Foodie Tuesday: Swim for It

If left to my own devices to raise or, more difficult yet, forage and hunt for all of my food, I’d soon enough be a non-meatatarian. I haven’t the patience or the skill for any sort of animal husbandry, nor the remotest chance of outsmarting anything sentient in order to catch it. But despite my pitiful showing as a junior fisherman alongside Gramps in days of yore, I think I could pull myself together enough to learn how to fish and forage the sea enough to keep my love of seafoods at least occasionally treated. Good protein, too.
Photo: Salmon Champagne Evening

Sometimes I am happy enough to have a rather plain fried, roasted, baked, steamed, raw, or poached piece of fish. When it’s pristinely, spankingly fresh and sweet, fish should probably not be made too fancy. Why mask perfection? At most, a dash of fresh herbs or a little zip of some lovely masala ought to be plenty of interest to vary the day’s meals. Even I have been known to identify and safely pick and consume wild sorrel, which is an excellent companion to fish in modest amounts. And of course, there’s nothing friendlier with a piece of salmon than citrus or ginger root or plain black pepper, if the foraging can extend as far as a grocery store. One thing I do think well worth the [negligible] fuss if I’m preparing salmon with its skin is to sear it, lightly salted, in butter or a high smoke-point oil before I cover its pan to finish cooking it through on cooktop or in the oven, because crispy salmon skin is delicious and its crunch a wildly beautiful complement to the velvety tenderness of the flesh. Once my palate was introduced to this marvel, I wondered how I had managed to enjoy salmon so much, so often, without having known what I’d been missing. Salty, slightly fat, salmon-flavored, and crispy? How could I not love it!
Photo: See Food

Of course, there are innumerable other outstanding ways to enjoy and indulge in seafood, if one does happen to have access to plenty of other ingredients. Seafood fried rice is one very flexible, quick to fix, and reliably delectable way to enjoy such things. Salmon in bite sized pieces, for one seafood treat, goes quite well with the contrasting grains of rice, lovely with rich that’s been cooked in either broth or coconut water or milk and filled with a delicate confetti of diced celery, carrots, onions, bell peppers, or peas, whether shelled or in sugar snap or snow pea form. But as you can see in the accompanying photo, I enjoy, along with salmon or other kinds of fish, those admirable insect imitators the crustaceans. Hardly anything, sea-based or otherwise, is more enticing in fried rice than crab (naturally, I vote for Dungeness first, every time), lobster, langoustines, or shrimps of various sizes. I would guess that some tiny, tender clams might be more than acceptable in this sort of dish as well, but truthfully, I doubt I’ll ever get quite that far, as long as any of the usual suspects are available. Never say never.

Meanwhile, back at the fried rice, I am still an old Occidental renegade when I make it, cooking it much too slowly for a wok-master’s taste and throwing in whatever I have on hand and am in the mood to eat, from the aforementioned vegetable ingredients, crisply sautéed, to seasonings like Tamari or soy sauce, citrus juice, fresh or candied or pickled ginger or ginger syrup (or all four, as I am an unregenerate ginger fiend), honey, shallots, and/or chile pepper flakes. All of these cook in gently, over low heat, while I’m stirring in an egg to scramble into shreds, and then letting the rice slowly develop a good crust amid copious lashings of fat—coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee, whatever I have on hand. All of this, until I can’t quite wait any longer. Must keep that seafood delicate and fresh. Until I can devour it, anyway.

Foodie Tuesday: More Sugary Bits

Sweets needn’t be hard to prepare. They’re so easy to eat, it’s only fair that they should also be easy to fix or you’ll undoubtedly end up feeling a little desperate between times. Why risk it?

Especially nice if the treats can require no baking or be super-simple to mix and prep before popping into the oven–like these two:photoChocolate Handy Candy

Combine an assortment of the following ingredients into a dense dough, roll into golf ball shapes or squeeze into similar sized blobs, and chill. Before serving, coat in powdered sugar or cocoa powder; mix in some ground spice if you like.

Melted chocolate (I like to use dark chocolate that I buy in bars)

Coconut oil and/or butter, melted

Pinch of salt (crunchy is usually my favorite)

Flavorings (try ginger with black pepper, mint and dried apple pieces, toasted coconut and rosewater, or toasted sesame seeds and almond bits and a pinch of cloves)

Chopped candied peel or crushed freeze-dried fruit

Crushed potato chips or pretzels or chopped nuts (toasted and salted or spiced/candied)

Once you’ve formed these, refrigerate them, and serve them cold. Easy to make and just as easy to like.

And not long ago I came across another ridiculously simple sweet fix. Nutella cookies. If you don’t already know what Nutella is, you need more help than just an easy recipe to make with the stuff. Possibly a term of Nutella Therapy hospitalization. Ooh, can I have that? I have, thankfully, found some pretty good no-name generic copycat versions of it, so if the real stuff isn’t available in an emergency I needn’t panic. But really, it’d be hard to go wrong with the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts.

The recipe in question is so uncomplicated as to be hard to classify as a recipe at all, but I proved it does require a tad of technical specificity, so it’s not quite the throw-and-go ease of the first item here. Still, easy. And oh so sweet. And once again, tweak-worthy. The general gist of this combination is popular, if not prevalent, online, to the degree that it’d be a serious magic trick to track down the original author. If any of you know who developed this I’d be delighted to know!photoImpossibly Possible Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

1 cup flour (I used gluten-free flour mix) + 1 cup Nutella (or substitute) + 1 egg = dough. Makes a dense dough that’s not hard to mix quickly with your bare hands. Form the dough into a log (about 2″ or 5 cm in diameter) with flattened ends and slice it into 24 pieces. Arrange on a cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F (177ºC) for approximately 6 minutes. My usual issue of owning an overactive oven made my first attempt bake too quickly, scorching them slightly.

That, however, gave me the excuse to play with spice and start thinking of a number of other ways I might happily vary the treat. Version 2 was also easy; all I did was make the cookies as prescribed (while lowering the oven temp significantly, thankyouverymuch) and as I placed the slices on the baking sheet, I sprinkled over them a mixture of copper-colored edible glitter for visual interest and sweet-hot curry powder for additional flavor. Went over nicely with guests, and I found it quite enjoyable.photoFor future versions, I’m thinking of a number of possible enhancements to this delightfully easy cookie dream. I know that it’s also possible to substitute peanut butter and sugar for the Nutella and flour, and I assume one could just as easily use other nut butters. But there are a zillion ways I might play with the existing combination too. Roll the log of dough in finely chopped toasted hazelnuts before slicing into cookies. Add a splash of rum or rum flavoring. Add the finely grated zest of a large orange or a couple of small mandarins; add minced candied peel or ginger to the zested dough. Ice the cookies with a glaze made of pure cherry juice and powdered sugar. Skip the flour and egg and stick the big spoon loaded with Nutella directly in your mouth. Okay, that last one’s not exactly a recipe either, unless you want to call it a recipe for disastrous health, but it’s still probably worth a try. Because it’s sweet, and it’s simple. And when I have a crazy hankering for a bit of dessert in a big hurry, that’s a very fine thing.

Foodie Tuesday: Ruminations

Chew on this: vegetables, especially raw vegetables, make for great relief from the heavier stuff in a meal. I’m not fond of some vegetables raw, and I know I’m far from alone in this, but most of the ones that are mild, sweet and/or snappingly crunchy are a pleasure and a refreshment in mid-meal. Their textural and flavorful contrast with the rest of the dishes are a delectable addition to the repast, and the big bonus is, of course, that many vegetables are, gasp!, actually pretty good for me.

Add some fruit and you have yet more opportunities for variety and full, fanciful flavors, a slew of great, vibrant colors, freshness and coolness, more vitamins and other such great stuff. Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, it’s often best to leave things uncomplicated. Just enjoy the simple foods. Chomp, chomp. Yummy.

Here are a couple of suggestions, in case you should be looking for some such lively refreshment to add to your meal. You’re welcome.photoCarrot-Apple Slaw

Shred together raw carrots and an equal amount of sweet apples like a Honeycrisp, Gala, Braeburn or Fuji. Mince up some candied ginger and candied mandarin peel. Dress the mix with lemon juice and honey. Toss in a goodly sprinkle each of brown mustard seeds and black sesame seeds. Since I served this with an Indian dinner, I suppose the sesame seeds could well have been ‘black cumin’ or ‘onion seeds’–those Nigella sativa seeds often used as seasoning in delicious Indian foods. But golly, the sesame seeds were just fine and dandy. A snippet or two of fresh cilantro or mint might be a great addition as well. Aw, you already know that there are endless options, don’t you.photoWhere’s Waldorf? Salad

I’ve always liked the celery-apple combination in good old Waldorf Salad. So why not a version with celery root, I ask you. Since celeriac is a little bit of a tough vegetable, I think the traditional Waldorf presentation would be a bit like an apple salad with small chunks of wood in it. So when I made this salad I shredded the peeled celeriac. Then it seemed like I was headed in a slaw-like direction (anybody sense a theme in my salads?), so I left the peel on the apple I added to this one, too. Besides, being shredded as well, the crisp Granny Smith apple brought some nice bright color. I kept this one monochromatic but went for good juicy flavors, using the juice and zest of half a lime, lots of honey, a little pinch of salt, and a dollop of mayonnaise. For a slightly more Waldorf-like touch but nice brighter color, instead of raisins I’d add (and might, with the second day’s batch of the salad) diced dried apricots. Celery leaf is a logical garnish, but lacking that, I used simple flat-leaf parsley for its similar look and strong, snappy taste.photo

What’s-in-My-Kitchen Week, Day 3: Relishes and Remnants

photoBest way to have a head start on preparing a meal: keep lots of shelf-stable or frozen flourishes convenient–they don’t have to be artificial or toxic, you know–and be kind to the best of your leftovers. It’s important to have the usual dry goods in stock; flour or thickeners, if you use them; spices; rice or oats or that kind of thing, but small prepared items are just as crucial for time and taste’s sake. Yesterday it came in handy to have stashed a few servings of easy-to-serve chocolate dessert items like my homemade nut truffles and almond-flour brownies. Today it was an assortment of fresh fruits that rounded out the meal with no cooking and virtually no prep, unless you count washing and cutting just enough for two plates; I certainly don’t find that onerous compared to prepping and cooking actual side dishes. Tomorrow, who knows? If someone pops by unexpectedly and we sit to lunch or dinner, it’s just nice to know that there’s almost always something in the pantry that can be served up in a trice.

Or in a casserole, if one prefers.

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I like to have a variety of types and flavors of oils, vinegars and the like close by me–including a couple of spray-on kinds of oils for pan prep.

You’ve no doubt noticed in any previous food posts, especially if I’ve referenced my pantry shelves, that I’m mighty fond of pickles and toppings and condiments of many kinds. I tend toward the salty, savory and sweet rather than extremely spicy ones, though I’ve been known to crave some good north Indian lime pickle with my Palak Paneer or pickled jalapeños with my Tex-Mex treats. Mostly, I like a fairly wide assortment of olives, vinegar-pickled vegetables like green beans and carrots and asparagus, preserved lemons, mild pickled okra or clove-scented beets; relish, chutney, sweet watermelon rind pickles also tickle my palate, as do pickled ginger and preserved sauces, and so forth ad mortem. Because I do concede that it’s just possible I could eat myself into a happy coma followed by cheery death, given constant proximity to such dainties. Nearly all of these delights, not to mention those aforementioned (okay, I did mention! deal with it) garnishes and toppings, like the ubiquitous southeast Asian fried shallots, salted and unsalted nuts, fried herbs, candied peel and ginger, shaved coconut, and so much more, can be nicely preserved to be either shelf-safe or freezer friendly without too much difficulty.

And yes, there are commercial preparations of those and other easy-to-keep foods and edible accoutrements that I willingly stock and use. Perhaps one of the most favored is tinned tuna, but I admit I don’t like many of the commercial brands, preferring those that can only the tuna itself, usually with a little salt, and simply let it be preserved in its pristine glory and its own juices. There are more and more good guys out there who are trying to do right by the tuna and our tastes, so it takes very little effort to find them out, and the boost in flavor and concomitant decrease in artificialities are well worth it. Canning fruits and vegetables does commonly act as a killjoy, destroying much of their texture and flavor and, not surprisingly, nutrients as well. Now, I know that much of the destructive character comes from mass production and that many people are able to home-preserve beautiful specimens of both fruits and veg, but frankly, that’s almost always too labor-intensive and plodding for my energies and attention span.

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Dried fruit: check. Coconut: check. Tinned seafoods: check. *Lots* of good coconut milk: oh, yeah, Baby (throw-it-together curry, here we come)!

So I tend to lean toward decent quality fast frozen green-groceries if I’m keeping some around for quick use. These are often perfectly delish in soups, cooked dishes and quick pickling, where they take up the dressing and seasonings more readily than raw foods because of the slight cellular breakdown inherent in freezing. And there are, for that very reason, also a few commercially canned things besides jam or jelly or pickles that I will concede to stock on my shelves and eat. For example, I wanted a speedy picnic sort of salad the other day, so I took out tins of cut green and wax beans and baby carrots, all of which I admit would be strikingly unappealing to me for straight-from-the-can eating, and bathed them in a light dressing of plain rice vinegar, vegetable oil, orange juice, orange zest, salt, pepper and snipped dill, and had myself a tasty little salad that has fed me all week long, gaining in flavor as it sits but having been quite edible right from the ceremonial Opening of the Tins.

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Not quite the traditional Three Bean Salad, but perfectly edible all the same.

Salmon is something I generally prefer fresh or smoked over tinned as well, but having a couple of cans on hand does have its moments. If, as with the tuna, it’s prepared well enough to not taste of the tin rather than of the sea, why it too makes a very useful salad when mixed with good mayonnaise and seasonings and can sit lightly on crackers, in a sandwich or stuffed into hors-d’oeuvres plenty well. I’ve made mine up with Asian-grocery wasabi mayo (another good condiment to keep in the refrigerator, mind you), minced gari, and a splash each of ginger juice and soy sauce, and enjoyed it even more for those uses. When the salmon is not tinned but instead left over from yesterday’s dinner, it can do similar things. We’re not overly enamored of leftover seafood, my spouse and I, in its previously served form, always feeling a bit like it’s sure to have gone bad. But a little change-up can rescue that leftover fish too: the oven roasted salmon, smoked salmon, and a few cooked prawns from the other night’s dinner got mashed to a pate with the stick blender, using some mayonnaise, and then spread on a small Romaine leaf and topped with slivers of yellow capiscum, a curl of gari and a dab of that nice wasabi mayo–whose squeezable bottle charmingly arrives with its own built-in star tip for decorative application–and voilà! Snacks.

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Salmon salad–straight from the shelves of the pantry, fridge and spice cabinet.

I’ll grant you that any amount of ‘trim’ kept in the kitchen guarantees nothing like conferring gourmet status on what I make of it. And it’s a virtual miracle when I bother to gussy up my food as much as even that last little snackable item, so presentation isn’t instantaneously improved either. But having the stuff right here at my beck and call is the only way either is likely to happen, even by accident. And who says I can’t eat all of this tastiness right out of the box, bottle, jar or tin, anyway?

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