Monday, March 29, 2010

Assigned Reading
What’s cooking? Roasted Salmon with Shallot-Grapefruit Sauce

I’m cleaning out my office, in hopes of finding all the information I need to get my taxes done. Fortunately, I have a helper. His name is Max. And while he’s fairly critical of the process, we must press onward. I hate missing a potential deduction, so I do what I can for that errant nickel or dime. On the other hand, it hasn’t been a fruitless activity. I unearthed a couple of bills I needed to pay, some articles I felt sure would jump-start me on an essay or two, a fabulous recipe for salmon, and a handful of newspaper and magazine pieces I’ve saved. Many of these articles are what my husband describes as “assigned reading.”  That means that I read them and thought they were something that would be valuable – or at least interesting – to either him or one of my sons. These are almost always received with audible sighs and some eye-rolling, but I’m sure they’ll thank me one day.

I come by this habit honestly. Or maybe genetically. From the day I left home for college, and until they breathed their last breaths, my mother and father and grandmother would regularly send me articles from the local papers in San Antonio, where I grew up. They felt sure I’d want to know about various goings-on in my home town – weddings, parties, births, deaths, the whole cycle of life. And the occasional editorial or photograph. I miss that mail. Of course, back then, I was raising young children and didn’t have much time for reading what was going on in my own town, much less in San Antonio, but I did appreciate that warm feeling that comes from just knowing someone was thinking about me.

And now to that salmon recipe I found. It’s beautiful on the plate with some green veggie, like broccolini, and amazingly easy, once you get past the part about sectioning the grapefruit. (But even that’s not hard – keep reading.) It’s also delicious – the citrus is a really fresh taste, and I find that salmon’s strong flavor works really well with a slightly sweet sauce. The original recipe said it served four, but I made it for the two of us (my husband and me), and could barely keep myself from licking the pan. So I’d double it for four.

Kitchen Goddess Tip #1: I once did a side-by-side taste test with wild and farmed salmon, and the difference is stark.  So while I’ve made this recipe with both types, I heartily recommend you buy wild salmon if you can stomach the price difference, which is also stark.

Kitchen Goddess Tip #2: To section the grapefruit, slice about 1/4 inch off either end so that you have a flat base for slicing off the peel. Then with a sharp paring knife, carve down the sides of the grapefruit so that none of the bitter white pith remains. Holding the peeled grapefruit in one hand, slice into one section right next to that thin “skin” that separates them, and by turning your wrist with the knife, you can push the segment out. There’s a good video (less than 4 mins) here. I’m told that submerging the grapefruit in boiling water for 5 mins makes peeling it much easier; but, frankly, I could be done with the whole process before the 5 mins is up. It’s just not that hard. Go for it.

Kitchen Goddess Tip #3: For the honey, I prefer acacia honey, which has a much milder flavor than your basic wildflower honey.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On My Own
What’s cooking? Orange and Olive Salad

I’ve been flying solo this week. With my hubby off at a bridge tournament, I’ve been luxuriating in doing it my way for the entirety of almost every day. Mostly, it involves a lot of puttering. The kitchen island is nearly invisible, littered with magazines open to where I left off reading, and recipes I’ve torn out but not yet filed, newspapers open to the continuation of that page 1 piece... and on it goes. Almost totally unstructured, and, oddly enough, not as productive as I had hoped. I had visions of clearing out the garage (amazing, isn’t it, how the garage clutters itself up even in a new house after only a year?), and writing every day. But none of that has happened. This has been a theme of life for me ever since moving to Texas.

Prior to the move, I’d spent two years building the house – monthly trips to Austin, memos on paint colors and tile layouts to the contractors, keeping track of light fixtures and plumbing fixtures and furniture to buy – with such excruciating organization needs that every day seemed chock-a-block with to-do lists. And in the last nine months before the move, there was the additional small matter of selling the house in New Jersey.

So now, with all that behind me, I feel a bit untethered. I’ve always maintained that creative people perform better in a box. The smaller the box, the more creative the solution that emerges. For instance, if someone tells me to “write something,” with no other requirement or guideline, I am stymied by the infinity of choices. But if I need to write something about a financial instrument (yes, I do that, too) or a bridge in Japan or a piece of kitchen equipment, ah, the creative juices just flow. So I’m discovering that a certain amount of structure is a good thing. But the kids are grown, the husband is retired, the house is built. This structure will have to be of my own making.

One of my little indulgences this week has been to spend time in my kitchen garden. Back in December, I sowed some lettuce seeds in the planter boxes there. And the Texas winter being as mild as it is, I’ve only had to cover them a couple of times to protect them from the frost, and now I have a really bumper crop of tender baby lettuces: Ruby leaf lettuce, baby romaine, oak leaf lettuce, and several varieties whose names are a complete mystery. But they look great, and they taste so tender and sweet, I can hardly keep my hands off them. I also planted several arugula plants, and after enjoying arugula salads all winter, I’m now letting them flower just to see what it looks like.

These days, my favorite salad – which really doesn’t need lettuce at all, but why not if you’ve got it? – is a great sweet-salty combination of orange slices and chunky olive purée. It appeared one Wednesday in Mark Bittman’s New York Times column, “The Minimalist,” and with oranges being always available, it works well all year long. Did I mention that it’s also fast and easy and gorgeous?

Orange and Olive Salad (serves 4)

1 cup good black olives, preferably oil cured, pitted
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (optional)
4 naval oranges, peeled, seeded, and sliced into rounds
Fennel seeds

Pulse the olives a couple of times in a food processor with a bit of the olive oil, then turn the machine on and quickly add the remaining olive oil, so the purée ends up being a bit rough. Stir in the thyme if you're using it, thin with more olive oil if necessary, and set aside. Kitchen Goddess note: According to Bittman, the olive purée keeps a month in the frig. I’m sure I’ve kept it longer, so when I make it, I tend to double the recipe so that the next time, all I have to do is cut up the oranges.

Layer 3 or 4 slices of orange on each plate, drizzle with olive oil, top with a good tablespoon of the tapenade, and sprinkle with fennel seeds.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Orange You Glad It’s Still Winter?
What’s cooking? Blood Orange Jelly with Brandied Whipped Cream

I know, it’s almost spring; but it’s still high season for citrus fruit, from the looks of things at my grocery store. Pink and white grapefruits, tangelos, clementines, navel and juice oranges, and a new favorite of mine, the Cara Cara navel oranges. Cara Caras are sweeter and less acidic than regular navel oranges, but the best thing about them is their color, which is a corally red. Not as dark as blood oranges – which I love – but blood oranges aren’t terribly juicy, and, holy cow, they’re so expensive it takes my breath away.

Talking about blood oranges reminds me of one of my favorite desserts: a blood orange gelatin dish. And a shining star in the low-fat, low-cal universe. For those of us who are still slogging away at the New Year’s Diet (yes, that would be me), it’s a handy alternative to my grandmother’s brownies, which I promise to give you one of these days.

It’s a recipe I found in an ancient issue of Gourmet. The magazine suggested that if you wanted to, you could substitute regular orange juice for half the blood orange juice. “No cheating for me,” I said to myself. Besides, I couldn’t imagine that you’d really need two dozen of those suckers to produce four cups of juice. When I got to the store and saw how much it was for those two dozen, I thought again, and decided I’d buy a dozen and get some ready made OJ for backup. Sure enough, I needed two cups of the regular stuff. But even then, the color was terrific; so I think I should try it with some Cara Cara oranges instead of the Minute Maid. What I don’t recommend is scrimping on the brandy in the whipped cream. Tres yummy, and so pretty.

Blood Orange Jelly with Brandied Whipped Cream (by Deborah Madison, in Gourmet, December 2000)

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/2 c water
4 c strained fresh blood orange juice (from about 2 dozen blood oranges), OR 2 c blood orange juice and 2 c strained regular orange juice
3 Tbl sugar

Sprinkle gelatin over water in a large bowl and let soften 1 minute.

Bring 1 cup juice just to a boil and add to gelatin mixture. Add sugar and a pinch of salt, stirring until sugar and gelatin are dissolved. Stir in remaining 3 cups juice. Pour mixture into a 1-quart glass or ceramic or stainless steel mold and chill, uncovered, until set, about 8 hours.

To unmold, dip mold into a bowl of hot water for just a few seconds. Shake mold from side to side, then invert onto a serving plate. Kitchen Goddess Tip: Since I have had mixed results getting any sort of molded dish to unmold, I prefer to gel the mixture in a crystal or cut glass bowl and serve it from there, with the brandied whipped cream in a bowl to the side. Serves 6.

Brandied Whipped Cream (makes about 4 cups)

2 c heavy cream
2 Tbl confectioners sugar, or to taste
2 Tbl brandy, or to taste

Beat cream with confectioners sugar with an electric mixer until it holds soft peaks. Fold in brandy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Baja-humbug to You, Too

The first signal that our vacation (to the Baja Peninsula) last week wasn’t going as well as we’d hoped was when I realized on the way to the airport that I’d forgotten to pack my camera. I’d remembered to include the little gizmo that allows me to transfer files from the camera to my laptop, just not the camera itself. But I’m an optimist, and I figured I could get copies of our friends’ photos.

The flight was smooth. We retrieved our bags, and as we waited in the customs line, I turned to my husband and said, “So where are your golf clubs?” Turned out they had mysteriously missed the flight, even though the rest of our luggage had not. Only an hour later, we emerged with a promise from the airline to deliver the clubs by the end of the next day.

We found the shuttle to our hotel easily enough, and as we headed to the front desk to check in, the strap broke on my purse – my only purse (after all, who packs multiple purses for a trip to the beach?). But we let the bellman carry our suitcases, so I just clutched at the broken bag and decided it was a good excuse to buy one there.