Tag Archives: Fish

Happy Harvest Season

8 Oct

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Is there anything better than the start of autumn? The cooler weather, fresh and breezy air, and all the yummy food that arise at this time all bring about a welcomed reset button. At the first feel of a slight wind, I’ve got 5-year olds yelling, “It’s autumn! Can you feeeeeel it?!”

Years ago, when I lived in Orange County, California, I worked at a year-round school where we started the year in July and received a 3-week fall break come the end of September. Oh holy goodness that break was so exciting! For the last week in September, and half of October, I gallivanted around SoCal visiting farmers markets, specialty food shops, and cooked most of the days away. The very best part, however, was taking a yearly trip up to Napa to visit my friend, Heather, who just happened to work for a very prominent winery.

Traveling to Northern California specifically during the grape harvest is simply special. There is a magic in the air matched only to that first nose, first swirl, first sip of fabulous wine.   The wine in Napa is big and exciting – tastes of fruit, mineral, and spices inevitably convert the faint of heart. Those in Sonoma are intricate, earthy, hitting the front of the tongue with brightness and pungency and almost leaving a feeling of urgency for more. Even the everyday oyster crackers served to cleanse the palate tasted better in wine country. As written endlessly in boundless foodie mags, the restaurants are fabulous, the food is fresh, and the locavore movement is thriving. Just thinking about the smell of hot, vine-laden grapes (sweet, earthy, and pungent) and the sight of the Russian River Valley (breathtaking does not do justice), literally makes me want to pop open a bottle right here and now.

Please excuse the drool.

Moving from California to Oregon created some initial sadness, but as Rob and I quickly warmed to the cold and wet climate, and we found a whole new world of wines. Not only was the now-infamous Willamette Valley a mere day-trip away, but the Umpqua Valley wineries proved to be some of our favorites. They were smaller, quainter, and not at all stuffy as the winemakers themselves would be happy to pour a perfectly Oregon-air-chilled glass of Baco Noir and chat the day away. Our Oregon wine excursions created a brand new set of memories of the Harvest Season. We would pack a lunch, sit on a picnic table in the vines or one overlooking the cascading evergreen hills with pockets of clouds blurring their branches, sip wine, and just be. It was quiet; not much talking, and there were never any hooting wine tour buses tainting the experience, nor the pressure to “hit up” as many wineries as possible. The whole experience was so relaxing, so picturesque, so perfect it felt unreal.

Recently, my mom and I went antiquing and I found a gem of a book: West Coast Cookbook by Helen Brown. The copyright is in Roman Numerals (which I’m convinced were invented only to make people’s shoulders drop and eyes roll), and after too-much-for-an-educated person-deliberation, I figured the copyright was 1952.

This book has more character and personality then expected in a dusty, antique find, and filled with so much culinary information. Aspics, cheese, bread, game meat, coffee, chocolate, all have sections devoted to their significant history rooted in the West, and Ms. Brown discussed it with mouthwatering eloquence. Phrases like, “You can’t turn off a cow,” and “tortillas are the staff of life,” keep the pages turning and the stomach grumbling. That is, until my eyes stumbled upon this:

“This is a vinous book. Good food is nothing without good wine, and our generous use of it as a beverage and as a necessary part of our cookery has much to do with the pleasure of our table…. When I speak of our wines, I mean Californian. The amount produced in Oregon and Washington is negligible.”

What?! Oregon, Washington – insignificant wine? Sorry Helen, you’re wrong on this one. While California has its fancy viticulture charm, the Pacific Northwest has its own delicious backbone of wine history that California would be envious of (but surely never admit).

Alas, it’s a pain in the neck to hold a grudge, so I won’t. Helen is still a cool gal. So as I’m remembering Harvest Days memories, and enjoying my antique find, a fantastic meal dedicated to the West during the Harvest Season is in order. Turning to the Fish & Shellfish section of the cookbook, Ms. Brown states “fish is not a food to be eaten only when nothing else is available, but is, when properly prepared, food as good as it comes.”

Ain’t that the truth?

So here it comes: good food! To be paired perfectly with good wine, no less!

There are a few parts to this Smoked Salmon Layered Salad. First off, layering salads should be the new thang if you ask me. They are so pretty and so much fun to eat. Oh, and a whole meal served on one giant plate, family style. Easy? Yes. No fuss?   No problem. And the gourmet-ish mushroom croutons? Get out of town! Such a show stopper.

Pair this meal with a great glass of Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay, and you’ve got yourself a West Coast, harvest-inspired meal. Enjoy!

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Smoked Salmon Layered Salad
(serves 4)

  • 2 tins of quality, hot smoked salmon (for the canned version, King or Coho would be best; Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, OR, and Josephson’s in Astoria, OR both ship throughout the country).
  • 1 lb. fresh, end of the summer green beans, cleaned and stem-end removed
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into ½ -in pieces
  • 1 head tender lettuce – either romaine, red lettuce, or the baby lettuce mix from a bag. If using romaine or red lettuce, roughly chop.
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

** This meal pairs perfectly with Oregon Pinot Noir (I love Giradet from the Umpqua Valley), California Rose (Louis Martini makes a good one found in the heart of Napa), and Washington Chardonnay (Three Rivers is a great Columbia Valley un-oaked version).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the sweet potato dices on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, s&p. Roast the sweet potatoes until the edges are browned and the insides are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the green beans by seething them in a large sauté pan. Seething is a combination of steaming and sautéing in one pan. Put the green beans in the pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil, ¼ c water, and a good pinch of s&p. Heat over medium heat, turning the green beans often, until the liquid has cooked away, and the green beans are bright and cooked through (the beans should still retain a bit of a crunch – they should not have the texture of a stewed bean). When the beans are done, set aside.

To make the mushroom “croutons,” simply put the mushrooms in a sauté pan with the 2 tbsp of butter on med-high heat. Stir, then let be to brown, stir, then let be to brown, until all the mushroom pieces are so browned and lovely, and almost crunchy. Transfer mushrooms to a paper towel-lined plate, season with a bit of salt, and let cool. They will continue to crunch-up while cooling. (Seriously, these things are addicting. They may not even make it to the salad.)

To make the dressing, mix the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, and a pinch of s&p together. While pouring in the extra virgin olive oil, whisk until combined and smooth. Set aside.

For the smoked salmon, open the container, drain if necessary, and flake the salmon using a fork. Set aside.

Now for the assembly! On a large serving plate, first put down the lettuce, and then sprinkle over the sweet potatoes, and the chopped thyme. Then evenly spread out the green beans, and the smoked salmon. Top with the mushroom croutons, and serve with the dressing in a carafe on the side for individual drizzling (I’ve found that this salad has enough flavor as is, that some enjoy without the dressing).

Dig in, image you are sitting among the vines, and enjoy!

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A United States Coastie

26 Mar

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My dad and I share a lot of “likes”: smoked salmon with dill and capers, classic rock, unplugged alternative rock, a good beer, a great wine, The Lawrence Welk show, dancing, going to bed early, stars, and road biking, to name a few. Biking stands out as a long-time memory, as I grew up watching my dad strap on those funny shoes and click away on some race he was doing that weekend, 50, 65, 100 miles no problem. I, too, eventually had the biking itch, and while I never rode competitively, I think I can hold my own on a bike.

On some long rides, as we clicked in and started down the pine and eucalyptus-lined greenbelt to reach the road leading to the hilly, California beach canyons, Dad would sternly remind me, “Eat before you’re hungry, and drink before you’re thirsty. Or else you’ll bonk.” Eating on a bike isn’t exactly gourmet, but calorie quality is a necessity.  Bananas, granola bars, and peanut butter M&Ms are all perfectly unbonkable foods.

When Rob became a serious fixture in my life, Dad was quick to ask if he rode. He did, and was quite good in fact. Even when Rob was “out of shape” he could fly passed me up a hill in a lower gear no problem.  I think even my dad was impressed.

So last weekend when we decided to take a leisurely 10-mile ride to try out the new fixie Dad has worked for me, it was odd to see Rob almost a quarter mile behind us, peddling like the dickens.  He had just gotten a new chain, and was giving it a test-ride as well. But there was no reason for such a lag, especially on these flat, Jacksonville country roads.

When we arrived to our destination (Chili’s for lunch), Rob realized his brake had been rubbing on his tire the whole time.  A convenient excuse!  But a legitimate reason nonetheless.

Lunch, sans bananas and peanut M&Ms, was nice and filled us a little too much to feel extremely comfortable on a road bike.  As we pushed through the gut-bomb feeling and picked up the pace (this time, Rob right in line), it seemed all was smooth sailing.  That is until I heard Rob’s voice from a ways back.

“We’ve got a problem!”  he yelled. I echoed the same to my dad a couple feet in front, and we slowed, turned, stopped, clicked out, and looked back. There, with another legitimate reason to fall behind, was Rob, holding his brand new chain, hanging limp, completely snapped.  There was no way to fix it (the guys tried as I watched), and they finally came to this conclusion:

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Well, they don’t call Rob a Coastie for nothing!

After the eventful ride, a good dinner was definitely in order.  Rob has started to take a liking to shrimp (Yay! Woohoo!  Hallelujah!), and of course, anything fried in these parts warrants a decent meal.  But to keep things on the lighter side, I got a little creative with my Boom Boom Shrimp.

Using a local U-15/20 shrimp (these are good medium-sized buggers, weighing in at under 15-20 shrimp per pound), I peeled and deveined them myself.  There’s something about sitting on our back porch in the early spring sunlight, peeling shrimp, sipping tea, with Sig at my feet watching the golfers go by; definitely antebellum-esque.  After the shrimp – and my hands – were cleaned, I lightly drizzled over some beautifully green grapeseed oil, and more liberally sprinkled Old Bay. Yep, we went old school, folks.

After a relaxing seasoned and oiled spa treatment in the fridge, the shrimp were ready for the jacuzzi – a quick and very light douse of s&p seasoned flour, and into a shallow, coconut oiled cast iron pan they went.  Coconut oil is 1) healthy, 2) tasty, and 3) holds a shallow pan-fry well because of its high smoking point (however, I would not use it for deep frying.  That’s when rice bran oil or peanut oil get their 15 minutes of fame).

Taking only a minute or two per side, the shrimp get pink, plump, curled, and crispy. It’s amazing that only a tiny bit of flour and a good quality oil can produce a “fried” shrimp that could probably stand up to other beer-battered Boom Booms of these parts. We had a trio of sauces; my favorite was my Strawberry BBQ sauce, while Dad and Rob loved the Asian-inspired sweet ginger sauce.  With a not-so-Southern cole slaw on the side, the meal was perfect, and filling – especially after such a hard ride!

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Boom Boom Shrimp
(serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. medium shrimp (go for a local, wild source, not farmed), peeled and deveined (keep the little tails on for easy grabbing and eating)
  • 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 tbsp Old Bay seasoning
  • ¼ c coconut oil
  • 1 c flour
  • s&p

Put the cleaned and deveined shrimp in a large bowl with the grapeseed oil and Old Bay. Mix well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

To prepare the frying process, heat the coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pan (I use my cast iron skillet) until the temp reaches 320, and season the flour with s&p.  Lightly dredge the shrimp in the flour, shaking off the excess before placing in the oil. After about a minute, flip the shrimp, and then let cook for another minute until curled, pink, and cooked through. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate, and quickly season with a sprinkle of salt. 

Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce, and an unoaked chardonnay.

Enjoy!  

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Love and Food Through Email

6 Nov

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For those of you who are married out there, or love the thrill of dating, remember that feeling you got when you’d get an email, text message, or a missed call from that special person with whom you were in smit?  It’s a fun feeling – butterflies, excitement, and an urgency to return the message, but of course not too urgent for fear of looking too eager? (Man, dating was exhausting).  Well, I hate to say it, that feeling does kind of dwindle when you get married.  That is, unless, your husband deploys with the military.

Silver lining, might you assume?  Absolutely.  I completely could drone on and on about how much I miss my husband, and how I got into a slump and didn’t feel like cooking, thus didn’t have much to blog about, and how he wasn’t here to help me assemble the desk, and then help me take the desk back when the drill-holes didn’t line up correctly.  Even when my wonderful dad was visiting for a few weeks, and we had a great time traveling to Atlanta, and he lovingly cut my grass for me (because I won’t touch that machine lest I care to lose a toe), there was still a pinge of longing for my out-at-sea husband.  Yes, I could complain, and maybe even you would understand.  Having a husband in the middle of who-knows-where trying to find who-knows-what can leave a lot to the imagination.  But, it can also bring about a spark.

Every little “bing” of my phone indicating a new email has started to bring about that dating feeling again.  Silly, right?  We’ve even been flirting – imagine!  Over government email, no less.  Hey, I figure, if we can make some government looky-loo smile from our deployment banter, then by all means, read away!  So, as a tip to all you military wives out there, imagine you and your deployed husband are dating again – it will make the time, the emails, and all the longing just go by a bit more smoothly.

There is one thing that came up in our emails this week, reminding me of why we put so much importance on our little home traditions.  Rob and I always have Sunday Night Dinner, and I made a point last Sunday (during a particularly slump-feeling weekend), to make something that I knew Rob would love.  I did, and for the first time in a long time, the cooking felt good, natural, and like there wasn’t something missing.  This is probably because at the exact same time, Rob was trying to recreate Sunday Night Dinner on his boat with his crew.  I read about it Monday morning in his email, and it just made me smile.  For that moment last Sunday night, we were sharing the same thought, feeling, and energy, thus making Sunday Night Dinner feel so less empty with only one at the table (well, two if you count Sig sniffing his way around the dining room).

The meal was simple yet unbelievably good. Making a creamy tomato soup with absolutely NO cream was divine, and made me feel less guilty about indulging. The simply s&p-baked halibut was a cold seawater treat. Atop the delightful combo sprinkled thinly sliced, quick-pickled celery providing a crunch and tang, balancing the subtle creaminess perfectly. Honestly, even as a left-over lunch, the meal was still delicious.

So unbeknownst to us, Rob and I had our Sunday Night Dinner together while being so far away. It clearly would have been better in person, but if anything, it shows us our strength in tradition, love, and the things (and food) we love.

Make this for someone you love – even if it’s just you! Enjoy!

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Creamy Tomato Puree
(makes about 1 quart)

  • 2 ripe beefsteak tomatoes, squeeze-seeded, and diced
  • 3 1-inch thick slices of left-over country bread (or French bread), crusts removed
  • 1 c non-fat milk
  • 2 c water
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • s&p

With the bread cubes in a mixing bowl, pour over the non-fat milk and add the rosemary sprig. Using your hands, massage, press, and work the bread pieces until saturated with the milk. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat. Once fragrant, add the tomatoes and the red pepper flakes, then season with s&p and sauté occasionally until soft.

Squeeze the milk mostly out of the bread, add the bread to the tomatoes, and stir well to combine.  Discard the milk. Add the water, and bring to a boil.

When boiling, turn off the heat. Then using an immersion blender (or spooning into a stand-up blender), puree the mixture until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning. Keep over low heat until ready to serve.

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Roasted Halibut
(serves 4)

  • 2 lb halibut filet
  • 2 pinches of salt per side
  • 1 pinch of cracked black pepper per side
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. In a baking dish, prepare the halibut by sprinkling over the salt, pepper, and olive oil. Make sure both sides are coated, and then lay the sprig of fresh rosemary on the top of the filet. The herb will roast and become crispy – a great garnish for the end of the meal.

Roast for 10-12 minutes, or until the fish just starts to flake when probed with a fork.

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Cardamom Pickled Celery
(makes about ¼ pt)

  • 2 stalks celery, cleaned , and finely sliced into ½ moons
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • pinch of s&p

Mix everything together, stirring occasionally, until ready to serve.

To assemble:
In a shallow bowl, spoon out the thick, creamy tomato puree. Then gently place a piece of halibut on top.  Sprinkle over some pickled celery, and a few pieces of the crispy rosemary. Enjoy!

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