Last weekend I was craving oysters, so we picked up a couple of bags at Taylor Shellfish and invited some friends over. The quandary with oyster nights is what to serve for a main course – you don’t want something too heavy, but it needs to be interesting enough so you don’t just skip it and fill up on nothing but oysters. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In any case, this time I tried a recipe for salmon chowder from Becky Selengut’s book Good Fish. The base is classic chowder, with celery, onion, potato and cream, but it also adds tomato for color and extra flavor, and the salmon (in this case, a piece of wild sockeye) is cut into small pieces and added just before turning off the stove so it cooks in the residual heat.
It turned out great. I often like the idea of chowder more than the reality, but this was what chowder should be: creamy and flavorful but not gluey, and the salmon was perfectly cooked and not at all fishy. We ate it with some addictive buttermilk rosemary crackers from Offshore Baking in Maine (owned by Neal and Kathy Foley, our hosts from Duckfest, who recently did an Indiegogo campaign to help pay Kathy’s medical bills – the crackers were our perk, and I highly recommend them).
For dessert there were chocolate chip/malted milk ball cookies from the freezer and glasses of good bourbon, making for a perfect winter evening by the fire.
We were lucky enough to spend last weekend at our friends’ house on Whidbey Island. The weather wasn’t perfect, but it was clear enough to see the mountains, and it only rained a little on our last day (this is basically ideal spring weather for this area). And there was a beach! Continue reading
I have an article in the current issue of Grow Northwest with some recipes for fresh Dungeness crab, which is in season right now – I know, what a terrible job, right? While I was working on it, some friends pitched in by throwing a crab party so I could try out some new recipes. Also, I had never cooked or cleaned a live crab before (my family always bought them pre-cleaned) so I got to watch the process, as well as eat warm, just-cooked crabmeat. These are good friends.
Before the party, I made up some different dipping sauces to try with both plain crabmeat and with the crabcakes I was going to cook – it seems like everyone serves crab with sweet Thai chile sauce these days and I’m really tired of it. I made a cucumber mignonette, nuoc cham, and a creamy buttermilk dressing that was somewhere between Green Goddess and ranch. I loved all of them with the crab but especially the cucumber, which made a fresh vinegary punch with the rich crabcakes. Continue reading
There were some Silvana Meats hot links left over after my birthday party (along with several pounds of coleslaw, enough hot dog buns for an army and an embarrassment of macaroni salad – guess what I was eating for breakfast all week), so the obvious next step was to make jambalaya. I’ve had great success with the gumbo from James Villas’ wonderful book The Glory of Southern Cooking, so I looked up his jambalaya recipe. I ended up following it almost exactly, except for substituting a pound of large shrimp for the crawfish (and not putting it in until the very end – why does he tell you to cook seafood for twenty minutes?) and adding two hot links, cut into small dice.
Holy moly, it was good. The rice absorbed all the wonderful flavors of the hot links and clam juice, and the texture was perfect. There really isn’t that much difference between this and a paella, except for the lack of saffron or a bottom crust. And it was really, really easy to make.
Despite the fact that my husband adores gumbo and orders it frequently in restaurants, I had never made it myself until yesterday. I can’t imagine what I was waiting for.
I followed three different recipes simultaneously, all from James Villas’ Glory of Southern Cooking, a used copy of which we recently acquired. He includes one seafood gumbo thickened with roux and okra, one with boiled chicken, sausage, roux and file powder, and another with seared chicken and some remarkably overcooked seafood but no roux at all. I wanted to include chicken, andouille sausage and prawns, and I had okra but no file powder, so I sort of combined them all.
First of all, I fried chopped bacon and sliced raw andouille sausage together, then scooped them out into a bowl, leaving the spicy fat behind. Then I fried pieces of boneless chicken thigh meat in the pork fat, taking it out when just cooked through. When the chicken was cooled enough, I shredded it and put it aside with the bacon and sausage. Then I added a quarter cup of white flour to the fat to make a roux, and cooked that for a while on low heat. Chopped onion, celery and bell pepper were mixed into the roux, then a bag of frozen okra. After all that had cooked for a bit, I put in chopped parsley (and a few celery leaves, since I had them), dried thyme, a bay leaf, a quart of chicken stock, and two cans of tomatoes. I let that simmer for about an hour, then put the meaty bits back into the pot. After another 30-45 minutes, we put on rice to cook, then added a pound of raw peeled shrimp to the gumbo and let it simmer quietly until the rice was done. I served the gumbo ladled over heaps of hot rice.
It tasted exactly like gumbo, and a really, really good one, too. This may have just taken up permanent residence in our cooking repertoire.
When you buy squid or shrimp in the grocery store around here (even at the fish market), it’s usually bagged frozen stuff that the shop has just thawed that day. This is why we usually buy big bags of it ourselves, so we can thaw it out in small quantities as we want it. We never have any lack of ideas for the shrimp, but somehow the squid wasn’t getting used very quickly. I spent some time hunting out recipes for pre-cut rings and tentacles, especially Chinese, which I thought would be particularly well-suited. I found surprisingly few Chinese recipes for squid, but lots for clams, and it occurred to me that if clams in black bean sauce was such a fixture, why not squid in black bean sauce? Why not on noodles? And a dinner concept was born.
So far I’ve been making it up as I go along each time, but maybe at some point I’ll settle on a particular recipe – or maybe not. I tend to cook by the “spoonful of this, spoonful of that” method in any case. If you have squid in the house, and you can remember to thaw it in time, this is a fantastic, blazingly-fast weeknight dinner – certainly no more than half an hour from start to finish, if you prep while the noodles are cooking. And you could use considerably less chile than I do, if you don’t happen to like having your sinuses cleared by your dinner. But what I really love is the contrast of texture between the squid and the noodles, and the saltiness of the black beans. Everything else is flexible.
The way I’m doing this at the moment (subject to change as I experiment, but this is way tasty): first I cook and drain the noodles – we’re really liking udon with this, but any kind of slithery noodle would work – and toss them in a large bowl with some of the sludge from our homemade hot chile oil and a splash of soy sauce. Then I get all my condiments, squid and vegetables ready to go, as none of this takes any time at all to cook. I heat peanut oil in the wok, and toss in chopped garlic and scallions. As those sizzle, I add a spoonful of chile-garlic sauce and a spoonful of fermented black beans. Then I add the squid and start stir-frying briskly, adding a splash of rice wine. As soon as the squid turns opaque (perhaps a minute), I turn it out into the bowl of noodles. Then I put the wok back over the heat and toss in a bunch of chopped greens, like bok choi or beet greens, and stirfry with a bit of soy sauce until wilted, then scrape those into the noodles as well. Serve hot. Slurp.
As I mentioned over on my Facebook page, I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired lately. This is mainly due to the fact that we’re trying to lose a bit of weight – eating lots of vegetables, avoiding starch and alcohol, and getting more serious about running (we’re looking at another 5K in April, then our first 8K in May). We’re eating simple preparations of food for the most part: roasted vegetables, sauteed greens, lean protein, fizzy water and tea. Not much to talk about, really.
But yesterday was Brigid, also known as Imbolc, and we always have a little private celebration to observe the return of the light and what tends to feel much more like the start of a new year than “normal” New Year. I wanted a dinner that was light, non-starchy, but a little fancy and evocative of spring, and I found one in Nigella Lawson’s new book (I love Nigella, reading her is like eating potato chips for me). It’s a very simple supper for two consisting of pan-seared sea scallops and a puree of peas flavored with creme fraiche and Thai green curry paste (a take-off of British mushy peas, I assume). I added a side of roasted asparagus, which was perfect with the other flavors, and opened a bottle of rich, buttery California chardonnay.
This was dinner last night: Chilean sea bass* in a sour orange beurre blanc, potatoes and sweet potatoes roasted in olive oil, and sauteed cabbage. The cabbage was actually a slaw left over from our shrimp tacos the previous night, marinated in lime juice and serrano chiles, but tossed in a hot wok it was really delicious, especially with the beurre blanc.
This was my first time making beurre blanc, and I didn’t even realize that’s what I was doing until I was halfway through it. I was following a recipe in Moro East and wasn’t quite sure if it was working correctly, so I referred to James Peterson’s Sauces and saw that I was basically approaching it the right way, just with some unusual seasonings. The recipe uses Seville oranges, but allows substituting a mix of lemon and orange juice if you can’t get them. I combined the juices in a small pan, added a bay leaf, some thyme, finely grated orange zest and a sprinkle of cinnamon, heated it all to a simmer, and whisked in an improbable amount of butter. The sauce wasn’t particularly thick, but it didn’t break, and it had a wonderful tart orange flavor that went gorgeously with the fish and cabbage and sweet potatoes. Not an every day sort of sauce, but nice to know how to do.
*Yes, I realize Chilean sea bass is not the best choice, as it’s been red-listed by sustainable seafood advocates. I have bought it maybe twice in my life, both times from a local family-owned fish market that primarily sells only their own catch. But the Moro recipe specifically called for sea bass and I wanted to see what it was like (and it was, in fact, wonderful). As Rob DeBorde says in Fish on a First-Name Basis, “if the darn thing didn’t taste so good, we wouldn’t have to fret over eating it. Stupid fish.”
I would probably never have thought of making this if it weren’t for the “Tom’s Big Breakfast” at Lola in Seattle. A happy plateful of eggs, potatoes, peppers and octopus, I found it surprisingly delicious. So when we left Gretchen’s the other night with a container of leftover boiled potatoes and steamed baby octopus, I knew that we were going to have octopus hash for breakfast.
Since the leftovers were all cooked, all I needed to do was roughly chop the potatoes and toss them into a nonstick pan with a little butter and oil, letting them get good and crusty, then stir in the chopped octopus near the end to heat through. With fried eggs on top and a dab of mayonnaise mixed with habañero sauce, the result was extremely good. And very filling.
We gave the octopus heads to the cats. They all thought we were trying to poison them except Mickey, who scarfed everything we gave him. He has excellent taste.
So when we were at The Swinery the other day we just couldn’t resist buying a piece of dry chorizo. There was no question as to what we would do with it – Portuguese clams and sausage!
I had a little trouble finding a recipe for clams and chorizo, to my surprise – it’s a fairly common restaurant dish, but it wasn’t in any of my Portuguese or Spanish cookbooks. When I did finally find one (in Bruce Aidells’ Book of Pork) I ended up mostly ignoring it, but I did follow his general idea. I chopped some garlic and sauteed it in olive oil, then added the diced chorizo. I cut up a rather spicy little pepper that I picked from one of my plants and tossed that in along with a good handful of fresh tomatoes (mostly Stupice, with a few Sungold and Sweet Million). Some chopped parsley and a sprig of thyme, also from my garden, then a half glass of white wine and some chicken stock to make a nice broth.
When all that had come to a good sprightly bubble, I put in the clams and let them open, stirring gently to make sure they all came in contact with the other flavors. It was particularly charming how the clamshells collected little piles of sausage and pepper and tiny tomatoes. With a few pieces of Breadfarm potato bread to soak up the broth and a glass of chilled Verdejo, this was a dinner I’d be delighted to eat in any restaurant.