Homemade Gravlax

I am back and with an amazing post no less.

I thought I would be very European and take the month of August off. Sometimes you just need some time to unwind, recharge and re-focus. I wish I could say I took it off from my real job as well but I will get a real European break in a few weeks – can’t wait!

The hubby thought he would take a little time to unwind, recharge and re-focus too with a guys fishing trip up to Northern British Columbia. So what do you do when you pick your hubby up from airport and he greets you with a smile and a 50lb box of Coho Salmon?

You give him a huge hug and a kiss then you . . .

(1) Clean out your  freezer so it looks like this:

(2) Read through every cook book you have looking for salmon recipes you always wanted to make but never did.

(3) Start finding any reason to entertain.

If there is one thing food wise I miss about the east coast, and probably more specifically NYC/NJ, its bagels. For some reason no one can figure out how to replicate the tri-state area bagel anywhere else in the US. I don’t know if it’s the water or just some secret recipe that no one will share but a bagel should have a slight crunch on the outside and be deliciously chewy on the inside. Anything else is just . . . bread with a hole.

My bagel obsession is that bad that I make sure to leave just enough room in my bags to smuggle back a dozen bagels every time I travel home to NJ to visit. The bagels immediately go in the freezer and then on ration to make sure they last until my next trip to NJ or our next NJ visitor. The hubby was originally skeptic of my bagel snobbery but I can say with 100% confidence that I have converted him as well.

So as we cleaned out our freezer, making space for all this beautiful fish we knew we also needed to keep space for our beloved bagels as well. That left us with two salmon fillets that had to find a use and quickly. Don’t get us wrong the hubby and I enjoy a great piece of Coho salmon but 5lbs worth – that was just aggressive!

So we did what any normal, yuppy, SF couple would do – invite your friends over for your fantasy football draft and rather than serve beer and pizza, put out the most ridiculous spread of fresh, house-cured salmon and accoutrements you can think of (well minus our stash of NJ bagels). We started curing the fish on Tuesday night and by Saturday morning we had homemade gravlax!

I know what you are thinking – this seems (1) totally ridiculous and (2) totally time-consuming. I had the same thoughts and it couldn’t have been easier. All you need is salmon, salt, sugar, white peppercorns, fennel seeds, dill, a few deep dishes, lots of heavy cans and several days to let it prepare. Oh and enough room in your fridge.

The gravlax was a huge hit, the hubby and I won the award for most ridiculous fantasy football draft spread ever, and we are 5 salmon filets down (2 for the gravlax and 3 as party favors). We will totally be making this again. You might want do to the cost analysis on buying pre-made lox / gravlax vs. buying fresh salmon to make it yourself. Typically this would never work out for us.

Homemade Gravlax (adapted from Ina Garten’s Gravlax recipe)

Serves 12

5 lbs of Salmon (we had Coho)

3/4 cup of kosher salt

3/4 cup of sugar

1 large bunch of dill

3 tbsp of whole white peppercorns, crushed

1 1/2 tbsp of whole fennel seeds, crushed

Combine in a bowl salt, sugar, pepper and fennel. Place one half of the salmon (either cut it in have or get to filets that are of equal size) in the bottom of a deep dish. Place the dill on to top of the salmon. Carefully pour the salt / sugar mixture on top of the dill. Place the other piece of salmon on top to create a salmon sandwich of sorts.

Cover the dish with plastic wrap. Place another dish (or combination of dishes on top) and weigh them with heavy cans.  The fish will compress over time so the dishes need to fit inside the larger dish. Place the dish in the refrigerator.

Leave it sit for at least 2 to 3 days, flipping every 12 hours and basting with juices. We let ours sit 3.5 days and it was delish.

When you are ready to serve, scrape the peppercorns, fennel and dill from the salmon. Using a long, thin knife carve the salmon into thin pieces.

Serve with rye bread, pumpernickel bread or bagels. For our spread we also had: swiss cheese, muenster cheese, sliced red onion, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, chives, capers, cream cheese, mustard and lettuce.

For the mustard – you can either use Dijon or an adapted version of Ina’s mustard sauce recipe:

Whisk together:

1/2 cup of Dijon mustard

2 tsp ground mustard

6 tbsp sugar

1/4 cup of vinegar

Slowly whisk in 1/3 cup of good olive oil. Serve with gravlax.

Life Happens . . .

I have thought about this post for months. How would I break the silence that has taken over this blog for close to five months? What would I write about? Would it be about food? Would it be about life? Or maybe just a bunch of nothing?

My mother always told me “You can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have your health you might as well have nothing.” I’ll be honest, I always agreed with her but never fully understood what she meant. I can now say with confidence that she is right, like she usually is.

I had made some lofty new year’s resolutions this year and while none of them stuck, I am happy to know that I will have many more years ahead of me to make more resolutions. A few months ago we weren’t sure if that would be the case.

I never imagined myself as the sick wife, daughter, sister, friend but then again does anyone?  It’s amazing how quickly your world can flip upside down; I am just so lucky to have such an amazing support system to have helped me keep it some what right side up these past few months. Love you guys! What a crazy ride it has been.

While I still have my lofty dreams, these days I stick to my small wins and feeling a little bit better every day. After a long day of work and a trip to the grocery store I was so excited to cook myself a totally delish dinner without the help of my hubby or anyone else.  For me, that was my win of the day.

The other is that my sister agreed to guest blog!!!  She is an amazing cook and an amazing sister and I know you will love what she is cooking up on the east coast.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Bok Choy and Mushrooms (an original recipe)

Serves 1

1 4oz filet of King Salmon (skin removed)

1 baby bok choy, sliced into 1-inch pieces

1/3 cup of sliced mushrooms

1 tbsp  of vegetable oil

3/4 tbsp toasted sesame oil

Heat 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Pat the salmon dry and season with salt & pepper. When the oil is hot and starts to shimmer place the salmon in the skillet with the skinned side up and cook for 3 to 4 minutes depending on thickness. Flip the salmon and cook on the other side until the salmon starts looking opaque for 1 to 2 minutes more for medium.

Simultaneously heat the other 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute for 2 minutes. Add the bok choy and saute until it begins to wilt.  Add in the toasted sesame oil and toss to coat for 30 seconds.

Plate and enjoy.  I stuck with water but I think this dish would pair really well with a well-balanced Chardonnay. Some favs of mine Breggo Chardonnay Anderson Valley or Creme de Lys Chardonnay.

Sole Meuniere with Parmesan Chard

I have always wanted to be a good cook but it wasn’t until I moved in with my hubby that I truly decided to make that want a reality. When I lived by myself no one (except for me) really cared if I only ate veggie burgers, pre-cooked chicken sausages, or frozen ravioli for dinner. Frankly I do not think that my hubby would really care if we ate cereal every night for dinner but there is something so nice about seeing someone enjoy something that you made.

So, yes, I became a better cook for my husband. Very 1950’s of me, but that probably is the only 1950’s thing about me.

Much to my own surprise, last week, when the hubby had a work dinner, I found myself in the kitchen whipping up a gourmet dinner for me and only me! That was when I knew I had been bitten by this cooking bug and it was bad. Oh Ina would be so proud.

In fact, I used her sole meuniere recipe – delish. The recipe is only meant for two so it easily pares down for one. I mean how could you go wrong with butter and lemon?

I could have paired the fish with my usual sautéed spinach but it’s officially fall in SF and for the first time in 4 years of living here it actually looks and feels like fall. So I had to embrace my favorite season and picked up some swiss chard. Alice Waters convinced me (in her book that is) that it would be delicious with butter and parmesan cheese. She was right.

What an amazing mid-week treat.

Easy Sole Meuniere (adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics)

Serves 1

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 fresh sole fillets, 3 to 4 ounces each

1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 tsp lemon zest

3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (1/2 to 1 lemon depending on size)

Combine the flour, 2 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a large shallow plate. Pat the sole fillets dry with paper towels and sprinkle one side with salt.

Heat 1 1/2 tbsp of butter in a large  (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat until it starts to brown. Dredge the sole fillets in the seasoned flour on both sides and place them in the hot butter. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes. Turn carefully with a metal spatula and cook for 2 minutes o the other side. While the second side cooks, add the lemon zest and lemon juice to the pan. Serve immediately when finished preferably on a plate warmed in the oven.

Chard with Parmesan (adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)

1 bunch of chard

2 tbsp of butter

Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Pull the leaves from the ribs of a bunch of chard. Discard the ribs, wash the leaves, and cook until tender in abundant salted boiling water, 4 minutes or so. Drain the leaves, cool, squeeze out most of their excess water and chop coarse.

Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the chopped chard and salt to taste. Heat through and stir in a generous handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Remove from heat and serve.

Halibut with Pesto & Roasted Tomatoes

Between all of our whirlwind travel the past few weeks I somehow missed that it became fall.

We were driving to a friend’s house on Saturday.  As we cruised along the tree-lined street in the suburbs I noticed that the leaves on the trees were no longer green but a golden-yellow.  “Is it really fall,” I turned the hubby and asked.

“I guess so,” he responded.

Growing up on the east coast you had a warning that fall was coming: you cleaned out your closets to replace your shorts and sundresses with sweaters and pants, air-conditioning was no longer needed to sleep through the night, and you needed a jacket when you left the house in the morning.

I am starting to learn what the signs of fall are in San Francisco: you can break out the summer clothes that have laid dormant in your closet all year-long, you get to wake up to sunshine every morning, and take in amazing sunsets every night (no fog!).

So rather then cuddle up on the couch with a warm blanket, a new sweater, and a cup of hot apple cider, I find myself baring my legs in skirts, going for long runs outside, and drinking white wine. Bring on the SF summer.

So in honor of our little SF summer I perused a farmer’s market this weekend and found myself planning meals that featured one of the last remaining fresh vegetables of summer: tomatoes!

The stands were selling the most delicious looking heirloom tomatoes and I simply couldn’t resist.  I mean what says summer more than an heirloom tomato caprese salad complete with fresh basil and mozzarella?  It was delicious and the perfect start to our meal.

Next the halibut and my very first and own fish recipe!

Our house is stock full of tomatoes from the heirlooms I couldn’t say no to at the farmer’s market to the pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes at Whole Foods.

I love roasting the cherry tomatoes they come out absolutely delicious and are the greatest topping for a simple pasta dish. But we weren’t in the mood for pasta and so came to be:  Halibut with Pesto and Roast Tomatoes.

First preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and clean and dry a quarter pint of cherry tomatoes.  Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper and place on a cookie sheet.  Place in the oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a nonstick saute pan over medium-high heat.

Pat dry the halibut and season with salt & pepper.

Add 1/8 of an inch of olive oil to the saute pan and heat (but do not allow it to smoke). When hot add the halibut, skin side down, to the saute pan and let cook for 7 to 8 minutes (depending on thickness).

If fillets are super thick (like ours were), rotate onto each side for an extra minute. So top for a minute and each side for a minute. Cooking time of 10 to 11 minutes total.

When fish is done put on plate, add roasted tomatoes and top all with pesto. I used some leftover homemade pesto but I am sure you can use store-bought.

It was perfectly delicious. My fish might have been slightly overcooked but the hubby’s was just perfect. Score 1 for an original recipe.

Try it out and let me know what you think.

Miso Cod with Shitakes and Edamame

I always love it when a recipe makes you look like a serious chef. This is totally on of those recipes!
Miso Cod for a Monday night dinner? Aggressive you would think, but it is actually so much easier than I thought. Shopping for all the ingredients, not so easy. Even worse I put the hubby on Sunday food shopping duty while I ran other errands. Apparently mirin and miso paste are not the easiest ingredients to find in Whole Foods. Bright side, we now have a fully stocked pantry for any Japanese cooking I could ever imagine wanting to do.
Now that I have become more comfortable cooking fish I am always looking for new recipes to try and new fish to conquer. Every time I perused the fish counter at Whole Foods I would see the cod sitting there and dream of making miso cod, but I just never had the guts (or even a recipe that I thought I could remotely conquer).
Feeling totally guilty over the fact that I purchased a cookbook 6 months ago and had yet to make 1 recipe from it, I was determined to find this week’s fish recipe in it. Then I saw it – Poached Cod with Shitakes and Edamame. I was a little concerned with the word “poached.” As the only fish I remember ever eating “poached” is salmon and let’s just say it’s not my most favorite. But as I read through the recipe I realized it was really a recipe for miso cod in disguise. With less than 10 minutes of cooking time and very little prep I was sold.
As hoped, it was an incredibly easy recipe to make and quite delicious. Plus you can’t get much healthier than a dinner of fish, miso, and veggies. The hubby thought it was a little light on the salt – shocking given the miso and soy sauce in it but I probably would agree with him on that. It was missing something. I will have to expand my knowledge of Japanese cooking to figure it out. Or you can try it (recipe below) and let me know.
Poached Cod with Miso, Shitakes, and Edamamae (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2009)
2 tsps vegetable oil
4 oz shitake mushrooms, stemmed, and sliced 1/4 in thick
1 cup shelled frozen edamame, thawed
1/2 cup water
2 tsps soy sauce
2 tsps mirin
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 (1-inch) piece, fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick-coins, and smashed
2 (6 oz) cod fillets, 1 1/4 inches thick (can also substitute haddock or halibut)
2 tsps red miso paste (can also substitute white, brown, barley, or brown rice miso but do not use light)
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 scallion, sliced thin
Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook until lightly browned about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl.
Add the edamame, water, soy sauce, mirin, garlic and ginger to the skillet. Pat the cod dry, salt, pepper, and add to the skillet, nestling among the edamame. Spoon some liquid over the cod. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 to 7 minutes. The fish should be opaque and flake when prodded with a knife.
Remove the fish from the skillet and place each in a shallow serving bowl. Remove and discard the garlic and ginger. Add the mushrooms back to the skillet with the miso and sesame oil cooking until the miso dissolves and the mushrooms are warmed through about 30 seconds.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to the bowls with the fish. Pour the hot broth over the fish and sprinkle with scallions.

Roasted Salmon with Herb Butter

I used to have a strict policy about cooking fish in my kitchen. It did not happen. Not by me or anyone else. I feared it would smell up the house and the apartment. Then I would be known as that neighbor that cooked the fish and stunk up the entire building, similar to the reputation that some employees on my floor get when they reheat their fish leftovers in the microwave. Seriously people! Luckily I never had a desk/cube by the kitchen.

Honestly I was also terrified of cooking fish. I feared it would taste fishy, become overcooked, or worst of all make me sick. I have gotten food poisoning too many times from fish and couldn’t imagine inflicting it on myself.

So what convinced me to break my rule? I got sick of eating chicken, shrimp or meat every night. That and the fish counter at Whole Foods always looked so delicious. So I bit the bullet one Sunday night and picked up a whole branzino and cooked it up.

First of all I have no idea what possessed me to cook a whole fish for my first fish but I did it. It might have to do with my absolute love for branzino. Second of all it was delicious! The rule was broken and all of a sudden I had so many more recipes at my disposal – well all recipes minus salmon. That fish was permanently banned in my book. Make me sick once shame on you, make me sick twice shame on me, not sure what you say for the third, fourth, or even fifth time.

So how did I get to cooking salmon of all fish in my kitchen? Ok well clearly I do not stick to my food bans. We had a dinner party and a few guests only ate fish. My mom told me about this great salmon recipe that was super easy so I made it for them. They cleaned their plates and there was one small piece left, so I crossed my fingers and took a bite. I was soo good. It tasted nothing like the salmon I was used to. So enter salmon. I am still super careful about recipes, the cut of the fish (I will NEVER accept an end piece), and where the salmon comes from.

Last night I got the most delicious and fresh looking pieces of Wild Pacific Salmon from off the coast of Oregon. It literally had no smell and looked like it could be eaten as sashimi (I am not that crazy yet). I could not stomach ruining such a wonderful piece of fresh fish with over seasoning so I turned to Alice Waters who has the most amazing ability of showcasing fresh ingredients. I settled on her roasted salmon recipe and served it up with her herb butter.

For the salmon – simply pre-heat the oven to 425 and place the salmon (4 to 6 oz fillets with skin on) on an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 7 to 10 minutes. You want the middle to still look pink, be careful not to overcook. That’s it!

For the herb butter – you can take any combination of leafy herbs. I used basil and parsley last night because they happen to be sitting in the fridge. Blend a quarter cup of chopped herbs with half a stick (4 tbsp) of softened butter, half a clove of minced garlic, salt, pepper, a pinch of cayenne, and a squeeze of lemon.

The butter was so good we saved it for a dinner later in the week – check back to see.

We had a California artichoke to start and roasted potatoes with roasted salmon for dinner. It was such a yummy Monday night dinner and the perfect start to the week.

Sunday Celebrity Fish Tacos

Dear celebrities – I promise never to gawk, yell, stalk, or stare next time I see you.  Scouts honor.

We spent our weekend down in LA visiting family.  While we didn’t really have any great celebrity sightings of our own I apparently gave a car full of girls their amazing celebrity sighting this morning!

Out for a walk with my hubby and father-in-law, I was wearing my “don’t-I-look-like-a-celebrity” Fedora hat and aviator sunglasses to protect me from the sun.  Apparently it caused some confusion for a car full of girls, who drove by us shrieking and clearly excited about something.  It wasn’t until one of them stuck their head out of the car screaming that we realized the excitement was directed at us.  My father-in-law immediately said “wasn’t me,” which left my hubby, who I think looks like Patrick Dempsey and me duking it out for who looked more like a celebrity.  I won.  That Fedora hat was worth the 20 bucks.

I love my hubby for many reasons beyond the fact that he looks like Patrick Dempsey and one of those is that he loves to make food shopping lists and menu plan.  So while I spent our time in the airport catching up with friends he planned out our meals for the week.

Tonight’s dinner – Fish Tacos.  These have never been cooked in our kitchen before and I didn’t have my cook books to turn to.  He likes to ad lib much more than I do but with my boost of self-confidence today I thought – “this can’t be that hard to figure out.”  I was right – it really wasn’t and it was delicious!

The Rock Fish looked really good at Whole Foods this evening so we bought a few filets, cut them up and marinaded them for half an hour in olive oil, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper.

Then we sauteed them in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.

But what really made the dish was the mango avocado “salsa.”  We are huge fans of avocado on tacos so it was definitely one of the toppings planned for our topping bar.  But then I saw the mangoes on sale and they looked yummy – so the idea of mango salsa was born.

I cubed the avocado and mango, mixed them together with salt and pepper, and squeezed some lime on top.  It could have used a little heat but otherwise proved to be the perfect accompaniment to our fish tacos.

This will definitely be a repeat meal.  Hot sauce is already on the list for our next shopping trip.