March 31, 2010

Good News

Salmon with Sautéed Spring Vegetables, Roasted Root Vegetable Puree and Herb-Meyer Lemon Butter Sauce
Big things are happening around here; really big. There's going to be a wedding. Ours. As in My Baby's and mine.

We've had two blissful years together, the first year and a half being an intense and joyous longish-distance courtship, followed by eight months of sharing day-to-day life. We've had many late night and early morning talks about what it means to each of us to be married. We've stared down and wrestled fears and anxieties, remnants of our pasts. We bring out the best in one another. We make each other laugh. We adore one another. And we are ready.

With 10 young adult children (7 of our own along with 3 spouses or soon-to-be spouses who are also "our kids") and one grandbaby between us, we decided to share our good news first with this innermost circle at a celebratory dinner.

Our meal started with a mushroom-walnut pate, brie with warm rustic fruit and nuts, and fresh bread.

Homemade Semolina Bread
Our festive main course was salmon and sauteed spring vegetables over a bed of roasted root vegetable puree with a fresh herb-Meyer lemon butter sauce. As My Baby and I conceptualized the dish, he suggested naming it "When Winter Meets Spring," as the soft orange-colored roasted root vegetable puree uses winter produce and the vegetable saute and herb-lemon sauce are redolent of the first pop of spring. His idea was definitely more poetic than my cheeky name of "Hey Kids Guess What Salmon."

And we finished up with a layered vanilla bean and roasted strawberry panna cotta with balsamic-strawberry sauce.

Vanilla Bean and Roasted Strawberry Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberry Sauce

After Dinner Walk in the Fields

Our upcoming special day is just one of many exciting things happening in our family this year, such as: A beloved son's wedding, babies to be born, a 70th birthday, a black-belt test, a college graduation, and projects aplenty. All are important. All are good. All make up this wonderful life that My Baby and I have decided to forever share together.

This flavorful salmon dish is a concept rather than a recipe, but here's the idea so that you can recreate it with confidence.

Salmon with Sauteed Spring Vegetables, Roasted Root Vegetable Puree and Herb-Meyer Lemon Butter Sauce

About 4 oz. King salmon per serving

Prepare salmon your favorite way. My Baby often places it on foil with no oil or butter between the foil and the skin. He lightly rubs a dot of olive oil on the upside flesh, and lightly seasons it with salt, pepper, and a few minced fresh herbs. He then places it in a very hot (400 degree) oven with the bottom of the pan close to the heat source for about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest at least 5 minutes. The salmon will continue to cook, so take care not overcook it in the oven.

Roasted Root Vegetable Puree
About 2 lbs. various root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, cauliflower and fennel, (OK, I know the latter two are not root vegetables, but they are delicious in this dish!) cut into 1" chunks
6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
olive oil
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter
vegetable stock

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Place veggies and garlic on foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in hot oven about 30-40 minutes until meltingly tender and just barely beginning to take on a toasty color, stirring about halfway through. Remove from oven. Cool slightly. Place veggies and any accumulated juices in food processor with butter and about 3 tablespoons vegetable stock. Whirl until smooth, adding additional stock tablespoonful by tablespoonful until puree is completely smooth but not yet gluey and just barely hold their shape when spooned into bowl. Season to taste.

Sauteed Spring Vegetables
One bunch Swiss chard (spinach is good here, too)
One bunch broccoli rabe
One bunch thin asparagus
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Wash chard. Remove thick vein with knife, and chop vein and leaves into 1/2" pieces. Trim ends from broccoli rabe and asparagus. Over medium heat, heat olive oil in deep shallow skillet or saute pan. Cook chard stems for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add chard leaves and stir briefly. Add broccoli rabe and asparagus, stirring frequently, until and are al dente.

Herb-Meyer Lemon Butter Sauce
1/2 cup mixed spring herbs from the garden (flat-leaf parsley, chives, thyme, sage--whatever you like and can come up with), finely minced
zest of one Meyer Lemon**
8 tablespoonsful butter, divided
2 big handfuls spinach
1/3 cup water
salt and pepper to taste

In small saucepan over medium low heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter. Add herbs and Meyer lemon zest. Stir a few moments to coax out the aromatic flavor. Place the spinach and water in your blender and whirl until as smooth as possible. Right before serving, and not a moment before, strain the spinach "juice" into the warm herb mixture, tossing the solids. Remove from heat and whisk in the remaining two tablespoons cold butter. This will turn your bright green emulsion slightly thick and creamy.
**Whatever you do, do not add lemon juice to this sauce at any point or you will end up with a decidedly non-springy green sauce, but a rather drab gray-green sauce which tastes great but isn't too visually appetizing. Take it from me.

To plate dish:
In deep, wide rimmed serving bowls place a generous dollop of roasted root vegetable puree. Arrange some of the sauteed green vegetables along one edge atop the puree. Place a salmon square in the center, and drizzle with the herb-lemon butter sauce, pooling a little around the edge of the dish. Sprinkle with a few minced herbs and/or lemon zest for garnish.

March 12, 2010

A Belly Full

Roasted Brussels Sprouts Salad with Pancetta and Buttered Cashews
Rustic European farmhouse soul food. That is the apt description Belly Restaurant in Eugene, Oregon gives itself. Pork shoulder confit with fried spicy prunes, braised pork cheeks with green apple risotto, house-made boudin blanc sausages with crispy French fries, duck leg confit with sweet and tangy kumquat-tangerine marmalade; is your mouth watering yet? The wine list at Belly is well edited to fit the menu. Their cocktails, such as the Sazerac, tend to fall into the classic rather than foo-fooey category.
This recipe is a replication of a salad we had at Belly that just knocked our socks off. My home version comes pretty close, with a liberty or two added. Do try it, but also do yourself a favor and visit Belly when you are in the area.

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Pancetta and Buttered Cashews
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, sliced in thirds lengthwise
2 oz. (about one 1/4" slice) pancetta, cut into 1/4" dice
olive oil
salt and pepper

1/4 cup golden raisins

2/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup butter
2 tablespoons fig and Meyer lemon balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic)

Turn oven to 425 degrees. Place Brussels sprouts and pancetta on baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss together with your hands. (Your hands are the secret ingredient here, don’t you think?) Roast sprouts, gently stirring every 15 minutes, until deep golden brown roasty spots appear, 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven and place into mixing bowl. Add raisins.

In small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add cashews. Stir frequently, keeping a close eye not to burn butter. Heat until foamy, the cashews have deepened in color, and the milk solids in the butter have turned toasty brown. (The more gentle your heat, and the longer you take to achieve this, the more flavorful the butter will become without risk of burning. Your exercise of patience in this step will be rewarded.)

Remove buttered nuts from heat and allow to cool slightly. Stir in balsamic vinegar. Pour over Brussels sprouts in bowl and gently stir. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serves four.


Belly Restaurant serves this salad piled into endive spears, which is lovely. Sticks Forks Fingers is a big advocate of eating with our fingers!

March 10, 2010

The Second Course

Wheat Berry Salad with Peas, Roasted Asparagus and Spring Onions

Bright, verdant, springy flavors are making their welcome appearances, providing inspiration to those of us who cook. As spring ingredients make their early arrival in the market, new ideas pour forth as from a prolific artiste.

As I recently mentioned, eating in courses is our usual mode. From the first course of artichoke with lemon, and and garlic dipping sauce we had the other day, we moved on to this lovely spring main course. The 2006 Pierre Sparr Alsacian Pinot Gris continued to delight us through this course as well. The idea for this salad was born from darling Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks, and I adapted her farro salad recipe to fit our tastes and available ingredients. It's great for a spring day that still has a nip in the air as the wheat berries give it substance while the other components satisfy our springtime cravings for foods bright, green and fresh.
Wheat Berry Salad with Peas, Roasted Asparagus and Spring Onions
4 cups cooked wheat berries*
2 cups cooked yellow split peas**
1 cup green peas, boiled 30 seconds if fresh, thawed if frozen
4-5 basil leaves, finely chopped
4-5 tablespoons finely snipped chives, plus extra for garnish

18 spears asparagus, trimmed
18 spring or green onions, trimmed
olive oil

big splash Citrus Parmesan Vinaigrette***

several handfuls fresh baby spinach
Parmesan shavings for garnish

Turn oven to 400F degrees. On a baking sheet, toss asparagus and spring onions with a bit of olive oil and salt. Roast for about 30 minutes until well browned (you're going to love the tastiness in this dish, so don't cut it too short here), tossing once midway. A toaster oven works wonderfully here.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, toss wheat berries, yellow split peas and peas with Citrus Parmesan Vinaigrette. Gently mix in herbs.

In serving bowls or serving platter, lay down a nice bed of spinach. Spoon the wheat berry mixture on top, gently tossing with the spinach, but leaving the wheat berry mixture mostly on top of the leaves. Artful top with the roasted asparagus and spring onions. Sprinkle with Parmesan shavings and additional chives.
Makes about 6 servings.

* To cook wheat berries: Combine wheat berries, salt and enough water to cover by about an inch in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cover and simmer about 1 hour. The berries will still be al dente to the touch, so be sure and taste it for doneness, avoiding overcooking into a glop.

**To cook dried yellow split peas: Bring 3 cups water to boil in large saucepan, add 3/4 cup dried yellow split peas, and cook for 20-30 minutes or until tender. Drain, salt to taste.

***Citrus Parmesan Vinaigrette: In a small jar, shake together the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 chopped shallot, 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, and 1/2 cup olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

March 8, 2010

Artichokes, Lemon and Anchovies

Artichokes with Lemon, Anchovy and Garlic Dipping Sauce
My Baby loves to dine in courses. This is a luxury that country living affords, and it is divine. I imagine that's the way it's done in Provence or Tuscany; leisurely working through a meal, savoring each little combination of thoughtfully composed flavors.

We anticipate our meals throughout the day, discussing which wine we'll enjoy with each course and asking questions like, "Would capers work with that?", or "Which tannin profile works best with green vegetables?" Sometimes it's an assertion, like, "I'm really in the mood for that Claret we picked up in Ashland", or "We need to use up the pancetta before it goes." Often we begin this discussion before our feet even hit the ground in the morning.

Yesterday's afternoon repose first course was a huge steamed artichoke which we shared, served with a luscious lemon, anchovy and garlic dipping sauce. We diverged from our usual Oregon wine selection and carried on a French theme, serving brie and a 2006 Pierre Sparr Alsacian Pinot Gris. The Pinot Gris was spring-like, with overtones of golden dandelions and their stems, a beautiful pairing with the rest of the course. I felt like we'd stepped out of the pages of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence.

The inspiration for the sauce began with a gift of huile d'olive au citron (olive oil with lemon) from our Francophile/ former restauranteur friend, Mary. Her advice that it was good with vegetables called out for an artichoke, and when I saw chubby first-of-the-season artichokes at the market, I started imagining this simple sauce.

Lemon, Anchovy and Garlic Dipping Sauce for Green Vegetables
In small bowl, smash 4 anchovy fillets with a pinch of salt and 1 large clove of garlic, pressed. Mix in 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice. With a fork, whisk in about 1/4 cup olive oil with lemon. If you aren't luck enough to have a tin of French oil, make your own.

Lemon Oil
1 large lemon, zest removed in large strips, avoiding pith
1/2 cup olive oil

Place strips of lemon zest in a small saucepan with the olive oil. Place pan over moderate heat until lemon zest just begins to turn somewhat transparent, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow zest to steep in oil for 30 minutes. Remove zest to store, or oil will become bitter.

March 3, 2010

Instant Sunshine

The Ultimate Lemon Butter Bar

CCitrus, lemon especially, has a magic quality this time of year. The luminous color and the tangy uplifting flavor make us smile and brings hope of springtime sun-and-bloom cheer. Some interesting citrusy delights are showing up all over foodie cyberspace, including Meyer Lemon Dust over at Table Talk and Sweet Lemon and Black Olive Wafers at Lottie + Doof.

Tim over at Lottie + Doof graciously pointed out this tremendous recipe originally by the baking goddess Rose Levy Beranbaum. Her method elevates the ubiquitous grainy, cloying lemon bar to silky and buttery perfection. I doubt you'll ever go back to the mix, pour and bake method.
It's true. In 6 ingredients and one hour or less, you are guaranteed to have your spirits lifted to sunny July heights with these perfect lemon bars.

by Rose Levy Beranbaum

  • Shortbread Base
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold) (5 ounces = 142 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (0.75 ounce = 25 grams)
  • 1 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour (dip and sweep method) (6.25 ounces = 180 grams)

  • Lemon Curd Topping
  • 4 large egg yolks (2 full fluid ounces = 2.5 ounces = 74 grams)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
  • 3 fluid ounces (use a liquid measuring cup) lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 2 1/2 large lemons) (3.25 ounces = 94 grams)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened) (2 ounces = 57 grams)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (finely grated) (4 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)

  • preparation
  • 8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch baking pan, preferably metal (if using a glass pan, lower the oven temperature 25°F.), bottom and 2 sides lined with an 8-inch by 16-inch strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

  • Food Processor Method
  • Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, wrap it, and refrigerate.
  • In a food processor with the metal blade, process the sugars for 1 minute or so, until the sugar is very fine. Add the butter and pulse in until the sugar disappears. Add the flour and pulse in until there are a lot of little moist crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.
  • Dump the mixture into a plastic bag and press it together. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and knead it lightly, until it holds together.

  • Electric Mixer Method or by Hand
  • In Scotland, it is said that the best shortbread is mixed with the fingers and that each woman's fingers lend something distinctive and special to the finished cookie. I find that the texture is more delicate when the dough is mixed with the fingers rather than in a machine. For either method, use superfine sugar for the best texture and be sure to soften the butter.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. With your fingers or with the electric mixer, mix in the flour until incorporated. If using the mixer, add the flour in 2 parts.

  • For Both Methods
  • Place 1 oven rack in the middle of the oven.
  • Preheat oven to 325°F.
  • Pat the dough into the prepared pan. Use a fork to prick the dough all over.
  • Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the top is pale golden (do not brown).
  • While the shortbread is baking, prepare the Lemon Curd Topping.

  • Have a strainer, suspended over a bowl, ready near the range.
  • In a heavy noncorrodible saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice, butter, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes, until thickened and resembling hollandaise sauce, which thickly coats a wooden spoon but is still liquid enough to pour. (A candy thermometer will read 196°F.) The mixture will change from translucent to opaque and begin to take on a yellow color on the back of a wooden spoon. It must not be allowed to boil or it will curdle. (It will steam above 140°F. Whenever steaming occurs, remove the pan briefly from the heat, stirring constantly to prevent boiling.)

  • When the curd has thickened, pour it at once into the strainer. Press it with the back of a spoon until only the coarse residue remains. Discard the residue. Stir in the lemon zest.

  • When the shortbread is baked, remove it from the oven, lower the temperature to 300°F., pour the lemon curd on top of the shortbread, and return it to the oven for 10 minutes.

  • Cool the lemon curd–topped shortbread completely in the pan on a wire rack. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes to set the lemon curd completely before cutting into bars. Place the powdered sugar in a strainer and tap the strainer with a spoon to sprinkle a thick, even coating, entirely covering the lemon.

  • Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the pastry on the 2 sides without the aluminum foil. Use the foil to lift out the lemon curd–covered shortbread onto a cutting surface. Use a long, sharp knife to cut the shortbread first in thirds, then in half the other way, and then each half in thirds. Wipe the blade after each cut.

  • The powdered sugar will start to be absorbed into the lemon curd after several hours, but it can be reapplied before serving.

  • Store:
  • In an airtight container at room temperature, or in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Keeps:
  • 3 days at room temperature, 3 weeks refrigerated (individually wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent drying), or 3 months frozen.

  • Smart Cookie
  • • Cooking the topping before pouring it into the shortbread ensures crispness as opposed to the usual pastiness of the pastry.
  • • Returning the curd to the oven, where it will be exposed to heat without stirring, causes the yolk to rebond, making it firm enough to cut after cooling.
  • • If each lemon is heated about 10 seconds in a microwave oven on high power and rolled around while pressing on it lightly, it will release a significantly greater quantity of juice.
  • • An aluminum pan should not be used to prepare the lemon curd because it will react with the egg yolks, turning them chartreuse.
  • • Sugar raises the coagulation point of the egg yolk. It also protects it from premature coagulation during the addition of the lemon juice. If the juice were added directly to the unprotected yolk, the yolk would partially coagulate and, when strained, a large percentage of it would be left behind in the strainer. Be sure to mix the sugar well with the egg yolks before adding the juice.

March 1, 2010

Just Ducky

Roasted Duck, Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips with Orange Marmalade Pan Sauce and Amalie Robert Oregon Viognier
Having convinced myself that I'm not good with meats, I've avoided cooking a lot of wonderful foodstuff over the years, including duck. Martha Stewart Living's Duck 101 article (March 2010) provided enough confidence to give it another go. And surprise! It was simple. Like water off a duck's back as a matter of fact.

I'd roasted a duck precisely one time before, with great results. How is it that old "I'm not good at that" voices live on, well after they've been proved otherwise?

Guess what? I can roast one heck of a good duck.

Amalie Robert Estate 2008 Oregon Viognier has an aromatic gingery spiciness that is terrific with the citrusy notes and spices in this dish, and its acidity works really well with the richness of the duck. I've written about Amalie Robert before, and conclude that Ernie Pink and Dena Drews apply equal parts poetry and science to their craft. My Baby and I continue to find reasons to elevate the status of Amalie Robert Estate wines with each bottle we enjoy. Which by now, has been quite several.

Here is the recipe just as it appears in the magazine with a few learned tips and tricks of my own thrown in, but be warned: It took 4o minutes less time to reach its 165 degree internal temperature than the recipe states. Be armed with a good meat or insta-read thermometer to guarantee not overdoing it. Duck breast is best served medium-rare. This is one thing I've found over the years with Martha's recipes... They are terrific in regards to creativity and flavors, etc, but the technical bits occasionally are askew. No big deal when you know what you're doing, but a problem if it's something new, like roasting duck was for me. Next time I'll know better and plan accordingly.

Don't be put off with the length of the duck directions. This comes together with ease, and your active time is actually very short. Here's where you'll be happy that your knives have recently been sharpened, as the crosshatch scoring you do to the skin is a snap with a sharp blade. (See top photo.)
Roast Duck
Serves 4
1 whole duck (5 to 6 pounds)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Line bottom of oven with foil to catch any spatters. Preheat over to 425 degrees with rack in second-lowest position. Rinse duck with cold water; pat dry with paper towels. Trim excess fat and skin from neck and body cavity. Clip wing tips. Place wing tips and neck in a large roasting pan fitted with roasting rack.

Prick surface of skin all over with a paring knife. Score skin of breast in a crosshatch pattern. (This is so important with the fatty duck, and ensures that delicious crispy skin.) Season inside and outside of duck with pepper and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt.

Place duck, breast side up, on rack in pan. Roast for 50 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Set duck on rack in sink or over a towel to catch drips. Spoon off excess fat from pan; strain, and reserve 1/4 for roasted vegetables. Tilt duck to drain, pouring juices from cavity into roasting pan. Return duck, breast side down, on rack in pan. Roast for 50 minutes.

Flip duck, breast side up, and roast until duck registers 165 degrees on an insta-read thermometer, about 50 minutes more. Let stand for 15 minutes before carving. Spoon fat from roasting pan. Reserve fat.** Carefully tilt duck and pour accumulated juices from cavity into pan. Reserve neck and wing tips in pan with pan juices for sauce.

** Reserved duck fat is like gold. Use it to roast potatoes and other vegetables, etc., but DO NOT throw it away. This would be kitchen sacrilege.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips with Chili Powder
After the duck has cooked for about an hour, you'll have enough fat to prepare these vegetables.
1 pound sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
1 pound parsnips, cut into 2-inch lengths
1/4 cup strained duck fat, from roast duck
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 navel orange, cut into 1/2 inch wedges (do not peel)
3 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon unsulfured molasses

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss sweet potatoes and parsnips with reserved duck fat. Mix together salt, chili powder and cinnamon. Sprinkle vegetables with seasoning mixture, tossing to coat well. Spread in single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. (I do all of this on a foil-lined baking sheet, avoiding having to wash another bowl and making quick clean-up of the roasting pan.)

Roast vegetables for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and toss in orange wedges and thyme. Roast, stirring halfway through, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, about 30 minutes. Drizzle with molasses.

Orange Marmalade Pan Sauce
1 1/2 cups water
Reserved neck and wing tips form roast duck
1 cup orange marmalade (not dark variety)
1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder

Once excess fat has been spooned off from pan and accumulated juices from duck have been poured in, add water to pan. Set on 2 burners over medium-high heat, and cook, scraping brown bits with a wooden spoon until all bits are scraped up.

Pour liquid through a fine sieve into a 1-quart pat, and discard remaining solids. Cook over medium-high heat until reduced to 13 cup. Discard neck and wing tips. Whisk in marmalade and chili powder. Serve over carved duck and roasted vegetables.

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