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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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It's just a box of grain...

The back of the Annie’s mac n’ cheese box makes the absurd suggestion that butter is optional in the preparation of that heady blend of orange powder, milk, and pasta in shapes I can never really make out (some are bunnies, I know).Tonight I discovered that there is a way forward without butter…and it is better! Or at the very least compelling, and different. The secret is fancy, spicy marinara sauce and full-fat sour cream. And some arugula if, like me, you think it makes everything more nutritious and delicious and so keep it on hand for day to day heathen uses.

Note: if you don’t love thick sauce and too much of it, you will not like this. I think it’s like a tangier, creamier vodka sauce (not to malign the original which I adore). Also,  prepared this way, the mac n’ cheese is so rich you won’t be tempted to eat the whole box, an absence I’d never experienced previously: where for art thou gluttonous impulses?

Heathen Mac n’ Cheese

  • 1 box Annie’s Macaroni and Cheese (get the sharp cheddar version)
  • 4 TBSP regular sour cream
  • 1 cup pasta sauce (I prefer a spicy arrabbiata)
  • 6 oz. arugula

Cook the pasta for 9 mins., adding the arugula in to wilt for one minute before draining. Return the mixture to the pot.

In the bowl you’ll use to eat the mac n’ cheese (to prevent extra dish-washing), combine cheese powder with sour cream and pasta sauce and stir until smooth. Pour sauce over pasta, stir, and serve.

Note #2: A real, delicious mac n’ cheese, served in a skillet or baked, glistening with fontina, gruyere, and Parmesan (best trio for this, hands down), is unbelievably good. This just isn’t that. Do we indict the lowly Mexican pizza for not being authentic? No! Taco Bell is Taco Bell. Mexican food is Mexican food.

Note #3 (also known as Final Note): The leftovers have cooled and look kind of nasty (but are sure to be the perfect modified lumberjack breakfast!). Hence no photo, sorry.

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The staccato splat of my onion tear

My seasonally contrarian appetite called for soup, just as the sun is finally making more than the occasional cameo.

My hangover needed tomato products of some kind.

The natural choice? My mom’s delicious and simple kind-of-creamy tomato soup.

My Mom’s Tomato Soup

• 1 stick butter (her recipe actually calls for 1/2 stick of this to be margarine, but we will overlook, but correct, that alarming detail)

• 1 – 1-1/2 cup white or Spanish onions

•1/2 tsp basil

•1/4 tsp thyme

• 1/4 tsp rosemary

• 1 large can crushed tomatoes

• 3 TBSP tomato paste

• 5 TBSP flour

• 4 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth

• 3/4 cup milk

Heat up the butter in a deep pot, adding in the onions and spices. Add the can of tomato and let simmer for 10 minutes. Make a paste out of the flour, tomato paste, and a splash of broth in a smallish bowl. Stir the mixture into the soup to thicken. Add in the remaining broth and simmer for 30 minutes.

To finish, puree the soup using a blender, or a wand blender. Stir in 3/4 cup whole (or 2% milk).

NB: My camera’s out of batteries, so the only photographic detailing of said soup comes from Photo Booth: the footprint of a tear wrung out by one fearsome onion.

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In my family, Thanksgiving dinner is such an important meal, we actually have a “turkey dinner,” as my Dad calls it, for Christmas, too. As a non-turkey eater, Thanksgiving doesn’t exactly set my heart afire, having–for better or worse–had my former obsession with Pilsbury Crescent Rolls, a longstanding holiday staple, wane significantly over the years.

That said, one can still construct a delicious and memorable non-meat plate from the Thanksgiving staples. And, setting aside my commitment to eating out as the less stressful (peace out, dishes), cheaper (have you tried to buy non-Kraft cheese lately?), and more delicious (ok, only sometimes true) approach to feeding myself, I decided to cook up some of my most combinable favorites on Sunday: brussel sprouts and mashed potatoes.

As much as the meal, itself, the key to delicious Thanksgiving-type food is the meal’s projected/imagined later deliciousness, as leftovers. It now being a day later, I have feasted again on the Sunday bounty, so am feeling a light wave of success, which is why I share the recipes, here, with the idea of cooking them together being a good, fairly simple veggie dinner option. Key to liking this somewhat odd and/or incomplete pairing is holding the belief that meals should ideally be comprised of equal parts starch, veggie, and fat, hopefully with some protein part and parcel (say, beans). Without further ado, I present:

Vegetarian Partial Thanksgiving Dinner Meal

Brussel Sprouts

  • I plastic square container Brussel sprouts (1/2 pound?), quartered
  • 2 TBSP honey
  • 3 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 2 big shallots, sliced
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • splash of water

Add butter to a medium saucepan that’s got some depth/high sides and sautee your shallots on medium heat until they’re soft. Be sure to salt the bejesus out of them. Then, add in the vinegar and honey and let the shallots melt into themselves and get a little caramel-colored.

Throw these in your medium-large serving bowl once not burning hot.

In the same pan, add the olive oil and quartered brussel sprouts. Cook for 10 mins on medium-high heat, stirring no more than every 2 mins to ensure your mini-cabbages have time to properly brown on the edges (but do keep a nose out for burning smells). Pour on a splash of water (3 TBSP?) and let them cook for another 2-3 minutes, making sure you quit when the sprouts are still bright green.

Toss these into your shallot-filled serving bowl, and voila!

Spinach-Garlic Smashed Potatoes

  • 1 lb. red potatoes, the smaller the better (more delicious, nutritious skins)
  • 3 TBS butter
  • I bunch of baby spinach, stems removed
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 TBSP olive oil

Bring a big pot of water to a boil and throw in whole (or halved, if they’re bigger) red potatoes after scrubbing them well. Boil until very soft (but before skins start floating scum-like to the water’s surface…), adding in the washed spinach leaves for the final 1 minute of cooking, to wilt them.

Drain potatoes and spinach in a colander, and return them to the pot, smashing them up with a large fork.

Use your brussel sprout pan to heat up the TBSP of olive oil. Add the sliced garlic and sautee for 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Pour garlic into the pot full of potatoes and spinach, mashing and salting the mixture.

Now serve the two together, contemplating the intensifying of flavors a little mellow refrigerator time will impart to each dish for later!

NB: Brussels sprouts smell baffilingly and succulently of fresh popcorn when cooked in butter.

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For me, food and mood are more intimately related than even orthography would indicate. Beyond the dissociative mania induced by low blood sugar, having a good balance of nutrition, tastiness, and an element of the interesting or new is key to my satisfaction with a meal, and meals are certainly highlights of the day, joining pleasure to necessity with a stakes-raising precision bordering on the alchemical.

My boyfriend brought home a motley clutch of vegetables from a drunken 5am post-party grocery store trip last night/morning. The subsequent lunchtime result–ribbons of melted carrot dyed with earthy beet and counterbalanced by tangy goat cheese, then made meal-ready by the accompaniment of nutty brown rice– was nothing short of mood-altering. Here’s how it went:

VEGGIES:

  • 2 beets, halved and sliced
  • 4 carrots, made into ribbons by a peeler
  • 1 small zucchini, julienned
  • half a big onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • a hefty shake of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8 oz goat cheese

RICE:

  • brown rice, prepared
  • a bunch of spinach, steamed
  • a handful (1/2 cup?) of cilantro

Sautee the onion and garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and vegetables and cook on medium heat for 20-25 minutes. Pour the fragrant mess into a large bowl with the goat cheese, tossing to coat as the cheese melts.

Puree the spinach and cilantro together and stir into the cooked brown rice.

Salt heavily if you share the love, and serve veggies and rice side by side for a festive, if seasonally displaced, lunch or dinner of Christmas colors made (vegetable) flesh.

Note: I get a little weary of goat cheese, but it becomes a more mellow proposition–and, appealingly, the world’s speediest pseudo-sauce–when used as essentially a dressing for a warm salad, as here.

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