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Eggs: Lime Saffron Aioli, Champagne Sabayon and Duck Eggs. Not all at once, obviously.

Here are some true things about me and eggs.

  1. I had to eat an egg in some form every single day before school when I was growing up.
  2. We were a mayonnaise eating family, we made our own, and, we kept it on the counter for a week. (If there was any left. Often there wasn’t.) I could make mayonnaise by the time I was 10. In a blender. Mayonnaise is a raw egg based sauce – in case you aren’t familiar with how you make it.
  3. Deviled eggs are a particular weakness of mine and my sister’s. My uncle makes loads of them for the annual Christmas party and we park ourselves right by the tray and shamelessly pop them in our mouths until they are gone. You make deviled eggs with mayonnaise.
  4. One of the best desserts I ever had was at a little bistro in the Village in New York.  I can’t remember what was for dinner at all, but the warm sabayon with fresh tiny wild berries was like…I really hate to write stuff like angel’s nectar but there really is no other way to describe that ethereal nearly white cloud of beaten eggs and champagne. Of course I had to figure out how to make it at home.
  5. I find duck eggs to be delicious but a little bit freaky. They’re so huge.

I have been thinking about eggs a lot this weekend, as you might have guessed. Earlier this year, I wrote about Mary Alice and the amazing eggs she gets from Tender and  Nugget, her urban chickens. Well, on Friday morning she dropped by with a gorgeous basket of those eggs, a dozen, unwashed, just for me. And then, you’ll never believe this, my excellent neighbor Susan, went to the farmer’s market on Sunday and brought me half a dozen duck eggs.

Is there no end to my good fortune?!

This is what we made:

Sunday Night:

Lime and saffron aioli for grilled halibut with parsley, orange and shallot salad

Lemon Tart

Monday Night:

Poached duck eggs on toast with prosciutto, grilled asparagus, truffle oil butter and kosher sea salt (and yes I think the salt is important enough to mention)

Champagne Sabayon with Strawberries, Blueberries and Figs

I dream of dinners completed in half an hour and both the fish and the poached egg on toast fit the bill. And aren’t they so pretty? I’ve made the halibut before. I’ve made the poached egg before too. Poaching a duck egg is the same as a chicken egg – so that’s easy. Varying the halibut recipe is just adding a few ingredients to the mayonnaise recipe.

Lime Saffron Aioli

all ingredients should be at room temperature

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp lime juice and the rind of the lime, removed with a rasp
  • 1/8 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp hot water
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 1/2 small clove of garlic, grated
  • 3/4 cup mild oil, like canola

 

  1. Put the tsp of hot water in a tiny bowl with the saffron and leave to steep and cool. It’s such a small amount of water it will take no time.
  2. Whisk the egg yolk with the lime juice, salt, water and saffron and garlic until loose.
  3. Put the canola oil in a liquid measuring cup and as you whisk fiercely, drip the oil in very slowly, paying careful attention that it is completely incorporated before adding more. As the oil is incorporated, the mayonnaise should thicken into a silky looking sauce.
  4. As it thickens you can add the oil in a very thin stream, slightly faster than a drip.
  5. When all the oil is incorporated, the sauce should be glossy and supple and hold its shape softly when you dab at it with a spoon (Hopefully, you’re tasting your masterpiece!) Add the lime zest and taste for seasoning.

The parsley and orange salad is a cinch. Just use all the leaves from an entire bunch of parsley, the sections from two oranges carefully cut between the membranes and some of those thinly sliced shallots macerated in champagne vinegar. Add a little extra virgin olive oil, the reserved orange juice and some sea salt and you’re done.

Champagne Sabayon

Be careful to use a very large bowl for the double boiler. I should have used my large Pyrex mixing bowl. The sabayon foams up a lot – more than quadrupling its volume.

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup champagne
  • 2 tbsp St. Germaine liqueur, optional
  1. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in the top of a double boiler set over boiling water.
  2. When the eggs and sugar are foamy, add the champagne. Whisk constantly for 10 minutes or use your electric hand mixer. That’s what I do.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the St. Germaine.
  4. Serve warm in wide bowls with fresh beautifully ripe fruit.

I thought I would make this for the entire family for dessert but it turns out it tastes too “grown-up drink-ish” for kids. It didn’t matter. Martin and I piggishly ate almost the entire thing. I guess if I’m going to describe this as “angel’s nectar” I can say it was “heaven”.

I wonder what a deviled duck egg would taste like?! If I try one over the next few days I’ll let you know. I have three more.

 

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Clyde Common: grilled lamb, herbed Israeli couscous, harissa

Picture this: Nine o’clock in the evening. The sun has just set, its glow tracing a silvery edge over the ridge of the West Hills. Even in the dark, the leaves of the street trees stand out, clearly bright green. People are laughing and talking, their voices distant, maybe half way round the block.  The air is so soft and warm, a bit muggy, scented with the herbal pungency of flowering trees. I step out to dinner in a cotton dress and sandals, no sweater, even though it’s late. It’s that kind of night.

Walking around in Northwest Portland at any time of the year in search of something to eat is a pleasure but it’s my idea of perfect when it’s so warm after dark. Given the circumstances, I might be able to chalk up my obsession with the lamb skewers and Israeli couscous we ate at Clyde Common two years ago in early August to that perfect Northwest summer evening. Or it could have been the cocktail: gin, St. Germain, champagne, bitters and a little beaten egg white – I swear I can still taste it. Or the french fries, shatteringly crisp, with harissa and creme fraiche. (See, I still remember every single detail and it’s been two years!)

But the lamb! It was charred on the outside, tender and pink on the inside. I kind of hate the word morsel, but it evokes the tenderness and savory more-ishness of these skewers. Then of course there’s the couscous underneath, bright with preserved lemon and parsley, studded with toasted hazelnuts, and just to the side deep red harissa streaking around, fiery and compelling. Maybe it’s because of my current obsession with Plenty, and the myriad couscous variations I’ve been cooking, I feel that now I’m ready to riff on that excellent Clyde Common meal, no problem.

So I can’t conjure up any summer weather; it’s still freezing here in Seattle. It’s ok. I can make this.

Lamb Skewers with Herbed Israeli Couscous, Grilled Lemons and Harissa

Serves 4.

Lamb Skewers

I tried both a yogurt marinade for the lamb and an olive oil version. I liked how the lamb became very tender after bathing in yogurt for 24 hours. However, I wanted a deeply browned edge, and you don’t get that with a yogurt marinade, so I switched it up and went with olive oil. Much better.

  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf or two
  • 2 sprigs rosemary
  • 2 sliced shallots
  • kosher sea salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs butterflied leg of lamb – silver skin trimmed away and cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 lemons, cut in half
  1. Combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, bay, rosemary, shallots, 1 tsp salt and several grindings of black pepper. Stir vigorously with a fork.
  2. Pour marinade into a gallon ziplock bag and toss in the lamb. Seal the bag, pushing out all the air, and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for at least 4 and up to 24 hours.
  3. Drain the meat, reserving the marinade and pat the lamb dry with a paper towel. Thread the meat onto short skewers. Don’t crowd. Brush the cut ends of the lemons with the marinade. Grill the lamb over medium high heat for 8-10 minutes turning 2 or 3 times, basting now and then.  During the last 3 minutes, grill the lemons, cut sides down. Arrange all over the couscous and serve immediately.

Herbed Israeli Couscous with Preserved Lemon and Toasted Hazelnuts

  • 1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 preserved lemon, flesh scooped out and discarded, rind slivered
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skins rubbed away in a dishtowel
  1. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, sauté the couscous in  the olive oil. After 2 0r 3 minutes, when it has browned a little, add the stock and the butter. Turn the heat to high and when the stock begins to simmer, clamp on a lid and turn the heat down to low.
  2. After ten minutes, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and stir in the parsley, scallions, preserved lemon and hazelnuts.
  3. Mound in the center of a large platter and arrange the lamb skewers over the top. Serve with a bowl of harissa and the grilled lemons.

lamb skewers, Israeli couscous, grilled lemon, harissa

 

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Rather Exciting Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

There is something unbearably grim about March. There are some signs of spring, sure. In the back of the garden, vibrant, yellow, witch hazel blooms and the bobbing maroon, green, and white petals of hellebore sway crazily in the wind. A few weeks later, near the trellis, little purple crocuses poke up bravely. I say that because they’re getting beaten down by hail, driving rain, and then blanketed with wet snow. It’s a good thing they’re so short or they’d be flattened.

On top of all this bad weather, I’m sick of bad weather cooking. Long simmering stews?! Again?! Not another soup. Or a roast. Really, no more haunches of animals, thanks. On Saturday, we were very busy so I didn’t have time for a big cooking marathon anyway. Even though I am partial to a Saturday cooking project, they’re hard to fit in with family life. So. What I am supposed to make for dinner?

I’ll tell you. Tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. But with a twist. I didn’t grow up with Campbell’s Tomato Soup or grilled American cheese sandwiches so I am not at all invested in that gestalt. What I am offering here is hardly the garden-variety tomato soup and sandwich of your youth. No. This is creamy tomato soup as you probably remember, but made smoky with bacon and hot Spanish paprika. The cheese sandwich oozes taleggio over satiny folds of Italian prosciutto and roasted salt and peppery asparagus. If you can get your hands on some buffalo taleggio, you better go for it. I have to say, not only is this menu completely delicious, but, the colors are ravishing and the perfect antidote to dreary grey skies.

Saturday night soup and sandwich: it could be really boring but I promise you, it’s not.

Smoky Tomato Soup – for 4

I suppose it takes about an hour, a lazy hour, to put this together. And if you have a picky child, you could substitute Monterey Jack for the taleggio and skip the ham and asparagus. Please though, no American cheese.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 slices of bacon, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced, not too finely
  • kosher sea salt
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp hot pimentón (smoked paprika)
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 cups low salt chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp heavy cream
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a large heavy saucepan or smaller dutch oven, heat the olive oil and bacon over medium high heat. When the bacon is just crisp, remove it with a slotted spoon  and set aside on paper towels.
  2. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp of kosher salt to the bacon fat and cook for about 5 minutes. The onion should soften and brown slightly.
  3. Add the flour, thyme, and pimentón, and cook, stirring for 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook with the lid slightly ajar and stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a regular blender.
  6. Stir in the cream and return to the boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Garnish with the bacon and as I often say, with home-made croutons. So worth the small amount of extra work!

Fancy Grilled Cheese Sandwich – for 4

  • 8 slices rustic bread – I use Columbia Bread from the Essential Bakery – the pre-sliced loaf
  • 3/4 pound taleggio cheese
  • 4 slices of Italian prosciutto
  • 12 spears of asparagus – trimmed, tossed with 1 tbsp olive oil, dusted with kosher salt and pepper and broiled for 3 minutes turning once, until blistering and crisp tender.
  • olive oil and a pastry brush or spray olive oil
  1. Cut the taleggio into 16 thin slices and lay 2 on each slice of bread. This may not cover each slice of bread completely.
  2. Lay a slice of prosciutto over 4 slices of bread and 3 asparagus spears over the top. I think it looks pretty if the asparagus tops stick out beyond the edge of the bread.
  3. Place the slices of bread with just cheese on top of the asparagus. Brush or spray the sandwiches with olive oil and grill in a hot pan, or even better, a panini press until the bread is crisp-tender and the cheese is molten and oozing.

 

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Date Night at Home

On Saturday night, we spent the evening in the kitchen setting beef drippings, butter, olive oil, crushed peppercorns, and brandy on fire. The flames were bright blue and flying right up over my head! Isn’t that kind of perfect for date night at home?

Staying in rather than going out might seem boring until you consider a few things. We didn’t need to make a reservation. Or search for parking. There was no need to find a babysitter. Or find something clean and reasonably stylish to wear. (This is sometimes a problem for me. Sigh.) There was no menu ennui. (Spare me yet another kale salad!) No meaningless chatter with a fawning waiter. At dinner, we could savor that last drop of wine since we were already home and didn’t have to drive anywhere. (It would have been criminal to cork even a tablespoon of that Williams and Selyem!) We could’ve eaten dinner in our pajamas! (We actually didn’t do this.) Best of all, we could cook whatever we wanted. And set it on fire!(As you might’ve guessed, for me, this is the fun part.)

I’m not a fan of steakhouses. Portions are ridiculously large, I loathe getting nickel and dimed on the sides, and they’re too rich anyway. I find the rituals of a steakhouse old fashioned and boring. To me, brandy, cigars and Frank Sinatra are for posers. However, there are times when I crave a perfectly seared and seasoned steak, charred almost to the point of being burnt yet still with a deeply rosy interior. I try to make lighter sides, still alluding to the steakhouse classics. The brandied pan sauce on the steak enriches the mashed potatoes. Sauteed mushrooms need nothing but a little shallot, butter and black pepper. The chard, edgy then sweet with garlic, chilies, and (fig) balsamic turns creamed spinach on its nose.

We always nibble on some very fancy cheese while we cook, something local or French. Something stinky. I know of a very good ginger-y cocktail (if you ask me I will send you the recipe!) that would be wonderful with cheese, but if you do get a really great bottle of wine, a cocktail is too much. If you drink mineral water while you cook, you won’t fall asleep right after dinner, which would be a shame on date night.

Somewhat traditional and very celebratory, this menu has played Valentine’s Day dinner often, sometimes birthday dinner.  Yes there is work involved, but it’s simple – no crazy mincing necessary. I barely batted my eyelashes at Martin and I got him to wash and trim the chard, a job I hate. It should have been me, as date night at home was my idea.

Date Night Dinner

  • Steak au Poivre with cream
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Sauteed Mushrooms – black trumpet are delicious and need no trimming
  • Wilted Swiss Chard with Balsamic ( I was given a bottle of Fig Balsamic by a dear friend and I am deeply grateful!)

I couldn’t take a picture of the food because you can’t let a hot meal cool on its carefully warmed plates and start snapping pictures in the middle of dinner on date night.  I had to settle for a photograph of a table set in anticipation and the empty wine bottle.

First, read through the whole recipe, then assemble all these ingredients as written, plus 3 sauté pans and a 3 quart saucepan. One person should do the steak and mushrooms; the other, the potatoes and chard. There should be 15 minutes of prepping the ingredients and under 20 to do the cooking.

Pepper Steak

  • (2) six ounce beef tenderloins, let them come to room temperature for an hour before starting
  • 1 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns, roughly cracked in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Mashed Potatoes

  • 3 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut in half, and set into the 3 quart saucepan, completely covered in cold water
  • 1/2 cup milk + 4 tbsp butter in a Pyrex measuring cup or small saucepan
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauteed Mushrooms

  • 1/2 lb black trumpet mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wilted Chard

  • 1 bunch swiss chard, stalks removed, cut into 1″ strips
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • balsamic vinegar to finish (if you happen to have any fig balsamic, now would be a good time to break it out)

The poshest bottle of Pinot Noir you can get your hands on – poured into glasses so it opens up in time for dinner.

  1. Set the table. Light the candles. The plates will be hot so you may need to protect the table with a thick mat or trivet.
  2. Start by setting the saucepan of potatoes on high heat to boil. When they reach a boil, set the heat to medium and allow them to simmer. They should be done about 20minutes after they reach a boil.
  3. Press the crushed peppercorns into the steak firmly, top and bottom, with the heel of your palm. Sprinkle each side with a pinch of sea salt. Set aside.
  4. Carefully examine the mushrooms, looking for debris. We found a rather large dark piece of wood in ours! Trumpet mushrooms are difficult to wipe clean, so we quickly rinsed them in a colander and dried them with towels.
  5. Heat the oven to 200. Put two dinner plates on the rack to warm.
  6. You’ll be cooking the mushrooms and the beef simultaneously.
  7. Set two heavy saute pans over medium high heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Use the larger one for the mushrooms – they need a lot of space or they won’t crisp properly.
  8. In the mushroom pan, melt the butter until it stops foaming.
  9. In the steak pan, melt the butter with the olive oil, until the butter has stopped foaming.
  10. Add the mushrooms to their sauté pan and stir to coat with butter. Stir every minute or 2. Initially, they will weep a lot of liquid.
  11. While the mushrooms are cooking, add the steak to the other sauté pan. Set a timer for 3 minutes. The steaks should really sizzle, if they aren’t your pan isn’t hot enough. It’s a fine line between seared and burnt, so you want to pay close attention. It’s deeply satisfying to get it just right. After 3 minutes, carefully flip the meat, and set the timer for 3 more minutes. You want to get a good sear in that amount of time, no longer, to keep the interior pink.
  12. While the steaks are searing, the mushroom will have lost a lot of liquid, let it bubble away until it is gone, then raise the heat a little and add the shallots. Now that the liquid is gone, the mushrooms can brown and become deeply flavorful. When they start looking crisp, taste one and add sea salt and black pepper. They may be done before the steaks. It doesn’t matter. Put the sauté pan on the back burner while the steaks catch up.
  13. Now that the steaks are seared, you need to cook each side for 3 more minutes on medium heat. This will produce a deep pink (not red!) interior. After a total of 12 minutes, remove the steak from the sauté pan and carefully, without dripping all over the edges of the plate, move them to the warming plates in the oven.
  14. While you are finishing the steak and mushrooms, your partner should work on the chard and mashed potatoes.
  15. In the microwave in a pyrex measuring cup or in a small saucepan on the stove, heat the butter and milk until the butter has melted.
  16. Check the potatoes with a fork; they should be just falling apart. Drain in the colander and return to the saucepan. Add the hot milk and butter and mash with a potato masher or a wire whisk until smooth. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Put the saucepan lid on a place on a back burner until dinner is done, which will be very soon.
  17. The chard and the pan sauce will be completed at the same time.
  18. In a clean sauté pan, heat the 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes. Just as the garlic turns golden, add the chard and toss as it settles down, wilting. Toss for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and season with sea salt and black pepper.
  19. As your partner finishes the chard, heat the brandy in the steak sauté pan with all the browned bits, any fallen-off peppercorns and pan juices. When the brandy is bubbling, light a long match, stand away from the pan, and light it. If you have never done this before, the flames can leap rather high – almost 2 feet in my case. It’s kind of exciting. Anyway after several seconds the flames will die down some – you can just blow them out very easily. With a wooden spoon scrape up all the brown pieces on the bottom of the pan. When all is bubbling nicely, add the cream. Let it simmer over medium-high heat until thickened, about 3 minutes.
  20. Remove the plates from the oven with mitts – they’ll be hot. Mashed potatoes are first, cozied up near the steak. Ladle some of the pan sauce over them. Don’t make a lake of it! You don’t want a messy looking plate. Put the mushrooms alongside the steak and the chard by the potatoes. Splash just a little balsamic over the chard. Inhale. Exhale. Sit down to dinner.
Oh. My. God. There are 20 steps!
Don’t let that deter you! This is really fun – I promise!

(I wonder if I am the only person who thinks that setting things on fire in the kitchen constitutes a romantic evening?…Martin seems to like it!)

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After Christmas dinner comes plum pudding

As you might have guessed I’ve given Christmas Dinner a lot of thought. There have been culinary highs and lows. I’ve made far too much, too rich food. I’ve lost a lot of sleep. I’ve allowed my kids too much Christmas chocolate and suffered some mind-bogglingly bad behavior. Two years ago I had to spend the afternoon on Christmas day in bed, trying to catch-up on rest I was too wired to get the night before. A lost cause. I’d drunk too much coffee!

Figuring out how to have a nice day, a nice dinner and nicely behaved kids forces me to be reductive. I don’t want to spend the whole day in the kitchen. I want to play a board game, do a puzzle, get out of the house for some fresh air with the family and the dog. I want to make food that my kids will look forward to, that will thrill the grown-ups. If we want to be sure to have happy kids, this would not be the time for experimentation, even though my natural inclination is to try something new. Experimentation feels festive to me and I have to shelve that impulse. I have tried to create a tradition that isn’t bogged down by either trendy recipes that will quickly seem passé or uninspired renditions of the menus we had as kids.

After much trial and error I’ve finally arrived at what feels like the perfect Christmas meal. It has been a long haul. One year I prepared a slavishly Swedish smörgåsbord with smoked fish, ham, meatballs, lingonberries and all the trimmings. The next year I made a totally traditional British meal with a haunch of roast beef, billowing Yorkshire pudding, crisply roast potatoes and gravy—followed by plum pudding. Cooking such complicated heavy meals takes weeks of prep and planning and it gets boring. This led to exhaustion (me), bad behavior (my kids) and frustration (Martin). Then I had an illuminating conversation with my aunt.

The answer to my dinner conundrum turned out to be French dip sandwiches. Seriously. And no, they aren’t too pedestrian for the main event on Christmas Day. My aunt takes the French dip sandwich to a whole new level and yet she manages to keep the process easy so that her Christmas day is a relaxing one where she can enjoy her family and still have a meal that everyone looks forward to. She makes a standing rib roast for all of us on Christmas Eve and then, with leftovers, builds the most luxurious French dips the next day.

I can do this! I thought. So now I roast a beef tenderloin, which is a very easy thing to do on Christmas Eve, and slice it up the next day. I stir a little horseradish into some creme fraîche so it’s got a searing edge to it. I open a jar of cherry chutney that I buy at the store—that’s easy. I put par baked little French breads from La Brea into the oven; they are perfect with a crispy crust and an interior with just enough oomph that it doesn’t melt into the brothy dip. (Once I tried brioche rolls – a disaster! They disintegrated.) I butter the bread and layer it with piles of thinly sliced rosy beef. Wrapping the sandwiches in foil, I put them in the oven to make sure they get good and hot and move on to the salad. The beef broth for dipping is made the weekend before, and heated up just before serving.

With the sandwiches there will be a salad, a variation on the one that I made a few weeks ago, the failed salad. I’ve tweaked the recipe and now it works. The watercress gets a much milder blue cheese, blood oranges and candied walnuts. I kept the pickled currants and shallots and added juice from the blood orange to the vinaigrette. Now the salad is perfectly balanced. The colors are vibrant and very Christmas-y.

For starters we have smoked salmon on homemade Swedish rye bread with all the trimmings: minced red onion or chives, lemon, unsalted cultured butter, sea salt. With this you must serve champagne.

The one thing I couldn’t ditch was the plum pudding. And I’m going to tell you how to make it, even though I would put money on the fact that nobody who reads this will actually try making one. My grandfather faxed the recipe to me from England, transcribed from my grandmother’s “norse mutterings”, back in 1991. It really wouldn’t be Christmas dinner if I didn’t serve Granny’s Plum Pudding afterwards.

Christmas Menu

Smoked salmon, creme fraiche, minced red onion and lemon on Swedish rye bread with fennel seed and orange rind

French dip sandwiches with horseradish cream, sour cherry chutney and strong beef broth for dipping

Watercress salad with gorgonzola dolce, blood oranges, candied walnuts, quick pickled dried currants and shallots

Granny’s Plum Pudding and Hard Sauce

Plum Pudding  

You can make this weeks in advance of Christmas. It will only improve with age.

  • 3/4 cups softened butter
  • 2 cups soft bread crumbs from white bread
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups dried currants
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup candied citron or orange peel or a mixture of both – chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1 large cooking apple, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • the zest of one orange and one lemon
  • 3/4 cup sherry—or “any booze you have”; some people like Guinness for this. Others, ginger beer.

Stir all the ingredients together until well combined. Pack into a buttered pudding basin and steam in a soup pot for 6 hours. You do this by sealing the pudding basin and placing on a stainless steel vegetable steamer. Fill the pot with water so that it comes a quarter way up the sides of the pudding basin. After six hours let it rest uncovered on the counter until it is cool. Store in the refrigerator for weeks if necessary and reheat in a steamer on the stove. This seems to take about 2 hours. All this cooking will not hurt the pudding in any way.

Martin says that Plum Pudding is really just a vehicle for the following hard sauce and I understand what he is saying up to a point. In my opinion, you do need to serve Plum Pudding with some sort of sauce. We like Hard Sauce. Some people serve it with a sickly rum creme anglaise kind of thing but I don’t approve of that.

Hard Sauce

  • 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups soft brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp brandy

Cream the butter and then add the sugar. A hand mixer or food processor will make this very quick. Then add the brandy and process until smooth. Taste it; you may want more brandy. Put the hard sauce in the refrigerator to chill. I like this lethally strong as the contrast of the boozy sauce melting over the the mindbendingly rich and steamy pudding is so completely diverting.

It would be very much in the spirit of the Christmas season to have a not-too-small piece heated up in the microwave the morning after with a spoonful of Hard Sauce. Eat it in bed before the kids have woken up with a cup of strong Indian tea with milk on the bedside table, while reading one of the books you unwrapped the day before.

That’s what I would do.

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Summer with a twist – Rhubarb cocktails and gravad lax

It’s summer (sort of) here in the Pacific Northwest.  I’m going to keep this quick and offer Gravad Lax – home cured salmon – as an option for when you are tired of the grill.

For me this happens maybe once each summer – usually during a heat wave when it’s too hot to stand around flipping burgers in front of a red-hot pile of charcoal. Instead of singeing your eyebrows off in 90 degree heat by the Weber while your guests are sitting over there drinking cold beer, your dinner is already done, so you can be sitting in the sun with a beer too. You see, you salt the fish two days before you eat it, allowing it to cure in the refrigerator. About half an hour before you want to eat, pull the salmon from the cold of the fridge and shave the thinnest translucent slices possible from the fish. The salt will have pulled all the moisture out and the color will be vividly red. The cool salty-silky salmon is a welcome change from peppery charred filets you might expect on a hot June night. Even though it’s not exactly hot here in Seattle.

I like to imagine serving gravad lax in the long bright evenings you get in Stockholm at midsummer, but without the mosquitoes. We didn’t have mosquitoes last week but since this is Seattle in June, we had rain, rain, rain. No sultry summer evening in the garden for us! Still, we had a fantastic time with friends. With the salmon, we served rhubarb cocktails. I’m including both recipes. Happy summer!

The Stockholm – serves 1

  • 1/2 ounce aquavit
  • 1/2 ounce cointreau
  • 1 1/2 ounces rhubarb puree (recipe follows)
  • dash of orange bitters
  • Prosecco to top up
  • a piece of orange peel, cut wide with a sharp vegetable peeler

Rhubarb puree – makes enough for many cocktails

  • 4 stalks rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2″ slices
  • 3-4 tbsp sugar
  • juice of one lime

  1. Preheat the oven to 400.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a small baking dish (for instance, an 8″x8″ square pan or a gratin). Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  3. Bake in the oven for about 1/2 an hour until the fruit is completely soft.
  4. Push the rhubarb through a fine mesh sieve with a wooden spoon or, if you are feeling completely lazy, puree in the food processor. (if you opt for the food processor, the puree will be somewhat fibrous)
  5. Refrigerate until cold and proceed.

Assembling the cocktail:

  1. In a tall cold champagne flute stir together the aquavit, cointreau, rhubarb puree and the bitters.
  2. Top up with chilly Prosecco and float a wide piece of orange peel to finish.

This is now my favorite summer cocktail. That St. Germaine that I sometimes rave about would potentially be an excellent substitute for the Cointreau if you happen to have any lying around.

Gravad Lax – serves 6-8 as a generous appetizer

Allow 4 days to complete the recipe. Note that there is a total of 15 minutes  easy work though.

  • 2 pounds salmon (I used Copper River sockeye)
  • 2 teaspoons peppercorns (I used mixed), lightly crushed
  • 4 tablespoons kosher salt (not fancy kosher sea salt & not sea salt, just regular old kosher)
  • 2-4 tablespoons sugar (I used 3)
  • About a cup of rinsed, coarsely chopped dill
  • lemon wedges, finely minced onion, chopped chives, crème fraiche, cucumber slices, coarse sea salt, thinly sliced dark rye bread to serve

  1. Day 1-2: Freeze the salmon for 48 hours to kill any parasites.
  2. Day 3: First, cut the salmon fillet in half across the short dimension. If you pull any pin bones with needle nosed pliers, you will make slicing and serving a lot easier.
  3. Stir the peppercorns, salt and sugar together in a small bowl.
  4. In a rimmed baking dish (to catch any salt that doesn’t adhere) rub about a third of the salt mixture on the flesh side of each piece of salmon.
  5. Sandwich the salted fish, flesh sides together, with the rest of the salt mixture and the dill in the middle. The thick part of one piece should top the thin part of the other. Place in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, carefully sealed, in the bottom of the refrigerator for 2 days. I would put the bag in a baking dish. Turn the bag a couple of times a day.
  6. Day 5: After 2 days, drain any liquid and scrape off the salt mixture and dill and place in the freezer for half an hour (you don’t HAVE to put it in the freezer but it sure makes slicing it very thin a lot easier)
  7. Gravad lax keeps for at least a week, drained of all the accumulated liquid, in the refrigerator. Well wrapped, it keeps for 3 months in the freezer.
  8. Serve with crème fraiche, chopped chives or minced red onion, lemon wedges, maybe a few cucumber slices and if you are feeling ambitious (I recommend this) some excellent homemade rye bread with fennel seeds. (If you haven’t tried rye without caraway seeds, you haven’t lived. You won’t be disappointed I promise – send me a comment if you want the recipe!) Otherwise some of those rye cocktail squares or German style pumpernickel would be fine.

I like to make a big platter with everything, piling up the gravad lax and all the condiments in heaps. Little teaspoons can scoop up the crème fraiche and onions. Everyone can build little sandwiches according to their own taste. A little bite of sandwich, a taste of the cocktail, and around it goes. What a nice party! A more organized person than I am would at least provide cocktail napkins. Oh well.

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Spring green: Roast Asparagus Salad

I have been having an incredibly good time in my kitchen this week, inspired by the first sunny and (slightly) warm weather we have had here in Seattle since…September? Seattle is blooming and everything that has been brown and wet for so long is now green. (And wet. Sigh.) Still, the green is a huge improvement. Now I want to make green food.

First there was the riff on a dish of black rice, clams, aioli and cilantro that I had at Sitka and Spruce – except I made it with sear-roasted halibut. The cilantro made it a little bit green. I loved seeing it bright and fresh in the photo. The flavor with the lemon was pure sunshine. Here’s what it looked like:

My friend Christine thoughtfully brought over an Alsatian Riesling to drink with it and it was perfect, more so because I got to share it with a really good friend. As soon as I have a chance to make the halibut again, I’ll  take pictures and post the method. I want to show you how to make aioli.

Still, I wanted the food to be greener. So I made up this very very green salad – toying with a dressing from Deborah Madison, spring asparagus, arugula, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. Here it is:

So, there’s the bitter asparagus and the even bitterer arugula. But the asparagus’ pungency is tempered by it’s bout with the broiler. The flavor becomes rounded, richer, a little nutty. The goat cheese was something leftover from the dinner party, the sort with colored peppercorns. Martin toasted the pinenuts – for warmth and crunch. Then there’s the dressing, borrowed from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I skipped a couple of things – the big one being the capers. Here’s what Nora Ephron says about capers:

Any dish that tastes good with capers in it tastes even better with capers not in it.

I agree 100% and I feel validated in my opinion because Nora Ephron said it first.

Anyway, the dressing. I made it for this cabbage and arugula slaw that I was sure would be wonderful (it wasn’t) but the dressing had potential. (without the capers!) Garlic, salt, fennel seed and black peppercorns are mashed together with a mortar and pestle and then left to macerate with olive oil, shallots and lemon rind. It’s complex. Fire from the garlic and peppercorns, high spring notes of fennel and lemon and the edge-y richness of sliced shallots and champagne vinegar. Without the capers, it’s pretty fantastic. This is an extremely green, salad tour de force. I think after this cold and gloomy winter what I needed was a giant hit of chlorophyll.

With the salad, we made the grilled shrimp with bread crumbs from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking that I wrote about last summer and the white bean and basil puree that I wrote about when I first started writing Notes on Dinner.  And here is how to make the green salad:

Asparagus Salad with Arugula, Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts – serves 4

  • 1 bunch of asparagus, rinsed, ends snapped off
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper
  • 4 generous handfuls of arugula, washed and dried
  • 1 ounce goat cheese – with peppercorns, if you like that sort of thing, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted in a small dry skillet over medium heat until glossy and golden

The Dressing (for this you will need a mortar and pestle)

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp dry tarragon
  • 1/4 cup parsley, minced and divided
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 zest of a lemon – finely grated with a microplane
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat the broiler – set it to high.

In the mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, sea salt, fennel seeds, peppercorns, tarragon and 2 tbsp of the minced parsley until you have a smooth paste.

Stir in the lemon zest, shallots, the rest of the parsley and olive oil and leave to macerate for 1/2 an hour.

While the salad dressing is resting, arrange the arugula on a large platter.

Then toss the asparagus with 2 tbsp olive, 1/2 tsp sea salt and several grindings of black pepper on a rimmed sheet pan. It should be in one layer. Broil 4 inches from the heat until bubbling; toasted but still crisp/tender. My asparagus was just under 1/2″ in diameter and this took about 2 minutes per side – a total of 4 minutes.

Remove the asparagus from the pan and arrange while still hot, over the arugula.

Strew the crumbled goat cheese and pine nuts over everything.

Add the champagne vinegar to the dressing and taste. Does it need more salt?

Ladle the dressing over the salad – depending on how much asparagus and arugula you have, you may not need all of it.

So I have this photo of the dinner and I’m not crazy about it. I don’t like to make excuses when I think something is lame; as my aunt says: you have to feign nonchalance in these situations. But this is sort of funny. My boys were so desperate to get their hands on this dinner (they both love Ms. Hazan’s juicy and crisp shrimp) that when I wanted to stop for less than sixty seconds to take the picture, they both started to cry! So I stopped messing about and served dinner. Everyone was happy. Here’s the photo:
It could have been a lot prettier but seriously, it was totally delicious.

 

 

 

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Surf and Turf. My way.

Surf n’ turf makes me think of Outback Steakhouse or Olive Garden – not that I’ve ever been to either place; I can only surmise. As much as I like steak and shrimp, I have to ask: isn’t it kind of over the top having them both at once? And yet, it was Sunday and we had a too small steak in the freezer and coming back from a soccer game, we just happened to pass Mutual Fish where they always have something I want. Right in front in a big plastic tub of ice chips were a heap of rosy pink shrimp. Surf and Turf? I  guess so.

Sometimes Sunday is a good day to make a huge elaborate meal like spaghetti bolognese – the 4 hour long Marcella Hazan version – or a Roast Chicken with Bread Salad, like the one Judy Rogers makes at Zuni Cafe.  Today was a napping Sunday – a day where the weather threatens to rain but it never quite does and it’s too warmly muggy outside. I fought it all afternoon and then at about 4:30 I just wanted to go to sleep and I did.  Waking up on the couch bleary eyed and sleepy at 5:15, I dreaded pulling dinner together.

I was fortunate though in two ways: 1. I had that small thick steak and a pound of large shrimp waiting in the refrigerator. Also a bag of arugula – that was key. 2. I fell asleep perusing Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. When I woke up at 5:15 I began flipping through hoping for easy and wonderful and I found something right away – lucky me. Although it’s hardly surprising. Somehow Ms. Hazan always perks me up. I get curious. I want to do the right thing. I hope she would approve. I want to get to work. Not too much work in this case. We were eating by 6:15.

Here is what I found:

Grilled Shrimp Skewers & La Fiorentina.

Shrimp and steak? It could be predictable and pedestrian. Here – I don’t think so. I haven’t ever seen shrimp prepared with breadcrumbs on the grill. The breadcrumbs became wonderfully crisp and the large shrimp were moist, flavorful and tender. The recipe is so straightforward, and because the shrimp were large they took no time to clean. I do have to admit the Fiorentina was just for inspiration. My humble steak was no Chianina T-bone. The truth is, salt, pepper and olive oil are all a good piece of beef really needs. For this menu, aside from the shrimp and the steak, all of the other ingredients you might reasonably have on hand. It’s the method that kicks it. That is what I love about Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. There aren’t any culinary acrobatics. Although the meal was composed of simple ingredients using simple techniques – I made something we all loved  – there wasn’t a scrap left!

Sunday Menu

  • Grilled Shrimp Skewers
  • Grilled Beef
  • Arugula with olive oil and lemon – as a bed for the beef and shrimp
  • Grilled Asparagus
  • Red Quinoa with Sea Salt, olive oil and garlic (If you didn’t have quinoa, a rustic loaf of bread would be perfect. If I had had one in the house – that would have been my first choice. Less messy too.)

Grilled Shrimp Skewers

  • 1 lb large shrimp – about 15-18
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup dried bread crumbs (I make these when I have a few heels of soft sandwich bread and dry them out on a sheet pan in a 200 F oven for about 1/2 an hour)
  • 1 small clove of garlic chopped very fine
  • 1 heaping tsp parsley, chopped fine
  • Salt and pepper – freshly ground
  • A lemon sliced in eighths for squeezing
  • 5-6 short skewers – soaked in water
  1. Remove the shells from the shrimp and slice down their backs to remove the dark line. Leave their tails on – they look pretty.
  2. Rinse the shrimp in cold water in a colander and dry thoroughly with a towel.
  3. Place shrimp in a medium sized bowl. Pour the olive oil over the  shrimp – just to coat.  Don’t go overboard. You don’t have to use all of it.
  4. Sprinkle on the bread crumbs, evenly but lightly all over. Toss with a spoon. You may not need all of the bread crumbs depending on the size of your shrimp. Don’t make them look breaded with a gloppy coating. Sprinkle with a light hand.
  5. Add the garlic, parsley, salt and pepper and toss until evenly distributed.  Let them sit on the counter now for at least 20 minutes – you could leave them there for up to two hours.
  6. Set the grill to direct medium (or heat the broiler in your oven) 15 minutes before you want to cook the shrimp.
  7. Thread the shrimp on the skewers in even curls, piercing each shrimp twice, as seen in the photo below:
  8. Cook the shrimp on the grill for a few minutes per side – until they feel firm.  In the oven set them close to the heat. 1 1/2 or 2 minutes per side.
  9. Serve hot. The small squirt of lemon made this dish just right.

Steak in the Style of La Fiorentina

Somebody somewhere in Tuscany would certainly want to have words with me after this Fiorentina travesty. I know Tuscans take this steak preparation very seriously and would hate me throwing around “La Fiorentina” on some random cut of meat.  Also the idea that I would serve something so rare, luxurious, and symbolic of Tuscan cooking with…shrimp!?!?!  You’ll just have to bear with me. Anyway, even if I wanted a Chianina T-bone, they’re few and far between even in Tuscany. Today I went with a steak that Martin picked up, which the butcher at Whole Foods called “chateaubriand”.

I am not nearly as knowledgeable as I would like to be about these matters, but even I know that Chateaubriand refers to a preparation of beef, not a cut. Whatever it was, it was not a T-bone – maybe it was a sirloin. It was fine.  Since I can’t tell you what exactly the cut was that I grilled tonight,  I will tell you how to make a flank steak in the Fiorentina style. (I have done this before and I know that it tastes wonderful.) To prepare a flank steak Fiorentina-style, grill the meat over very hot coals to get a deeply caramelized exterior and keep it rather bloody inside.  Salt and pepper are the only flavoring before grilling and olive oil dresses the meat afterwards.  I suppose I am committing further heresy as I serve mine on a bed of lightly dressed arugula with olive oil and lemon.  The arugula wilts just enough under the hot grilled beef and is completely delicious – bitter, salty and lemony with the mineraly meat juices further dressing it. The flavors remind me of the first time I had carpaccio.


Grilled Flank Steak in the Fiorentina Style

(with a nod to my good friend Lee, who introduced me to the arugula salad underneath!)

  • 1 – 1 1/4 lbs flank steak, about 1″ thick
  • kosher salt or coarsely ground sea salt
  • coarsely ground black pepper
  • fruity-sharp green olive oil – for dressing afterwards not before
  • 3-4 big handfuls of washed and dried arugula – I get the bag of wild arugula from Trader Joe’s when I am too tired to wash a real bunch.
  • 1 lemon cut in half
  • a very hot grill
  1. Bring the beef to room temperature by unwrapping it and letting it sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Heat the grill on high.
  3. Generously salt and pepper the steak.
  4. Grill for 8-10 minutes flipping once half way through the cooking time.
  5. While the meat is grilling, toss the arugula with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a large serving platter.
  6. The meat is done when it reaches 145 F on a meat thermometer. Allow the beef to rest uncovered for 5 or 10 minutes on a cutting board. Slice thinly and lay over dressed arugula. Squeeze the lemon half over the top.
  7. While the meat is resting grill the shrimp and the asparagus – the asparagus takes 6-8 minutes unless you have pencil-slim ones – which you should start checking after 4 minutes.

If Ms. Hazan were here she would certainly give me a talking to. Oh well.

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Taco Night

Mexican Fiesta. To me, it sounds like the theme for a suburban street party. When I go visit my brother Matt and his wife Ariela in California though, he makes what my friend Candice calls Mexican Fiesta for dinner. Hands down this is the most versatile menu there is. Mexican Fiesta can be anything from a simple cheese quesadilla to the works: grilled skirt steak and chicken, pico de gallo, guacamole, black beans and more. What I love to do is sit in the sun at my brother’s house, lazily scooping up fresh guacamole with a pepper jack cheese quesadilla and a cold beer, watching our kids play. And I love it even more when he goes all out with grilled steak, chicken or fish and the beans and condiments and I can build as many different combinations on corn tortillas as I can imagine.

Not only is this kind of  food very fresh and gorgeous to look at, it also has the advantage of scalability. The meal can easily be made for 1 or 2 people or 40 without any real headaches. You can make all of the components from scratch and make everyone you invited feel like they want to move in with you or you can buy most of the parts pre-made at Trader Joe’s and you’ll still have a very satisfying very quick meal. Vegetarians, vegans, meat eaters, dieters and even picky children are all easily accommodated and no matter what, dinner still tastes good. You can’t really go wrong.

Here is the ultimate menu, the one I like to make for celebrating something. If I had the time or if the avocados were always as ripe and delicious as they were yesterday – I would always make it this way.  For a meal that tastes this lavish and feels this festive – it’s hardly any work at all.

Menu

  • Grilled Skirt Steak with one of the rubs my brother and his wife make for us for Christmas – medium rare
  • Cumin and Coriander Black Beans
  • My brother Matt’s recipe for guacamole
  • Quick Pickled Onions
  • Grated Pepper Jack
  • Grated Monterey Jack
  • Medium and Hot Salsa – like pico de gallo (I would buy this.  Since I’ve had kids I don’t make salsa)
  • Marie Sharps Habanero Sauce (another tip from Matt)
  • Fresh Cilantro Leaves
  • Limes
  • Warm Corn Tortillas – search out the kind that are made of corn, lime and water – nothing else

I made this menu last night for some very good friends who are taking off this weekend on a sail across the Pacific ocean.  They’ll be at sea almost a month before they see land and fresh food, so I wanted to send them off with the memory of something really fresh, made from scratch.

Making this dinner is such a pleasure. The work really pays off.  I love that when I’m done preparing the food I have all these bowls filled with bright colors. The red flecked green guacamole, the confetti of the pico de gallo, bright pink ribbons of pickled onion with a deep red chile nestled just there, the steaming coriander scented black beans in a bright blue bowl, the wedges of translucent limes in a glass bowl, a plate of ruffled cilantro, slivers of creamy cheese in yellow bowls and (and this is probably not for everyone but I LOVE this part) the ragged slices of red skirt steak,with their deeply browned and smoky exterior on a butcher block cutting board. Finally the toasted warm scent of corn tortillas. The smell of all those things together – sharp and smoky and spicy and citrusy. Yum.

If you are in a hurry though, the guacamole can be gotten from Trader Joe’s refrigerator case (the plain one is better – trust me), you could heat up black beans straight from the can (please rinse them first!), skip the pickled onions, one of the cheeses, the Marie Sharp’s and the cilantro and call it a day.  It would still be a really great meal.  Also if your guests don’t eat meat or if you want to have variety, grilled chicken, fish or shrimp would be wonderful instead of or in addition to the skirt steak. Or just have a big bowl of black beans. The endless possibilities!

Dry Rubbed Skirt Steak

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 lbs skirt steak
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp dry garlic
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Canola oil spray
  1. Mix all dry ingredients together in a small bowl and rub all over skirt steak.
  2. Let sit at room temperature for 1/2 an hour.
  3. Spray all over the skirt steak lightly with canola oil. Grill over high heat for a TOTAL of 5 minutes – turning half way through.
  4. Allow meat to rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain.  If you like your meat quite bloody you could grill it for 3 minutes total. I no longer like mine that rare.

“Matt’s Awesome Guacamole” (with Matt’s excellent and illuminating directions)

Serves 4

Guacamole is three things: Avos, lime and salt. Lime and salt are pretty consistent but a good avo, either Haas or Fuerte , is hard to find, and is truly at the core of good guac. You can have a great recipe and bad avos and the guac’s bad. Or you can have a lousy recipe, and great avos and the guac’s great. So first and foremost, get some good avos.  Buen provecho!

  • 2 avocados
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • shake of cayenne
  • 1/2 medium sized tomato, diced
  • 1/2 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • splash of hot sauce (preferably Marie Sharp’s)
  • One small handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped

You will benefit from a knife, a spoon and a fork in the making of guacamole. Knife to slice and chop. Spoon to remove the avo from the peel. (Don’t pre-dice, take out whole halves from the skin if possible) Fork to mix ingredients.  Throw all the ingredients into a bowl, and mix. Leave it smooth, but with some nice buttery slabs of avo too. Serve with a bowl of tortilla chips, a quesadilla or as a topping on a taco.

Cumin and Coriander Black Beans

Serves 4

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely diced
  • pinch of red chile flakes
  • 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cans of black beans drained and rinsed
  1. Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the diced onion and cook until softened, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, chile flakes, cumin and coriander and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the black beans and stir until warmed thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Quick Pickled Onions

These onions are new. In fact, I found the recipe yesterday and I can’t believe I have lived my whole taco eating life without making them. I didn’t take pictures of the food last night because I wanted to focus on my friends, but believe me when I tell you, these onions are gorgeous and tangy and spicy and ravishing and delicious. And so quick and straight forward to make you have no excuse not to try.

  • 3/4 c. white vinegar (the pickling kind – not fancy white wine vinegar)
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 5 allspice berries
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 dried red chile
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced; not insanely thin, as in sliced with a mandolin so you could read the newspaper through them but as thin as possible with a knife (hopefully a sharp 8″ chef’s knife)
  1. In a medium sized non-reactive saucepan mix the vinegar, sugar, allspice, cloves, bay leaf and red chile.
  2. Set the heat to medium high and simmer for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the sliced onion and toss until combined. Then simmer for 30 seconds.
  4. Place in serving dish and chill.

My next project is to learn how to make my own corn tortillas. Obviously these would be for the ultimate version of this menu although from what I have heard they are not too über-chef for a regular old home cook like me!  I’ll let you know.

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Warm Bulgur Salad with Grilled Salmon, Cucumbers and Mint

Normally I steer away from Family-Friendly-Weeknight-Fast-Only-15-Minutes headings in magazines. It’s not that I’m against any of those sentiments – not at all!  It’s just that if there is a can of artichoke hearts involved or a jar of marinara sauce or a bag of frozen pizza dough, I worry that the resulting dish really won’t be delicious enough. You don’t have to take so many short-cuts to eat well quickly.

Today was really busy though, and I knew I wouldn’t be home until 5:30. I wanted to eat something fresh, easy and fast (all those buzz words!) that I would be able to put together in 1/2 an hour or less – no crazy chopping, no long marinating, nothing like that. So I found myself flipping through the “Family-Friendly-Fast” section of a magazine. Here I found “Minty Bulgur Salad with Salmon and Cucumbers”. It looked promising and turned out to be delicious. As always, I steered away from the finickier parts.  The author would have you cool the salmon and bulgur in the fridge after cooking – not for me! I say it’s more delicious, more flavorful and – dare I say – more elegant to serve it just barely warm.

On the side, we had beautifully charred, salt and pepper-y grilled asparagus.

Warm Bulgur Salad with Grilled Salmon, Cucumbers and Mint

  • 1 tbsp delicious green olive oil, or more to taste
  • 1 1/4 pounds salmon fillet
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups bulgur
  • 1/2  an English cucumber
  • 10-12 small tomatoes
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, stems removed
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, larger leaves torn
  • 1/2 cup thin slivers of red onion
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • good red wine vinegar to taste
  1. First, boil a kettle of water. While the water is boiling, put the bulgur into a medium sized heat proof bowl. Pour three cups of boiling water over the bulgur, briefly stir and leave to sit for 25 minutes (or more if you’re not quite done with the other parts of the recipe.  It shouldn’t take much longer than that though.)
  2. Put the red onion slivers in a small bowl with cold water to cover.  Add a splash of vinegar and set aside.
  3. Thinly slice the cucumber and halve the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  4. Heat up the outdoor grill or your grill pan. Season the salmon with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper. Spray or brush generously with olive oil. If the grill is gas, set the heat to direct medium. With a grill pan, medium high on the stove should be right.  You want to get that grill or pan good and hot – then things won’t stick to it. Lay the salmon flesh side down. Grill for 7-8 minutes on the flesh side. The general wisdom will tell you that salmon fillet is done when you cook it 5 minutes each side – but that is not really the case.  After 5 minutes on a non-stick surface, salmon will cling to the pan or the grill with a vice-like grip.  You could try to flip it but the whole crisp and grill marked surface will be ruined. BUT! if you wait another minute or two, carefully lifting an edge with a thin metal spatula, the filet will slide right off like a slipper and you won’t have mangled the grill marks.   7-8 minutes on the flesh side, 3 on the skin side – that’s how you grill perfect salmon.
  5. As the salmon is grilling, drain the bulgur and the onions. Toss bulgur with the olive oil, lemon juice and red wine vinegar to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley and mint. You can flake the salmon and toss everything together on a large platter or serve larger pieces of the salmon over the warm salad, which is what I did.

Grilled Asparagus

The thicker variety is best here – the pencil thin asparagus just falls through the grate and also becomes terribly mushy. Conveniently, the asparagus cooks at the same temperature and for nearly the same time as the salmon!

  • 1 lb asparagus, washed and woody ends snapped off
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Toss the asparagus with 2 tsp olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper
  2. Grill for 6-8 minutes on direct medium heat, flipping once.
  3. Serve.
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