Salmon Salad – Plated

Last year, I ordered a box from Hello Fresh so I could test out the recipe-kit home delivery service. These types of meal kits are now delivered by a growing number of companies, suggesting that the model appeals to a substantial number of people. Or perhaps it is a fad. It would be great if these were an answer to the question I often hear from my single, on-the-go friends: if I buy ingredients to cook at home for myself one night, what am I supposed to do with all the excess? I’m only one person! I’m not so sure these boxes are the perfect solution. My conclusion about Hello Fresh was that its meal options were good and the prices fair, but the ingredient ratios were off, the instructions incomplete, and the serving count questionable. I also wished that Hello Fresh could somehow consider the fact I have a more well-stocked pantry than most.

A friend of mine had high praised for Plated, another service aimed at simplifying home cooking. Taking advantage of a promotion, I decided to give this one a try as well. I selected a seafood choice for one of my meals, once again, since fish is expensive. I’m also trying to incorporate the recommended two servings of healthy fish per week. My second meal choice was a pulled barbecue chicken with a pico de gallo salsa.

To assess Plated, let’s start with the packaging. The box is lined with an insulated bag.
DSC_8584
The meat and fish are stored in the bottom of the box, covered with frozen packs that are reusable.

I will add these to my growing collection of ice packs!

I will add these to my growing collection of ice packs!


Then there’s the produce, some of which is in its own packaging, and some of which I find in the larger bags labeled by recipes.
DSC_8587
The fresh tomatoes didn’t fare too well with this; they were packaged near a heavy can of beans and ended up bruised.

I saw that these bags were labeled “Greenbags,” which sounded familiar to me but I couldn’t recall the features.
DSC_8589
I got excited when I thought they might be biodegradable, but when I looked them up I didn’t see that in the description–they are meant to absorb the ethylene gas that can make produce ripen and rot too quickly. At least I can reuse them for other fruits and vegetables.

I wasn’t ready to cook the day the box arrived, but it was easy to transfer the individual packages to the refrigerator. The next day, I pulled out my ingredients and recipe card for Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette.
DSC_8593

Seared Salmon Salad with Tomato Sherry Vinaigrette
From Plated

1 medium tomato, seeded and minced
1 shallot, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 bunch of chives, minced
1 Tablespoon honey
1/4 Cup sherry vinegar
3 Tablespoons of olive oil
, divided
1 Cup arugula
3 ounces frisée
3 ounces radicchio
1 small head butter lettuce
2 fillets wild Alaskan salmon
salt and black pepper

The first step on Plated’s card is “Prepare ingredients.” This is where it provides instructions such as “Rinse X. Rise and Mince X. Slice X.” I included some of those directions in my list of ingredients, like I usually do. Basically, the salad dressing is made first, and then most of that is tossed with the greens.
DSC_8598
Right away, I made some disappointing observations. The shallot was fairly large, and the tomato was not. They were basically the same size. I made the executive decision to use 2/3 of the shallot, which was probably still more than necessary.
DSC_8594

Seeding the tomato.

Seeding the tomato.


To make the dressing, combine tomato, shallot, chive, juice of one lemon, honey, and sherry vinegar.
You can see that the tomato is a little mushy.

You can see that the tomato is a little mushy.


Really, this is how the honey comes? Normal people don't have honey at home?

Really, this is how the honey comes? Normal people don’t have honey at home?


Gradually add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil, whisking to emulsify. Taste and add salt and pepper to season.

The next set of challenges involved the salad greens, which are to be combined in a large bowl. After everything is washed, the frisée is to be trimmed first to discard root (I didn’t seem much of a root), the radicchio needs its core removed and a thin slice, and the arugula can go in as is.
DSC_8608
The instructions for the butter lettuce were “rinse and tear into bite-size pieces.” The problem: the head of butter lettuce was very, very sandy and gritty. That is not going to dissipate with a “rinse”–the only way to get rid of the grit is to slosh the separated leaves in a bowl of cold water, lift them out (leaving the dirt behind), and then rinse again in a colander/salad spinner. Unless you’re sure that people ordering this plate know about the persistent grit, I think it’s important to include cleaning tips like this.
DSC_8606
In addition, this was a massive amount of salad. I started with one bowl, but had to switch to a larger bowl to accommodate it all. I still had trouble keeping everything contained during the next step, which is to pour in half of the dressing and toss to coat.

Bowl attempt # 1.

Bowl attempt # 1.


I'm pretty sure this is the LARGEST bowl I have.

I’m pretty sure this is the LARGEST bowl I have.


Time to prepare the salmon. The instructions say to rinse and pat dry with paper towels. I’ve never been a rinse-r of meats and fish, but since the salmon was sealed in some kind of liquid, I followed directions. The fillets were very soggy, so the drying step was key.

Season with salt and pepper.
DSC_8609
Heat about 1 Tablespoon of olive or other vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat–something nonstick but heavy would be best. When hot, add salmon, flesh-side down, and cook until golden on the outside, 3-5 minutes. Repeat on the other side, careful not to overcook beyond medium-rare.
DSC_8614
Arrange salad on two plates and place salmon on top. Spoon over some of the reserved dressing.
DSC_8617

Do you see how much salad this is? The plates would have to be massive to hold all of the salad.

Do you see how much salad this is? The plates would have to be massive to hold all of the salad.

My husband joined me for dinner and suffered through some of the bitter elements of the salad. Perhaps this recipe wasn’t the best choice for us because of the salad; I could have done without the frisée myself, since I find its frizzy texture only appropriate in very select dishes, and I already knew the radicchio would be strong. Of course, I could have easily left those parts out. The salad dressing was tasty and paired well with the salmon, but it needed more tomato and could have had more honey or sugar to balance all the bitterness.

As you may have guessed, I reached a similar conclusion for Plated as I had for Hello Fresh: it may not produce the best results for newbie cooks, or those who tend to follow recipes word-for-word. It certainly doesn’t guarantee proper portions for the selected number of “plates,” which means that people aren’t cutting back as much on food waste as they might think. As long as you keep that in mind, you might enjoy the healthy, high-quality ingredients and the convenience of avoiding a trip to the grocery store.

Plated Rating (sample size of 1, on a scale of 1-5):
Packaging: 3
Ingredients (freshness): 3
Recipe accuracy (quantities, ratios): 2
Instructions: 2
Recipe uniqueness: 4
Accuracy of portion sizing: 1
Taste: 3

Scallion Pancakes with Ginger Dipping Sauce

There are some weeks when I hardly cook at all. Last week was one of those weeks. I figure that I generally cook at least three times a week, often four. This week I cooked once. The rest of the nights were dining out and leftovers. There were plenty of leftovers for lunches and snacks, thanks to the huge batch of meatballs that came out of Smitten Kitchen’s lamb meatballs recipe (which used up some pretty old feta cheese). Then Matt brought home the rest of the individual pastrami sandwich he ordered for lunch from Harold’s New York Deli. To get some perspective on the size of their portions, I once took a picture of a single slice of their cake next to a wine bottle, which matched it in length. Too bad I can’t find that photo.

It’s as though I’m still in that pre-vacation mode, careful to be realistic about how much time I’ll actually have to cook before the kitchen is abandoned for restaurants or food truck tasting events. As a result, I didn’t have a whole lot prepared when Mother’s Day crept up, and I had the assignment of appetizers for my family gathering.

With leftover scallions, ginger, shredded mozzarella and other italian cheeses from home, the provisions of my mom’s pantry, and a dozen and a half button mushrooms, Matt and I cranked out two crowd-pleasing hot apps with little to no shopping, and minimal labor!

DSC_8555I did a variation on this stuffed mushroom recipe. I will admit that hollowing out the mushrooms is a bit labor-intensive.
DSC_8578
This is an accomplishment for me, considering that I generally bite off way more than I can chew when it comes to recipes for entertaining. In addition, the first recipe I ever tried (and still use) for scallion pancakes is much more challenging, and has added steps. The most difficult part of making scallion pancakes is getting the scallions distributed throughout the dough, and not having them squeeze out everywhere and make a mess. The other recipe I use, an older one from Cooking Light, adds slippery sautéed mushrooms to the mix; those little suckers don’t like to stay in the dough.

But for a simple Sunday afternoon appetizer, a simplified recipe is the winner. You get most of your flavor from the dipping sauce, and it is much less messy to make.

Scallion Pancakes with Ginger Dipping Sauce
from Ming Tsai via The Food Network
Makes at least 24 slices of pancake for dipping

Pancakes:
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 Cup boiling water
1/2 Cup scallions
, sliced
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 Cup canola oil

Salt and black pepper

Ginger Dipping Sauce (makes more than you need for 1 recipe of pancakes):
1/4 Cup soy sauce
1/4 Cup vinegar
, preferably Chinese rice vinegar, but don’t worry about substituting other light vinegars you have
1/4 Cup scallions, sliced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon sugar

First, prepare the dough, which needs to rest for 30 minutes once made.
Sift flour into a bowl or a food processor. Pour the boiling water in at a steady stream while mixing, either with a wooden spoon or spatula or in a food processor. Add water until a ball is formed. After starting to mix with a spoon, we switched to mixing by hand to get the dough into a ball.
DSC_8551
Let dough relax for at least 30 minutes, under a damp towel, while you slice and dice.
DSC_8554
Prepare the dipping sauce. My substitution for Chinese rice vinegar was half seasoned rice vinegar and half regular white vinegar.
DSC_8556
DSC_8563

Prepare a lightly floured surface and roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Brush to the edge with sesame oil.
DSC_8570
Sprinkle evenly with scallions. Leave a little bit of room around the edges. Season with salt and pepper.
DSC_8571
Roll from the long side like a sponge cake. Cut with a knife into 4 pieces.
DSC_8572
(I should have gotten more pictures of this next part, but I was distracted. Guests would be arriving soon, and my dear husband needed assistance.)

Take one of the four pieces and gently twist three times, like a Tootsie roll wrapper. As you are doing this, it should stretch the piece a bit lengthwise. Take that snake and make a spiral, like a lollipop.

This definitely doesn't look like a lollipop. Do what you can-it doesn't have to look good at this stage!

This definitely doesn’t look like a lollipop. Do what you can-it doesn’t have to look good at this stage!


Take a rolling pin to this circle and flatten into a 5 to 6 inch pancake. Repeat.
DSC_8574
The pancakes are then basically fried in canola oil. If you have a larger nonstick pan, you can do more than one at a time. With a smaller pan, I fried one at a time, adding canola oil as I went. You need a good coating of canola oil in the pan to get a golden brown.
DSC_8575
Cut into wedges (I prefer using kitchen shears) and serve immediately with dipping sauce. They will be gone before you know it!
DSC_8577

A Memorable Eat-venture

Here was my reaction to the first gelato I tasted in Italy:

Old Bridge Gelateria in Rome, Italy

Old Bridge Gelateria in Rome, Italy


That was my first dessert, which had been preceded by a fantastic freshly-made sandwich at Duecentogradi.

I spent the next several days absorbing as much art, history, food and drink as I could. I can’t wait to go back.

In my last post, I shared some photo highlights from Italy, but I didn’t show you the feasting we did in France. Here’s a photo summary:

Tuscan Soup

It has been two weeks since we returned from our vacation to Italy and France, and I haven’t yet recovered from withdrawal. I long to return to days of wandering through historic cities in the spring sunshine. The jet lag lasted about five days before dissipating, but these cravings have lingered.

Italy was a feast. My main impression of the food is that people love meat, based on the abundance of meats we tried and encountered. Cured meats and sausage and porchetta. Yes, there was some excellent pasta (mostly enjoyed in a meat sauce), one excellent roasted shrimp “secondi” and two times I ordered a market-fresh (but not necessarily stellar) Mediterranean fish. I should have sought out vegetables more often. In Florence, I enjoyed one outstanding, flavorful chickpea soup, where some of the chickpeas had been blended to create a thickened, creamy base. Sadly, it was served at a restaurant where there service was so poor that I left fuming–we were treated almost as if we were invisible. Later that week, I had a lentil soup as part of a no-nonsense, prixe-fixe lunch at a restaurant frequented by locals, and it was terribly bland and uninteresting–clearly reflecting its place as part of a “value” lunch.

I don’t want to sound unimpressed with the trip; we loved the vibe of Italy, and savored numerous inspiring dishes. Here’s a small sample of our photos. Hover your mouse over each picture and click to view full captions.


It was rather timely to come across this Tuscan vegetable-based soup recipe last week, on the website Blue Apron, a grocery subscription service. The less fortunate part was that I couldn’t find toscano (also known as lacinato) kale! Tuscan kale is darker green and flatter, without the curly edges, and I really wanted to use it. After trying four stores, I resigned myself to a fact I already knew, that toscano kale is woefully out of season here right now, so I shouldn’t be using it anyway! Regular kale it is.

I will admit that a big part of the recipe’s draw for me was the soft-boiled egg on top–I am such a sucker for a runny egg. Drool. On a side note, is there anything more disappointing in life than when you expect the egg yolk you are being served at a restaurant will be runny and it’s not?

I have made poached eggs many times (they don’t always turn out great) but for some reason, I never made soft-boiled an egg. What an epiphany! It’s a much less messy-and still healthy-way to enjoy the liquid yolk.
DSC_8451
Tuscan Ribollita Soup with Soft Boiled Egg
From Blue Apron
2-4 servings

Part 1 ingredients:
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

Part 2 ingredients:
about 8 ounces kale (any type)
1 14.5 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3.5 Cups vegetable broth

salt and pepper to taste

Part 3 ingredients:
2 slices sourdough bread
, or 1 large sourdough roll, cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 Cup parsley, coarsely chopped
1/2 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs (or more for additional servings)
salt and pepper to taste

DSC_8428
The reason I divided the ingredients into three parts is that you can use your time more efficiently by prepping the ingredients for each part while the previous set of ingredients are cooking. I did all my mise en place at first, which took quite some time, and then I was less occupied during the cooking stages. One could do dishes during those down times, of course.

Firstly, take your eggs out of the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Perhaps you are one of those lucky ones who has such fresh eggs you don’t need to refrigerate them in the first place? I envy you. Fill a small saucepan with some water and a pinch of salt and set aside for later.
DSC_8432

In a large pot, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil on medium. Add the onion and garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add carrots and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook the mixture for a few minutes, until the carrots have softened.
DSC_8438
Put the small saucepan over heat so it comes to a boil.

To your large pot, add all of the Part 2 ingredients (beans, diced tomatoes, kale, vegetable broth, and crushed red pepper flakes).

See why you need a large pot?

See why you need a large pot?


Season with salt and pepper. Increase the heat to bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium and simmer 6 to 8 minutes, smelling and tasting to see if the flavors have come together enough for your liking.
DSC_8444
Add the bread cubes, half the parsley, and half of the Parmesan cheese to the soup and stir.
DSC_8443
DSC_8446
If you feel there is not enough liquid, it is fine to add a little water (especially if you are using a rich vegetable stock). Let the soup cook, without stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until thickened. Add even more salt and pepper to taste!
DSC_8448
While the soup is simmering, gently place the eggs in the saucepan of boiling water. Cook for exactly 5 minutes. Have a small bowl of cold water ready, and transfer the eggs into the bowl with a slotted spoon. Then run the eggs under more cold water for 30 seconds. Gently peel the eggs (be careful) and set aside.

Fill two bowls with soup and place one soft-boiled egg in each. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
DSC_8453
That’s what I’m talking about!

Matzo Lasagna

Happy Easter! Happy Passover!

We returned from vacation just in time to enjoy the spring religious holiday celebrations. With my interfaith household, there is a little bit of everything. It is a delicious time of year. In spite of the absence of leavened bread, the Passover Seder meal is one of the most highly anticipated meals of the year in my husband’s family. Much of it centers around the famous beef brisket, which is paired with the hottest horseradish they can track down. If you’re curious, this year’s verdict was that Holy Schmitt’s had the best heat and flavor combination, and the Atomic blew everyone away, but wasn’t so flavorful otherwise.

It is no secret that one can create highly adequate substitutions for traditional dishes using matzo or matzo meal. (Egg, of course, produces magical effects even without yeast.) When my husband was young, he would come home from school almost every day during Passover and make matzo pizza. Story has it he was so proud of himself for this “invention.” God knows he can’t handle going more than a few days without his beloved pizza. I even got him this T-shirt for his birthday last year.
DSC_3999When we were in Paris, we passed over the bridge filled with “love locks“, and while we did not add our own, I thought this one at center might as well have been left by Matt.
DSC_8091

When I was making matzo crunch/chocolate caramel matzo brittle for the Seder the other day, and some pieces were accidentally overlapping, Matt had the bright idea of matzo lasagna. A couple of days later, we decided to extend our vacation bonding time and cooked together with leftover matzo. We created two savory matzo lasagnas that incorporated cheeses and the remains of two different kind of pestos from the freezer.

This hardly deserves a written recipe, because you could throw whatever you want and whatever you have in the layers. Various sauces, vegetables, meat…even leftover brisket! Lasagna normally has a ricotta and egg mixture, but we didn’t have ricotta so we left that out. I found when searching Google for “matzo lasagna” that the top recipes use cottage cheese–didn’t have that either. I made one combined bowl of shredded mixed cheeses and split it between the two lasagnas. There are classier recipes out there. Needless to say, it’s hard to go wrong with melted cheese, sauce, and a carbohydrate vehicle.
DSC_8362

Version 1:
Matzo Lasagna with Red Sauce and Basil Pesto

2.5 sheets matzo crackers, broken to fit your two-serving baking vessel
about 1.75 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
a little more than 1/2 ounce pecorino romano cheese, shredded
about 1/3 ounce parmesan cheese
about 1/2-3/4 Cup your favorite jarred marinara/tomato sauce
(ours is from Vincent’s Clam Bar)
about 1/4 Cup prepared basil pesto

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
DSC_8368
Start with a quick spritz of cooking spray at the bottom of your pan. Add a little tomato sauce.
DSC_8371
Then spread some basil pesto on the pieces of matzo going on your first layer.

It is easier if you spread the pesto on the matzo before setting it in the pan, but this works too.

It is easier if you spread the pesto on the matzo before setting it in the pan, but this works too.


Sprinkle about 1/3 of your cheese mixture atop the pesto, and then pour a little tomato sauce on top of that. Repeat with at least two more layers, reserving cheese for the top layer.
DSC_8377
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for at least 10 minute to bring up to temperature. Remove the foil layer and bake for about 5 minutes more. If you wish, turn the oven to broil for a quick two minutes to brown the cheese.
This is what it looks like WITHOUT extra baking/broiling time, which I recommend.

This is what it looks like WITHOUT extra baking/broiling time, which I recommend.

Version 2:
White Matzo Lasagna with Parsley Pesto

2.5 sheets matzo crackers, broken to fit your two-serving baking vessel
about 1.75 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
a little more than 1/2 ounce pecorino romano cheese, shredded
about 1/3 ounce parmesan cheese

Béchamel sauce:
1 small shallot,
minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour, a little more will be needed if using skimmed milk
3/4 Cup milk, fuller fat is best
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, a little more if using skimmed milk
1/2 Cup low-sodium chicken broth
a few Tablespoons prepared pesto
(parsley almond in this case)
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Prepare the sauce: heat a saucepan on medium-high and add the butter to melt. Cook shallots, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring frequently and controlling the heat to prevent browning, about 1 minute.
DSC_8376
Slowly whisk in the milk and chicken broth.
DSC_8385 Bring the mixture to a boil and continue whisking until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, 10-20 minutes, depending on the type of milk you are using (add a little more flour if it isn’t thickening after 10 minutes).

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in a Tablespoon or two of the prepared pesto. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed.

Spray the bottom of the pan with cooking spray. Spread a layer of pesto cream sauce.
DSC_8389
Start your layering with some pesto-covered matzo.
DSC_8392
DSC_8395Layer on the mixed shredded cheeses and more pesto cream sauce. Continue with these layers, finishing with shredded cheese on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes to heat through. Remove the foil layer and turn the oven on broil. Add pan back to oven to broil the cheese for 2-3 minutes.

Here’s a side by side peek at the delicious mush:
DSC_8400

As they say in France, “bon appétit!”

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette

Don’t you love it when things come together? When what you are looking for falls right into your lap? When everything clicks?

I wish I had this experience for something other than cooking inspiration.
In the past week or so, I have been very strict about not purchasing groceries, so that I really focus on using what I have. The reason is that I will be taking a brief hiatus from cooking. I will be otherwise occupied in the coming weeks. You can expect some kind of report afterwards. Let’s just say it is for a fun reason. And I will still be eating well. And let’s also say that I may be enlarging my ecological footprint by taking a plane. OK, OK, so I’m going on vacation! To ITALY and FRANCE! *Excuse me while I daydream*

This has gone OK, this grocery abstinence. One of that last perishable items I faced was a leftover bag of russet potatoes. I should note that I know these take a long time to “perish,” so while I wouldn’t necessarily need to worry about a couple of weeks for potatoes, these have been diminishing for awhile.

Back to talking about how things work out: I popped over to Joy the Baker‘s blog, and what do I see but “Roasted Potato Galette with cheddar and chives.” She made it look and sound delicious…and the fact that she made a Jack Bauer reference hooked me even more. I had been considering homemade knishes, but I felt lazy about mashing the potatoes (if I was truly lazy, I would have avoided a recipe that involved pastry!)

Spicy Potato and Cheese Galette
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Crust:
1 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 Cup/1 stick cold unsalted butter
scant 1/3 cup cold buttermilk

    OR

in my case, 2 heaping tablespoons of plain yogurt mixed with 4 tablespoons of nonfat milk to start. Make a splash extra for times like now when we are still suffering through winter’s dry air which leads to extra dry flour

For the Filling:
2 russet potatoes, mostly peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds (plus 1 extra for snacking)
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
(to taste)
1/2 Cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons chives, finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten

Make the crust, which needs resting time.

    Cheater method

:
Cube your butter and then pop it into the freezer to keep it extra cold.
DSC_6820
In the bowl of a food processor, process flour, sugar and salt. Take butter out of freezer and add to processor, pulsing until the butter is distributed throughout the flour in pebbles.

Pour into a bowl. Create a well in the mixture and pour in milk mixture.
DSC_6825
Use a fork to bring together, distributing the moisture throughout the flour. If it’s not coming together, add a little extra milk/yogurt.

Is your lightly floured work surface ready?
DSC_6823
Dump out the shaggy dough mixture. Press it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
DSC_6827
Make the filling:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Move the top rack to the upper third of the oven.
Peel and slice your potatoes.
DSC_6828
Place rounds on the sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on Old Bay Seasoning and toss to coat evenly. Spread the potatoes to minimize overlap as much as possible.
DSC_6830
Bake until tender and delicious, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

To assemble the galette:
Beat the egg and set aside. Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper with a little oil added and set aside.

Roll the dough into a rough circle about 1/4″-thickness. By no means do the edges need to be perfect. Move the dough to the center of the prepared baking sheet.

Lightly brush the middle of the the crust with egg.
DSC_6834
Add a layer of cooked (and slightly cooled) potato slices to the center of the pie crust, leaving about 2-inches of pie crust surrounding on all sides. Scatter shredded cheddar cheese and chives. (I may have only had freeze dried chives. I hope you can forgive that.) Repeating, adding a second layer of potato slices and cheese and chives. Add more potato slices until it looks about right–remember if you made extra potato like me some will stay out) top with the final portion of cheese and chives.
DSC_6835
Trim edges that are super uneven from the crust, leaving about 1 1/2-inches on all sides. Brush the edges with egg wash. Fold the sides up against the potato stack and gently press to seal. Brush the outside of the pie crust edges with egg wash.

Bake until golden brown and bubbling. Joy said it would take 15 minutes for this–for some reason it took mine about 25. Remove from the oven and observe the bubbling buttery beauty. Dig in.
DSC_6838

Green Cake

St. Patrick’s Day was last Monday. I enjoy the holiday, but it’s not because I am one-eighth Irish (in fact, I have very little personal connection to my European roots). It’s because I love the color green! Green holds a very close second place position to my favorite color, cornelian red (Let’s Go Red!). Green and brown were my main wedding colors (see below). And we all can agree that green has a positive connotation, especially this time of year.
IMG_3370
When I came across a recipe for a naturally green cake, on a new site I’ve been following, I couldn’t resist. It used up parsley I had been working through, and made a dent in a leftover package of mint. These herbs are frequently called for in the Mediterranean dishes I’ve been craving. Specifically, the first part of the mint was used in mint and pistachio tabbouleh I served alongside Red Pepper and Lamb Pita sandwiches.
DSC_6783
I was very intrigued by the recipe. The cake has an added benefit of freshening one’s breath. You can’t say that about just any dessert or breakfast item, can you?
DSC_6794
I didn’t have enough of the herbs for a full-sized cake, so I scaled it down to 1/4 of the original recipe. It is fairly easy to do if you have a kitchen scale and you can figure out divisions in your head, or, like me, you have a nerdy husband (or calculator) nearby.

For those of you without a kitchen scale, I tried to closely translate the ratios into measuring cups and spoons.

If I needed another reason to try it out, I saw that this recipe was adapted from a recipe in the cookbook from Roberta’s, a well-known restaurant in Brooklyn. I’ve only visited the restaurant once so far, and I can report only positive things about the food.

Roberta’s Parsley Cake
Adapted from Food 52’s Adaptation and scaled down by 75% to fit one 8″ cake pan (a smaller pan would work too)

1 Cup parsley leaves, tightly packed
1/4 Cup mint leaves, tightly packed
41 grams (3/16 Cup, or a little more than 1/8 Cup) olive oil, plus oil for the pan
72.5 grams (a little over 1/2 Cup) all-purpose flour
3.75 grams (1 1/4 teaspoons) cornstarch
1.75 grams
(a little over 1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
2 grams
(about 1/3 teaspoon) baking powder
1 large egg
, at room temperature
82 grams (a little less than 1/2 Cup) sugar

DSC_6786
First, make the herb-oil mixture. Add parsley and mint to a blender or food processor, and process at low speed. You may need to stop from time to time to stir the herbs into the blade.
DSC_6788
Increase the speed to medium and add the olive oil, a little at a time, until mixture is fully combined. The recipe says to keep the mixture a little stringy rather than obliterating it. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the parsley mixture out of the processor/blender and into a bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use.
DSC_6793
In another bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder.

In a stand mixer, whip the egg for about 30 seconds.
DSC_6795
Add the sugar and turn up speed to high, running until the mixture is very thick and turns a pale yellow color, a few minutes.

Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the herb-oil mixture.
DSC_6797
With the machine on low, carefully add the dry mixture and mix until just combined.

Refrigerate the mixture for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. This apparently develops the color. I transferred the mixture right away to my cake pan, which is lined with parchment paper and oiled, but you can also use a different container for the cake-batter-resting stage.
DSC_6799

How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!

How nice, my silicone lily pad lid fits perfectly!


Time to bake! Preheat the oven to 340°F. Bake time will vary significantly 12-20 minutes, so be sure to use a toothpick or cake tester to check for doneness. Rotate the cake at about 8 minutes. The top should only brown slightly; turn the heat down if it becomes too brown.
DSC_6806
Let cake cool in the pan. To serve, make serving-size squares or wedges of cake. The cake may be delicious with vanilla ice cream and lemon zest. Mine was enjoyed warm with butter.
DSC_6818
The cake was excellent, particularly the texture. I must have enjoyed olive oil cakes in restaurants before, but I don’t think I ever made it at home. This cake also had a wonderful herbal aroma–honestly, the best way to describe it is a mojito smell! I was skeptical about the cake’s appeal, and wondered if the color would be “too much” for some people. One of my favorite ways to keep food from being wasted is to share it with others, so I brought several plain pieces to test on–I mean, offer to– my church bells choir-mates at rehearsal.

As it turned out, no one even hesitated to try the cake. Everyone liked it. I would like to believe it was not only because they were in a festive St. Patty’s Day mood.
DSC_6816

Spice-Roasted Salmon with Green Beans and Rice

The whole spring-forward-daylight-savings-thing is a killer. In spite of the fact I tried to go to bed early last Saturday night, I was dragging every morning thereafter. My distaste was only slightly dampened by noticing sunlight later in the evenings. If only there was a way to experience the thrill of extra daylight without losing sleep. Can’t the clock switch from 4:00 to 5:00 pm on a Monday?

I really didn’t feel like cooking when I got home from the gym last Tuesday evening. I was tempted to make my dinner out of a mishmash of snacks and cheese; maybe I’d go as far as to open some boxed pasta or a can of beans. The fact that I had fresh fish in the refrigerator, waiting to be cooked, meant I needed to overcome these impulses.

I’m glad I sucked it up. It doesn’t take long to put together a fresh, complete weeknight meal like this, getting in my omega 3s and vitamins. Green beans and salmon cook quickly (especially with subjective measures of done-ness, so you can be even quicker if you want) and rice is hands off. I only had to chop 3 small things and measure a couple of others. Easy breezy!

The spice seasoning for the fish is garam masala. I have been making garam masala by toasting fresh whole spices at home, and one of the last times I made it, I made a pretty large batch.
DSC_6741
While we’re on the topic of spices, I have a reason to mention my spice cabinet organization.
DSC_6734
As you can imagine, it can be hard to keep track of a dozen little by-the-ounce plastic baggies of spices. Occasionally I relocate them to other empty spice containers, but they take less space in the bag. I found stackable plastic flat containers at the Container Store which have 6 shallow compartments. I can arrange several spices front to back in the compartments. Then I label the front with dry erase marker with each item in order. This way, I can see what I have with a quick glance, and I’m maximizing the space.
DSC_6730

What’s my organizational scheme for the rest of the spices? Well, you know how it is with your own kitchen. I just have a feel for where to find certain ones, particular ones that are used together in the same recipes. This is one of the reasons it is so utterly challenging to cook in someone else’s kitchen, isn’t it? (At least, the majority of someones who don’t alphabetize their spices.)

Back to the cooking! A note on timing and temperature: the steps to this meal include boiling some basmati rice, blanching the green beans, sautéing the green beans, and pan-roasting the fish. My husband will tell you, I have a “thing” about my food being served at the proper temperature (and I pay close attention to this at restaurants). That usually takes the form of me wanting hot food to be served noticeably hot. You’re going to want to eat your salmon freshly cooked, so it should be the last thing you finish, obviously. I wanted to minimize dirty dishes, so, while the rice was cooking, I blanched the green beans and then sautéed them first in the same pan I planned to use for the salmon. While the salmon was finishing up later, I gave the beans a quick reheat in the emptied blanching pot.

Then everything got cold as I was taking pictures, of course. No one ever mentions that!

Spice-Roasted Salmon with Yogurt Sauce
For 2
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 sustainable salmon fillets, 6 ounces each
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt,
divided
about 4 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, 2% preferred
1 Tablespoons green onions
, thinly sliced, plus extra to garnish rice
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 lemon
, cut into wedges

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat.

Sprinkle fillets evenly with garam masala and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add fillets to pan, skin side down. Cook about 7 minutes; turn over, and cook 1-2 minutes or until desired degree of done-ness and temperature.
DSC_6745
DSC_6746
While the salmon is cooking, combine ingredients for the sauce. Whisk 2 1/2 teaspoons oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt, yogurt, green onions, and lime juice in a small bowl.

The original recipe called for a combination of creme fraiche or sour cream and yogurt for the sauce. I only had Greek yogurt, which is my go-to substitute for creme fraiche and sour cream anyway, so I used the yogurt alone. It still tasted great to me.

Dollop mixture onto fillets, when serving, along with lemon wedges on the side.


Indian-spiced Green Beans

From Martha Stewart Living

1 teaspoon kosher salt
, plus more for seasoning
1 pound string green beans, stem ends trimmed
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1/2 large or 1 small yellow onion (about 4 ounces
), thinly sliced into rounds or half-moons
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

DSC_6727

Remember, you can keep your fresh ginger in the freezer to make it last so much longer!

Remember, you can keep your fresh ginger in the freezer to make it last so much longer!


Bring a pot of water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Once water is boiling, add 1 teaspoon salt and string beans.
DSC_6725
Cook about 3 minutes (the beans should turn bright green), and drain into a colander. Transfer to ice bath and slosh the beans around. Drain again.

Set the large skillet over high heat, and add vegetable oil. When hot, add mustard seeds, and cook about 30 seconds, until seeds start to pop.
DSC_6736
Add onion, and cook, stirring until they begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add ginger, and cook 1 minute more. Add reserved string beans, and cook, stirring until hot. Season with salt to taste.
DSC_6738

Dinner is served! I realized later that my salmon was incorrectly placed here with the skin side up.

Dinner is served! I realized later that my salmon was incorrectly placed here with the skin side up.

Mmm, that's better.

Mmm, that’s better.

Peel to Flesh Movement: Orange Currant Scones

I’m a regular reader of the New York Times, and that includes reading the Dining section every week. When I come across recipes I like online, including those in the Times, I log the links into an ongoing list. I will refer back to that list and pull from it once I’m ready to execute something. I realize this approach is kind old-fashioned–I do use Pinterest for other purposes as well–but old habits die hard. This has been working fine. And now my blog serves as a way to organize the recipes that I have tried and like!

My saved recipe list has been populated with several New York Times web addresses lately, and I noticed that many of them are comfort food. There’s the meat and potato gratin, the oatmeal sandwich cookies, the biscuits, and the polenta with sausage. Don’t these all sound good? Perhaps everyone has given up on the idea of spring ever arriving and decided to settle into a semi-permanent hibernation.

The first of these recipes I have gotten around to making is the Orange Currant Scones recipe. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one to enjoy cluttering my home with lots of “stuff.” Except, when it comes to kitchen gear, I’m always tempted. I gush over the King Arthur Flour, Chefs, and Williams Sonoma catalogs like the average man does over Victoria’s Secret. I haven’t felt the need to pull the trigger on a scone pan, and apparently I was making the right decision–this recent article assured me “nothing besides tradition calls for round biscuits or wedge-shaped scones.” It explains that you want to minimize the dough’s absorption of flour, and additional rolling, like when you gather up scraps after using a round biscuit cutter, causes the flour’s gluten to activate more and makes the biscuits or scones tougher. Pushing the dough into wedge spaces in a pan doesn’t allow for the flakiest layers. Instead, cutting the dough sharply in whatever shape you want helps the sides rise up.

I was excited to snag blood oranges at my latest visit to Wegman’s. My plan was to make a salad with blood orange segments. Around the same time, I read this recipe. Since segmenting oranges for a salad leaves the rind available, I first zested the outer peel and reserved the zest for my scone recipe. Like the “Nose to Tail” Whole Animal Movement, why don’t we start a “Peel to Flesh” Whole Fruit Movement! One can go so far as to reserve all the rind/peel and candy it following a recipe like this. Though with much of the zest removed, I wonder if it would be overly bitter. I’ll try next time and let you know!

Best sure to thoroughly wash the outside of citrus fruits you are zesting, since pesticides and other residue can cling to the peel. Ideally the fruit is organic for these purposes. You don’t want waxy coatings.

DSC_6679
Orange Currant Scones
From the New York Times online

3 Cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons white sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
Grated zest of 1 orange or tangerine

1/4 lb (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Cup heavy cream
2-3 Tablespoons water or milk
, if needed
1 Cup dried fruit chunks – currants, cranberries, raisins etc.
Egg wash (1 large egg beaten with 1.5 teaspoons water)
2 Tablespoons brown sugar, for sprinkling

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare your sheet pan with a nonstick lining like parchment paper or a Silpat.

Toss dry ingredients and zest together in a large bowl.
DSC_6681
If your butter has started to soften as you cubed it, return to refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes to firm it up again.

This is the hard/annoying part (maybe because I also refuse to buy a pastry cutter): rub butter into the flour mixture together using a pastry cutter or your fingers until butter pieces are the size of peas and covered with flour.

I did my best.

I did my best.


Prepare your floured cutting board and measure your fruit now, because things are about to get messy.
DSC_6683
Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in egg and cream.
DSC_6690
Mix ingredients together by hand until a shaggy dough is formed.

Here’s where you might face a problem, like I did. My mix was more shag and less dough. It is very possible that my “large” egg was smaller than other “large” eggs that went into more successfully executed doughs. Or the flour measurements weren’t perfect. If your dough will not stay together, add a little water until it will stay in one piece. Note that it is OK for it to be somewhat dry/floury otherwise; this isn’t a cookie or pizza dough. But take notice early on of excessive dryness so you don’t over-blend the dough, as warned above. I went a little overboard, because I was convinced there was some way it would eventually come together, since I followed the recipe exactly. As a result, my scones didn’t come out as flaky as they should.

On a floured surface, knead the fruit into the dough gently, just until incorporated. Pat into a rectangle about 3/4-1 inch thick.
DSC_6693
Don’t judge: these currants might be from last St. Patrick’s Day (when one usually makes another scone-like treat in the form of Irish Soda Bread) so they sorely needed to be used up. I didn’t have quite enough, so cranberries filled in for the rest.

Using long, sharp cuts, separate the dough into 8 or 12 smaller rectangles. Move to baking sheet.
DSC_6694
Brush tops with egg wash and sprinkle with brown sugar.
DSC_6696
At this point, you could pause the recipe by placing the pan in the freezer, which I did. Giving the worked dough a rest is actually suggested on the scones recipe entry on King Arthur Flour’s website. I was fortunate to find this information after I had already made the dough, because I ran out of time to bake them and, in my ignorance, was concerned it might actually be harmful to freeze them before baking. The “tips for bakers” section here is very helpful to read before making scones. If I hadn’t been so hasty and did more general research, I would have learned that flour dries out in dry weather like this winter, which explains the need for more liquid.

From frozen, bake for about 25 minutes, turning the pan halfway through, until light golden brown. Allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Freeze any that aren’t going to be consumed within a day so they stay somewhat fresh.
DSC_6700

Be mesmerized by my fancy plate.

Be mesmerized by my fancy plate.

My first piano

Remember the start of the New Year? Remember how I made a resolution? Sigh. I had resolved to stop procrastinating as much. Specifically, I resolved to spend a little time here and there to cross out items on my task list. I would try not to exaggerate the importance of certain minor to dos. Eight weeks in, it’s not looking great.

I wish I could report otherwise. I did eventually follow up on the process available through DMAchoice.org to reduce my junk mail. I sent a series of emails to those charitable organizations that continued to send me unwanted mail. Strike a line through that one!

Something that has been on my list for at least a year, if not two, is to find a piano for the house. There was a piano at home my entire childhood, because my mom had played since she was young. I took piano lessons regularly starting at age 7 and continuing through early high school, at which point sports and after-school activities crowded out practicing time. I was no virtuoso, but I could handle playing occasionally at church, and I even assisted in accompanying/teaching my high school choir for several weeks my senior year. My piano knowledge made it easier for me to learn mallet percussion to play in elementary, middle and high school band. I played bells in the high school marching band for six years, followed by four years of college. College marching band was where I met my wonderful husband, Matt (who celebrates his birthday this week–HAPPY BIRTHDAY!) You can see how the piano connects to significant parts of my life and history.
DSC_6660
I digress. The point is, I want to maintain my ability to play piano. I haven’t sustained any sort of practice routine with pianos outside the house; it may be as rare as once per year at my parents’ house. I believe there’s a much better chance in my own house. Also, pianos can be wonderful additions to the home (the racket is welcome some times more than others).

In June 2012, I read this article in The New York Times about the increasing numbers of piano sent to the dump rather than transferred to new owners. There are so many people who have a piano so old or so undesirable that they would rather toss it than give it to a family member. For some, disposal is the less expensive choice, as fees for tuning, repair, and moving stack up-this I am learning for sure! As for prospective buyers, like me, it is a gamble to take on an old piano that may have serious tuning issues, when there may be fairly inexpensive pianos available new (from China). Used pianos have much in common with used cars, in that respect. When I told Matt that grand pianos can run $30-$40,000, at least, he noted that one could choose to buy a luxury sports vehicle, or one could buy a piano.

The New York Times article informed me about the Piano Adoption website. I checked the site periodically in the following months, but it didn’t seem to be kept up to date, and I never received responses to the inquiries I did make.

Craigslist must keep tons of goods out of the landfill. People who are tired of their “stuff” get connected with people who are willing to make a trip and exert some effort to get a good deal. I’m happy that a few horror stories haven’t caused the demise of Craigslist. It can be a great resource for finding furniture, specifically. My friends over at There’s Treasure Everywhere made some amazing transformations with Craigslist merchandise. Previously, I bought some nearly-new furniture items, and also sold a small dining room set through Craigslist. I was happy with how it all went.

Last week, I made the decision to reach out to some sellers of pianos on Craigslist. The first one I ended up seeing was housed fairly locally, making it convenient. It was Baldwin brand, but the smaller, spinet size or upright, which reduces the richness of the tone. It was out of tune, but certainly functional, and felt comfortable under my fingers. And unlike many of the pianos I saw photographed, the color and finish of this one was nicely preserved. I made an offer, arranged for piano movers, and welcomed the piano to my home last week!
DSC_6665
DSC_6659
I discussed my piano purchasing venture with the music director at my current church. Once I shared that it was in hand, he congratulated me on my “first piano.” I had to stop for a moment at that statement, because I thought, wait, but I had a piano for years in my parents’ house, so this isn’t my first! But of course, that was my parents’ piano. This piano is mine, and therefore special. It is like your “first car” for which you make your own car payments, or your “first child,” even you have played with other people’s kids before.

Now I wait for the piano to “settle”, and pray that it will hold its tune. After that, I’ll be able to contribute to soundtrack of our happy home! (Yes, I realize how cheesy that sounds).

One of the most beautiful songs written for a Disney movie. Who knows which movie?

One of the most beautiful songs written for a Disney movie. Who knows which movie?