. 

Makes about 8 servings, more or less, depending on your dessert choice.

port bubbles

 

Italian Plums by Anne

plums petals poke berries III

Across the street from us, Betty has an embarrassment of riches in her backyard.  I didn’t know about this delicious problem until she called me last week, asking if I would do her a favor and pick myself a bagful of plums from her trees.   Naturally, I agreed.  It was the least I could do for a kind neighbor, right? Seriously, though, she had oodles of fruit—far more than she could even think about, let alone pick and eat.

After coming home with our bag of plums, Rosalie and I sat down in the backyard to have a taste.  Instantly I wished I’d picked three bags.  If only I could reach my hand through the screen right now and give you one of these plums, because they are the best I have ever tasted.  How is this?  They look like many other Italian plums I’ve eaten before, and yet these in particular seem especially perfect.  Was it knowing that this fruit came from a tree planted almost 50 years ago by Betty’s husband Andy, a vigorous, green-thumbed man who was deeply in love with her? Did the knowledge that he passed away three years ago add a unique poignancy and complexity to the flavor?

I’m not completely sure.  All I really know is the experience of that first—and second—and eighth—taste.  The teeth’s first contact with the violet skin brings a breeze of spring blossoms to your mouth.  Quickly behind it bursts a bright, sweet, almost vanilla-creamy intensity.  Then the wild tartness takes over, commanding your attention for a moment.  Finally it subsides slightly, relinquishing room for that first floral sweet again.  The only way to make sense of this impossibly perfect experience is to try another, then another, keeping the floral-sweet-tart-floral sequence spiraling forth. It’s good that these fruits are small; this way you can enjoy the chain of flavors several times before running out of room, or even worse, running out of plums.

No recipe today.  My hope is that someone will offer you—and me—Italian plums sometime this week, ideally from a tree planted with love.

Patience, Grasshopper by Anne

IMG_3393

I eat all my French fries on the way home from the burger place.  According to many people’s upbringings, this is not the best idea, especially for kids.  There are so many reasons to wait: maintaining good habits of eating at the table, keeping  the car clean, and developing maturity through delayed gratification.  I ponder this as I reach my hand into the hot, salty bag at the stoplight.  Because there are many reasons to eat fries now, as well.  Well, one reason.  They are hot and perfect now.  This precious moment is fleeting, not to be wasted on my maturity.

You know that fable about the ants and the grasshopper?  The busy ants work hard, preparing through the summer for the colder months to come, and the grasshopper plays all day, enjoying life.  The grasshopper does not heed the ants’ stern warnings, and he winds up croaking dead once the first snow hits.  No way are the ants giving that slacker any of their hard-earned food.  The Disney version actually depicts the ants as much friendlier folks, and they invite the grasshopper inside for food and shelter during the winter, as long as he’ll be their fiddler. 

With fries, the decision to be a grasshopper is simple.  My semi-impulsive personality jibes with the hot French fry.  But actually, I do work hard.  I do try to make efforts to be antly whenever possible.  After all, there are bigger concerns in the world where thinking ahead trumps carpe diem.  I’m thinking savings accounts.  I’m thinking insurance policies.  I’m thinking tomatoes.

At the moment there are five varieties of tomatoes growing in my backyard.  I forget about them for one day, and kablam!  More tomatoes have exploded with color than I would have predicted.   Languid, heavy and vibrant, they invite you to pick them and eat them immediately, still warm from the sun.   Sometimes we control ourselves enough (or engorge ourselves enough) to actually get a few into that colander which I optimistically bring outside for picking.  Then we can have fresh tomato salad, gazpacho, a myriad of sauces, or just some slices with dinner.   If it involves tomatoes, I’m happy. 

 “Sun” drying tomatoes is an example of being antly, yet lazy.  How cool is it to place supple, round tomatoes into a barely warm oven, and after hours of doing absolutely nothing, remove impossibly delicious dried tomatoes from that oven?  Suddenly you are able to bring sunshine with you, deep into December, without much effort at all.

Sun dried tomatoes’ versatility, as you probably know, is vast.  I add them to sauces, appetizers, sandwiches, and salads.  They’re great in a frittata, bread, and hash browns.  Heck, you could eat them three times a day, with all the meals.  I probably would, but unfortunately I have an unsurprising problem:  I have a hard time keeping enough of these sun-dried morsels to store at all.  Most go straight from the pan into my mouth. 

And here come those cold days.  Too bad I can’t play the fiddle.

"Sun" Dried Tomatoes

Generally when I make dried tomatoes I use nothing but tomatoes, because I want flexibility in how I use them later.  However, if you have recipe in mind for using these dried tomatoes, herbs and flavorings can come in handy.

These are directions for drying tomatoes in the oven, but today I am actually borrowing a neighbor’s dehydrator. It’s pretty great, and I may even get one, eventually.  But the oven is essentially as straightforward to use.

Ingredients:

  • Several pounds of ripe, firm, organic tomatoes.  People say that Roma tomatoes are the best for this, but I use all kinds, from Black Prince heirlooms to regular slicing tomatoes to Sungold cherry tomatoes.  Just choose the best tomatoes you can find.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt(optional)
  • Dried herbs, such as basil, thyme, or marjoram (optional)
  • Olive oil (optional)

Directions:

  1. Set your oven at 150˚ or the lowest setting possible. 
  2. Wash the tomatoes and prepare them for drying: If the tomatoes are small, like Roma, then split them in half lengthwise, notching out the core.  If using larger tomatoes, make several slices to approximate the thickness of half a Roma and remove the core from the slice that holds it.  If using cherry tomatoes (note that tomatoes shrink to about ¼ their original size, so the cherry varieties won’t yield much dried tomato), dip the cherry tomatoes in boiling water for a moment until their skins split, then quickly remove them. Don’t worry about their cores.
  3. Spread out the tomato halves, cut side up, (or slices) on metal cake racks or sheet pans.  Cake racks are better, because they allow better circulation and require less turning. 
  4. If desired, sprinkle salt, herbs, and/or oil over the tomatoes.  Remember that their flavor will condense considerably when they dry.
  5. The amount of time it takes to dry the tomatoes depends on the thickness of your cut and the heat of your oven.  Plan on warming them for 10 or even up to 20 hours.  The heat is very low (hey, not that much higher than a very hot day in Oklahoma!), so this is why this takes so long.
  6. After about 8 to 10 hours, remove the racks and turn the tomatoes over.  Rotate the racks to different levels to achieve balanced heat.
  7. Check the tomatoes again after 4 to 6 hours.  Leave them in if they need more time.
  8. You know that  the tomatoes are ready when they have the rubbery, leathery feel of fresh raisins.  They should not be crispy, nor should they be very sticky or resemble their original smoothness or size.  They will probably be about ¼ the size of the original slices.   You’d probably better go ahead and taste one or two (or five) to make sure.
  9. When they are finished, remove the racks from the oven and cool completely on the counter.  Store in an airtight container.  They will last for months.

Makes the same number of slices that you started with, minus the bites you took to “test” the texture.

Really? by Anne

watermelon.spring.rollsWhen I was a kid, everyone loved watermelon.  On summer’s best days, we rinsed our pink, sticky arms with a hose at home, in a creek at a picnic, or in the ocean when camping.  We held seed spitting contests.  We had long discussions about whether that whole “growing a watermelon in your stomach” thing was true if you swallowed the seeds.  On picnics a whole cooler loaded with ice was devoted to a gigantic specimen that seemed to come out at the hottest part of the day.  The enormous thing somehow always got eaten, no matter how huge.  For many years I assumed that there was no such thing as a person who didn’t like watermelon.  Something shifted, though.  Years passed, I moved, college happened.   The first time I met someone who didn’t care for watermelon, I was stunned and sympathetic.  This poor, odd person.  Surely he must have been the only person on the planet with this affliction.  In what seemed like a matter of weeks, I started to discover that so many people near and dear to me either don’t care for watermelon or even have an active aversion to it.  Wait—what happened here?  Was watermelon just a treat that all Texans like because of the hot weather?  Was it because when I was a kid, “everyone” meant other kids?  Or was it because everyone actually did love it in the 70’s but it fell by the wayside, the way quiche did in the 80’s, and pesto did in the 90’s? 

Well, if the latter is true (and it probably isn’t), watermelon did seem to make a comeback some years ago—in the form of the Unlikely Ingredient.  I was confused but intrigued the first time I heard of watermelon and feta together, or watermelon and a balsamic vinegar reduction.   My imagination was piqued by this introduction of watermelon into elegant, savory selections.  It made me want to experiment, too.  For this reason, watermelon has been on my mental backburner for awhile now.

Meanwhile, this summer I had been looking for fun things to make with cucumbers from my garden.  Thai spring rolls, wrapped in rice paper and filled with freshness, seemed a nice place to highlight a cucumber-clean flavor.  Thinking about summer rolls triggered my memory of a picture I saw of Chef Ferran Adria’s wacky concoction: spring rolls wrapped in spun sugar (as in, white cotton candy).  These rolls were fluffy, ethereal, angelic.   I remember uttering, “Really?” in a thrilled voice when I saw the picture.  It did seem improbable and kind of magic.  However, it dawned on me that many Thai dishes do have sweet flavors, so I could see how this would work in a pretty reasonable way.   I will not lie.  I’ve fantasized about renting a cotton candy machine to make these spring rolls at home.  There could be so many uses for a cotton candy machine! 

Anyway, I was in this thinking-outside-box frame of mind when the whole watermelon-cucumber connection came back to me.  I have always pondered the striking similarities between the two, and yet one is considered a fruit and the other, a vegetable (though they are both technically fruits).  Couldn’t they be interchangeable in some recipes where both sweetness and cucumber-like freshness are key?  You probably see where I was going before I did. 

So, I’ve been daydreaming about watermelon spring rolls for a couple of weeks now, and yesterday this dream became a reality.  Glory be, we have watermelon spring rolls—and they are fresh and perfectly delicious! Really!  Unless, of course, you don’t like watermelon.

 

Spicy Watermelon Summer Rolls

For Sauce:

  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • ½ tsp dried hot chili flakes, or to taste
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 2 T watermelon juice(pulp squeezed between two spoons into small bowl makes this juice)
  • 2 tsp tamari sauce (other varieties of soy sauce would also work)

For Rolls:

  • 2 oz rice vermicelli (cellophane noodles also works)
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 4 large green lettuce leaves, split in half, rib removed
  • About half a pound of watermelon, cut into long, slender strips, about 1/2” by 1/2” by 5”.  You need 16 strips total.
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and quartered lengthwise into 8 separate parts
  • ½ cup coarsely shredded carrot
  • ½ cup cilantro
  • ½ cup mint
  • ½ cup basil
  • 8  spring roll skins/wrappers

Directions:

  1. First, make the sauce:  Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and peppers.  Let them cook at a lively sizzle for 2 or 3 minutes.  Do not cook garlic enough to turn golden or brown.  Add coconut milk, watermelon juice, and tamari sauce.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until sauce reduces and thickens, about 5 minutes.  Set sauce aside to cool.
  2. Cook rice vermicelli according to the package directions.  Drain thoroughly and toss with the rice vinegar and set aside.
  3. Set up your work station.  You will need a flat surface with a clean towel, a wide shallow pan filled with warm water for dipping the wrappers, and all of your filling ingredients nearby, including the sauce.
  4. Immerse a spring roll wrapper in the shallow pan of water for 30-60 seconds, just until it is pliable and soft.  Remove wrapper and place it on the toweled surface (I have tried paper towels, and the towels stick to the wrapper when rolling.  Not recommended). 
  5. Arrange a half-lettuce leaf on the bottom half of the wrapper, tearing away parts of the leaf to leave a one-inch border between the leaf and the edge of the wrapper.  Maintain this empty border when adding the other ingredients, too.  This will help to keep the filling contained.
  6. On the lettuce, near the midline of the wrapper, arrange about a tablespoon of carrot in a line from long end of the lettuce to the other, so that each bite will contain some carrot.  Add a few noodles in the same manner.  Dab about 2 teaspoons of the sauce along the noodles and carrots, and then place a watermelon strip atop this.  Add a couple more noodles and a scallion strip.  Add one more piece of watermelon, then sprinkle one tablespoon each of all the herbs on top of it all. 
  7. Gently separating the wrapper from the towel as you go, fold the bottom edge of the wrapper over the filling, tucking the end under the inside edge of the filling to hold it in place.  Snugly fold in both ends, and roll up the rest of the way.  Place this roll on a large serving plate.  Repeat this process until you have used all of your wrappers, and hopefully, all of your filling ingredients.  As you place the rolls on your serving plate, you might not want to stack them, because the wrappers sometimes stick together.   Serve rolls cut at a diagonal with a sharp knife.

Makes 8 rolls.

Lazy by Anne

blueberry.plum.I  There are sweet, cat-stretching-in-sunshine lazy weekends, and there are grumpy, immobilized-by-too-much-to-do lazy weekends. Unfortunately, mine was the latter this time. My laziness today was deep and eternal. That’s right, I changed the course of my life this weekend and have now become a surly knob of a human that still answers to my old name.

Ever tried to cook grumpy? It’s not pretty, or tasty. Ever tried to cook in the hot summertime with nothing in your pantry but cans of pumpkin puree, stewed tomatoes, and coconut milk? You must be recovering from a kitchen remodel, too.

I was so clever, weeks ago. Strategically I used up all of the extra items in our pantry so that we’d have less to heft around back and forth during the remodel. Now my useful lazy day fallback—standing in front of the cupboard looking for a sign—has been reduced to trying to figure out how to utilize this one can of coconut milk with the stuff growing in my garden outside.

I tried to imagine my most prolific crop right now—the cucumbers—with the coconut milk, and the allure of Thai food wafted into my imagination. However, no basil, no cilantro, no peanut sauce, no fun.  Thinking and complaining about my limited options used so much more brain power than my legs would have used driving to the store to get some actual food.

So, last night my cucumber inspiration led to ordering takeout Thai food. Tonight, it led to a frozen pizza.

After consuming that pizza I started thinking about this simple sauce from the book Vegetarian Nights--essentially coconut milk and honey--that I used to eat with fruit salad. Luckily, today I had been forced out into the world because of an appointment, so I did go to the farmer’s market and had bought blueberries and plums. Neither of these go with those cucumbers lurking in my front yard, but they could certainly agree to sharing the same bowl with a little coconut sauce. Last time I ate the sauce, though, it tasted boring to me. So tonight I spiced it up—literally—with cinnamon and allspice. I read recently that cinnamon really brings out the blueberry-ness in blueberries. Allspice kept the thing zapped up a bit. Also, I brightened the flavor with lemon juice to meet the acidity of the fruit.  Lime could have been great, too.  In the end, I thought the sauce was good enough to drink, though I’m proud to report that I didn’t.

Its sweet simplicity is nice; it has possibilities, too.  This coconut sauce would be spectacular with blueberries and plums along with a nice pound cake. The ingredients are surely around here somewhere. I’ll get to it later.

Coconut Sauce for Fruit Salad or Pound Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cups coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • 1 or 2 tsp lemon juice (add to taste, or not at all)

Directions:

  1. In a small pot in slightly warmer than medium heat, pour in the coconut milk and honey. Stir together and bring to a low boil.
  2. Begin to stir constantly, and whisk in the salt and spices. Cook and stir sauce for 10 minutes at the low boil until it is reduced and a slightly golden color.
  3.  Remove from heat, cool slightly, and whisk in the lemon juice. Chill thoroughly.
  4. To serve: pour a small amount onto a plate or shallow bowl, and arrange fruit over the sauce. Garnish with mint or lemon balm.

The Glamorous Slice by Anne

orange.peel.cherry.IICandied orange peels are suitable for the sophisticated soul.  Having been rolled in sugar, they are obviously sweet, but they possess a mild kick as well, likely from the lingering oils that have mostly been blanched and soaked out.  These confections aren’t bitter, though.  Just pleasantly bracing, like a 1940's slap after a presumptuous kiss. These confections are as versatile as they are glamorous.  You can serve one alongside a cup of espresso, or in a cocktail, or even with fresh, juicy fruit.  They make a sparkling surprise perched on dainty baked goods, dipped in melted chocolate, or waiting in the freezer for a little after-dinner palate cleanser.  The possibilities thrill me as I sit here at my desk and eat them, one by one, biting through a thin sugar crust into sweet, almost nostalgic soft centers .

I’m not actually feeling very sophisticated tonight, though.  It’s hard to feel that way when you’re sitting in your sweats surrounded by mountains of boxes that you’ve been packing for a week. Our whole kitchen lies here in boxes, actually.  This is the eve of remodeling the kitchen, so I’m sharing my desk with a tower of plates, a  big box of kosher salt, and my overflowing basket of mail from the living room (we had to make space in the living room for a temporary “kitchen.”) I’m thrilled, though. We will be removing some claustrophobic walls and creating a more user-friendly layout.  Who knows what kind of trouble we can get into with a sink that faces out into the world (and that faucet has a sprayer, just screaming for a water fight.  Don’t tell Rosalie; she’ll figure it out eventually). 

At any rate, this last week I have had a last hurrah in the old kitchen.  There are several recipes I can’t wait to share with you—candied orange peel is one of them.  Sophistication was especially welcome around here when the preparation was easy and quick. Please note, however, that the drying time takes a couple of days.

Candied Orange Peel

  • 2 oranges
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 ½  cups sugar

Directions

  1. With a knife, cut the two ends off the oranges.  Score the skins into fourths and peel the skins off, pith and all. 
  2. Remove extra stringy parts from the pith, but do not remove the pith itself from the peel.
  3. Slice the peels into thin slices – ¼ inch or less.  You can slice them long and lean or short and curvy, depending on your needs and the direction you cut.
  4. Blanch orange peel strips in a medium to large pot of boiling water for about 15-20 minutes, then drain.  Rinse thoroughly, then drain again.  Fill the pot with cold water, and either repeat the blanching process or let the orange peel sit for a few hours in the water while you do other things in the kitchen, changing the water once or twice.   Your goal is to remove the bitterness from the peel. Taste one to test for a pleasing reduction in bitterness.
  5. When orange strips are properly blanched and soaked, bring three cups each of sugar and water to boil for a few minutes, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add the orange strips, return sugar-water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer the peels for 45 minutes, or until nice and soft.  Drain to remove excess liquid.
  6. Pour remaining half-cup of sugar into a shallow bowl or a plate.  Roll orange peels in the sugar, and arrange in a single layer on a foil- or parchment-lined baking sheet.
  7. Allow peels to dry for one to two days.  Best to store peels in a well-ventilated place for quick drying.  Best also to store in a place where they won’t be in danger of enthusiastic tasting and testing—to the point of disappearing.  

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. 

 

 

 

 

Easy Mango Cubes by Anne

mangocubespleaseI was going to share with you the mango-cubing method I’ve been using for years.   I learned my trick watching a cooking show when I was a kid.  However, I noticed that Jaden at Steamy Kitchen has a method that I like more (along with a cool kiwi peeling technique--check it out!).  You have more control over the shapes and sizes you can create.  It’s also a bit tidier.  However, my old method is great for feeding mango to toddlers, because it’s fun to pluck the cubes from the skin.  I’ll share both methods with you.

Step 1, removing the seed, is the same for both methods: 

The seed inside a mango is large and flat, so the best way to get the most flesh from it is to slice along the flat side of the seed.  You can tell by looking from the top or bottom of the mango, because the shape is oval, revealing the orientation of the seed.  Hold the mango vertically on the cutting board, with the stem side at the top. Using the top as your guide, line your knife up parallel to the seed/oval,  and slide your knife  ½ of an inch away from the stem top, which will help you avoid the large seed.  Slice down.*  If you feel resistance from the seed, just cut at a gentle curve away from it until you are cutting into smooth flesh again.  You should have a nice, large piece of mango “half” from this process.  Repeat on the other side.   

In the end you have two large pieces of mango for slicing, cubing, or dicing, and a central seed with some extra fruit still attached.  With your knife you can carefully remove some of that extra fruit from the seed, or you can be the kind of person who licks the spoon and take care of the extras in a more immediate manner.

*If you accidentally slice in a way that is not along the flat side of the seed and need to start with a new slice, I recommend method A for your next steps. 

Mango Cubing Method A - á la Steamy Kitchen

picnik-collagemangonew2

  1. Slice mango from seed as described above.
  2. Place the tip of a large serving-type spoon at the top of the mango half, finding the edge between the mango and the skin.  Scoop in, cutting the fruit away from the skin. What you have left is a smooth, neat hemisphere of mango. 
  3. For most control, place your fruit flat-side down.
  4. Chop or slice in whatever shape you desire.

 

Method B - Fun for Kids

picnik-collagemango2

  1. Slice mango from seed as described above.
  2. Holding the mango half in your palm, gently slice parallel lines into the mango, taking care not to pierce the skin as you do so.
  3. Rotate the mango a quarter-turn in your palm and repeat step 2, forming a grid pattern.
  4. Invert the mango half so that the skin is concave and the cubes pop out. Depending on the ripeness of your fruit, the cubes might fall easily right off the skin, or you can gently slice them off with your knife. Small hands might also like to pluck them off.     

 

 

Orange Suprêmes by Anne

orangesupremetrioedit2

This wonderful name refers to the juiciest, sweetest part of the orange—the actual orange pulp.  When you remove the skin, membrane, and pith from the orange segments, you have beautiful , sweet , pretty segments that lack the bitterness that comes from the pith.  Orange suprêmes make lovely additions to fruit salads, drinks, dessert decorations, and my next recipe on this blog—Salmon en Papillote with Oranges and Mangos.  You can make suprêmes with any other segmented fruit, such as grapefruit or lemon.

To Make Orange Suprêmes:

picnik-collage1

  1. Cut the top and bottom ends off of the orange, deep enough to reveal the juicy orange pulp. 
  2. Using the orange’s flat bottom to steady it on the cutting board, cut away a strip of the orange’s skin along the curve of the fruit, deep enough so that the orange shows clearly underneath.  You want to save as much of the orange as possible while also cutting deep enough to remove the white pith from the sides.  Repeat this in strips until your fruit is free of all outside white pith.
  3. Hold the orange gently in your palm.  Find the edge of a segment, where the pulp meets the membrane, and slice along this so that the pulp is separated from the membrane. Do this on both sides of the segment so you are cutting a long v-shape to completely free the segment from its membrane sheath.  Do this carefully to avoid cutting yourself.  Continue this process until all you have left is a “skeleton” of the membranes and a bowl full of small, juicy orange crescents.  There should be no white parts or membrane on these crescents.
  4.  If your recipe also calls for orange juice, squeeze the skeleton to remove the remaining juice from the fruit.

P.S. I did not know that this method had a name (and a French one, at that!) for years.  The lovely and gracious Melissa told me the other day at Foodista's International Food Bloggers Conference. 

Supreming on Foodista