Saturday, June 30, 2012

Herb-Crusted Steelhead in a Skillet

Did you know? Trout and salmon are members of the same family, salmonidae. Salmon are anadromous; they hatch in freshwater and spend their adult life in salt water, returning to freshwater only to spawn.  Most trout remain in freshwater for their entire lives. And then there are steelhead, an anadromous rainbow trout that hatches in freshwater rivers, migrates to salt water and several years later returns to freshwater to spawn. While adult Pacific salmon spawn once and then die, a small percentage of steelhead can survive their run upstream to spawn, return to the ocean and subsequently return to freshwater and spawn again. Spunky creatures, aren't they.  

Salmon are renowned for rich, flavorful, firm red flesh, though their coloration can range from the white flesh of some kings (Chinook) to the fire-engine red coloration of sockeye. Trout flesh is white, delicate and moist. Sure enough, this week’s steelhead had white flesh, and at over 8 pounds I had a lot of fish to work with.

RL cleaned the fish and cut the fillets into manageable portions: 3 for the freezer and 1 to cook immediately. I’ve cooked a lot of salmon over the years, and more than a few small trout like Dolly Varden, but no steelhead, so I was challenged to find a new recipe or two. What a great excuse to spend some time paging through the many seafood cookbooks shelved onboard. Crusted with a savory topping and pan-fried in butter was the plan for our first steelhead meal. A good choice, this recipe was declared a keeper after the first few bites, but how could it fail with garlic, ginger, basil, and butter?

Skillet Steelhead with a Savory Rub
Based on a trout recipe in Hugh Carpenter's Fast Fish cookbook.
Serves 2

Savory Rub
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
2 green onions, minced
1 generous tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
pinch of salt

fillet of steelhead (or salmon, halibut, trout, etc.) with skin on, just large enough to fit into a heavy cast iron skillet without crowding
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (basil butter is a great option)
1 tablespoon of capers or green peppercorns (chopped if large)
Additional heaping tablespoon of butter or basil butter (optional)
lemon wedges

For the rub
Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. If you prepare this ahead of time, cover and hold in the refrigerator.

For the fish
Rub the meat side of the fillet(s) with the olive oil, and cover with the rub. Pat it on firmly.
Heat a heavy cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter to the pan; heat until the butter melts and begins to brown.
Add the coated fillet(s) to the pan, skin side up; cook for 2-3 minutes until the crust browns, being careful not to let it burn.
Carefully turn the fish over and cook until the flesh begins to flake when poked with a fork. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillet, roughly 3 to 5 minutes on the second side.
Plate the fish with skin side down, though if you’re lucky the skin will remain in the pan when you lift the fish with a spatula. (Discard the skin if it stays in the skillet.)
Return the skillet to the heat, add the additional butter and swirl around until melted. Pour this over the fish and serve immediately with lemon wedges. (Use the lemon, it does make a difference!.)

Note: I’ll toss a tablespoon or two of lemon juice and zest into the pan with more basil butter at the end for a tangy, herby pan sauce.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cruising Crab Dip

Artichoke Jalapeño Crab Dip, always a favorite

We love fresh Dungeness crab, cooked and served unadorned the same day it was caught. But if the crab are really big, and the traps hold anywhere near our daily limit, there's a pile of extra crab meat left for the fridge. That's not a problem, oh no, the challenge is deciding how to enjoy this seafood bonanza. 

Photo: Dungeness crab ready for the steamer
Recently I opted for a peppy, creamy, crab dip improvisation. We ate a heated version with crackers and toast wedges for an appetizer, and then finished it off later that evening as filling for quesadillas. Once I mixed a similar dip with cooked rice for an impromptu dockside potluck side dish, and it disappeared. Really, it actually disappeared until the culprit returned my baking dish and admitted to licking out the bowl. Oh yes, it's that good.

Cruising Crab Dip

1 heaping cup fresh crab meat, carefully picked
3-4 green onions, chopped small or thinly sliced
1 jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1/3 cup Best Foods light mayonnaise
1/2 heaping cup of fresh Parmesan, shredded or grated
1 small jalapeno or 2 pepperoncini, minced (optional)

Pita chips, crackers, tortilla chips, bruschetta or toast points.
  1. Mix all ingredients together thoroughly.
  2. Place in an ovenproof dish and bake at 375 F until bubbly and the top begins to brown.
  3. OR if you are in a hurry, place mixture in a microwaveable bowl and nuke it for 2-3 minutes until heated through.
  4. Serve with chips or crackers, or even fresh vegetables as a dip.
A few of the other crab recipes we enjoy:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mango Smoothie with Banana and Coconut

Photo: Smoothie in a bowl as dessert, in a glass as breakfast

We were well stocked with fruit last week, overstocked in fact with ripe bananas, mangos, grapes and more. My fault, totally my bad. Confident that the chilly weather outside and the cool temperature in my storage locker, aka the shelves and countertop in the guest head, (link) would hold the fruit for the weeks ahead, I couldn't resist buying an extra-large bunch of green bananas, a box of hard green mangos and piles of red and green grapes. We would enjoy fresh fruit for a week or two while we cruised between SE Alaska ports and grocery stores. That was the plan, and you know about plans. This had worked for me countless times before, but not this week. Oh no, definitely not this week. Everything raced headlong to fully ripe, eat-me-now deliciousness at the same time.

That's more of an observation than a complaint, since there's always some way to work with ripe fruit. Fruit salad, pancake topping, mango salsa, banana bread, mango granita, frozen grapes and more quickly come to mind. OMG, we ate a lot of fruit last week. Then coconut milk joined the party and a new smoothie blend was the fruit favorite of the week. Several recipes call for a little coconut milk, less than a full can, so I freeze the remaining liquid in ice cube trays for future use. They are handy to toss into rice or Asian soups and sauces, and now they are a secret ingredient for super smoothies.

I have become a competent mango slicer/dicer during this time, practice will do that for you, but the credit for the technique goes to friend and neighbor, Capt. Sam. Years ago, before YouTube offered videos on everything we ever wanted to know, he demonstrated the finer points of cutting and serving a mango. Heaven knows my original peel-then-deseed approach needed improvement. 

Hold the fruit with a flat side facing you and slice off a half using a sharp, narrow knife. Slide that blade as close to the seed as possible while you do this. Then use the tip of the knife to crosshatch the fruit slice, cutting diamonds without piercing the skin below.

Put your fingers on the rounded skin side and gently press it up into a concave shape until the fruit diamonds separate.

Carefully slice each piece off of the skin and voila! you have a pile of mango chunks, attractive with their neat edges and uniform sizing of course. Repeat for the other flat side of the fruit.

Mango Banana Coconut Smoothie
Makes 2 servings

1 medium banana, peeled and chunked
1 medium to large mango, peeled and cubed
3 frozen cubes of coconut milk 
1/3 cup milk or coconut milk (additional may be needed)
OR 1/3 cup coconut milk and 3 ice cubes

Place the fruit, cubes and liquid into the blender jar. Add additional milk or coconut milk as needed to bring the visible liquid up to the 2-cup marker on the blender container (NO, that does NOT mean add 2 cups of liquid!!) Whiz it all up until the cubes are totally incorporated and you have the consistency you like. Pour and enjoy, thick enough to eat with a spoon or looser to sip from a glass. How simple is that?

Note: If you don't have a ripe mango or you are in a hurry, Trader Joe's frozen mango chunks work beautifully. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mushroom-Filled Crepe Purses

No question about it, I love having a day to play with food and photos, and there’s no better way to spend a wet, windy morning while we’re at anchor waiting out a gale. The wind howled through the tall timber along the ridges surrounding our snug little cove while raindrops pelted the saltwater and played a heavy staccato beat on the hatch covers. Who cared? My focus was dialed in to messing about in the galley.

I scouted through lockers, pantry, cabinets and fridge to see what ingredients looked promising. With no particular recipe in mind I decided to work with fresh items that needed be used up… soon… and adapt some recipe to fit. The fridge yielded a paper sack with some ordinary button mushrooms, a large Ziploc bag of thin, crepe-sized Swedish pancakes, several bunches of green onions and fat handful of flat-leaf parsley. I found pine nuts in the freezer and an assortment of fresh herbs growing in pots outside and inside the cabin. Ummmm, no, forget the big herb pot; the day’s downpour required full rain gear to venture outside and harvest anything on the upper deck. That left basil and mint as my other flavor choices.

Memories surfaced of a memorable meal that friend V prepared for us a year or two ago at her Quadra Island home. Her first course featured crepe purses, impressive on the plate and a tasty start to a delicious multi-course meal. Could super thin Swedish pancakes substitute for crepes? It was worth a try, I could always whip up a fast batch of crepes if the Swedish pancake experiment didn’t work out.

Why is that crepes look like fancy party food while Swedish pancakes seem more ordinary, like family fare? Whether served rolled, folded or flat, crepes and thin pancakes are really quite similar. Ah, but presentation can change perception. Crepe (or pancake) purses look special, a touch of elegant whimsy, a surprise package tied up with green ribbon.  Appearances aside, it’s really all about the delicious filling.

This filling began as another Jacques Pepin recipe, tweaked and adjusted as we sampled it over and over, while it cooked and as it cooled. Just taste-testing you know. It was not wildly different than any typical sautéed ‘shrooms recipe with a handful of herbs and pine nuts added. Who can resist mushrooms and butter? Chop and mince, sauté and stir, taste and adjust: pretty simple steps for this very tasty filling. Shaping the purse proved simple as well, thanks to JP's suggested use of a small bowl as a mold.

RL reports that a lemon wedge is essential as a finishing touch, just a squirt of juice provides a tart contrast to the mellow, buttery  ‘shrooms. He did volunteer to test any filling variations, but would be happy if I didn’t mess with this recipe too much.

Bonus note for a terrific pasta sauce:
Sauté minced garlic in a few tablespoons of olive oil; toss in a cup or two of leftover filling and cook to heat. Toss with warm, cooked pasta (add a tablespoon or two of reserved pasta water if you need a little more liquid). Serve and top with more minced herbs and some shaved parmesan. OMG, this was gooooood! (also faster and easier than filling purses)

Mushroom-Filled Crepe Purses
Adapted from Jacques Pepin’s Simple and Healthy Cooking and a host of online sources

Long strips scallion greens (to tie the crepe purses)
1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter
½ small onion, peeled, in small dice
¼ cup pine nuts
1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or green onions
½ teaspoon Chipotle Tabasco or green Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
white or black pepper to taste
a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
a handful of fresh basil leaves, minced
6 to 10 thin savory crepes (or thin Swedish pancakes)
lemon wedges to accompany

Soften the long green tops of green onions with boiling water; drain, pat dry and set aside. (You can boil them in a pot on the stovetop for a few seconds, or pour boiling water over them and let them sit for a bit, or put them in water and use the microwave to briefly nuke them.) If they are really tough and wide, slice them vertically into two strips to use as ties.

For the Filling
Heat the oil and butter over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet until the butter melts, but don’t let it sizzle. Add the onions and cook a minutes or two until the onions just soften, then add the pine nuts and cook for two more minutes or until the pine nuts begin to brown.

Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until their juices evaporate, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the chives, Tabasco, sugar, salt, pepper and minced herbs and remove the skillet from the heat.

To Construct
Heat a single crepe or ultra-thin pancake in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Drape in a small ramekin or custard cup to form a bowl; place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center. Gently gather up the sides of the crepe to form a bundle; twist a green onion strip around the top and knot it to hold the bundle closed. Repeat with the remaining crepes, filling and greens.

To Serve
Place one or two bundles on each small plate and heat briefly in the microwave before serving. (My micro took 30 seconds for 2 filled pouches on a salad plate.) Serve with a lemon wedge; sprinkle the plate with a dusting of minced fresh herbs for a fancy presentation.

Some Notes
I always have extra Swedish pancake batter leftover, no matter how I adjust the recipe. Skillet-sized thin Swedish pancakes, stored flat in the fridge or frozen and then defrosted, are a perfect substitute for crepes in this recipe. Just be sure the batter is thin and you tilt and twist the pan to spread it out for even distribution.

Other filling ideas:
… wilted greens, roasted peppers, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts. …cream cheese, chutney, mint, lemon zest and roasted chicken.
…Brie or blue cheese, honey, walnuts and sliced pears.
…smoked fish, sour cream, chives and horseradish.
…sauteed shrimp or crab, fennel and shaved parmesan.
…mushrooms, white beans, rosemary and sausage.
…the list goes on, and we haven't touched on the idea of sweet crepe bundles!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Simple Salsa Cruda

Here's a salsa that's terrific with or without the heat from a chili pepper, and it was inspired by a French cooking legend, Jacques Pepin. A Latin salsa from a French chef? Go figure! Intrigued by an online reference to his 1994 cookbook Simple and Healthy Cooking, I found a used copy of the book and skimmed a few of the recipes to see what a French chef considered simple and healthy. I didn't know what to expect, especially since the hardback was in almost new condition but had been surplused by a public library. Why had so few people checked it out?  It doesn't matter, this book is now mine and we're enjoying many of the recipe ideas. Simple and healthy can also be full of flavor.

I have prepared the salsa several ways: with jalapeños, with poblanos, with sweet red peppers and with no peppers at all... this recipe is a versatile base to work with. RL has named it gazpacho salsa  - it must be the cucumbers that make that connection for him. My recent versions of salsa cruda have served as a side salad, a topping for pork carnitas tacos, a relish for taco chip appetizers and a major component for Mexicorn salad. Tomorrow it might top a chorizo frittata or fill an avocado half. This recipe is a keeper, for sure. Thanks Jacques.

Salsa Cruda
Adapted from Jacques Pepin’s Simple and Healthy Cooking

2 medium tomatoes, seeded & chopped (Jacques likes his peeled)
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 bunch fresh cilantro, rough chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium onion (sweet or red), chopped
½ English cucumber, chopped
4 green onions, white & green parts, chopped
4 or more garlic cloves, pressed or a generous sprinkling of garlic powder
¼ cup red wine vinegar
a few tablespoons of lime juice
a few tablespoons of  mild olive oil
chopped poblano pepper or minced, seeded jalapeno (optional but recommended)
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss to mix. Let it sit a bit to develop the flavors, then toss some more. Cover and refrigerate; this salsa will keep for a week or two if need be, though it gets juicier as it sits longer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Almost Spanish Rice

... aka Mexican Rice, or Red Rice/Green Rice

What do you call that flavorful red rice that accompanies every entree at a Tex-Mex restaurant? Whatever you call it, it's so tasty it could be the main attraction at any dinner... or lunch... or midnight snack when you're just cruising through the fridge looking for something tempting to reheat. I had that in mind when the dinner choices had to feature chicken and rice in one form or another.

Mention chicken and rice in the same sentence and I think arroz con pollo, a dish faintly reminiscent of paella or perhaps a Latin-style pilaf, but not quite.  Oh yes, I can mentally taste that amazing layering of spices and flavorful ingredients. I've often wondered if a deconstructed version of this dish would be an improvement or a disappointment, so it was time to find out. 

Four skin-on chicken thighs, rubbed with an arroz con pollo blend of pepper, cumin, oregano, paprika, cayenne and cinnamon, sat marinating in the fridge overnight. I browned the thighs well on each side in a nonstick pan, then let them cook in their own juices with a cover on until cooked through. A squirt of lime at the finish added a nice citrusy tang. Mmmmm, good.

But this was really about the rice, surprisingly good with just a few ingredients and a short-cut approach to flavors. I prepared rice, pilaf style, and added salsa, green olives and chopped fresh cilantro just before serving. OMG, the resulting rice dish exceeded all expectations. The rice avoided being mushy or overcooked, an occasional issue with the original all-in-one-pot version. 

Since the rice was cooked without benefit of the spicy oil rendered from chunks of chorizo, this was not a true comparison, but we still liked the results. For fast, flavorful, nearly-Spanish rice, it's a winner.

Almost Spanish Rice
This is more a set of suggestions than a formal recipe.
  1. Use a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and saute rice in a tablespoon or so of spicy oil over medium-high heat until the rice turns translucent and begins too sizzle. 
  2. Add the appropriate amount of liquid (water or chicken broth) as suggested on the packaging and cook until just tender.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in chunky salsa by the quarter-cup until you like the results. Add sliced green olives and chopped fresh cilantro to taste. Diced red pepper or even poblano or tamed jalapeño would also be tasty additions.
  4. Top with chopped almonds, or add some diced avocado if you like. Serve quickly and enjoy. 

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