November 25, 2013

Eating Clean: Salmon with Arugula Salad

perfect pan seared salmon

I can't tell you the number of times I've taken a perfect fillet of salmon and cooked the smithereens out of it - still tasty but dryish with white blobs popping out like acne on a smooth young face.  The salmon I crave is simply prepared with a lightly browned crust and tender, buttery fish inside. The flavor and texture is sublime and it celebrates the natural splendor of the thing. But I've not been able to master it.

Lucky for me I recorded an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS that happened to be about fish. They demonstrated a salmon preparation (albeit with a sugar/soy glaze) that achieves what I was looking for. The technique is a quick sear on the stovetop followed by a short bake in a low oven. It's kind of foolproof and I realized my error had been trying to cook it with too much heat.

I made this twice over the weekend and it turned out beautifully each time (and my skin is just glowing from all the fatty acids). Simple, once you know how - clean and perfect before the holiday indulgences commence.

November 22, 2013

Cranberry Blueberry Shortcake with Coconut Whipped Cream

Cranberry Blueberry Shortcake with Coconut Whipped Cream

I'm pumpkin'd out this year. I blame it on Costco rolling out their ridiculously cheap and delicious pumpkin pies just after Labor Day. Add to that pumpkin muffins, lattes, bars and scones and I'm pretty much ready for a change by Thanksgiving. It's so American to beat a good idea to death. Kind of like what I'm doing with these biscuits (I can't help it - they're one of my favorite things and I'm just bursting with pride that I can make them).

I love cranberries and, fortunately, haven't had a single one yet so I thought of this dessert as an alternative to pumpkin pie (or as a way to use leftover biscuits and cranberry sauce). A little cranberry goes a long way so I added a healthy amount of blueberries (I also split the cranberries so they're closer in size to the blueberries). Lime stands in place for traditional orange and provides a nice lift. Lime is sort of tropical so I pulled in some whipped coconut milk to the traditional shortcake cream. Whipped coconut milk is a vegan dessert trick (thank you post punk kitchen) and couldn't be easier - just skim the thick part of the milk from a can, whip with a little sugar and you're done. I mixed half coconut and half heavy cream to keep it subtle. You want to put your can of coconut milk in the refrigerator the night before so it's nice and cold. You could also use pound or angel food cake in place of the biscuits.

November 19, 2013

Carrots & Parsnips with Walnuts

Braised Carrots & Parsnips with Walnut Sauce

No one ever volunteers to bring the vegetable on Thanksgiving and I'm not sure why. Someone nabs dessert right off, appetizer, green salad, wine, even dressing. Maybe people don't like cooked vegetables all that much? They don't impress? Kids make a face? Don't know, but I hope they'll enjoy this one because everyone like carrots, right? I added some parsnips too because even though they're kind of homely, they have nutty sweet flavor and are quite carrot-like in their texture. The walnut dressing is so delicious - it would be good on any roasted vegetable.

It's an easy stove-top preparation. Braise the carrots and parsnips, remove, quick saute the sauce ingredients, add the veg back in and you're done. This would be equally good with green beans. You can even use little bagged carrot nubbins' to save time. Just cut the parsnips, if using, the same size.

November 15, 2013

Brown Butter Lemon Pasta

Brown Butter Lemon Pasta

Brown Butter Lemon Pasta

I know a guy who has dinner almost every Sunday at his mother's house. Always has. He did it when he was just out of college, single and living in his first place and he goes now that he's married with kids of his own. He's not a case of arrested development or Norman Bates. He's a regular guy who likes his mom and honors her by giving the ultimate gift, time. I don't even think she's a spectacular cook - it's not about that. It's comfortable...constant, a way of staying grounded and in touch with who you are. She cooks, makes plenty, keeps the door open and the conversation light.

This appeals to me because, even though my kids are young, I'm a little nuts thinking about the future when they're off in the world and I won't get to see them as much as I do now. Makes me feel preemptively sad. It's a long way off, but if I could lock in Sunday night dinner...well....that's a worthy goal.

I figure a good way to lay the groundwork is to start making easy delicious food on Sundays. Food that doesn't make me crazy with the prep work so I can stay present and relaxed. Food with no agenda other than to taste great and not be too fussy.

This weeks Sunday dinner was brown butter pasta. I've been a devout olive oil girl for most of my adult life but man, let me tell you, butter (particularly when sauteed with garlic, anchovies and lemon) kicks the pants off olive oil. Worthy calories - for a most worthy Sunday dinner.

I love this long fusilli - substantial with nice bouncy mouthfeel.

November 11, 2013

Sour Cream Cookies

This recipe comes from a good friend of mine named Jeano. We met in college and she was and is just the coolest girl ever. Whip smart, funny as hell, well read, a skilled baker, totally devoted to her big extended Nebraskan family, and has great great personal style. The last time we got together she had on her dad's old (but well-preserved) army dress shirt complete with insignia and honors, sparkly jewelry, a pair of slinky rock and roll black pants and fabulous shoes (always fabulous shoes). I could never pull it off but she wore it lightly and confidently. Makes me smile, a ballsy outfit like that.  She's one-in-a-million.

She sent me this recipe for sour cream cookies with a note that said she sometimes makes a Nutella sandwich out of them. Strange mash-up, but knowing her I figured it was probably very tasty. The cookies by themselves are delicious, soft and crispy with a whisper of lemon flavor. I was feeling daring so I brushed half with chocolate and pressed them in coconut flakes. Impossible to eat just one.

November 6, 2013

Beet and Goat Cheese Biscuit Sandwich

Beet and Goat Cheese Biscuit Sandwich

Beet and Goat Cheese Biscuit Sandwich

Not too long after my first daughter was born, I visited my dad and his wife down in Texas where they had landed for a job. We went to lunch at the home of a friend of theirs, a woman with a few young children of her own. As we were swapping Emergency Room stories (if you have children, you've got 'em) she told one about when her son was a toddler and had tumbled into the fireplace surround and split his forehead open. She recalled in her sweet drawl "I had turned around just for a second to take a pan of biscuits out of the oven and....." I didn't hear another word. The casualness with which she said it. As though it was something she did ALL THE TIME, everyday, making biscuits. Like emptying the dishwasher or grabbing the mail.  My head swam. I murmured some sympathetic noises about her son's cracked open head wanting to get back to those biscuits. How do you make them? Is it hard? How long does it take? Do you have any here now?

It was not to be. She served soup and salad and we never got to talk about all I usually want to talk about (besides books and movies), food. Specifically this glorious beacon of the south, the biscuit. If you are a devoted reader of this blog (mom) you'll recall I finally nailed a good biscuit recipe last spring. Why not make a savory sandwich out of it? Beets that are fried for a little texture, beet greens or arugula for crunch, red onions (pickled or not) for tang, goat cheese for creamy and balsamic for acid. If you have a bit of crispy bacon or pancetta on hand and want to add that too, I won't mind.

November 2, 2013

Apple Gratin

Apple Gratin, Baked Apple

Apple Gratin, Baked Apple

This apple gratin is so-called because it has lots of thin layers of perfect fall apple, not because it has cheesy richness associated with the best known gratin, potato. I know some people like cheese and apples together but I am not one of them. It's my only food-fussy. I don't mix sweet and savory - very contrary to current trends that put raisins in tapenade and honey on pork (seriously, does that really sound good to anyone?). There are a few bits I enjoy - some Vietnamese dishes come to mind, but for the most part when I see fruit in the salad or brown sugar on the salmon, I pass. Every once in awhile I'll have a taste, just to make sure my taste buds haven't changed their mind (as I would instruct my preschool kids to do) but nope, they haven't. 

This simple pleasure is naturally sweet and casually elegant. Healthy too (the ice cream is optional). You'll need two ramekins which, if you don't have, are great little dishes to have around for dips, snacks and mise-en-place. Dips and snacks and mise-en-place, Oh My!

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