Copper River Gravlax: Recipe Refresh!

Sometimes you get in a recipe rut. You make the same version of a recipe time and again. Then, there are instances when you decide you need a reboot.

You need to bust a rut and revisit your technique.

That’s exactly what happened to me last May.

I was attending the Nordic Culinary Conference at the Nordic Heritage Museum and Andreas Viestad, the author of Kitchen of Light and the host of the PBS Television series New Scandinavian Cooking was giving a demo on gravlax.  My husband and I have been making gravlax for years but I thought it would be fun to learn or explore a new technique.

Generally, when we make it we use wild salmon that has been frozen and we make it during the winter months,usually around Christmas. We also used kosher salt and follow a recipe that essentially had us “burying” the salmon in salt. The results were good but I felt they could be better.

Hello, Nordic Culinary Conference!

While discussing the history and culture of gravlax and working at a very basic set up in the museum’s gym, Andreas sparked my Gravlax Recipe Reboot! He used a far gentler hand when curing his gravlax and he discussed the merits of curing the wild salmon first and then freezing it.  Aside from neutralizing any potential health issues with eating wild salmon raw, this curing THEN freezing method also results in a superior end product because Andreas explained that the curing breaks down some of the proteins in the fish and removes excess water in the flesh before the fish is frozen.

At the end of that class we were all treated to tastings of his version. Memorable morsels indeed.

At home, I anxiously awaited the launch of Copper River sockeye season and once I could get my hands on some, I adapted Andreas’s basic gravlax recipe. While standing face to fin with my Copper River sockeye, I decided to adjust Andreas’s recipe even further. He calls for curing with dill seed and peppercorn but I left those out and wrote up my own version of the technique, using an even lighter more intuitive hand. The end product is buttery, fresh and deliciously decadent.

The sockeye gravlax slices beautifully.

It drapes like silk!

Missy Trainer’s Gravlax Recipe

Adapted from Andreas Viestad, Nordic Culinary Conference (May 2016) and Kitchen of Light.

Copyright 2016 Melissa A. Trainer

Ingredients:

1 Copper River sockeye salmon, (tested with a four pounder/2016 season), filleted, pin boned, washed and patted dry lightly with paper towels

1/3 cup fine sea salt*

2/3 cup sugar

½ large bunch fresh dill, chopped coarsely

Equipment: parchment paper, Saran Wrap, large baking dish, such as Le Creuset roasting pan, small sandwich sized Tupperware containers, and four cans of Oregon Fruit Products cherries to weight the fish

Put the sockeye fillets, flesh side up on the parchment paper.   Combine the salt and sugar in a bowl and lightly sprinkle the sockeye flesh with the mixture.

I did this about three times and between each sprinkling the cure mixture would start to dissolve. This gentle subtle sprinkling technique results in a more refined texture. In the past and in many recipes they call for just dumping the mixture on the flesh, which essentially suffocates the poor bugger! After sprinkling,  rub the mixture around a little bit to distribute it.

In my method, let the salmon talk back to ya! Let it suck up some of the salt sugar mixture and rest for a second before you “load it up” again!

After three or four sprinklings, you’ll probably have some salt/sugar cure mixture left. I didn’t use it all the first time…I just set it aside in a jam jar and saved it for the next round of fish.

Then top the salmon with the chopped dill and sandwich the two fillets together. Wrap the sandwiched fillets in Saran wrap, put in the roasting pan and weight it as evenly as you can with the Tupperware and canned cherries…or corn or beans or bricks. This compresses the salmon and helps to extract that excess water.

Refrigerate and turn daily for two to three days.  Remove the cured fish, pat it dry. Do not rinse it. Leave the fresh dill intact. Cut into eight ounce chunks or whatever size you want. (Eight ounce chunks make it easy to avoid waste and use only what you need in each sitting.)

Vacuum pack if you have a Food Saver and freeze. Remove from freezer, let defrost and cut the gravlax thinly on an angle.

Drape the gravlax slices on whole grain bread, top with Scandinavian mustard and a garnish of dill.

Gravlax Twice as Good: Leftovers? Save even the smallest leftovers and tidbits and make a Scandinavian style potato salad with fresh cooked new potatoes, sour cream/mayo combo, celery, sweet onion, fresh dill and snippets of gravlax. The best!

*Salt:  In prior seasons we always just used kosher salt  but we now know that it is way too coarse and harsh. I switched to a bulk French fine sea salt from Whole Foods, which made a huge difference as the salt melts on the flesh within seconds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool Tip for Leftover Citrus

Frozen CitrusLeftovers. Not exactly exciting but a fact of life. And…sometimes the best source of innovation.

A few weeks ago we had a party and my husband had segmented lemons and limes for cocktails. The next morning we had quite a few left but the pieces weren’t really suitable for cooking. They were too small to  work with.  I couldn’t squeeze much out of them and zesting them would have been a tedious task at best.

Rather than throw them out, I decided to just chuck the lemons and limes in a baggie and toss them in the freezer. At the time, i didn’t think too much about it.  I just figured they’d come in handy.

Well, last week I decided to spontaneously add a few of the frozen sections to my Hydro Flask in the morning. Wow! The results were spectacular. The frozen lemons and limes naturally chilled the water like ice and the aromatic oils from the citrus naturally flavored the concoction.

I love this tip and plan to use it often now that summer is here!

 

NW Sweet Cherry Season 2016

Burlat Cherries Mattawa 2016Looks like the NW Sweet Cherry season for 2016 is off to a strong (and early) start.

My husband picked up a gorgeous bag of Burlat cherries at a roadside stand out near Mattawa, WA this weekend. Shocked that they could be local, I did some research and indeed, according to the Yakima Herald,  the farmers are starting to  harvest this early variety.

Aside from being fun to eat and a spectacular seasonal treat, sweet cherries, like their sour cousins, possess some helpful anti-inflammatory properties, and may help  to reduce your risk or modify the severity of diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, blood pressure and cancer. (Back in 2014, the results of a study were published and you can read more about that in this press release that I wrote for NW cherries.)

So if you like to eat fresh seasonal fare that can easily give your body a healthy boost, head for the produce aisle and seriously consider adding a bag of cherries to your cart. They are packable, portable and, of course, palatable. Kids love them, too so it’s a slam dunk way to help them hit their fruit and veggie goal for the day.

When choosing, look for shiny cherries with bright green stems and store them in the refrigerator at home. Eat them out of hand, or pit them and add them to sweet and savory salads!

 

Tomato Soup from a Frozen Asset

Frozen Tomatoes 2015Now that Tomato Season 2016 has launched, I am turning my attention to the freezer.

Last October, right before a major rain storm, I raced into the garden and gathered the last of the season’s tomatoes. I had tons of them and simply didn’t want them to get ruined by the cold rain coming my way.

I had no time to start stewing and brewing over a hot stove to make sauces so I grabbed some quart size Ziploc freezer bags and shoved the washed tomatoes (of all shapes and sizes) straight into the bag. Ripe, whole and raw, they all went into the freezer. We’ve been using them in slow cooker vegetable and minestrone-style soups all year.

Earlier this week, I decided I really needed to use up the stash so I grabbed a couple bags from the freezer and let them defrost overnight. Yesterday morning, I had very soft tomatoes and lots of excess liquid. Admittedly, that visual  holds little appeal but I quickly tackled the mess with my Cuisinart Stick blender and my All-Clad Slow Cooker.

The tomatoes went into the slow cooker with a bunch of chopped basil found in the veggie bin. I blended the concoction with my stick blender and turned my attention to the stove where I sauteed one sweet onion and four or five cloves or garlic over moderate heat until softened. I then added a little flour to the onions, stirred in some chicken broth and made a thickener of sorts which got added to my tomato basil mixture.

The slow cooker got set for six hours on low and later that day I had a beautiful tomato basil soup ready for a simple meal. It needed little more than a blast of sea salt and pepper. Served with croutons, it was just what I needed for a quick pick me up mid day.

So, if you are planting your tomato garden, make a note to harvest and freeze some of your crop once the colder weather circles our way.

 

Starter Tips for Tomato Season 2016!

Tomato Harvest September 2015Well, I am pushing the envelope again this year.

Last April I decided to plant my tomatoes right around Tax Day. Admittedly, I don’t like that day but I love tomatoes so I think I used that day in the garden as a little fiscal therapy. I figure what I lost in one arena I could gain in another more delicious one. Indeed, I had a whopper of a season last summer…one of my best ever.

Well, the same urge stoked me this week and I decided to gear up and plant early.  Seattle is seeing some unprecedented warm and sunny weather. So I got my act together, purchased some great tomato starts as Swanson’s Nursery on Thursday and planted my tomatoes on Sunday.

tomatoes 2 2015

Are you gearing up? Well, here are a few of my random tomato season starter tips.

Location, Location, Location

Without a doubt, commandeer the sunniest southern most corner of your yard. I have tried many locations and I’ve had my best results in a raised bed near the house and adjacent to a brick wall. The house and the wall bounce heat back onto the tomatoes and the southern facing location gets sun all day.

Make the Bed

Regardless of whether you use a raised bed or just a garden bed, it’s important to amend the soil before you plant. Add some compost, manure, worm castings, and/or organic fertilizer. I often have my son pick up truck loads of compost at the nursery but bagged compost works too. As for worm castings? If you don’t have a worm bin going, you can get bagged earthworm castings too. They are ridiculously high in nutrients and I am convinced they are a key component. As for fertilizer, I am very partial to Dr. Earth Home Grown Tomato, Vegetable and Herb. A dry fertilizer, this product is great simply sprinkled alongside the plants during the season and at planting time. .

Varieties

Choosing the right varieties for your climate and your family’s dining preferences is critical. I am very partial to heirloom varieties and a few of my favorites hail from Eastern Europe. I love Cosmonaut Volkov, Moskvich, Stupice, Black Krim.  All of these do well in our cooler climate and they produce consistently through October when our first frost generally hits.  Regarding dining preferences for your family, if you eat a lot of salads, then be sure to add some of the great cherry varieties on the market. They ripen reasonably quickly, they are easily tossed into salads without even being sliced, and they can be frozen whole for use in soups in the winter. Kids love cherry tomatoes and it’s an easy way to pump another vegetable into a kid-friendly menu plan.

 

Add Heat

If you live in a cooler climate, it is critically important to add a little heat to get your tomato plants going. Here in Seattle, I lean towards using a Wall of Water or a large cloche made from PVC piping and  plastic sheeting. Both methods work and both have advantages and disadvantages. Admittedly, I waffle between methods. I’ve used the PVC cloching method for years. The cloche covers the whole bed and the heat ramps ups quickly but I have to open and close the cloche daily to moderate the temperatures to be sure the tomatoes don’t accidentally sizzle if the day gets too hot. The Wall of Water lets me “cloche” each tomato individually but the walls can be a hassle to fill–you have to fill each tube with water and it can be tedious doing that, especially if you don’t have another gardener nearby.

I have lots of other tomato growing tips on deck so I will be posting those later in the week and as the season progresses. So stay tuned for more.

 

My Five Minute Yakisoba Noodles

Are you hard pressed to find quick dishes that easily incorporate healthy vegetables into the mix?

Indeed, I am challenged by this daily. My two athletic sons mow through the meals like there’s no tomorrow, and I am constantly challenged to find ways to work more greens into their diet.

Feeling fairly exasperated by the whole thing a few weeks ago, I resorted to the Asian noodle option. Shoreline’s Central Market had a large display of Asian ingredients on display for Chinese New Year and one of the sections featured the fresh Yakisoba noodles made here at Wan Hua Foods in Seattle. Alongside the noodles was OtaJoy Yakisoba noodle sauce. Admittedly, I fell for the marketing gimmick, grabbing the  store’s handy recipe card and buying the noodles and sauce.

Well, it was  a good move. These noodles, which sell for under $3 per two pound pack, are superb for quick and easy stir fries. The noodles can be used promptly after purchase or, even better, they can be frozen in smaller portions.

    I have found that the frozen noodles defrost quickly and cook just fine.

Rather than give you a strict recipe for my Five Minute Yakisoba Noodles, I am going to lay out the basic steps because this approach lends itself to adaptation and flexibility, leaving you, the cook, to incorporate bits and bobs of vegetables that you might have handy in the bin.

Five Minute Yakisoba Noodles

Step One: Chop fresh ginger, garlic and onion. I usually use about one to two tablespoons of each. Sliced scallion works great too.

Step Two: Chop miscellaneous vegetables into roughly one- or two-inch pieces. I’ve used snow peas, sprouting broccoli from my garden, celery from the fridge, sliced peppers and even a handful of bagged coleslaw mix.

Step Three: Drizzle some oil into a large skillet or wok. Preheat over moderately high heat until oil sizzles when water is flicked onto the oil. Add the garlic/ginger/onion mixture and stir quickly to heat. Do NOT let it burn.

Step Four: Add the mixed vegetables and cook, stirring for a minute or so, or until the vegetable start to turn a bright green. DO NOT overcook. Turn the heat down to moderate if it looks too hot.

Step Five: Add a handful of the noodles, breaking them up into strands as you add them. Grab a pair of tongs and toss. (Note: the noodles do not need to be precooked so that is part of the beauty of this recipe! Furthermore, you can adjust the quantity of noodles to suit your taste or dietary needs.)

Step Six: Add two or three tablespoons of the Yakisoba sauce, tossing quickly with the tongs.

So, it really is this simple to make a quick Asian noodle dish at home. I’ve made this many times since I first purchased the ingredients. My sons hardly notice the vegetables and the dish overall makes a great accompaniment to sliced steak or teriyaki chicken. Feel free to experiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February in the Garden: Organizing a Big Hot Mess of Seeds

Things are getting brighter here in Seattle. We are scheduled for a full week of sun this week and by next Monday, which is President’s Day, we should be gearing up to plant our first round of spring peas.

Compost 2016This weekend we had a “family work party” in the garden. This involved wrangling teenage boys out of the house and into the garden. One of those teenagers picked up and hauled home two cubic yards of steamy Cedar Grove compost which was spread on my raised beds. We also had a family lesson in mechanics because my youngest son learned how to fix the wheel on the secondhand wheelbarrow. Family dynamics took a turn for the worse when it came time to deal with the big messy compost heap in the corner of the yard. I feed that heap with leaves, clippings, and coffee grounds through the winter.  No one likes that arduous and sloppy task but the worms, those quiet garden workhorses, needed a little attention.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli February 2016Last night, I finally got around to seriously perusing the seed catalogs. I have been poking through them intermittently but last night I sat down with pen and paper to craft my list. I must say I was surprised to see how much seeds prices have skyrocketed this year. One of my favorite purveyors wants $5 for ten tomato seeds. This reality check sent me on a housecleaning mission this morning….it was time to inventory my unruly collection of seed packets. I have packets stashed in Ziploc bags in a box. Not the best system admittedly but it has worked pretty well…until now.

This morning I spent a few minutes sorting those packets by variety. I then took note of the date on each packet and how much was left in each packet. Even after that I realized my sorting wouldn’t be very useful while placing mail orders or buying off the seed rack at the garden store. I really wanted to have a quick way to survey my stock and decide if I need to risk using older seeds or if it would be better to buy new.

So, I decided to take an inventory and create an Excel spreadsheet, categorizing each type of vegetable and then noting the variety, date on the packet and how much is left in each pack. Now, some of you might be masters of the Excel spreadsheet…I must admit, however, that I’ve never done one for this type of project but it came out great and I can now easily sort and peruse exactly what I have and what I need. (I just Googled an inventory spreadsheet template, downloaded it and it worked great.)  I’ve even stored the list in my Dropbox so I can access it from my phone while shopping.

I suspect I will still buy a few more packets than I technically need but I think my little seed inventory sheet will be very helpful when buying, planning, and planting for 2016.