Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pecan, Oat, and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A few weeks ago, Kurt and I had a conversation about sports drinks. We’d both been out in the hot weather and were feeling dehydrated, and Kurt asked if a good, all-natural sports-drink type of product exists. My short answer was no. But, the more I thought about it, I decided the best option might be coconut water. I personally have not conducted any scientific tests, but I do find coconut water to be very refreshing and hydrating after working out outside in the heat of summer. And, incidentally, when I choose a brand of coconut water, Harmless Harvest is my favorite. I want to point out that this conversation and the beginning of my preference for Harmless Harvest all happened prior to that company contacting me about their Harmless Movement campaign. I was delighted to receive gifts of a branded mason jar and espresso cup and coupons for samples of coconut water. My reasons for choosing Harmless Harvest are: they use organically-grown, special green coconuts and never use ultra-processed mixes or blends; their farmers use traditional cultivation methods ensuring unique coconut flavor goes directly into the bottle; rather than pasteurizing the product, they use a special multi-step micro-filtration process to protect flavor; their product contains no GMOs, no additives, and no preservatives; and theirs is the first-ever Fair for Life-certified organic coconut water. It’s very rare that I’m approached by a brand that I am so happily willing to promote. I was able to sample a flavor option I hadn’t tried before as well. Harmless Harvest makes a coconut water with Fair Trade coffee and a little caffeine boost. I thought a snack with some dark chocolate in it would be a good match for coffee-flavored coconut water. I pulled a recipe from my files from the May 2015 issue of Living magazine, and this not-too-bad-for-you cookie with no butter, no flour, and no sugar quickly became my new favorite treat. 

Not often do I shout from the rooftops about a vegan cookie with no flour in it, but this really is a delicious cookie. First, pecans are finely ground, and that’s what gives the cookies body and great flavor. To the ground pecans, oats, baking powder, salt, cornstarch, olive oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract were added. The mixture was stirred to combine, and the dough was ready to portion and bake. Keep in mind that this dough doesn’t spread or settle as it bakes, so after placing mounds on a cookie sheet, press each to the thickness you prefer before baking. The cookies baked at 325 degrees F for about 20 minutes. 

Kurt’s favorite cookie is oatmeal-chocolate chip, so he was excited to find these cookies in the kitchen. He took a bite and declared them fantastic before I let him know they contained no butter, no sugar, and no flour. None of that mattered. They’re rich from the pecans and olive oil, nicely sweetened with maple syrup, and the big chunks of dark chocolate don’t disappoint. And, they go perfectly with Harmless Harvest coconut water with Fair Trade coffee. 


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds

My virtual travel via cookbook reading has now taken me to Central Asia into Uzbekistan and the surrounding areas. I was intrigued to learn more about the food from this part of the world, and a review copy of the new book Samarkand: Recipes and Stories from Central Asia and The Caucasus made that possible. Samarkand is a city along the Silk Route in the Zerafshan River valley in Uzbekistan where trade brought immense prosperity from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries. Trade also brought a mix of cultures and cuisines, and the book includes dishes from the different ethnic groups that have influenced this city’s food. There are strong similarities to Turkish food but also elements of Russian and even Korean. A variety of spices are used for flavoring dishes but not to add heat, and herbs and fresh and dried fruits are used frequently. There are several fresh vegetable dishes in the book like a salad of Radish, Cucumber, and Herbs made with scallions, cilantro, and dill and Walnut-Stuffed Eggplant Rolls with pomegranate seeds, mild green chile, and garlic. Among the hearty soups, I’m most curious about the Apricot and Red Lentil Soup with cumin seeds, thyme leaves, lemon juice, and dried apricots. One chapter is devoted to Roast Meats and Kebabs and another to Plovs and Pilafs. Plov is a layered pilaf popular throughout the region. It’s a celebratory dish that represents “hospitality, community, and identity.” One of the pilafs I have to try is the Pumpkin Stuffed with Jeweled Rice which involves partially cooked rice with dried fruit, orange blossom water, saffron, sliced almonds, chopped pistachios, and spices that gets spooned into a hollowed and partially cooked pumpkin to finish cooking together. And, from the Breads and Doughs chapter, I did try the Kyrgyz Swirled Onion Flatbread. I was amazed to find the process for forming these flatbreads to be the same as that of making the Scallion Flatbreads I learned in a class taught by Grace Young. (The recipe is also found in her book The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen.) Rather than using scallions and sesame oil, here onions were caramelized in butter and spread on flattened dough. Circles of dough were rolled into ropes, twisted into spiral shapes, and then rolled flat again to disperse the onion filling throughout a flattened dough round. The rounds were then cooked with just a little oil in a hot skillet and were crisped on the surfaces and deliciously chewy in the middle. The other dish I tried was fresh and bright for summer with zucchini, yellow squash, and lots of bright flavors. 

The Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds salad was easy to put together once all the ingredients were gathered. First, I tried to track down dried rose petals. Our Middle Eastern grocery store would normally have them, but they were out the day I was looking. I ended up using dried whole rose buds intended for tea, and I snipped off the stem end and loosened the petals. Pine nuts are easier to find, and they were toasted and cooled before being added to the dish. Ground sumac is also easy enough to locate these days, and it adds a lovely, lemony flavor. I used a mix of green and yellow zucchini from the farmers’ market, and they were grated into a big bowl. Poppy seeds, the toasted pine nuts, dried rose petals, zest and juice of a lemon, olive oil, ground sumac, cilantro leaves, and salt and black pepper were added, and the salad was served. 

The salad was crunchy, lemony, and so pretty with the mix of colors. And now, there are so many more flavor combinations I look forward to trying from the book. The Grape and Pistachio Orzo pasta salad with basil and Green Beans with Hazelnut Tarator are two I’m eyeing. When I can’t jump on a plane, virtual travel through food is the next best thing. 

Grated Zucchini with Pine Nuts and Poppy Seeds 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Samarkand

Raw zucchini has a pleasing crunch and nutty flavor that pairs well with the sweet taste of poppy seeds and pine nuts. In summer, a mix of green and yellow zucchini looks lovely with the pink rose petals. 

Serves 4 

4 small or 2 large zucchini, unpeeled 
1 tablespoon poppy seeds 
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted 
2 teaspoons dried rose petals 
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
1 teaspoon sugar 
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac 
a handful of cilantro leaves 
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Coarsely grate the zucchini into a bowl using a box grater. Toss with the remaining ingredients and season with salt and pepper. An extra pinch of salt flakes over the top is good as well. Serve immediately (it will soon get watery). 

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Friday, August 5, 2016

Peach Ricotta Scones

I’ve somehow let this summer slip by without baking much with local fruit. All the blueberries went into bowls with chunks of cantaloupe instead of being added to muffins or pancakes or turnovers. So, I was determined to do some baking with peaches before they’re gone for the year. I had extra motivation when I received a sample of Chameleon Cold Brew Texas Pecan Coffee. I’ve been a fan of this locally made cold brew coffee for years, and I couldn’t wait to try their new pecan flavor. The coffee is made with 100 percent organic, Fair Trade Arabica coffee and Texas Hill County limestone-cured water, and there is no added sugar in the flavored varieties. My plan was to whip up a breakfast full of Texas flavors with something deliciously peachy to go with this pecan coffee. I knew just what I wanted to bake. When I first mentioned the book Little Flower Baking I gushed a bit about how many recipes I wanted to try, and the Peach Ricotta Scones was one of them. They’re made with peaches mixed into the scone dough and an extra slice of peach of top of each one. And, the dollop of flavored ricotta on top was a revelation in scone-making. 

I’ve made just about every kind of scone there is from sweet to savory; with cream or buttermilk; cut into squares, circles, and triangles. But, this was the first time I’ve topped them with ricotta. Of course, I have opinions about making scones too. Here, the peaches were to be sliced and frozen before being mixed into the dough. That makes sense because peaches are very juicy and wouldn’t mix well into the dough after just being cut. However, next time I’ll cut the peaches into chunks rather than slices. The slices were a little too big to incorporate easily. Also, I usually mix the dough by hand rather than in a stand mixer. In the mixer, the dough can quickly become overworked, and the peaches broke and didn’t mix in as nicely as they would have by hand. To start, I used a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat pastry flour combined with a little sugar, salt, and baking powder. Chilled, cubed butter was added to the flour mixture in a stand mixer and mixed until crumbly. Cream was added while mixing until the dough came together, and the frozen peach slices were added. The dough was transferred to a work surface and patted into a thick square before being cut into squares. The squares were placed on a baking sheet, and each was pressed on top to form an indentation for the ricotta. Whole-milk ricotta was mixed with vanilla bean seeds, a little sugar, and almond extract. A tablespoon of the ricotta mixture was placed in the indentations in the scones, and an extra slice of peach was placed next to the ricotta on each one. The baking sheet then went into the freezer for an hour before being baked. 

Although I would make a couple of minor changes to the process next time, I wouldn’t change a thing about adding vanilla seeds and almond extract to ricotta and spooning it onto scones. I highly recommend trying that. Also, the freezing step before baking was essential. The ricotta firms up and stays in place well after being well chilled. And, the mix of Texas flavors with the cold brew pecan coffee? The nutty, smooth, nicely cold coffee was exactly right with peach scones. 

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thai Chicken and Watermelon Salad

It’s been over a week since we returned from vacation, but I’m still not really ready to be back to our usual schedule. It is still summer after all. We escaped the Austin heat and spent a week in the mountains in Colorado where we hiked on trails under bright, sunny skies in Beaver Creek, Vail, and Breckenridge. This wasn’t really a food-focused trip, but a few meals were definitely memorable. The homemade donuts at Northside Kitchen were nearly habit-forming, and we had to stop in for one last fix on our way to the airport. Another gem was found in Aspen. I highly recommend a visit to Meat and Cheese which is a gourmet shop and restaurant with very well-sourced items both to purchase and on the menu. Another meal that I keep thinking about involved a simple salad with watermelon, grilled chicken, and arugula at a spot in Avon. I love using watermelon in savory dishes, and the light, crisp, sweet chunks are perfectly refreshing summer food. Watermelon with seared haloumi, basil, and olive oil is one of my favorite salads, and watermelon with feta and olives is another. But, that salad with grilled chicken got me thinking about this recipe I knew was stored away in my files from a few years ago. In the September 2011 issue of Food and Wine, those ingredients were given a Thai spin. As soon as we got back home, I found the recipe and fired up the grill. 

First, the chicken needs to be marinated while the grill is being prepped. Lemongrass is needed, and I was thrilled to have some growing again that I could use here. It was minced and mixed with canola oil, and I added some minced serrano chiles as well. The chicken was added to the oil and left to marinate for 30 to 60 minutes. After being grilled, the chicken was allowed to cool before being chopped into cubes. The watermelon was seeded and cut into cubes as well. The dressing was a simple mix of Thai chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, water, and more canola oil that was mixed and pureed in a food processor. The original recipe suggests mint and cilantro, and they would be great but I used Thai basil, purple basil, and Genovese basil instead since that's what's growing in my herb garden. I also added some frisee leaves. The herbs, frisee, and watermelon chunks were tossed with the dressing. That mixture was plated and topped with the cubed chicken. I garnished with more herbs and a chiffonade of lime leaves from my tree. 

This salad is everything I want in a summer meal. It’s light but still satisfying and full of bright flavors. Lime juice and chiles are meant to be with juicy watermelon, and the flavors of the chicken and herbs pair well with it too. If vacation has to be over, at least I can still eat like it isn’t. 


Monday, July 11, 2016

Smothered Okra with Sweet Basque Tomato Sauce and Minted Yogurt

I’m not the only one who’s excited about okra season, am I? It’s such a mild-tasting, abundant summer vegetable, I think more people should love it. And, it’s versatile. Grilling, pickling, stewing, roasting, and frying are all delicious options. It pairs perfectly with tomatoes, and I’ve enjoyed that combination many times. However when I saw this Basque take on that theme, I had to try it. This dish is found in The Basque Book: A Love Letter in Recipes from the Kitchen of Txikito, and I received a review copy. I quickly fell for this book because it brought back memories of our trip to Spain a few years ago. The photos of the market in Ordizia, of those lovely guidilla chiles, and of the garden plots reminded me of all the wonderful things about Basque cooking and the quality of ingredients. The book introduces the basic ideas of Basque cuisine while explaining how some dishes have been interpreted in new ways for serving at the restaurant Txikito in New York. There are pintxos, vegetable dishes, egg dishes, seafood, soups, recipes for gatherings, sweets, and drinks. There are also some suggestions for building menus from the recipes. Some of the loveliest recipes are the simplest like the Gilda which is one of my favorite pintxos. It’s a skewered stack of olives wrapped with an anchovy fillet with a guindilla chile near the top. Also, the Avocado Salad is simply half an avocado with Txakoli wine vinegar, Spanish paprika, sea salt, and olive oil. There are several delicious mixtures to serve on slices of baguette like the Gratin of Deviled Crab and the Gratin of Artichoke Hearts, Roncal, and Jamon Serrano. Another dish I want to try is called “Messy Eggs” with Rough-Cut Potatoes in which potatoes are par-boiled and then fried and topped with fried eggs with frilly edges. And, I’ve wanted to try making Basque-style Yeast Buns for years. Here, they’re filled with a sweetened whipped butter and creme fraiche mixture. Every recipe comes with an explanation of the ingredients or cooking techniques that make it special. For this okra dish, the tomato sauce is the secret weapon so to speak. And, if I can’t talk you into enjoying okra, the sauce would be great on other summer vegetables too. 

To make the tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes were roasted in a 500 degree F oven. I used juliets from Boggy Creek Farm. The tomatoes were cut in half, tossed with olive oil and salt, placed cut side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and roasted for about 15 minutes until charred. Meanwhile, finely diced onion, minced garlic, marjoram leaves, and a dried chile de arbol were combined with a generous amount of olive oil in a large saucepan and cooked over low heat. In my case, I used oregano rather than marjoram because it grows amazingly well in my backyard. The mixture should cook slowly until softened and sweet without browning. Canned tomatoes were crushed by hand and then added to the onion mixture. The roasted tomatoes were pulsed in a food processor until chunky and then added to the saucepan as well. Salt was added, and the sauce was left to simmer and thicken for about an hour. After removing the sauce from the heat, chopped parsley was added. The okra, incredibly fresh and also from Boggy Creek Farm, was roasted and charred. It was first cut into thick rounds, tossed with olive oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet, and then baked at 425 degrees F for about 15 minutes. The yogurt sauce was made with a small bit of minced garlic, chopped mint, marjoram—or oregano, and salt. The roasted okra was tossed with the tomato sauce and served with the yogurt sauce. 

After a nice, long simmer, the tomato sauce developed amazing flavor. I wanted to sit down and dip chunks of bread into the saucepan until it was empty. Instead, it was an excellent partner for the roasted okra. The tangy, minted yogurt nicely countered the stewed and roasted flavors of the okra and sauce. Now, I wish I could walk outside and wander into bar after bar to sample pintxos just as we did in Bilbao and San Sebastian. But, at least I can now create more Basque dishes in my own kitchen. 

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cinnamon Roll Cake

I’m so easily tempted by cake. The combination of tender, sweet crumb and rich frosting on top is always decadent and usually a sign of a celebration. The new book Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes by Tessa Huff has you covered for every type of cake you could want to bake, and I received a review copy. These are all very pretty, polished cakes, and there are instructions for achieving each type of finishing touch shown throughout the book. But, don’t be intimidated by the professional look of these cakes. There are photos and instructions for piping, swirling, and smoothing frosting. There are also options for applying frosting and decorations in different ways, and you’re encouraged to mix and match flavors and toppings however you wish. Many of the cakes are constructed from six-inch layers, but there are some eight-inch cakes as well. They’re organized by category like Classic Cakes, Chocolate Cakes, Casual Cakes, Whimsical Cakes, Adventurous Cakes, and Holiday Cakes. The instructions give you a sense of ease about bringing these lovely creations to life, and you can always simplify the presentation or reduce components. There are several I wanted to bake right away like the Cookies and Cream Cake with chocolate layers and white chocolate-cream cheese frosting with crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, the Lemony Zucchini Cake with goat cheese frosting between layers and a lemon glaze drizzled on top, and the Oatmeal Cookie Cake with oatmeal cookie dough frosting as a filling. Some of the more intricate cakes include a Strawberry Confetti Cake with both strawberry and vanilla layers, strawberry cream, confetti buttercream, and homemade sprinkles; a Raspberry Stout Cake with raspberry cheesecake filling and raspberry chocolate bark on top; and a Pumpkin Vanilla Chai Cake with pumpkin ganache, pumpkin chai buttercream, and homemade spiced marshmallows on top. I want to try all of the techniques used, and I really want to taste all of these cakes. First, I chose something a little simpler. The Cinnamon Roll Cake sounded like a sweet tooth’s dream, and there was no need for a piping bag to frost this one. 

This cake was made from two eight-inch layers, and the cake batter was made with sour cream, milk, butter, cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and eggs plus an egg yolk. I sensed this was going to be a delicious cake with all that richness baked into it. In addition to the cake batter, a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon was prepared for swirling into the layers. One quarter of the cake batter was added to each prepared pan, one quarter of the cinnamon mixture was drizzled over each, a skewer was used to swirl the cinnamon mixture into the batter, the remaining batter was added to each pan, the remaining cinnamon mixture was drizzled over each, and the swirling was repeated. While the layers baked, a cinnamon crumble was made with flour, brown sugar, butter, honey, and cinnamon. Clumps of crumble were baked until set and golden. Next, frosting was made with cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla. There was to be a fourth component of cinnamon syrup to drizzle on top of the assembled cake, but my sweet tooth hit a wall at that point. The cake was already going to be so delicious I decided to skip the syrup topping. So, in my case, assembly involved placing the bottom layer on a platter, topping with cream cheese frosting, scattering the baked cinnamon crumble over that layer, adding the second cake layer, and topping with more cream cheese frosting. 

I have to tell you, even without the cinnamon butter swirl that went into each layer, these would have been the tastiest vanilla cakes I’ve ever made. That cinnamon swirl made them perfect for a cinnamon roll cake. I already mentioned my sweet tooth surrendered before I got to the cinnamon syrup step for finishing, but I also wondered about the cinnamon crumble to be added between layers. I’m glad I went for it with the crumble because it added crunchy cinnamony-ness to the middle of the cake. And, cream cheese frosting is never anything but great. This was deliriously decadent, and now I can’t wait to try more cakes from this book. 

Cinnamon Roll Cake 
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Layered: Baking, Building, and Styling Spectacular Cakes.

MAKES ONE TWO-LAYER 8-INCH (20-CM) CAKE; SERVES 10 TO 12 
My husband, Brett, and his siblingswere often treated to cinnamon rolls on the weekends. Brett is the youngest child by many years and always got to select which roll he wanted first. Being the big sweet tooth that he is, he remembers always picking the one from the middle of the pan—the one with the most frosting. Clever kid! I developed this cake with him and the roll in the middle of the pan in mind. The cream cheese in this Cinnamon Roll Cake makes it extra rich and velvety, while the ribbons of cinnamon throughout give it a punch of flavor. Serve it as a special weekend breakfast treat or to celebrate with any cinnamon roll enthusiast. 

Cinnamon Swirl Cake: 
Butter or nonstick cooking spray, for the pans 
2 1⁄4 cups (295 g) cake flour, plus more for the pans 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1⁄2 teaspoon salt 
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) sour cream 
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) whole milk 
1 cup (2 sticks / 225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
4 ounces (115 g) cream cheese, softened 
1 1⁄2 cups (300 g) granulated sugar 
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 
3 large eggs 
1 large egg yolk 
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick / 55 g) butter, melted 
1⁄4 cup (55 g) firmly packed brown sugar 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 

Cinnamon Crumble: 
1/2 cup (65 g) all-purpose flour 
1/3 cup (75 g) firmly packed brown sugar 
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick / 55 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
1 tablespoon honey 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 

Cream Cheese Frosting: 
8 ounces (225 g) cream cheese, softened 
3⁄4 cup (1 1⁄2 sticks / 170 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 
3 cups (375 g) confectioners’ sugar, sifted 
2 tablespoons whole milk 
1 1⁄2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste 

Cinnamon Syrup: 
1⁄2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar 
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1⁄8 teaspoon salt 
1 tablespoon unsalted butter 
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 

Make the CINNAMON SWIRL CAKE: 
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease and flour two 8-inch (20-cm) cake pans and set aside. 
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. 
3. Stir together the sour cream and milk and set aside. 
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese on medium speed until smooth. Add the granulated sugar and mix on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. 
5. Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the vanilla, then add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. 
6. Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds after the last streaks of the dry ingredients are combined. 
7. In a small bowl, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. 
8. Pour one-quarter of the batter into each of the prepared pans. Spoon one-quarter of the cinnamon mixture on top of the batter in each pan and use a wooden skewer or the tip of a knife to gently swirl it. Divide the remaining batter between the pans. Divide the remaining cinnamon mixture between the pans and gently swirl it. Bake for 24 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean. Let them cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing the cakes from their pans. Make the CINNAMON CRUMBLE: 
9. While the oven is still at 350°F (175°C), line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
10. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, butter, honey, and cinnamon with a wooden spoon until combined. The mixture should resemble little clumps of sand. Sprinkle them over the lined baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until golden brown. Let the crumble cool before use. 

Make the CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: 
11. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth. With the mixer on low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, and vanilla until incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium- high and mix until the frosting is fluffy. 

Make the CINNAMON SYRUP: 
12. Just before assembling the cake, in a saucepan, place 2 tablespoons water with the sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Heat over medium-high until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture starts to simmer. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter until melted. Mix in the flour until combined. 
13. Let the syrup cool slightly, then use it immediately before it thickens. 

ASSEMBLE THE CAKE 
14. Once the cakes have completely cooled, level them and choose which layer will be at the bottom. Place it on a cake plate or serving dish. Spread on half of the cream cheese frosting with an offset spatula. Sprinkle it with the cinnamon crumble pieces. Drizzle half the cinnamon syrup over the top. Top with the second layer of cake and repeat with the remaining frosting. Use a spoon and a zigzag motion to drizzle the remaining cinnamon syrup across the top layer of cake, letting it drip over the edges. Discard any extra syrup. 

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Poached and Pickled Salmon

The dish I’m showing today would be perfect for celebrating Midsummer. I’ve never been to Sweden or any part of the Nordic region, but I’d love to visit during the Midsummer festival and enjoy daylight all night long. As usual, I’ve been virtually traveling with a cookbook, and this time it’s The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson. I received a review copy of this hefty book that covers traditional and contemporary foods from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. Nilsson set out to show the similarities as well as the differences between each part of the Nordic culture. Several dishes are found in multiple locations and go by different names in each place, and some are unique to one area. He accepted that the book could never be a complete record of all the recipes from this large area, but it was intended to inform the reader about this food culture and provide guidance in creating some of that food. It also includes beautiful photos of the areas that were visited during the research phase. There’s a simplicity to the ingredients and most preparations, and flavors are brightened by vinegars, horseradish, and herbs. I loved all the potato recipes including several potato salads, soups, creamed potatoes, gratins, potato cakes, and Potatoes Hasselbacken. Why have I never made those? I learned the dish was invented in the 1950s at a restaurant that became a cooking school called Hasselbacken. There are meat and poultry dishes, sausage and charcuterie, breads and waffles and dumplings, cakes and pastries, and a chapter for little cookies and other sweets that I imagine would be perfect on a holiday cookie tray. I really enjoyed reading about all the various fish dishes with fresh, pickled, smoked, and dried variations. I really like pickled shrimp, so I had to try the Poached and Pickled Salmon since fresh wild salmon season is in full swing. 

In the end, the dish is a bit of a decomposed salad, and you can mix and match whatever items you’d like to serve with the salmon. Making the salmon itself was as easy as it gets. Fresh salmon fillets were cut into portions and placed in a heat-proof dish. Water was brought to a boil with salt, red wine vinegar, white vinegar, chopped carrots, sliced fennel, sliced onion, chopped celery, thyme springs, bay leaves, parsley stalks, and peppercorns. I'm thrilled to finally get to use my own thyme growing right outside once again. After boiling for a minute, the hot water, with vegetables and herbs, was poured over the salmon, and it was left to cool to room temperature. This steeping step was how the salmon was cooked. Once cool, the salmon was left in the liquid with the vegetables and herbs and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I made a homemade mayonnaise with dill to serve with the salmon. Fresh, new potatoes and purple long beans from Boggy Creek Farm were my cooked accompaniments to the salmon. And, I sliced some lacto-fermented cucumber pickles I had in the refrigerator as well. The chilled salmon was served with the carrot and fennel alongside the boiled potatoes and blanched beans with a dollop of dill mayonnaise and some pickle slices. Each bite of salmon and potato was swiped through the rich mayonnaise. 

The flavor of the salmon was mildly pickled, and I might add more vinegar to the steeping liquid next time. But, the mayonnaise was bright and lively with the vinegar in it and the dill. Those fresh, boiled potatoes went so well with the other parts of the dish. And, it could be presented in different ways. The salmon could be flaked rather than left as a fillet, or all the parts could be combined for a less-deconstructed salad. However it’s served, it’s a great way to celebrate summer. 

Poached and Pickled Salmon 
Recipe reprinted from The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson with publisher's permission (Phaidon, $49.95 US/$59.95 CAN, October 2015) 

This is a real summer dish, often served with Boiled Potatoes, Dill Mayonnaise, and Quick Pickled Cucumber. The pickled vegetables are delicious and should also be served with the fish. The salmon is not pickled in the sense that herrings are pickled and won’t keep for very long but should be eaten within a week if stored in the refrigerator. In a restaurant, where you would fillet a whole salmon to make this dish, it’s a good idea to cook the salmon bones and head together with the pickling liquor. If you do so, it will produce a light and very delicious jelly when it cools down. If you decide to try this at home, then add the bones, head and any salmon scraps you have to the pickling liquor, but leave out the vegetables. Bring it slowly to a simmer, then let it sit for 5 minutes before proceeding as described below. If you like the idea of the jelly, but you have no fish bones, then add 2 leaves of gelatin per 1 litre/34 fl oz (4 1/4 cups) of finished pickling syrup. 

Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes 
Pickling time: overnight 
Serves: 4 

800 g/1 3/4 lb salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces 
50 g/2 oz (1/4 cup) sugar 
2 tablespoons salt 
100 ml/3 1/2 fl oz (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) red wine vinegar 
100 ml/3 1/2 fl oz (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) Attika (12%) vinegar or white distilled vinegar 
2 carrots, cut into 5 mm/1/4 inch slices 
1 red onion, thinly sliced 
1 small fennel bulb, sliced 
1 celery stalk, chopped 
1 sprig thyme 
2 bay leaves 
12 white peppercorns 
1 handful parsley stalks 

Place the salmon pieces in a pot and keep at room temperature to warm up slightly. Pour 2 litres/3 1/2 UK pints (8 1/4 cups) water into another pot and add the sugar,salt and vinegars. (Remember that it needs to be saltier than you would think because it is supposed to season the salmon. 2 tablespoons fine salt could be a starting point point but you will have to taste your way forward.) Bring to the boil, then add the vegetables and aromatics and continue boiling for 1 minute. Pour the pickling liquor over the pieces of salmon in the other pot and leave to cool to room temperature. 

Refrigerate the salmon in the pickling liquor overnight. Serve the salmon cold. 

Dill Mayonnaise 
I hate mayo that is not thick enough; it should be stiff! If not, it goes very liquid from dilution as soon as it comes in contact with any type of moist food you are eating or mixing it with. Add more oil if it isn’t really thick. If you are using it in a sauce that has more liquids in it, or a salad, it could be on the verge of splitting from containing a lot of oil when you mix it with the remaining ingredients. The water content in the thing you are mixing the mayo with will make it perfect as it dilutes it a bit. 

Preparation time: 20 minutes 
Serves: 4 

2 egg yolks 
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 
2 tablespoons white vinegar 
250 ml/8 fl oz (1 cup) neutral oil 
salt and white pepper, to taste 
a handful of chopped dill leaves 

Put the egg yolks in a bowl. Whisk in the mustard and vinegar then season with a pinch of salt and a little white pepper. Add the oil, a drop at a time, beating slowly but constantly, until no oil remains and the mayo is nice and thick. Stir in chopped dill. Season to taste. 

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