What Sounds Good?

We all have our comfort foods.  When nothing else sounds good, we reach for familiar touchstones to soothe us.  They many not mean much to anyone else, but we have our favorites.

Years ago I wrote a heritage cookbook for my family with the odd title, What Sounds Good?  It was just that,  a crazy assortment of cherished recipes that were a regular part of our food repertoire when my daughters were growing up.  At our house, there was always a debate underway about what to eat for the next meal or upcoming food event. The discussion would typically include what sounds good?

Some of the recipes in What Sounds Good? were from my own childhood; some I picked up in my early days of cooking from friends and family. Some were regional, like Santa Maria Style Beans and Boston Clam Chowder. They still hold a place in my heart.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was cold and rainy and I was feeling the aftermath of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  I needed something that reached down and warmed my soul.  Of course, it was no further away than my pantry shelves.  I always have the makings for clam chowder tucked away somewhere.

I pulled out my soup pot and found a familiar rhythm. The smoky scent of bacon always perks me up. There’s nothing fussing here: some onion, potato, a bit of celery, a few herbs… In no time I had hearty soup cups ladled full of thick and creamy clam chowder.

Funny thing.  This morning I pulled out the recipe to take a look at it.  It has been a while since I made it, and without thinking, I made it as written in the cookbook, down to ingredients and quantities.  I guess somethings are too good to change.

Boston Clam Chowder

From What Sounds Good?

Ingredients
4-5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, skin on, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 cans chopped clams, 4-5 ounces each, liquid reserved
1 bottle clam juice, about 8 ounces
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups milk, of choice, including diluted condensed milk, if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Garnish:  chopped parsley, butter, or paprika, serve with oyster or pilot crackers

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until it begins to color. Drain off all but 1-2 tablespoon of the fat.
  2. Add the onion, and cook to soften, then add the celery and toss briefly. Add the potato, herbs, white pepper. clam liquids, and enough additional water to barely cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Combine the flour and water into a slurry and slowly stir into the potato base and allow it to thicken.
  4. Stir in the milk and clams and heat well, but do not boil. Adjust seasoning.  Serve with garnish of choice.  Serves 4.
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Snapper Puttanesca: Pungent and Powerful

Red snapper, or rock fish, is generally regarded as one of our most sustainable fish.  Good old snapper is also one of the most reliable fish in the marketplace, as it has a sweet, mild flavor and just enough texture to keep it from falling apart while cooking.  So versatile, it blends with other seafood in fish soups and stews, and it is assertive enough to stand up to full-flavored sauces such as the highly touted Puttanesca.

Snapper Puttanesca

Snapper Puttanesca

Known as an ultra-fast fix for pasta, our tomato-based sauce starts with the usual olive oil and garlic sauté.  A couple of anchovies are mashed about to melt and dissolve into the oil and virtually disappear, only to leave behind the mysterious essence that keeps us begging for more. Diced tomatoes are introduced for a quick simmer along with olives, capers, and as much hot red pepper flakes as you can bear. Point it up with a bit of lemon, if you like.

The snapper fillets are added to the pan and it’s all tucked into the oven for a quick braise—just enough time to set the table, find salad, and pour your favorite beverage. 

Braised Red Snapper Puttanesca

Inspired by Fine Cooking, Make It Tonight

Ingredients
4 – 5 oz Red Snapper or Black Sea Bass fillets ( about 3/4″ thick)
salt and pepper

Puttanesca Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic
2 anchovy fillets, minced
2 – 14 oz canned diced tomatoes
3 ounces Kalamata olive, pitted, halved lengthwise (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon oregano or ½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1 lemon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Season fish with salt and pepper, and drizzle with lemon juice.
  2. For sauce:  In 12″ ovenproof skillet with cover, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium low heat.  Add the garlic, cooking to soften @ 1 minute. Add the anchovies, pressing and stirring to dissolve.
  3. Add tomatoes and liquid, olives, oregano, capers, and pepper flakes.  Bring to brisk simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are tender and sauce has thickened, @ 8 minutes.
  4. Nestle the fish in the sauce, spoon some over the fish.  Drizzle with remaining olive oil; cover and braise until almost cooked through, 10-15 minutes.
  5. Transfer to serving bowls. If liquid remains quickly reduce sauce; stir in 1-2 teaspoons lemon juice and spoon over the fish.  Serves 4

Jerk Pork: it’s grill time!

It’s summertime and the living is stunningly easy here on the homestead.  Especially now that I have finally located another folding grill!  What was once called the Pyromid has resurfaced under the new name of EcoQue, and I couldn’t be happier.  This unique stainless steel grill not only folds neatly into its own 2” thick tote for easy storage, it produces temperatures close to 900 degrees on its 12” surface with only 9 charcoal briquettes.

I apologize, I did not intend the post to become a sales pitch for this adorable grill, but I guess I can’t help myself. I am utterly thrilled that it hasn’t completely disappeared!  With the new grill at hand, my first order of business was to grill off a little celebratory jerk pork.

Jerk Pork

Jerk Pork

This popular Bahamian marinade makes anything taste better.  It’s wonderful hot off the grill on chicken, fish, beef, or pork and it is even better the next day. Jerk meats remain so moist and flavorful they are ideal for picnics and travel. Today, I’m cooking a thick chunk of pork but 3 to 4 pounds of chicken or beef will work just as well.

Jerk Pork, Chicken, or Beef

Ingredients
3 – 4 lb.  pork, chicken or beef ribs
Jerk Marinade
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup green onions, chop
1 clove garlic, minced
4 scotch bonnet chiles, or jalapeno peppers, seed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. For marinade: place all ingredients in blender and puree for 2 minutes.
  2. Massage the meat well with the marinade and marinate several house or overnight.  Any extra marinade can be reserved for dipping if not used for brushing the meat on the grill.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-low heat.  Drain and pat the meat dry.  Brush the grill with oil.  Grill, turning and brushing with marinade as needed until nicely browned all over and pork reaches an internal temperature of 160°, beef is between 145-160°, and chicken reaches 165°.

 

 

A Lovely Bunch of Radishes

At the market recently a spectacular bunch of radishes caught my eye. They looked so freshly picked and perky—as if they had just been uprooted, given a quick rinse, and perched on the shelf.  These weren’t your typical tired little radishes, they were massive, brilliant globes of color ranging from white to deep magenta.

Easter Egg Radishes

Easter Egg Radishes

Their name, Easter Egg radish suits them well. I wondered, were these all show? Sometimes large varieties concentrate all their energy on producing size and can be bland, perhaps pithy. But, the price was right, so I took a gamble.

I couldn’t wait to head home and try one with a dusting of sea salt. Ah, yes, they were crunchy-crisp and mild—I immediately imagined them in a lentil salad made with firm, gorgeous le puys.

Once the lentils were cooked and cooled, about 30 minutes later, I added a drizzle of dressing and a smattering of fresh herbs, a handful of feta cheese, a little zip of preserved lemon (of course, you have some waiting in the fridge from the posting here), and folded in the chilled radishes.Lentil radish salad(870x1024)

Serve the salad at room temperature or lightly chilled. If made ahead and refrigerated, it will hold 2 to 3 days. It’s filling enough for a lazy light meal or in tandem with chilled shrimp or grilled salmon and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Lentil Radish Salad

Ingredients
2 cups cooked le puy lentils
1 cup sliced radishes, or cut into wedges
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
2 green onions, trimmed and sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs: any, or a combination of thyme, marjoram, parsley
1 tablespoon capers, or preserved lemon rind, well chopped
Dressing
4 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse 1 cup lentils and simmer in 2 cups water for 20 minutes until soft but still firm; drain and cool. Combine the dressing; whisk or shake well, and set it aside.
In a bowl combine all ingredients, add enough dressing to coat well, and toss lightly. Serve at room temperature or chill.  Serves 4 or more.

Local Oysters: Straight up

On a sky-blue day recently, I had a chance to visit the Oregon Oyster Farms outside of Newport.  The air was slightly crisp and warming, the afternoon breeze was yet to kick up on the Yaquina Bay.  Water lapped the shore, and out in the current a few sea lions floated about lazily, ready to grab a quick bite.

Yaquina Bay

Yaquina Bay

It’s a little late to call this stunning area once owned by the Siletz Indians a natural preserve—since years ago the government reclaimed it in a tangle over oyster rights.  Now, when the wind blows just right, the air is ripe with odors of a looming Georgia Pacific mill on the horizon.

There aren’t many commercial beds left in this oyster farming mecca, but the Oregon Oyster Farms is hanging on.  Along with an active wholesale trade, it still maintains a retail setting on the bay.  At the counter, we selected petite native Yaquina oysters as well as the tinier Kumamotos, a Japanese transplant that finally took hold here several years ago.

Later, after a lunch of barbecue and saltwater taffy, we opted to keep dinner simple:  some local cheese, freshly baked bread and a boatload of oysters.  Fortunately, Jerry is an ace oyster shucker and once armed with plenty of towels and his oyster knife he managed to do quick work of these spiny devils.

Straight out of its deep shell the Kumamoto is regarded locally as the Chardonnay of oysters, mild, with a light brininess and fruitiness.

Kumamotos

Kumamotos

The larger Pacific oysters are buttery, mildly briny with a melon finish.

Yaquina Bay Pacific Oysters

Yaquina Bay Pacific Oysters

I prefer mine with very little else—maybe a squeeze of lemon or a dash of Tabasco.

These days, you take your risks when eating raw oysters.  Most recommend cooking them well before eating.  I would also agree if at all doubtful, especially anyone with health limitations.   In preparing these mild oysters, much of their essence is lost when masked by heavy flavors.

Kumamoto Oyster Cocktail

Courtesy Oregon Oyster Farms

1/2 Pint Oysters
1/4 cup tomato catsup
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 drops Tabasco sauce
3-4 dashes celery salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon horseradish
6 celery sticks

Mix all ingredients except oysters and place in refrigerator to chill. Place oysters in cocktail glasses to within one inch from top. Fill glasses with chilled cocktail sauce. Serve with celery sticks and thin brown bread. To improve flavor, prepare cocktails and set in refrigerator from 1 to 8 hours before serving. Will make 6 medium cocktails.

 

Fast and Slurpable: Sweet Potato Vermicelli

Feeling the weight of holiday festivities?  Too many cookies and rich food taking its toll?  This little number worked for me last night.

I have been reading good things about sweet potato noodles lately.  Some accounts put them ahead of mung bean glass noodles, a longtime favorite.   Described as clear, thicker than bean threads, slightly chewy and slippery; all of this caught my attention.  I’m not going out on a limb and advocating them for a paleo diet, that’s not my focus.  I’m looking for light, somewhat filling, a canvas for other foods.

Yesterday I headed to my favorite Asian market and sought out the advice of the owner.  I left loaded with the sweet potato noodles and a few other items to go along with them.  Her point was that you can make a quick, satisfying meal with just a few handy items: your favorite noodle, Memmi—a popular Kikkoman style soup base, perhaps sriracha for additional seasoning, vegetables, and any other protein that inspires you.Sweet Potato noodles fixings (505x640)

While at the vegetable cooler she recommended kai-lan, a baby bok choy looking item with thicker broccoli-like stems.  She suggested slicing the stems up and cooking them first and then adding the tops, which take no time at all. Any of the baby Asian greens will do, but the kai-lan has a sweet, mild quality which works nicely here.

Surimi (480x640) (478x552)I was a little dubious at the frozen case when she pointed out all sorts  of gray meat balls and tiny sausage shaped items. But, in the spirit of the moment I went for gobo maki, a fried sausage seafood on the order of crab surimi that’s made with bream and burdock.  Since it is cooked, simply add it to the noodles at the last minute. She claims all of these choices are mildly flavored to absorb seasonings of the base blend.

When dinnertime rolls around, all it takes to pull this together is a soup pot of boiling water and about 10 minutes.  There’s no stir-fry or fussing around with inventive steps.  It’s probably what Top Ramen is probably supposed to be:Sweet potato noodles (640x480)  A few good noodles, some fresh veggies, and just enough broth to make it all extremely slurpable.

Slurpable Sweet Potato Noodles

2-3 oz. sweet potato vermicelli
2 tbsps or more Memmi noodle base, or Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1-2 tsp sriracha or chili garlic sauce, to taste
½ cup or more hot water
1 small bunch baby kai-lan (baby Chinese kale or broccoli), baby bok choy, or tender broccoli
1 small carrot, shredded
1-2 fried surimi seafood, or 1/3 cup fresh cooked shrimp
1-2 scallions, sliced
Salt and pepper

  1. For the seasoning blend:  In a small bowl combine the noodle base, sesame oil, and sriracha and part of the water to thin.
  2. To prep the vegetables:  Trim the ends of the kai-lan and slice the stems into ¼” thick ovals and slice the greens into 1” wide strips.  Peel the carrot; using peeler continue to slice into long peels.  Slice the green onion at an angle into thin ovals and set aside.
  3. To cook the noodles: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook for 5 minutes, stirring to break up.  When they are tender all the way through (don’t overcook) scoop into colander, drain and rinse well. Cut into shorter lengths with scissors.
    Place them in a soup bowl and toss them with the seasoning blend.
  4. To blanch the greens: After the noodles have been removed from the lightly boiling water, add the thicker stems of the kai-lan and cook a minute or two before adding the leaves and carrot.  Cook a minute or two longer until all are tender-crisp.  Remove to drain lightly and add to noodles in bowl along with surimi or shrimp, tossing to combine.
  5. Adjust the preferred amount of broth with additional hot water.   Sprinkle with the green onion and season further with sriracha or salt and pepper to taste.

‘Tis the Season: Salmon Potato Latkes

Sometimes the closer we are to something, the less we appreciate it.  Such was the case between salmon and me; I had to leave the Pacific Northwest, where it is abundant, before I could realize how good I really had it.

Salmon are unique in that they live part of their lives in the ocean and then migrate into fresh water and head upriver toward home, where they breed. In spite of crashing about on rocks and getting badly banged up, they have a mission that keeps them going.

Kettle Falls postcard, courtesy nwcouncil.org

Kettle Falls postcard, courtesy nwcouncil.org

Fresh caught Atlantic salmon is tasty and farm raised works in a pinch, but when it comes to salmon, Dorothy, there’s no place like home.

In the Pacific Northwest, Indian tribes have long cherished sacred gathering spaces where they could spear and net great salmon that thrashed and leaped over rocks and falls on their way upstream.

Now, dams and ladders have altered the natural landscape and forever changed these ancient rites and traditions.

Since it is all about celebrating salmon’s fresh and briny taste, the simpler the preparation the better. In the pan or on the grill, salmon stays moist and does not fall apart easily.   When it comes to nutritional value salmon has little competition in overall protein, vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, and collagen.

You could say I am on a salmon run of my own.  Last week it was Smoked Salmon Mousse, this week I have finally succumbed and used up the last can of wild caught salmon.  It was a touchstone on my shelf that I did not give up easily.

No question, Salmon Potato Latkes—otherwise known as potato pancakes with salmon—are a worthy treatment for any fresh caught salmon.  If you don’t happen to have a can of salmon hanging around, an 8 oz fillet or steak lightly poached will work beautifully, too.Salmon Latke

Remember to begin by coarsely grating the potato and onion; allow it to drain in a colander for 10 to 15 minutes, and then wrap it all in toweling while assembling other ingredients. This removes unnecessary moisture and helps the egg to bind all into crisp salmon studded potato pancakes.

Salmon Latke with forkTraditionally, potato pancakes are served with applesauce or sour cream. Here, I opt for a quick sauce of yogurt speckled with green onions and capers.

Beyond a light dinner entree, consider this a breakfast alternative, a brunch option topped with an egg and perhaps a little Hollandaise Sauce, or make dollar-sized cakes for an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre selection.

Salmon Potato Latkes

Inspired by Classic Potato Pancakes by Andrew Friedman at Epicurious.com

1/2 large onion — peeled
2 medium Idaho baking potatoes — peeled
8 ounces salmon, approximate — canned or fresh caught filet or steak, poached, skinned
1 large egg
salt and pepper — to taste
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
3 Tablespoons butter
Yogurt-Caper Sauce (follows)

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Spray baking pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Coarsely grate the potato and onion and allow to drain in colander for 10 to 20 minutes. Squeeze out moisture and move to toweling; wrap snugly to absorb more moisture.
  3. In large bowl, beat the egg then slowly whisk in the flour. Season lightly with salt and pepper; add the potato-onion mixture. Break the salmon into chunks and lightly stir it in, do not over mix.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium/high heat with 1 tablespoon oil. When hot drop 1/4 cup scoops into pan and press lightly into 3″ cakes. Cook about 4 minutes per side until golden brown and crisp. Drain on toweling and keep warm in oven. Wipe any debris from pan, add more oil, and repeat until all are cooked. Serve with Yogurt-Caper Sauce. Makes about 10 potato pancakes.

For Yogurt-Caper Sauce: combine 1 cup or more plain yogurt with 1 Tbsp drained small capers and Tbsp minced green onion.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.