Sunday, June 24, 2012

Grilled Asian Salmon

a single serving

The last time I wrote about grilling salmon, I ate it before I photographed it. This time I exerted a little discipline and snapped a shot before chowing down. (Actually, the recipe calls for a 10-minute rest between grilling and eating, so perhaps I shouldn't accept credit....)

I get recipes from all over. A few weeks ago, I had a long dental appointment, and my dentist was chatting as he worked. He mentioned a recipe that his family loved and suggested that I try it. I was a bit dubious at first, because I could not imagine how all the ingredients would taste together: this recipe included soy sauce and mustard. On salmon? I tend toward lemon and dill.

I certainly did not want to ruin a piece of pricey salmon. Still, my dentist is a real food-lover who plans road trips around good restaurants. He has never led me astray. So I went ahead and bought the fish and cooked it as directed.

The recipe was not his own; he had found it on the Food Network. It could not have been simpler to prepare.  I halved the online version, since I was not cooking for a crowd, and made no other adjustments. I was astonished at how much I liked it; I had imagined that the marinade might overpower the fish, but it blended with it perfectly. I ate one portion hot the first evening, and then I ate the rest cold over the next two days. It was as good cold as it was hot.

I have cooked it twice since that evening. It always satisfies. The only problem I've had is that once the salmon skin stuck to the grill. Next time, I'll oil the grill right before I place the fish on it. My dentist swears that this salmon is even better grilled on a cedar plank, but I have yet to try that method.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Perfect Summer Lunch: Middle Eastern

pea pods, hummus, za'atar bread, feta, muhammara, and olives
Whenever I'm asked to name my favorite food, I go into a frenzy of indecision. What season is it? I have different favorites at different times of year. What meal are we talking about? What nationality?

I don't actually have a single favorite food—I have many favorites. In warm weather, several Middle Eastern foods are high on that list. I love the varieties of colors, textures, and shapes. I love having a little of this and a little of that, as opposed to a large chunk of something. I love not needing a fork.

When I stopped by the Acton-Boxborough Farmer's Market last week, I discovered a new vendor, Samira's.They were giving out free samples of their wares, and although I had not planned on buying anything this day but lettuce, my resolve weakened instantly. Samira's kalamata olive hummus was incredibly tasty, as was their muhammara, a spread made from roasted red peppers, walnuts, lemon, and pomegranate. They have fresh-baked pita, but their za'atar bread lured me away from it. I had never tasted this before, and now I'm hooked.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Joys of Summer: Farmstands & Farmer's Markets

Acton-Boxborough Farmer's Market

This week marks the start of the local farmer's market season. The Acton-Boxborough Farmer's Market will open on Sunday, and if history is any indication, it will be a glorious event. The streets will be thronged with cheerful vendors, happy customers, nuzzling dogs, and various performers. The stands will be bursting with tempting local foods. Money will change hands, and hard work will be rewarded.

I love these events. I grew up around farmers and have maintained a lifelong interest in farms and farming. My parents owned a large farm in Portland, Pennsylvania, which was surrounded by other farms. The sights, sounds, and smells of farming life are a delight to me. Some suburbanites smell manured fields and think, "Ick!" I think, "Spring has sprung!"

For years, I watched small farms  struggle and die, the younger generation striking out in new directions. Today, though, many farmers have found new livelihoods as a result of the growing interest in fresh local foods.

Farmer's Markets can be found all over Massachusetts. On any given weekend, I can probably hit two or three. In addition, local farmstands are springing up again, and many are thriving. Years ago, I lived down the street from a small farm stand that grew smaller each year. Then the folks at Idylewilde Farms took over the site, and today it is flourishing.

Carrots at a local farmstand
Smaller establishments are also going strong. I live within walking distance to two farmstands, one run by Stanley Farms and the other by the Burroughs Farm. Both offer pesticide free vegetables that are as gorgeous as they are tasty. A few miles down the road is Small Farm, where I buy not only food but also giant bouquets of cut flowers that I choose myself.

Recently, I read that farmer's markets have become so abundant in a few places that they are creating problems for the vendors; if a dozen vendors all sell lettuce in one area, prices will fall and an individual vendor may not flourish. However, enough farmers are developing special niches, such as Asian vegetables, or berries, or goat milk products, that I think the problem may sort itself out.

Meanwhile, I will take advantage of the season and make sure my wallet has some small bills and my car contains reusable bags. You never know when you will pass a farmstand or market that speaks to you.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Joys of Summer: Lemonade

Home-made lemonade really tastes better than frozen.

For some reason, I drink lemonade only in summer. Maybe I do this because lemonade is the only juice that I serve iced. Other juices get poured into small fluted glasses, but lemonade goes into the biggest glass I can find. Furthermore, that glass is filled with ice.

During hot weather, I always keep a few cans of frozen lemonade on hand. However, my favorite lemonade by far is homemade. I use an old Joy of Cooking recipe. That recipe explains how to make it by the glassful, but I've done the math so I can make it by the quart. Although the recipe states that you can just mix everything together and serve without cooking, it also points out that the taste improves if you start by boiling the sugar and water together to make a simple syrup. They're not kidding.  Make the syrup!

The recipe is simple:
  • Mix a quart of water with 3/4 cup granulated sugar and a dash of salt. 
  • Boil for 2 minutes and let cool.
  • Add 6 Tbsp. lemon juice.
  • (I usually throw in a few lemon slices for good measure and for appearance.)
These measurements are just approximate; cut the sugar or add more juice to suit your taste. If I'm going to be slurping a lot of liquid on a hot day, I usually cut the sugar. One way I do this is by mixing lemonade with unsweetened ice tea. This mixture is called an Arnold Palmer, after the golfer who often asked for it.  If you use decaffeinated tea, you can drink many glassfuls without getting wired.

By the way, those gorgeous giant lemons do not have as much juice as do smaller ones, so buy bags full of smaller ones if you can. Before juicing, press your palm down on the lemon and roll it back and forth on a hard surface. You will extract more juice that way. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Anchovy Aversion

Many people dislike or think they dislike anchovies. One of my friends said that her husband would not let an anchovy pizza into his car. Pity. These folks are missing something good.

When I was a teenager, I ate them often as part of a simple spread that my parents either served with crackers or stuffed inside of celery. The spread was made from softened cream cheese whipped together with a bit of softened butter. Then crushed anchovies were added and a generous pinch of caraway seed. The spread was allowed to age for an hour or so to blend the flavors, and the result was a rich, creamy filling that most people enjoyed. However, when asked, they could never determine what ingredient gave the spread such a unique and satisfying taste.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who likes anchovies. Cooking star Rachel Ray considers them a pantry staple and features them in many dishes. I guess I do, too.

Most people associate anchovies with pizza, which is too bad. For one, the anchovies slapped onto a pizza are often of inferior quality. They may smell awful and taste as bad. Secondly, you don't need to eat the whole fish unadorned to benefit from its flavor. In many dishes, anchovies are blended into the other ingredients so thoroughly that their identity is hidden. Worcestershire sauce, for example, gets much of its flavor from anchovies. In certain Caesar salads, anchovies are an invisible part of the dressing. The same goes for  green goddess dressing, olive tapenade, and pasta puttenesca.

So please don't turn up your nose at these little fish unless you've tried them in something other than pizza.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Salad Nicoise

I usually keep lettuce, olives, tomatoes, eggs, tuna, and tomatoes on hand.
The other day, I opened my fridge and realized that I had not only leftover green beans, but also leftover potatoes. My mind immediately jumped to salad nicoise,  a summertime favorite. According to most authorities, real salad nicoise—the salad as it is served in Nice, France— does not contain either green beans or potatoes. Hard boiled eggs are the only cooked ingredient. Since I live in Massachusetts, not France, I don't really care if my salad is authentic; I just want it to be good.

And it was good. In general, I followed Julia Child's recipe. Julia Child published her famous cookbook a few years before I got married, and it was one of the first cookbooks I bought. I also used to watch her on television and was mesmerized by her breezy manner, good cheer, and forceful delivery. Her recipes never failed me. Oddly enough, I have not watched a cooking show since that time. No other modern cook seems as entertaining.

While I was eating my salad, I realized that many of the same ingredients (anchovies, black olives, fresh tomatoes, olive oil) go into pasta puttanesca, which I first tried cooking a few months ago. Since I had never eaten it before, I don't know whether I was successful, but I sure enjoyed the results. I guess recipes are like anagrams; you can take a bunch of ingredients, rearrange them, and come up with something totally different.