Saturday, March 31, 2012

Homemade Granola

I spent part of spring break visiting my twin sister in Chicago. We've always been co-conspirators in the kitchen, and she's always inspired me with her culinary vision. As a kindergardener, thanks to a teacher with communist enthusiasms, she developed a taste for borscht, and insisted on perfecting the recipe at home. One Christmas in high school, after reading Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, she recreating a magnificent version of Mrs. Ramsay's boeuf en daube. And her various sojourns in Germany during her studies have been a source of cooking inspiration.

Now that she's in the midst of the great adventure of toddler parenthood, overly-ambitious cooking projects have to take a back burner. We cooked some family favorites like crepes, both savory and sweet, and tried this delicious pasta with sardines. But mostly what we wanted to do with our precious time together was talk. Granola-making is perfectly conducive for chatting, and with this in mind, I had brought her some Eugene Scottish oats

We tested out a simplified version of this granola recipe, with Scottish oats, flaxseeds, pecans, maple syrup, and olive oil. As we sat around admiring her son's confident new steps, a toasty fragrance enveloped the apartment. The final granola was delicious over yogurt as a German ex-pat breakfast. And it's so easy to cook that we both plan to make it on a regular basis. Maybe while chatting on the phone.


1 cup Scottish oats (or use rolled oats)
1/3 cup flax seeds
1/2 cup pecans (or slivered almonds)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup olive oil 
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Mix together all of the ingredients. Use parchment paper to cover a baking sheet with a rim. Spread out the oat mixture on the baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for a total of 30 to 35 minutes, stirring the oats about every 10 minutes, until they are nicely toasted. Cool and store in a glass container.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Salmon and Barley Cakes

This golden hulless barley from our Lonesome Whistle Farm bean and grain CSA has a nutty flavor and enough virtuous, whole grain appeal to justify a rich and cheesy accompaniment. Growing up, one of my mother's weeknight pantry meals was Julia Child's salmon gratin (from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume 1). It consists of a rich, creamy roux, laced with white vermouth, into which you fold canned salmon and sauteed mushrooms, followed by a heavy sprinkling of gruyere cheese. My mother always served her salmon gratin with white rice, but my sister later made the improvement of using nutty brown rice. Julie Powell's Julie/Julia Project (no longer on line) derided this dish as grey and sludgy, but I feel that she entirely missed the point. Here's a dish that transforms a lowly tin of salmon into exquisite haute cuisine. It may not be pretty, but it tastes delicious.

Unfortunately, when I made this salmon gratin for my kids, they, like Julie Powell, could not get beyond the sludginess. This got me thinking about how I could repackage it, and my golden barley offered the inspiration. Barley, I realized, could provide the same nuttiness of brown rice, and also a sticky heft to bind together the salmon into a crispy cake. To recreate the decadent cream and mushroom flavor of the original dish, I made a sauteed mushroom, vermouth-infused, creme fraiche garnish. And to keep the dish from being too rich, I served the cakes on a bed of lemony greens. Biting into one of these Julia-inspired cakes brought back a flood of childhood memories, but with a satisfying crunch.

Salmon and Barley Cakes a la Julia
Makes 12 cakes

for the salmon and barley cakes
1 cup barley (best is golden hulless, or use pearled barley) 

2 cups water
1 medium shallot
1 Tbsp butter
1 egg
2 ounces of gruyere cheese, grated
4 sprigs fresh oregano
6 ounce can of skinless, boneless salmon
plenty of pepper
1 cup panko (divided use)
olive oil for frying

for the mushroom cream garnish
8 ounces cremi mushroom
1 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper
¼ cup white vermouth
¼ cup crème fraiche

salad greens
fresh lemon juice

1. The evening before cover the barley with cold water and soak overnight. The next day, remove any loose hulls that have floated to the top and drain off the water. Add 2 cups fresh water and a generous pinch of salt, bring the barley to a simmer, and cook, covered, for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Check the barley for doneness. It will probably still need another 5 to 10 minutes to cook, but if it is still quite watery, you can remove the lid at this point and finish cooking while letting more of the liquid evaporate. When the barley is tender but still has a firm bite, turn it off. You will have more that you need for this recipe, so save some for salads or as a side dish or freeze for another batch of salmon cakes.  Measure out one cup of cooked barley for this recipe and transfer to a large bowl and allow it to cool.

2. Peel and chop the shallot in a small dice. Heat a skillet over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp of butter, and sauté the shallots, with a pinch of salt, until very soft, but do not let them brown. Add these to the bowl with the barley.

3. Clean and slice the mushrooms. In the same pan that you cooked the shallots, melt another Tbsp of butter and now sauté the mushrooms over medium heat, with a pinch of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Let the mushrooms release their own juices and keep cooking them until the liquid cooks down. Now add the white vermouth and cook the mushrooms until this has cooked down. Turn off the mushrooms and let them cool. When the mushrooms have cooled, put them in a food processor with the crème fraiche and pulse a few times to create a textured paste. Reserve the mushroom cream for serving.

4. Now your barley should be cooled down enough to mix in an egg. Then mix in the grated gruyere cheese, oregano leaves, salt and freshly ground pepper. Break the salmon into flakes with a fork and gently mix this into the batter, along with the juices. Now use your hands to gently mix in about ½ cup panko, or more if the batter feels too moist. Form the batter into 12 patties, about two inches wide. Gently roll these in more panko and place them on a parchment paper or silpat covered cookie sheet and chill them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This will help them firm up and make frying them more manageable.

5. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add about 4 Tbsp of olive oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil is shimmering, place half of the cakes into the pan. Now leave them alone for a good 5-8 minutes until they are nicely browned (don’t be tempted to flip them too soon). Flip and cook until the second side is nicely browned as well.

6. While the salmon bakes are cooking, toss the salad greens with lemon juice and a small pinch of salt, and arrange on plates. When the salmon cakes are done cooking, place on the bed of greens and top each cake with a large dollop of the mushroom cream.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Buttery Five Minute Oatmeal Breakfast

A warm bowl of oatmeal is a fitting breakfast for St. Patrick's Day. We've been savoring the whole grain, traditionally milled oats from our Lonesome Whistle Farm CSA, which are wonderful for leisurely weekend breakfasts of porridge and pancakes.

But I've wanted to find a way to enjoy these oats for a quick weekday breakfast. They aren't quite substantial enough for overnight oatmeal in a slow cooker, but they require about 20 minutes of stove top cooking to become tender. I was in luck when I came across this recipe from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. First, she toasts her grains in butter and then soaks them overnight and cooks them in the morning.

The butter treatment gave these oats a lovely toasty richness. I next tried soaking them in boiling water to jumpstart their morning cooking, and this worked well. The oatmeal was done in just the time it took to prepare a well-brewed pot of tea. All that was left was choosing toppings. I'm partial to pecans, dried cranberries, and brown sugar.

Buttery Five Minute Oatmeal
serves one

scant 1/3 cup Scottish oats
1 tsp butter
1 cup water (divided)
pinch of salt

toppings such as nuts, dried fruit, and brown sugar

1. The evening before, heat a small saucepan and set a kettle with 2/3 cup water. When the pan is warm, melt the butter. Then add the oatmeal and cook the grains, stirring, for about five minutes, until they have toasted to a darker beige and are very fragrant. Turn off the heat. Carefully add 2/3 cup boiling water (it will splatter), stir, and cover.

2. The next morning, add 1/3 cup water to the pan and reheat (for a richer porridge, use 1/3 cup milk). Let the oatmeal simmer for about five to eight minutes until it is the desired tenderness and thickness. Serve warm, sprinkled with your favorite toppings and a splash of cold milk.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Salmon on the Rocks

If you are wondering what to serve at your next dinner party, I have a recommendation: salmon roasted on a bed of rock salt. This recipe, which I adapted from Corey Schreiber's Wildwood: Cooking from the Source in the Pacific Northwest, is a surefire way to prepare a succulent, crowd-pleasing fillet of fish. The salt magically distributes the heat so that the fish is moist and evenly cooked, with a pleasant but not aggressive saltiness infused through the skin. Here was the menu for a successful Friday night dinner party, much of which I cooked ahead on Thursday evening:

first course
Red lentil soup (this recipe, made the day before)
main course
Herbed salmon roasted on rock salt (below)
Golden hulless barley risotto with fennel, leeks, and celeriac (similar to this, partially cooked the day before, then finished with more broth and grated parmasan)
Kale salad with roasted squash, almonds, and cheddar (similar to this and this, all the components prepped the day before)
Chocolate espresso cheesecake from Eugene City Bakery

Herbed Salmon Roasted on Rock Salt
adapted from Corey Schreiber

1 or several large salmon fillet(s) (calculate about 6 ounces per person)

salt and freshly ground black pepper
rock salt (also sold as ice cream salt) for baking

for each salmon fillet, prepare an herb mixture with:
zest from 1 large lemon (use a microplane grater to zest)
1 handful fennel fronds
1 handful Italian parsley leaves

Before your guests arrive, take your salmon out of the refrigerator. Find a baking dish large enough to hold the salmon and cover the bottom of the dish completely with rock salt. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the bed of rock salt. Lightly salt and generously pepper the flesh side of the salmon fillet. Chop the fennel fronts and parsley leaves and combine with the lemon zest. Spread the herb mixture over the fish, cover the pan with plastic wrap, and set aside.

When your guests have all arrived, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Just before you serve the first course, put the salmon in the oven. Bake for about 35 minutes until the fish is opaque on the top, but still slightly translucent inside. Remove the fish from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes or so (it will continue cooking). Bring the whole fish on the rock salt bed to the table and serve.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Seeds

Just a couple days after our snow dusting, spring is suddenly here. In Hendricks Park, early rhododendrons were in full bloom behind the winter hellebores. 

But it always takes a little longer for the local spring vegetables to catch up with the spring flowers. In the meantime, to satisfy one's craving for bright, fresh flavors after the long, comforting braises of winter, one needs to be creative with winter gems like these delicate purple and green brussels sprouts from Open Oak Farm.

Inspiration came from a delicious Madhur Jaffrey recipe I recently discovered for cabbage stir fried with fennel seeds and Indian spices. I love cabbage braised with mustard seeds, but Jaffrey's stir fry keeps the seeds crisp and bursting with flavor. I tried a version with these brussels sprouts and the resulting dish, full of fennel flares and bright lemon, was as fresh and fragrant as a springtime stroll through the park.

Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Seeds
inspired by Madhur Jaffrey

1 pound brussels sprouts
1 small onion
2 Tbsp neutral oil such as grape seed
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

1. Rinse the brussels sprouts, trip off their stems, and slice into disks. Peel and dice the onion.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. When it is hot, add all the seeds and cook for about 30 seconds until the sesame seeds start to pop. Immediately add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until they are soft and glassy. Add the brussels sprouts and stir fry, turning frequently, for about 10 minutes until they are cooked through and a little charred but not soggy. Season with salt and cayenne to taste. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon juice. Enjoy.