Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I’m Back – with Braised Salmon a Giveaway

August 2010 006Did you miss me? Probably not since most of you didn’t even know I was gone. For the last three weeks I’ve been on vacation in Vancouver, Canada and Alaska. I’ve been posting recipes but I haven’t opened my computer once. They were all automatically set to appear through the magic of technology that’s way beyond my comprehension.

In the upcoming days, I’ll have a lot of things to share with you about the sights, sounds and tastes from my vacation, and let’s just say for the record there were a LOT of tastes. Why else did I gain four pounds? I’m still not as large as this humpback whale I saw, but I’ve got to get back to reality and sane eating. Hence the braised salmon.

July 2010 Alaska 223 For my fellow food bloggers, I tried to connect with some of you while I was gone on public computers wherever possible (libraries are great for this), but for those of you who haven’t heard from me in the last few weeks, I’m working on catching up with what’s been going on in your kitchens while I’ve been away.

To show my appreciation to those of you who follow my blog, I’m offering a giveaway of items I brought back from Alaska: a 1/4 pound of smoked salmon in a nifty wooden box, a dish towel with a salmon design woven into it and a 47-page Alaska Seafood Cookbook.  Just leave a comment at the bottom of this post by 9 p.m. EDT July 30, telling me what fish dish you like to eat the most.  And if you don’t like fish or you’re vegetarian, well, sorry you probably won’t be interested in the salmon or the cookbook, but the dish towel is nice. But if you are a vegetarian – maybe you’d like to give the salmon and the cookbook as a gift - just stop by and say hello in a comment at the end of this post.

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You don’t have to have a blog to leave a comment, but I’ll need some way to get in touch with you if you win, so please leave an email address. The winner will be picked at random by a computer generated program.

The recipe below is adapted from the cookbook in the giveaway. It’s healthy, delicious and low-cal. Just what I need to get started on losing those extra four pounds.

Braised Salmon

printable recipe here

  • 4  8 oz. silver king salmon fillets
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3/4 cup carrots, sliced
  • 3/4 c. carrots
  • 3/4 c. fennel, sliced
  • 3/4 c. sweet onion, sliced
  • 3 cups red new potatoes, sliced
  • 2 cups plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 T. tomato paste
  • 1 quart shrimp stock (I used water)
  • salt, pepper,
  • 1/4 c. chopped parsley or other favorite herb
  • fennel tops for garnish

Rinse salmon fillets and dry with paper towels; season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large ovenproof skillet. Add salmon, flesh side down and sear on both sides until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add carrots, celery, fennel and onion; sauté until soft. Add tomato paste and stock or water; stir well to combine. Add potatoes and tomatoes and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Cook with a lid on top at a light simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Place salmon fillets in pan on top of vegetables. Cover and place in 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender and fish is cooked through. (I just kept the pan on the range and added the salmon, then cooked it another five minutes.)

Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove salmon and set aside. Ladle vegetable mixture into serving bowls and top with salmon and a sprig of fennel for garnish.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summertime Gratin

June 2010 769

We have a truly world-class library here in Princeton. No, not the university library, which is so vast you need a skateboard to navigate the aisles, but the town’s public library, which has a fantastic collection of books, cds, dvds, movies, and even tech products that you can try out. (A special shout-out to my good friend Jan, who’s the head children’s librarian there).


The library also holds film series, lectures, musical performances and demonstrations throughout the year, including a recent series of cooking demonstrations from local chefs. I managed to attend only one, given by Christopher Albrecht, executive chef of Enoterra, a terrific restaurant in Kingston.

On the day I attended, he made a summer squash gratin with a base of onions and fennel, topped with parmesan cheese and goat cheese. It was delicious but I wanted more of a crispy topping similar to the one my friend Stacey made in her vegetable tian. I took inspiration from both of their recipes, omitting Chef Albrecht’s goat cheese, and adding eggplant and breadcrumbs as well as parmesan cheese to the topping.  I changed the cooking times and temperature too to allow for a crunchy finish at the top. The result was a recipe I plan to make over and over again, especially now that the garden is yielding such abundant squash and eggplant.

The recipe starts with a base of fennel and onion that is cooked slowly until it caramelizes. This adds such great flavor.

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Then for this casserole, which feeds two really hungry people, or four normal appetites for a side dish, you’ll need one green zucchini, one yellow squash, and one Japanese eggplant. I used little grape tomatoes because that’s what I had but plum tomatoes would work well too. The herbs, zucchini and eggplant are from my garden.

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After you’ve caramelized the onions and fennel, place them in a casserole with some chopped up fresh herbs (I used thyme, oregano and rosemary). Slice the other vegetables thinly. I used a mandoline and sliced them about 1/8 inch thick.

June 2010 738 Layer the vegetables atop the onion/fennel mixture.

 June 2010 739 Continue until the casserole is filled. Layer them tightly because they’ll shrink during cooking. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and more herbs.

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Next comes the topping of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese.

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Then bake until the top is crispy  and crunchy. At this point, the smells coming from the kitchen were irresistible.

June 2010 754 But the proof was in the pudding – or rather the gratin. And it was a winner. We literally scraped the dish clean.

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June 2010 768

Summertime Gratin

printable recipe here

(feeds two very hungry people as a side dish or four normal appetites)

2 T. olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced

1/2 large fennel bulb, sliced

1 small zucchini

1 small yellow squash

1 Japanese eggplant

grape tomatoes, or plum tomatoes

sprinklings of chopped fresh herbs. I used thyme, rosemary and oregano

salt, pepper


1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1 T. butter

  1. Saute the onions and the fennel in the olive oil until caramelized. This should take about 30-40 minutes. Place in the bottom of an oiled oven-proof casserole. The one I used measured 10 inches by 7 inches at the widest points.
  2. Slice the zucchini, squash and eggplant about 1/8 inch thick. Slice the grape tomatoes in half, or if using plum tomatoes, about 1/8 inch thick. Arrange atop the fennel/onion mixture in shingled fashion. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and fresh herbs.
  3. Melt the butter in a pan and turn off the heat. Add the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs and blend well.
  4. Sprinkle the topping over the casserole
  5. Bake, covered with aluminum foil, for 1/2 hour at 400 degrees.
  6. Remove the foil and bake at 425 for another 10 minutes or until the topping is browned.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Banana Cake

June 2010 405 It’s been a while since I posted a cake recipe, mostly because it’s been too hot to turn on the oven and there are so many flavorful summer fruits to enjoy. But I made this one a while back, froze it and pulled it out to serve on Father’s Day. It survived the deep chill very well, and just needed a slather of icing and some “fancifying” to dress it up.

June 2010 381 The recipe comes from Winos and Foodies, but I added frosting and some chopped walnuts to the sides, as well as a decorative circle of dried bananas in the center. Ice cream optional.

Speaking of decorative, look what’s been frequenting my back yard lately. The hydrangea bushes flowered abundantly this year, and what I think are swallowtail butterflies seem to be enjoying the blossoms.


Recipe from Winos and Foodies

printable recipe here

(The recipe has amounts in weight, rather than cups, etc. If you don’t already have a kitchen scale, they don’t cost much and they’re an invaluable tool. This kind of measuring leads to more consistent and accurate results)

125 g (4 ozs) butter

175 g (6 ozs) sugar

2 eggs

2 mashed bananas (or 3 if bananas are small)

1 teaspoon bicarbonate soda (baking soda)

2 tablespoons boiling milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

225 g (8 ozs flour)


Grease a medium cake tin ( I use a 19cm springform pan)

Cream butter and sugar.

Add eggs, mashed bananas, then bicarb of soda dissolved in boiling milk.

Lastly add flour and baking powder, previously sifted.

Spoon into cake pan and smooth top.

Bake in a preheated 180C (350F) oven.

Remove cake from pan and cool on wire rack.

Ice with 1 1/2 cups icing sugar blended with a tablespoon of softened butter and a little milk added to make a spreading consistency


Friday, July 16, 2010

Stuffed Figs

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No real recipe here – just a sweet and savory bite of figs, mascarpone and prosciutto dipped in chopped walnuts. It takes only minutes to prepare and will have your guests popping them by the handful.

I recently attended a reception of Italian furnishings at a nearby store and these were among the appetizers served. I’ve since made them a couple of times and the plate gets emptied quicker than you can say Calamyrna.

Dried figs are used here, which give a really intense figgy flavor and a chewy contrast to the creamy mascarponse cheese. If you want to try something similar using fresh figs, check out Marie’s post where she grills fresh figs, brie cheese and prosciutto.

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Stuffed Fig Appetizers 

Printable Recipe Here

OK, so this is so simple it’s almost embarassing.

Just take a dried fig. I used Calamyrna figs and cut them in half. Then take each half and cut it in half again. Spread a spoonful of mascarpone on one of the pieces, press another piece against it and roll in prosciutto. Dip the ends in chopped walnuts.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Pineapple-Cherry Salsa

June 2010 288

Are cherries still around? I hope so. I made this salsa last month at the height of cherry season, but I think you can still easily find cherries in the supermarket. Here’s a salsa with a sweet accent but one that’s also got a sassy attitude from the bits of jalapeno mixed throughout. Try this over a grilled piece of salmon, chicken, or pork or serve with tortilla chips for a little something out of the ordinary.

 June 2010 313

Pineapple-Cherry Salsa

Printable Recipe Here

(makes about 4 cups)

3 cups chopped pineapple

1 cup pitted cherries, chopped

1 jalapeno, minced

1/4 c. minced cilantro

1/4 c. bell pepper – red, orange, yellow or green

1/4 c. cup minced onion

juice of 1 large lime

Mix everything together in a bowl (the pineapple will darken) and serve.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Zucchini Salad

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So here’s the deal: All the plants in the world will die but you get to save the world by choosing seeds from one plant that will feed the multitudes. What plant to choose? It’s got to be the zucchini right? They’re as fecund as Kate Goselin. The two zucchini plants in my garden that started as tiny seeds a month ago no bigger than a baby’s fingernail seem to have been impregnated with fertility drugs. They’re churning out those babies quicker than you can say sextuplets.

For the past two weeks, every morning I go out to the garden and harvest one, two or more zucchini – both the long variety and the squat, round variety.

June 2010 472 Not that I’m complaining. I’ve found plenty of uses for my harvest – from simply sautéed zucchini with olive oil and garlic, to stuffed zucchini, zucchini scones, chocolate zucchini cake and more. Oh and don’t get me started on zucchini flowers. I love them sliced up and cooked with pasta but if you’ve never eaten them deep-fried and stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, bella mia, don’t delay any further.

Granted, it’s not low-cal but sometimes you gotta take the plunge and experience the love. However this recipe, made with raw zucchini, is easier on the waistline and is also perfect for these beastly hot days we’ve been having here in the Northeast U.S. One of my first entries when I started this blog two years ago was a similar recipe for zucchini carpaccio, but this one takes it a bit further with the parmesan and tomatoes.

I used both the globe zucchini (the pale green skin) and the long variety (the darker green skin) and it’s a visual delight as well as a great taste sensation. If you’ve got yellow squash, you could layer that in as well. But you will need a mandoline to slice the zucchini or maybe a food processor, if yours has a disc that will slice thinly enough. 

June 2010 521 All you do is slice the zucchini, layer them attractively and decorate with herbs, sliced grape tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, shaved parmesan cheese, and an olive-oil based dressing.

We ate the zucchini salad with crabcakes the first night, but the leftovers were equally good the next day in a completely vegetarian meal of bulgur-chick pea salad and peperonata (my friend Lilli made this one with capers she brought home from Salina, one of the Eolian islands off the coast of Sicily) .

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Zucchini Salad (Zucchini Carpaccio, part two)

Serves at least four as a side dish

printable recipe here

This tastes best if you pour the dressing over the vegetables 1/2 hour before serving.

two zucchini (preferably of different colors)

grape tomatoes to line the serving plate

2 t. toasted pine nuts (toast them by tossing in a hot skillet - no butter required)

shavings of Parmesan cheese

fresh basil (I used both green and purple) thinly sliced

minced parsley

finely cut chives

salt, pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

2 T. white balsamic vinegar

1 clove garlic, smashed

Slice the zucchini very finely with a mandolin. Layer the zucchini slices, alternating colors, on a plate. Top with herbs, toasted pine nuts and Parmesan Cheese. Line the edge of the plate with the grape tomatoes and sprinkle basil over top of them. Make the dressing by mixing the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and garlic together. Drizzle over the top and serve. Keeps well for leftovers the next day.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Colonial Cooking

June 2010 008 Have you ever cooked a whole chicken over an open fire? Or baked a cake in a lidded cast-iron pot covered in burning embers? Just in time for the Fourth of July - the day the U.S. celebrates its independence - take a step back in time to see how our Colonial forefathers and mothers put dinner on the table.  Hang in until the end of this post for a couple of recipes used in this Colonial Cooking demonstration.

Today we’re in Princeton, N.J., my home town and a place where you can’t throw a stone without encountering some facet of our nation’s early history. In specific, we’re stopping at the Princeton Battlefield State Park, the site of one of the fiercest battles of the American Revolutionary War.

It was here that on January 3, 1777, General George Washington gained his first field victory over British troops after a series of American defeats in the summer and fall of 1776.

Today, the 85-acre park includes the battlefield, the common grave of British and American dead, and the Thomas Clarke House and farms. From time to time, special demonstrations such as this recent event featuring Colonial cooking are held.  Battle re-enactments that make history come alive also take place here periodically.

June 2010 001 The house is named after Thomas Clarke, a Quaker farmer whose family lived there during the Revolutionary period.  Here’s the master bedroom with its sparse furnishings and fireplace.

June 2010 034 The house contains many tools and implements that were necessary for daily life. Imagine spinning cotton on one of those spinning wheels.

June 2010 032 And then weaving it on this loom to make fabric for clothing, or sheets or handtowels. How we take things for granted today.

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I am always intrigued by old samplers. This one, dated 1816 was stitched by Rachel Clarke, a relative of the original owner of the house.

June 2010 035  More about history later. Let’s get back to the food. We were lucky to arrive just as the chicken was finished cooking and these folks were about to take it off the rotating spit.

June 2010 006 They cooked up a bunch of other food too, including these beef pasties – shredded beef in small pastry pouches.

June 2010 015 An onion pie was cooling off inside the house too.

June 2010 016 To finish the meal, a lemon tea cake awaited – maybe a little more browned on the top than you might like.

June 2010 018But then, it’s not that easy to control the temperature when you can’t see what you’re cooking and you have no idea whether the hot wooden embers above those lids are at 375 degrees or 450 degrees.

June 2010 010 The chicken looked like it had been cooked to perfection. The cavity was stuffed with rosemary and no other seasonings were used.

June 2010 022 I was salivating from the aromas inside the house, but didn’t want to be so bold as to ask for a sample, since it seemed like the workers were the only ones eating. Oh well, they did give me two recipes that I can share with you at the end of this post so I’m grateful for that.

June 2010 050 But before I get to the recipes, let me show you a little more inside the Thomas Clarke House. The first floor houses a museum with lots of Revolutionary War artifacts.

June 2010 040 I forgot to tell you that after the battle (in which the Americans prevailed by the way), the Thomas Clarke House was used as a hospital for both American and British soldiers. American General Hugh Mercer was wounded during the battle. Unfortunately, even though he was attended by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a famous Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the general died here.

An oak tree that was believed to have stood on the field since the battle was later dubbed “the Mercer Oak.” When the beloved centuries-old tree died in March 2000, the whole town mourned.

June 2010 041 Fortunately, an offspring grown from an acorn of the Mercer Oak in 1981 now thrives next to the large stump of the original tree. Although there’s no one in this photo, families flock to the battlefield on warm days to have picnics, fly kites or play games.

June 2010 062 It’s a far cry from two centuries ago when the bayonets and musket fire were prevalent on the battlefield. Rallying his soldiers as they rode to the battlefield, General Washington said, “Parade with us my brave fellows. There is but a handful of the enemy, and we will have them directly.” 

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The victory at Princeton concluded the military campaign known as the Ten Crucial Days. Here’s a little summation if you want to learn more about it: June 2010 043 For those of you celebrating the Fourth, I hope you have a wonderful day.

And here are a couple of recipes made over the open fire at the Thomas Clarke House, adapted for modern ovens:

Onion Pie 

From the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop

Printable Recipe Here

1/2 lb. potatoes

1/2 lb. apples

1/2 lb. onions

6 eggs

1/2 lb. butter

pastry ingredients:

3 c. flour

1 t. salt

1 c. shortening (can include up to 1/4 c. butter)

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 c. very cold water

  1. Cut the onions, potatoes and apples into thin slices.
  2. Lay half of the pastry in a pie pan.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup butter pats over crust.
  4. Beat two eggs. Combine separately, 1/4 cup each nutmet, pepper, salt, mace
  5. Add layers of apples, onions and potatoes until pie is filled, putting some beaten egg and spices between each layer.
  6. Spread the leftover butter on top and cover with crust.
  7. Cut a few slits in top for steam.
  8. Cook in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until golden brown.

(Be sure to slice the apples and potatoes thin, no more than 1/8”, so they cook through.


Lemon Tea Cake Recipe

Makes four loaves

printable recipe here

2 cups butter (1 pound) softened

4 cups sugar

1 t. salt

4 T. lemon peel, granted fine

8 large eggs

5 c. unbleached white flour

4 t. baking powder

2 c. milk

Lemon Syrup

1 1/2 ups sugar

1 cup fresh lemon juice

Cook syrup until sugar is completely dissolved.

  1. Combine flour and baking powder, set aside
  2. Beat butter, sugar, salt, lemon peel until fluffy
  3. Add eggs and mix well
  4. Add flour and baking powder and mix well.
  5. Fold in milk
  6. Pour into greased loaf pans
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes
  8. Cool for five minutes after baking, then prick with a fork and pour the syrup over it

Cake freezes well.