Monday, October 27, 2008

Simply Elegant Filet of Salmon Dinner

A friend brought by some very odd-looking new potatoes the other day. They looked like a scruffy family that needed a little gentrifying. A good cleaning, boiling and butter slathering made them very presentable to share the plate with a wild sock-eye salmon. Lemon Tarragon Beurre Blanc dressed the salmon. I had a large cucumber fresh from the garden that begged to join in. A side of sautéed baby spinach rounded out the meal. This is an easy yet elegant meal that can be served equally for a grand celebration or just to celebrate the day.

Wild Sock-eye Salmon with Lemon Tarragon Beurre Blanc

½ pound sock-eye salmon, rubbed lightly with olive oil

Broil salmon until reaching desired doneness. It is fully done when the fish is opaque inside. This is about 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Place on top of ½ cup of Cucumber Chive Brunoise, and top with Lemon Tarragon Beurre Blanc. Serves 2.

Lemon Tarragon Beurre Blanc

¼ cup lemon juice
1 TBSP white wine vinegar
1/8 tsp salt
pinch of white pepper
4 ounces (1 stick) chilled butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 TBSP fresh tarragon, finely chopped
2-4 cup medium weight saucepan

1. Boil down the lemon juice, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper until it has reduced to 2 tablespoons.
2. Remove from heat and immediately beat in 2 pieces of the chilled butter with a wire whisk. Set over very low heat and beat in the rest of the butter, a piece at a time to make a thick creamy sauce. Add the fresh tarragon. Immediately remove from heat. This sauce will not hold its emulsion so must be served right away. It may be made ahead though, and held in a glass lined thermal container for a short time. Makes ½ cup.

Cucumber Chive Brunoise

1 large cucumber, peeled
2 TBSP fresh chives, chopped
1 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut cucumber into ¼ inch dice. An Alligator Food Chopper makes this an easy and precise way to dice, but it is not necessary.
2. Toss, with chopped chives, olive oil, white wine vinegar and salt and pepper. Makes about 1 cup.

Sautéed Baby Spinach

6 ounces baby spinach, washed
1 TBSP olive oil

1. Lightly sauté baby spinach in 1 tablespoon olive oil until wilted. Serves 2.

Baby Fingerling Potatoes

10 baby fingerling potatoes (baby red or white potatoes may be substituted)
1 TBSP butter
salt and pepper

1. Wash potatoes and cover with water in a medium saucepan. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain and toss with 1 tablespoon of butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fresh Garden Basil Pesto

One of the advantages of planting a garden is having fresh herbs all summer. The other bonus is the fall harvest. My 12 basil plants supplied us with fresh basil, and now the chilly weather means they must be cut and made into pesto. I made the pesto, minus the cheese and froze it in individual portions in a mini muffin tin. For a quick meal, all I have to do is thaw out as many portions as I need, add a little more olive oil and the cheese and stir. I really like the combination of lemon pepper pappardelle pasta with pesto, but any pasta works well. Boil the pasta according to package directions, drain and toss well with the pesto. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve. One mini muffin tin equals one serving of pesto. Add some fresh or roasted tomatoes and a side salad for a delicious and quick meal.

Basil Pesto

2 cups basil leaves, picked and washed
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and pepper to taste

Place the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts in a food processor. Slowly add the olive oil while processing. Scrape down the sides to ensure the leaves have been blended. If you plan to freeze the pesto, stop at this point and put into a small muffin tin or ice cube tray. When ready to use, place the pesto in a bowl. Add the cheese, and stir to blend.

Taste and check the consistency. The sauce should be loose and full of flavor. Add salt and pepper and toss with hot pasta. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sundays in Paris

Sundays in Paris are spent leisurely, with family and friends. Almost all large stores, le grand magasins, and the small stores are closed. Surprisingly, even some restaurants are also not open. Families, tourists, and locals flock to the streets and parks. Being a warm sunny day, it was even more special in the Luxembourg Gardens. The late afternoon glow slowed down the gait and made the garden chairs more appealing to "sit a spell" and ponder where to have dinner. After deciding on a nearby restaurant that my friend Debbie and I knew was open on Sundays, we slowly made our way over towards the Pantheon. Being in a touristy area, a favorite store selling reasonably priced scarves beckoned us in. There is nothing like a little shopping to rev up the appetite. We arrived at the restaurant, le Petite Prince, hungry and thirsty. An unusual first course was offered that my friend had to try. She ordered the Tomato Tart with Basil Sorbet. It was a delight to the taste buds. The tomatoes were sunny and caramelized. The basil sorbet was a balance of contradictions between the spiciness of basil and the delicate sweetness of sorbet. It was the South of France all dressed up. I had to come home and try to duplicate it. After some trial and error, I came up with my own version that I think comes pretty close.

Tomato Tart with Basil Sorbet

24 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
4 yellow pear tomatoes, sliced in half
6 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed
1 TBSP olive oil
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
½ sheet of puff pastry
2-5 inch round pans or oven proof dishes
Basil sprigs for garnish

1. Toss all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Take out the yellow pear tomatoes and arrange on the bottom of the two, 5 inch round pans in a flower like formation. Make sure the uncut sides are face down. Fill in the spaces with the cherry tomatoes and top with the plum tomatoes.

2. Place in a cold oven and turn the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 1 hour or until caramelized.

3. Unroll puff pastry and cut out 2 5 inch round pieces pressing the pan down on the pastry, to use as a cutter. Place on top of the tomatoes and continue baking for 10-15 minutes or until the pastry puffs up and is golden brown.

4. Take out of the oven and cool to just slightly warm, about 20 minutes. Invert onto 2 serving dishes and place a scoop of Basil Lemon Sorbet on top. Garnish with a basil sprig and serve.

Makes 2 tarts

Basil Lemon Sorbet

1 pint Hagen Dazs lemon sorbet
8-10 large basil leaves

1.Take one generous scoop of lemon sorbet and put in a blender with 8-10 basil leaves. Process until the basil is the size of ground pepper.
2.Gently fold processed sorbet into remaining lemon sorbet. Return to container and refreeze until firm.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Autumn Pumpkin Bread

The trip from Boston to Rochester in October is a colorful one. In the chilly early morning hours, the ground fog through the jewel tone Berkshire Mountains sets the stage. The colors shift as the road winds into New York. Driving alongside the Erie Canal, autumn magenta, orange and gold reflect in water as I am reminded of a bygone era. It's parent weekend at my son's college. The car is loaded with a guitar and a favorite t-shirt that was left behind, and of course treats. Bags are filled with homemade goodies, and store bought favorites. My mom's recipe for pumpkin nut bread gets made every fall. It is perfect warm right out of the oven, but today it'll be perfect right out of the car.

As the spicy scent fills the air, you'll have a ready and waiting crowd to take the first slices.

Pumpkin Nut Bread

3 1/3 cups flour
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup canola oil
1 TBSP cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
2/3 cups water
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 16 oz can pumpkin
optional: add 1 cup raisins

In a medium mixing bowl, mix flour, salt, baking soda and spices. In a large mixing bowl mix remaining ingredients, except nuts. Slowly stir in dry ingredients and then the nuts and optional raisins. Mix well by hand for 2 minutes or until well mixed. Pour batter into 2 greased 1.5 quart loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees or until inserted knife comes out clean.

Written and photographed by Diane

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend, A Salty Tale

I think I first became interested in salt when I was a child. The round box of Morton salt with the saucy little girl in the bright yellow dress, intrigued me. I wanted to be friends and walk beside her in the rain, sharing her umbrella, leaving a trail of salt. OK, things were simpler then. As life progressed, salty tastes came in the form of the consoling taste of babies tears and the drip of a hard days work. Now as I open a bag of sel gris, French sea salt, the moist grains reveal the subtle scent of a sunny day at the beach. My neighbor, Kate uses this sea salt on the table and in the bath. She says it softens her skin in a radiant, if not extravagant way. Some of the best salt in the world is said to come from the salt marshes of the Guerande area of France. Here the salt is harvested by hand. The creme de la creme is the Fleur de Sel de Guerande from these marshes. As the sun evaporates the upper layer of the foam, a tender crust
forms. The crust is then raked by specialists called paludiers.The hand harvesting is such a delicate job, that it was at one time only entrusted to women. This crust is the prized fleur de sel. The color is not a pristine white, but a grayish brown, from the minerals on the bottom of the marshes. Fleur de sel is full of many minerals and trace minerals. Said to have a faint aroma of violets, it is a finishing salt and loses it's fine taste if doused mercilessly into a pot of bubbling stew. My favorite way to use fleur de sel is to sprinkle it on potatoes or meats straight from the heat or on sliced fresh tomatoes.

A salty new treasure caught my eye on a recent stop into the tiny
exotic food and spice shop, Izrael, in the Marais area of Paris. At
first glance I wasn't sure what it was. Gorgeous chunky, pinkish

crystals packaged with a small grater hung from a post. The label read, "Diamond de sel et sa rape"....."Diamond salt with its grater". The label went further to read, "They are fossilised crystals of sea salt, formed more than 260 million years ago and unpolluted. They are carefully extracted by hand from the Khewra mines deep in the heart of the Himalayas. In about 350 B.C. Alexander the Great had this precious salt brought to Europe. Subsequently it was used exclusively by church dignitaries and emperors." At one point in history salt was used as currency. The 12 euro price indeed said diamonds, but I had to have it. After shelling out my ransom, we went on our way towards the rue de Rivoli. As we passed the department store BHV, we made a pit stop to check out the bathrooms. Right by the up escalator, my friend Debbie spotted that beautiful Diamond salt at less than half the price. Nothing like salt on the ol' proverbial wound. We grabbed a few more packages to even out the price. Pam found the ultimate two mispriced packages for 2 euro each. There was an air of a Filene's Basement sale right there in Paris.

he many different salts may be found in specialty food stores and online. The price varies by source and can be dear. Since most of these salts are finishing salts, they can last for some time........just don't put on your yellow dress and walk in the rain leaving a trail of salt behind you.

Written and photographed by Diane

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