Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Salmon Cakes

I made this recipe from The Splendid Table but once I'd mixed it up, I knew it would not work. It would have been a delicious salmon hash. I could tell that it would not hold together. Which means it fails as a "cake." The solution to this problem: mayonnaise. Great binder. I've cut the recipe in half, made a few minor changes.

Salmon Cakes
(serves 4-6 as an entree)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ small red onion, finely chopped (or use a couple of shallots)
½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped

14 oz. cooked salmon, either canned and drained or leftover from dinner
2 Tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon capers, chopped
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¾ teaspoon Old Bay (or similar crab boil) seasoning
½ Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 whole egg
½ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
olive oil for frying

Heat up a large skillet over medium heat. Add vegetable oil. Saute´ onion, red pepper, and celery until softened, about 5 minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, place the salmon in a large bowl and break it up into chunks. Don't make the chunks too small. You want to know there is salmon in these cakes. Dump the cooked veggies in with the salmon. Add the minced herbs, capers, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, mustard, egg, and panko. Mix it to combine. Add mayonnaise and mix until evenly distributed. It should have enough mayo to hold together. Try to make a patty; add a bit more mayo if it won't hold together. You'll have no end of grief trying to flip them if they won't hold together.

Wipe out the skillet you cooked the vegetables in. Reheat over medium-high heat. Add about 2 Tablespoons olive oil. Form salmon into 6 patties and shallow fry until nicely browned on both sides. You may have to add additional oil after you flip them. How much oil you use will depend on the type of pan you use. I use a cast iron griddle which is well-seasoned, but you still need a fair bit of oil if you want a crispy crust (which is essential for deliciousness).

Makes a good salmon cake sandwich, or served on top of a big green salad.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sherried Porcini Marinade

This is delicious. Really delicious. I've used it on boneless pork chops and thin steaks. So savory. The original recipe, from one of my favorite cookbooks for grilling, uses dried shiitake mushrooms. I have lots of dried porcinis (photo above shows a good haul before drying) so I used them instead. Unlike many marinades, it's a quick one. You only need an hour or so. Packs a ton of umami into a small span of time.

Sherried Shiitake (or Porcini) Marinade
(makes enough for 1 1/2 - 2 pounds of meat)

½ cup dry sherry
½ oz. dried shiitakes or porcini mushrooms
1 small shallot, peeled and cut into quarters
1 large clove to garlic, peeled
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

In a small saucepan, heat the sherry until simmering. Put the mushrooms in a small bowl and pout the sherry over the mushrooms. Smush down so most of the mushrooms are covered with sherry. Let soak for 20 minutes. Remove the mushrooms, reserving the sherry. Strain the sherry through cheesecloth to get rid of any sand. Add the mushrooms and strained sherry to the bowl of a food processor. Turn on the processor. Drop in the shallot pieces and garlic. Process until everything is chopped finely. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the soy, vinegar, tarragon, and black pepper. Process again until mixed. Place the meat in a shallow glass dish. Pour over the marinade, turning the meat to coat. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Before grilling, season meat well with salt. Grill on a very hot grill.

From Marinades: The Secret of Great Grilling by Melanie Barnard, HarperPerennial, 1997.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

I'm running a bit late on my "celebration" of holidays. Here it is Memorial Day, and I'm just getting around to posting my Cinco de Mayo recipe. Sometimes life intervenes.

The recipe I've adapted here used ground pork. I didn't have any. But, I did have ground turkey. Guess what? Turkey is totally Mexican. In fact, the turkey was the biggest domesticated animal (well, besides the dog) until the Europeans dropped pigs, horses, cattle, and sheep on North America. You can use whatever ground meat you have.

I don't fry my meatballs. You can if you like. Baking them in a hot oven makes a lot less mess and requires no supervision so I prefer it to frying on the cooktop.

Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce
(serves 4-6)

1 pound ground turkey (not extra-lean)
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup ground almonds
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 egg
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 Tablespoon dry sherry
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

non-stick cooking spray

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, minced
½ green pepper, diced
½ red pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
⅓ cup beef stock
¼ cup dry sherry
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a bowl. Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with cooking spray. Form mix into 1 ½" meatballs and place on the cookie sheet. Spray the meatballs with cooking spray (you can skip this step if using a fattier meat than turkey). Bake the meatballs for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Sauté the onion, peppers, and jalapeno for 5 minutes until the onion is golden. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Mix in the sugar, tomatoes, cayenne, sweet paprika, black pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer. Mix in the beef stock and sherry. Bring to a boil. Add the meatballs. When the sauce returns to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, uncovered, until sauce is thick. Add salt if necessary; you may not need any if your beef stock is salty. Garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or pasta. Also good served as an appetizer sprinkled with a bit of mozzarella cheese.

Recipe adapted from The Book of Mexican Foods by Christine Barrett, HP Books, 1991.

Photo credit: By കാക്കര (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dal: Red Lentils with Bengali Spices

My breakfast: dal and fresh whole wheat tortilla chips
I am a huge fan of Indian food. All regions, vegetarian, not vegetarian. Doesn't matter. The spices in Indian food are sensually lush and totally addicting. The downsides of cooking Indian food are a) you need a lot of uncommon (to Americans) ingredients, and b) it's time-consuming. But, when I do it from scratch (rather than run down the street for Indian take-out), it's so so satisfying.

Dal means beans and vegetarian cooking in India is about richly spiced beans. Most people are familiar with lentil dal because it is served alongside the rice at many Indian restaurants. This recipe uses red lentils though you can substitute yellow split peas. Red lentils are smaller and more delicate than typical brown lentils. They do not cook up red - they cook up golden. They are bland on their own, soaking up Indian spices. They also cook down smooth so the dal is like a thick porridge. Serve as a thick soup, a side dish, or over rice as a main dish. It will thicken in the fridge but the flavors only get better.

Bengal Red Lentils with Spices
(serves 4-6)

1 ½ cups red lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 hot green chile, such as a small Thai chile or serrano, stemmed
½ teaspoons ground turmeric
4 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 small onion, minced
¾ cup diced peeled tomatoes (canned is fine)
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Spiced Oil
1 ½ Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
½ teaspoon whole fennel seeds
½ teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon black onion (kalonji or kalaunji) seeds
½ teaspoon fenugreek seeds (or same amount ground)
2 bay leaves
1 Chinese dried hot red chile pepper, stemmed

To cook lentils, place all dal ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping and sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once it reaches a boil, turn down to medium-low and partially cover. Cook for 25 minutes.

While lentils are cooking, heat up the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often. When the onions start to brown, turn down heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until onions are toasty brown. Add tomatoes and ginger. Cook for a few minutes. Remove from heat. When the dal timer goes off, add this to the dal and mix in. Set the timer for another 10 minutes.

Heat oil in a small skillet. Add all the remaining ingredients and fry the spices until they are fragrant and the chile and bay leaves start to brown. Remove chile and bay leaves. Add seeds and oil to the dal when timer goes off. Check seasoning; add more salt if necessary. Serve hot.

Recipe can be doubled. Leftovers freeze well.

Recipe adapted from Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1985.

Photo of Red Lentils: By Sudeshna Banerjee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Dried chickpeas. Canned chickpeas are the express lane to hummus, however.
Hummus, that simple Middle Eastern pureé of chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice has taken the country by storm. Hummus is the next salsa, available in supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere. You can even pick up a snack pack at the airport. In my recipe, a generous dose of olive oil helps to emulsify the ingredients so it's smooth and creamy. Adds some delicious flavor too. Some recipes use more tahini then this one. Tahini is roasted sesame seed paste. Think peanut butter made with sesame seeds. Unlike peanuts, sesame seeds have a bitter edge, so I go light on the tahini. If you add too much, the hummus is bitter and a little chalky.

You can make your own hummus easily if you have a food processor. Without it, it's not easy to get a smooth pureé. There are lots of commercial hummuses out there now. Some are good and some are weird and well, not so good. My favorite brand is Sabra. The original and the red pepper are our favorites. My daughter, who once upon a time described hummus as disgusting, is now a huge fan.

Hummus is a great way to get more beans into your diet. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are one of my favorite beans. They are full of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They soak up flavors and are important is a wide variety of cuisines: Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern. In Italy, they are called ceci and they combine deliciously with pasta, like in this recipe for pasta with chickpeas, spinach, and sausage.

This recipe is super easy because I used canned chickpeas. If you have some time or a pressure cooker, you can cook them yourself. You'll need 1 ¾ - 2 cups cooked chickpeas. You can use the juice from ½ a lemon up to 1 lemon's worth. If you use a whole lemon, it will be fairly tart and lemony. A whole lemon yields about 3 Tablespoons of juice.

(makes about 2 cups)

1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained but with liquid reserved
juice of ½ - 1 lemon
5 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons tahini
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ - 1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons olive oil plus more for garnish

Add the chickpeas, ½ of the reserved liquid, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini. Process until the chickpeas are a thick pureé. If it's lumpy, add more of the can liquid until it starts to smooth out. Add ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper, and the olive oil. Process until it's smooth and creamy. Check for salt; add more if necessary. Gets better if allowed to mellow in the fridge for a few hours, though it's best eaten near room temperature. To serve, drizzle with more olive oil.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chilean Cheese Toast

The Chilean Andes
And, now for something completely different, a really simple recipe! Last year, I visited Chile and I wrote about my food experiences there. One thing Chileans love is palta, what we call avocado. They spread it on their toast for breakfast. They use it in salads. They stuff them. They eat them by the bushel. Traditionally, Chileans use fresh cheese on their palta toast but it's not that common in the US. Mozzarella cheese is very common so I used that. It's a delicious breakfast or snack.

Chilean Cheese Toast
(serves 1 as a snack, double for breakfast)

Toast a slice of sturdy sandwich bread. Don't use something with lots of holes because you are going to spread the avocado on it. Hole-y bread leaks. :-) Slice half of an avocado. When the bread is toasted, spread the slices all over the toast. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with a little shredded mozzarella cheese. Broil until cheese is melted. Garnish with hot sauce if desired. Stare longingly at the picture of the Andes as you enjoy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ridiculous Nutrition News: You are not a Mouse

This article is making its way around the Twittersphere right now. It's about how emulsifiers and gums that are routinely added to manufactured foods are messing with our digestion and making us fat and sick. You can go read it if you want, but I think it's just a bunch of over-hyped ridiculousness.

First off, the study referenced was done in mice. You are not a mouse, if you have the brain power to read this sentence. Second, these additives have been in the food supply for quite some time. Xanthan gum, the most pervasive one (particularly in gluten-free products where it imitates the stickiness of gluten) has been in the food supply since 1968. Wait, I feel a Food Babe moment coming on: it is also used in the oil industry to thicken drilling mud. My God, what are you thinking, feeding that stuff to your kids in their gluten-free cookies!? #sarcasm Carrageenan is another common gum. It's been in use since the 1400's and it was originally derived from red edible seaweeds. I'm not arguing for food that contains all this stuff. You shouldn't be basing your diet on a whole lot of manufactured food because it's nutritionally neutered. You get your salt, your sugar, your fat, (Michael Moss has written extensively on this) a whole bunch of stuff that nominally counts as food (it is edible, after all) without anything that nourishes. Does anyone really think that calories thickened with gums, flavored with minute amounts of chemicals, and then enriched with minute amounts of vitamins (maybe) is better for you than oatmeal? Broccoli? Salmon? Apples?

But, what really annoys me is the title: How Emulsifiers Are Messing with Our Guts (and Making Us Fat.) No, no, no! Some researchers suspect there is a link because they have seen things in mice (I repeat, you are not a mouse). It is a huge logical leap to say they ARE messing with our guts and they ARE making us fat.

Why are more of us fat? Because we eat more calories. I'm not sure why this is so contentious but it is. Here's an article to support my statement, but let's approach this anecdotally, in a way most of us understand: by examining lunch. Once upon a time, like back in the 1970's, a McDonalds meal looked like a single burger, maybe with a slice of cheese, a tiny-by-today's-standards order of fries, and a 12 oz. coke . Now? A double cheeseburger (for a whole dollar), a larger order of fries and at least a 20 oz. coke. A 12 oz. coke is now the extra small size. Hey, lets pick something "healthy" instead. (I hate the whole healthy descriptor, by the way. It gives some crappy food a pass just because it contains (or does not contain) the nutrient/additive du jour. It allows people to turn up their noses at things that have that label, even if those things actually taste good. It's such a loaded term I am loathe to use it at all. But I digress...) There was recently a piece in the New York Times about Chipotle and the grandiose calorie counts on many of their menu items. Now, I like Chipotle. The founder, Steve Ells, is a graduate of Boulder High, same as my daughter. He gave the commencement address the year she graduated. He's a very smart guy and they treat their employees well. I like the food for the most part. But, the calorie counts are epic. Many of their most ordered burritos come in at 900-1000 calories. That's way more than that puny little 1970's McDonalds meal and a lot more than most of us need in a single meal. When I was a kid way back in the 1970's, we didn't eat out anywhere on a regular basis either. The first McDonalds opened in my hometown in about 1977, when I was in high school. So, things have changed and it's not just the use of emulsifiers.

Maybe the research will pan out. Maybe routine ingestion of emulsifiers is bad for you. You know what? Large doses of manufactured food are bad for you for a whole host of reasons. You don't need to know about that future research because we already know the stuff is crap and we are eating way too much of it.  

Photo Attribution: By Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons