Warm or cold, artichokes a singular spring starter

A short-season springtime vegetable, singular in its freshness and flavor, can whet one’s appetite like complicated canapés simple can’t.

Such was the premise of this blog’s previous post, basically an encouragement to serve a board of garden-fresh radishes with compound butter for your next gathering. A chilled stone slab (I have one inset in a wooden tray) keeps the radishes juicy and butter from getting too soft on warmer days like the holiday weekend approaching.

Artichokes are another stand-alone starter that need little in the way of fuss or adornment. While this blog previously has featured instructions for steaming artichokes, I’ve never shared an actual recipe for this very straightforward process.

I prefer artichokes still warm from the pot, but they do make an attractive cold appetizer with one or two dipping sauces. Usually preferring lemony, garlicky aioli with mine, I was intrigued by this suggestion from the Chicago Tribune for serving them with lemony garlicky tahini, a nod to the popularity of those flavors in hummus and a welcome alternative for vegan guests.

Tribune News Service photo

Earthy Artichokes

1 lemon

1/4 cup tahini

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Kosher salt, as needed

4 large, heavy globe artichokes

1 bay leaf

Halve the lemon across its equator. Juice, saving spent halves. Pour the tahini into a small bowl. Whisk in 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Tahini will thicken dramatically. Whisk in cold water, a little at a time, until sauce is right for dipping.

Mash 1 garlic clove and 1 teaspoon salt to a paste. Whisk into tahini sauce. Taste. Add more lemon, water or salt as needed.

Using a serrated knife, trim away top third of 1 artichoke and all but ½ inch of its stem. Snap off any sad-looking outer petals. Using scissors, trim prickly points off all exposed petals. Repeat with remaining artichokes.

Settle artichokes, cut sides up, in a large pot. Pour in cold water to a depth of 1 inch. Add lemon halves, along with remaining garlic, the bay leaf and about 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and let artichokes steam until tender (pierce with a knife tip near base), for 20 to 30 minutes.

Use tongs to lift out artichokes. Cool cut side down on a clean kitchen towel for at least 10 minutes. Serve artichokes warm or cool, along with tahini sauce for dipping and a bowl for spent leaves.

Makes 4 servings.

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Garden-fresh radishes, rich butter pique appetites

Laboring over a cheese platter recently rewarded me with a restaurant-quality spread. At least it was to my eye. Too bad the kitchen lighting didn’t produce a photo worthy of Instagram.

It helps, of course, to have a variety of attractive serving boards and platters from which to choose. On a natural stone slab, I arranged slices of Brie and Petit Basque on either side of a nice heap of tangy farmer cheese. Freshly chopped chives, good olive oil and chive blossoms gave it extra eye-appeal.

Because our guests — and, naturally, kids — were hungry during the lead-up to dinner, I set out the cheese board as an appetizer, although I consider cheese among a meal’s concluding courses. In the United States, plenty of restaurants offer cheese platters as appetizers, despite a richness that threatens to sate one’s appetite before the main course.

More in keeping with classic appetizers, while showcasing a charming serving vessel, is this pairing of compound butter and radishes, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune. With a garden full of radishes, I’ll be making this for my next gathering. If you’re purchasing radishes, browse local farmers market for an interesting variety, including French breakfast, “Easter egg” and watermelon radishes. Radishes are cheap, relatively speaking, so feel free to splurge on high-end butter, either European-style or Rogue Creamery’s, and fine-quality sea salt.

Tribune News Service photo

Spring Radishes

2 bunches radishes with leaves (look for a variety of colors and sizes)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (get the fancy stuff), softened

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 to 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

Kosher salt, to taste

Flaky salt, such as Maldon

Crusty rye or French bread, for serving (optional)

Wash and dry the radishes. Slice each in half from stem to root. Using kitchen scissors, trim root so it trails off decorously. Snip away most leaves, letting each radish retain a sprightly leaf or two or, alternatively, give it a short, spiky ’do. You want the impression that radishes recently sprang, freshly washed and cut, from the garden.

Drop the butter into bowl of a food processor. Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon each of the chopped dill and parsley. Pour in 1 teaspoon lemon juice, the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Swirl until smooth. Taste. Add more herbs and lemon, if you like.

Find a big rustic cutting board or platter. Spread on butter in two or three dramatic swaths. Dot butter with radishes, cut sides down. Sprinkle composition with the flaky salt. Serve as is, or with warm bread.

Makes 4 appetizer servings.

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Compose grilled romaine, chicken for un-salad

Even before the latest nationwide E. coli outbreak, I’ve never been too keen on romaine lettuce.

Largely flavorless, the lettuce isn’t redeemed on my palate by thick veins that can be watery or woody, depending on age and provenance. Fringing that thick, interior fiber, romaine leaves often can be hopelessly limp. I like my salad greens either light and tender or hearty and crunchy. Not both textures in the same bite.

Because I so rarely purchase romaine, I wasn’t too concerned by the Consumer Reports admonishment of all romaine lettuce, even the stuff grown far from the Yuma, Ariz., source linked to E. coli. Then my husband asked for chicken Caesar salads among the week’s meals!

Already reassured by large signs proclaiming California-grown romaine in my grocer’s produce section, I didn’t think chicken Caesar salads posed a threat to our health. Just a threat to my enjoyment of dinner! I negotiated by asking my husband if we could simultaneously grill the chicken and lettuce for a dish that’s much more appealing to me.

Presenting salad as a composed dish, rather than tossed together, goes a long way toward suggesting a complete meal, rather than a main-dish salad as a mealtime concession. It’s the distinct colors, shapes and textures that I favor. With all the components in front of them, diners assemble bites to their liking. It also allows for using a wider array of vegetables that are better consumed cooked than raw.

That’s exactly how I approached our grilled Caesars. Once the chicken was almost done, I moved it to the cooler side of our pellet smoker. To the hot side, I added split hearts of romaine brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I let them sear until the cores were starting to soften, then flipped them over so the leaves could wilt and char a bit on the edges.

Allocating the most heat-treated heart for my own plate, I dressed them — still whole — with dollops of Caesar dressing, accompanied by a border of homemade croutons, a few bites of oil-packed anchovy fillets, a whole, grilled chicken thigh and a few slices of grilled lemon. A sharp steak knife ensures that everything can be deconstructed at each place setting.

The following recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, does one better on grilled Caesar with a homemade, mustardy, garlicky dressing enhanced with anchovy fillets. Or try grilled romaine with bacon and blue cheese or a grilled cherry-tomato vinaigrette.

Tribune News Service photo

Grilled Romaine Salad With Anchovy-Mustard Vinaigrette

1 large garlic clove, smashed, peeled and minced

6 anchovy fillets, minced

1 tablespoon brown mustard

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grate, divided

Juice of 1 lemon

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 heads romaine lettuce, loose leaves removed and each head cut lengthwise into halves or quarters (for a color contrast, substitute a large head of radicchio for 1 romaine)

1 ounce (1/4 to 1/3 cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded

1 teaspoon flake sea salt, such as Maldon (may substitute smoked salt for more “grilled” intensity)

Heat grill to medium, indirect heat (300 to 350 F).

In a salad bowl (or do this in blender or food processor), using back of fork, mash the garlic and anchovy fillets together into a paste. Whisk in the mustard and egg yolk and then whisk in the 1/2 cup oil a little at a time until a thick sauce forms. Stir in the lemon juice and season with the fine sea salt and pepper.

Brush grill grate with some olive oil. Coat the romaine with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put romaine directly on grate over fire and grill, turning once, just until grill-marked, for about 20 seconds per side. Using tongs, remove romaine from heat and paint with half of vinaigrette, getting dressing down in between leaves. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Return romaine to grill, in a spot with indirect heat and cook, covered, until cheese just starts to melt and ends of the romaine leaves wilt, for about 2 minutes.

Transfer romaine to a platter. Dress with remaining vinaigrette, a scattering of remaining cheese, and a sprinkle of the flake salt.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Williams-Sonoma Grill School,” by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Weldon Owen, publisher).

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Simple preparations best for showcasing scallops

A big platter of petrole sole fillets fresh from the Oregon coast prompted a recent discussion of wild, sustainable seafood.

Where do we get good-quality fish and shellfish, asked our friend, who was visiting from California. I replied with my longtime lament: The search is never-ending.

Just when I think I’ve found a worthwhile product at a reasonable price, it disappears from the retailer’s shelves. One of the most rewarding, but also frustrating, items I’ve purchased off and on for more than a decade is dry-pack sea scallops from Costco.

I say I purchase them off and on because they’re intermittently available. Whenever I really want them, they’re not in stock. And when I browse for them on a whim during one of my semiannual trips to Costco: Voila! There they are.

Pound for pound, sea scallops are one of the most expensive items in grocers’ seafood sections, Costco’s included. Expect to pay nearly $30 for 2-pound bag, which makes them an occasional indulgence.

I simply won’t purchase scallops at any price if they’ve been treated with sodium triphosphate, a preservative that can’t be washed off, as I mentioned in a previous post. Worse than the flavor is the chemical’s effect on cooking seafood, which exudes excess liquid and won’t brown at any temperature. The best safeguard is to look for the term “dry-pack” and carefully verify that no ingredients are present other than “sea scallops.”

Once you’ve secured good-quality scallops, the simplest preparations show them to their best advantage. And resist the urge to overcook them. They should still be slightly translucent at the very center when nicely caramelized on each side.

Here’s a recipe courtesy of Tribune News Service that’s just right for warm-weather meals. Another of my favorite combinations with scallops are grapefruit and avocados, when both produce items are still in season.

Tribune News Service photo

Pan-Seared Scallops With Fresh Greens and Raspberries

1/2 cup raspberry vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1/2 cup good-quality olive oil

12 cups mixed light-colored baby greens, such as Bibb, Boston, frisée or any favorite greens torn into bite-sized pieces

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 pound sea scallops, patted dry

2 tablespoons butter

Juice of 1 lemon

Fresh shredded herbs such as basil or tarragon (optional)

3/4 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

1 cup fresh raspberries

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, black pepper and poppy seeds; In a slow, steady stream whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.

In a large bowl, toss the salad greens and mushrooms with half of vinaigrette. Divide among 4 dinner-size serving plates.

Season the scallops with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallops and sauté until barely cooked through and nicely browned on each side, for about 2 minutes per side. Drizzle with the lemon juice and sprinkle with the fresh herbs if using

Arrange a portion of scallops on top of each plate of greens; sprinkle with the chopped walnuts and raspberries. Drizzle with a bit of vinaigrette and pass remainder separately.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen from “Main-Course Salads” by Ray Overton ($15.95, Longstreet).

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Frozen phyllo dough just right for brunch dishes

The Whole Dish podcast: Phyllo makes delightfully crunchy crust for quiche

The biggest cast-iron skillet I’ve ever seen, layered with greens and red peppers for a gorgeous frittata, dominated the spread at a recent weekend brunch.

But vying for attention as the most impressive dish was a classic vegetarian entree, borrowed from traditional Greek cuisine. Spanikopita, which typically layers spinach and ricotta cheese, crowned with phyllo pastry, also came in vegan and gluten-free versions at this gathering.

Accustomed to vegetable-based dishes, this crowd, fittingly, was wowed by the crunchy, tissue-thin pastry that contrasts so well with tender greens and a creamy filling. “How do you make it?” my friend wondered.

Some around the table theorized the mechanized process that rolls the dough so thin, which is how the vast majority are produced. The most authentic version in Greek bakeries involves hand-stretching the dough on a cold stone slab, a remarkable feat without tearing the ephemeral sheets.

Most cooks, of course, encounter phyllo in the frozen sections of their supermarket. It can be used for sweet and savory preparations, from appetizers to desserts. I love it as an alternative to the traditional pie crust for quiche, particularly with the season’s asparagus, followed by summer zucchini and tomatoes. See the recipe in this post from May 2016

Frozen phyllo also elevates humble ingredients of rice and chicken in this strudel, courtesy of Tribune News Service. This recipe would be an interesting way to stretch or recast leftover, cooked chicken and rice for dinner. Or make it extra-special, maybe for Mother’s Day brunch, with sautéed mushrooms — spring morels, if you can find them — fresh, tender herbs, such as chives and tarragon, and a good-quality cheese like Gruyere.

Just make sure to handle the phyllo carefully and keep the sheets damp while filling and rolling them.

Tribune News Service photo

Chicken and Wild Rice Strudel

1 (8.8-ounce) package ready-to-serve long-grain and wild rice or 2 cups cooked long-grain and wild rice

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped, cooked chicken

1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning (see note)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

12 sheets phyllo dough (9-by-14-inches), divided

6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the rice, chicken, cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.

Place 1 sheet of the phyllo dough on a work surface (keeping other sheets covered with a damp paper towel); brush lightly with some of the melted butter. Layer with 5 additional sheets, brushing each layer with butter.

Spoon half of rice mixture all over top layer, spreading it to within 1 inch of ends. Fold uncovered ends of short sides over top of filling. Roll tightly, beginning with a long side. Place on prepared baking sheet, seam-side down. Brush with additional melted butter.

Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden-brown and heated through.

Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: If you do not have Italian seasoning, use a pinch each of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, cilantro, thyme and savory.

Recipe adapted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from Taste of Home; recipe by Joanna Johnson.

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Herbs, asparagus are lamb’s spring companions

The Whole Dish podcast: Locally raised lamb a sustainable option

Asparagus, extolled in this blog’s previous post, recently has found favor with my kids. Surprisingly, my 5-year-old son, skeptical of almost every vegetable, declares that he loves asparagus, particularly when he can cut the little “trees” himself from our garden beds.

But texture, I realized, makes all the difference in my boys’ enthusiasm for asparagus. When I lightly blanch it in a pot with pasta, they can’t get enough and even steal spears off my plate. Roast it with their sweet potatoes, and they look askance. It’s ironic, given that the latter method is upheld as the way to get non-asparagus eaters to appreciate this distinctively flavored vegetable.

I resorted to bribing my older son to try one unfamiliar texture in exchange for something much more toothsome on his palate. The prospect of cleaning the bones from our slow-cooked lamb shanks provided all the inspiration he needed to finish the trees’ caramelized trunks and tops.

Although he also looked a bit askance, our dinner companion is good-natured enough to chuckle at two kids gnawing bones the length of their forearms. It’s an exercise repeated anytime our family’s menu features meat on the bone, including lamb chops.

With a zesty, herbaceous marinade, this rack of lamb would be lovely served in more sophisticated settings, perhaps Mother’s Day brunch. Had we time to allow for marinating, the mixture would have infused our meat, cooked via Instant Pot, with the taste of spring. Similar to the lamb my family prepared for Easter weekend, the seared rack also suggests stripping the bones.

photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

Rack of Lamb With Pesto

1 rack of lamb, Frenched if desired (about 1 1/4 pounds)

Herb Marinade:

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh oregano

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley

2 tablespoons minced shallots

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

1 large garlic clove, peeled and minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Pesto:

1/2 cup packed fresh mint leaves

1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped

2 tablespoons walnuts or pine nuts, toasted

2 large fresh garlic cloves, peeled

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil canola oil

1/3 cup white wine (optional)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)

Cut the rack of lamb in half so you have 2 pieces with 4 bones each. Place both in a plastic bag.

Whisk together all the marinade ingredients and pour over lamb. Seal bag. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Make pesto. Place the mint and parsley leaves, walnut or pine nuts, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor. Pulse to mince mixture. Add the Parmesan and pulse again. With processor on, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. If mixture is too thick, you can thin with a little water or more oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Remove lamb and pesto from refrigerator and let stand for 1 hour before cooking.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Remove lamb from marinade and brush off any garlic and herbs — they will burn in pan and in oven — and pat lamb dry with paper towels.

In a large oven-proof skillet, heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add both lamb pieces, fat-side down. Brown lamb for about 5 minutes. Turn over and transfer skillet to preheated oven. Cook about 15 to 20 minutes or until lamb registers 120 F on an instant-read thermometer for medium-rare. Or cook it to your desired temperature.

Carefully remove from oven, transfer lamb to platter, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes. While lamb rests, it will continue to cook and internal temperature will rise.

If desired, you can make a pan sauce. Using same skillet, add the wine and cook over medium heat. Bring to a boil while scraping up any bits on bottom of pan. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and heat for 1 minute. Strain sauce.

To serve, arrange lamb on a platter and drizzle with some pan sauce and a few spoonfuls of pesto. Or cut lamb into individual chops and serve.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

Recipe from the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen.

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Steaming en papillote infuses asparagus flavor

It’s been just over a week since I despaired over weather so fine and a garden still so fallow.

But true to form and in keeping with the season, asparagus pops up literally overnight. It’s tentative at first, sending up just a few stalks at a time. So we collect spears for several days before there’s enough to constitute a proper side dish. If I get impatient, though, I claim the slim harvest all for myself, usually scattering over a plate of pasta on nights when I’m dining solo.

The asparagus season is just long enough that we can eat our fill before summer sets in, and the garden really takes off. In the meantime, I’ll start by rationing those first asparagus, using them to their utmost advantage in recipes like this one, courtesy of the Seattle Times. Steaming the asparagus in parchment paper perfumes all the other ingredients like this springtime delicacy.

If you’re short on asparagus, there’s no reason why you couldn’t combine it with the potatoes that are suggested as an either/or ingredient. But if using potatoes, plan far enough ahead (a couple hours) to parboil it, so it cooks at roughly the same rate as the asparagus. Wash a medium potato thoroughly and bring enough water to amply cover it to a boil. Add the potato carefully, reduce heat to medium-high and cook for 20 minutes, less if incorporating it without asparagus in the following recipe. Rinse the potato with cold water and put, uncovered, in a bowl in the fridge to cool before slicing.

Tribune News Service photo

Fish en Papillote With Asparagus or Potatoes and Parsley Sauce

1 garlic clove, peeled

1/2 bunch parsley (about a cup loosely packed, not including larger stems)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch (about 12 stalks) asparagus, rinsed and butt-ends snapped off

— or —

1 medium parboiled potato, sliced into very thin rounds (a mandoline helps a lot)

Parchment paper (find it with the aluminum foil and plastic wrap)

2 pats of butter

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 fish fillets, 4 to 6 ounces each, of rockfish, cod, flounder or any white fish

4 thin lemon slices

2 tablespoons white wine

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Make parsley sauce by mincing the garlic and finely chopping the parsley; add to a small bowl. Add the 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; stir to combine. Drizzle in the olive oil slowly while stirring thoroughly with a fork. (You also could use a food processor or immersion blender.)

Tear off 2 large squares of parchment paper, and crease them diagonally. On 1 diagonal half of each square, near crease, arrange a slightly-larger-than-fish-fillet-shaped raft of asparagus or a slightly-larger-than-fish-fillet-shaped layer of potatoes barely overlapping.

Put 1 pat of butter atop potatoes or asparagus; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the fish fillets atop potato or asparagus layer; sprinkle with salt and pepper, then top each fillet with 2 lemon slices and half of parsley sauce. Pour 1 tablespoon of the wine over each fillet.

For each packet, fold parchment paper over diagonally, then fold and crimp open sides tightly around fish and vegetable arrangement to create a half-moon-ish shape. You want to create a good seal; if any spots seem like they might let the steam out, use (uncoated!) paper clips to secure them.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes for potatoes, 15 minutes for asparagus.

Slide each packet onto a large plate, then slit top with a sharp knife and serve immediately, letting your guest tear theirs open more themselves.

Makes 2 servings.

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Beginner soup dumplings plenty plump and moist

The Whole Dish podcast: Prepared wonton wrappers an essential dumpling shortcut

Invited to a fellow foodie’s house for dinner, I expected a delicious meal. I didn’t expect that she and her husband would have labored half the day over homemade ravioli.

And these weren’t in the same league as my idea of homemade, which henceforth should be called “semi-homemade.” They started by making and rolling out their own pasta from scratch, before filling with a mixture of cheese, kale and peppers, then bathing them in a creamy, lemony sauce.

Yes, suffice it to say, they met — and far exceeded — my pasta standards.

Lacking both hand-cranked pasta machine and attachment for KitchenAid mixers, I’ve made do with prepared pasta wrappers, blogging for the past decade about the ease of filling wonton and/or eggroll skins with all manner of ingredients, from cheese and meat to fruit and squash. They can be shaped as ravioli, tortellini, potstickers or even little cups to cradle crab or compotes.

Stocked in most grocers’ cooler sections, these have practically become a staple in my refrigerator. And when the end product is plump and moist and rich and savory, does anyone notice that the pasta was premade? Not in my experience. I was so enamored of a duck dumpling that I made two holidays past that I proclaimed it one of the 2016′s best recipes from my kitchen.

Turns out, I’m not the only fan of packaged wonton wrappers. They are a key ingredient in “beginner” soup dumplings recently featured in the Chicago Tribune. The real thing — fodder for so many food-travel television segments — starts with homemade broth and hand-rolled wrappers.

And we’re not talking just any broth. It’s got to be so full of collagen that it chills to gelatin. I do achieve this texture from time to time in my homemade stocks, usually without any intention. For broth that’s on the thin side, this shortcut using powdered gelatin verges on genius. Note that the dumplings cannot be immersed in simmering water; they must be steamed.

And while these aren’t the 18-pleat round dumplings of soup-dumpling fame, according to writer Leah Eskin, they’re an imitation with plenty of merit.

Tribune News Service photo

Beginner Soup Dumplings

1 teaspoon gelatin

1/2 cup pork, beef or chicken broth

4 ounces ground pork

1 teaspoon peeled and finely grated, fresh ginger

1 teaspoon finely chopped scallions

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon Chinese rice wine

1 pinch each: salt and white (or black) pepper

16 wonton wrappers (4 ounces total)

Drop 1 tablespoon cold water into a glass measuring cup. Sprinkle with the gelatin. Bring the broth to a boil; pour over gelatin, whisking to dissolve. Pour into a small baking pan and chill until jiggly, for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile stir together the pork, ginger, scallions, sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine and salt and pepper. When broth is set, cut into tiny cubes or scramble to bits with a fork. Stir cubes into pork filling.

Set 4 wrappers on a work surface; brush edges with water. Settle 1 tablespoon filling in center of each. Bring 4 points of each wrapper up to meet in middle, forming 4 pyramid-shaped dumplings. Firmly press seams together. Fill remaining dumplings.

Line a steamer basket with parchment paper or a few leaves of bok choy or lettuce. Settle in dumplings. Steam over boiling water until dumplings are cooked through, for about 6 minutes.

Set 1 dumpling on a big spoon. Nibble or poke a small hole into it. Slurp out soup. Drizzle dumpling with sauce and down it. Makes 16 dumplings.

DUMPLING SAUCE: Pour 1/4 cup dark (chinkiang) vinegar into a bowl. Scatter with fine shards of peeled, fresh ginger.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from Imperial Lamian Restaurant in Chicago.

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Radishes, juicy tops are spring’s first garden gifts

So much seems to happen so quickly on the first truly warm days of spring.

The mint in my herb pot leafed out overnight, and the chives are showing their first tiny buds. The garden’s garlic and celery are growing lushly green while some other overwintered crops, like kale and collards, are flowering in a final attempt to seed themselves before being ripped unceremoniously from the beds.

Yet it’s still a season of hurry up and wait for gardeners like me, who anticipate yet another month before much in the way of vegetables can be claimed for the kitchen. Radishes, those easy-to-seed and soon-to-sprout roots, are one of our few saving graces.

I admit to undervaluing radishes in previous years, viewing them as good only for garnish or maybe a very small jar of quick pickles. But inspired by a story about repurposing vegetable tops, I’m vowing to make the most of this early-spring gift to gardeners. Indeed, the juicy tops constitute so much of the radish, that it’s a shame to feed them to the chickens.

So I’m putting this crostini, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times, on my springtime menu, particularly where entertaining is concerned. These also would be lovely with Pacific pink shrimp, the topic of this blog’s previous post, in lieu of smoked salmon.

Tribune News Service photo

Radish, Salmon and Radish-Green Salsa Verde Toasts

2 cups radish greens, from approximately 2 bunches, chopped

1 cup cilantro leaves

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled

Salt, to taste

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Zest and juice from 1 orange

4 ounces crème fraîche

4 slices whole-wheat or country white bread, toasted

4 ounces smoked salmon, more if desired

1 cup thinly sliced radishes

In a food processor or blender, combine the radish greens, cilantro, oil, garlic, a pinch of salt (or to taste), lemon zest and juice and orange zest and juice. Blend until smooth. This makes about 1 1/2 cups salsa verde.

Divide the crème fraîche among the toasted bread slices, spreading it evenly over each piece. Top with the salmon, followed by the radish slices. Drizzle or spoon over salsa verde and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

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Pick Pacific pink shrimp, skip peeling, deveining

This blog has been awash over the past week in seafood recipes. It’s not an uncommon topic, as I explained in my latest podcast. This South Coast native craves her seafood since moving two decades ago to this landlocked region, where fresh fill and shellfish can be hard to come by.

One of the most abundant — and almost as local as seafood gets — are Pacific pink shrimp, also known as “bay” or “salad” shrimp. The season kicked off this month and extends through October, making it one of the longest commercial fisheries on the West Coast. Certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council since 2007, the fishery has averaged 30 million pounds annually for the past 30 years.

A large portion of the catch is individually quick-frozen (IQF) immediately upon processing. This is a superior way to preserve it for weeks to months. The shrimp also are canned.

But I prefer, of course, just-off-the-boat fresh shrimp, purchased from my favorite seafood market in Charleston, just a few blocks from the processing facility. From early summer through fall, I can’t pass through Charleston en route to the beach without stopping for a shrimp cocktail. Some coastal visitors want ice cream or saltwater taffy. Give me a Dairy Queen sundae-style cup of plump, juicy shrimp luxuriating in spicy cocktail sauce.

If I can squeeze in a stop just before heading back to the Rogue Valley, I bring home a pound or two of shrimp to top salads or toss into pasta. This spaghetti is very similar to versions I make before our garden tomatoes are ripe. Courtesy of Tribune News Service, it calls for larger shrimp that should be peeled and deveined. Among pink shrimp’s redeeming qualities, however, is skipping the peeling and deveining step, which just isn’t necessary with a crustacean this size.

If using pink shrimp here, I also would skip sauteeing them with the garlic and instead stir them into the sauced pasta before transferring to the baking dish. Because the shrimp already are cooked, shortening their time in the oven preserves their moisture.

Tribune News Service photo

Spaghetti With Shrimp, Feta and Tomatoes

In a pot of well-salted boiling water, cook 6 ounces spaghetti until al dente, for about 10 minutes; drain.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add 3 peeled and minced garlic cloves; cook until golden, for about 1 minute. Add 3/4 pound peeled and deveined shrimp; cook until shrimp begin to turn pink, for about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 (14.5-ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes, drained; cook for 2 minutes. Toss with pasta.

Pour into a buttered 2-quart casserole; sprinkle with 2 ounces crumbled feta. Bake at 400 F until sauce is bubbly and feta melts slightly, for about 10 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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