Project Sauce: Sole Meunière

We are now, with one exception that you’ll see in a week or two, deep into the butter portion of this sauce project. It makes sense. Most of the big deal “mother” sauces are French, and the French do have a soft spot for butter. And that makes sense too. I mean, all you have to do is melt a few tablespoons of butter and you’ve already got a sauce. Think of the way it softens with the maple syrup on your pancakes, becoming something so much richer and more complex than either would have been by themselves! So let’s talk about some buttery details for a minute, and then I’ll take you to our sauce this week: meunière, a classic butter and lemon sauce specifically intended to be served with a sautéed filet of sole.

Food Blog August 2014-0418As I continue to learn about sauces, I’m seeing emulsion after emulsion. A fat bound to a liquid, often with some thickening agent that gives body to the sauce and helps the normally separate ingredients get along. Think vinaigrette: the fat is the olive oil, the liquid is the vinegar. Dropped into a glass together, they form distinct layers. But beat them vigorously, often with a dollop of mustard to help them blend, and they become a thick, rich dressing. Kitchen magic.

Food Blog August 2014-0402What I’m finding quite interesting about butter is that whole butter, the sort we buy in paper-wrapped sticks, is in fact an emulsion in itself. The butterfat, which is what solidifies when milk is churned, is the fat portion. But there is also some water in butter, and there are milk proteins too, which stabilize the emulsion. So in that one stick you have a liquid component and a fat component, hanging together in stasis.

Food Blog August 2014-0409When you brown butter, that darling of savory and sweet concoctions alike, several things happen. First, as the butter melts and bubbles furiously, you are seeing the water content boil off. If you stop at this point, skimming off any solids on the surface and reserving just the molten gold of the butterfat, you have clarified butter. But if instead you keep cooking it, the milk proteins that once acted as emulsifiers start to toast, and become deeply bronzed, and you have brown butter. You can even see those proteins roasting and browning in the photo above.

Meunière sauce capitalizes on brown butter. And with the water content of the butter boiled off, it needs a liquid to play with again, so we add the tart brightness of lemon juice. And then, for an herbal note, a scattering of parsley. That’s it. It’s so simple it feels almost like cheating. And yet it’s a classic, likely because how could a splash of butter and lemon be anything but delicious?

Food Blog August 2014-0410Unlike most other sauces, aside perhaps from hollandaise, meunière is pretty dish specific. It doesn’t really stand alone; it’s a sauce but also indicates preparation: sole meunière, or sometimes trout meunière. And though I obeyed and ladled mine over two delicate white filets, I could just as easily see this sauce, essentially a hot vinaigrette, serving as a bright gravy for mashed potatoes or roasted chicken. I would ladle it over a great tray of steamed green beans, or even stir some pasta into it and add shaved parmesan to the top (sidenote: as a kid who didn’t like marinara sauce on pasta, I would have welcomed this alternative with wide-open taste buds).

Food Blog August 2014-0405But as I said, I went traditional here. Not as traditional as sautéing or deboning the fish tableside, as some classic preparations demand, but I resisted my usual urge to add twists or additional ingredients. I wanted to see what this was about.

Okay, so I added some lemon zest to the salt and pepper I used to season the fish before dredging it in flour. But really, such a tiny alteration hardly counts, right? And when you serve the filet tenderly over some rice pilaf and drag your green beans through the last remnants of the sauce, well, words fail (no, seriously. I’ve sat here for fifteen minutes trying to think of how to tell you it was good!). Bring on the butter. She is clearly justified as the diva of the sauce world.

Food Blog August 2014-0412

 

Sole Meunière
Adapted from Ina Garten and Anne Burrell
Serves 2
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 filets of sole, 3-4 ounces each
Salt and pepper for sprinkling
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons minced parsley

 

  • Preheat your oven to warm (200F or so) and place a sheet tray with a rack balanced over it inside. This will allow you to keep the fish warm and crisp while the sauce finishes.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • While the butter melts, unwrap your fish and season both sides with a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and lemon zest.
  • Dredge the filets lightly in flour and then lay them flat straight into the pan, being sure they are not touching. If they sit around in their floury state, they will not get crisp.
  • Sauté for 2 minutes over medium-high, until the fish begins to look opaque. It will be about ⅔ cooked at this point. Flip each filet carefully, again, being sure they are not touching, and cook another 1-2 minutes until the bottom is golden and comes away easily from the pan. Remove each filet to the rack in the preheated oven.
  • Wipe out the pan and heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, again over medium-high heat. When it is melted and bubbling furiously, add the lemon juice and stir to combine.
  • As the butter starts to brown, which should only take about a minute, season the sauce with salt, add the parsley, and remove from heat.
  • Transfer the fish to a plate or serving platter and spoon or carefully pour the sauce over the fish to serve.

Photo Friday

Vacation might stop me from posting new recipes, but it doesn’t stop me from cooking. One night, in our condo on Kauai (can you hear the tiniest violin playing?!), we decided salad was the right thing to do. And with all the exquisite fresh fish available, what else could it be but seared ahi over a bed of spinach, mango, and avocado, dressed in a tart, acidic balsamic vinagrette?

Vacation is tough work, folks.

DSC_0261 DSC_0263

Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Leek Pesto Cream

Call it my literary background, but I love a good origin story. When random thoughts occur, I like to trace them back through my train of thought to see what the sequence was (why did I just think of that bartender in Eugene? I was considering more efficient ways to load the dishwasher just a few seconds ago!). Ask me sometime about one of my nicknames for our dog. You’ll see what I mean. This spills over into my cooking as well. I suppose if I were a real writer, I’d resist or deny the question “where do you get your ideas?” as so many of them do (although some do answer the question, in wonderful and terrifying ways).

Food Blog November 2013-2776So I like to take you back where I came from. In this case, we’re going back to a tired, tired late afternoon in August. N. and Lucy and I had started the day in Brookings, OR, wound our way down the beautiful stretch of Highway 101, twisting through dusty redwoods, pastoral dreamland, and ragged juts of ocean cliffs. In the parking lot of a grocery store in Fort Bragg, we decided enough was enough. We just weren’t going to make it to the Bay Area that night. It was time to call the driving day finished.

Food Blog November 2013-2764Food Blog November 2013-2767Food Blog November 2013-2768We found ourselves a restaurant with a view of the ocean and ordered what sounded like amazing entrees. At the ha-ha-we-got-you-you-tourist prices, they should have been amazing. They were… fine. N.’s dinner, which is of most import here, was a plate of smoked salmon ravioli, dull and a bit tough, sputtering and drowning in a heavy, almost alfredo-style sauce. I had to fix them. (I had, in case you’re wondering, a hunk of unevenly crusted halibut, teetering over a tangle of roasted, balsamic drenched vegetables. It has promise as well… consider it in progress…)

Food Blog November 2013-2771This, then, is what resulted. A mundane, heavy plate of pasta became a rich, vibrant, tangy blend of smoked salmon, dill, and cream cheese sealed in won ton wrappers (I’m all for from scratch, but in a weekend when at least two dozen papers had to get graded, I decided I was okay with using a shortcut stand-in for homemade pasta dough). To replace the thick, gloppy alfredo of the summer, I spooned on a tangy, barely creamy sauce overloaded with herbs and sautéed leeks, that fell somewhere between a pesto and the kind of white wine and cream sauce you’d toss with spaghetti and clams. (Note to self: spaghetti and clams would be spectacular here!)

Food Blog November 2013-2772I stopped at 24 ravioli, each one loaded with a spare ½ tablespoon of filling, but had enough smoked salmon mixture left that I could have easily made 36. I figured we would each eat 12, but they were so rich and lovely that, particularly with a piece of garlic rubbed toast on the side, you could probably get away with serving 8 to each diner. You will have enough sauce for the full 36, if not more.

Food Blog November 2013-2775This dish is, perhaps, better suited for spring, bursting as it is with fresh herbs and buttery leeks and the pinks and greens of new growth. But it’s so good, so perfectly silky and creamy and fresh and tangy, that I think you should make it anyway.

Food Blog November 2013-2780

Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Leek Pesto Cream
Serves 4-6
For ravioli:
⅓ cup finely diced shallot (about 1 medium)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces smoked salmon
8 ounces (1 cup) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Won ton wrappers, round or square (twice as many as the number of raviolis you want) or fresh pasta dough
¼ cup or so warm water, for sealing the ravioli

 

For sauce:
1 large leek
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup dry white wine (be sure you like the flavor – you will definitely taste it)
¼ cup fresh parsley
¼ cup fresh dill
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted if you wish
½ cup heavy cream

 

  • To make the raviolis, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pan over medium heat. When it has melted, add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they become translucent. You don’t want them to brown, you just want to sweat them gently to remove the rawness. When they are tender, turn the heat off and let them cool.
  • While the shallots and garlic cool, mix together the cream cheese, smoked salmon, 1 tablespoon dill, egg, and 1 tablespoon heavy cream in a mixing bowl. A fork or a spatula works well. Combine into a fairly homogenized mixture, though you will still have chunks of salmon, which is fine. Once the shallots and garlic have cooled, add them to the salmon mixture.
  • To form the raviolis, set up an assembly line: salmon mixture on one end, then won ton wrappers on a cutting board, then a small bowl of warm water, and finally a cookie sheet dusted lightly with flour.
  • Top one won ton wrapper with a scant ½ tablespoon of salmon mixture right in the center. Using your fingertip, dampen the outer edge of the wrapper with the warm water, then place a second won top wrapper on top. Press the edges to seal with your thumbs and forefingers, working air bubbles out so you just have a solid lump of filling in the center. I like to match up the poles of each wrapper – the very top and very bottom – so they are flush, then press together the sides simultaneously, one with each thumb and forefinger pair. As you complete each ravioli, place in a single layer on the floured cookie sheet.
  • When you have a full tray (I wouldn’t put too many more than a dozen on each sheet; you want them all touching the flour and not touching each other too much, or they will stick), refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Once the raviolis have had at least 30 minutes in the fridge, all that remains is to heat a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and drop them in. They are done when they float to the top, which only takes 3 or 4 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon (they are too delicate to pour into a colander) and add them to the sauce.
  • While the ravioli are chilling, make the sauce. Cut off the root end and the dark green leaves of the leek. Slice the remaining log lengthwise, leaving two long rounded planks as in the photo above. Run these planks under running water, flipping through the layers with your thumbs, to release dirt. Then cut each plank in half lengthwise again, and slice horizontally across into thin ribbons.
  • In the same pan you used to cook the shallot and garlic, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once it has melted, add the leeks and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are tender and smell garlicky and sweet.
  • Add the wine and simmer 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat, letting the leek and wine mixture cool slightly.
  • While the leeks and wine cool, add the parsley, dill, basil, garlic clove, and pine nuts to a food processor. Pulse in 2 second bursts 5 or 6 times, or until everything is finely chopped and paste-like. Add the cooled wine and leek mixture and process until only very fine pieces remain.
  • As soon as you drop the raviolis into the boiling water, warm the cream in the pan you used for the leeks and wine. When it reaches a bare simmer, add the leek and wine mixture back into the pan and stir to combine with the cream. Heat through. Season to taste, if needed, with salt and pepper.
  • To serve, swirl the raviolis gently with the sauce. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add a ladle of pasta water to thin it just a touch.

Smoked Salmon Burgers and Not-Ciabatta

In 2009, as N. and I were working through the Oral Examination phase of our graduate program – one of the most difficult aspects, as far as I’m concerned – a little restaurant opened on the south side of town.  Sharing space with a small bakery called the Humble Bagel, and run by the bagel shop owners’ daughter Anni and her husband Ari, the Humble Beagle quickly became our favorite restaurant in Eugene.  The feel is an intriguing blend: casual neighborhood gastropub, seasonal local food, layered with Israeli influence.  Macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad with amazingly lemony dressing, or penne with fresh pesto share menu space with shakshuka, house made pita, and lamb pizza dolloped with labneh.  In the summer, weekly specials are determined by what is producing best in Ari and Anni’s backyard garden.  In the winter, Ari makes his own pastrami and quick pickled cabbage for their take on a reuben.  The beers on tap are mostly from Oregon, and even the soft drink selection is carefully chosen for its local, natural ingredients.  The check comes with homemade, sugar dusted shortbread cookies.  It’s a pretty good example of the slow food movement in delicious action.  If you want a quick meal, don’t bother.  You’ll be there at least two hours.  If you want a place to bring your sixteen unannounced relatives, don’t show up without reservations.  This is a small, local pub, not a diner or high volume chain.  If you want tasty, thoughtful, belly-warming food at a relaxed pace, get in your car right now.  For a while, as N. and I neared the dates of our respective exams, we were going to the Beagle every Friday evening for dinner.  Almost without exception, I got the Fisherman’s Stew, a lovely collection of shellfish and moist, flaky halibut in a tomato and fennel broth with garlic aioli melting achingly over the top.  We could barely afford the luxury of these weekly visits, but we also couldn’t stay away.

The Beagle entertained us for the next three years.  We went there for birthdays – N.’s 30th, when Ari let me bring a cake I’d made at home, gave me the biggest chef’s knife I’ve ever seen to slice and serve it, and then took a leftover piece back to the kitchen where he shared it with the cooks.  We went there for the yearly day-after-Thanksgiving meal with my family.  One year, fifteen minutes into the meal we were the only patrons, and it was like our own private restaurant.  Ari came out and told us stories about his family’s holiday, and we were suddenly not in a restaurant anymore, but in the home of our friend.  We went there for dinner after my dissertation defense too, and even though we ended up being an annoying group – people arriving late and leaving early, special menu substitutions and requests, perhaps slightly-too-boisterous behavior – our server said it was okay, and that Ari had told him we were royalty.

On their Summer 2010 menu, the Beagle introduced an item I was instantly drawn to and still haven’t gotten enough of: the Smoked Chinook Patty.  This was a salmon burger on fresh ciabatta (made in the bakery next door), but what pulled me in was its blend of fresh and smoked salmon.  It’s immediately richer, deeper, brinier than any other salmon patty I’ve tasted.

This week, needing both a new dough challenge and a taste of that chilly, rain-soaked, allergen-laden city I still think of as home, I decided a recreation was in order.

Food Blog January 2013-0478

The Beagle’s patty comes on freshly made, perfectly crusted, well-toasted ciabatta rolls.  Looking in Ruhlman’s Ratio this week, I noted that the only difference he gives between ciabatta and a standard baguette or boule is the shape and cooking time.  This seemed promising and so, despite my claims last week about fear and being unready, I decided to dive in.  What else is a Thursday morning for?

Food Blog January 2013-0439

I dutifully mixed, then kneaded, bread flour, water, yeast, and salt.  I tore off a chunk to perform the windowpane test, and I cuddled my ball of smooth, elastic dough in an oiled bowl to rest and rise.

Food Blog January 2013-0446

Ruhlman doesn’t give any suggestion of how long to bake individual ciabatta rolls, only a full loaf, so I went to the internet for help.  I quickly discovered that what I was making wasn’t going to be the bread I’d had in mind: the tremendous bubbles that bake into cavernous holes, the flour-dusted, almost gravely crunch of the crust, and the soft, perfectly chewy texture of the interior are achieved through a slightly different ratio of ingredients, and a more involved process, as this article on The Kitchn depicts.  Since I was starting on the day of baking and didn’t have a biga waiting in the wings, I was just going to have to work with my mix.

Food Blog January 2013-0449

Ultimately, though what resulted was more like a super crunchy, slightly flat mini boule, it was crisp and buttery golden delicious and an excellent vehicle for the smoky/briny/rich/tastes-like-home burger it enclosed.

Food Blog January 2013-0456

Not-Ciabatta

10 ounces bread flour (or 2 cups)

6 ounces warm water

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon active dry yeast

Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water and set it aside for five minutes or so to come back to life.

While you wait, whisk flour and salt in a mixing bowl.  Make a little well in the center and pour in the yeasted water.  If using a stand mixer, beat with the paddle attachment just until things come together, then switch to the dough hook and knead at medium speed for 10 minutes.  I had never executed this switch between tools before, but it worked really well.

After 10 minutes, the dough should be stretchy and lovely and firm, and all traces of unincorporated flour on the sides of the bowl will be gone.  Do the windowpane test to see if the bread is ready.  If it’s not, continue kneading.  If it is, transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise.  I like to put it in an oven that’s been warmed for five minutes, then turned off for five minutes.

Let the dough rise until doubled in size – mine took 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough gently and then knead it on a floured board for a minute or two to deflate it a bit.

Let it rest for 15 minutes.

At this point, divide the dough, shape it into the bun shapes you want, and let it rise on an oiled baking sheet for another 1½ – 2 hours.  I ended up with seven mismatched, homely little balls, but I lovingly covered them with a clean kitchen towel and went about my business.  (I think I went about my business a bit too long – 2 hours became almost 3½, and the resulting buns didn’t puff much during baking because they’d expended so much of their rising power as they sat on my counter.)

Food Blog January 2013-0448

When the buns have risen again, drizzle them with olive oil and bake in a preheated 450F oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375F and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until golden brown and done in the center (with a full-size loaf you can thump the bottom and if it sounds hollow it’s done, but I suspect these are too small to yield satisfying results with this method.  Since I had 7, I just tore into one to see if it was done, and when it was, I ate it.  No one else has to know).

Food Blog January 2013-0461

Set aside to cool while you make the salmon patties.

 

Smoked Salmon Burgers

These are robust in flavor but, especially if you are using canned salmon, must be handled with some delicacy to prevent breakage.  They are, I think, a perfect blend: rich, fatty salmon, salty smoky deepness, and the sour zesty bite of capers and lemon.  If you don’t want to bother with the buns, you could certainly encase these in crisp leaves of butter lettuce.

15 oz. canned salmon, picked through and bones removed, or about 1 lb. fresh, finely chopped

4-6 oz. smoked salmon, flaked with a fork

2 cloves garlic, *pasted with salt or grated

3 green onions, finely diced

1 TB capers, minced

1 TB fresh dill, minced

1 tsp each lemon zest and lemon juice

Pepper to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

If you are using canned salmon, combine all ingredients except the egg and taste for seasoning.  That way your mixture is perfectly seasoned before adding raw egg to the party.  You will likely not need any additional salt, because the smoked salmon and capers are briny already, and if you paste your garlic you will already be adding salt to the mixture.

Food Blog January 2013-0463

If you are using fresh salmon, combine all ingredients, mix well, and then fry about a tablespoon of the mixture until cooked through to taste for seasoning.

*To paste the garlic, mince cloves, then sprinkle with salt.  Using firm pressure, draw the blade of your knife across the garlic on the board several times.  It will begin to lose its integrity as the salt breaks it down, until you are left with a paste that is much easier to incorporate into your salmon mixture.

When it is seasoned to your liking, quarter the mixture and form four equal sized patties of 3-4 inches in diameter.  Pop these in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let them firm up and meld – they will hold together in the pan much better this way.

Food Blog January 2013-0470

Before cooking, let your refrigerated patties stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes, just to take the chill off.

Food Blog January 2013-0468

Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and gently fry the patties.  They should take 5-8 minutes per side.  Cooking time will depend upon whether you have used canned or fresh salmon and how plump your patties are.

To serve, enclose in buns lovingly with some spring mix and your choice of condiments.  I suggest horseradish or wasabi mayonnaise.  If you had homemade mayonnaise that would be a lovely splurge here.

Food Blog January 2013-0474

We had ours with paprika spiced kale chips, but to really get the Beagle experience you would need to serve with garlic French fries.

Food Blog January 2013-0479

Veganize it!

I must admit to getting nervous.  Counting this week’s offerings, I’m down to 8 Bittman selections, and just over 3 weeks in which to complete them all.  If I face the honest fact that it’s unlikely I will attempt any of these concoctions during Christmas or the days that surround it, as family and I insist on old familiar dishes, reality tells me I in fact have just over 2 weeks left.

But I have a determined set to my jaw, sometimes, and I can feel it approaching.  This must be done.  It can be done.  It may mean making soup for lunch from scratch sometimes, but as I’m learning, soup doesn’t have to be something that simmers all day long.  It can be a quick meal.

It can be delicious, too.  This week’s selection is proof positive.

Food Blog 2011-2013-0168

“Thai Squash Soup: Simmer cubed winter squash, minced garlic, chili and ginger in coconut milk, plus stock or water to cover, until soft. Puree if you like. Just before serving, add chopped cilantro, lime juice and zest, and toasted chopped peanuts.”

This was a lunchtime experiment, because N., in one of his tragic shortcomings, doesn’t like coconut.  At first I thought it was something I could break him of.  I have, after all, in under a decade, convinced him to eat everything from sushi to quinoa to kale chips.  He is, as an eater, unrecognizable as the man I met in college.  But the coconut sensitivity is the food analogue to ESP.  He can eat a granola bar with coconut oil hidden deep in the ingredient list and say “I’m not sure I like this.”  If I don’t choose my sunscreen carefully and it happens to have that delightful coconut aroma that means it’s well and truly summer, N. tells me I smell funny.  So a coconut milk based soup had to be consumed in his absence.

Food Blog 2011-2013-0160

½ big butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes

1 13.5 oz. can coconut milk

½-1 cup water or vegetable stock

½ tsp red chili flakes

3-5 cloves garlic, minced

1-2 tsp ginger, minced

salt to taste

2-3 TB cilantro, roughly chopped

2-3 TB peanuts (if you have a nut allergy, consider using the butternut squash seeds instead), toasted and chopped.  I used dry roasted peanuts for mine.

zest and juice of ½ a lime

Put the squash, chili, garlic, and ginger into a pot.  Add the coconut milk and, if necessary to cover the chunks of squash, water or stock.  Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for 20-25 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

During this simmering process, don’t forsake your kitchen completely.  Coconut milk boils over, just like regular milk.  If you leave to, say, comb out your hair, do your makeup, and put a few things away, you might return to a stove swimming in chili infused coconut milk sludge sitting underneath your burners.  One of which isn’t working anymore.  Just saying…

Once the squash cubes are tender, you can choose to puree or not to puree.  I, feeling lazy, took my potato masher to them and ended up with a slightly chunky, rough textured soup that I liked the look and feel of.

Food Blog 2011-2013-0164

Top with garnishes and eat!

Alternative: I liked this, and the simmered squash had a nice, fresh flavor.  But I missed the caramelized depth you get when you roast it.  Were I making this again, I would roast the squash with olive oil and salt until it was tender.

While the squash roasted, I would add the spices to the coconut milk and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Then, when the squash was cooked and the milk was hot and flavorful, I would add the chunks of squash and proceed as above.

This bowl of soup was surprising.  It awoke flavors of sweet, sour, spicy, and bitter.  The squash was tender and freshly vegetal.  The coconut milk added this incredible unctuous creaminess that felt round and thick against my tongue, but the squash itself and the lime flavor kept it light and fresh and delicate at the same time.  The peanuts were the right crunch, and I surprised myself by finished an enormous bowl and feeling quite satisfied but not overly full.

 Food Blog 2011-2013-0167

The soup wouldn’t have been right without the lime juice.  I’m learning, as I continue to cook, that acid is a seasoning just like salt or nutmeg.  This new understanding, and a little bit of experimentation, saved the next dish from being muddy and boring.

“56. Cook lentils, thyme sprigs and chopped carrots in a pot with water to cover until tender; drain and remove thyme. Cook chopped onions in oil until soft; add chopped kale and allow to wilt. Add lentils, stir to combine and cook until kale is tender. Add chopped parsley.”

With the holiday season practically upon us, this seemed like a sobering, “healthy” dinner choice which would, against all the logical reasons for eating healthy, permit us to have cake for dessert.

1 cup lentils

12-15 baby carrots, quartered lengthwise, chopped into small rounded triangles

6 sprigs thyme

4 small whole cloves garlic

½ red onion, chopped

2 cups kale

2 TB parsley

sprinkle of red wine vinegar to taste

I put the lentils, carrots, thyme, and – in a flash of inspiration – garlic in a pot and added water according to the lentil package directions (depending upon what color lentils you use, you may need more or less water).  I added a bit extra, since I realized the carrots might benefit from some bubbling too.  I let them simmer for about 35 minutes, at which point the lentils were just barely still resistant between my teeth.

Never enthusiastic about using multiple pots, I dumped the lentil mixture into a strainer and then, with a bit of olive oil to lubricate the surface, sauteed the chopped onions in the same, now-empty pot.  When they were just beginning to turn golden around the edges, I added the kale and a sprinkle of salt.  Softening the onions and wilting the kale took about ten minutes.

After the kale had collapsed a bit, I dumped the lentil mixture back in, folded it gently in with the greenery, and let them stew over low heat until the kale was the texture I like.  I tasted and felt the muddiness of the lentils and carrots: winter vegetables are wonderful, but sometimes the heaviness they impart is reminiscent of the dirt from which they were pulled.  Lentils, though they aren’t root vegetables at all, tend to have a similar effect.

This was my inspiration point.  Only a few drops of red wine vinegar pulled the flavors up out of the garden ditch they’d been wallowing in and made them interesting and individual again.  Add the vinegar and chopped parsley at the last moment.

Food Blog 2011-2013-0157

I mounded this on our plates and topped it with a tuna steak (I know, that’s not vegan.  But the Bittman is, and that’s what matters here!).  It would have been better with salmon – the more delicate meatiness would have contrasted nicely against the lentils and carrots.  The tuna was almost too dense a pairing, calling back to the muddiness of the pre-vinegared dish.  Lamb rubbed with harissa, or maybe even a grilled portobello or a big steak of tofu, pressed, dried, and rubbed with a marinade that involved roasted red peppers, are other potentially promising pairings.

 Food Blog 2011-2013-0155

 

* As the year draws to a close, I’m thinking a lot about friends I’m now physically far from.  This title celebrates two of them: M. and Ph.  Both became unintentional vegans due to food allergies, and M. is fond of exclaiming, of dishes she likes the sound of but cannot eat thanks to its animal product ingredients, “I’m going to try to veganize it!”  So here you go, ladies: these are pre-veganized.  And gluten-free.  And yummy.  What more could you ask for?!

Seattle: Day Two

This trip was extra special in the food indulgence area because we opted to stay at a bed and breakfast instead of the usual chain hotel.  At the Villa Heidelberg, our hostess serves what she calls a “hearty breakfast,” which consists of coffee or tea and fruit, followed by a hot dish that changes every day.  As we ate this hot dish the first morning – a croissant stuffed with Canadian bacon, cheddar cheese and sliced, cinnamon dusted apples, then coated in egg and baked until the pastry was even toastier and flakier than before and the apples were just softening – she explained that she has almost run out of room in her kitchen for her cookbook collection.  Other bed and breakfast establishments have five or six standby breakfasts they alternate between or cycle through, but she said that early in her career as innkeeper she got tired of making the same things week in and week out.  She keeps adding and adding to her repertoire, and with a side of maple syrup to absolutely drench this croissant in fantastic sticky decadence, we were well set to begin our adventures.

Despite this incredibly filling start to the day, when thoughts of lunch started to percolate as we strolled through Pike Place, I knew almost immediately what I wanted.  The smells in the marketplace were so good that you’d think it would be hard to decide.  But I knew.

The fish stalls here were impressive, and when I say that the place smelled like fish, I mean this in a positive way.  Even raw, the fish was so fresh and so reminiscent of the salty spray of the Pacific that even N. admitted it smelled good.  It didn’t hurt that the aromas of smoked salmon and fried seafood lingered around us as well, and this became my lunch quest: fried shrimp.

For $7.99, the sardonic but chatty expediter at one stall sold me this beautiful portion of beer battered and fried prawns with French fries.  It was like heaven.  Since N. doesn’t like shellfish, we never eat it at home.  Not only were these fresh, plump, perfectly toothsome prawns, but they were coated in delicious rich batter and fried until they had soaked in just the right amount of grease.  Enough to coat the fingers and shine suggestively in the corners of my mouth.  Not quite enough to weigh me down.  Perfect.  Well, perfect if I’d had a beer on the side.  Maybe a nice wheat beer with a generous lemon wedge.  And bringing the expediter home, where he would become our local bartender.  Then I could call it perfect.

Dinner this night was to be our belated anniversary dinner.  Since I’d just celebrated my birthday, I decided it could do double duty.  We chose Purple, a bistro and wine bar right downtown, and entered the enormous, dimly lit room slowly.  Solid heavy doors and ceiling to floor windows protected a huge spiral staircase winding around a column of shelves packed with bottles.  While I was still gaping at this collection of wine, we were seated and handed a binder full of beverage choices.  Our poor server had to come back three times to get our order, as I, still a bit of a wine novice, was completely intimidated by the gratuitous supply and tremendous number of options.  I selected a nice citrusy Gewürztraminer while N., always the beer man, had an Old Rasputin Stout.  He gave me a sip and I was surprised by its dark smokiness.

With so many wine choices, I was almost dizzy with the rush of having to choose accompanying food.  I get nervous at restaurants when I have a plethora of choices.  Do I opt for something comforting, familiar, guaranteed to be good, or do I branch out and order something that sounds adventurous – a startling mix of flavors that might be outrageously good… or a slight disappointment?  Here, though, I needn’t even have opened the menu; the first special on the front page was too good to pass up: risotto with roasted tomatoes, spinach, and Greek feta.

The poor quality here is due to the dim lighting, but I could just as easily claim it was thanks to my hands quivering from delight.  It sounds so simple, and as I looked down at my plate I feared I had been too cautious, but I was wrong.  The blend of flavors was stellar.  The rice was tender and flavorful, the tomatoes had sharp tanginess that matched well with the feta, and the whole thing had that unbelievable magical creaminess risotto gains from twenty minutes of tireless stirring while the rice grains – little sponges that they are – slowly suck in more and more broth.

While my fork danced around my plate, N. enjoyed a more hands-on experience, ordering a gorgonzola and fig pizza, replete with walnuts and rosemary, and a shy sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  The thick purple slices of fresh fig looked so alien on pizza, as did the hefty chunks of walnut, but the finished product was tasty and intriguing.  In my plans for recreation, I may try making a rosemary foccaccia dough as a base, and then replacing the fresh figs for dried.

Because it was a special occasion, and because our server told us the desserts were “tapas sized,” we decided we had to splurge.  With options like these, there was simply no leaving before we had a sample or two.  We decided to share two desserts: the red velvet cake with lavender cream cheese frosting, and the blackberry cheesecake with blackberry coulis and candied lime zest.  Despite being barely bigger than golf balls, both were triumphant.  The cake was moist and rich, and the lavender sprinkled atop the frosting was an unexpectedly good touch.  It had a sophisticated flavor somehow and a light perfume, making this more than just good cake.

The cheesecake was rich and exceedingly smooth, and I found the perfect balance was a generous dip of blackberry coulis and a sliver of candied zest.  I like a bite of sour citrus with my cheesecake, and without that tart, slightly bitter chew, this perfect little cylinder might have been bland.  As it was, if I were slightly less polite I would have licked my plate.  Hell, I would have licked both plates.

Thanks, Seattle, you were that good.