Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Salmon cakes with wasabi mayonnaise - a delicious twist on crab cakes

As I flipped through my latest cookbook, Williams-Sonoma’s New Flavors for Appetizers, I saw a recipe for salmon cakes. I said to myself as I looked at the beautiful photograph, these look just like crab cakes except they’re pink inside.  

They are a perfect alternative to pricy lump crab cakes. Made with cooked salmon, they are a snap to put together. We served them for light dinner on a bed of baby lettuce mix, but their original purpose, as you can guess by the name of the cookbook, was for appetizers.

Believe me, these cakes in no way resemble your mother’s salmon croquettes from your childhood that she made with canned salmon and deep fried. I gently pan sautéed them in a few tablespoons of grapeseed oil. Although grapeseed oil is expensive, it doesn’t contain any transfats and has a neutral taste which doesn’t interfere with or overpower the delicate flavor of seafood. It’s also nice because it can be heated to a high temperature without burning. Feel free to substitute another transfat-free neutral tasting oil, such as canola or safflower oil, if you wish.

When you make the cakes, don’t be tempted to mix them in the food processor. It will quickly make mush of them. It’s also important that you let the cakes rest in the refrigerator for at least thirty minutes so they become firm, otherwise they fall apart while you’re cooking them. I’ve also included a recipe for our favorite way to cook salmon that turns out perfectly every time.

The simple mayonnaise sauce with zesty wasabi is tempered by the sweet honey and tart lime, giving it an Asian flair. It would also be excellent with crab cakes.

Asian style salmon cakes with wasabi mayonnaise
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Appetizers
Makes 6 cakes – 3 to 6 servings

½ pound cooked wild salmon, skin removed (see recipe below)
1 tablespoon minced yellow onion
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon good quality mayonnaise or my homemade, link here
All purpose flour
1 egg, beaten to blend with a dash of Tabasco or other hot sauce
Grapeseed oil, or any transfat-free neutral tasting oil
Baby lettuce mix

Wasabi mayonnaise:
1/3 cup good quality mayonnaise, either homemade, link here, or Hellmans
1 teaspoon wasabi paste (the tube variety)
½ teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice

Place the cooked salmon in a large bowl and flake with a fork. Add the onion, ½ cup of Panko bread crumbs, a little kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and about a tablespoon of mayonnaise and mix gently until it comes together. Add more mayonnaise if needed to bind the cakes. Now remember that I don’t recommending using a food processor, because the mixture will turn to mush.

Using your hands form into six equal cakes. Place on a plate, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for the cakes to become firm. It’s important to chill the cakes or they will fall apart when you sauté them.

In the meantime, whish together the ingredients for the wasabi mayonnaise and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve the cakes.

When the cakes have chilled sufficiently, remove them from the refrigerator. Place the flour, beaten egg and remaining Panko crumbs in three separate bowls. One at a time dip the cakes in the flour, then the egg mixture and finally the crumbs, shaking off any excess in each step.

Heat two to three tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a 14” non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Carefully add the cakes to the skillet and shallow fry until golden brown on the first side, then turn and brown the other side, taking care not to let them burn. It should take about four to five minutes total cooking time. Remove cakes to a plate.

To serve, arrange a handful of baby lettuce on each plate and top with a crab cake. Dribble each cake with some of the wasabi mayonnaise and serve right away.

Cook's notes: If you find you need more mayonnaise to bind the ingredients together as one reader suggested, please add accordingly. Also be sure to refrigerate the cakes prior to cooking to help them stay together when you sauté them.

Simple Broiled Salmon
Serves 2

Wild salmon fillet, ¾ pound, preferable with the skin left intact
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, or any transfat-free neutral tasting oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
A few crushed pink peppercorns give it a nice twist (optional)
A squeeze of fresh lime juice

Put salmon in a dish; rub with oil, salt & pepper generously and let sit at room temperature for ten to fifteen minutes. Preheat the broiler.

Arrange fish, skin side down, on an unheated sheet pan lined with heavy duty foil for easy clean-up. Place the fish under the broiler about three inches from the source of heat. Broil 8 to 10 minutes or just until it is cooked through. It’s not necessary to turn the fish. If it starts to get too crispy on the top, change from broil to bake and bake at 400 degrees until done. Take care not to overcook or it will dry out. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the skin with a sharp knife. Squeeze with a little fresh lime juice. If not serving right away, let it cool and refrigerate, covered. It can be kept for a day or two in the refrigerator in a covered container.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ginger Carrot Bisque – a perfect transition into fall

As fall approaches mountain towns such as ours begin to decorate with pumpkins, scarecrows and cornstalks and I begin to think of what I call transitional foods. They are the kind of recipes that bridge the gap between the changing of the seasons. In the fall transitional foods are lighter than the recipes we associate with cold days in the winter such as heavy stews or hardy soups, yet they aren’t the light weight summer salads I featured last week either. They fall somewhere in between. In the fall you might call them “before the leaves change” recipes.

One of my favorite transitional foods is bisque. It’s not really a soup or a broth and it’s certainly not a stew – it’s somewhere in between, just like the first few weeks when summer draws to an end and fall begins. My friend Christo from Chez What refers to bisque as soup’s royal cousin.

Some of my favorite recipes for bisque use pumpkin, which is certainly a fall favorite. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might remember my Pumpkin Bisque, which I served in demitasse cups as a classy appetizer for a dinner party. All gussied up and served in fine bone china demitasse cups the pumpkin bisque did look rather royal. Guests are quite surprised when they are served bisque (or soup) to sip from a demitasse cup. I always get “oohs and ahs” when I pass it on a silver platter. Give it a try sometime – you’ll be pleasantly pleased and so will your guests.

If you can find organic carrots with their green tops attached for this bisque, they are so much fresher and tastier than the bagged variety. Don’t bother too much with perfect chopping of the vegetables – they get pureed in the end, so don’t waste time on something that doesn’t show. But at the same time, you don’t want some pieces large and some small because they won’t brown well or cook evenly. Serve as a first course or snazzy appetizer.

Ginger Carrot Bisque
Adapted from Barefoot Kitchen Witch & The Herb Companion
Serves 4 

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of peeled and finely chopped fresh gingerroot
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
3 ¼ cups chicken stock
¾ cup dry white wine
¼ cup half and half or cream (optional)
Finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

Melt the butter in a large stock pot. Add the onions, celery and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about five minutes. The carrots do not have to be completely cooked. Season with the salt and pepper, then add the garlic and ginger and sauté a minute or so, taking care not to let the garlic burn. Add the cumin, coriander and orange peel and stir for a minute or two more.

Add the chicken stock and wine, cover and bring to a boil. As soon as it boils, reduce heat to simmer and cook until the carrots are soft, about 10 – 20 minutes, depending on the size of the carrot pieces. When the carrots are soft, transfer the mixture to a food processor and puree in batches until smooth. Return to the stock pot and, if desired, add the half and half or cream and stir well. Reheat over low until the bisque is hot. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Garnish with chopped parsley and serve right away.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cooking Light salads - a farewell to summer

As the earth rotates around the sun and the tilt angle changes, summer begins to draw to an end. In the northern hemisphere the official end of summer every year is the 21st of September and autumn begins the very next day. I’m a summer kind of gal. I adore wearing colorful sundresses and sandals. We enjoy eating light dinners on our screened porch every evening, listening to the night sounds. Our herb garden is filled with varieties of basil, tomatoes, and bright zinnias and that brings me much happiness. Perhaps that might explain some of the reasons why we spent ten years living in a perpetual summer environment on a tiny tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean. So it stands to reason that I hang on tight to everything summer represents until the very last minute. When I saw these two salad recipes in the August issue of Cooking Light, I knew they would be the perfect way to bid a farewell to my old friend summertime.

The first salad is Proscuitto, Peach and Sweet Lettuce Salad. Fortunately for us our supermarket had a lovely selection of southern peaches when we went shopping this weekend. This is a fresh, no-cook entrée that only took a few minutes to put together. I substituted spinach for the sweet butter lettuce mix called for in the original recipe and used feta cheese instead of the ricotta salata. For my taste Cooking Light’s vinaigrette recipes frequently don’t use enough oil to balance the acid and you end up tasting only the acid component. I’ve always used three parts oil to one part vinegar (or lemon or lime juice) for a vinaigrette, so that’s what I did here. I suspect they reduce the amount of oil to save on the calories and fat count, but I’m more interested in the flavor and how it tastes.

Peaches and mint are fabulous together, so don’t leave out the fresh mint. I also peeled the peaches, primarily because I don’t care for the fuzzy feel the skin leaves on my tongue. Our supermarket had baby key limes, so I couldn’t resist buying a bag and using them in these vinaigrettes. Key limes contain tiny seeds, so be sure to remove them before squeezing. Although they are a bit more tart than Persian limes, feel free to use a Persian lime, or even a lemon for that matter, if key limes aren’t available.

Proscuitto, Peach and Spinach Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed key lime juice
A good squirt of honey
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

1 (5 oz) package of baby spinach
2 large ripe peaches cut into wedges
Coarse sea salt (French fleur de sel if you have it)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 ounces very thinly sliced proscuitto (best quality you can find)
4 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled

Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a screw top jar. Shake well and set aside. Put spinach and peach wedges in a large bowl, sprinkle with the sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and toss gently. Arrange an equal serving of salad on four plates. Tear the proscuitto into one inch pieces and garnish the salad with the proscuitto and crumbled feta cheese. Sprinkle the peaches with a bit more coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The second salad is Flank Steak Salad with Plums and Blue Cheese. I substituted a cut of meat called a London broil for the flank steak and we grilled it outdoors on our gas grill as opposed to cooking it inside in a skillet. This salad is a wonderful blend of flavors and the combination of steak and cheese can’t be beat. Again, I changed the vinaigrette to a three to one ratio of oil to acid.

Both recipes make an excellent light main-course worthy of company.

Steak Salad with Plums and Blue Cheese
Adapted from Cooking Light – serves 4

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed key lime juice, seeds removed
A squirt of honey

1 pound London broil or flank steak, trimmed of excess fat
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed key lime juice
1 (5 oz) package of baby arugula
Coarse sea salt (we like French fleur de sel)
Freshly ground black pepper
3 plums, thinly sliced
¼ cup crumbled blue cheese

Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a screw top jar. Shake well and set aside. Sprinkle the steak with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Combine the olive oil and lime juice in a small bowl. Rub on both sides of the steak and let it sit for a few minutes while your grill heats up.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill. Cook steak on the grill until it’s reached your desired degree of doneness. Remove the steak, cover, and set it aside to rest for about ten minutes. Put the arugula in a large bowl, toss with the vinaigrette and season with the coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide the salad equally among four plates. Thinly slice the steak and add it to the plates along with the sliced plums and blue cheese. Sprinkle the steak and plums with a bit more coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mediterranean Style Chicken Breasts with Tomato Bruschetta Topping

Do you ever see a recipe on someone else’s blog and think to yourself I know I’ll like that. It happens to me all of the time. When I do, I copy and paste the recipe along with the link over to a file I’ve named “New recipes to try.” Mediterranean Style Chicken Breasts is one of those recipes. I saw it on one of my favorite blogs, Stacey’s Snacks, and left the comment, “Stacey, what a beautiful, easy dinner party dish. This is carb friendly and I’ve always got a dinner guest or two who are watching their carbs for one reason or another.”

One of the reasons I liked Stacey’s recipe is that it’s elegant, easy and perfect for entertaining. She made a bruschetta recipe of tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, feta cheese, and fresh herbs and used it as a topping for the chicken breasts which were served on a platter of greens lightly drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Stacey’s recipe also happens to be very similar to a recipe of ours that we love and serve all of the time – Chicken with Tomatoes, Basil and Feta over Orzo with Slivered Almonds that I posted last October. There are some differences in the two recipes, but the main one is that Stacey serves her chicken over arugula instead of orzo as I did, making hers very carb friendly.

Good tomatoes are essential in this recipe. Every year we grow a few heirloom tomatoes in our herb garden. This year we decided to plant only one heirloom – a Cherokee Purple. This is an excerpt from an essay I wrote about the Cherokee Purple tomato. It was published in a newly released anthology from the North Carolina Writer’s Network West titled Echoes Across the Blue Ridge – Stories, Essays and Poems by writers living in and inspired by the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Much of the old culture of the Appalacian mountains is passing or has already pased, but this anthology brings it all alive beautifully through the gifted voices of the poets and writers who live in these mountains. The anthology is available in bookstores throughout western North Carolina or on line at www.ncwriters.org.

Excerpt from Echoes Across the Blue Ridge
Century Old Purple Heirloom Tomatoes of the Cherokee Indians 
By Sam Hoffer

Craig Le Houillier, a passionate gardener and collector of heirloom tomato seeds including many old varieties thought to be extinct, received a surprise package in the mail one morning in 1990. It contained a small packet of tomato seeds along with a brief note from John Green of Sevierville, Tennessee. John’s note said that the seeds were from a purple tomato that the Cherokee Indian tribe had given to his neighbors “one hundred years ago” and that he wanted to share this unnamed tomato with him. Craig grew the seeds and was surprised to find that the fruit was truly purple so he named this century old tomato a Cherokee Purple in honor of its Indian heritage. 

The first time I saw a Cherokee tomato was at our farmer’s market downtown on the square. It was a large, heavy beefsteak-style heirloom tomato with dark shoulders and weighed twelve to sixteen ounces. The flesh was a rich reddish purple color, resembling fine aged wine. The local farmer told me they were easy to grow. I purchased a couple of the big purple tomatoes along with a loaf of freshly baked peasant-style bread and a small bunch of fresh basil and envisioned the tomato sandwich I would soon have for lunch. The first bite told me it was tomato heaven and I instantly became a Cherokee tomato maniac. It had an old fashioned sweet flavor that was full of acidity, making it one of the best tasting heirlooms I’d ever eaten. I knew right away that I had to have them in my garden. After all, I lived in Cherokee County, North Carolina and loved tomatoes so it was the natural thing to do. Continued………

There’s a lot of history about the Cherokee Indians and the Native American Trail of Tears where we live. About thirty miles east, on the road to Asheville, is the Nantahala National Forest. This route, once part of the Indian Trail of Tears, is a serpentine, narrow two-lane road that winds it way alongside the beautiful Nantahala River/ The river begins high in the mountains and then flows down through the Nantahala Gorge, which is narrow and steep. The word Nantahala comes from the Cherokee Indians and means “land of the noonday sun.” In some areas along the gorge, the sun reaches the ground only when it’s directly overhead. You may remember my post last year with more pictures.

Nantahala Gorge in Nantahala National Forest

Here’s a photo of an assortment of heirlooms from our garden last year. The Cherokee tomato is the purple one.

Heirloom tomatoes

This year our Cherokee Purple crop was dismal and disappointing, yielding only a couple of puny tomatoes not worth slicing, much less photographing. It was probably because it was very dry and we most likely didn’t pamper them as much as we should have. However, as the tomatoes started to grow, we noticed that one looked different from the rest. As it turns out, it was a Roma plum tomato, mislabeled as a Cherokee Purple. The Roma tomato crop flourished, as you can see by this picture, and they’re what I used in Stacey’s Mediterranean Style Chicken recipe.

Give both recipes a try. I know you’ll love them and best of all, we get “wows” every time we serve them.

Stacey’s Mediterranean Style Chicken Breasts
Adapted from Stacey’s Snacks – serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, flattened slightly
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
Baby spinach or arugula, washed and spun dry

Tomato Bruschetta mixture:
5 plum tomatoes, preferably homegrown, roughly chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Chopped kalamata olives
Crumbled feta cheese
Fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Fresh basil leaves, chopped

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and dredge in the flour. Heat about 3 to 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil in a 12” non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken to pan; cook 6 minutes on each side or until done. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm. Alternately, you can grill the chicken outside or on a stove top grill pan, but omit the flour.

While the chicken is cooking, gently mix together the tomato mixture in a bowl and set aside. (Do not make too far in advance.) Serve each chicken breast on a bed of greens that have been tossed with the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Top chicken with the tomato bruschetta mixture followed by a sprinkling of kalamata olives, crumbled feta cheese, chopped fresh Italian parsley, and fresh basil leaves. Serve at once.