Saturday, August 8, 2009

More Things You Can Make in a Skillet: Fishy, Fishy, Fish

Now that you've dusted off that oven-proof skillet, here's a main-dish-type thing to make in it. This is my favorite way to cook salmon since it's so speedy (and tasty, of course). You can muck about with side dishes, if you wish, while the skillet is pre-heating; once the fish goes into the oven, dinner is less than 10 minutes away. If you have a cast-iron skillet, all the better because it will retain heat and keep your fish from getting cold whilst you herd your guests to the table.

This cooking method can be used with other types of fish. It works well with skin-on fillets - put them skin side-down in the pan and the fillets will easily slide off the skin when they are cooked. You can cook the fish as is, marinate it, or add a glaze. If I could remember where I first read about this method, I would give credit - the strategy is not original but the tweaks are all mine.

You can also do this on the grill - perfect on a hot summer day when you don't want to heat up the kitchen. I have a gi-normous, 16" cast iron skillet that my in-laws gave me as a gift. My stove can't distribute BTUs evenly over that much surface area, but it's great on the grill. Leave the skillet on a gas grill while you pre-heat (if you're using charcoal, put the skillet on the grill for 10 minutes after the coals are ready).

(A Note: some gas ovens will automatically shut off for a short period of time when the broiler has been on for ~15 minutes. This is normal, and it will turn back on again when the oven temperature cools down a bit).

(A note on my Note: I found out about that gas-oven-shutting-off-automatically thing when I called the oven repairman because I thought that my new oven was broken. What did I know about fancy new thermostats and new-fangled ovens? The last time I lived in a house that had a new oven, I was 3 years old and they didn't let me cook).

With salmon, I like to use a Korean-style marinade (see below) and serve with rice and a mushroom/cabbage saute. But it would be good with any green veggie, or even just a salad and some good bread. Here's the general guidelines for broiling fish in a skillet (and the salmon marinade recipe from the Boston Globe):

Broiled Salmon

1. Get a skin-on fillet of salmon (preferably wild-caught, if you can find it and your budget allows). A 1.5-lb fillet will serve 3-4 people, depending on what else you make as accompaniments.

2. Get out your largest, oven-proof skillet - a cast-iron one is perfect. Make sure that the salmon fillet will fit into the skillet. If the fillet is too large, cut it into two (or more) pieces that will fit comfortably in the skillet.

3. Turn the broiler on high and put the skillet into the oven. The top of the skillet should be 4-6 inches below the flame, so move the oven racks if needed. Let the skillet heat under the broiler for 10 minutes, then CAREFULLY take the skillet out and put it on top of the stove (use hot pads, of course).

4. Place the salmon, skin side down, into the skillet. The salmon will immediately start sizzling. Put the skillet back in the oven and broil the salmon until it is cooked (i.e. the flesh is opaque when you poke at it with a fork). Because the fish is cooking from the top and the bottom at the same time, it should be done in 10 minutes or less.

5. If you want to add a glaze, take the skillet out when the fish is almost done cooking and brush some teriyaki sauce on top of the salmon. Put the fish back under the broiler for a minute or two until the glaze starts to bubble.

6. Eat.

...and here's a marinade for salmon that's based on a recipe that is based on bulgogi...the recipe appeared in the Boston Globe Sunday magazine, by Adam Reid. (An aside: I love Adam Reid's columns. So nice to see more international influence in recipes). One time when I made this, I didn't have green onions, so I left them out. It was fine. But here's the original recipe:

For 2-1/4 lbs salmon fillet (6 servings):
8 scallions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
8 medium garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2-1/2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup sake (I used a combo of vermouth and dry sherry, since I didn't have sake)
1/3 cup soy sauce (I used the light soy sauce - not low-salt, tho)
3 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon chili oil (I used Korean chili paste, since that's what I had in the fridge)

Combine everything in a food processor or blender (I didn't bother, just mixed it in a bowl). Place the salmon in a large baking dish and pour the marinade over it, turning to coat the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning the fish occasionally. Let the excess marinade drain off the fish before you place the fillets in the hot skillet.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Work-at-Home Lunch Dilemma

Since I started working at home three years ago, my biggest challenge hasn't been finding reasonably-priced health insurance, or finding ways to keep from feeling isolated. It's been "What to have for lunch?" It has to be quick. After all, when you work for yourself, time is money. It has to be nutritious. The big advantage of working at home is the flexibility and balance you can maintain in your life so you can better take care of yourself. It has to be satisfying. You don't want to keep hopping up during the afternoon looking for snacks (see "time is money" and taking care of yourself).

Over the winter, I find myself having soup a lot. My best laid plans went awry this year and I mostly ate canned soup rather than the homemade I'd envisioned (will have to share my easy chicken-escarole soup recipe when the temperature changes). Doesn't work so well in the summer, unless I'm on the ball enough to make a cold soup (one of my favorites: the fennel soup from the book Under the Tuscan Sun. Can be served hot or cold.) One strategy that works year-round is the creative use of leftovers. In the winter, I use them to make quesadillas. Sometimes I just reheat them as is. Now that it's finally hot here in New England, I've been doing a lot of salads lately.

Here's how it worked recently: Monday for dinner, I grilled some wild coho salmon I couldn't resist at "Whole Paycheck" (as my friend Doug calls it) and served it with potatoes coated with olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary. (The rosemary taste wasn't as strong as I'd like. Is there a trick to it?) I also made a Marcella Hazan broccoli recipe where you dip the steamed or boiled florets in egg, then dredge in plain bread crumbs and fry in vegetable oil. On Tuesday, we got more green beans for our CSA share, and I still had last week's in the fridge! We also got cherry tomatoes this week. So yesterday's lunch was a green salad (lettuce and cukes also from CSA) with the leftover salmon and broccoli. Today, I steamed last week's share of the green beans, cooled them with cold water and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Then I added the leftover potatoes (cubed), halved cherry tomatoes, capers, Italian tuna, and I even found some small (Niciose?) olives lurking in the back of the fridge. In both cases the dressing was olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. I'm not a fan of creamy dressings by and large, so it's mostly oil and red wine vinegar and an occasionally Dijon vinaigrette. If I use balsamic, it's usually a small portion mixed in with the red wine vinegar. Otherwise too sweet for my taste. I do love using lemon juice in place of vinegar, especially refreshing in the summer, and with fennel. But I digress. Here is what we in our family call "Vera's Dressing," named after its creator, a gourmand friend of our father and excellent cook:
Vera's Dressing
1 part olive oil (I like extra virgin, but my Mom prefers regular olive oil)
1 part red wine vinegar (the important thing is the acidity -- I look for 6 or 7%)
1 teaspoon salt
liberal grindings of pepper
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

I must admit that my motivation for writing, more than wanting to share a particularly satisfying lunch, is the hopes that readers will give me some new ideas! I'm not someone who can have yogurt for lunch. That's dessert. Or the snack you end up having mid-afternoon. So those of you that work at home, please share your favorites!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

CSA Week Number...Oh Lordy, I Have No Idea What Week It Is, But Here's A Tasty Recipe That Uses Lots of Veggies

I make this quick little curry thing a lot. Last week, I served it to a friend for lunch, and told at least two other friends about it, so I figured it was time to write it down and share it with the masses. (Or, ummm, the small group of people who read this blog). It's nice as a side dish with other curries, or meat or chicken (roasted, grilled, baked, whatever you like). Make a big batch of it; it keeps in the fridge for a few days. Serve it over hot rice with a fried egg and some hot sauce; instant dinner! (and yes, that IS a rip-off on bibim bap. I never claimed to be a purist).

This is a clean-out-the fridge recipe, which makes it perfect for a CSA post. There is not strict rule about which vegetables to use, except that you should use veggie you like to eat, of course. For maximum eye appeal, aim to have something red (hot or sweet red peppers), something green (zucchini, green beans, green bell peppers, green peas, broccoli, spinach or other leafys), and something orange (carrots, sweet potato or winter squash) along with something white (potatoes and/or cauliflower), but almost any combination of veggies will work. Mushrooms are quite good in this, too. And chick peas! Or white beans! You get the idea.

Since the version I made this week is most fresh in my mind, that's what I'll write, with the following note: don't get too hung up on amounts. The point of this "recipe" is to use up what you have on hand. So, it says to use 1/2 of a cauliflower because I had already used the other 1/2 for something else. The quantity can be scaled up, and you can add more curry powder if the flavor is not strong enough for you. Just be sure to add the veggies that take longest to cook first; the quicker-cooking ones go in last.

Mixed Vegetable Curry
(A more or less Original Recipe)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion (small, med or large, depending on how much you love onions), chopped
1 tsp or more Madras brand curry powder (I use about 1 tablespoon, but I like spicy salty food)
a few tablespoons of dry sherry, optional
1 can diced tomatoes (don't drain them) or ~2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 pound red-skinned or Yukon gold potatoes (leave them whole if small, cut into 1-2" chunks if large)
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into small floweretts
1/2 lb green beans, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into strips.
1 small zucchini, cut into strips 1/2" wide and 1" long
chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, optional
lemon or lime juice, optional
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a large pan (skillet, unless you are adding fresh leafy greens - in that case, use a large pot with a lid so you have room to add the greens). Add the chopped onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. If you have time, lower the heat and continue cooking the onion until it is light golden in color, about 20 minutes longer - not necessary but it will give added flavor to your curry.

2. Add the curry powder to the pan. Stir and cook for about a minute over medium heat, until the curry powder is fragrant or someone wanders into the kitchen and says, "mmm what smells so good?"

3. Add the sherry (if using) and stir to combine, then add the tomatoes. Stir well, then simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes. At this point, you can turn off the heat and go do something else for an hour or two.

4. Reheat the pan (if needed) and add the longest-cooking veggies that can take a little overcooking: potatoes (or carrots). Stir well, then cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

5. Add the medium-cooking veggies that you'd prefer to not overcook: cauliflower, green beans and red bell pepper. Stir well, cover and simmer for 10 minutes

6. Add the delicate veggies that turn to mush when overcooked: zucchini (or yellow squash), baby spinach. Stir, cover and simmer another 5 minutes.

7. Poke everything with a fork to make sure it is cooked. Add chopped cilantro or parsley and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.