Friday, July 20, 2007

Hodge Podge

So, apparently, I now weigh nothing, since I've clearly not been eating for the last 6 months.

Okay, just kidding. Honestly, a crazy thing happened to me. While I was pregnant and then during the first 3 months of my new daughter's life, I completely lost interest in cooking. Actually, to some degree, I lost interest in good food as well. It just wasn't that exciting. I think perhaps it had some stiff competition, and then there's the whole thing about my body (and digestive system) not quite being up to par, so I really preferred to not think about what to make for dinner.

The good news is that's over.

Now, I've been thinking over the last several weeks about posting, but everytime I take a picture, it just hasn't been doing my food justice, so the only pictures in this post are going to be what I baked in my oven. Her name's Kate, and she's now 4 months old. So far, h
er food preferences just include milk, but that's bound to change over time. Emily, our 8-year old, started liking avocados at about a year, and David, who is nearly 3, likes turkey. Even when it's chicken.

Anyhow, I'm going to tell you all about the food I've been enjoying now that my head is back in the game. About a month ago, when Sockeye salmon was in season, I made this delicious salmon salad. I like to serve it on a bed of lettuce with julienned carrots, halved cherry or grape tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and maybe some fresh corn removed from the cob. Here's the rest of the recipe:

Salmon Salad

1 - 1 1/4 lbs. wild salmon
1 lemon
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 - 1/3 c. mayonnaise
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. olive oil
2 t. small capers, chopped
dash caper juice
dash Worcestershire sauce
dash hot sauce
2 t. fresh chives, chopped

First, poach the salmon. Season the salmon, then place it in a large, deep skillet. Add 1/2 of the lemon, juiced and sliced, and enough water to cover by 1/2". Turn the heat to medium, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium low and maintain a slight simmer for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish, until the salmon is thoroughly cooked. That's when you see all the fat congealing at the top and the fish separates easily when you test it with a fork. After it has just reached this point, remove it from the poaching liquid and set on a plate in the refrigerator to cool. (By the way, I always want to stop at this point and just eat the salmon this way; I love cold, poached salmon.)

Next, combine the juice from the other half of the lemon with the remaining ingredients, beginning with just 1/4 c. of mayonnaise. Break up the chilled salmon into chunks and gently fold it into the dressing until consistent. Add a touch more mayonnaise if it needs it, but don't overdo it, as you want to mostly just taste the salmon. Season with salt and pepper as needed.

When serving this on a salad, dress the salad with a little red wine vinegar and olive oil before topping it with the salmon. The salmon is also be delicious on a croissant.

Just last week, I made gnocchi for the first time. (Thank you for the applause - you're so kind!) I thought it was going to be very difficult, but in fact, it was only a little difficult. And very worth it. It was a bit tricky, having never made it before, so really guessing whether the consistency of the dough was right. I think I probably made it wetter and stickier than was indicated in the recipe, but it made for a very light noodle. The other point of caution I paid attention to in the recipe from Michael Chiarello was to not overknead the dough. Overkneading can make the gnocchi tough and heavy, something I was keen to avoid. I served it with a tomato cream sauce, a recipe I have used a few times, and it was a perfect partner. Oh, and I doubled the gnocchi recipe, knowing it might be a bit of a doozy to prepare but probably worth eating two days in a row, and I was glad I did. Here's the sauce recipe:

Tomato Cream Sauce

olive oil
1 large sweet onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. fresh tomatoes, seeded, chopped
several sprigs fresh thyme (a handful from the garden is good)
1/2 c. chicken stock
2 T. tomato paste
1 c. cream
2 T. unsalted butter
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high. Add the onions with a dash of salt (this helps to pull out the sugars in the onions) and saute about 10 minutes, until well-cooked and starting to caramelize a bit. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute, then stir in the tomatoes, thyme (whole), stock, and another couple pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium, cover partially, and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have released their juices and the sauce is a bit thick. Stir in the tomato paste, then the cream. Bring to a boil and simmer until the cream thickens a bit (around one minutes). Remove from heat, stir in butter, and season with salt and pepper.

Just a note: this sauce is
delicious and you will want to make it at least once a month for something, especially when tomatoes are in season.

Another wonderful thing to do with in-season tomatoes is this: cut them in half (remove the top half, not a side half), remove the seeds, salt the tops of the halves, then top them with a lot of grated
Comté cheese. Roast on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or a silicone mat at 400 degrees until the cheese starts to bubble and brown slightly. This is absolutely wonderful. You'll need to find a cheese shop to get Comté: it's not typically available at a standard supermarket, but it is a stupendous cheese that is creamy and nutty and slightly ripe but not at all overwhelming. In fact, I've run out, and I'm getting antsy to go buy some more just typing this up.

By the way, the reason I don't have lovely pictures of the salmon or the gnocchi with tomato cream sauce is really because nothing pink on a plate looks good in pictures, though if it's in front of you and the aroma of the dish is pulling you toward it, the plating seems much better. Don't let that hold you back. Keep cooking!

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