February 24, 2012

Sunny in the City

Can I just give you a recipe today? You know, skip the story, the lengthy description and just give you the facts? It's perfect outside and I really can't be bothered with much else.

Three cheers for what is apparently the mildest most perfect San Francisco winter in the the history of ever!  Last night at nearly midnight it was 65F out, warm and still. In celebration I dug out the copy of Saveur magazine that we inherited with the apartment (an issue from August, I believe) and went straight to this salmon recipe.  Madhur Jaffrey knows what's up.  Chunks of salmon bathing in a bright and zingy mustard sauce, not what I'd picture as being Indian, but oh-so-tasty anyway.

There were some last minute modifications of course, due to my lack of interest in replenishing my out of stock spices on short notice.  Used the last of the brown mustard seeds pickling this summer! What I thought were cumin seeds were actually caraway seeds! Ground fennel instead of, you guessed it, whole seeds!  Deal with it.  But if you can, make it how it's written.

Unless you have sunshine to enjoy instead.

Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce
from Saveur Magazine, Issue #140

This isn't so much a curry as it is some salmon with a little extra sauce to spoon over the top. Serve it with some plain basmati rice and a sautéed green of your choice and let it all mingle on your plate. We squeezed a little extra lemon on the greens, but that's about all the dressing this plate needs.

4 servings

3/4 pound skinless wild salmon filets, cut into large chunks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon mustard powder
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 serrano chiles, split

Rub fish evenly with half of the salt, turmeric, and cayenne; set aside. In a bowl, stir remaining salt, turmeric, and cayenne with powder and 1/2 cup water; set slurry aside.

Heat oil in 12″ skillet over medium-high heat; add mustard seeds; cook for 1–2 minutes. Add cumin and fennel, cook for 30 seconds; add slurry mixture and chiles. Add fish, and cook, basting, until done, about 10 minutes.

February 15, 2012

Just Right

Deep down, somewhere permanently entwined in my DNA, I'm a midwestern girl. Unapologetically making chocolate cake with mayonnaise, using margarine instead of butter, and making bright green confections using white cake mix and a box of pistachio pudding. Actually, only that last one is true, but it's also true that I don't bat an eyelash or think twice about slathering the top of my scalloped potatoes with a can of condensed cheddar cheese soup. Like I said: so midwestern.

Something magical happens with you take the shortcut and combine a box of white cake mix and pistachio pudding together.  A handful of chopped walnuts scattered across the top and finished with a sweet buttery syrup - I'm sure anyone in my family could tell you, the green cake is where it's at.

For that matter, my cat will happily back the idea up too.  Both times I've made this cake my cat has managed to dig her face into the pan while backs are turned and eat more than her fair share.

The recipe card this cake is written on, from my Gram, is my most favoritest.  It's just a little 3"x 5" piece of card stock with pastel flowers and yellowed edges and her elegant penmanship, but it really is the one I like most.  And when I think about pistachio cake, or read the recipe card, I can picture the exact pan she bakes it in every time.  A lightweight and light colored metal baking pan that's been used so many times you can see where each cut was made, leaving tiny scrapes and marks.  It's important, that pan, it makes all the difference when it's made just the right way.  She has just the right bowl for potato salad, too.

My baking pan isn't quite right, but it does the trick, and the cake tastes just as good.

Pistachio Cake
Adapted from my Gram

I unintentionally de-fattened this cake a bit (Whoops!  Running out of vegetable oil!), but it was no worse for the wear.  In fact, I couldn't even tell the difference, so I'll give you the recipe in it's lowered fat version.  Also, I snuck in a few drops of almond extract on a whim and have decided that it was a good choice.  Should you choose to go this route, let me caution against using anymore than a few drops (1/4 teaspoon at most): that stuff is overpowering.

12 servings

1 box white cake mix
1 box pistachio pudding
4 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
a few drops almond extract (optional)
a handful or two of walnuts, chopped
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour a metal 13x9 baking pan.

In a medium to large bowl with a wire wisk mix together the contents of the cake mix, pistachio pudding, egg, water and vegetable oil until just combined. Pour into prepared baking dish and evenly sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the top.  Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and with a fork or toothpick, prick holes all over the surface of the cake (this will allow the syrup to soak in easier).  In a small saucepan, heat powdered sugar, water and butter over medium heat until the syrup is simmering.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes until the mixture begins to thicken.  Pour or spoon syrup over the surface of the cake and allow to cool completely.

February 3, 2012

A-Typical Ravioli

It's February now. I don't have to post about uber health food anymore. Resolutions have been made and broken by now, right?

No, truly. The collard wraps had nothing to do with resolutions, but everything to do with being so fantastic I needed to share. Please eat them throughout the year. But today is about pasta. Sorta.

I wouldn't really say I'm a lover of pasta. My list of acceptable pasta dishes is short and sweet, and most of them I learned from my Mom. There's nothing particularly wrong with pasta, it's just that it rarely sparks much of an interest for me. Weird, I know; you can add it to the list. But then there was this incredible pasta dish on my birthday at A16 and it's been on my mind ever since.

This ravioli salad is on that short list. Mostly because I like Ms. Swanson's approach of seriously upping the vegetable content so it never feels like much of a pasta based dish. More like little pillows of ravioli tucked into and hiding amongst a colorful medley of seasonal veggies. I've made this I don't know many times. In a kitchen, my kitchen, that is always seeking out something new new new, this one manages to tempt me into repetition.  I don't know which part is more genius - the use of hazelnuts (which are so underrated, so under used), or the dusting of lemon zest to top it off.  You can change around which green you choose, pick between butternut squash or sweet potato, and even the kind of ravioli doesn't really matter.  As long as you've got the toasted hazelnuts and lemon zest.

In light of Punxsutawney Phil predicting another six weeks of winter by managing to see his shadow yesterday (Side note: Letting groundhogs predict weather patterns? Who came up with that one?) I thought I would share something that celebrated the cooler weather. You've got plenty more time to make this salad.

Hazelnut & Chard Ravioli Salad
Adapted from 101 cookbooks

This time around I used a wild mushroom ravioli, but really, it will work with most any kind of veggie/cheese combination.  I've also made it with kale instead of swiss chard, either is a delicious option.  Using sweet potatoes for the "croutons" is my preference simply because I then don't have to figure out what to do/make with the leftover butternut squash, but by all means use whichever makes you happiest.  Just don't leave out the lemon zest and toasted hazelnuts!

4 servings

3/4 lb. raviolis
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
fine grain sea salt
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch swiss chard, deveined and cut into 1/2-inch ribbons
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup sweet potato "croutons"
zest of one lemon

For the croutons: dice 1 1/2 cups sweet potato into 1/3 inch cubes. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the potatoes and toss so they are coated with the oil. Sprinkle with the salt. Now cover the skillet and let the potatoes cook through, this will take about three minutes. When the potatoes are just cooked through remove the lid and give them a good toss. Turn up the heat to medium-high and stir every minute or so until the potatoes look golden and crispy.

Into an extra-large pot of well-salted boiling water add the raviolis. After a few minutes, when the raviolis float and are cooked through, drain them and toss with one tablespoon of the olive oil. Set aside.

To caramelize the onions, heat another tablespoon of the olive oil in a large thick-bottomed skillet with a pinch of salt. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions collapse and turn golden in color. Add the sliced swiss chard and stir until just wilted. Add the raviolis and sweet potato croutons and stir to combine. Remove from heat.  Here you can either mix in the lemon zest, parmesan and hazelnuts or transfer everything over to a big platter and top it all off with the zest, hazelnuts and cheese, the choice is yours.