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Archive for December, 2013

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Ras el Hanout-Seared Scallop with Carrot Broth and Wilted Spinach

While it seems clear to me that the human digestive tract and teeth are built for eating meat – setting aside increasingly relevant ethical and health concerns like ‘How often?’ and ‘From where?’ – I’m just not a big fan. I generally find the flavor and texture to be overwhelming and even unpleasant (Prosciutto, I wanted to love you).

That being said, I adore seafood. Exposing myself enough times to fish that I began to crave certain favorites has been an exciting journey, from salmon to oysters to uni. (Incidentally, reluctant scallop-eaters should try the amazing dish that a friend’s wife shared in her Contemporary Moroccan Cooking class at The Pantry at Delancey in Seattle: Ras el Hanout-Seared Scallops with Carrot Broth and Wilted Spinach. You sear the scallop after dredging it in a freshly toasted and ground mix of spices, then serve it in a pool of sauce with spinach wilted in a little olive oil. The sauce is the magic: you reduce 16oz of fresh carrot juice, 1/2 cup white wine, and minced shallots for 30 min, then whisk in 5 TBSP of butter very slowly, piece by piece.)

At the end of the day, though, there are certain foods I’m almost always in the mood for. Cheese is #1 – a modest hill of extra sharp cheddar and water crackers, spinach-green chile enchiladas, green pepper and olive Round Table pizza, etc. #2 is a family of side dishes that follow the formula of VEGGIE + NUT + FRUIT. Here are some of my favorite combos:

  • Broccoli, red grape, and almond salad

Toss halved grapes, broccoli florets (blanched for 1 min first if raw broccoli sounds like a lot of chewing), and toasted almonds (slivered or sliced) with a mixture of mayo, yogurt, garlic salt, pepper and a dash of rice wine vinegar.

  • Swiss chard with pine nuts and raisins

Soak 1/4 cup raisins in 2 TBSP balsamic vinegar for at least 10 min. Cut the ribs from a bunch of Swiss chard and chop the leaves roughly. Heat 2 TBSP olive oil over medium heat and a minced clove of garlic and chard leaves, cooking for 2 min. Add the raisins and vinegar, cooking until leaves are fully wilted, about 2 min. Season, sprinkle with 3 TBSP toasted pine nuts, and serve hot.

  • Delicata squash with pecans and chives

Preheat the oven to 400. Cut the squash in half the long way, then cut each half into scalloped arches about 1/2 in thick (the skin is thin enough to eat). Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in the oven until softened and slightly brown. Toss with toasted pecan pieces, finely cut chives, and a little more olive oil.

  • Arugula, hazelnut, and strawberry salad

If not already toasted, put hazelnuts in a pan over medium heat and dry toast them (no oil or nonstick spray) until they are fragrant and beginning to color up, removing immediately from the pan to prevent burning. Whisk together a simple vinaigrette that won’t overwhelm the ingredients. Add the baby arugula, sliced strawberries, and hazelnuts and toss to combine.

What’s nice about the “fruit + veggie/herb + nut” approach is that you can turn most of these from side dish to light entree by introducing a grain. I like quinoa or bulgur since they cook quickly and have a good amount of fiber (and because I’m horrible at cooking rice).

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ecola

Get thee to this fishery!

Until I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I’d never eat canned fish, taking it  as a given that fresh beat tinned any day of the week. While I don’t fault former  me for the visual assessment – truly, it can look a whole lot like Fancy Feast – I  was seriously off base in terms of the high ceiling for overall quality. I  mean, I didn’t even know that whole fillets (vs. homogenous shreds) could  be canned, which better preserves the integrity of the fish’s texture and  flavor.

Much like frozen vegetables can be tastier and more full of nutrition  than out-of-season grocery store purchases since they’re often iced up so soon after being harvested, canned fish can allow a delicious, just-caught fish to enter a similar kind of suspension – meaning that it’s fresh as can be once you pop the top.

While tuna is pretty good if you find a nice brand, salmon is generally better for you (more Omega-3s, less mercury) and more sustainable (be sure to buy wild salmon).  It has a more complex flavor, too, for me – a delicate sweetness adds subtlety to the dominant oceanic heft.

The large concentration of local fisheries along the Oregon and Washington coast means that markets here are lousy with high quality canned salmon, but you can generally order them online, too, if you know where to look. My two favorite brands are Loki Fish Co. and Ecola Seafoods (which has smoked fish offerings, too).

A fancy feast, indeed.

A fancy feast, indeed.

Recipes-wise, below is a recent favorite that is adaptable to most veggies or nuts you have on hand. Note that jars of hearts of palm can be pricey so seek out a Trader Joe’s if you have one nearby.

Really good salmon salad

Serves 2 (entree portions)

  • 2 cups greens (I prefer baby spinach since the mild flavor complements the assertive salmon salad)
  • 1/2 baguette, sliced
  •  olive oil for drizzling
  • 1 can whole wild salmon (I get it sans skin and bones)
  • 3/4 cup chopped hearts of palm
  • 1/4 cup walnuts (dry toasted, then chopped coarsely)
  • chopped cilantro to taste
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • a splash of rice wine vinegar (you can use lemon or lime juice, too, but just a half or it’ll be too tart)
  • 2 TBSP mayo
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 and place baguette slices on cookie sheet, drizzling lightly with olive oil. Bake for 12 minutes or until nicely browned.

Place walnuts in a small pan and toast over medium heat, shaking occasionally, until walnuts become fragrant and have just begun to visibly brown.

Add mayo to the bottom of a medium bowl. Drain salmon and add to bowl, flaking it as you mix. Add in chopped tomatoes, hearts of palm, walnuts, and cilantro, tossing lightly to combine.

Mound spinach on two plates, topping with salmon salad, with 3-4 crostini fanned out on one side.

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