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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Key lime juice pushes crabcakes over the top

The Whole Dish podcast: Cooking live crabs precedes creamy casserole feast

Also looming large in my family’s seafood pantheon is crab — the South Coast’s native Dungeness.

Just as smoking salmon became a family tradition over the years, so did cooking live crabs wherever we happened to find ourselves. After we pulled our crab pots from Coos Bay, our cooking medium of choice was a kettle of bay water over a bonfire on the beach. If we instead purchase our crabs live from the Charleston docks, my dad sets up a portable propane burner in the driveway for the production.

It’s enough of a process that Dad wants a couple of leftover crab for his pains. After we’ve eaten our fill cracked right out of the shells and dipped in melted butter, maybe with a spritz of lemon, Dad usually stays at the table to crack the last two or three crustaceans and reserve the meat for our favorite family recipe: Creamy Crab and Egg Bake, aka “crab casserole.”

As I mentioned in a 2010 post, this dish effortlessly translates for breakfast or dinner and tops my list of most decadent brunch items. Dad asked for it on Easter morning, but my mom just couldn’t quite conscience preparing one more meal, when we had leftover ham from the long holiday weekend still to consume.

In such cases, I often find myself with crab to bring home. And because “crab casserole” is the predetermined dish in my parents’ company, I try to reinvent the shellfish a bit for my husband’s tastes.

Crabcakes often disappoint me in restaurants, where they suffer from too many fillers and binders and not enough crabmeat. But they are simple to make at home, with as many or as few additional ingredients as the cook desires.

Five years back, I posted a similar recipe with mustard sauce. The Key lime juice in this one scores extra points. And the sautéed vegetables make these crabcakes restaurant-worthy fare.

Tribune News Service photo

Crabcakes With Key Lime-Mustard Sauce

1 pound lump crabmeat

3 tablespoons chopped chives

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped cilantro

Pinch ground nutmeg

Scant 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning

1/4 cup crushed Ritz crackers

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Scant 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 egg, beaten

Panko breadcrumbs, for dredging

Salt and pepper, if desired

Clarified butter or canola oil, for frying

1/2 cup julienned carrot, from about 1 carrot

1/2 cup julienned leeks, from about 1 leek (white or light-green parts only)

1/2 cup julienned red bell peppers, from about 1 pepper

1/2 cup julienned yellow bell peppers, from about 1 pepper

Key Lime-Mustard Sauce (recipe follows)

In a mixing bowl, combine the crabmeat (leave large lumps there), chives, cilantro, nutmeg, Old Bay seasoning, crackers, mayonnaise, mustard and egg, mixing well. Take a small amount of mixture and fry in butter to check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste if desired.

Refrigerate mixture for at least 1 hour to give flavors time to develop. Shape mixture into 4 crabcakes and coat well with panko breadcrumbs. Place crabcakes on a baking sheet or plate and chill for at least 1 hour, up to overnight, prior to cooking.

Heat oven to 350 F.

Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat until hot. Add enough of the butter or oil to form a thin layer of fat on bottom of pan, then add the julienned carrots, leeks and bell peppers. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are brightly colored and crisp-tender. Remove from heat and keep in a warm place.

Add more butter or oil as needed, and fry crabcakes until browned on both sides (this will need to be done in batches). Place cakes on a baking sheet and bake until cooked through, for 15 to 20 minutes.

Divide vegetables among 4 plates and top each serving with a crabcake. Serve with the Key lime-mustard sauce. Makes 4 servings.

KEY LIME-MUSTARD SAUCE: In a bowl, combine ½ cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons Key lime juice and salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve crabcakes.

Recipe adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe from the Watercolour Grillhouse at the Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key, Fla.

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Smoked-salmon toasts make a meal with soup

Flounder, mentioned in this blog’s previous post, was just one of many fish on my childhood menu.

Chief in South Coast residents’ estimation, of course, is salmon. And the highest esteem always was awarded to my dad’s home-smoked salmon, which used to be a staple but is now scarcer with the dwindling fish runs.

So during the lean years when dad’s fishing forays are fruitless and we’ve consumed the freezer stash, we purchase the next best thing: smoked chinook from Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston. Priced at about $12 per 6.5-ounce can, this is as close as it gets to home-smoked fish prized from the waters of Coos Bay.

And when fish, canned fish at that, costs such as pretty penny, you want to showcase it with minimal manipulation and extraneous ingredients. Topping good-quality, toasted bread with smoked fish is an obvious appetizer or snack that becomes a meal paired with this soup, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Tribune News Service photo

Creamy Cauliflower Soup With Smoked Fish Toasts

2 small or 1 large head (about 3 pounds total) cauliflower, outer leaves removed

3 medium (9 ounces total) golden potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 quarts low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

1/4 cup whipping cream or creme fraiche

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt, to taste

Freshly ground white pepper, to taste

20 slices (each 1/4-inch thick) French baguette, about 6 ounces total

2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 or 3 ounces smoked salmon, crumbled into large pieces

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

Use a large knife to cut the cauliflower heads in half. Cut out tough cores and discard. Roughly chop florets. Put chopped cauliflower, potatoes, onion and garlic into a large (4 or 5-quart) Dutch oven. Add the broth. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover loosely and cook until vegetables are fall-apart tender, for 20 to 25 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to puree soup in pot. (Or puree soup in small batches in a blender.) Add the cream and cayenne; heat soup to a simmer. Season soup with the salt and pepper to taste.

While soup simmers, make toasts Heat oven to 375 F. Brush both sides of bread slices with oil and place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake, turning bread slices over, until golden and crispy, for about 10 minutes.

Divided cream cheese among toasts and spread cheese while toasts are still warm. Top each toast with a few pieces of the salmon and a sprinkle of the chives.

Serve bowls of soup sprinkled with chives and accompanied by toasts.

Makes 10 cups, 6 servings.

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Lemony sauce adds zing to fish, pork and more

I had to nix a meal of frozen fish sticks on a recent grocery-store tour.

The exercise and its “$10 Meal Challenge,” covered in a previous post, requires participants to prepare a meal for four people using every food group for the specified budget — and by purchasing primarily whole foods. That means nothing that comes ready to heat up and eat straight from a box. Definitely no breaded or battered protein.

So when the participant intending to prepare fish sticks asked what she should get instead, I led her over to the meat and seafood section, which has a variety of fresh and frozen items. To keep the cost as low as possible for her protein purchase, we picked a 1-pound package of flounder fillets.

I grew up eating flounder on the South Coast, where it used to be much more plentiful in the local rockfish catch. It’s delicious battered and deep-fried for fish and chips, of course. But the snowy white flesh is versatile and benefits from the least fuss possible. Just a quick saute in butter with a topping of toasted, slivered almonds is lovely. A very light panko breading also makes a crunchy contrast.

Although this recipe calls for only a light dusting in flour, it does feature my favorite sauce for panko-breaded whitefish — or panko-breaded anything, for that matter. Lemon-caper sauce made with lots and lots of Meyer lemons from a friend’s tree earned raves from my husband and sons over the holidays.

Because Meyer lemons are sweeter than regular ones, I doubled the quantity of juice that I usually would add, plus grated a couple tablespoons of zest into the sauce. And boy, did it have a zing! My 2-year-old son licked his plate and demanded more “sour sauce.”   

Best of all, the sauce comes off as an elegant finish, when it couldn’t be simpler to make. I actually prefer to bring the wine, lemon juice, capers and herbs to a gentle simmer before whisking in the butter. Recipe testers for the Detroit Free Press recommend also serving the sauce with shrimp or lobster. I like it with pork schnitzel, like we made on Christmas.

Tribune News Service photo

Whitefish With Lemon-Caper-Wine Sauce

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 1/2 pounds firm whitefish fillets

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup white wine

1/3 cup capers, drained

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

In a shallow pie plate, mix the flour, salt and pepper. Coat the fish on both sides with flour mixture. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add fish fillets and cook on both sides until lightly browned. Transfer fish to a platter and cover with foil.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, combine the wine, capers, butter, lemon juice, parsley and thyme. Cook over medium heat until liquid is reduced by half, for about 4 minutes. Spoon sauce over fish and serve with rice pilaf or potatoes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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Repurpose beefed-up poaching liquid with beer

The Whole Dish podcast: ‘Pure and simple’ bone-marrow preparation

Boiling up some leftover bones — roast ham, chicken and the like — with a few other odds and ends, essentially constitutes a free meal.

Even highlighted on their own, bones are incredibly inexpensive. Or so I realized when I paid $3 for a half-pound of grass-fed beef marrow bones to serve as an appetizer with bread, which actually cost more than the marrow. This is a dish I’ve seen priced anywhere between $8 and $12 in restaurants.

And there’s very little preparation involved. Just simmer the marrow bones in a court bouillon — the French term for a poaching liquid, enhanced with wine, aromatics and a bouquet garni (or fresh herb bundle). After about 30 minutes, when I could pierce the marrow with a fork, I removed them from the liquid, cooled them down and, just before serving, sprinkled them with some fine-quality sea salt and popped them for a few minutes under the oven broiler to slightly caramelize, along with some baguette slices.

The poaching liquid, while not flavorful enough to constitute stock, begged to be repurposed. Maybe it was because I used a red onion, or maybe it was the bones themselves, but the stock was deeply colored with a sheen of fat from the bones’ remnants of connective tissue.

The one-note flavor isn’t anything that a tomato product, wine or beer wouldn’t remedy. Enriched with stout beer, this recipe for lamb stew would be a fitting way to stretch those marrow bones over yet another meal. It’s a favorite for St. Patrick’s Day, of course, but still a hearty one-pot meal for the recent rainy days. The recipe comes from the Detroit Free Press.

Tribune News Service photo

Classic Stout Stew

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 tablespoons butter, divided

2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and cubed into 11/2- to 2-inch pieces (pat cubes dry with paper towel)

8 ounces frozen or fresh pearl onions (see note)

1 cup Irish stout such as Guinness

1 cup defatted beef stock or reduced-sodium beef broth

Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

1 bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaf

1 1/2 pounds favorite potatoes, peeled and cut into thick slices

8 ounces large white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon brown mustard

Fresh thyme sprigs and minced parsley for garnish

In a large, heavy Dutch oven or stockpot heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the lamb pieces and brown evenly. Remove lamb and set aside. Add the pearl onions to pot and brown for 3 to 4 minutes. Return browned lamb to pot, add the stout and beef stock, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the bouquet garni and sliced potatoes. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

Add the sliced mushrooms, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove meat and vegetables and place on a warmed, deep-rimmed serving platter. Cover with foil and keep warm in a 200-degree oven. Strain cooking liquid from pot; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt remaining tablespoon of butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook until bubbly and golden, whisking continuously. Slowly stir in reserved cooking liquid and cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of a spoon. Whisk in the mustard and adjust seasonings to taste. If mixture is too thick, add more stout a little at a time. Pour sauce over meat and vegetables; garnish with thyme and parsley.

Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: If using fresh pearl onions, place in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 5 minutes, then drain. Skins should peel away easily.

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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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