Saturday, June 09, 2007

Filbert Crusted Baked Salmon

My dad is learning to cook now that he's retired, and seems to really be enjoying it. He's always done some cooking: barbecuing, of course;a phase of baking a lot of bread when I was a child. His anadama bread (a dark bread with molasses, great with butter and honey) was very, very good. Another bread, that didn't rise, we joked should be used as weights in the back of the pickup.

I grew up thinking of these nuts as filberts, though they are more commonly called by their upper class name of hazelnuts. My Grandpa Delbert raised filberts, and I thought that Filbert was actually his name at one point in my childhood.

The girls and I went to my folks' house for the weekend a few weeks back, to celebrate Dad's birthday and a belated Mother's Day. Dad made the following dish, from a recipe in The Oregonian. He modified it slightly by accident, adding the filberts with the mustard instead of sprinkling them on later as directed in the original recipe. I made the recipe at home the next week and made it as originally directed, but have to say I like Dad's version better (though both were very good). This is great with a salad and twice baked potatoes or brown rice pilaf and steamed asparagus. I found wild caught, Alaskan salmon fillets at Trader Joe's for about $6.00 a pound, enough for our family, though the recipe calls for two pounds. Don't use farm raised salmon; it'd be better to substitute a different fish.

*1 tsp sea salt
*2 cloves garlic, minced
*2 tsp herbes de provence (I used that recipe as a guide and made something close to it with what I had on had, as I didn't want to go to the store)
*2 TBS whole grained or Dijon mustard (I used Dijon)
*3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
*1 tsp fresh lemon juice
*1 2 lb fillet of wild salmon
*3-4 TBS finely chopped filberts (hazelnuts) (Note: subbed cashews one day, and they worked very well, too).

-In a small bowl, combine salt, garlic, herbes, mustard, olive oil and lemon juice, mixing with a fork til emulsified. If you'd like, stir in the filberts now.
-Place salmon on a rimmed baking sheet that you've sprayed with Pam or lightly oiled. Spread the mustard mixture thickly over the top and sides of the fillet. Refrigerate for an hour.
-Preheat oven to 350. Bake salmon, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, then sprinkle the nuts over and lightly press them into the coating if you didn't add them earlier. Return to oven and bake up to another 15 minutes, until salmon flakes when tested with a fork (note: our salmon finished much earlier than recipe suggested it would, so test early as you don't want it to dry out).


Although it's raining and not even 60 degrees here right now, it has largely been beautiful so far this early summer. We are not very skilled gardeners, but we are determined to do better this year, and to this end we have dug out an additional bed in our front yard, the sunniest part of our lot. With new soil, free plants from neighbors and relatives, and enthusiastic watering, this small patch is exploding beautifully. We have a lot of spinach, several beet plants (using both of those to make a regular side dish of sauteed greens with pinenuts and garlic), several artichoke plants, peas twining over anything else, spring onions, herbs, and eight or so tomato plants.

We have basil in the ground, but it's nowhere near being ready to harvest in significant quantities (and saving it from the snails and slugs is a constant battle here), so we picked some up at the farmer's market last weekend and made this amazingly flavorful and pungent pesto, that we try to make in huge quantities every year. Two bunches were about enough for two batches. Normally, we'll make two or three batches at a time and freeze at least one of them, but this time we've been eating it over several days. To freeze, spoon into an icecube tray you reserve for such uses, pour a little olive oil on top, and then transfer to a freezer bags or boxes when solid.

Serving ideas: great as is, on pasta or vegetables. We like to brush a thick layer on salmon then bake or barbecue. This week, we've been enjoying it mixed half and half with ricotta, then tossed with spaghetti. I think that mellows the flavor out a little for kids and it adds a little more nutrition (and helps your pesto last a little longer). Both my girls love this-Mary just ate two servings for lunch, and the baby will eat as much as we feed her. Cooks Illustrated suggests mixing a batch of this with 1/4 cup pasta cooking water until smooth, then tossing with a pound of cooked spaghetti.

Recipe a slight modification from the version in Cooks' Illustrated: The New Best Recipe. Toasting the nuts beforehand is essential. We added parsley for the first time with this batch and it was great-added a nice, fresh taste. We also did half walnuts and half pinenuts, and they were good, though I'd suggest toasting them separately as the pinenuts cook much faster.

*1/4 cu pine nutes, walnuts, or almonds
*3 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
*2 packed cups of fresh basil leaves
*2 TBS fresh parsley leaves (optional)
*6 TBS olive oil (1/4 cup+ 2 TBS)
*1 tsp salt

-Toast the nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, stirring-PutFREQUENTLY, 4-5 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl.
-Toast garlic in empty skillet until fragrant slightly colored, about 7 minutes. Cool, then peel.
-Place basil and parsley in a heavy duty ziploc bag and bang on them with a rolling pin or heavy small skillet until the leaves are all dark and bruised. If you happen to have a mortar and pestle, use that by all means.
-Place all ingredients in a food processor. Whirl, scraping as necessary, until smooth.
*1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Banana Pudding

I've been craving banana pudding for days now; oddly enough, I don't think I've ever eaten the classic 'Nilla wafer banana pudding before. Yet I craved it. I'd purchased a box of the aforementioned wafers on sale recently and have been amazed by how good they are-not fancy, not complicated, but full of vanilla flavor and delicious. I think that lead me into a journey that ended last night with this recipe, a hit with everyone in the family, even Mary, who dislikes bananas. The pudding takes over a rich banana flavor after being poured over the fruit while still warm. The cookies soften, and the whole dessert is reminiscent of a trifle (in fact, I found myself wondering whether it would be possible to brush the wafers with rum *while layering). It is rich and indulgent and comforting.

The recipe is modified from one in Cooking Light Magazine. I normally will only cook the "light" version of a recipe if it tastes as good as the regular version, and this one qualifies. Although the original recipe called for meringue, I substituted whipped cream instead, which I before, and which I knew would keep better for the inevitable leftovers. If you choose to use meringue, I'll throw the directions in at the end. It does save you from wasting the two egg whites you'll have left from the yolk, and it is healthier than the whipping cream.

*1/3 cup all-purpose flour
*1/8 tsp salt
*2 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk
*1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
*2 large egg yolks (save the whites if you want to do meringue)
*2 teaspoons vanilla extract
*3-4 ripe bananas, sliced (divided); about 3 cups
*45 vanilla wafers(divided)-low fat is fine

If topping with whipped cream:
*1/4 c whipping cream
*1/4 tsp vanilla
*1 TBS powdered sugar

If topping with meringue:
*4 large egg whites (at room temperature)
*1/4 cup sugar

*If using meringue, preheat oven to 325.
*Stir flour and salt in medium saucepan. Gradually add milk and condensed milk and yolks, whisking constantly to keep from getting lumpy.
*Heat over medium heat, stirring constantly (or else the milk will burn), until very thick-this will take anywhere form 8-15 minutes. Make your kid take turns whisking while you find the right dish, slice bananas, etc.
*When nice and thick (should coat the back of a spoon and leave a track when you draw your finger through the coating on said spoon), remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.
*Arrange a cup of the banana slices on the bottom of a 2 Qt casserole dish. Ladle a third of pudding on top. Arrange 15 vanilla wafers on top. Repeat twice more. On final layer, poke wafers around the sides of the dish and down into the pudding.

Then, either:
*Whip cream, vanilla and powdered sugar together until firm and spread over top.
*Beat egg whites at high speed until foamy; gradually add sugar, one tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Spread meringue over top of pudding, sealing to edges. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden.

In either case, let sit 30 minutes before eating or it will be really soupy.