salmon clubs with avocado butter

I subscribed to Real Simple for years, but only one issue had any recipes I was interested in. It was an article on sandwiches, and I’ve made and enjoyed almost every recipe from that particular article. Some have become seasonal staples for me, but this is only the second time I’ve made this recipe, because the first time was a flop.

It was about 5 years ago, and I didn’t have the cooking experience then that I have now. The recipe calls for kosher salt, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t know that kosher salt is coarser grained than regular table salt, and a direct substitute can’t be made. I remember the sandwiches being almost inedibly salty, which makes sense because the 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt that the original recipe calls for is equivalent to only about ¾ teaspoon of table salt. I used 1¼ teaspoons table salt.

With that straightened out, these sandwiches were delicious. I had no idea that I liked pumpernickel bread so much. I reduced the butter in the avocado butter to one tablespoon, which seemed to work fine. I skipped the oregano because I didn’t have it, and I don’t really think it would match the other flavors in this anyway. With those changes, this makes for an easy, tasty, and pretty healthy meal.

Salmon Club with Avocado Butter (adapted from Real Simple magazine, August 2004)

Update 3/20/09: The salmon really needs to be sliced into 1/4 or 1/2-inch pieces.  Also, I’ve decided that double-decker sandwiches, while visually impressive, are impractical (and messy!).  I’ll have to stick to single-deckers from now on.

Makes 2 sandwiches

1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
Juice from half a lemon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
salt
1 8-ounce salmon fillet, sliced into ¾-inch pieces
6 slices pumpernickel bread, toasted
1½ cups arugula leaves, loosely packed

Place the avocado, lemon juice, butter, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt (⅓ teaspoon table salt) in a food processor. Pulse until nearly smooth, about 30 seconds. Set aside. (Or just mash with a fork, if getting out your food processor is a pain in the butt, like it is for me.)

Place a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Coat with vegetable cooking spray. Sprinkle the salmon liberally with salt. Place in heated skillet. Cook until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Assemble 2 sandwiches, alternating pumpernickel, avocado butter, salmon, and arugula. Secure with toothpicks before serving.

kung pao shrimp

I almost always ask Dave if he wants any input on our meals for the upcoming week, looking either for new ideas or for a way to limit all the ideas already swimming around in my head. Sometimes I ask just to be polite, even though I already have a nice plan forming, betting on the good chance that he won’t care. That’s what happened this time, and even though Dave wouldn’t mind one bit if I totally ignored his suggestion, I feel like a jerk for asking and then dismissing his opinion.

Not enough like a jerk to not tweak his response though. Dave simply answered “Sichuan” to my request for dinner ideas, and while I’m pretty sure he had something specific in mind, I chose to take his answer literally, opening my options up to anything Sichuan. A quick search on the Cooks Illustrated website turned up the perfect compromise – Kung Pao Shrimp, a classic Sichuan dish that also used up the red pepper I had and satisfied my craving for shrimp.

And satisfy it did. I wasn’t surprised, because it contains a lot of my favorite ingredients for Asian cooking – shrimp, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, peanuts, chiles…I’m sorry, I’m naming every single ingredient. But each is something that I love, and they worked wonderfully together in this dish.

Kung Pao Shrimp (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

You can substitute plain rice vinegar for the black rice vinegar (available in Asian markets), but we prefer the latter for its fruity, salty complexity. If you prefer roasted unsalted cashews over peanuts, substitute an equal amount. Do not eat the whole chiles in the finished dish.

1 pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 count), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
6 small whole dried red chiles (each about 1¾ to 2 inches long), 3 chiles roughly crumbled, or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons black rice vinegar or plain rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch dice
3 medium scallions, sliced thin

1. Toss shrimp with sherry and soy sauce in medium bowl; marinate until shrimp have absorbed flavors, about 10 minutes. Mix garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl; set aside. Combine peanuts and chiles in small bowl; set aside. Mix chicken broth, vinegar, sesame oil, oyster-flavored sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch in small bowl or measuring cup; set aside.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add shrimp and cook, stirring about once every 10 seconds, until barely opaque, 30 to 40 seconds; add peanuts and chiles, stir into shrimp, and continue cooking until shrimp are almost completely opaque and peanuts have darkened slightly, 30 to 40 seconds longer. Transfer shrimp, peanuts, and chiles to bowl; set aside. Return skillet to burner and reheat briefly, 15 to 30 seconds. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, swirl to coat pan, and add red bell pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 45 seconds. Clear center of pan, add garlic-ginger mixture, mash into pan with spoon or spatula, and cook until fragrant, 10 to 15 seconds; stir into peppers until combined. Stir broth mixture to recombine, then add to skillet along with reserved shrimp, peanuts, and chiles; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan, until sauce has thickened to syrupy consistency, about 45 seconds. Stir in scallions; transfer to serving plate and serve immediately.

sushi

14.jpg

Sometimes I don’t know what gets into me. Last week, I became determined to make my own sushi. But what possible good could this serve? I certainly wasn’t expecting to exceed the quality of the sushi restaurants I’ve been to. I couldn’t, or at least didn’t want to, make it any healthier. And with the specialized tools and ingredients I’d need to buy, homemade sushi promised to be similar in price to eating out. Finally I realized that I wanted to make sushi for the simplest of reasons – for fun.

But I was intimidated. I had difficulty finding precise recipes for sushi rolls. I also wanted to make a variety of rolls with a minimum of ingredients. Not being a spontaneous cook, I did a lot of research and took notes on exactly what I’d need to buy and prepare.

I decided to stick to one fish type (tuna, this time) for four different rolls. I made adapted versions of Philadelphia rolls (fish, cream cheese, cucumber), California rolls (fish, cucumber, avocado), spicy tuna rolls (tuna, avocado, scallion, spicy mayonnaise), and sort of a spider roll (tuna, tempura bits, cucumber), plus a few nigiri.

I settled on Alton Brown’s sushi rice recipe. The rice is cooked similar to standard long-grain rice, except without salt, and then a mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar is poured over the cooked rice and folded in. The rice must be fanned while it cools so that the starches on the surface…something. I can’t remember. Just fan it until it’s near room temperature, and be gentle with stirring. I used a paper plate to fan the rice. If you have an electric fan nearby, that would work great.

2b.jpg

Obviously the fillings must be prepared before any rolling starts. I’m not usually great at mise en place, but I didn’t have a choice this time. This picture shows, clockwise from the upper left, mayonnaise mixed with ancho chile powder, toasted sesame seeds, tempura bits, cucumber, scallion, cream cheese, and avocado. I never did mix in enough chile powder to make the mayonnaise spicy enough, plus I should have used more mayonnaise. For the tempura, I simply mixed up a bit of batter and fried it. I peeled one strip of cucumber and not the other two, and I do prefer it peeled. The avocado I brushed with lemon juice so that it wouldn’t brown.

43.jpg

Alton’s California roll recipe recommends cutting the nori (seaweed) sheets in half. At first I didn’t, which is what this picture shows. However, they should be smaller. You don’t want to spiral your fillings, you just want to enclose them. I found half a sheet to be a little too small for the amount of filling I used, but a full sheet was far too big.

51.jpg

The relatively more simple method of rolling is shown above, where everything, including the rice, is inside the nori. Slightly more complicated is the inside-out roll, where the rice is on the outside.

61.jpg

Except that, it didn’t actually end up being more complicated. I was pleasantly surprised when it actually…worked.

71.jpg

Look at that, a sushi burrito. Mmm…sushi burrito. Unfortunately, sushi isn’t, in fact, eaten in burrito form. It is cut into “bite-size” pieces. Except I don’t know whose bite-size, because sushi rolls are always way too big for me. Anyway, cutting the rolls was the only part of the process that was really frustrating, and I recognize that the problem is my dull knives, but I don’t have an immediate solution. I found that a serrated knife worked better on the inside-out rolls.

8.jpg

…My display needs some work. By this point, I was frustrated with the cutting and worried about the raw fish sitting at room temperature while I figured out how the hell to make sushi. Plus sushi rice? Is sticky. Moving around individual pieces inevitably resulted in rice stuck to my hands and the plate. I decided aesthetics be damned, it was time to eat.

Overall, it was good. Probably as tasty as a restaurant’s, although obviously not nearly as pretty. I’m sure I can improve on that with time, even though I don’t plan on buying any special platters for sushi. I’ll make it again, at least until I use up the ingredients I had to buy. As far as a cost comparison goes, Dave and I generally spend $30-40 on a sushi dinner, and including the special equipment and ingredients that I won’t need to buy again for a while, this meal was $25. Next time I’ll use a cheaper fish, and I can probably make sushi for under $10. The preparation should also be far easier now that I’ve done it once. But I don’t see this becoming a regular thing for me. I think I’ll leave sushi-making to the professionals.

Sushi recipes/method

Serves 2

Sushi rice (adapted from Alton Brown)

1 cup sushi or short grain rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt

Rinse rice.

Place the rice and water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold and cut thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Fan until rice is near room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Ingredient preparation

Mix ¼ teaspoon of ancho chile powder into 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
Toast and cool 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
Tempura-mix 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon ice water, 1 teaspoon egg – cook in hot oil
Seed and peel cucumber and cut 3 ¼-square strips
Cut green part of green onion
Shape ¾ ounce cream cheese into strip
Cut nori in half crosswise (or not…see text)
Peel and pit avocado, cut into 2 strips, brush with lemon juice to prevent browning
Cut fish into strips

Rolling

Fill medium-sized bowl with cold water. Cover bamboo mat with plastic wrap.

Regular rolls:
Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic covered mat. Wet your fingers with water and spread ½ cup of the rice evenly onto the nori, leaving 1 inch of far side bare. Lay filling near edge of mat closest to you. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping the fillings in place with your fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, using the mat to shape the cylinder. Lay it seam side down while you form the other rolls. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Inside-out rolls:
Lay 1 sheet of nori, shiny side down, on the plastic covered mat. Wet your fingers with water and spread ½ cup of the rice evenly onto the nori. Sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds (optional). Turn the sheet of nori over so that the rice side is down. Lay filling near edge of mat closest to you. Grab the edge of the mat closest to you, keeping the fillings in place with your fingers, and roll it into a tight cylinder, using the mat to shape the cylinder. Lay it seam side down while you form the other rolls. Cut into 6-8 pieces.

Fillings:
“Philadelphia”: cream cheese, fish, cucumber
“California”: fish, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds
“Spicy tuna”: avocado, fish, mayonnaise (1 tbsp), green onion (1 stalk, green parts only)
“Spider”: fish, cucumber, tempura

salmon cakes, flaky biscuits, hashed brussels sprouts

salmon cakes new
(Photo updated 12/30/12)

I made the best meal for dinner one Saturday a few weeks ago. It was one of those “I really want to cook something great tonight. Don’t worry, it won’t take too long” kind of meals. Famous last words. But it was worth it.

15.jpg

My favorite part of the meal was these biscuits. Look at those layers! They’re not quite the pain in the ass I remember them being from the last time I made them. They involve all of the steps required for regular biscuits, plus some extra rolling and folding. Not simple, but not a huge deal either.

25.jpg

The hashed Brussels sprout recipe comes from Orangette’s blog. I love Brussels sprouts, and my favorite way of cooking them is braised in heavy cream. I know, yikes on the health-factor of that, but it’s so good. Too heavy to go with this meal though, so I thought I’d try this recipe, in which they’re sliced, then braised in wine. I used sesame seeds instead of poppy seeds, because it’s what I had. It was good and light. It went with the rest of the meal wonderfully.

34.jpg

43.jpg

These were accompanying salmon cakes, and really, how can you go wrong? Chopped fresh salmon, mayonnaise, a few flavorings, all breaded and pan-fried. As I was breading the cakes, they seemed like they were falling apart, but once I got them into the frying pan, they become more structurally sound. I served them with a lemon-herb dipping sauce, but I think it was overkill – they would have been fine with just a wedge of lemon.

Altogether, one of the best meals I’ve eaten in a while.

Oh…there was one casualty.

51.jpg

Pan-Fried Fresh Salmon Cakes (from Cooks Illustrated January 2000)

CI note: A big wedge of lemon is the simplest accompaniment to salmon cakes, but if you decide to go with dipping sauce, make it before preparing the cakes so the sauce flavors have time to meld. If possible, use panko (Japanese bread crumbs).

Makes eight 2½- by ¾-inch cakes

1¼ pounds salmon fillet
1 slice white sandwich bread, such as Pepperidge Farm, crusts removed and white part chopped very fine (about 5 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ cup grated onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
¾ teaspoon table salt
1½ tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup vegetable oil, plus 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
¾ cup fine, unflavored dried bread crumbs, preferably panko

1. Locate and remove any pin bones from salmon flesh. Using sharp knife, cut flesh off skin, then discard skin. Chop salmon flesh into ¼- to 1/3-inch pieces and mix with chopped bread, mayonnaise, onion, parsley, salt, and lemon juice in medium bowl. Scoop a generous ¼-cup portion salmon mixture from bowl and use hands to form into a patty measuring roughly 2½-inches in diameter and ¾-inch thick; place on parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining salmon mixture until you have 8 patties. Place patties in freezer until surface moisture has evaporated, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, spread flour in pie plate or shallow baking dish. Beat eggs with 1½ teaspoons vegetable oil and 1½ teaspoons water in second pie plate or shallow baking dish, and spread bread crumbs in a third. Dip chilled salmon patties in flour to cover; shake off excess. Transfer to beaten egg and, using slotted spatula, turn to coat; let excess drip off. Transfer to bread crumbs; shake pan to coat patties completely. Return now-breaded patties to baking sheet.

3. Heat remaining ½ cup vegetable oil in large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking, about 3 minutes; add salmon patties and cook until medium golden brown, about 2 minutes. Flip cakes over and continue cooking until medium golden brown on second side, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer cakes to plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil on surface, if desired, about 30 seconds, and then serve immediately, with one of the sauces that follow, if you like.

Creamy Lemon Herb Dipping Sauce (from Cooks Illustrated January 2000)

Makes generous ½ cup

½ cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
2½ tablespoons lemon juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 large scallion, white and green part minced
½ teaspoon table salt
Ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in small bowl; season to taste with ground black pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until flavors blend, at least 30 minutes.

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits (from Cooks Illustrated January 2006)

CI note: The dough is a bit sticky when it comes together and during the first set of turns. Set aside about 1 cup of extra flour for dusting the work surface, dough, and rolling pin to prevent sticking. Be careful not to incorporate large pockets of flour into the dough when folding it over. When cutting the biscuits, press down with firm, even pressure; do not twist the cutter. The recipe may be prepared through step 2, transferred to a zipper-lock freezer bag, and frozen for several weeks. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before proceeding.

Makes 12 biscuits

2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12½ ounces), plus additional flour for work surface
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch chunks
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cold, lightly floured and cut into 1/8-inch slices
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1¼ cups low-fat buttermilk, cold

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in large bowl.

2. Add shortening to flour mixture; break up chunks with fingertips until only small, pea-sized pieces remain. Working in batches, drop butter slices into flour mixture and toss to coat; pick up each slice of butter and press between floured fingertips into flat, nickel-sized pieces. Repeat until all butter is incorporated; toss to combine. Freeze mixture (in bowl) until chilled, about 15 minutes.

3. Spray 24-inch-square area of work surface with nonstick cooking spray; spread spray evenly across surface with kitchen towel or paper towel. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of extra flour across sprayed area; gently spread flour across work surface with palm to form thin, even coating. Add all but 2 tablespoons of buttermilk to flour mixture; stir briskly with fork until ball forms and no dry bits of flour are visible, adding remaining buttermilk as needed (dough will be sticky and shaggy but should clear sides of bowl). With rubber spatula, transfer dough onto center of prepared work surface, dust surface lightly with flour, and, with floured hands, bring dough together into cohesive ball.

4. Pat dough into approximate 10-inch square; roll into 18 by 14-inch rectangle about ¼ inch thick, dusting dough and rolling pin with flour as needed. Following illustrations below, using bench scraper or thin metal spatula, fold dough into thirds, brushing any excess flour from surface; lift short end of dough and fold in thirds again to form approximate 6 by 4-inch rectangle. Rotate dough 90 degrees, dusting work surface underneath with flour; roll and fold dough again, dusting with flour as needed.

5. Roll dough into 10-inch square about ½ inch thick; flip dough and cut nine 3-inch rounds with floured biscuit cutter, dipping cutter back into flour after each cut. Carefully invert and transfer rounds to ungreased baking sheet, spaced 1 inch apart. Gather dough scraps into ball; roll and fold once or twice until scraps form smooth dough. Roll dough into ½-inch-thick round; cut three more 3-inch rounds and transfer to baking sheet. Discard excess dough.

6. Brush biscuit tops with melted butter. Bake, without opening oven door, until tops are golden brown and crisp, 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool on baking sheet 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Hashed Brussels Sprouts with Poppyseed and Lemon (from Orangette)

Makes 4-6 servings

1¼ pounds Brussels sprouts
1½ tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
¼ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon salt

Cut the stems from the Brussels sprouts and remove any blemished leaves. When all the sprouts are trimmed, you should be left with about 1 pound total. Halve each sprout lengthwise, and slice each half into thin slices, about 1/8 inch thick; or, alternatively, hash them in a food processor fitted with the slicing disc attachment.

In a large bowl, toss the hashed Brussels sprouts with the lemon juice.

In a large skillet or sauté pan, warm the olive oil over high heat, almost to the smoking point. Stir in the hashed sprouts, garlic, and poppy seeds. Add the wine, and cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, until the sprouts are bright green and lightly softened but still barely crunchy. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt, and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat, and serve.

salmon pesto pasta

opener1.jpg

This is Dave’s most-requested meal, and it’s gotten to the point where I purposefully don’t make it so that it will always be a treat. Yeah, I’m a bad wife. Also, I think making pesto is sort of a pain in this ass. Back in the old days, before I took over the kitchen and we actually cooked together on occasion, Dave would prepare the fish while I worked on the pesto. Over time, I tweaked the recipe here and there without writing it down, and it became easier to just do it myself. And now I complain that Dave doesn’t like to cook with me…

Updated photo 5/27

I’ve found that if I allow my life to be easy and just buy pesto, this recipe is actually a quick weeknight-appropriate meal. We’re picky about pesto, but I’ve found that my grocery store stocks some good stuff in their olive bar. But…this was for Dave’s birthday, so I went all out and made it from scratch.

(Wait a minute…wasn’t Dave’s birthday last month? Yes yes, the problem is, I didn’t like the picture I took of the final dish, so I wanted to make it again and hope for a better picture. I made it again last weekend, but the pictures from that night aren’t any better, so I’m sticking with the original. Sorry the colors are all funky. We eat dinner at night. There’s no natural light at night. My pictures of dinner tend be funky colors.)

I am, of course, a big fan of my homemade pesto. My trick (okay, Cooks Illustrated’s trick that I stole) is to squeeze the maximum amount of flavor out of each ingredient. I toast the pine nuts, I toast the garlic so that it loses that sharpness that raw garlic has, and I bruise the basil leaves. Before I did all this, I would often end up with grassy-smelling pesto, but now I make basily-smelling pesto. Gotta love that.

garlic.jpg pine-nuts.jpg

basil.jpg process.jpg

The salmon, brushed with oil and sprinkled with lemon zest, is broiled. The sauce is made from evaporated milk that’s boiled to reduce it even further. The pasta is mixed with the milk, then the salmon, and finally, off the heat to preserve the basil’s delicate flavor (Marcella Hazan is getting to me), the pesto is stirred in. Top with a little more parmesan, and you’ve got my and Dave’s favorite way to eat salmon. And Dave’s favorite way to eat pesto…and pasta…

raw-salmon.jpg copy-of-cooked-salmon.jpg

Salmon Pesto Pasta (substantially adapted from the Pillsbury Complete Cookbook)

Serves 2

8 ounces pasta
12 ounces salmon
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
5 ounces evaporated milk
½ cup pesto (recipe follows)
grated parmesan, for serving

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; stir to separate pasta. Cook pasta until al dente; drain. Pour evaporated milk into empty pot and simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to ¼ cup. Add cooked pasta to pot and stir to combine.

2. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat broiler. Line a baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil. Season skinless side of salmon liberally with salt and pepper, sprinkle with zest, then rub with olive oil. Broil until salmon is no longer translucent and is firm when pressed, about 10 minutes. Remove from broiler and sprinkle with lemon juice. Use fork to flake into bite-sized pieces. Skin will stick to foil and can be discarded.

3. Add salmon to pasta mixture and stir over medium heat until hot. Remove from heat and stir in basil. Top with parmesan.

Pesto (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

Bridget note: I haven’t found a good way to measure basil leaves by volume. I just add all of the leaves from a hydroponic basil plant or a large herb container from the grocery store.

CI note: Basil usually darkens in homemade pesto, but you can boost the green color a little by adding the optional parsley.

Update 6/18/08 – After flipping through Jamie’s Dinners, I have found a far easier and just as effective method for bruising the basil leaves.  Simply add the unbruised basil leaves to the food processor bowl and process with the plastic dough hook until they’re thoroughly bruised.  Switch back to the blade and continue with the recipe as written.

Makes ½ cup

¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (or substitute almonds or walnuts)
5 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed thoroughly
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, Italian (optional)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch table salt
¼ cup (½ ounce) finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Toast nuts in small heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the nuts to bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.

2. Add the unpeeled garlic to empty skillet and toast until, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and the color of the cloves deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let the garlic cool, then peel and add to food processor bowl.

3. Place basil and parsley in heavy-duty, quart-size, zipper-lock bag; pound with flat side of meat pounder until all leaves are bruised.

4. Process nuts and garlic until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients except cheese; process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down bowl with flexible spatula.

5. Transfer mixture to small bowl, stir in cheese(s) and adjust salt. (Can be covered with a sheet of plastic wrap placed directly over the surface or filmed with oil and refrigerated up to 5 days.)

can’t deepfry on a wednesday (fish tacos)

copy-of-dscn3262.jpg

For Dave’s birthday, my parents took us out to eat at a brewery. Everyone loved the beer they ordered (except for my 8-month pregnant sister, who had to settle for soda), but I think I was the only one who enjoyed their food. Oh, and I did enjoy my food. Rarely do I finish my entire meal at a restaurant, but my shrimp tacos were too good to waste.

The shrimp was battered and fried, served with the classic shredded cabbage and aioli. I’ve made fish tacos before using a similar method, a beer batter, and they were fantastic. But…today is Wednesday, and deep-frying on a weeknight just seems irresponsible. I don’t generally shy away from fat, and I’d rather eat less of great food, than larger quantities of “reduced-fat” versions, but this time, I was ready to compromise. And after smearing everything with mayonnaise, how low-fat is this anyway?

So, I skipped the batter on the fish, and instead pan-fried it in just a slick of oil. Really, so much of the charm of this meal comes from the cabbage, mayonnaise, lime, and cilantro (not usually one of my favorites, but it has its place) that I didn’t miss the deep-fried goodness at all. In fact, I’ve decided that I’ll never bother deep-frying fish for fish tacos again. This was easier, cleaner, healthier, and just as tasty!

Weeknight Fish Tacos (adapted from my brother’s recipe)
Serves 2

I used large tortillas, because that’s all I had on hand, so this is what the picture shows. However, small tortillas actually work better. Also, I didn’t have red onions, so I used green onions.

Other possible toppings include avocado, green chile, and hot sauce.

I have tried substituting plain yogurt for the sour cream to make this even healthier, and it turned out great.

2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for oiling pan
¼ cup minced cilantro
¼ teaspoon cumin
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ – 3/4 pound tilapia, or other white fish (halibut, cod, catfish, snapper)
salt
4 ounces (¼ – ½ head) cabbage, finely shredded
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
6-8 small flour tortillas
White sauce (recipe follows)

White sauce:
1½ tablespoon minced cilantro
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 tablespoon lime juice

1. Mix lime juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, cilantro, and cumin in large, flat bowl or pie plate. Add fish and turn to coat. Let marinate 15-30 minutes.

2. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add marinated fish and cook, without moving, for 3 minutes. Using 2 spatulas, flip fish and cook on second side for 2 minutes, or until fish flakes with a fork. Remove fish from pan to plate, season with salt, and let set for 2-3 minutes. Cut into approximately bite-size pieces.

3. To build each taco, spread liberal amount of white sauce on tortilla, then add fish, cabbage, red onion, and whatever garnishes you desire. Serve.

copy-of-dscn3260.jpg

more fish from cans (deviled eggs with tuna)

copy-of-dscn2968.jpg

I know, I know, deviled eggs? Does anyone really need a recipe for deviled eggs, or a blog entry about them?

But, these have an extra ingredient that I assure you, makes a blog entry just for them worthwhile. (Plus, look how cute they are in pictures! They look like little boats from the side!)

copy-of-dscn2966.jpg

That ingredient is tuna. That’s right, we’re talking about good ol’ canned tuna. I recently heard a few people say that they don’t eat canned tuna, and, what?! Not eat canned tuna?! I looove canned tuna!

The first time a really remember eating it was a few years ago, when a friend brought me some fancy canned tuna from Spain. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, but my friend encouraged me to just mix it up into tuna salad. (In retrospect, I should have just eaten it from the can.) I decided that an experiment was in order. Was expensive Spanish tuna worth the difference in price? So Dave and I did a side-by-side comparison of tuna salads made with the Spanish tuna and with StarKirst Solid White Albacore. (This is the brand recommended by Cooks Illustrated.)

In tuna salad, at least, the difference was minor. And since that test, I have become enamored with tuna salad sandwiches. It’s something that, for me, is best eaten at home, because I’ve gotten so picky about how it’s made. No celery or pickles, but enough minced red onion and parsley to make up for it.

There are a few tricks to getting the most from your tuna. First, drain the heck out of it. Then add salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and let that set while you prepare the other ingredients. This gives the tuna time to soak up those flavor-enhancers.

I made the filling for these deviled eggs very similar to how I make tuna salad, just leaving out minced red onion and of course adding the egg yolks. Best deviled eggs ever, I assure you!

One more thing – while I agree that a sprinkle of paprika adds some color to a deviled egg, I think a little minced something makes them just so cute. I used tomato in this case, but I think a purple olive like kalamata would look, and taste, great as well. (My husband does not agree that olives improve anything, hence the tomatoes in January.)

Deviled Eggs
Make 16 appetizers

1 6-ounce can tuna, preferably StarKist Solid White Albacore in Water
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced parsley
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
¼ plum tomato, minced (optional)
4 kalamata olives, minced (optional)

1. Drain the tuna very well. Using a fork or your fingers, break up any large pieces. Add salt, pepper, parsley and mustard.

2. Cut each egg in half from pole to pole. Use a spoon to remove the yolk. Using a fork, mash the yolks well. Add to tuna mixture, then stir in mayonnaise.

3. Either spoon mixture into egg whites, or transfer mixture to a decorators bag or zip-top bag. If using a zip-top bag, cut out a corner. Squeeze mixture into egg whites. Garnish with tomatoes or olives, if desired.

copy-of-dscn2958.jpg

salty little fish (pissaladiere)

copy-of-dscn2900.jpg

Like many people I know, I worked at a pizza joint as a teenager. One night, as another employee handed a pizza to a customer, I caught a whiff of an awful odor – like rotting fish, ruining a perfectly good pizza. This was my first firsthand experience with anchovies. Yuck.

It took Cooks Illustrated (of course) and their recipe for pasta e fagioli to convince to me give the little fishies another chance. In this soup, the anchovies are used much like garlic, first minced and then used to flavor the sauce. When I opened the can, I expected to be confronted with the rotted smell that I still remembered from ten years before. Instead, I smelled…nothing. Nothing rotted, nothing even the least bit fishy. I took a hesitant nibble of one.

Whoa!!! Careful eating anchovies straight from the can! It’s like eating a fillet of salt.

dscn2850.jpg

These days, I love anchovies. My husband, unfortunately, does not. One too many anchovy pizza deliveries as he worked his way through college, I suspect. I don’t know what those pizza places do to their anchovies to make them smell so horrid; my theory is incorrect storage. Also, to me, slabs of fish on tomato sauce and cheese seems inconsistent.

Not that I don’t like anchovies on pizza, mind you. But I like to skip the tomatoes and cheese and lay the little fishes on a pile of caramelized onions, dotted with nicoise olives and sprinkled with parsley. Ah, pissaladiere. This was one of my favorite dinners for myself before I married an anchovy-hater.

And now it’s my entry for Hay Hay It’s Donna Day, hosted this month by Joey of 80 breakfasts. I certainly encourage you to give anchovies a chance if you’ve always been convinced that they’re nothing but a foul pizza topping. They are far more than that – subtly meaty and a bit salty even after being rinsed. I admit, however, that this is probably not a good recipe for the anchovy un-initiated.

But for the rest of us, what a treat of contrasting flavors that play so well together!

copy-of-dscn2906.jpg

Pissaladiere – Provencal Pizza (from Cooks Illustrated)

Instant yeast is almost always sold under a marketing name; look for “rapid rise,” “perfect rise,” or “quick rise.” If your food processor includes a plastic dough blade attachment, use it; its short blades and dull edges make kneading easier on the motor. If not, the regular metal blade works almost as well. For best flavor, use high-quality oil-packed anchovies; in a recent tasting, Ortiz were our favorite. The dough in this recipe rises for 1 to 1 ½ hours. If a longer or overnight rise is more convenient, make the dough with ½ teaspoon of instant yeast and let it rise in the refrigerator for 16 to 24 hours. The caramelized onions can also be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

Makes 2 tarts, 8 to 10 first course servings

Dough:
2 cups bread flour (11 ounces), plus extra for dusting work surface
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional oil for brushing dough and greasing hands
1 cup water (8 ounces), warm (about 110 degrees)

Caramelized Onions:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
½ teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon water

Olives, Anchovies, and Garnishes:
olive oil
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup niçoise olives, pitted and chopped coarse
8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry, and chopped coarse (about 2 tablespoons)
12 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry for (optional) garnish
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves (optional)

1. For the dough: In workbowl of food processor fitted with plastic dough blade (see note), pulse flour, yeast, and salt to combine, about five 1-second pulses. With machine running, slowly add oil, then water, through feed tube; continue to process until dough forms ball, about 15 seconds. Generously dust work surface with flour; using floured hands, transfer dough to work surface and knead lightly, shaping dough into ball. Lightly oil 1-quart measuring cup or small bowl, place dough in measuring cup, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside in draft-free spot until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

2. For the caramelized onions: While dough is rising, heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until shimmering but not smoking; stir in onions, salt, and brown sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture released by onions has evaporated and onions begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 20 minutes longer. Off heat, stir in water; transfer to bowl and set aside. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, set baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

3. To shape, top, and bake the dough: When dough has doubled, remove from measuring cup and divide into 2 equal pieces using dough scraper. Working with one piece at a time, form each piece into rough ball by gently pulling edges of dough together and pinching to seal. With floured hands, turn dough ball seam-side down. Cupping dough with both hands, gently push dough in circular motion to form taut ball. Repeat with second piece. Brush each lightly with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut two 20-inch lengths parchment paper and set aside.

4. Coat fingers and palms of hands generously with oil. Using dough scraper, loosen 1 piece of dough from work surface. With well-oiled hands, hold dough aloft and gently stretch to 12-inch length. Place on parchment sheet and gently dimple surface of dough with fingertips. Using oiled palms, push and flatten dough into 14- by 8-inch oval. Brush dough with oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Leaving ½-inch border around edge, sprinkle ¼ cup olives, 1 tablespoon chopped anchovies, and 1 teaspoon thyme evenly over dough, then evenly scatter with half of onions. Arrange 6 whole anchovy fillets, if using, on tart and sprinkle with fennel seeds, if using. Slip parchment with tart onto pizza peel (or inverted rimless baking sheet), then slide onto hot baking stone. Bake until deep golden brown, 13 to 15 minutes. While first tart bakes, shape and top second tart.

5. Remove tart from oven with peel or pull parchment onto baking sheet; transfer tart to cutting board and slide parchment out from under tart. Cool 5 minutes; sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons parsley, if using. Cut tart in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise to form 8 pieces; serve immediately. While first tart cools, bake second tart.

copy-of-dscn2903.jpg

prepping and chopping and prepping… (pad thai)

dscn2233.jpg

I always seem to fool myself into thinking that pad thai is a good weeknight meal. Then I’ll get home from work and start prepping ingredients, and then I’m prepping and prepping and finally asking Dave to help because I’ve been in the kitchen over half an hour and I haven’t even started cooking yet. Fortunately, once the cooking starts, it only takes 10 minutes or so. That short cooking time is what always tricks me into making this on a weeknight.

One of the most difficult tasks with making pad thai is finding at least some of the authentic ingredients. I love tamarind, and I’m always disappointed when I order pad thai in a restaurant and find that they’ve skipped the tamarind. Tamarind is sold in several forms – the whole pods, the pulp of the pods, and a liquid concentrate. I use the pulp. If you really can’t find any, a mixture of lime juice and water can do in a pinch.

dscn2199.jpg

Pad thai has so many freakin’ ingredients, which is the only reason it takes a while to prepare. Another of my favorites, that might be hard to find, is dried shrimp. Mmm…like shrimp jerkey, so salty and good. I tried salted radish and absolutely hated it. Definitely a textural issue. I’ve seen recipes that called for salted cabbage instead of salted radish, so I want to try that too.

dscn2221.jpg

There are so many ingredients, and the cooking happens so fast, that I have to line up all of the ingredients in the order that they’re cooked, so I don‘t have to look at the recipe at all. Sometimes I have Dave read the recipe to me as I stand over the stove doing the fun part.

dscn2230.jpg

Ah, but pad thai is so worth all the chopping and prep work. It’s so good – and healthy!

Pad Thai (from Cooks Illustrated – no adaptations)
Serves 4 as a main dish

Although pad thai cooks very quickly, the ingredient list is long, and everything must be prepared and within easy reach at the stovetop when you begin cooking. For maximum efficiency, use the time during which the tamarind and noodles soak to prepare the other ingredients. Tofu is a good and common addition to pad thai. If you like, add 4 ounces of extra-firm tofu or pressed tofu (available in Asian markets) cut into ½-inch cubes (about 1 cup) to the noodles along with the bean sprouts.

If you’re using tamarind concentrate instead of pulp, mix 1 tablespoon with 2/3 cup hot water. If you can’t find any tamarind, mix 1/3 cup of water with 1/3 cup of lime juice; replace granulated sugar with brown sugar. Do not serve this version with lime wedges.

2 tablespoons tamarind paste or substitute
¾ cup water (boiling)
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
8 ounces dried rice stick noodles, about 1/8 inch wide (the width of linguine)
2 large eggs
¼ teaspoon table salt
12 ounces medium shrimp (31/35 count), peeled and deveined, if desired
3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (1 tablespoon)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons dried shrimp, chopped fine (optional)
2 tablespoons Thai salted preserved radish (optional)
6 tablespoons chopped unsalted roasted peanuts
3 cups bean sprouts (6 ounces)
5 medium scallions, green parts only, sliced thin on sharp bias
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
lime wedges

1. Soak tamarind paste in 3/4 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes, then push it through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds and fibers and extract as much pulp as possible. Stir fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 2 tablespoons oil into tamarind liquid and set aside.

2. Cover rice sticks with hot tap water in large bowl; soak until softened, pliable, and limp but not fully tender, about 20 minutes. Drain noodles and set aside. Beat eggs and 1/8 teaspoon salt in small bowl; set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet (preferably nonstick) over high heat until just beginning to smoke, about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and sprinkle with remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until shrimp are opaque and browned about the edges, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to plate and set aside.

4. Off heat, add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and swirl to coat; add garlic and shallot, set skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes; add eggs to skillet and stir vigorously with wooden spoon until scrambled and barely moist, about 20 seconds. Add noodles, dried shrimp, and salted radish (if using) to eggs; toss with 2 wooden spoons to combine. Pour fish sauce mixture over noodles, increase heat to high, and cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are evenly coated. Scatter 1/4 cup peanuts, bean sprouts, all but 1/4 cup scallions, and cooked shrimp over noodles; continue to cook, tossing constantly, until noodles are tender, about 2 1/2 minutes (if not yet tender add 2 tablespoons water to skillet and continue to cook until tender).

5. Transfer noodles to serving platter, sprinkle with remaining scallions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, and cilantro; serve immediately, passing lime wedges separately.

dscn2239.jpg