October 28, 2012 Halibut with Mushrooms, Leeks and Clams


A romantic candlelit/flashlit dinner.
It was a cold and snowy day and night. October 2011 brought some of the most unusual weather we have ever seen. I prepared for a weekend of cooking. I shopped Friday and planned for a Sunday supper of osso buco and saffron risotto for our family and halibut with clams and mushrooms for Joe and myself Saturday evening. When I got up Saturday morning the skies were gray and laden with moisture. The storm started as a cold rain but by about nine thirty a.m. changed over to snow that allegedly wasn’t supposed to occur until much later that afternoon.
Joe made a mad dash to take down the outdoor canopies but they were covered with snow before he could put them away. Trees and power lines quickly became burdened with the weight of a heavy wet snow. As with many local weather events, this was given a name, “snowtober”.
I decided to get a head start on some kitchen prep and Joe, anticipating the need for our generators headed to his favorite hardware store, Finkles for some parts. Then it happened, the power went out for fifteen minutes, then back on for ten, off again, on again, then finally off. A call to PECO confirmed my suspicions, we were going to be without power for a long time. Prep for tomorrow’s osso buco was put aside for now.
Thanks to my mom we have an unusually large collection of flashlights and lanterns that really come in handy when the power is out. Our kitchen cooktops are powered with propane. So dinner, lights on or not, would still go on. Candelabras, flashlights and lanterns aimed at our workstations, we prepped leeks and mushrooms.
Halibut with leeks, mushrooms and clams has become a favorite weekend dinner of ours. In the course of a year I try many new recipes. Many just once, others like this become part of our regular dinner rotation. It is elegant and deceptively easy. Delicately flavored halibut is combined with briny clams, mellow sweet leeks and earthy mushrooms. I am always making additions and substitutions to the recipe, sweet onions for the leeks, mussels for the clams. Halibut can be expensive, another firm fleshed white fish such as monkfish or Chilean sea bass would be a good choice. Sometimes we add spinach or kale to make this a heartier dish.
Dinner was delicious and was the best part of the weekend. The power came on the next morning, only to go out again that afternoon. The osso buco would have to wait for another weekend. Almost exactly one year later, we are waiting to see the path of hurricane Sandy. This storm isn’t going to bring snow, but heavy rain and wind. Generators are at the ready and our flashlights have fresh batteries. Our food shopping trip will include a stop at our favorite seafood market so that we will be ready for whatever the weather will bring. 

An early “winter wonderland” that lasted a day or so.
 Braised Halibut with Leeks, Mushrooms, and Clams

Serves 3-4


  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chicken or clam broth
  • 1 pound fresh halibut, skin removed (preferably wild)
  • 2 dozen little neck clams, well-scrubbed
  • 4c thinly sliced oyster or hen-of-the-woods mushrooms
  • the zest of one lemon
  • 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven  with a lid. Add the mushrooms, garlic clove, and leeks; season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until softened, but not browned, 6-8 minutes. Add the broth, raise the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil.
  2. Season the halibut with salt and pepper. Nestle the fish and the clams in the skillet. Bring the broth back to a boil, cover tightly, and reduce heat to low. Cook gently until the fish is just cooked through and the clams have opened, about 7 minutes. If all of the clams are not open, remove the fish and the opened clams and continue cooking until the remaining clams open, another 2-3 minutes. Discard any clams that have not opened by this time. Stir in the lemon zest and sprinkle with the parsley.
  3. Serve the fish and clams in a shallow bowl topped with the delicious broth and vegetables.
    Cody is up for whatever the weather brings!


This is what it looked like around 10:30 AM that day. The snow wasn’t supposed to start until late in the afternoon!!


Same dish on a different day.

October 27, 2012 Cedar Planked Salmon


Getting my husband to try new cooking techniques isn’t always the easiest thing to do. If I can convince him to try something new once and then he embraces it, I know I have found something worthwhile.  The convincing was easy with the rib roast cooked like a steak. I just showed him the YouTube video of chef-author Adam Perry Lang cooking it on the Jimmy Kimmel program. What guy (or gal for that matter..) could resist pounding a rib roast with a baseball bat to increase the cooking surface area of the meat? It was a big hit at our house this summer and successfully repeated a few weeks ago.
Last summer I wanted to try cooking salmon on cedar planks. Since we love the flavor that a wood fire brings when we cook turkey or chicken on our outdoor smoker, why not infuse some cedar smoke into some delicious salmon fillets? I bought the planks, introduced him to the concept and recipe and we were cooking.
Cooking on wood planks certainly isn’t new.  It is a technique that was pioneered by Native Americans who roasted both fish and game on aromatic cedar planks. Cedar planks are available everywhere these days from supermarkets to specialty cooking stores. Just be certain not to buy planks that have been treated with chemicals, like those from a home improvement store. Your planks will need to be soaked before using for several hours or overnight so they don’t burn on the grill. Some recipes soak the planks in cider, wine or sake, but that could be an expensive proposition considering the amount of liquid needed to submerge the planks. I soak my planks in one of our sinks using heavy marble and ceramic mortars to weigh them down. 
We chose Copper river salmon, which is available fresh from May to September. As with all salmon, Copper river is loaded with Omega 3 oils and recommended by the American Heart Association. Omega 3 oils help reduce heart disease and lower cholesterol.  I season my fish with a dry rub before grilling to enhance the flavor. Cedar planked salmon is excellent on its own with a squeeze of lemon or served with a sauce. I have served it with both a horseradish sour cream sauce and herbed salsa verde. What is the white stuff that your salmon may exude? Protein, albumin to be exact. It occurs more often in salmon with a high fat content. It is definitely safe to eat but can be wiped off for aesthetic reasons.
Cedar planks can be reused. Wash the used planks with warm water, clean off any debris with a soft bristle brush and allow to air dry. Don’t use soap because the board may absorb it and affect the flavor it gives off.  I wrap my used planks in plastic wrap and store them in the freezer. Don’t reuse if the planks are excessively charred, cracked or split. 

Salmon prepped and ready for the grill.


Cedar Planked Salmon
Serves four


Salmon Rub

  • 1 Tbs. grated lemon zest, minced
  • 1T dried lemon peel
  • 1 1/2tsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. granulated or brown sugar
  • 1/8t cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About 1/2c lemon basil cut in a chiffonade
  • 1 1/2 to 2lbs salmon filets cut into 6-8oz portions, skin on and pin bones removed
  • 1-2 T olive oil
  • 1 lemon, cut into thin slices
  • Food safe cedar planks
Soak cedar planks for several hours or overnight.


Cedar Planks
Soak the cedar planks in water to cover for at least two hours and up to overnight.  Drain the planks.
Salmon preparation

  1. In a small bowl, with a fork, combine the fresh and dried lemon zest, thyme, sugar, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 Tbs. pepper. Rub the salmon fillets on both sides with olive oil and then set each fillet portion skin side down on the planks.
  2. Sprinkle the fillets with the lemon herb mixture, dividing it evenly. Gently rub the seasoning into the fillets. Sprinkle the chiffonade of lemon basil over the fish. Place the lemon slices around the fish. Let stand at room temperature while the grill heats.
  3. Prepare a gas or charcoal grill fire for indirect cooking with high heat: On a gas grill, heat all burners on high; then turn off all but one burner just before cooking the salmon; on a charcoal grill, bank the coals to two opposite sides of the grill. Arrange the planks over the cooler part of the grill, positioning them so that the thickest part of the fish is closest to the heat source. Allow space between the planks to allow heat and air to flow. Cover the grill and cook until the thickest part of each fillet registers about 135°F on an instant-read thermometer, 20 to 35 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets. The planks may smoke a bit (this is fine) and will become very aromatic.
  4.  Fillets should  rest on the planks for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.  Serve as is or with the sauce of your choice.

    Salmon served with an herbed salsa verde and wax beans from the garden.



October 22, 2012 Thai Curry with Scallops and Calamari


Fall is definitely making its mark this week, the leaves are turning, mornings are chilly and tonight, for one night only they say, temperatures are going down below freezing. That means a mad scramble to bring all the tender plants, hibiscus, bay and citrus trees, inside to the warmth of the conservatory. We enjoy our tropical plants outdoors in the summer but the reality of fall reminds us that this is not their home. These plants not only provide us with their beauty but often add a unique touch to our cooking.  Lemongrass, a favorite nibble of our golden retriever, Cody, adds a subtle citrusy hint to our Thai dishes.

Our love of Thai food started many years ago at Siam, a little storefront restaurant in Lambertville, New Jersey,  Growing Thai basil, chilis, lemongrass and coriander brings authentic flavors to our recipes.   Although specialty produce items such as lemongrass and kefir lime leaves are available in the produce section of many supermarkets these days, having these plants in your home allows you more spontaneity in menu planning.

Such was the case with this impromptu dinner we made in August. Two days earlier, scallops and calamari were a part of my birthday dinner with friends and family.  Now the leftover seafood and some fresh garden vegetables would be part of a delicious sweet and spicy curry. We love the complex flavors in Thai cooking and this recipe is no exception. I used the Thai Curry recipe maker in Fine Cooking as a starting point. You “drag and drop” ingredients into the recipe bowl to personalize the dish to your liking.  Each recipe combines coconut milk, meat or fish, assorted vegetables, herbs and spices with red, yellow, green or Panang curry paste.

Curry paste is quite different than curry powder.  Curry powder, mostly known in Indian cooking, is a blend of dry ingredients that can include up to twenty different ground spices, herbs and seeds. Curry paste is “wet”, made from fresh, not dried ingredients. Curry pastes come in a variety of colors and heat and may include fresh chilis, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, shallots, kefir lime, shrimp paste and peanuts. The red chili paste I used in this recipe is a blend of red chilis, coriander, garlic, shallots, galangal and shrimp paste. It is hot but not terribly so and the sweetness of  the coconut milk in this recipe mellows out the chilis. A quick weeknight supper, perfect with some fragrant jasmine rice or rice noodles to sop up the juices.


Thai Curry with Scallops and Calamari
created with the Fine Cooking Recipe Maker

Serves 4


  • 1 (13.5- to 14-oz.) can coconut milk, my favorite brand is Chaokoh
  • 1/4 cup red curry paste
  • 1 cup lower-salt chicken broth, or homemade chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 Tbs. light brown sugar or light brown palm sugar; more as needed
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce; more as needed-I like the Three Crabs brand, available in most Asian markets
  • 6 whole fresh kefir lime leaves (or substitute 1 tsp. finely grated lime zest)
  • 1/2 lb. squid tubes cut into 1/2″ thick rings, tentacles cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 c zucchini, sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1 c yellow squash sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 1/2 lb. scallops, outer muscle removed
  • 1 c halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 c loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro
  • Thai basil sprigs and lime wedges for garnish


  1. Before opening, shake can of coconut milk to redistribute the solids that accumulate at the top of the can.
  2.  Over medium heat, in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan or wok, simmer 1/2 cup of the coconut milk, stirring occasionally, until reduced by about half, 3 to 5 minutes. It will get very thick and shiny and may or may not separate; either is fine.
  3.  Add the curry paste, whisk well, and cook, continuing to whisk, for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth, sugar, fish sauce, lime leaves, and remaining coconut milk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
  4.  After 2 minutes, add the calamari, zucchini and yellow squash and continue to simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary.
  5.  After 1 minute, add the scallops and continue to simmer. After another minute, add the cherry tomatoes and continue to simmer until everything is tender and cooked through, about 1 more minute.
  6.  Remove the curry from the heat. Season to taste with more sugar and fish sauce, and stir in the cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl or serve from the pot. Remove the lime leaves or tell your guests to eat around them. Garnish with lime wedges and basil sprigs.

October 15, 2012 Pear Pie with Dried Cherries and Brown Sugar Streusel









I am not a pie maven, I will bestow that title on my friend Kathy who can whip up a pie to complement your menu at a moment’s notice. One of my favorites is her classic double crusted apple pie with an amazingly flaky crust. That being said, I do make the occasional pie. From the failures and successes with pie crusts I have experimented with over the years I have found two favorites. One is a crust from Cooks Illustrated that uses vodka in place of water. 80 proof vodka is 60% water and 40% alcohol. It makes an easy to roll crust and alcohol does not promote the formation of gluten which results in tough crusts. Don’t worry about your friends becoming tipsy, the alcohol evaporates in the baking process so it helps the crust stay flaky and tender. The other crust recipe I use is from Fine Cooking. It is an all butter crust that is made by hand. You, the baker, control the size of the butter pieces in the flour, also resulting in a flaky crust. Obviously, flaky is what we are going for when it comes to pie crusts. All I know is that I will not make a crust on a humid day or a day that I am rushed for time, remember I am not a pie maven.

 The pear streusel pie is one that has become a favorite in my fall baking rotation. I love the combination of sweet juicy pears, and tart dried cherries, I am certain that other tart dried fruit like cranberries or blueberries would work as well. Use your best spices, I used freshly grated Penzey’s nutmeg and Korintje cinnamon which they describe as, “strong as China cinnamon but smoother and not as nippy.” Some important things to note if you make this pie. The recipe makes a great deal of pear filling, mound it up in the crust, it will cook down, any juices that run over will be caught by the baking pan. Press the streusel topping into the pears to keep it from falling off.  The crust for the pie is blind baked which just means it is pre baked to prevent the bottom of the pie from getting soggy. The pie is delicious on its own but even better with a scoop of homemade vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

Pear Pie with Dried Cherries and Brown Sugar Steusel

Serves 8


For the streusel

  • 1c unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2c old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2c packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4t table salt
  • 8T (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

  • 3lbs ripe Anjou or Bartlett pears, peeled and cored, cut lengthwise into 8 wedges and then cut crosswise into 1/2inch slices, about 7 cups
  • 1 1/2T fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3c granulated sugar
  • 1/4c unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/4t table salt
  • 1t cinnamon
  • 1/8t freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3/4c dried cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 blind baked  9″ pie crust of your choice


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, set a heavy duty rimmed baking sheet on the rack and heat the oven to 350F.
  2. Make the streusel. In a medium bowl combine the flour, oats, sugar and salt. Blend the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers. The mixture will be moist. Set aside.
  3. Make the filling. In a large bowl, toss the pears with the lemon juice. In a small bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add this mixture to the pears and toss well to combine. Stir in the dried cherries.
  4. Mound the filling into the pie crust. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the pear mixture, pressing the streusel between your fingers into small lumps as you sprinkle.
  5. Place pie on the heated baking sheet. Bake the pie until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling is bubbly and thickened at the edges, 55 to 65 minutes. Rotate the pie halfway through baking, if the pastry or streusel browns before the filling is thickened, loosely cover the top or edges of the pie as needed with pie shields or aluminum foil.
  6. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before serving. The pie can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.


October 5, 2012 Crispy Kale Salad with Lime Dressing


When food historians and trend watchers look back at the second decade of the twenty-first century, they will no doubt include the kale salad as an emerging food trend. From my vast library of food magazines accumulated over the past twenty (Gourmet) to thirty (Bon Appetit) years I didn’t find a recipe for kale salad until the January 2007 issue of Gourmet. The source was Lupa, the trattoria style restaurant owned by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Inspired by an antipasto, thinly sliced Tuscan or Lacinato kale was combined with ricotta salata and tossed with a simple vinaigrette. In their usual exacting way, Gourmet provided a photo and further description of Lacinato kale in their Kitchen Notebook.  A little more than five years later, Tuscan kale is a green anyone who frequents farmers markets or has a community supported agriculture (CSA) share would be able to identify at first glance. Today, kale is being tossed with all matter of fruits, cheeses and grains to make a hearty, healthful salad.

Now, in their September restaurant issue, Bon Appetit has anointed the kale salad from Battersby, a trendy Brooklyn restaurant with the title of “dish of the year”. Dish of the year? Well for me it was salad of the weekend because almost all of the ingredients to make the dish were growing in the garden with the exception of cucumbers. Strips of crispy kale adorn a salad of baby greens, pea shoots, thinly sliced cucumbers, root vegetables and more kale. A dressing of lime juice, brown sugar, Thai chili and fish sauce gives the salad a southeast Asian flair. Brushing rather than tossing the leaves with oil, keeps the chips from being too greasy. My kale strips took less time than the original recipe, they were sufficiently crispy in twenty minutes, most likely due to using the convection setting on the oven. The greens of choice that came from our garden for this salad included young kale leaves, baby arugula and mache (hello eighties) and pea shoots. Our fall crop of root vegetables provided us with the beautiful colors of watermelon, black and Easter egg radishes, Chiogga and Golden beets, baby carrots and snow white Hakurei turnips. The herbs I used were Italian flat-leaved parsley, cilantro, cinnamon basil and the first of the new crop of chervil. I added thinly sliced cucumbers, although peppers would have worked as well. In the off-season, I prefer Kirby or pickling cucumbers, I find they have more flavor than other varieties. We enjoyed the salad and I would definitely make it again. The simplicity of the original kale salad from Lupa is deserving of a try as well.  What I am really looking forward to is what happens to kale after the first frost. It becomes amazingly sweet. Then it will be time to cook with kale in traditional heartier dishes like stews and soups.

Crispy Kale Salad with Lime Dressing

from Bon Appetit September 2012


  • 1 1/2T light brown or palm sugar, packed
  • 1/4c fresh lime juice
  • 3T fish sauce ( I am partial to Three Crabs brand)
  • 1t minced garlic
  • 1/2 red Thai chili, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 24 small Tuscan kale leaves (5″ long) or 5″ pieces torn from larger leaves
  • 1T vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3c loosely packed mixed tender herbs, I used Italian flat leaved parsley, cilantro, cinnamon basil and chervil
  • 3c mixed shaved root vegetables, I used radishes, beets, carrots and turnips
  • 2c of a combination of baby arugula, pea tendrils and mache (watercress is another option here)
  • 2c thinly sliced stemmed Tuscan kale leaves
  • 1c thinly sliced cucumber


  1. Dissolve sugar and 2 tablespoons warm water in a microwave oven for about 30 seconds. Whisk in the next four ingredients for dressing. Set aside.
  2. Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 250F. Brush tops of kale leaves with oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange leaves in a single layer on 2 large baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets top to bottom and back to front halfway through until kale is crisp, anywhere from 20 to 30. Know your oven!! Transfer the leaves from the baking sheet to a cooling rack.
  3. In a large bowl mix herbs and the next four ingredients with enough dressing to coat lightly. Divide salad among plates; top with crispy kale leaves and additional dressing if desired.

    First harvest of fall root vegetables
Italian parsley, cilantro, cinnamon basil and chervil



October 2, 2012 Borlotti and Green Bean Salad

It was six thirty p.m., not even a half hour before the sun would set on this unusually warm early autumn evening. Some of the streaks in the evening sky were almost the same shade of hot pink as the mottled shells of the Borlotti beans I went down to the garden to pick. What I didn’t expect when I went to pick the Borlottis was that some of the second crop of green bush beans Joe planted in August were ready to pick as well. To the visible eye the bush bean plants seemed to have a lot of flowers, but no beans. When I reached my hand down into the plants I found they were full of mature beans, ready for picking.
Borlottis are a shelling bean, grown primarily for the seed inside. They are one of the many Italian seed varieties that we have grown for the past two summers.   Green bush and pole beans and yellow wax beans however are grown for their pods. The inedible but colorful pods of the Borlotti beans  add visual interest to the garden, climbing up the trellis, in this case a salvaged frame from an old garden gazebo. The shelled beans are ivory in color with maroon speckles. When cooked they lose their spots and turn a light tan color.
Hailed as a nutritional “superfood” by some doctors and nutritionists, dried beans are an important part of a healthy diet. They are high in antioxidants, fiber, protein and many vitamins. Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry or French horticultural beans, have a nutty flavor and a meaty texture that makes them a delicious addition to soups, stews and salads. Green beans may not be the nutritional powerhouse that shell beans are, but they are low in calories, and a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C. Plus their neutral flavor is appealing to almost everyone. Fresh shelling beans require about twenty to thirty minutes of simmering, not the hours of soaking and cooking that dried beans do.  I decided to combine the borlotti beans and the green beans in a salad along with the last of the garden tomatoes, some garlic, a shallot, fresh herbs and a simple vinaigrette. My two bean salad was the perfect accompaniment for the roasted salmon we had for dinner.

Two Bean Salad

Makes four cups

  • 1/2lb green beans, washed and trimmed
  • 1c freshly hulled cranberry beans
  • 1-2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1 minced clove garlic
  • 1 minced small shallot
  • 1/4c flat leafed parsley
  • 1T Cabernet wine vinegar (or any good quality red wine vinegar)
  • 1t dijon mustard
  • 2T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1T or more walnut oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. Bring two large pots of lightly salted water to a boil. Add green beans to one pot, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, beans should be tender, not falling apart.  Drain green beans in a colander, then transfer beans to a large bowl.
  2.  In the second pot, add the Borlotti beans, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes, until beans are soft, not mushy. In both cases, test an individual bean for doneness. Drain Borlotti beans in a colander and rinse with cool water.
  3. While the Borlotti beans are cooking, make the vinaigrette. Whisk together the red wine vinegar, dijon mustard and olive oil.
  4. Add the warm Borlotti beans to the green beans. Add the garlic, shallot and the tomatoes to the bowl, toss the ingredients. Add vinaigrette to taste. Toss salad again and add about a teaspoon or more of walnut oil to the salad. Add chopped parsley and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with miniature basil leaves.
    Borlotti beans in the shell

    Shelled Borlotti beans, too bad they lose their spots when cooked!


    Blossoms and tiny beans were all I saw on the surface.















Green bean harvest