Tomato Season 2017: Digging Those Eastern European Heirlooms

Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.

This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.

That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year.  These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.

I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.

If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at  Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring.  Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.

 

 

Discover Asian Doodle Soup!

We’ve all heard about Zoodles…spiralized zucchini that often takes the place of pasta in savory dishes.

Well, I’ve come up with Doodles! Spiralized Daikon radish that works equally as well in hot and cold dishes.

Until yesterday, I had never bothered with Daikon radish, a huge mild white winter radish from Asia. A cruciferous vegetable high in fiber and low in calories, this vegetable is indeed an underappreciated powerhouse.  When I was at the upscale Asian market in my neighborhood this weekend, I noticed boxes and boxes of these radishes around the produce department. Clearly a seasonal loss leader, they were priced at 49 cents a pound so I decided to buy one.  At the time, I didn’t know what I’d do with it but I figured something would strike my fancy.

At home, I was going to originally prep the ingredients for my Asian Chicken Salad but the weather was awful over the weekend and the chill permeated so I ditched the salad idea and decided to craft a warm and soothing Asian soup. That’s when I had my AHA moment. The Daikon was on my counter and it occurred to me that the elongated vegetable would be perfect spiralized!

daikon-doodles-2017

So, I readied my  KitchenAid Spiralizer  with the fine spiralizer attachment, cut the daikon into five inch chunks, and attached it to the spiralizer. It spiraled perfectly and the “Doodles” worked great in an Asian pho with shredded Napa cabbage, cilantro, Thai basil and scallions.   I simmered them in a homemade Asian-style chicken broth over moderately high heat for about three or four minutes. After that,  they softened a bit but retained some crunch. A very satisfying low carb and low calorie way to get a hefty hit of vegetables on a cold rainy Seattle day.

I didn’t use them all in one go yesterday so I stashed the leftover Doodles in the fridge and they stored perfectly—no browning or discoloring and they remained crispy and crunchy overnight.

So, if you find Daikon on sale and you happen to have a spiralizer in your kitchen, give Doodles a go!

 

Circa 1995, A Tip from Mom: Eat More Salmon

Funny how a simple phone call from mom can chart a new course.

Back in 1995 my mom called me. I was living in Seattle and was a new mother. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table at home on Long Island. She didn’t beat around the bush. She got right to the point and told me I needed to eat more salmon. Huh?

Mom had read an article in The New York Times that morning and it was based on research coming out of Seattle’s University of Washington. Published on November 1, 1995 and entitled “Study Finds Anew a Benefit in Eating Fish,” the article presented findings from a six -year King County study that clearly showed how eating even moderately sized servings of seafood rich in omega three fatty acids held promising health benefits.

I soon received that hand clipped article as well as others addressing Vitamin D, darkness, breast cancer risk and more.  They all mentioned the benefits of eating oily rich fish such as salmon. I took it to heart.

After all, beautiful wild salmon was readily available at the seafood counters and in the local waters all over Seattle and frankly I found it to be a restorative and positive way to take action on a brutal reality that wasn’t fun, pleasant or even remotely palatable.

You see, my mom was 2800 miles away suffering through metastatic breast cancer and would soon undergo a bone marrow transplant with a tragic outcome. My older sister, who was 36 years old had just conquered breast cancer and intensive chemotherapy. As for me, I was only 30 years old and was faced with a tsunami of risk heading my way.

Back then I was actively participating in the High Risk Breast Clinic at the University of Washington. When I moved to Seattle, the specialists at NY’s Memorial Sloan Kettering had told me to go to the UW. So, I heeded their advice, and every six months I showed up at the University of Washington Medical Center for a check-up.

Although I dreaded those darn appointments, being a journalist, I always took solace in the “news” that my docs shared each time. It seemed like research was breaking new ground daily. My wonderful doctors, who faithfully followed me for the next ten years, educated me and encouraged me to participate in the new technology and warned me that “false readings” were possible but part of the research.  Hmm. Okay. And, indeed, when they were learning how to administer and read MRIs for breast cancer screening, I was on the table. I was injected. I was zoomed in and out of the MRI machine and I was often called back when some minuscule spot looked odd and they wanted to “dig further.” Dig they did.

To make a long story short, after a decade with UWMC, I was diagnosed in 2004 at the age of 39. It was early but the docs, like mom, didn’t tread lightly. I was told: “double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.”  No chemo or radiation would be necessary because it was so early. With little waffling, I agreed and had the surgery.

I’ve never looked back and have been grateful to have nipped that nasty beast in the bud so early.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Seafood Month, I was recently inspired to donate to Sea A Cure, a fundraiser bridging the seafood industry and the cutting edge research being done at  City of Hope.  The fundraiser popped up on my Facebook page and it resonated instantly.

For me, it was the amazing doctors and researchers, both here and in NYC, who dedicated their careers to finding solutions and better detection methods but it was also that simple no nonsense call from mom that cold rainy day in 1995.

Since then, I’ve known that I can’t always fix exactly what might ail me but I sure can take the helm and dish up a hefty dose of prevention right in my own little kitchen. That’s why over the years, wild salmon, as well as many other types of seafood, have played a big role in my every day cooking, writing and recipe development.  It’s quick, easy, delicious, versatile, widely available and ridiculously good for you. What’s not to love? Clearly mom was on to a good thing!

If you want to see some of my salmon articles and recipes, click here and here.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Sea A Cure Friends of the Seafood Industry fundraiser click here. For more about City of Hope, check out these informative links.

 

 

For Pearfect Pears, Check the Neck!

Check the Neck Pear

As we shift from the luscious berries of summer into the more robust fruits of fall, I’d like to put in a plug for the humble pear. I know many folks favor apples at this time of year. I certainly serve a lot of them at my house. Nonetheless, there is something delightfully earthy and comforting about a pear.  They taste great on their own. They are flavorful and elegant with cheese. They work great in cozy homey desserts like tarts, crumbles, and cobblers.  They can, however, be tricky to judge for ripeness.

Have you ever bought a pear, carted it home, sliced it open and found it to be rock hard and taste less? Or, have you sliced it open only to find that it has gone bad from the inside out? Well, thanks to USA Pears, which is the Pear Bureau Northwest, I learned to tackle those problems a few years ago. On their website, they feature a tricky and successful method for checking a pear for ripeness. You simply “Check the Neck.”  To do so, you simply apply gentle pressure to the neck of the pear with your thumb. If it yields to pressure, it’s ripe and you are good to go!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Duke’s Chowder House Publishes First Cookbook

Duke Moscrip, one of Seattle’s longtime and legendary restaurateurs, has just released his first cookbook. As Wild as It Gets: Duke’s Secret Sustainable Seafood Recipes is a hefty treasure to hold. Published by Aviva Publishing in New York and clocking in with a whopping 382 full-color pages, this book shares the recipes for all of the dishes served at Duke’s Chowder House.

Moscrip opened Duke’s in 1976 and the restaurant’s flagship dish, clam chowder, was inspired by Duke’s New England grandfather and the chowder that he served to Duke when he was a child. Over the years, the business has expanded and there are now six locations throughout the Puget Sound. Chowder remains a hallmark at the restaurant but over the years Duke has expanded the repertoire to include wild sustainable seafood much of which hails from waters here in the Pacific Northwest and, of course, Alaska.

The book, co-authored with Chef “Wild” Bill Ranniger, explores the story of Duke’s…and Duke…in great detail. Duke’s salmon sourcing trips to Alaska are highlighted as are family meals with his children and grandchildren.

I only received my review copy this morning and was pleased to be offered a copy as I cook a lot of seafood in my little kitchen. I’ve also eaten at Duke’s many times and a few years ago I wrote the press releases for the restaurant.   At first glance, the color photography in the book grabbed my eye and enticed my culinary instincts.  The recipes aren’t only geared towards seafood…they obviously run the gamut from soup to desserts.

Over the years,  I’ve admired Duke’s wedge salad, an iceberg classic,  so I was happy to see Sweet Blackberry Wedge Salad on page 116. The recipe for Nothing But Blue Sky Bleu Cheese is revealed and that’s one that is now on my recipe to do list.

After a quick glance through the recipes, I realized that I’d need to get organized and dedicate a little more time to recreating some of the dishes at home. Because these are restaurant recipes, there are often recipes within recipes, meaning to make a salad you have to make a specific dressing the recipe for which is found on another page. Some people might think this is too complicated to follow but it’s the nature of the beast when you recreate chef recipes.

That being said, even though I was short on time, I soon found myself rustling up ingredients and adapting one of the salmon recipes, “Wild Alaska Salmon Caesar Shoots” found in the “Appeteasers & Shared Plates” chapter. The photo shows little blackened salmon strips tucked snugly into romaine lettuce leaves drizzled with Caesar dressing.   In the recipe introduction, Duke mentions how he loves salads but salads require a bowl, utensils, a napkin, a chair etc. He said he liked this recipe because you have all the comforts of a salad but you can eat it with your hands! Aha! That description was perfect and it was all that I needed to launch into a spontaneous cooking session.  Admittedly, I didn’t follow the ingredient list exactly because I didn’t have all the spices handy for Duke’s Blackening Spice of Life. That being said, I used the technique described and the results were excellent…perfect finger food for Super Bowl Weekend.

So if you want to add to your seafood cookbook repertoire, check out this newbie. You will be inspired to not only follow the recipes but to use them as a culinary launching pad, tweaking and testing to suit your wild, wonderful and whimsical ways.

 

Process This: The Ultimate Salmon Burger Method

My husband and sons love to fish here in the Pacific Northwest. As a result, I always have a freezer full of flash frozen wild salmon. Pink. Coho. King. Hot smoked. Cold smoked. Over the years I’ve learned to use these nutrient-rich treasures in many ways.

In 2009, while judging the Alaska Symphony of Seafood, I perked up and took notice when fellow judge, Jordan Mackey, casually shared one of his tricks of the trade—how to make a good salmon burger.

“With this method, the burger stays really moist and you don’t have bread flakes or egg. They cook just great!”–Mackey

The Executive Chef of Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel at the time, Mackey explained, “I am not a fan of binders.  With this method, the burger stays really moist and you don’t have bread flakes or egg. They cook just great!” While many salmon burgers can indeed be laden with fillers, it was obvious that Mackey’s savvy method for using up trim and fat laden bellies was worth trying at home.

Mackey explained that after they trim the scraps from the fillets of salmon, they cut the salmon into small to medium dice. They then sprinkle the diced salmon lightly with kosher salt and a smaller amount of sugar. He then lets the mixture stand, chilled, for about 15 minutes. During this time the fish begins to weep and get slimy. It’s this natural protein laden slime that acts as the natural binder for the burger.  No panko! No eggs! No nasty additives!

Mackey then takes 30% of the mixture and quickly mixes it in the food processor to make a light chunky paste which he then stirs back into the diced salmon. Voila. There’s your basic salmon patty mixture! The restaurant presses this into 9 ounce patties and cooks them to medium rare in an omelet pan or Teflon skillet. (Mackey was careful to explain that his salmon patties and/or scraps are always previously frozen so any parasitic risk from eating medium rare burgers is minimized due to the freezing.)

Over the years, I’ve made these burgers many times, tweaking the ingredients according to whim and taste. Sometimes I take the classic route and just add lemon and dill to the mixture. When I am craving Asian, I add diced ginger, garlic, fresh cilantro plus a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil.  If I want a smoky Southwestern slant, I add some cumin and chipotle pepper.  While cooking the burgers I waffle between using a classic cast iron skillet and my beloved Le Creuset ridged grill pan. The grill pan creates great ridges and adds a touch of telltale smokiness to the burger.

Regardless of the flavors added or the type of pan used, the Ultimate Salmon Burger technique always results in a juicy and flavorful burger!

Note: I realize many readers probably don’t have whole fillets of salmon that need to have tips and bellies trimmed. Nonetheless, this method works great with previously frozen fillets or fillets purchased fresh at the store. The bottom line is that salmon burgers are a great way to add interest and flavor to a very nutritious seafood.