Saturday, July 30, 2011
My husband is a big fan of the cable television show "The Deadliest Catch". For those of you unfamiliar with this program, it is a reality series about a fleet of crab fishermen plying their trade in the dangerous waters of the Bering sea.In our town it airs on a Tuesday evening. From what I can tell every episode follows a predictable course: the boats go out, the weather is bad, someone gets hurt or sick, the fishing is lousy and the captains get angry. Then, by the end of the hour, the pots are coming up full of crab, the exhausted fishermen are all smiles and the boats head back to port with their precious catch. There is no doubt it is a dangerous business and the fishermen are a pretty hardscrabble group. Each episode is full of drama about quotas and deadlines and peppered with plenty of colorful language.
Once, as we were watching them toss crab with bodies as large as manhole covers into the holds of the boat, Andy said," Wouldn't it be fun to eat crab legs while we watch the show?" Indeed! I love crab legs as much as the next person, maybe more, but they are a special occasion meal in my opinion. I wasn't about to splurge on a crab dinner just to celebrate the fact that Captain Sig and the boys had survived another season of fishing. But a birthday just happened to fall on a Tuesday, and an anniversary, and the local supermarket had crab on special, so there were several crab leg meals consumed due to the inspiration of "Deadliest". And it started a habit: I was looking forward to Tuesdays so I could cook fish. I began to review recipes and look to my favorite websites and blogs for inspiration. So Tuesday dinners have included salmon, halibut, cod, shrimp, scallops, snapper, clams, mussels, and tuna. In the midst of the unrelenting heat of the past month a summer favorite has become a "fish on Tuesday" favorite as well.
Salade Nicoise is a classic French main course salad. It is perfect for high summer enjoyment: light, colorful and chock full of the seasonal vegetables so abundant at the farmers' markets now. I make my Nicoise the traditional way, with canned tuna. But not just any canned tuna. The best preserved tuna is usually from Spain and is always packed in olive oil. I look for the phrase "line-caught" on the tin. The ultimate preserved tuna product is ventresca. This is belly tuna, familiar to sushi afficionados as toro. It tastes like tuna-flavored butter. You only need a few ounces of ventresca to make this salad very special. Here are some guidelines for preparing a Salade Nicoise. It's not really a recipe because you can be somewhat improvisational here: use what is fresh, seasonal, and readily available and the result will be beautiful and delicious. Just adjust the quantities for the number of people you wish to feed.
What you will need:
a quantity of basic vinaigrette dressing
potatoes (red, Yukon gold, and fingerling are good choices)
nicoise olives, or any other black olive
preserved tuna (see note)
fresh herbs such as flat leaf parsley, basil, tarragon , chervil
soft lettuce leaves such as Boston, Bibb, or leaf lettuce.
What to do:
Make the vinaigrette. For a group of about 4 people you will need approximately 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of white wine or champagne vinegar, 4 to 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a tablespoon or so of finely minced shallot, 1 to 2 teaspoons of dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Put the vinegar, salt , shallot, and mustard in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Slowly stream in the oil until the mixture is emulsified. Taste and adjust for salt and acidity. I like my dressing a little sharp and mustardy in order to season the potatoes. Any leftover dressing will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Cook the potatoes with the skins on in a large quantity of salted water. When they are just tender, drain them and as soon as you are able to handle them, remove the peel. Cut them into bite-sized chunks and place in a bowl. Spoon some of your vinaigrette over the potatoes while they are warm. When they cool, add more dressing as required and the fresh herb(s) of your choice. Season with salt and pepper as required. In the meantime blanch the green beans in a large quantity of boiling salted water until they are crisp tender. Plunge them into a bowl of ice water and when cooled remove and pat them dry. This, along with boiling the eggs, is the sum total of cooking required for this meal. The rest is simply the artful arrangement of all your beautiful ingredients on the serving platter. Take the lettuce and coat it sparingly with some vinaigrette. Use this to line a shallow bowl or platter. Similarly dress the cooled green beans with a modest amount of dressing. Now arrange the potatoes, green beans, quartered tomatoes, and halved hard-cooked eggs in any pattern that pleases you atop the lettuce bed. I like to place the tuna in the center of the dish, but you could arrange this in the manner of Cobb salad with each component in a strip atop the lettuce; an attractive look for a square or rectangular platter. Scatter the olives over the top, along with anchovies if you have chosen to include them. Drizzle a little vinaigrette over the tomato quarters and the tuna and sprinkle on any of your fresh herbs. "Et voila", a summer dinner to be enjoyed out on the deck or patio or in front of the television on a Tuesday night.
Note: I would be remiss by not mentioning the health concerns surrounding tuna. The FDA recommends no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna per week for pregnant women, nursing mothers, and small children. There is also the sustainability concern over the fishing of tuna. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a seafood watch on their website which recommends the best choices of sustainable seafood. They have included down-loadable pocket guides and apps for smart phones that will help you make a good choice when you find yourself standing at the seafood counter of your local supermarket. If you enjoy a good "fish story" the following are two titles I would highly recommend.
"Four Fish, The Future of the Last Wild Food" by Paul Greenberg
"Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World" by Mark Kerlansky
Monday, July 25, 2011
When my sister and I were little girls our Mother would take us shopping at one of the big department stores downtown. The T. Eaton Company, or "Eaton's", as it was commonly known, was an old-fashioned store. There was elevator service with an attendant who actually opened and closed the door and cheerfully took you up or down to your destination. Sales people were attentive and helpful and there were two restaurants when you had had enough of shopping and needed a rest and refreshment.
Our favorite part of a shopping trip to Eaton's was a stop at the Valley Room. Thinking back now I am sure it was Mom's way of ensuring our good behavior and cooperation while she made her way through the store with us in tow. The Valley Room was the cafeteria-style restaurant on the fifth floor. It was casual and inexpensive with the added bonus that our aunt, my Mother's sister Mabel, was employed there. We would go in, pick up our trays, and push them along past the hot food, the salads and sandwiches and the big coffee urns to the dessert station. There were small parfait glasses full of multicolored jello cubes topped with a rosette of whipped cream. Dishes of pudding; chocolate, vanilla, butterscotch and rice were displayed beside simple fruit cups. There was pie: lemon meringue, cherry, apple and pumpkin. Red velvet cake was featured along with Boston cream pie. And then there was the object of my childish desire: cheesecake! Creamy, dense cheesecake with bright red cherry topping. It was my favorite Valley Room treat. Once we had made our way through the cashier's line with our trays and settled down at a table, Auntie Mabel would appear with smiles and hugs and sit with us for a bit. Then Mom and two contented little girls would make the twenty minute bus trip back to our North end home.
I still love cheesecake. So does my sister. In fact, for a number of years Carol's birthday cake of choice was a cheesecake that Mom would make in a deep dish pie plate and adorn with a thick fruit topping. As I recall it was usually frozen strawberries as Carol's birthday is in December.
This past week I found myself with a pound and a half of cherries that were rapidly approaching their expiration date. So I decided to make cherry sauce. My thinking was that they could be used over ice cream or yogurt, maybe even in a savory dish with the appropriate adjustment in seasoning. But then it struck me. Cheesecake! It's not something I eat very often these days and there was the matter of the weather. The Midwest has been sweltering in a heatwave of epic proportion, so there was no way I would turn on the oven to bake a cheesecake. I did recall a recipe for a no-bake cheesecake in Rose Beranbaum's new cake book. Not a fan of no-bake cheesecake, I approached it with a little skepticism, but what a pleasant surprise! It is a multi-step cake with several components, but the results are a rich but light as air cake with a delicate texture and pure dairy flavor. Needless to say my cake and cherry sauce bear little resemblance to the Valley Room cake of my childhood, but the memories are still as sweet.
1 1/2 pounds of cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of cherry preserves
1/4 cup of brandy or 2 tablespoons of kirsch
1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice
Mix the cherries and the sugar in a large bowl and let them rest for 30 minutes. Transfer to a heavy bottomed, nonreactive saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the cherries are softened and the liquid is slightly thickened, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the preserves, cool slightly and add the brandy or kirsch. Taste and adjust the flavor to your liking with a little lemon juice, if desired. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
(adapted from Epicurious)
No-Bake Whipped Cream Cheesecake
( from Rose's heavenly cakes)
Graham Cracker Crust
graham crackers, 11 double crackers
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 pinches of salt
5 tablespoons of melted, unsalted butter
Spray a 9 inch springform pan with nonstick cooking spray, set aside. In a food processor pulse the crackers, sugar and salt to fine crumbs. Add the melted butter and pulse to mix. Press the crumbs into the bottom and partway up the sides of the pan. Smooth them carefully and evenly using a flat bottomed measuring cup and a piece of plastic wrap to prevent them sticking to your fingers. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
2 tablespoons of sugar
3 large egg yolks ( reserves the whites for the Italian meringue)
1 tablespoon of powdered gelatin
pinch of salt
3/4 cup of creme fraiche
1 1/2 tsp. of pure vanilla extract
1 pound of whipped cream cheese (Philadelphia brand comes in 8 ounce tubs) at room temp.
2 cups sour cream , at room temp.
Mix the sugar, yolks, gelatin and salt in a small heavy saucepan until well blended. In another small saucepan, scald the creme fraiche, stirring it constantly. (Bring it to the boiling point). Stir a few spoonfuls into the yolk mixture to temper it, then gradually add the rest. Then, stirring constantly, cook the mixture over medium heat to 170 to 180F. Immediately remove from the heat and pour through a strainer. Scrape up any thickened cream from the bottom of the pot and push it through the strainer with a spoon. Cover directly with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and cool to room temp. When cool, gently whisk in the vanilla. Do not chill or the gelatin will set.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat the cream cheese and sour cream on medium speed for about 3 minutes until well incorporated. It is important that this mixture be at room temperature to prevent the gelatin in the custard from lumping. Gradually beat in the custard, scrape down the sides of bowl, and set aside while you make the Italian meringue.
3 egg whites, at room temp
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of water
3/8 tsp. cream of tartar
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
Have ready a 2 cup heatproof glass measure
Put the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer.
Stir 3/4 cup of sugar an water together in a small, heavy saucepan until the sugar is moistened. Heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbling. Set the pan off the heat. Beat the whites on medium speed until foamy. With the mixer off add the cream of tartar. Raise the speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, until stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly.
Raise the heat under the sugar syrup and boil until the mixture reaches 248 o 250F (firm ball stage). Immediately transfer to the glass measure. Turn the mixer on high speed and stream the hot syrup into the egg whites carefully. Try not to pour it onto the beater as it will spin onto the sides of the bowl. If the syrup hardens before you have added it all, soften it quickly for a few seconds in the microwave. Lower the speed to medium and continue beating while adding the lemon juice. Beat for an additional 2 minutes to cool the mixture. You can refrigerate it for 5 to 10 minutes until no longer warm to touch. Whisk to equalize the temperature. Then fold a quarter of the meringue into the custard filling to lighten it. Fold in the remaining meringue in two additions. Scrape the filling into the prepared crust and smooth the surface with a small offset spatula. Cover the top with a rigid cover such as a pot lid so as not to mar the surface and chill for at least 4 hours. To serve, run a spatula around the edge of the cake, pressing against the pan, or apply a towel run under hot water and wrung out to the sides of the pan. Release the springform side of the pan. Cut the cake carefully with a sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and dried before each slice is removed. Because this cake is so delicate, place your sauce alongside each slice on the plate.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Yesterday I harvested the first ripe tomato of the season from my small backyard garden. This little plot, raised from the ground and situated on the south side of our garage, provides us a wealth of tomatoes and herbs. I have five tomato plants this year: cherry, early girl, green zebra, and both a yellow and orange variety. Interspersed with the tomatoes are basil, parsley, chives, marjoram, rosemary, summer savory and oregano. The tomato I picked was from an organic heirloom plant called "Orange Blossom". The flesh was dense and a little bland but I sliced it onto some good grilled bread. After a generous seasoning with salt, pepper and olive oil and a scattering of small fresh basil leaves, it was a truly welcome first course at dinner. This is the ultimate in local and organic food! So for the next few months it will be all tomatoes all the time; salads, soups, sandwiches, preserves and more. Stay tuned.....