28 December 2011

Healthy Dinner Party and Super Simple Salmon

We had the funnest party tonight. Well, actually, we had two parties: one for the kids and one for the adults. We bought deli pizzas for the kids and served them up with chips, veggies, and candy-coated popcorn (that's not the healthy part . . .) but then served an elegant buffet upstairs for the adults. The kids played games, made crafts, and watched movies, so they didn't mind the separation at all.

I prepped this meal in my mind many days ago, basing it around some really good salmon I got on sale last week. I popped it in the freezer, then pulled it out for today. It was only as I was assembling the meal this afternoon that I realized what a balanced, nutritious, and almost downright wholesome party I had crafted. We had cheesecake with various homemade sauces for dessert, but a slice won't kill you. Balance in all things. :)

Here's what we had:

The links are for the recipes that inspired tonight's dishes, although I had my own little tweaks and adjustments, of course. That salmon? That's the easiest part, and one of the treasures of my repertoire. It is so easy to make that we ate it all summer, sometimes with salmon, and sometimes with trout. I might even like the stronger flavour of the trout better. Hard to say. Here it is, for your enjoyment.

Super Simple Poached Salmon

2-3 pound salmon filet

Place the salmon in a pan that will hold it. If you'd like a glorious presentation, use a roasting pan and leave the salmon in a single piece. It's not a crime to cut it, though, if you need to. Fill the pan with cold water to cover the salmon, then put a lid on or cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bring to a boil (if you're using a roasting pan, you might need to put it over 2 burners) then turn off the heat and let it sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes. Check for doneness by using a fork to open up a center section. It should be firm and pink and not shiny. Carefully transfer to a platter, cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for several hours, until thoroughly chilled.

That's it. Bring it to a boil during breakfast, put it in the fridge when you clean up that morning meal, and it'll be ready for dinner. Easiest fish EVER.

Lemon-Tarragon Mayonnaise

1 egg
1/4 tsp dry mustard or 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp flaky sea salt
1 tsp dried tarragon or 1 Tbsp fresh, chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced, divided
1 cup oil [I used 3/4 cup peanut and 1/4 cup olive]
fresh ground pepper

Put egg, mustard, salt, half the lemon juice and half the zest in the bowl of a food processor. Turn on to mix, and with mixer running, slowly, even drop by drop, add oil to the mixer. I have some notes on this here. Continue adding oil until fully emulsified, thick, and combined. Season with additional lemon juice and pepper, to taste. I made mine rather tangy. I suggest making it when you make the salmon so it has time to sit and rest and meld and yummify. If you'd prefer it as a sauce, you could thin it down with milk or cream, but I suggest doing it when you make it, as mayonnaise is a little obnoxious to thin with a stirring spoon.

21 December 2011

Christmas Salad

OK, I only call it that because it's Green, Red, and White and had candy on it. It looked so perfect on our table tonight with our Mushroom Bourguignon, and it tasted even better. Now, I should probably put it out there at the beginning that the basis of this recipe is celery. Yup, celery. It was a winner, though, because not only was it delicious, but  I already had toasted hazelnuts on hand and so it came together in a snap. You could, of course, use any kind of nuts and it would still be delicious. I'm think walnuts or pecans would be amazing. If you're going to toast the nuts, start them first, and by the time they're finished, you're done with everything else.

Celery, Blue Cheese, and Cranberry Salad
adapted from Simply Recipes

6 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted, skins removed, and coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp maple Syrup
Pinch of cayenne
1 1/2 bunches of celery (more or less, depending on the size of it)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

If you need to roast your hazelnuts, there are 30-second instructions here. If using other nuts, or not roasting, proceed.

Slice the celery stalks on the diagonal into 1/4-inch thick slices and lay them on a large serving platter. Sprinkle cranberries over the top, then crumbled blue cheese.

Melt butter in a small skillet. Add a pinch of cayenne and salt. Add the roasted hazelnuts to the pan and toast them on medium low heat for a few minutes, stirring continuously. When the hazelnuts are hot, turn off the heat and add maple syrup to the pan. Stir to coat the hazelnuts in the maple syrup. Let glazed nuts sit in the pan to cool, stirring every couple minutes to keep them loose as they cool.

In a small jar, mix together the olive oil and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Shake to combine.

Toss nuts over the salad, and drizzle on dressing just before serving.

24 November 2011

Cranberry Pear Crisp

Gather your ingredients—you need to make this RIGHT NOW.

Now that's out of the way, I have a confession. Are you ready for this?

I have a deep, passionate, torrid, and terribly gratifying love affair with cranberries. It's almost an obsession. It's a fruit that grows beautifully in North America, has a distinct sweet/tart flavour, and, unfortunately, is harvested only two months out of the year. OK, here's a second confession: I buy them up when they're on sale in November and keep them in the freezer. Since you really never use raw cranberries for anything, freezing them has little effect on their usefulness or versatility, so it's ideal. You should try it. They'll be gone before you know it!

We opted to forego traditional pies this year, but replaced them with the most delicious fall harvest, sweet goodness in the whole world. You know you want it. This calls for gingersnaps, and I made my own molasses spice cookie for those, but you definitely don't need to do that. Maybe I'll post that recipe some time. Because both cranberries and pears are in season right now, they're both super cheap. GO! BUY SOME! MAKE THIS CRISP!

Cranberry Pear Crisp
adapted from Sweet Melissa Patisserie via Smitten Kitchen

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 cup gingersnap crumbs (about 4 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon table salt
Pinch of white pepper, [trust . . .]
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

5 large ripe pears (I used a combination of red and green Anjou) peeled, halved, cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries (about 1/2 bag)
Juice and finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (use the kind you made at home with rum. Pears ♥ Rum . . .)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Stir together the flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, gingersnap crumbs, ginger and salt. Stir in the melted butter until large crumbs form. Set aside.

In a 1 1/2 to 2 quart baking dish, mix the pears, cranberries, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla. Just dump them in there. If you want a thick crisp, go for a smaller, deeper pan. I used a large (10") square dish and the ratio of fruit to crumble was excellent. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together then toss it with the fruit mixture in the pan. No extra spices, just sugar and thickener. This baby tastes like its fruit.

Sprinkle the gingersnap crumble over the fruit. Set the crumble on a foil-lined baking sheet if you're worried about bubble over (mine didn't because the dish was big) and bake it for about 45 minutes, until the crumble is a shade darker and you see juices bubbling through the crumbs.

Eat this thing ravenously and fresh from the oven. Or for breakfast. I think it would be great for breakfast. Or over ice cream. We used slightly sweetened fresh whipped cream and garnished with some of the leftover cookies.


01 October 2011

Green Tomato Salsa

The weather here is turning, and while the days are wonderful, often flirting with temperatures in the 70s, the nights are often in the low 40s. This, of course, means that our tomatoes are no longer enjoying the luxury of long, warm days for ripening. It is, therefore, time to find a solution for all those green tomatoes that are left on our plants (and the plants of our school garden, which no one seems to want besides us.) We harvested the other day and got close to 2 bushels of green tomatoes.


So, I set about to find a way to use them up, and while tomatillos and tomatoes are not related, a green tomato is a grand substitute for a tomatillo in time of abundance, as evidenced by my out of this world green chile salsa.

People, this is like CHILE VERDE IN A JAR. In fact, I'm pretty sure we could brown a pork roast, dump in a quart of this salsa, add some water, and have chile verde, end of story. I highly encourage you to put some of this away for the winter. It's also good with chips. :)

I made a quintuple batch (yes you read that right) that yielded about 16 pints, but here are the measurements for a single batch of spicy green goodness. Oh baby, yeah.

Green Tomato Green Chile Salsa
makes about 3 pints

5 cups chopped green tomatoes
1 1/2 cups chopped green chiles, seeded (I used Anaheim and Tiburon)
1/2 cup chopped jalapeños, seeded (or not, at your own risk . . .)
3 cups chopped onions
1/2 cup bottled lemon juice
1/4 cup bottled lime juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp crushed cumin seeds or ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large pot (I used our canning pot for my giant batch!) and bring to a boil. Stir often, until all ingredients are softened. I pulled out my handy dandy stick blender (you know, the vvt-vvt,) and then slowly made my way through the 2 gallons of assorted greenness unless it was fairly smooth and well blended. You could also purée it in batches in a food processor, but that would take forever for my giant batch. After blending, boil for another 10-15 minutes, then fill your clean jars and process them. 15 minutes in boiling water should do it. I'm pretty sure if I made only a single batch, it wouldn't last through the weekend. A giant batch was a very good idea.

Now, if you have tomatillos, sub them in for the green tomatoes. I just happened to have an over-abundance of green tomatoes, so that's the route I went. We'll be making another giant batch tonight, I believe.

**NOTE: I just finished a second giant batch, and this one turned out a bit tarter than the previous. I think I used a little too much acid, so perhaps a little less lemon or vinegar for this batch? There's plenty to keep it safe, at least according to my research, so I think you can go down as low as 3/4 cup total, according to your own taste. I probably would. Of course, follow good health preserving guidelines for your altitude and comfort zone. You're responsible for staying botulism free in your own home. :)

10 September 2011

The Best Peach Jam I've Ever Had

OK, disclaimers first: I used nectarines, not peaches, because the sale-price nectarines were riper than the sale-price peaches. So there.

Back to our show: The jam. This batch of sugary goo is out. of. control. The boys wanted to just eat and eat it once I gave them a little taster. I intentionally preserved it in smaller jars so we wouldn't eat it all in one fell swoop once opened. It has a few less-than-conventional ingredients, but I think they are completely worth it. Oh, and go easy on the almond extract—we're talking drops, not anything more. That stuff will take over if you let it.

My Perfect Peach/Nectarine Jam
makes 6-8 cups

3-4 pounds ripe peaches and/or nectarines
7 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split
1/2 tsp unsalted butter
scant 1/8 tsp almond extract
2- 3oz. packets liquid pectin

Peel, pit, and chop peaches. Give them a good mashing—I used my hands and just squished them about, but you could also use a potato masher or pulse them a bit in a food processor. I got some great textural variety using my hands; I think I'd do it again.

Put peaches in a large, heavy saucepan, and add sugar, lemon juice, water, cinnamon stick, and vanilla. Stir to combine, and put over medium heat; stir until sugar is dissolved. Add butter and almond (I warned you—be careful with that stuff—err on the side of caution, and adjust to taste) and stir to combine. Heat, stirring constantly, until jam reaches a steady boil. Add both packets of pectin, and return to a boil. Boil 1 minute, remove from heat, and bottle that stuff using good common sense.

You don't have to preserve it of course. You could just put it in jars in the refrigerator and eat it up with a spoon. Or you could put it in a sweet dough shell and have an instant summer tart. No matter what you do with it, you're going to love the complex, smooth, summery flavour, especially in the dead of winter when you pull that jar off the pantry shelf. I know I'm looking forward to it.

07 August 2011


Spaetzle is/are awesome.

Speatzle is, essentially, egg noodles that carefully toe that line between pasta and dumpling, and they are, without a doubt, the easiest pasta I've ever made at home. The trick, of course, is shaping them, and while there are super cheap, extra reliable spaetzle makers, there are also many ways of improvising at home, including pushing the noodles through a large-holed colander, and using this crazy knife technique so common in Austria. I opted to turn my large-holed, flat cheese grater into a makeshift dumpling plopper, and it sure worked like a dream! I just plopped my dough over the top and rubbed rubber spatula back and forth across the large holes to push the batter through. I'll probably get a maker soon enough (probably in preparation for winter) but for now, my grater will work.


2 cups flour
4 eggs
1/3 cup water, milk or whey

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Go ahead and make it smooth. You want it to drip off the spoon in globs—not runny, but not kneadable. Cover and put in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or a couple days, if you're a make ahead-er.

When you're ready to eat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare an ice water bath. Then, cook them. The idea is let little blobs of the dough fall directly into the boiling water. This video shows the idea better than any other I found, and he does not use a special tool, just a steamer insert and a big pan. I tell you, my big hole cheese grater worked like a dream. If you have a colander with large holes, that will also work well.

I did this batch 1/2 at a time and it filled the pan about right. After you've finished rubbing the batter into the water, give it a stir and wait about 30 seconds, then scoop the noodles out with a slotted spoon or strainer, and put them in the ice water to stop cooking. Proceed with the remaining batter, following the same steps, then drain them and use them for your favorite noodle dish. We dumped ours into chicken noodle soup. It was easily 3 times the noodles we needed, but it was amazing.

  • I used whey leftover from draining homemade yogurt. It worked and I didn't waste the whey.
  • You probably don't have to let the dough rest, but, in my experience, batters, doughs, pastas, and breads always work better with a little time in which the gluten relaxes. Even the time it takes to make the rest of your dinner would probably be enough time for it. Just make the batter, let it rest in the refrigerator while you make a salad, chop some herbs, prepare a sauce, set the table, etc., then throw in those dumplings and you're ready to eat!

21 July 2011

Peach Syrup

Today our peaches were finally ready for canning. We, of course, have been eating them constantly since Monday night, but they weren't peeling and pitting easily, so we gave them a couple days to ripen up. Oh, Hallelujah! did they ripen up. They're amazing, especially for so early in the season, and we were happy to put up a dozen quarts in jars and a few more in the freezer for smoothies.

When all the peaches were packed away, I found myself with several cups of accumulated peach juice and a huge pile of peach peel. It seemed too promising to throw away, so I searched and adjusted and finally settled on making some peach syrup to have on hand for when we need a little waffle love or a pancake party.

Most of this is principle and taste based—it'll kind of depend on what you want in the end, but here are the principles:
  • You need peach juice, about 8 cups. Mine was a combination of what drained from the peaches and some I made by steeping the skins in water. I let it steep until it tasted wonderful, and called it good. So, if you have more juice on hand, add less water, just plan for 8 cups total.
  • You should use 1/2 as much sugar as juice. So, if you have 8 cups juice, you should use 4 cups sugar. Jams and jellies tend to use 7/8-1 cup sugar per sup of juice, but syrup doesn't need to be as thick, so you can go easy. You'll want to measure your juice before adding your sugar to make sure you don't overdo it.
  • Pectin is optional. I added some because I was trying to finish two different types of stuff and the same time and didn't want to wait any longer. You're looking for a temperature between 215˚ and 220˚ for your syrup if you don't use pectin. The best way to check it is with a frozen plate. It'll cool a dribble of jam quickly so you know how it will set. It's like the water test for candy.
So here's how I made mine today, and I consider it a great triumph for people who want to use every last bit of their fruit!

Peach syrup
makes 3-4 pints

3 cups peach juice (leftovers from canning)
3 cups peach peels and small chunks of fruit
5 cups water
4 cups sugar
2 Tbsp pectin+1/3 cup sugar [optional]

Boil peach juice, peels, and water gently until the taste is about where you want it, strong enough for the flavour of your syrup. Drain through a sieve, and press all the liquid out of the solids. Discard solids. Return juice to stove and bring to a boil. Add sugar, and boil gently, stirring often, until the frozen plate test gives you the desired thickness. If you're in a hurry, mix pectin and sugar, then add to syrup (careful, it will foam up!) and cook 2 minutes at a rolling boil. Preserve using good sense.