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Posts from the ‘Friendly reminder’ Category

Salade Nicoise

A Salade Nicoise is a classic French salad named after its birth city of Nice (pronounced neese). I have always loved it for sentimental reasons, but it’s perfect hot-weather fare because every ingredient can be prepared in advance and kept cool, and then you simply assemble the plate. It’s crunchy and salty and zippy, and when you add a pinch of nostalgia, I could make a case that it’s the greatest salad of all time.

In typical French fashion, there is often great debate about what is traditional and what is not in certain classic dishes (in this case, raw or blanched green beans, tuna or anchovies), but I will simply represent the first one I had over twenty years ago, as a college student in Grenoble at an outdoor cafe table, as it remains the one I still make today. There are easy alterations but this is my standard.

The salad is quite simple, it’s roughly six or seven ingredients and a dressing, but it’s about each ingredients’ quality and preparation that makes it a classic.

Dressing:
3T Good olive oil
1T good white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
1T good Dijon mustard
good salt, preferably fleur de sel
freshly cracked peppercorns
Whisk & taste – This is the magic.

Ingredients, for one salad:
Several leaves of lettuce – dark romaine or soft boston lettuce
Ripe tomato, one small or several cherry tomatoes
3-5 Nicoise olives (small, jet-black cured olives, may also be Moroccan olives, never pitted)
One organic hard boiled egg (instruction below)
Several blanched green beans (instruction below)
1-2 anchovy fillets, room temperature (buy jarred if you can find them and don’t be afraid!)
One or two fingerling or small potatoes, boiled – Optional, but since I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like, I add them; also, you can boil the potatoes and add the green beans for the last minute to save time.

When you are ready to plate, tear the lettuce into bite size pieces and top with peeled, sliced egg, sliced potato, sliced tomato, anchovy fillets, green beans, Nicoise olives at the center. Add one or two tablespoons of dressing (always start with less). Et voila! The best extra ingredient, if you’ve got it, is warm alfresco weather to sit and enjoy it outside.

Perfect Hard Boiled Egg:
Place 1-2 eggs in water in pot, bring to full boil, put the lid on, turn the heat off, remove pot from burner and allow to steep for ten minutes. Drain eggs and run under cold water.

Boil potatoes & green beans: Add two or three potatoes to pot with pinch of salt and bring to boil, allow to boil steadily but not furiously for roughly 20min, checking after 15min (especially if potatoes are small) with a fork for tenderness; add green beans for last minute and drain.

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Homemade Sunflower Butter

Homemade Sunflower Butter

Nut & seed butters! Delicious, good for you, so easy to make you won’t believe it, and economical. If you have a food processor, you can literally whirr up a batch in less than 25 minutes, from start to finish. I swapped in sunflower seeds to make creamy sunflower butter, and you can save a few bucks to make your own rather than buy: roughly $6/lb store bought vs. $4/lb homemade. The seeds/nuts will go through many stages during the puree process, but stay with it! The end result will be as you expect…

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This recipe is from Susan Hermann Loomis, who has a terrific cookbook called “Nuts in the Kitchen”, and I have adapted where noted below.

Ingredients:
2 cups sunflower seeds or raw nuts
sea salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350F

2. Place nuts/seeds in a baking pan and bake in the oven until they are golden and smell toasty, 7-9 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer nuts directly to a food processor. Process the nuts/seeds until they turn to butter, which will take approximately 15 minutes. The nuts will go through several stages before they begin to turn to a puree and become oily. First they will be coarsely chopped, then more finely chopped, then minced, then they will take on a rough, dusty aspect. At this point you may think you need to add oil – don’t! Let the processor continue to run. The nuts will become finer and begin to turn oily. Don’t turn off the food processor until you have a fine puree, a beautiful nut butter.

Kristan’s note: I did indeed stop a few times only to scrape down the sides with a spatula.
Kristan’s note: I also added a tablespoon or so of honey for sweetness. Add, or do not, as you wish.

3. Transfer the nut butter to a container. Don’t seal the container until the nut butter has completely cooled. Stored in an airtight glass jar, in the refrigerator, it will keep for about two weeks.

Just in time for summer hikes!

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Herbs

Wild Sockeye Salmon with Herbs

How about salmon! There are of course a few questions to consider: is it wild salmon season (generally late summer)? Which salmon season is it (coho, sockeye, chum, pink)? If it isn’t salmon season, how about wild frozen? Or if not frozen, what about fresh farmed (atlantic vs pacific)? Which state or country farmed it? I do taste testing experiments on a topic like this for my own knowledge and taste, and on my clients’ behalf. Defrosting deep frozen wild salmon and buying fresh farmed salmon, and cooking them with the same treatments yields interesting differences: colors (dark coral for wild vs. light pink for farmed), taste (firm bite for wild vs. softer and slightly fattier for the farmed), and the cost (roughly $12/lb for frozen vs. $15/lb for the farmed, give or take). Even if your friendly neighborhood fishmonger offers fresh wild salmon out of season, he/she also received it frozen and defrosted it that morning for you (the majority of salmon species have their peak season during June, July, August; it gets fished and a good portion frozen immediately).  Either way, salmon takes very little preparation: Preheat oven to 425F, add one tablespoon of butter or olive oil in roasting dish and place dishes in oven; in a food processor puree a mix of herbs (I like parsley, cilantro, dill, oregano) with some olive oil, add salt & pepper; spoon herb mixture onto salmon fillets; carefully remove dish from oven, slide fish into bubbling butter, return to oven and roast for 8-12min, per your oven and preferred doneness.

If you eat fish often, it’s good too to investigate if there is a local seafood CSA in your area, to keep your household menu in season and to support local industries. If not, just check the labels on your frozen purchases for the source. The photo above happened to be Frozen Wild Alaskan Sockeye from Trader Joe’s which was a delicious off-season fix. Happy fishing!

Duck Breast

Duck Breast

How about a super quick (literally 25 min) and incredibly tasty (has balsamic vinegar ever let you down?) protein for dinner tonight with your salad? A duck breast or two can offer just this: score fat (good, definite markings but not so deep you pierce the muscle), quick braise in bit of olive oil on hot pan roughly 6-7min per side, wrap in foil and put in 250F oven to rest for 5 minutes while you make a sauce, preferably one with a good acid to compliment the luscious duck meat. I personally love cherries and duck, but if someone in your household doesn’t, try a little balsamic vinegar, honey & fresh squeezed lime juice, reduced gently in a pan on your stovetop. Remove duck from oven & foil (it should be medium-rare), add it to plate of your vegetables, drizzling your sauce over and enjoy!

In with the new

In with the new

I recently got my first Japanese cookbook and was tickled to have a new list of recommended condiments to acquire. Walking into HMart (our huge and well-stocked Asian marketplace http://www.hmart.com ), one can literally feel transported to another continent in the most wondrous way. Searching for a Japanese soy sauce, I was overwhelmed suddenly by the choices: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese soy sauces, and of course even in just the Japanese section there are scores to choose from. Selecting one in a glass jar about mid priced range, I felt comfortable I had found something my cookbook author, Harumi Kurihara, would approve of (http://www.yutori.co.jp/en/about_harumi/). I also bought sushi rice, sesame oil, mirin, katsuobushi (dried fish flakes), rice vinegar, soba & udon noodles.

Before even starting my first flagged recipe, I had to do a taste test. I had a bottle of a very well-known soy sauce in the fridge and poured a tablespoon of it into a bowl, and in another bowl, a pour of my new one, Yamasa. The one from my refrigerator was classic salty soy sauce. Then the Yamasa: I nearly swooned. It was so clean and fresh, definitely soy but altogether less salty tasting. I had a flashback to my first taste of sushi when I was 19 years old and was blown away. Though I grew up being taught to never throw anything out (especially food), I immediately poured what remained of the old bottle down the drain. I had a new soy sauce.

The same thing happened with my sesame oil. I had a newly opened bottle from a beloved marketplace chain and had used it happily in simple noodle dishes before (read: ignorance is bliss). But again with the small glass bowl taste test: these two items, the old and the new, were not even in the same world. The new sesame oil has a scent that fills your lungs, bold and sweet and utterly lovely.

So, it’s another friendly reminder to be sure your ingredients are not only fresh, but if possible, are as authentic as possible. It can change your whole palate. And probably your onigiri, which are rice balls with ground chicken that are popular apparently with the young and old for their packed lunches and which I will be trying next…