Go Fish

When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine suggested we buy a membership to Costco, to help defray the cost of things like diapers. We snorted at the time, because we planned on using cloth. But three months of daily loads of laundry had us questioning both environmental and practical benefits of that decision.

salmon and cantaloupe

So we got a Costco membership, over Rich’s objections. He just didn’t see the point of having to pay to shop somewhere. I kept on insisting we’d find a use for it, and I like the fact that the company pays a living wage. I also like that I don’t have to make us lunch or dinner when we hit it up on a weekend because of all the free samples, and I know he likes any opportunity to eat pork, even if it’s just on the end of a toothpick. He finally relented when, after our microwave gave up the ghost, he discovered that the difference in price between a new one at Costco and elsewhere more than covered the cost of membership.

But other than the occasional small appliance, I keep going back to Costco for a relatively short list of items: bulk hazelnuts, bulk frozen fish, bulk brown rice and produce in the wintertime. I’ve never been bashful about my love of fish; that’s why I call this blog “mostly vegetarian.” And it turns out that Lilli adores salmon as much as her mommy. So I often grab a few frozen filets the night before and toss them in a bowl in the fridge to defrost during the day. I rub a little olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt on the pieces, and simply roast them in a hot toaster oven for less than 10 minutes for a quick weeknight dinner. I cook up a huge pot of brown rice in my rice cooker once a week, and enjoy that on the side.

Elton John

Fish? Did you say fish?

But when I saw this recipe for salmon with cantaloupe and fried shallots in my 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook, I knew we had a keeper. Lilli not only loves salmon, but she also eats cantaloupe at nearly every meal. And when I told Rich I found a recipe that called for both salmon and cantaloupe he noted that there is a slurry of that in her bib after almost every dinner. The fact that this had a dressing of fish sauce, brown sugar and lime juice, my own favorite trinity, was icing on the cake.

I actually had everything in the house for this dish, so it is a pantry dish, at least in my world. I eliminated the horseradish from my version, simply because I despise the taste, but I’ll leave it in parenthesis in case that’s up your alley. I also left out the celery leaves because I never have celery in the house. Buttermilk seems to always linger next to the milk in our fridge.

Fried Shallots, Round 2

Fried shallots, round 2.

I would suggest zesting the lime before you juice it; I wish the printed recipe would have said that. I didn’t scoop the cantaloupe, but used the small pieces I serve Lilli, which turned out to be just about a ¼ of an inch in size.

I’d never fried shallots before and overdid the first batch. Set a timer for four minutes and don’t think they need to be any darker when the timer beeps, because they don’t.

The salmon from Costco is skinless, but I followed the directions on the recipe and it worked beautifully.

This dish is fantastic. As Rich put it, “wow, this was like eating in a fancy restaurant!” Costco, people. Costco.

Salmon with Cantaloupe and Fried Shallots from the 2011 Food & Wine Annual Cookbook

Ingredients

Vinaigrette

(2 Tablespoons freshly grated horseradish)

Juice of 1 fresh lime (remember to zest the lime first!)

1 Tablespoon Asian fish sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Fried Shallots

Vegetable oil, for frying

2 large shallots, thinly sliced crosswise and separated into rings

Cornstarch, for dusting

Salt

Salmon and garnishes

Four 6-ounce salmon fillets with skin (or, four pieces of frozen salmon from Costco you will have defrosted the night before)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1/3 small cantaloupe, scooped into small balls or cut into ¼-inch dice (about 1 cup)

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest

(Freshly grated horseradish)

(1/4 cup celery leaves)

Directions

  1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the horseradish if you’re using it, lime juice, fish sauce, brown sugar and olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Make the fried shallots: In a large skillet, heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil. Put the shallot rings in a colander and dust heavily with cornstarch, shaking to coat them well. Add the shallots to the hot oil in an even layer and fry over moderate heat until browned and crisp, about four minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fried shallots to paper towels to drain. Season the shallots lightly with salt.
  3. Prepare the salmon: Preheat the oven to 400F. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. Add the salmon skin side down and cook over high heat until the skin is browned and crisp, about three minutes. Turn the fillets and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook for about three minutes, or until the salmon fillets are just cooked.
  4. Meanwhile, divide the cantaloupe among four shallow bowls. Drizzle with the buttermilk and season lightly with salt. Lay the salmon on the cantaloupe and spoon the vinaigrette on top. Sprinkle with the lime zest and grated horseradish. Scatter the celery leaves and fried shallots over the salmon and serve right away.

The vinaigrette and fried shallots cane be kept at room temperature for up to four hours.

 

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Weekend Edition

Weekday breakfasts are usually solo affairs around here. I’m not a coffee drinker, so while Rich starts his day by grinding his beans and setting up his French press, I’m usually out the door with breakfast (sometimes leftovers from dinner, lately it’s been yogurt) in my sack to be eaten at my desk while checking emails. Weekends, however, are a different matter altogether.

We have a ritual for our Sundays mornings: Rich is the official breakfast maker at our house. Sometimes he’ll pile a platter high with French toast made with challah leftover from Shabbat, sometimes there are waffles, and sometimes, like this morning, there are pancakes. We eat our breakfast at the dining room table while listening to Will Shortz’s Sunday Puzzle on NPR’s Weekend Edition. When I stop and think about it, I realize we’ve listened to hundreds of puzzles together. We’ve never sent in a postcard to play on the air, but we always listen for the piano’s notes announcing the segment, and shout, “Puzzle!” when we do hear it.

This morning I made the executive decision to add some of the blueberries from this week’s CSA box to our pancakes.  We had buttermilk in the house from making this cobbler, although we changed out the apricots, cherries and ginger for nectarines, blackberries and sage. The pancakes were something else. The heat of the griddle softened the berries into puddles of warm jam. Each bite was special.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

Adapted, ever so slightly, from The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook, by Sharon Kramis & Julie Kramis Hearne

Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

2 cups buttermilk

½ cup whole milk

¼ cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted, plush additional melted butter for serving

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more if needed

¼ cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, milk, and melted butter until well blended. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk just until combined. Fold in the berries.

Heat a 10-or 12-inch cast iron skillet or cast iron griddle over medium heat. Add 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil to the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet, ¼ cup at a time, forming small pancakes. When bubbles start to form, turn the pancakes over and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Continue until all the batter is used up, adding more vegetable oil as necessary. Serve with melted butter and warm maple syrup.

This Is Just To Say

I talk a good game about loving my CSA and avoiding bananas because they’re shipped in from god knows where, but I’m a complete pushover when it comes to a sale on summer fruit. I would love to say I find all my berries at my local farmer’s market, but the truth is, when I swing by Star Market on the way home for milk, I always stop off in the produce section to see what’s on sale. Most women admit to a weakness for shoe sales; for me, it’s all about berries and stone fruit.

So it shouldn’t be such a surprise that last week I found myself on a lunch break at the Asian market Super 88, piling up on plums for a quarter and apricots that were three for a dollar. And I should know better. Given my Food Studies background, I know full well about the plight of the migrant worker making pennies an hour picking my fruit. In fact, I’m currently reading The American Way of Eating,Terrie McMillan’s journalistic exposé on how Americans eat.

I actually debated posting this recipe because the fruit was so inexpensive. I hemmed and hawed. I waited another day. I ate more cake. I conferenced with Sylvie this afternoon, asking her if she would be a disappointed Cheap Beets reader if I posted this recipe. As she succinctly put it: “I am never disappointed by cake recipes.” So onward we go!

When I discovered we had leftover buttermilk in the house from a cake that Rich baked for his office – a real humdinger of a birthday cake, the Dorie Greenspan one with lemon and layers of raspberry filling, all fluffed up with coconut – I decided to bake something. I found this recipe in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day cookbook. It used up my plums and the buttermilk, and it called for whole wheat flour, so of course it’s healthy, right?

Although the recipe calls for fine-grain natural cane sugar, I used the white stuff in my pantry. To make it fine-grain, I whirled it in my food processor for about 15 seconds. I used zests from two lemons, instead of three, only because I couldn’t find a third in my crisper.

I should also make it clear that while this is a tasty plum cake, this in no way measures up to Marion Barros’ plum torte, the platonic ideal of a plum cake recipe. Rich wanted me to make that clear. He also said that my cheap Asian market plums probably weren’t even picked in this country, and that they were probably loaded with heavy metals. But we’re just going to ignore that…

I was a little nervous about removing this one from the oven before it was fully baked. It looked a little loose in places, but Heidi notes, “You don’t want to overbake this cake in particular. It will end up on the dry side, more like a scone if you’re not careful.” She goes on to suggest serving it with a “floppy dollop of maple-sweetened whipped cream.” That sure does sound nice, but maple seems so fall to me.

In terms of prepping the plums: “Some plums can be difficult. With a sharp knife, slice off two lobes as close to the pit as you can get. Cut each lobe into 4 pieces, eight total. Now slice off the two lobes remaining on the pit.”

Buttermilk Plum Cake

Ingredients

2 ½ cups/11 oz/310 g whole wheat pastry flour

1 Tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder

½ cup/2.5 oz/70 g fine-grain natural cane sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1 ½ cups/355 ml buttermilk

¼ cup/2 oz/60 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled a little

Grated zest of 3 lemons

8 to 10 plums (ripe, but not overly ripe), thinly sliced

3 Tablespoons large-grain raw sugar or turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400F/205C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter and flour an 11-inch (28cm) round tart/quiche pan, or line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Alternately, you can make this cake in a 9 by 13-inch (23 by 33cm) rectangular baking dish; just keep a close eye on it near the end of the baking time.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, fine-grain sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk. Whisk in the melted (but not hot) butter and the lemon zest. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and stir briefly, until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, pushing it out toward the edges a bit. Scatter the plums across the stop, then sprinkle with the large-grain sugar.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cake has set. A toothpick to the center should come out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The Last Hurrah

Rich heard the clanging and crashing from the back room and came running. My guess is he was worried that a plate had fallen to the floor, or maybe a pot had slipped from its hook off the rack on the wall. The noise turned out to be the sound of a serving spoon scraping the last bits of the buttermilk dressing off the serving dish directly into my mouth.

“Oof. Yuuwersppdtuseethif,” I said by way of explanation. (For those of you who don’t ordinarily deal with people talking with serving spoons and platters in their mouths, what I said was “Oops. You weren’t supposed to see this.”) I swallowed, licked the spoon, and put the dish back on the table.

I couldn’t help myself. Really, I couldn’t. I saw this dinner as a final farewell for my tomatoes and peaches. Sure, I knew there’d be a few more to come in next week’s CSA box, but something had happened overnight in Boston. As soon as we’d turned the page on Labor Day, the sky grew dark, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and a near-constant rain started to fall. Summer, the clouds seemed to say, is definitely over.  All I had left to remind me of the season were some ripe tomatoes and peaches. These needed to be treated with utmost respect; something special for their last hurrah.

I’m not sure if it was the storm or a dream, but the night before I sat straight up in bed and whispered “buttermilk,” which had taken on a kind of reverence that perhaps someone’s childhood sled name whispered by a fireside might. The thought of buttermilk haunted me the next day, its creaminess, its twang. I wanted it to bathe my tomatoes in it. And, if I was lucky and found the right recipe, my peaches could enjoy a buttermilk treatment as well.

I found the dressing recipe I was looking for via Deb, who found hers via Gourmet. I changed mine up a little bit, using a summer sweet Vidalia onion instead of a shallot. I have leftovers of the dressing, and I plan on drizzling it on top of every vegetable in my crisper, then perhaps going out to the market and buying a plain old head of iceberg lettuce to continue the dressing-fest.

The peach cake came via the food community Food52, which was founded by Amanda Hesser, a food writer for the New York Times, and Merrill Stubs, a freelance food writer and recipe tester. The site’s first project was a crowd-sourced cookbook, and this recipe was one of their first contests winners: You submit a recipe, readers vote, and each week the winning recipe makes it into a cookbook, hence the name Food52. I think the tasting notes on this one sum it up:

The cake is chock full of juicy summer peaches, and the addition of ground almonds sets it apart from other simple butter cakes. It’s luscious and a bit custardy in the areas surrounding the peaches — a texture that works when the cake is either warm or at room temperature. Don’t be alarmed if the batter seems to curdle when you add the buttermilk, as it will come together again once you mix in the dry ingredients.

If you’re on the fence about purchasing an entire bottle of buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk. In five minutes, you’ll have enough buttermilk for both these recipes.

Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons minced Vidalia onion

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

Directions

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, onion, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in chives.

Simple Summer Peach Cake

Ingredients

3 ripe peaches

3/4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar

6 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter

1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Cut the peaches into bite sized pieces. Toss the peaches with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and remaining sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the egg, buttermilk and extracts, and stir to combine.

Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture, mix until smooth (some lumps may remain). Pour into the prepared pan.

Press the peaches into the top of the cake. They can be nicely arranged, but it made more sense to cram as many peaches as possible into the cake. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar over the top.