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Love in a piece of fish

May 26th, 2009 | 11 Comments »

I’ve always considered myself a pretty flexible, go with the flow kind of person, and nowhere is that more evident than in the food that I will eat. I’m no gourmet and I don’t require an exotic or complicated meal ever; I’m just as happy to chomp through a grilled brat as I would be to sit in front of half a dozen fancy courses at dinner. No one has to worry about cooking me something amazing if I am invited to dinner. Even though I prefer eating healthier options, I’m OK with eating a wide range of foods, and flexibility is key to happy indulgence and peaceful co-existence. I never want to be considered a diva about food.

At one point in my life I was dating a very nice guy and it seemed like it might be getting serious. Then one evening for a meal, I suggested that we have salmon.

“Oooh, I don’t really like salmon.” Was what he said, or something like that.

This statement gave me pause.

“You don’t like salmon?” I said, gazing at him quizzically, mentally tossing out all those ‘permanent’ thoughts I was starting to entertain. How could I be serious about a man who didn’t eat salmon?

“Why?”

“It’s just too dry and flavorless.” (or something like that. It’s possible I may have blocked out some of this conversation to save my sanity)

“Hmmm.” I was scratching my chin and trying to think of something witty. But I couldn’t.

“Well, would you try it if I make it?” And thankfully he agreed.

It was a delectable Maple Glazed Salmon that the guy actually liked. A lot.

And apparently he liked a whole lot more too.

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You see, there was a lot at stake in the appreciation of that piece of fish.

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I can’t say that it was just that piece of perfectly cooked salmon that set in motion three lives to be intertwined forever, nor was it the multitudes of perfectly cooked fish that have crossed our plates since then. I just know that slightly more than 8 years ago, I met a man who didn’t much care for fish and with one plate of plump pink salmon, the future seemed pretty rosy.

And we sealed it all with a kiss.

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I’m sure you could be wondering…. did he fall in love with me, or with my cooking?

I’m certain it was me, because at that point in my life, while I was a pretty good cook, it paled in comparison to what happens in my kitchen these days and it was that salmon that seemed to be the start of my epic culinary journey. I had concocted a delicious recipe for Maple Glazed Salmon and submitted it to a magazine, which somehow got them all excited and itching to talk to me, which led to a two-page spread about ‘Cooking Healthy for Your Family’ that included my Salmon recipe, photos of all of us and lots of nice words. This was in the Spring issue of Reiman’s Light and Tasty magazine way back in 2003. The following year, after submitting my most favorite veggie pizza recipe to a ‘Meatless Marvels’ contest and winning a Runner-Up prize, I looked at what I wanted in my life and felt like food was the key. Healthy food. Better for you food. Not your Mama’s food.

maple glazed salmon 004And to think that all that love, that nurturing and contentedness, and 8 years with a great guy (nearly 7 of them married), all that started somewhere back around a piece of fish, with a willingness to be open to potential and the flexibility needed to understand that life isn’t always the way you might imagine. Or remember.

maple glazed salmon 009This recipe is quite simple, and stands up well to the assertiveness in salmon. I don’t recommend it for lighter and mild fish such as tilapia, halibut or mahi mahi, but it would be equally welcome on pork or chicken if that suits you. Use top quality maple syrup too.

Kate’s Maple Glazed Salmon

2/3 c. pure maple syrup
1 T. worchestershire sauce
1 T. brown sugar
1 T. ketchup
1 T. cider vinegar
1/2 t. ground mustard

1 salmon fillet, or two steaks

In a small saucepan, blend all ingredients together and bring to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and darker in color. Pour into a heat-proof container, such as a pyrex measuring cup, to cool, whisking regularly. You can speed up the cooling process by placing the container in a bowl of cold water and whisking briskly.

Brush about half the glaze onto the salmon and allow to sit for up to 30 minutes. Heat a skillet to hot and place the coated salmon, glaze down in the pan. Allow to cook until nicely browned and the glaze is bubbling. Carefully turn over, brush on more glaze and cook over lowered heat until cooked through, but still tender. Salmon can be served drizzled with remaining glaze.

The side dish in the photo is a blend of cooked barley, wheatberries and spinach, with plenty of shaved parmesan cheese.

Perspective shift

May 21st, 2009 | 10 Comments »

For a brief and terrifying moment, the very real possibility of never being able to do any of this again presented itself in our lives.

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Mike fell off the roof at our lake home during a roofing project and landed flat on his back.

But I’m here to tell you that nothing short of a miracle occurred; he got up, walked into the cabin and immediately iced his back. I trip to the ER was imminent, and an X-ray showed a compression fracture of the 3rd lumbar vertebrae, plus a break on the facet joint.
ouchieHe can walk, move, sit, turn, stand, laugh and with proper healing, he should be fine.

To be able to say “He should be fine.” To watch him walk, even in the agony of the pain, to hear him making jokes and chuckling, to wake in the night reaching my hand over to feel him breathing, warm and solid is all that much sweeter and life affirming in the wake of any number of  “What if…?” thoughts I try to continually push aside.

I’m getting to a point where I can relate the story fully, almost tear-free but I still feel like I can break down in the blink of an eye; just over three years ago, a youth pastor at our church had the same accident- falling off a roof- although his injury was more severe, and he hasn’t walked since. I keep thinking about him, and about Mike and the potential for the same devastating impact on our lives and when I do so for too long, I am a weeping mess.
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I’m hoping he’ll be able to waterski again; that he’ll show me his awesome one-foot dock start, and the professional quality moves on the water, but we certainly won’t be doing any tandem knee-boarding together this summer like we really enjoyed last year.

And you know what? That’s all right with me. Because he walks, and jokes and laughs and still teases me while he wraps his arms around to embrace me, and grasp close all that we have. With proper healing, there’s always next summer and the fact that we’ll have that possibility makes me profoundly grateful.

It’s a stunningly sober thought to feel that there is but one moment of your life among the millions that you experience which drastically changes your perspective. I’ve had mine, thank you. Let me be done with them for now, please.

Sides to delight

May 14th, 2009 | 1 Comment »

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I’ve been holding out on you, but not on purpose.

I’m guilty of thinking that somehow giving you a simple recipe as a means to serve frozen corn might just bore you to death. Really, it isn’t anything superbly fancy, but right about now, as we are staring down the summertime bounty of vegetables and with fresh corn season coming quicker than a May thunderstorm, I think it’s time to share the love. Especially since I enhanced the dish with my current love- bulgur- and made it a couple thousand times better.

I don’t even know when it was that I came across this method on Kim’s blog, but I was immediately transfixed and had to try it. Which I did, and which I almost regretted because I could barely think of anything else. Now I need to share it with you.

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I simply call it Brown Butter Corn. How easy is that? You take some good butter and heat it in your pan until it’s toasty and brown, add in frozen corn and cook it until it’s tender and delicious, maybe tossing in a handful of fresh basil, or rosemary, or thyme and a seasoning of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Pile it on your plate next to your main course and you’ve elevated your meal slightly from the humdrum to the hubba-hubba.  (wow, did I just say that?)

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Only this time, with a container of my current whole grain love all cooked and ready in the fridge, this side wasn’t just about the nutty and toasty, it was far better. Copious amounts of fresh basil really sent the flavor sky-ward. And with a perfectly cooked piece of Mahi-Mahi as an accompaniment, alongside an effusive smiling husband (and a kid-free evening), it quickly became one of those meals that sends shivers through you, making you slow down, smile more, sigh often and think “When can we have this again??”

Brown Butter Corn with Bulgur
by Kate

4 T. good quality butter
1 pkg frozen corn, shaken in a wire sieve to remove any ice or frost- NOT rinsed!
1-2 cups cooked bulgur
Fresh herb of choice- basil, rosemary and thyme all work well
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Heat butter gently in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s darkened and smelling toasty, add corn (it will sizzle!!!) and quickly stir to combine. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add in bulgur and fresh herb, stir to combine and heat through. Season with salt and pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
The simplicity of this dish is ridiculous. Even without the bulgur it’s delicious, and the variation of vegetables that you could use is astounding. I think of fresh summer squash, a julienne of root vegetables, diced eggplant or even a mix of greens. Sub in another grain for the bulgur- like farro, another of my current loves- or add in wild rice, red rice or a mix. I’ve loved corn and rice mixed together since I was a little girl, but there is something about the browning of the butter that makes it so much more elegant. Watch out though! The butter slips easily from ‘browned’ to ‘burned’ and once that happens, you need to throw it out and start over. ‘Burned’ butter corn, I’m thinking, isn’t all that appetizing. Heat it gently and stay close by. And by all means, DO NOT rinse the corn! The butter is scalding hot when you add the vegetable, and if there is water on it, the likelihood of bad splattering is quite high.

Wordless Wednesday

May 13th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

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Comfort foods, but better

May 10th, 2009 | 5 Comments »

Life isn’t simple anymore. Not that this is a shock to anyone with an adult’s perspective. It seems that everything has gotten so much more complicated, and while we burst through life determining what path to take that is right for us, we are constantly faced with decisions and truths that require a ‘turn on a dime’ change of direction. It’s just not like when we were kids.

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Of course, this isn’t a bad thing either. It’s nice to look at our past and see where we’ve ‘grown up’ even if, somewhere inside us, we still are surprised at the face that looks back from the mirror. I still can feel like I’m 12 again, or 24, or 30 and a brand new Mom. Of course I wish that I could still run barefoot from June to September, the sun hot on my skin and nothing more pressing in my day except where the next adventure would take root; I think about Kool-Aid, Popsicles and A&W Root Beer with a hard scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it. I think about one-room air conditioners, the smell of bed linens fresh off the clothesline and how it seemed so perfect to take a peanut butter sandwich outside to the backyard for a picnic. And while all of this speaks more to the carefree days of childhood and what I find I can no longer freely indulge in, it’s more than just a nostalgic turn; I think I just yearn for a time when I was blissfully unaware that life existed outside the realms of my neighborhood. With all the gloom and doom present in our daily media, it’s no small feat to try and close it out. And while I can grasp my adulthood fully with both hands and move ahead with the changing world, there still are times that I want something that reminds me of simpler days.

Not too long ago I posted about finding plenty of nostalgia in a perusal of food blogs, and it got a conversation rolling with Jamie and Kristen about foods from our past. Kristen especially tickled me in a discourse we had over cream soups and some of the dishes we used to make with them, and part of what we talked about was that although these foods often have good memories attached to them, they aren’t all that healthy. Looking around me in the grocer, I had to wonder if it was possible to bring them back with less guilt, and possibly more flavor.

The ubiquitous Tuna Mushroom Pasta was a standard from my childhood; macaroni, canned mushrooms and tuna, cream of mushroom soup and a crush of potato chips over the top was a mainstay for dinner. No one really went “Ooooooh!!!” whenever it was presented, and I recall a time when I clearly told myself I would never eat it again. And in that representation, I never did.

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One good thing about following the flow of life is watching your food mature around you. I’m glad to be far away from the foods of my past, although it’s nice to think I can recreate them, but better. And more flavorful.

mushroom-tuna-and-pasta-012(Not exactly the Beauty Queen of Cuisine…..but oh so delicious!)

No one is chained to Campbells soups anymore; Amy’s Soups has a lovely creamy mushroom soup, Health Valley Organics makes a completely natural line of cream soups, and then there’s my favorite- this Portabello Mushroom soup from Imagine Natural Creations. When the desire strikes for a meal that not only satisfies my need for a little nostalgia, but also will bring smiles to both Mike and Griffin- who absolutely LOVES this dish- this is where I turn; better ingredients, and a more sophisticated method.

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Kate’s Mushroom Tuna Pasta

1# dry pasta, cooked to taste
1 pkg. Baby Bella mushrooms
1 large leek, split and washed, sliced very thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1-2 3-oz pkgs Tuna (or other tuna of choice)
1 16-oz container Imagine Portabello Mushroom soup (or equivalent)
1/2 c. frozen peas
Butter and olive oil for cooking
Worchestershire sauce (optional)

Other optional add-ins: Toasted seasoned bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese.

In a medium sized skillet, warm approximately 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter  and add leek, cooking for about 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring regularly. When soft and beginning to brown in spots, add in yellow pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Stir in peas, cover and keep over low heat.

In a separate pan, warm 4 T. of butter and 2 T. olive oil, add mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until mushrooms begin to release their liquid. If using, at this point add about 2 T. worchestershire sauce to mushrooms, along with a generous grind of black pepper. Stir to combine and continue to cook, allowing mushrooms to sear and brown.

Drain pasta, reserving about a half cup of pasta water, but don’t shake off excess. Return to pan and add in soup, tuna, the leek mixture and the mushrooms. Stir to combine. Add in some of the pasta water if the mix is thick. Season to taste with salt and more fresh ground black pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
This method, while a bit futzy, produces a very flavorful end result. By no means is it carved in stone. I do heartily recommend a separate pan for cooking the mushrooms, solely for the flavor it will impart, but in a pinch you can cook all the vegetables together. Regular chopped onion is fine too, it seems lately I’m kind of on a leek fix. Skip the butter if it isn’t your thing.

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My love for toasted bread crumbs knows no boundaries. I prefer Panko for this application, reserving the bread crumbs I make from scratch for use as a filler or bond. I mix about a cup of Panko with melted butter and some olive oil, then add in a multitude of dry seasonings such as dried basil, garlic and onion powder, fresh ground pepper, maybe some dried mustard and then heat them gently in a pan, stirring continually, until they are fragrant and browned. Be sure to remove them from the pan when they’re done or they will burn. They keep in the fridge for a while, although I’ve never determined exactly how long because I make up excuses to eat them.

Wordless Wednesday

May 6th, 2009 | 6 Comments »

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Come in to my kitchen…

Zuppa!

May 4th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

I’m the total opposite of this guy.

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Instead of warily watching over the masses, determining who best to give a bowl of soup to and weeding out the undeserving, I would be holding the door open, waving folks inside and pushing bowls into their hands; bowls of steaming, hearty and delicious soup with plenty of great bread for dunking.

I am no Soup Nazi. I’m a Soup Queen. We’re in May now, and I still can be swayed by a bowl of soup; I can read a recipe that is more suited to November’s chill, a thick blanket of fleece and a crackling fire and regardless of the fact that Spring is quite literally bursting out of it’s seams outside, I find myself lusting for that soup. It’s really a huge turn from even a few years ago. I used to never make soup. In fact, it intimidated me and I can’t explain why. I think I tried to make it on several occasions and was met with a thin, watery extraction, flavorless and vague that did nothing to satisfy the need inside of me for warmth or comfort. I can’t say; I’ve obviously blanked out the bad experiences of it. Back then, soup was a can for me, sad as it is. I cranked open a tin container to achieve a highly prized level of comfort, and wistfully dreamed of the steaming pot, bobbing with colorful vegetables and thick cuts of meat, or dripping with toothsome noodles and wished for the ability to do it from the ground up.

Obviously, what I didn’t know about soup was that it really needs to be built from the ground up in order to achieve that amazing soup quality that we all crave. Getting this…..

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requires little else but a few tidbits of knowledge. Armed with that knowledge, I’ve knocked out soups by the score, at least one pot a week and often more.

Mmmmm, you can almost smell it, can’t you?

The origin of soup can be traced back nearly 6000 years. The word ‘soup’ is believed to have evolved from the term ‘sop’, when long before eating utensils were created and everything was consumed with your fingers, getting those precious drops of juices in the bottom of your bowl was necessary. A thick hunk of bread accomplished this task nicely.

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Surprisingly, the word ‘restaurant‘ comes from a term first associated with soup, when in the 16th century in France, a highly concentrated and nutritious food known as a ‘restaurer‘ was sold by street vendors, advertised as an antidote to physical exhaustion. A Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop in 1765 specializing in servings ‘restaurers’, and the term ‘restaurant’ was coined to describe it. The ‘restaurer’ being served was but a humble bowl of soup used as a means to rejuvenate from the trappings of modern life. It’s no wonder that now, many hundreds of years later, when we crave comfort and seek solace from our own modern world, that a bowl of soup feels like a restorative shot in the arm.

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Soup grew in popularity with the onset of canning in the 19th century, and today there are hundreds of options available in the supermarket; dried, canned and all designed to be quick and easy. There is soup for all weather too, and a soup found in all cultures, all cuisines and in every form from around the world. We have classic soups, cold soups, fruit soups and herb soups. It can be called bisque, chowder, stew and consomme. The Chinese have Egg Drop and Birds Nest soup; the Greek have their Avgolemono, Scots their Cock-a-Leekie, the French serve Bouillabaise, Hungarians love their Goulash, Russians their Borscht, the Spanish and Portugese revere their Gazpacho. Heated arguments ensue over which clam chowder is better- New England cream based, or Manhattan tomato based- and Gumbo pots simmer throughout the Southern United States. Ever heard of  Canh Chua? Revithia? Caldo Verde? Lan Sikik? Callaloo? Fasolada? Bourou-Bourou? Kharcho? Snert? They’re all traditional, cultural representations of soup. Anthony Bourdain claimed that he fell in love with food after eating a bowl of Vichyssoise when he was a boy. And in the 80′s, a flash in the pan boy band went by the name Menudo. Soup is everywhere.

There tends to be a mindset about making soup that it has to take a long time in order for it to be good. While there is something to be said about creating a deep and flavorful pot, simmered for hours at a time, with the ingredients on hand and a quick turn with your knife, soup can be on the table in less than an hour. My Recipe Index has lots of good options for both an easy spin on the stove and a good pot to create over a lazy afternoon.

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This soup- Zuppa Arcidossana or Rustic Italian Bread Soup- the recipe that prompted me to make a hearty rich Fall-like pot on a beautiful- but cool- Spring afternoon, was one of the simple means to that steaming goodness. Browsing through the New York Times Dining section each Wednesday often gets me in a state like this; I spot a recipe I know I would love and my mad culinary brain must have it. Now. It’s all Bittman’s fault. The soup was simple, hearty and really flavorful, not to mention very quick.

Zuppa Arcidossana

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 cup 1/2-inch-diced carrots
1 large onion, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 cup stale bread (use coarse, country-style bread), cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 pound spinach, trimmed, washed and roughly chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup ricotta salata, cut in 1/2-inch cubes (feta may be substituted)
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley, optional.

Put oil in a large pot or deep skillet and brown sausage over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. When sausage is cooked through and leaving brown bits in pan, add carrots, onion and garlic, and continue to cook until vegetables begin to soften and brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Add bread to pan and stir for a minute or 2; add spinach and continue cooking just until it wilts, a couple of minutes.

Add about 2 cups water and stir to loosen any remaining brown bits from pan. This is more of a stew than a soup, but there should be some broth, so add another cup of water if necessary. When broth is consistency of thin gravy, ladle stew into serving bowls and top with cheese and some freshly chopped parsley if you have it. Serve immediately.

Mark Bittman, NY Times, 4/29/09

KATE’S NOTES:
Browning the vegetables adds a lot of flavor. I browned the carrot, garlic and onion for quite some time before adding in the sausage and giving it a good searing as well. Since you are only adding water, the fond on the pan will add an immense depth to the pot.

I had some leftover green beans from a previous dinner that ended up in the soup as well. The bread I used was a baguette, and it wasn’t stale; I just cut off the super crusty ends and added them into the soup pot. The slices were toasted to make them nice and crunchy, then set in the broth to soften slightly. I added about a teaspoon of fresh rosemary for extra flavor.

Instead of ricotta, I used fresh mozzarella and of course, shaved parmesan which this soup absolutely cries out for in droves. Basil would also make a good garnish on the top.