Thursday, June 05, 2014

Cedar Plank Salmon





Sometimes the act of cooking takes me back to being in my element, in my body. Fills me with lightness and nourishment and appreciation.  Brings me back to myself. Tonight was one of those nights.  I have been gone for days and nights on end. A succession of days and nights piled onto one another mostly due to poor planning on my part, offering little to no opportunity to cook and eat healthy.

Besides just being overloaded schedule wise, I've been mourning the loss of my dad, who left this earth and all who loved him on April 29th. That might have something to do with the way my entire being has felt like a ton of bricks that I struggle to drag around.  And there is a lot more I want to say about this, but for now, suffice it to say that grief has been my constant companion, and likely will be for quite some time to come.

In the meantime, life has a way of going on  - and in the midst of the chaos, some of the days and nights have been fun, filled with music and friends and family and sweet memories that I will always cherish.

And, some of it has just been drudgery.  Get up. Drag self to work. Zombie my way through the day.  Drag self to the next place.  Try to be present. Fail. Stagger home, defeated, already exhausted just thinking about the next day and the day after that. Consider therapy. Dream of cooking and eating an amazing meal. Or even just a decent one.

Tonight I finally got to cook that meal.  That amazing meal. Local wild salmon in season, cooked on the cedar plank that had been soaked in white wine. Barley pilaf with grilled portobello mushrooms and eggplant, and radishes with salt and olive oil. It was simple.  It was dynamite. It was therapy. It was everything I dreamed it would be.

It could have been a total disaster, as I'd only once cooked with the cedar plank before, and didn't really know what I was doing.  But some combination of intuition, research and dumb luck conspired to make everything right, and that's exactly how I felt when I ate this meal with my honey in our back yard on a warm summer evening, surrounded by our garden that is growing wildly.  And so I had to stop and give thanks.



                                 

Cedar Plank Salmon


This is more of a guide than a recipe.  Soak your cedar plank in white wine for several hours.

Take a piece of super fresh, wild, in season salmon.  You'll know it's super fresh because it won't smell or taste fishy and it will be vibrant in color. Drizzle it with olive oil, season well with salt and pepper, and drape a few thin slices of lemon across the top. Resist the urge to add more in the way of spices and sauces - if the salmon is super fresh, you won't need or want much more.

Heat your grill to medium heat.  Place the plank with the salmon on it on the top rack, so it is not directly over the heat.  Close the lid and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes.  The wine soaked cedar will steam and smoke and infuse the salmon with a wonderful, light sweetness.  And who among us couldn't use more light sweetness in their lives?  Certainly not me.

Don't flip it or anything.  And don't mess around with it too much.  Just let the steam and smoke and flames do their thing.  We had a piece that was about 1 pound, and it cooked this way for a little over 20 minutes.  And the salmon was perfectly tender and moist inside, and beautifully caramelized and roasted on the outside.

You could be content with only this, or you could do as we did, and grill some portobello mushrooms and eggplant and toss with some cooked barley, and served it all up with diced radishes with salt and olive oil, and call it dinner.  Rest a little easier this night, and be hopeful for a lighter tomorrow.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Winter Turns to Spring

Here we are on the cusp of another season.  I guess officially, it *is* another season, another season since I last posted anything here, to be sure.

Slowly but surely, the days are getting longer. The garden is getting ready to grow good things, even if the skies seem to be confused.  The worms are wriggling around in the compost pile, the flowers are blooming and I'm getting ready - scheming, plotting, dreaming, pulling weeds, turning soil, planting seeds.

Well actually, the seeds haven't been planted yet.  And when they do, they might actually be starts that someone else grew from seeds, but no matter.

Even though the fence is falling down and the whole world is getting pummeled, even though I don't feel like anything is certain these days, I'm certain that one way or another, that garden *is* going to grow.

And just the promise of it is carrying me through.  No photos, no recipes, just the promise of spring.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Citrus Season



Happy 2014, friends!

There is so much I want to share with you, like this beautiful bowl of citrus.  Some of it, from our very own garden!  The lime tree that our friend Phillip Greenlief gave us as a wedding gift has begun to produce fruit.  Not all the limes in the above picture are from our tree, but a few of them are, as are the lemons, glorious meyer lemons!

Citrus is one of the things I love about winter, and in my rare moments of time recently, I've been enjoying creating all manner of citrus-laden treats:  lemon confit, fennel lemon relish, preserved lemons, lime syrup to use in lime spritzers, and citrus salad with tarragon.

The lime syrup and the fennel lemon relish recipes both come from the new Alice Waters book, The Art of Simple Food II.  If the second book is anything like the first, I know that I'll be referring to it often. The fennel lemon relish is simple and refreshing, and bursting with flavor.  And the lime syrup is fabulous mixed with sparkling water, and I'm betting it would also be very good mixed with a little splash of vodka!

Still looking forward to making limoncello, lemon sorbet and lemon cream.  Hopefully I'll be able to find the time before winter turns to spring.

Until next time, wishing you fruitful gardens, bright splashes of sunshine, and big bursts of flavor in every endeavor, culinary and otherwise.





Tuesday, November 19, 2013

New Normal

Greetings from the land of dog tired, bone tired, crazy all the damn time tired.

Oh and did I mention, I finally got that job I'd so been longing for?  It's a damn good job, working for a company that I feel really, really good about.  A certified B Corp.  Working with and for people who have heart and integrity. In a really lovely environment, with seriously incredible benefits.

But. My new normal is leaving the house before 7 am and often not returning until after 7 pm.  My new normal is 2 buses to get me there, and 2 buses to get me home.  But  how wonderful it is to not be stuck in traffic every day (as a driver, anyway)! And how wonderful it is to have a regular paycheck again, and to no longer have the incredible stress of not having a job!!

But.  Losing my last job was stressful.  Looking for a job and not finding one was stressful.  And, having a job, at least, this one, brings its own kind of stress.  Mainly in that I don't have nearly the time that I used to for having fun in the kitchen.  Which makes me very cranky.  But.  The upside is that the little mister is spending more time in the kitchen, and between us, we are piecing it together.  And that's an unexpected bonus. So at the end of the day, I'm tired and sometimes cranky, but usually I'm still pretty well fed, which is no small achievement. And I'm also trying to see the big picture, to realize that I need to give myself time to adapt, and that everything will likely feel chaotic for awhile, but that it won't be like this forever.  And in the meantime, I'm trying to always remember to breathe.  And enjoying my new friend the crock pot!  Which is very handy for making big pots of black beans, that go perfect with rice and can be eaten all week long.  I made them for the second time today and they were dynamite, so I'll have to post the recipe soon.

For now, my recliner, and then my bed, are beckoning.  Until I next come up for air, happy holidays to you and yours!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Hello, Crockpot! (aka Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder)

I can hardly believe I made it this far in life without my very own slow cooker.  I have nearly every kitchen appliance known to man - some requiring electricity, some simply requiring muscle. From the immersion blender to the ancient salad spinner that I've had since 1990, to my super duper trusty Vitamix blender that blends so utterly mightily.  I've got a rice cooker, a ricer, a pressure cooker, a clay tagine, a food processor, a mini chopper, a mortar & pestle, an electric mixer, an ice cream maker.

But somehow, I never had a slow cooker, until now, that is. And while I wait, and wait, and wait, and wait a little bit more for potential employers to decide they might actually want to hire me, I cook, and bake, and stew, and chop, and slice, and dice.  And slow cook.  In preparation for that job that I'll have any day now, that will take away all this time I have to cook.

So naturally, until the little mister decides to learn how to expand his culinary repertoire, I'm thinking I should make friends with the slow cooker.  Especially now that the cooler weather is coming.  I like the idea of long, slow braises and stews.

The maiden slow cooker voyage: pork shoulder.  Marinated overnight in a nice, herby rub featuring toasted fennel seeds, garlic and rosemary.  Cooked for a good 8 hours on low with apples & onions that later became gravy.  Oh yeah.  Piled over a mound of smashed potatoes, parsnips, leeks and roasted garlic.  Who wouldn't want to come home to this after a long day of working and commuting?  Well, possibly a vegetarian, but I think we are going to have fun coming up with good ideas for them, too.  But in the meantime, should you feel a need for slow cooked pork coming on, I've got just the thing for you.

I based my recipe on this one from the excellent blog Simply Recipes,  but made a few key changes, adding fresh thyme, and herbs de provence, plus a bit of worcestershire sauce and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  And cooking it in the crockpot instead of the oven.  The final product was every bit as divine as they said it would be, holy cow.  Or pig, as it were.



Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder with Savory Apple Gravy
(Adapted slightly from Simply Recipes)


INGREDIENTS

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, sinew and excess fat (beyond 1/4 inch) trimmed
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, toasted
1 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons herbs de provence
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, lightly chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoons Kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
Olive oil
2 medium good cooking apples, such as Fuji or Jonagold (I used granny smith)
1 medium yellow onion
Few sprigs thyme
1/2 cup red wine (can sub water)
Few splashes worcestershire sauce
About 1-2 T. brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper


1 Put the fennel seeds, peppercorns, herbs de provence and rosemary leaves, garlic and salt into a spice grinder or coffee grinder and grind to a paste. Alternatively, you can pound the mixture with a mortar and pestle. Put the mixture into a bowl and stir in 1 T. olive oil.

2 Rub the mixture evenly all over the pork shoulder. If the roast is tied, untie it to rub the inside with the rub mixture as well, then retie it. Wrap the roast tightly in plastic wrap to hold the rub against the skin and marinate overnight (or up to two days).

3 Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each apple half into about 4 wedges. Peel the onions. Cut in half from tip to root. Trim the root and tip. Cut the onion into thin wedges. Put the onions and the apples together in a bowl and toss to mix.

4 Toss the apples and onions with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper. Place the apples and onions in the bottom of the crock pot.  Scatter the thyme sprigs on top.

5 Brown the pork in a dutch oven over medium high heat, for about 5 minutes on each side.  If you want, you can deglaze the pot with a few splashes of wine.

6 Place the browned pork shoulder on top of the apples and onions in the slow cooker, add the wine and the deglazed bits from the pan, plus a few splashes of worcestershire sauce and a light sprinkling of brown sugar.  Cook on low for roughly 8 hours, until the pork shoulder is falling apart tender and pulls apart easily when probed with a fork.  Then switch the setting to warm and let it sit for another couple of hours.  You won't believe how amazing your house smells.

7 Transfer the pork shoulder to a serving plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Put the apples and onions into a blender. Add about 1/4 cup water and the mustard and purée. Check the texture, and add water until you get the desired thickness for the gravy. Press through a sieve for a silky smooth textured gravy. Check the seasoning and correct to taste.  Serve over a mound of mashed potatoes & parsnips.






Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Good Things Grow

Howdy and Happy Summer!

Wow, that last post was depressing.  But sometimes, that's just where we find ourselves.  Lately I've been finding myself putting on my fancy interviewing dress, and what some might consider a respectable pair of shoes.  And possibly, by the time I'm hired for my next fabulous job, I might have finally figured out how to comfortably walk in said shoes!  I don't know how you ladies out there walk in heels on a regular basis.  I'm way more comfortable in my dusty cowboy boots, but sometimes we have to push ourselves to embrace that place outside of our comfort zone.  And that's where I've been hanging out lately.

I'm happy to say that I've also been hanging out on the hiking trail with my trusted four legged pal Stella, and I've been spending a lot more time in the kitchen, too.  Oh, the things I have baked and fried and frozen, sautéed and chopped and diced and sprinkled with herbs and drizzled with olive oil!  Chocolate ice cream from scratch, roasted eggplant, triple ginger cookies, macaroni and cheese, lemon confit, roasted chicken, organic peach sorbet and all kinds of grilled things, thanks to our new-to-us gas grill that I found on Craigslist for $25!  Like many of us, it just needed a TLC to sparkle and shine.

I've also been spending more time in the garden, sweet garden. Our garden this year is humble but mighty.  We've been enjoying some of the best tomatoes we've ever grown, and chives and chard and lettuces and zucchini, always zucchini!  You cannot escape the zucchini!!



It occurred to me recently that the job search is not unlike the planting of a garden.  You plant your seeds, show up, pay attention, water, pull weeds and do the best you can with what you've got.  There are some forces you can't control, like the elements.  And some forces you might only narrowly be able to control, like critters.  But chances are good that if you're doing your best and paying attention and feeding the soil, good things will grow.  And when I've found myself feeling overwhelmed or discouraged with the job search, I've found it comforting to think of each resume and cover letter as a seed that I am planting in good faith. Who knows what will sprout out of it?  Maybe a new amazing adventure, possibly nothing at all.  But you just keep planting, and showing up, and paying attention, and doing the best you can with what you've got to work with, and just like in the garden, good things are bound to grow.  That feels like a good way to look at things right about now.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Life, Death and Unexpected Gifts

Life sure keeps on being interesting.  The seasons pass.  The garden grows.  The days grow longer, and then shorter.  The squash keep growing no matter what else is happening.  Couldn't stop those squash from growing if you tried.  It's a welcome diversion from death, job loss and general uncertainty.

But yeah, I lost my dear friend Scott, and I lost my job.  And I got rear-ended 3 times in a little over a month. I care way more about the friend than the job or the car, but there's been a lot of uncertainty, more than I even have words for.  Death has a way of shaking you up, of bringing everything into focus, of showing you what matters, and also showing you that no matter what you may think you know, you really don't know anything about anything.  Except that life is short, and that you should always attempt to spend it celebrating the people you love, who are right here, right now.  And that you should never assume you'll have another chance to celebrate that love while the ones you love are still alive.  Because they could be gone in an instant, and so could you.

Death also brings some unexpected gifts, like being able to spend countless hours with the family of the dear friend who has passed, and to get to know them in a new way.  And getting to spend time meeting so many people who were deeply touched by the friend who has gone, hearing their stories, laughing with them, crying with them.  I'm honored that I've been able to help Scott's family, to meet more of his friends, and to celebrate his life.  I'm happy that I was able to share some of my life with him, especially recently.  And if I hadn't lost my job, I wouldn't have had nearly as much time to be present for all of this, so I'm mindful that there are unexpected gifts in all kinds of places.  And thankful for every one of them.

If you asked for my advice, I would tell you this:  Go call that friend or family member that you've been meaning to check in with. Tell them you love them, bring them soup or a flower, or send them a card if you are far away.  If you can see them in person, hold their hand if they are hurting.  Tell them that they are perfect just the way that they are.  Laugh with them, and do it right now.  Because now is really all we have.