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Friday, October 23, 2015

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Bread

A not-too-sweet quick bread with chunks of apple and the flavors of Autumn
I am a big fan of quick breads. They are yummy for snacks and as an on-the-go breakfast. But, so many quick breads are really cakes in disguise. They are so damn sweet they make my teeth ache. Admittedly, I don't eat a lot of sweet things. Which is my way of saying, this quick bread is not very sweet. I'm just giving you heads-up on that. Don't expect cake. If you need to sweeten it up, slather on some apricot jam or apple butter. It does taste of the season with pumpkin, apple, and warm spices like cinnamon, but minus a lot of the sugar.

I specify separate spices but you can use premixed pumpkin pie spice instead. Substitute 1 ½ teaspoons pumpkin pie spice for the ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Pumpkin Apple Breakfast Bread
(makes 1 9"x5" loaf, about 12 servings)

non-stick cooking spray
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking powder (use 1 tsp. at sea level)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
½ cup packed brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree
⅓ cup low-fat or whole milk
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼" dice

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9" x 5" loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

In a medium bowl combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, both sugars, and the oil. Beat until smooth - brown sugar tends to be lumpy. Add the pumpkin puree and milk. Beat again until well-combined. With a spatula, mix in dry ingredients, walnuts (if using), and apple pieces. Do not over-mix; mix only until all the flour is incorporated into the batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Tap a few times on the counter to shake out any big air bubbles in the batter. Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean with no liquid batter sticking to it. Set the loaf to cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn out and let it finish cooling to room temperature. You won't be able to slice it until it's completely cool. To store, wrap tightly in plastic wrap. It can be stored at room temperature for about 3 days. After that, store in the fridge to prevent mold.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Saturday Night Dinner: Salmon with Roasted Vegetables

I recently vacationed in Alaska. Alaska has a lot of salmon, this year even more than usual. One of the thrills of the trip was watching salmon fight their way upstream. It's an incredible spectacle of nature. Alaskan salmon, unlike many wild fish, is heavily managed. The state watches salmon numbers and determines fishing slots, down to the hour, for salmon boats. In a good year such as this one, boats flock to coastal Alaska from as far away as Seattle to haul in the golden (OK, it's really orange) fish. It is a huge resource for a state that can't claim a whole lot in the agricultural arena (aside from monster cabbages).

Gratuitous photo of Alaska that has nothing to do with salmon
There are five types of salmon from Alaska. If you go there, you will hear how Alaskan children learn how to remember the different types, using the fingers on their hand.
  • Thumb, which rhymes with Chum. The chum salmon is also called the dog salmon.
  • Pointer, to poke or sock someone in the eye for the Sockeye salmon.
  • Middle finger, "oh no!" which rhymes with Coho. The Coho is also called the silver salmon.
  • Index, the ring finger, rhymes with king. The King salmon is also called the Chinook salmon.
  • Pinky, for the Pink salmon, also called the Humpback salmon because it has a distinctive humped back.
The first four varieties are commonly sold fresh and all are delicious cooked in a wide variety of ways. Pink salmon is usually canned.

Right now, fresh wild Alaskan salmon is showing up in Colorado for ridiculous prices. I got Chum salmon today for $5.99/pound. You can't beat that for delicious nutritious fish. I happen to like salmon skin so I leave it on, though you will want to scale it first. You can also ask your fishmonger to scale or skin the salmon for you. Most are happy to oblige.

Roasted Salmon with Roasted Vegetables and Capers
(serves 4 -6)

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into large bite-sized chunks
1 green bell pepper, prepped like the red peppers
1 large red onion, peeled and cut into large bite-sized chunks
salt and black pepper
3 Tablespoons capers, drained
1 ½ pounds salmon fillet from the head end
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the peppers and onion chunks on a rimmed sheet pan big enough to hold them all in one layer. Drizzle on the oil and toss to coat all the pieces. Sprinkle lightly with salt (the capers will add more so you don't need a lot) and black pepper. Roast the vegetables in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Stir after 10 minutes so they cook evenly. Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper. Be more generous with the salt here. Mix in the capers then place the salmon fillet, skin side (or what side previously had the skin if you have a skinned piece) down on top of the vegetables. Increase the oven temperature to 450°. Roast for another 15 - 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Just before serving, sprinkle on the lemon juice.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Lentil-Mushroom Soup

What a pretty basket of mushrooms!
Here's something warming for fall. Though most people don't think of mushrooms as a fall product, it's when many mushrooms varieties show up in the forest. Porcini (called Cepes in French, Steinpilz in German, Boletus edulis in Science) are my favorite fall fungi, though in our Colorado mountains, they show up after good rains all summer long. You don't need fresh porcini for this soup - good thing, as they are not available in most places and they cost $30-50/pound when you can find them. Dried porcini are not inexpensive, but a little goes a long way. You need 1 oz. to make a big, rich, flavorful soup. Add some fresh mushrooms at the end for even more umami. You can use whatever kind you can find in the supermarket: button, cremini (baby Portobellos), oyster, or if you are feeling flush, some fresh porcini.

This soup is hearty enough for a simple dinner. Serve it with some crusty bread and a big salad.

Lentil-Mushroom Soup
(serves 4-6)

1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
2 stalks of celery, cut into small dice
½ medium red onion, cut into small dice
⅔ cup passata (see Note)
2 bay leaves
¾ - 1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
½ pound sliced fresh mushrooms
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Soak the dried mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water, until rehydrated, about 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and pour the soaking water through some cheesecloth to strain. Reserve the water for the soup. Chop the porcini and put in a soup pot with the lentils, celery, red onion, passata, bay leaves, and ½ teaspoon salt. Combine the mushroom soaking water with cold water to make a total of 6 cups and add to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the lentils are tender.

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and mushrooms. Cook for 10 minutes until the mushrooms and garlic are lightly browned. Add to the soup along with the black pepper. Taste for salt and serve.

When reheating the soup, add a bit of water because it will thicken up when chilled.

Note: Passata is Italian tomato puree. Unlike American canned tomato puree, it is not cooked, so it tastes fresher. I like Mutti brand which is sold in bottles. You can find it at World Marketplace stores. Pomi brand is another good one. It's sold in cartons and is available in supermarkets.

Adapted from Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy by Judith Barrett, Rodale, 2004.

Photo: By George Chernilevsky (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Making tomato sauce

For the first time in known memory (or more precisely since I moved from NJ), I grew enough plum tomatoes to make sauce. I have had zero success with Italian plum tomatoes until this year. This year was great for tomatoes but not much of anything else. The deer ate all the leaves off my pole bean plants. My potatoes got attacked by fungus? bugs? Not exactly sure but all the potatoes I've picked so far have black streaks through them. Every one of my leeks bloomed! What's up with that? They are biennials. I'm perplexed. And, without any leeks this year. At least the tomatoes - plum, slicing, and cherry - all did well. As we say in baseball, "there's always next year."

Homemade tomato sauce, even a sauce simmered for an hour, tastes fresher than canned sauce. I think it has to do with the way food processors have to manipulate the acid to assure safe canning. I know this is true for home canning too. Because I freeze my sauce, I don't have to worry about getting the sauce acidic enough for safe canning and it retains that fresh tomato flavor.

This recipe is proportionally Lidia Bastianich's but I made some changes to the method. I'm just not into peeling and coring tomatoes. I use a food mill to get rid of the skins and seeds after cooking. Seems to work fine to me! I'm a big fan of my food mill.

My trusty food mill. It has 3 different sized plates. Pictured is the smallest sized one, the one I use for tomato sauce. It comes apart so it's easy to clean. 
Lidia's Slow Cooked Summer Tomato Sauce
(makes about 3 quarts)

8 lbs of ripe plum tomatoes, washed and cut into chunks
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large yellow onions, finely chopped
1 whole bulb garlic cloves, peeled and minced or pressed (about ⅓ cup)
3-4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons + 2 cups water
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 whole bunch of fresh basil

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until golden yellow. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add 2 Tablespoons of water and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, crushed red pepper flakes, and another teaspoon of salt. Stir to combine. Add 2 cups of water and bunch of basil (stems and all). Push the basil down into the tomatoes to submerge. Increase heat to medium-high and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. After 30 minutes, the tomatoes should no longer be chunky and they will have released most of their juice. Remove the cover and increase the heat to medium. Cook for another 30 minutes. Remove the basil stems. Run the sauce through a food mill fitted with the plate with the smallest holes. Discard all the seeds, skins, and any other chunky bits. If the sauce seems watery, you can cook it some more to thicken it up after you run it through the food mill. After you have cooked it to the desired consistency, taste sauce for salt; add 1 to 2 additional teaspoons of salt.

Divide sauce into freezer containers. Sauce can be stored in the freezer for up to 6 months - a little bit of summer sunshine in the middle of winter!

Recipe adapted from Lidia's Family Table by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Baked Fish with Coconut Lime Sauce

I have a lot of low fat cookbooks. There, I admitted it. I am a product of the 80's. :-) Fact is, I haven't paid much attention to the low fat part of them for quite some time. I use the amount of fat that makes sense, not unduly constraining the fat to meet some magic number. Still, they are full of wonderful recipe ideas. Here's one of them, a recipe for fish baked in a Caribbean-inspired coconut lime sauce. And it's super easy!

I used reconstituted dried coconut milk which I purchased from Savory Spice Shop. I have seen similar products in Asian grocery stores. It's a great solution when a recipe calls for only a ¼ cup of coconut milk. Who wants to open a whole can of coconut milk for that little? You can freeze the remainder for long term storage, should you only have canned coconut milk available.

Baked Fish with Coconut Lime Sauce
(serves 4)

1 ¼ lbs white fish filets (bass, snapper, tilapia, catfish, halibut)
2 Tablespoons flour
¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk
juice of 1 lime (about 3 Tablespoons)
¼ teaspoon granulated or powdered garlic
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾-1 teaspoon kosher salt (see Note)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup minced cilantro
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Preheat oven to 425°F. Pat fish dry. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or rub with a little vegetable oil to grease. Place flour on a plate and dredge the fish in the flour. Place the fish in the baking dish. Combine the coconut milk, lime juice, garlic powder, coriander, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over the fish and turn fish over to coat both sides. Cover dish with foil and bake for 10-15 minutes (how long will depend on the thickness of the fish). When the sauce is all bubbly, the fish should be done.

Garnish with minced cilantro and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve over rice.

Note: I don't cook with a lot of salt. I'm used to less salt now. But, my salt tolerance isn't your salt tolerance and you'll need to calibrate. I give a range here because ¾ teaspoon is right for me but it may be bland to you. You'll only know that after you cook with my recipe. You can always add more salt. You can't take it away, however. Salt is a flavor enhancer so if the fish is bland to you in the end, add more salt
at the table. And, you'll know for next time. :-)

Adapted from The Best 125 Lowfat Fish & Seafood Dishes by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay, Prima Publishing, 1993.