Our spring salads are a combined effort. The greens are from our garden, arugula, mache, spinach and lettuces with names like Freckles and Burgundy colored Red Velvet. Last year I discovered Hakurei turnips at the farmers market and they are a welcome addition to this years garden. We are harvesting them now and they are pure white and sweet as can be. The farmers market offered French breakfast radishes, purple and green kohlrabi and the first asparagus of the season. Our first batch of radishes has already been picked but with succession planting the next are soon to come.
Trimmed kohlrabi reminds me of little space aliens and are a crunchy addition to the salad. Since this is young kohlrabi, I julienne them raw since the purple color is only skin deep. Many years ago we had an asparagus patch, but the time and effort didn’t seem worth it. Now we enjoy the harvest from our local farms.
The supermarket provided organic golden baby beets, our own beets are less than a week away. The first beet micro green thinnings are part of our salads, then used as cooked greens as they get bigger. We are growing three varieties this year, Golden, candy-striped Chiogga and the ruby red Detroit Red.
Soft cheeses like feta and chopped nuts would be a welcome addition to this salad. In weeks to come our salads will include snow peas, more radishes, carrots and eventually tomatoes, cucumbers and all the produce that summer brings.
Firm white fleshed fish is a canvas on which many dishes can be created. With descriptors like clean, bright, and mild, the preparation can take you in many directions. A good pristine piece of fish can be prepared as simply with a little salt, pepper and a squeeze of citrus. You can also add a sauce and a rub and the flavors can transport you to the cuisine of your choice.
Our fish this evening was a yellowtail snapper fillet, named for the single yellow stripe that runs the length of the fish, even along the head. It is considered to be one of the best flavored snappers and since this very perishable fish made the trip up from Florida, I decided to “snap” one up.
I find that many people have a fear of cooking fish. They err on the side of overcooking it and the result is dry and flavorless. Perfectly cooked fish is moist and delicious. We have found a method of cooking fish that gives us consistently good results. In 1959, The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans published a cookbook to help promote the country’s fishing industry. Popularized by late chef and food writer James Beard, they came up with a method of calculating how long to cook a piece of fish. Measure your piece of fish at the thickest point and cook at 10 minutes per inch or 1 minute per one tenth of an inch at 450°F. If you are baking a fillet, fold the thinner tail section under to maintain a uniform thickness. Check your fish a few minutes before the prescribed cooking time. It should be opaque in the center and cooked until translucency is gone. Also remember that the fish continues to cook from residual heat when first removed from the oven. To measure, any clean, well marked ruler will do. We still have our “Perfect Fish” that was patent pending in 1984 and not available now as far as my research found.
I decided to go in an island direction and prepared a Caribbean style rub and a simple mango salsa to accompany our fish. You can substitute red snapper, bronzino or sea bass for the yellowtail. It is important to note that your dish will only be as good as the fish you purchase. If you are purchasing whole fish look for bright, clear eyes. The flesh should be firm and shiny, not dried out. Ask to smell the fish if you need to, it should smell like seawater or nothing at all. Look for a dealer who properly handles seafood. My store of choice is Hellers Seafood in Warrington Pa, about 12 miles from my home. If I am planning to buy fish I bring a cooler filled with ice packs to keep the fish as cold as possible. Then it immediately goes in the fridge and used the same day. Just remember, no amount of sauce or rub will make a bad piece of fish taste any better.
Makes 2 cups
1 1/2c diced mango
1c diced cucumber
1/2c pepper (red, yellow or orange)
1/3c diced red onion
1 small red jalapeno, chopped, seeds and ribs removed
3T fresh lime juice
1/4c torn cilantro leaves
1T or more of Persian lime oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Caribbean Rub for Fish
1/2 t allspice
1 1/2t thyme
1t onion powder
1t black pepper
1/4t cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1t brown sugar
Whisk all spices together in a small bowl.
Sprinkle the spice rub over the fillet before cooking.
Canadian fisheries method of cooking fresh fish
Preheat your oven to 450°F.
Measure your whole fish, steak or fillet at it’s thickest point.
Bake fish for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness. The original instructions say to turn the fish over at the halfway point, you can, we don’t. If you check internal temperatures, it should be about 145°F.
Just exactly what is a bunch? That is the question I had to pose after looking at Bon Appetit ‘s June issue.The current issues of both Bon Appetit and Fine Cooking have extensive articles about cooking with herbs. The article and recipes in Fine Cooking were contributed by Aimee Olexy. We had the pleasure of dining at her Philadelphia restaurant,Talula’s Garden last year. The article is a wealth of recipes that use fresh herbs, in everything from a grain salad to a pound cake. There is also a page that gives the reader the basic formulas for herb butters, oils, vinegar, syrup etc. Bon Appetit devotes ten pages, if you count photos, to a spiked lemonade, tea, dessert, a board dressing and chive oil, among others. Chive oil caught my eye since our chives are peaking and I am trying to find ways to use them in my everyday cooking. This is where the bunch question arose.
Bon Appetit’s recipe calls for 3 bunches of chives and 1 1/3 cups of grapeseed or vegetable oil. Gourmet Sleuth says 1 bunch of chives = 1/2c chopped, I’m not sure on what authority they have determined this. One CSA farm cooperative labeled a bunch at one ounce, another more generous with a 2 ounce measurement. Oh yes, there’s an app for that, Produce Converter. Basil, parsley and oregano made the cut, sadly no chives.
So I returned to my old tried and true recipe from the Herbfarm Cookbook. A book that is open in my kitchen all summer long, author and former chef of the Herbfarm restaurant, Jerry Traunfeld is more exacting in his measurements. His ratio of 1 cup of coarsely snipped chives to 3/4c extra virgin oil worked well for me. Bon Appetit’s recipe heats the oil for a more concentrated mixture. Aimee and Jerry’s recipes rely on the heat that is generated by the blender.
So is it better to make this in a food processor or a blender? All three articles agreed that the initial way to combine the herbs and oil is in a blender. Blenders are best suited for liquid preparations, pureeing, emulsifying and blending. Food processors are better at shredding, chopping, slicing and grating. Even though the bowl of a food processor is large, liquids in it can be no higher that the blade or it will run out the sides, I can certainly attest to that. A blender bowl can be filled almost to the top without the contents leaking out.
Any herb oil must be stored in the refrigerator for safety reasons. Botulism can occur when fresh herbs and oil are combined and left at room temperature. The equation for spoilage is even greater if garlic is added to the recipe. Ms Olexy gives a shelf life of two days to her herb and garlic oil. All fresh herb preparations are at their best in the first few days. After topping salmon with it, adding it to a vinaigrette and using it in a sauce for chicken, I’m sure I will have to make a new batch in a few days.
Makes 1/2 cup
1 c coarsely chopped chives
3/4c extra virgin olive oil
Put the chives and oil in a blender and puree until the oil begins to warm, 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour the oil into a very fine strainer, or a coarse strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth, set over a bowl. Let the oil drip for one hour or longer to extract as much as possible. The oil should drip undisturbed to achieve the clearest oil. Discard the contents of the strainer and store the oil in a covered container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before using. Will keep for a week.
Martha was the first to introduce me to compound butters. Over thirty years ago when I was first married I spent a lot of time in bookstores paging through volumes of my new found interest, cookbooks. I always knew that I would enjoy cooking and Joe and I were beginning to enjoy preparing meals for ourselves and entertaining friends in our townhouse. One of the first books that really caught my attention was Entertaining, Martha Stewart’s first cookbook. At first I wasn’t sure if Martha was just a model for the book cover or in fact, the author. Actually both were true, she was a model through college and she had written the book from her experiences as a caterer. I was fascinated with the layout of the book, each chapter was a different type of party. Cocktail parties, dinner parties, holiday parties, the omelette party, eventually I would become familiar with them all. At that time I wasn’t sure if I could justify the thirty-five dollars for this beautiful book. Fortunately, a dear friend loaned me the copy she had received as a wedding gift and I had it on a long term loan (thanks Wilma!).
Back to the butters, Entertaining had a recipe for fruit butter to accompany muffins and sweet breads and an herb butter to serve along with homemade savory breads. As my well worn copy of the book would attest, yes I did break down and buy it, I have made them many times, for our parties and as a caterer, for countless occasions. Herb butter is a compound butter which simply means butter creamed with another ingredient, whether it’s herbs, garlic, shallots, or honey or jam in the case of sweet butters. Compound butters can be made at any time but it’s a great way to preserve and enjoy herbs at their peak. Right now and at the end of summer, chives flower and show new growth. I kept the recipe simple this time, just chives, sea salt and a little lemon peel. It’s great on fish, vegetables, steak, maybe even mixed into some freshly popped popcorn. Just bring butter to room temperature and stir in finely minced herbs. You can do the mincing with either a knife or scissors. Using unsalted butter allows you to add salt, but to your own liking. Chives can be used in combination with other herbs, tarragon, parsley and dill to name a few.
Martha came out with a update to her Entertaining book last year, this time it’s called, Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations. Seventy five dollars, weighing in at six pounds, about a hundred plus more pages and yes, a recipe for a compound butter. This time it’s a garlic and herb butter to accompany her garden crudites for a luncheon. Can’t wait to try that one too.
Makes 8 ounces
2 sticks of unsalted butter
1/4 c finely chopped chives (you can include flower buds also)
1/4t finely minced lemon peel
Sea salt to taste
In a large bowl, mash the butter with a potato masher.You can even cream the butter using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer or in the bowl of a food processor.The goal is just to get the butter soft so you can incorporate the chives.
Add the chopped chives and continue mashing/mixing the butter until fully incorporated. Mix in the lemon peel and salt to taste.
Spread out a large (1-foot or bigger) square of plastic wrap across your work surface. Spoon the butter out in a band about 1 inch wide on the bottom third of the plastic. Tightly roll up the butter in the plastic to form a log. Grab the excess plastic at both ends of the log and twist the ends in opposite directions. The cylinder should be taut and as round as possible.
Tie the excess plastic wrap at the ends of the cylinder into a knot, or just use little pieces of string to tie off the ends.
To store the butter, wrap the plastic covered log tightly in aluminum foil and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to 3 months.
With influences from both Old and New World cuisine, red snapper veracruzana is a classic Mexican dish with definite Spanish overtones. When the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes landed on the southeastern gulf area of Mexico on Good Friday, 1519 he gave it the name “Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz” which translates to the rich village of the true cross. Rich not just in the abundance of the gold and silver that they would soon find here but in seafood, tomatoes, peppers, and vanilla as well as their diet staples, corn, beans and squash. Cultivated first by the Mayans and later by the Aztecs, the Spanish introduced the tomato throughout their empire. The Spanish conquistadors in turn brought parsley, cilantro and thyme, as well as garlic, onions and olives to the coastal Mexican cuisine which influences it to this day. Red snapper or huachinango as it it called in Mexico, is nestled in a sauce of rich ripe tomatoes, onions and garlic with a salty tang that comes from Manzanilla (Spanish) olives and capers. Pickled jalapenos add tartness and only a moderate amount of spice. I like to make my own pickled jalapenos in late summer when our pepper plants are prolific. I used a whole fish in this preparation but don’t let that stop you from trying this recipe. The sauce would be just as good on fish fillets or even shrimp.
Red Snapper Veracruzana
Slightly adapted from Mexico One Plate at a Time
Serves four to six
One 4 pound cleaned and scaled firm meaty fish, such as snapper, grouper, striped bass, pompano (ask your fishmonger to cut out the red gills and trim off the fins at the top, bottom and alongside the gills. An easier approach, to feed four, use four 5-6 ounce boneless skinless fish fillets of the same type of fish named above. You will not need as much sauce, only about five cups will be needed for this recipe. Reserve the rest for another use.
2 limes juiced
1/4c olive oil
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3lbs ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped into 1/2 in pieces (7 cups)
3 fresh Turkish bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (can substitute standard oregano)
3T chopped flat leafed parsley
1c pitted and roughly chopped Manzanilla olives
1/4c capers, drained and rinsed
3 or 4 pickled jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
Cut two parallel slashes across each side of the fish, cutting through the flesh to the backbone. Place the fish in a baking dish large enough to hold it comfortably. Drizzle both sides of the fish with the lime juice and sprinkle generously with salt. Cover and refrigerate from one to four hours.
In a five quart Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring occasionally. Raise the heat to medium high and add the tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, parsley and half of the olives, capers and chiles. Simmer briskly, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes to evaporate some of the liquid. Reduce the heat to medium low, stir in one cup of water and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt to taste. Remove from the heat.
Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a roasting pan large enough to hold the fish comfortably. Remove the fish from the lime marinade and lay it in the pan. Cover the fish with the tomato sauce. Bake in the center of the oven until internal temperature of fish is about 140°F or until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork, start checking at the 35 minute mark. Prepare a serving platter large enough to hold the entire fish. Use two sturdy large metal spatulas to transfer the fish from the baking pan to the serving platter. Spoon up the rest of the sauce from the pan and cover the fish. Sprinkle your finished dish with the remaining olives, capers and parsley.
To serve your beautiful presentation, set out the spatulas you used to move the fish from the pan to the plate along with a very sharp knife.Using the sharp knife , cut between the head and body until the knife touches the backbone. Repeat on tail end. Insert knife at tail end, and cut from backbone to cavity. With knife resting against backbone, cut up to head. Insert a spatula underneath flesh of fish, on top of the backbone and lift. Lift tail; remove backbone.If desired, remove skin from fillet.
Sweet tart apricots combine with plump juicy olives in this Moroccan inspired dish. It’s quick enough for a weeknight but is special enough to serve to guests. The blend of Moroccan inspired spices, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and ginger give the dish a wonderful aroma. Toasting your own spices brings out the flavor even more.
Smoked paprika or pimenton de la Vera is not the paprika that many of us have been cooking with for years. Pimenton originates from the La Vera region of southwest Spain. Chilis are smoke dried over fires that are kindled with the local oak logs. The dried pepper can range from sweet (dulce) to hot (picante). This recipe uses the sweet version that has the mildest amount of heat.
Cerignolas are my olives of choice in this dish. I can usually find them at the supermarket olive bar at Wegmans. Cerignolas are a large, meaty olive that originate from the town of Cerignola in the province of Puglia, Italy. They are milder in flavor because they are cured in lye, yes, like drain cleaner lye, there is a recipe here. I prefer the green Cerignola but they also come in black and red. The red color is the result of food coloring and never seemed quite natural to me. Cerignolas always come with the pit. To remove the pit, place olives on a cutting board and whack lightly with the side of a chef’s knife. The pit pulls out easily.
Don’t over plump your apricots. Five minutes is long enough for just purchased dried apricots, any longer may turn the apricots to mush. The apricot balsamic vinegar is a worthwhile addition to the dish. It adds a richness and nicely compliments the flavors in the dish. Serve with couscous and a green vegetable.
Moroccan Chicken with Apricot-Olive Relish
adapted from a recipe in Food and Wine Magazine
Serves three or two with leftovers
2t cumin seeds
1t coriander seeds
2T apricot balsamic vinegar (if not using, increase honey to 3T)
1/4c canola oil plus 1T canola oil
1T grated fresh ginger
3T fresh lemon juice
1 clove minced garlic
1t smoked Spanish paprika or sweet pimenton de la Vera
1t kosher salt
1/2t freshly ground black pepper
6 chicken thighs on the bone, with skin (about 2 to 2 1/4 lb)
1c dried apricots
2 medium thinly sliced shallots
1/2 cup pitted green olives, such as Cerignola or Picholine
2T chopped cilantro
Preheat oven to 375F
Toast cumin and coriander in a small saute pan over medium heat until slightly browned and fragrant. Remove from heat, cool and grind in spice grinder or small food processor.
In a bowl, whisk the honey, apricot vinegar, 1/4c canola oil, lemon juice, grated ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, smoked paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper. Arrange the chicken in one layer in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Reserve 1/4 cup of marinade and pour the rest over the chicken. Turn to coat pieces. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours, turning once.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, pour boiling water over the apricots to cover and let stand until plump, about 6 minutes.
Remove chicken from marinade. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium high in a large saute pan. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, brown the chicken well all over, about 3 minutes per side, transferring each batch to a plate.
Return chicken to the baking dish, cover with foil and bake for about 25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
In the same skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the shallots and cook over moderate heat until softened and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the apricots, olives and reserved marinade and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately high heat until the marinade is thickened and glazes the apricots and olives, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cilantro.
Transfer chicken to plates, top with apricot olive relish and serve.
Nine pounds of pork on the bone plus eight people equals a sizeable amount of leftovers. Looking for a good way to “repurpose” the pork I was thinking ahead to Cinco de Mayo and decided to go in a Mexican direction. Red chile sauce would be just the right accompaniment for some shredded pork to fill some tortillas.
The red in red chile sauce comes from ancho chiles. Ancho chiles are poblano chiles that have been ripened and dried. They are a versatile chile with a rich fruity taste reminiscent of stone fruits with just the right amount of heat.
I have my own collection of dried chiles from the hot peppers that we have grown in the garden. It isn’t a difficult process. You must remember that chiles need to be dried in their mature state, which means the pepper is totally red (or yellow or orange in some instances), with no hint of green. There should be no blemishes, tears or other damage to the fruit. I have had success with several methods of drying chiles. I have taken the whole plant, hung it upside down to dry in a well ventilated room. Chiles can be spread out to dry on a screen, again in a well ventilated room. I have my own special drying screen for herb/chile drying. I have dried them in ristras, which is a little more complicated, but also very attractive.The chiles are tied together by the stems and hung in long bunches. Probably the easiest and most foolproof method is to dry chiles on wire racks on top of baking sheets. This should be done at a very low temperature preferably in a convection oven, for my oven that is 140°F. You can get burns from chiles. Remember to wear gloves when you work with fresh chiles and never touch your face or eyes, or any part of your body for that matter. Yes, inevitably your nose will itch while you are working with chiles, but don’t be tempted!!
Toasting the dried chiles and the sesame seeds is definitely a worthwhile step, it brings out a complex toasted smoky flavor that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It is important to keep a watchful eye when toasting chiles and nuts and seeds. Only a matter of seconds can separate nicely toasted and burnt. Especially with seeds, keep them moving in the pan to ensure even browning and get them out of the pan quickly once done to stop the cooking.
I store dried chiles in unsealed but closed quart canning jars, labeled with type and year in a cool dark pantry. Some say the flavor and heat fade after time, but in the name of “science” I did an experiment with a jar labeled Jalapeno-Anaheim ( a cross?) from 1997. I bit into the tip of the pepper and it still packed quite a wallop and had me running for a glass of milk to neutralize the burning sensation in my mouth. The slow cooked pork was perfect with the chile sauce. I have heard it freezes well but I wouldn’t know since we used all of ours. The sauce would also be good with chicken thighs or braised beef.
Red Chile Sauce
Yields about 3 1/2 cups
2 1/2 oz dried ancho chiles
2T vegetable oil
1 small white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4c raw sesame seeds
1/2 drained canned tomatoes (I used my roasted tomatoes)
1t dried Mexican or regular oregano
1/4t ground cumin
3c low salt chicken broth
1T apple cider vinegar
2 fresh bay leaves
1/2t kosher salt
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the dried chiles and cook for 20 to 30 seconds on each side, pressing down with a spatula, until soft, pliable and slightly redder in spots. Watch chiles carefully, you don’t want burnt chiles in your sauce. Rinse the chiles, remove the stems, veins and seeds and tear each one into several pieces. Put the chiles in a small saucepan with enough water to cover and cook at a gentle simmer until well softened, about 20 minutes.
In a medium skillet, heat 1T of the vegetable oil, add the chopped onion and saute over medium heat until the edges of the onion are brown, 8-9 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for another minute, and set the pan aside.
Toast the sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over moderately low heat until they turn a deep golden brown. Transfer the seeds immediately to a plate to cool when they are toasted.
Drain the chiles, discarding the cooking water and transfer to a blender bowl. Add the sauteed onion, garlic, sesame seeds, tomatoes, oregano, cumin and 1 cup of broth. Blend until completely smooth, scraping down sides several times. You will have a medium thick paste.
Wipe out the skillet that you cooked the onion in. Heat the skillet again adding the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the paste from the blender. Cook the paste with a wooden spoon, stirring constantly. Stir in the broth, vinegar, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce begins to thicken, about 20 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. The sauce will thicken as it sits.