Closed Captioned For The Thinking Impaired

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

An Easy Recipe for the Summertime Blues (The Whole Enchilada)


I am inhabited by a cry. Nightly it flaps out Looking, with its hooks, for something to love. I am terrified by this dark thing that sleeps in me; All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

~Sylvia Plath



I've not felt like writing much these days. Nor cooking. Nor eating. Though, of course, I have anyway. These compulsions of mine to record and catalogue every errant thought and Early Girl tomato-avocado-goat cheese sandwich I consume pay no heed to me. They exercise an adamantine-clad will of their own, making me their slave. Forcing me to further pollute the cybersewers I drown in with endless streams of fuzzy Mayfair-filtered Instagram-Layout pictures to what I (not so) cleverly call My Porn Addiction album on Facebook - all to the dismay and horror of those intrepid few who follow me in that social media war zone.

Exhibit A:



Frankly, I spend most of my time these days wondering when the next life-snuffing meteor is scheduled to hit this planet. They say three time's a charm. Surely earth will finally have something roaming its surface dominating the other species that is worthy of its beauty. Dinosaurs and humans have proved a bust. These are some of my lighter musings which I graciously share with all who are within a click of my claque.
The endless political memes polluting my cyberfeeds convincing no one of nothing force the pitch of my text to pole-vault from witty (if slightly sardonic) to banshee-shrill as I shriek "What do you think all these political posts are doing? Do you think you are informing people? Changing their minds? Making a difference? Do you NOT realize that politics is the new religion? It is POINTLESS to preach. People don't use logic. If they did, they wouldn't have nominated a crooked politician & a reality television star." to the guilty and innocent alike. I've morphed into some mad Disney villainess: Cruella De Vil cutting the heads off roses with Ursula's eels at Poison Ivy's garden party. It's not pretty.
Compounding matters is the fact that it is summer in the city which means long gloomy days chilled by relentlessly brutal fog & wind. While it's certainly not the coldest winter I've ever spent (sorry, all you misquoters of Mark Twain, but I'm from NYC try to spend any January day slipsliding in the midst of all the slice - slush and ice - and then talk to me about summer in San Francisco), it is definitely a mood deflating experience. When you add to this cheerless Wuthering Heights atmosphere the blowing out of your right knee for no good reason other than the slow insidious decrepitude of advancing middle age, you then have spectacular ingredients for the summertime blues.
Let's have a dash at the recipe, shall we?

Ingredients:

1) Badly injure some part of your knee joint by doing nothing more than reaching the culmination of many years of physical stress. Be sure to regret every leg press, squat, and pas de bourree you've ever inflicted on your anterior cruciate ligament.
2) Add insult to injury by always being unwilling to accept your physical limitations
3) Hobble around like an unusually large jackrabbit with a touch of polio
4) Be forced to spend most of the day in an ungainly, semi-reclined position with leg iced & elevated on poorly supported, unevenly balanced, improvised traction devices (chairs, books, ugly pillows that you have relegated to the basement closet after purchasing them online from Horchows )
5) Be desperately bored and self-hating to the point of watching torturous Paula Deen rerun after torturous Paula Deen rerun on Food Network for perverse entertainment value. (Be sure to liberally sprinkle your shouts at the television with the saltiest expletives in your spice rack).
6) Have knee continue swollen like a clown-faced water balloon at some hokey county fair shooting gallery for the better part of two weeks
7) Gain at least 5 lbs. because you are unable to exercise with anything more strenuous than a computer mouse and a t.v. remote. Embrace your inner zoftig babushka as she bloats readying herself for entry into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
8) Gain the above 5 lbs. by eating nothing more decadent than plain nonfat yogurt with less than farm fresh produce & leftover frozen veggie ravioli
9) Make sure husband decides he has to spend the better part of the last month at the Mandarin Oriental in NY and then in some luxurious seaside resort in Monaco (without you & your gimpy leg, of course)
10) Have the notoriously frigid, gloomy San Francisco summer suddenly morph today into the warmest, sunniest, most glorious stretch of weather in the city's recorded history
11) Make sure you live in a home amply supplied with enormous bay windows that can beautifully showcase all that you are missing in ingredient #10
12) Make sure the above home is also perched 14 floors above ground level with an out-of-order elevator & liberally studded with other obstacles (rugs that slip, small easily upset occasional tables, large leafy plants, enormous immovable chairs & other potential booby traps) that you must deftly navigate around while delicately poised on one leg.


Instructions:

Now gently combine all the above ingredients with one moody temperamental latina. Allow it to marinate at room temperature for 2 or 3 weeks & voila...you have the perfect recipe for a miserable summer!!! Enjoy.
(Or Don't!)


Serves 1 moderately neurotic individual.

(P.S. The enchiladas really are delicious and easy to make , and that casual recipe I placed as a caption is all you need - be sure to drink liberal amounts of tequila, baptizing your lemonade with it whilst eating these.. that distilled agave nectar adds its own notes of sunshine into the greyest fugue)


Saturday, July 9, 2016

A Taste of Hawaii: Ahi Pizza




July is upon us. It is summer in the city which, unlike the sweltering, feet-baking-concrete, flesh-melting-summers of Manhattan where I was hatched and raised,  in San Francisco means long gloomy days chilled by relentlessly brutal fog and wind, where the sun makes the occasional cameo appearance only just in time to set. The rare hints of summer in San Francisco come from the produce section in markets: tomatoes are riper, juicier;  corn tastes like candy; there are berries galore: the blue, the straw, the black, the boysen, the rasp & the tay. Vegetable bins are overflowing with both the leafy and the stolid: purslane and nettles, arugula and lambsquarters, every kind of kale and cabbage, melon and squash; apricots, cherries and peaches gush over our lips and tongues with all their sweet honeyed blush.  So, let's forget the damp and dreary,  get all Porgy and Bess-esque to sing: "Summertime and the living is easy.... fish are jumping"... and I am thinking of all kinds of ways to prepare them. Sorry vegetarians. But first? I want to talk about summers past, maybe it's because I've been reading Proust (again) and am in search of lost time, or maybe not... Still... take a turn with me on the Way Back Machine...

Summertime. I remember the summer I turned ten. It was monumental for me. I was sprouting a pair of wings. Testing the air of my independence. Already feeling the desire of men being imposed upon me as I shimmered and soared above New York's streets & beaches. All pigeon-chested and peacock-feathered. Wearing my little halters and short-shorts, swaying my hips. My hair dyed deep auburn by my lunatic mother who thought it would be fun for me to show up the last day of school with a new hairdo. One that matched hers. Never considering what my classmates would think ("The Redhead is dead." was probably the nicest thing said to me. Later that summer, just before school started again, I would sneak all the way to 86th Street and Third Ave. to The Hair People to have all the red cut off, leaving me practically bald, but mercifully free of my mother's Nice & Easy dye job).
Only 9-7/8 years old ( at a time when counting every fraction of those years was soooo important), but with a fully developed body and, like a good Lolita should, very much cognizant of the effect my pubescence had on those swimming in my ken. Though not actively seeking attention as Nabokov's poor little Dolly did, still certainly enjoying the effect I seem to have dressed as the little nymphet. I loved staring at my own breasts. I understood why men liked them. They were so pretty. I'd walk down the street looking down at my cleavage. Fascinated. Pert mounds of flesh, firm, nipples always erect. I used to poke them in to invert them, so that I wouldn't have to wear a bra. I hated underwear. Still do. Just like my mother. "Coqueta", my family's friends would call me affectionately. Our next door neighbor Dona Juanita's youngest son, Moses, who was about 21, and enjoying plucking the gowans fine with both my mother and my Aunt Kay at the time, would smile at me, and say, "You know exactly what you're doing, don't you?" before he was whisked away by the women of the household to indulge in his taste for their over-ripeness. I really didn't know what Moses meant, not exactly, but I liked the way the white of his teeth contrasted with his cocoa-colored skin when he flashed that grin. His pleasure gave me pleasure. 
I started menstruating that summer, too, but told no one. There were plenty of women in the house, all of them of child-bearing age with a bathroom full of feminine hygiene products, I had no need to purchase anything special and I knew it was the natural progression of aging, so I wasn't alarmed by it, nor did I feel particularly excited by it. To me, it was just a fact of life, not worth celebrating. Parties would be thrown by many Boricua families at the onset of girls' menses. As I was the first-born granddaughter, it was expected that there were be some ritual to commemorate my fertility. I thought that was ludicrous. It was what it was. I had no interest in parading the fact that my uterus was lined and ready for action.
I recall a day when I was 12 and the sanitary pads ran out, all that was left were my mother's tampons. I read the instructions on the box, inserted one, grabbed another for later and realized the freedom of movement I now had without a blood-soaked napkin between my legs. It changed my life. No more embarrassing cotton wads that leaked. I could run, stretch, take my dance classes, be completely liberated. Every month. All month long. Eve's curse was mitigated. This was my get out of jail free card. I imagined that stick of cardboard and cotton as a middle-finger in the face of God. I wasn't bound by his chains anymore, for a crime I never committed. A few years later when my mother asked me if I had gotten my period yet, I told her yes, I had for years. She was stunned and pained by my nonchalance, then demonstrated her disappointment the way she always did. I wore the hot stamp of her disapproval as a red palm-print on my cheek for a few hours. My mother served up rancor to her offspring, the way other mothers did buttermilk biscuits. My not confiding in her was an affront to her motherhood. Not that she was ever maternal, she just liked to believe she was, and who knows? Maybe some part of her felt deprived by my apparent lack of need for her. She thought she was robbed. That's what I figured anyway. But that's another story...
My father had been separated from my mother forever, though only divorced from her for two years, when he came to visit me religiously that summer; he had odd hours; he managed and cooked for an all-night coffeeshop in Midtown Manhattan, sometimes not sleeping at all so he could take me to amusement parks, to the movies, to visit his family. I remember him falling asleep in the theaters several times. I didn't mind. He looked so sweet and relaxed. He didn't even snore. I'd eat my buttered popcorn, drink my Coke, watch my film, and gently nudge him when the houselights came back on. He'd pretend to have enjoyed the movie and I'd let him.
He was something of a gypsy. At least that's what I would call him, my wandering gypsy, he never stayed in one place for longer than a few months, disappearing for long stretches of time. He would laugh softly, wistfully when I called him that because he knew it was true; and truly regretted not being able to spend more time with me. My mother made these simple matters impossible. She'd obstruct as best she could, discouraging him from coming around by creating high drama whenever he showed, walls would be punched (him), knives flashed (her), police would be called (her), my grandparents, aunt, and neighbors screeching in the background like a sad mad Greek chorus, he'd have to leave... but he'd come back; then she'd try by locking me in with her in her room, and eventually when she couldn't physically restrain me from seeing him (we lived on the first floor, I'd just jump out of the window, into the bushes, climb the short wire fence and go to the front of the building where he was waiting) she'd try another tactic, wanting to make me believe he was a hitman for the mafia, that he knew where Jimmy Hoffa was buried, and , oh, a variety of things that were equally unlikely. She was pretty creative. In my childish way, I would half-believe her and begin to romanticize his adventures, but I knew she was a pathological liar and a substance abuser so she lacked credibility in my young discerning eyes (although in those days she was more like something out of "Valley of the Dolls" than "Panic in Needle Park", prescription drugs re-filled by a greedy pharmacist were her mind candy).
That summer with my father was wonderful. He introduced me to Hatha Yoga (through Richard Hittleman's classic book), martial arts, Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, certain mathematical progressions, watercolors & pastels as well as an enormous anthology called The Best Loved Poems of the American People (edited by Hazel Felleman, Edward Frank Allen). That book was so heavy I could hardly pick it up but I lugged it with me everywhere that summer, reading it in parks, beaches, on the stoop of my building, in my bed at night. Couldn't get enough of it. Those pages were dog-eared & smeared with the melted rainbow of all those Firecracker  rocket-shaped popsicles & other evidence of kiddie crack. Those were Carvel frozen custard days...

What does any of this have to do with Ahi Pizza, the discerning reader might ask? Nothing is what this honest scribbler will reply. I think of summer, and I recall that summer I was 10. Distinctly. I think of summer, and I also think of Hawaii - the land of perpetual summer. El esposo and I used to vacation there twice a year. Once in the winter (ten days before Christmas, making sure to clear out as all the New Yorkers checked in on the 23rd for "Festive" which they made anything but), and once in the summer (just before Labor Day). Summer in San Francisco is an endless November. All shiver and mist. There's nothing summery for me to associate with July and August here in Bagdad By The Bay as Herb Cain used to say, so I try always to create a summertime landscape in my mind. I do that through cookery... Borrowing from our neighbor in the middle of the Pacific...

Hawaii. Tropical, lush, ever-blossoming Hawaii... There are few places in the world like it.
The spirit of Aloha permeates everything and everyone in it. You can just feel the tension drain out of your body as soon as your foot hits the tarmac and that first waft of warm fragrant air greets you. Hawaii seems to be suspended in some time/space warp: you co-exist with the rest of the known universe but nothing in it can affect you. Senate hearings, stock plunges, presidential conventions, Zika scares. Not even the mosquitoes dare bother anyone there.

None of it matters. Not in Hawaii. It is heaven. Everything is beautiful, everyone is happy.
A favorite expression among the locals, the rare time you may experience a mauvais moment is "It's all good!" Always said not as a rebuke but just as a gentle reminder of your good fortune to be experiencing such an earthly paradise... and how right they are!!!!

Christ, how I wish I was on the Big Island today...

 So--- because my husband requested it when I asked him this morning if he had a hankering for anything special for dinner, I offer you my adaptation of a wonderful appetizer served at what was the world's best bar, the Lava Lounge located in the beautiful Four Seasons Hualalai Resort on the Kona Coast of the Big Island. Right on the beach fully stocked with peeping tom moons, honu resting on the sand while ocean waves lap with frilly tongues upon a submissive shore.  Sadly, the Lava Lounge is no more, but this recipe remains as part of its legacy. So that you, too, could share a taste of paradise. Just close your eyes... and breathe.... can you hear the ocean? Good.

Note:
This recipe is a lot more laborious to read ( and write) than it is to make. It's really just an asian-influenced ahi tostada.

Don't be intimidated by the number & variety of ingredients. Most can be found in any large supermarket chain who do a great job of stocking asian pantry items these days. I like to cook foods with asian accents so I always have them on hand. The assembly of the dish is really quick and easy, once you have everything in front of you, pre-measured, chopped & ready to go. It takes about 30 minutes, start to finish. You vegetarians can skip the fish altogether, the veggies alone are scrumptious on this. Meat eaters can substitute rare thin slices of flank steak, pork tenderloin or lamb. You can also just dice the ahi tuna, season it with a bit of the vinaigrette poke-style and eat it raw, instead of searing it, only if it is VERY fresh and sashimi-grade. The yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) is a species of tuna found in epipelagic waters of tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. Yellowfin is often marketed as ahi, from the Hawaiian ʻahi, a name also used there for the closely related bigeye tuna. It is red-fleshed, meaty and should look deep red, jewel-like in color with a glossy texture.
 This dish can easily serve two people as a very satisfying light meal or six people as part of a pupus or tapas platter. A light steely chardonnay or sauvignon blanc would complement the sweet, salty richness of the dish without hurting the wine.. A lighter style beer like Asahi Super Dry or Corona wouldn't be a bad choice, either. Of course, you could go all the way & have a Mai Tai while playing some soothing steel guitar music in the background. It's all good!

AHI "PIZZA" w/ ASIAN SLAW & POI VINAIGRETTE




Ingredients:


For the Pizza:
  • 6 tomato- flavored flour tortillas ( I recommend "La Tortilla Factory" brand ) or 3 large sized lavash, the baked flat breads of the Middle East (every grocery store carries some version of it), cut into 18 small rounds with a 3-1/2" cookie cutter or empty tuna can
  • 1/3 cup olive oil, regular or light (not extra virgin, it will burn).
  • 1 tablespoon refined peanut oil
  • 16 ounces of sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna (ahi), at least 1" thick fillets
  • chili powder, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 large or 2 small Haas avocados, thinly sliced just before assembly of pizza
  • 3-4 ounces good quality feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 teaspoons of Chinese plum or Hoisin sauce
  • chili aioli, recipe below
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, membrane and seeds removed, thinly sliced crosswise (optional)

For the slaw:
  • 2 cups Napa cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 cup red cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper, finely sliced into thin julienned strips
  • 1 carrot, finely grated
  • 1/2 large maui or sweet onion, finely sliced
  • 1/3 bunch of cilantro, leaves only, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup green onions, white & light green portions only, minced
  • 1/2 cup, or so, poi vinaigrette, recipe follows

For the poi vinaigrette:
  • 2 ounces poi* (white or red miso paste can be substituted)
  • 1/4 cup passionfruit juice (guava or mango juice mixed with equal parts fresh orange juice can be substituted)
  • 1 lime, juice & zest
  • 1 ounce rice vinegar (a mild-flavored white vinegar )
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon shallot, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of mirin (sweet japanese rice wine; you could substitute sherry or just honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup high quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil

For the Chili Aioli:
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha hot chili sauce or to taste( I recommend Huy Fong Foods brand, buy it at Safeway or www.huyfong.com)
  • 1 small clove garlic, smashed & finely minced
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven & heat blind for 15 minutes. If you don't have one, then line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil & place that in the oven.

While oven is heating, prepare the vinaigrette by whisking each item in a bowl one at a time, starting with the poi (or miso) then adding mirin ,shallots, mustard, vinegar, black pepper, soy sauce, mayonnaise, lime juice, passionfruit juice, & plum sauce until well combined. When mixture appears smooth & uniform, slowly begin whisking in olive oil & finally sesame oil until the emulsion reaches a consistency you like. The vinaigrette should be very light & fresh tasting. Taste & adjust seasonings. Is it too sweet, add more acid. Is it too acidic, add more oil. When you're done, set it aside.

Next is the seasoning for the ahi: using a mortar & pestle (or a small sturdy mixing bowl) grind the sesame seeds & the cajun seasoning together adding the tablespoon of canola oil & teaspoon of soy sauce & combine well. Rub mixture on all sides of the ahi & set aside to marinate for 5 minutes. While the ahi marinates, heat a grill or heavy-duty saute pan until very hot. When ready, place ahi on cooking surface, searing for 2 minutes on one side without moving the fish. Then turn ahi over & sear for 1 minute more. Remove from grill & let rest on cutting board.
Note:
Do not overcook the ahi. It should be blackened on the outside but still rare in the center. The best way to tell is by looking at the side of the filet while you cook it. The middle of the fish should still appear red & translucent from the side while the top & bottom 1/8" may appear opaque or brown.

Now, prepare the chili aioli: Using the flat side of a chef's knife (or a mortar & pestle) make a paste out of the garlic by adding a pinch of salt to it while alternately smashing the garlic with the blade & chopping it, working the salt into a garlic paste. Then place the garlic paste into small bowl adding pepper, sriracha sauce, & mayonnaise whisking with a fork until well combined. Add lime juice until aioli has the consistency of a thick salad dressing. Taste for seasoning. Then set aside. (Could be made 1 day in advance).

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Brush tortillas with regular olive oil, coating very well on both sides then place on hot pizza stone or hot baking sheet for 5-7 minutes until crisp & toasty. (You could deep-fry them instead but I find it too dangerous & messy to do at home). When crisp, turn off oven & keep tortillas warm.

While tortillas are toasting, toss all of the slaw ingredients together, giving the vinaigrette a quick whisk to re-emulsify it before adding to the vegetables. Toss well.
Next slice the ahi against the grain & on the bias into very thin slices using a well-sharpened knife. If your ahi has strong tendonous intersections, don't fight it, cut along those lines. Then thinly slice your avocados. Try to keep the size of both the ahi & the avocado about 2-1/2" in length or no longer than the diameter of your "pizza" rounds.

Now assemble pizzas:

On heated plates or platters, plate your tortillas, brush lightly with plum sauce, add asian slaw to cover entire surface, place a single layer of the avocado slices (about 2 pcs.) on top fanning them over the slaw, now place a single layer of the ahi (about 2 pcs.) in similar fashion, drizzle the chili aioli over the ahi, sprinkle small amount of feta over center of "pizza" add another drizzle of aioli , if desired, then top with a sprig of cilantro and jalapeno.

* Poi is just a tuberous vegetable indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands. It has no discernible flavor to the untutored palate but it has a very distinct texture which adds viscosity and a certain Hawaiian panache to the vinaigrette. While most islanders would disagree with me, you'll never miss it, if you can't find it, especially in this dish where it is a really minor element in a small part of the dish. However, you can order on it line if you really want to try it.



Thursday, June 9, 2016

Kitchen Essentials: The 411 For The Newly Kitchened

“The stove, the bins, the cupboards, I had learned forever, make an inviolable throne room. From them I ruled; temporarily I controlled. I felt powerful, and I loved that feeling…but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.” 
― M.F.K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
― Marshall McLuhan



"June Bride" immediately connotes all that is youthful, hopeful, and pure. Blushing damsels wearing orange blossoms, gossamer veils and white confectionary gowns; taking their vows beneath the beams of a silvery moon, while doves coo and choirs of angels sing some Taylor Swift tune. June is traditionally the month in which loving hearts opt to become united in sacred wedlock, holding huge ceremonies to celebrate the fact that they will be building happy little idylls all their own for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish all the days of their lives. But why June? A quick internet search yielded a tradition dating back to Roman times - to the festival held on the first day of June honoring Juno, goddess of connubial bliss, hearth and home. It was believed couples who married in June would be blessed with prosperity and happiness. In fact, many of the wedding traditions we still celebrate from bridal veils to wedding cakes originated with the Romans.
The tradition continued through the Middle Ages. The reason was less superstitious and a bit more practical: a person’s annual bath usually fell in late May or June (whether they needed it or not), flowers were more abundant by June, and brides - wanting to smell their sweetest for their wedding day - carried a bouquet of flowers as a precautionary measure - to hide their body odor in case they missed their annual douching - thereby creating the Western civilization's time-honored tradition of bridal bouquets. It was also hoped by those crafty feudal lords, that the bride would be less likely to be in advanced stages of pregnancy with a June wedding, thereby allowing her to be an extra pair of hands for the autumn harvest.
(Of course, I got married in March, not June -what with having access to freely running water, indoor plumbing, and, sadly, being sans the requisite crops that one requires to qualify as a pair of helping hands come harvest-time, but I digress...)
To this day, June remains the month when many a happy (and hopefully clean-smelling) modern couple begin building their new nest together. Virginia Woolf said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” This construction of wedded bliss requires certain specialized tools if one is to live and dine well - I should think kitchen utensils must rank high among them.
The way humans forged and used sophisticated tools is perhaps principally what set our species apart from the rest of the planet. Our kissing cousin, Homo Erectus, evolved by finding innovative ways of getting access to meat, and devising methods of digesting that meat more efficiently. Beast protein created larger brains, larger brains created better tools for hunting and eating more beast. This doesn't mean that early stone tools were restricted to processing animal carcasses, or that meat became the primary factor in their diet, since by all indications, from chimpanzees to tropical hunter-gatherer people today, plants were and are the staple. It just demonstrated an increased interest in meat and the tools to process that meat was essential to keep the larger brained amongst us well-nourished and cogitating.
The kitchen, then, becomes a strong impetus for the ascension of man. I consider it the primordial petri dish. First the grub, then the morality. We eat to live. This is an ineluctable fact. The brighter and the more convivial among us live to eat. (Put that in your random Darwin generator and smoke it. Preferably with mesquite). And for that we require specialty tools. Tools like spatulas and kitchen timers...
From time to time (even for the savviest, most happily married cook) the proper implementation of these utensils can cause their own grounds for turmoil, because how one cooks is a matter of individual preference: there is more than one way to peel a potato (though I prefer leaving the skins on mine, but that's a bone of contention we can gnaw on another time); one's technique is often a result of one's unique upbringing. I had an abuelita who never owned a cookbook, she let her experience be her guide. Her wooden pilon (mortar and pestle) was her favorite kitchen appliance. My husband's mother, on the other hand, painstakingly wrote family recipes on index cards, everything neatly filed in alphabetical order, according to category. The archives which now fall into my improvisational hands. She was a firm believer in gadgetry, a cook who felt naked without her electric eggbeater and barbaric without a garlic press.
I don't use mixers, or garlic pressers, a smash of a garlic clove with the back of the knife takes care of all my garlic pressing needs. I don't even have a lemon squeezer, I enjoy rolling citrus on the countertop to release its juice & then cutting & squeezing the halves with one hand, while using the other hand as a sieve to strain out those pesky seeds; though I do love food processors for making crusts, grinding meats, etc. and immersion blenders are a godsend for creamy soups, so much better than transferring them into the pitcher of a stand alone blender. I keep forgetting to buy a rolling pin, so I often roll out dough with a chilled bottle of our wine instead. It rolls it out pretty well. The pastry doesn't stick to the glass (no extra flour required). I'm not a big gadget gal, but it's astonishing how many little things one takes for granted that are indispensable like different graters, strainers, spatulas, etc. I bet if you started enumerating the number of tools you actually do have to use, you'd be flabbergasted. To me the hands are the most essential kitchen utensils, of course. Nothing tosses a salad better, or tests for meat doneness better than mine, though we do have utensils for both tasks, because my husband takes after his mother in this respect.
I never use a timer. I use my olfactory senses, I can smell when the oven is heated, or when the water is boiling, or when the sauce needs to be stirred. My better half prefers me to use a marine chronometer.
"Sweetie, can you please stir the sauce at 8:43?"
"Sure, honey, just give me a minute, I have to synchronize my neurons to the NIST-F1 atomic clock first to make sure that my synapses are firing at your command."
I love my husband. He is the kindest, most generous person I have ever met. He is brave, affectionate, playful and has many other wonderful characteristics (can you hear the BUT coming?) B-U-T if he ever gives me another directive to do something or be somewhere by 8:43 or 12:51 or any other sub-fraction of an hour again, I will crown him the king of all timekeepers with his grandfather's clock right on the frontal squama of his cranium!
It's a serious culture clash. This. He comes from a German/Dutch family who believes it's rude if you don't show up 39 minutes before the appointed hour because showing up early means you are really looking forward to being there. If you show up on time, you're late!
I come from a Puerto Rican tribe who thinks it's beyond inconsiderate if you show up earlier than 15 minutes late, nevermind on time, because you know no one will be ready, and you are obviously being a judgmental prick trying to make your host feel inadequate. I thought we were over this particular cultural hurdle.
I thought wrong.
El Esposo also has the objectionable habit of not allowing any remnant of anything he's eaten remain on his plate while he's still eating. For instance, when he eats ribs, he places the pile of discarded rib bones on the actual table, instead of leaving them on his plate. It's completely alien to me since I was taught to keep everything on a plate at all times, including eating implements. Being the dutiful homemaker, naturally I always call him on this distasteful practice of his, but he can't seem to help it. I don't know which culture thinks a pile of bones by your plate is more polite than a pile of bones on your plate, so I don't know who to blame. Chicken bones, asparagus ends, potato skins all receive the same treatment. Last night when he did it with the corncob, I told him to take the damned thing off the table. He did. He put it on top of his head, and left it balanced there. We both laughed.
However, his need to make me aware of every fraction of an hour that falls on a prime number has become his latest 'thing'... 'thing' being loosely defined as an idea that he is trying to negotiate into an edict in our household, he calls these informal entreaties The Unfair Treaty of Nanjing and evokes them constantly and it is fucking driving me BONKERS! So, in a plea for tolerance, I try to explain to the man that all this punching of psychic timecards is unnerving me and he says, 
"I tell you this so that you will be more aware of time. And you were. A little organization won't hurt you."
"You told me to stir the sauce at 8:43."
"Actually I said 8:33. I will eat in 12 minutes."

Suffice to say, we did not eat in 12 minutes, but we still had a delicious meal, sans spousicide. On the surface, this is an amusing anecdote. Frustrated wife releases steam, but upon closer inspection, it is an exposition on social constructs. Both parties in this story are subject to their individual cultures, both are acting appropriately in accordance to their unique upbringings. Time, in of itself, has no specific or absolute value other than the perceptions that humans endow it with. Bones on the plate, bones off the plate can be seen as points of contention, but the correctness of each viewpoint depends on whose eye is casting the judgment. The only variable is the dominant culture whose values are ingrained in each individual until they practically become an autonomic process - like indigestion.
This is also true of language, and social mores. Differences in cultures are as abundant as the number of people in them. There are no universally recognized absolutes in these matters. The conflict occurs only when people of differing cultures meet and fall in love; still, in many instances love them sees through it all. Be that love platonic, romantic, or any of the other classifications that philosophers feel the need to define and demarcate. Understanding and accepting the differences rules the day. 26 years of cohabitation with the same man has taught me this much. The truth is, I mostly ignore his time strictures... and he mostly ignores my ignoring it, and so joy reigns supreme... Luckily, we both like to eat the same foods.
This is paramount for any successful marriage. Here is where each couple creates their own family culture, habits and traditions. The way to a spouse's heart is through her stomach. The sacred bonds of matrimony can withstand many things, but if you like your meat rare & he's a vegan, I guarantee it won't last.
Enjoying the same foods creates conjugal harmony, and those foods require certain indispensable tools for our singular culinary conquests. So whilst my intention here today is to suggest a few kitchen essentials, the truth is there can be no perfect starter set for any individual or family, there are too many variables that factor into the equation. If I suggest a raw-food vegan buy a wok, (s)he would think I was being sardonic. (S)he'd probably be correct.

Note: I have included photos of my own culinary arsenal, just for laughs.



There really is no one-kitchen-fits-all. This is my dilemma with this month's column. I so hate writing generic advice. It's an impossible task. I need to know who I am suggesting this to. I can presume it's meant for Middle America, but what does that even mean? I don't know... I've never lived in the quintessential American household. I'm not sure such a thing exists. The essence of cooking is about modifying things to suit one's abilities and sensibility as well as one's taste. It's impossible to recommend an ideal kitchen without some familiarity with the cook-to-be. This was arduous for me and we're not even halfway through. My sweet editor will probably hate it, no reader will actually read it all, but I have hemmed and hawed enough. Now that I am done carping we'll get to the "meat" of the matter. (And no, I won't ask you to forgive me for the pun.)
Glassware, flatware, dishware, serving dishes, storage containers are all essential, as are napkins & placemats, but I am excluding them from this already too long article. Toasters, blenders and toaster ovens were left off the list. I have the first two, but so do you and while I adore my Dualit toaster, I hate most others. If you are someone who enjoys steaming food then a Chinese bamboo steamer is also useful. I have one, it's not essential because a microwave does a grand job of steaming food, but it smells lovely and looks pretty. I don't believe in crockpots, a Dutch oven makes an admirable slowcooker, but I understand crockpots are their own institution amongst many an American bride. You'll never find one in a Puerto Rican kitchen. In compiling the list, I am assuming the newlywed couple enjoys eating goods that are baked, grilled, roasted, boiled, and sauteed. Each item recommended could actually use a book's worth of description. However, here we go:
1) Range - stove top with oven. In a perfect world, it would be a 60" gas-fired La Cornue, with a double oven, French-top and 6 burners, but I live in reality (& a rented shoebox), so mine is a cheap 28" Crosley with 4 lousy electric burners that don't work half the time & one chintzy oven/broiler... I still manage to make great meals.
2) Refrigerator - unless you live in an igloo. Preferably a 48" Subzero with side by side freezer/ refrigerator. The dual compressor (one for the freezer, one for the fridge) keeps your ice from tasting like onions. (My tiny galley kitchen is outfitted with this. Yay!)
3) Microwave - yes, it's essential for re-heating, better than your oven or stove top because it retains moisture, particularly, if  you cook a lot of casseroles, stews, soups, and wish to reheat leftovers, or want to quickly steam up some tortillas. It's also a quick way to melt butter, as well as steam vegetables, though I rarely steam vegetables, preferring to eat them either raw, roasted or sauteed. Just don't heat bread or pizza in it. It wreaks havoc on gluten.
4) Coffeemaker - simple, straightforward purveyor of hot water over grounds. No need to spend a fortune. Cappuccino makers are a mess and unless you can afford to buy a truly industrial one, don't bother. A french press is lovely, too. You can always heat the water for the french press in the microwave, though I prefer using the Alessi tea kettle that was gifted to me 20 years ago.
5) Coffee grinder - grinding your own beans not only gives you fresher tasting coffee, but is also a supremely satisfying way to workout any tension due to anxiety you may have about the course of your day. It's truly zen-like and mediative to slowly count to twenty as you grind something into near oblivion. You can also use it for grinding spices, pulverizing granulated sugar when you need powdered sugar, etc.



6) Knives - a 10" Chef's knife, a paring knife, a bread knife, a sharpening steel. You will also require something to store them in. A wooden block is best, but you can get fittings for a drawer, if you prefer having them concealed. Buy the best forged knife you can afford. A good knife will last you a lifetime. Literally. But only if you take care of it. Mine have. The best come with a lifetime guarantee Wüsthof or Henckels are always quality. Solingen, Germany is a German knife mecca and that is where you will find the history of the major and more popular German knives. Japanese knives are also wonderful. I have four Kanetsune Seki knives - they're like mini- Samurai swords. Lighter, thinner, & sharper than the German knives - they are also easier to cut yourself with. Whatever knives you buy keep them sharp. A dull knife is the most dangerous tool in your kitchen. You apply more force to what you're cutting & invariably a dull knife's edge will slip off what you are trying to cut & plunge into you.
7) Two cutting boards - One for meats, one for fruits, veggies & cheese. The idea behind them is to keep you from cutting your countertop, so you don't have to spend a fortune, but they also can do double-duty as service trays. Wood & plastic are best. Something with a grip on the edges is always nice to keep from slipping. I have several of each. I love a brand called Epicurean which is made from recycled materials by a manufacturer of skateboards. Those boards are indestructible.
8) Vegetable peeler - You need one. Trust me. Unless you only eat meat, or leafy greens, in which case, then you don't.
9) Can opener/ Bottle-cap opener/ Corkscrew - See #8 for the first two items on the list, and allow me to assure you that if you wish to open any bottle of wine that does not come in a box (unless it's champagne, which you just open with your fingers), you will need a corkscrew. Remind me to tell you of a Frenchwoman who came knocking on my door in desperate search of a corkscrew one evening. 
10) Box grater & a finer cheese grater for hard cheeses - get both. Don't get all fancy with it, get something straightforward & made of stainless steel with a rubber grip for stability. I would also invest in a very fine grater, one that grates nutmeg & can be used to zest lemons. I realize food processors have attachments that do all this, but you'll never use those attachments. Mandoline slicers are wonderful, too, better than box graters, but they cost a fortune. Unless you are the sous-chef for Chez Panisse, you don't need to invest in one.
11) Pans - A 10-1/2 inch wide, 2" deep saute pan with a lid, a 12-inch saute pan, a cast iron grill, and a small 9" saute pan.
For overall use, get a 12-inch stainless steel skillet. You can cook almost anything in a 12-inch skillet, whether you want to sauté, shallow-fry, pan-roast, make paellas, risotto, or even stir-fry. I prefer a skillet with a traditional, rather than nonstick, surface because (except for eggs) I want the food to adhere slightly, in order to create the caramelized, browned bits called fond that are the foundation for great sauces. What’s more, while even the best nonstick surface will wear off eventually, a well-made traditional skillet should last a lifetime.
Skillets are simply frying pans with low, flared sides. Their shape encourages evaporation, which is why skillets excel at searing, browning, and sauce reduction. Traditional versions come in three main materials: stainless steel, anodized aluminum, and cast iron. I'm not a fan of anodized aluminum, as it makes it hard to judge the color of fond. Cast-iron skillets have their uses, but they are cumbersome and can react with acidic sauces, but if you have a small apartment, no balcony & enjoy grilling meat and vegetables, also invest in a high quality cast-iron grill. Mine are Le Creuset. They go from stove-top to oven admirably, give your food a beautiful sear, are durable, relatively inexpensive and provide you with even heating and a little workout just lifting them out of the appliance drawer.
Traditional skillets made of stainless steel sandwiched around a core of aluminum are best. Aluminum is one of the fastest conductors of heat, but it reacts with acidic foods and is overly responsive to temperature fluctuations, making cooking harder to control. Stainless steel is nonreactive, but, by itself, it’s a poor conductor of heat (in fact handles made of stainless generally won’t get hot on the stovetop); a marriage of the two metals makes the ideal composition for a skillet.
You will also need a smaller saute' pan for those times you are alone and are scrambling a couple of eggs, making an omelet or a quick beurre blanc, or any other light simple sauce. Invest in the best you can afford. I like All-Clad. 
12) Pots - You only need two: a large pot and a small pot, both should have lids. I recommend a Dutch Oven as the large one. A 6 quart Dutch oven is extremely versatile both on the stove and in the oven. You can boil pasta and cook rice, brown & braise meat, and steam or boil vegetables. Make stews, pasta sauces, etc.
Get a 3 quart pot for making a couple of cups of rice, couscous, boiling eggs, small amounts of vegetables, etc.
Now I have several pots and I use them all: a stockpot for turning bones into broth, enamel-coated cast-iron braisers from Le Creuset that are both deep & shallow, a designated pasta pot, a 14" carbon steel wok (which by the way, may be the most versatile & economical pot in the kitchen, if you don't mind the incessant care it requires) & many more, but I am obsessed with pots & pans. You don't have to be.
13) Salt & Pepper Mills
Consider the size of the mills and the ease of operation, whether you want to use them with just one hand, two hands. Is the coarseness of the grind adjustable? How easy or difficult is it to fill? If you don't care whether your salt and pepper are freshly cracked and ground, disregard this entry. I have a block of pink salt that is gorgeous, looks like quartz. I use a fine grater to grate what I need for cooking. I don't add salt table-side.
14) Oven mitts, pot holders, dish towels
Oven mitts protect your hands, wrists, and arms from - you guessed it - hot dishes, hot cookware, and hot ovens. Cloth mitts may not be as heat-resistant as the newer silicone ones, but they tend to be easier to bend and grab containers with. Try them on for size before purchasing. If you don't plan on storing the mitts in a drawer, look for those with a loop for hanging. 
Ditto on pot holders which are baby oven mitts, sometimes you just need something insulated to grab a pot with, especially important for the new cook. Battle-hardened cooks might be more cavalier and boastful about their asbestos fingertips, but new cooks need the protection.
Dish towels are eco-friendly and very useful for everything from wiping things dry to protecting countertops from heat, to absorbing excess moisture from veggies, to keeping things damp and/or covered. Paper towels are not always a good substitute. Get good quality cotton dish towels.


15) Tongs - Need to fish something out of a pot of boiling water or flip a steak over on the grill? Want to better incorporate your linguine into its sauce? You need a pair of tongs. Look for tongs that are long enough for your purposes (I recommend 12 inches) and have a locking mechanism so they stay closed while stored. Although you can find tongs made of plastic and wood, tongs crafted from metal are the strongest and most versatile. Something with silicon pads on both ends for better grip & comfort.
16) Colander - For washing vegetables and greens, and draining pasta. I also have a smaller, finer strainer that I use to wash berries, cherries, and occasionally sieve flour & sauces with. Stainless steel. No plastic.
17) Mixing bowls - Metal mixing bowls are indispensable to toss salads, make pancake batter, marinate meat & vegetables, make dressings. Absolutely essential. Get a nested set of stainless bowls. They'll last a lifetime. I still use the ones my husband bought as a bachelor in the 80s, well before he met me.
18) Measuring cups (wet/dry), measuring spoons - Get them in stainless steel, they are essential for baking. Baking is chemistry, chemistry is science, science demands precision. You can get away with eyeballing ingredients for other types of cookery, but not baking. Enough said. One glass or liquid measuring cup with a four-cup capacity will be very useful. We measure dry ingredients differently than wet ingredients because of the volume, unless you use a metric scale to weigh everything in grams or liters, that is. Then it won't matter, but you better be sure the recipe you're using for that pate a choux is written to reflect it.
19) Whisk - Make it stainless steel wire. Yes, you can live without it, but if you want whipped cream, whip egg whites into meringue, or even just make really good fluffy scrambled eggs, a whisk is THE tool to incorporate air. A fork won't do it as well, though a handheld blender is another option, but I prefer using my own muscle for these tasks.
20) Food processor - a marvelous tool for pureeing, making quick pie crusts, creaming butter, turning cream cheese & sugar into a smooth cake batter, grinding meat and innumerable other uses. Kitchen Aid 9-cup capacity is ideal for most uses. Bigger is better here, so if you want to splurge or regularly cook dinner for a Kardashian-sized clan go for the 14-cupper.
21) 9″ by 13″ baking pan - If you want to bake a lasagne, brownies, or even roast a chicken you need a 9x13" baking pan — maybe the most called-for pan size of all time. Invest in something sturdy & durable. I have baking dishes and pans of all shapes & sizes, most of them are stoneware from Le Creuset, Stoneware maintains even temperatures and prevents scorching, it has peerless thermal resistance – safe for freezer, microwave, oven, broiler and dishwasher. Dense stoneware blocks moisture absorption to prevent cracking, crazing and rippling, its impermeable exterior enamel resists scratch... & they are so pretty they double are serving dishes.
A large heavy-duty aluminum-base, steel-clad roasting pan is also handy, if you roast big birds like turkey or hunks of beast on a regular basis.
22) 9" pie dish / 11" tart-quiche pan - A good old Anchor Hocking Glass Deep Pie Dish will last a lifetime & accommodate any style of pie you like, I have my mother-in-law's from the 60s or 70s.
I also have a few tart pans that I bought 15 years ago from a professional kitchen supply shop on Polk Street that very sadly closed its doors. They are coated with a non-stick surface, the bottoms are free-floating & the sides are easily removable, making serving the tarts a cinch. If you like making cheesecakes then you should add a deep springform pan to your arsenal, too.
23) Baking/cookie sheet pan - essential for cookies, croissants, roasting veggies, freeform tarts, toasting nuts, even making bacon. I like non-stick surfaced ones, but plain old metal works.
24) Loaf pan - great for baking everything from banana bread to meat loaf, it's also a wonderful mold for pates, savory napoleons. Buy a cheap glass one. Though I, of course, have them in glass, stoneware & metal.
25) Wood spoon - They are inexpensive, heat resistant, and won't scratch non-stick surfaces. I prefer spoons with flat angled heads for sauteeing and anything that requires a bit of scraping of the pan, but I use the round kind for stirring liquidy sauces and soups. They are cheap enough that you can afford to buy both the round & angled kind. So do.
26) Spatulas - you will need three: a slightly flexible Rubbermaid scraper for getting every bit of deliciousness out of a bowl or jar; a flexible "pancake" turner with an offset head for flipping pancakes & omelettes, a stiffer, thicker, longer metal turner for fish or removing slices of lasagne from a pan. To slot or not to slot, that is the question, depends on how much you really need to drain what you are removing from the pan. I'm not a huge fan of slotted spatulas.
27) Immersion blender - The Cuisinart® Smart Stick® 2 -speed Hand Blender is the perfect kitchen tool to have on hand when you want to quickly puree ingredients in the pot for soups, blend cocoa for frothy hot chocolate, make fresh fruit smoothies, make your own whipped butter from cream, turn veggies you accidentally overcooked into creamy delicious purees. It's less costly than comparable brands but it works. Comes in lovely colors, too. Mine is tangerine!
28) Potato masher/ricer - I prefer the good old-fashioned wire masher for my smashed potatoes with skins, but ricers are grand when you are concocting something more delicate that requires a finer drier fluffier texture for mashing of potato sans skin (ricers act like potato peelers) in the making of blinis and gnocchi.



Here's looking at you, kids. Thanks for reading! Cin! Cin! 


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spring Renewal: Slow-roasted Salmon in Lemony Yogurt Sauce with Sugar Snap Peas & Shaved Pecorino Salad





It is Springtime in San Francisco.

A time for rebirth, renewal.

Young slender green shoots are sprouting everywhere.

The sycamore trees at the front of our apartment complex that have spent an entire autumn and winter looking barren and forlorn are springing into life again with tender young leaves.

Ah if only our tired human bodies would undergo the natural metamorphosis that transforms winter's ungainly caterpillar into spring's floating butterfly.

Alas, Nature has cruelly dealt us a bad hand by making us the world's most self-conscious, metabolically-challenged creatures. I mean, a snake doesn't look at itself in the mirror & say "Jeez, this skin is looking a little ragged; better head to Sephora & find a good exfoliator."

Nope, without so much as a thought of its sex appeal or a glance at its reflection in the nearest waterhole, your average reptile is miraculously relieved of its dry scaly skin by Mother Nature; while humans, if we're lucky, have to head to the nearest health spa for a minimum 6 weeks of intensive beauty boot camp just to shed five lbs. after punishing ourselves with days of the most pitiless, rigorous self-scrutiny in every surface that happens to reflect our sorry images. (I shudder to think of the extremes taken for shedding some of that wrinkly skin!).

Let's face it: we've been rooked!

However, Hope (with all its capital H, Emily Dickinson-inflected beauty)  springs eternal in the human breast... and with the intent of taking over where Nature neglectfully left off---I offer this overture to that time-honored Spring tradition of getting our bodies into some semblance of condition for bikini season. A lovely meal chockfull of skin-enhancing, body nourishing, soul-stirring yummy goodness with the King of Spring in the starring role.


Pacific King Salmon is truly royal... get it wild and whilst in season , if you can. The controversy about eating farmed versus wild salmon is complex, and reports available in the media, online, and in scientific publications often seem contradictory. Issues fall into three main categories: environmental concerns, contamination, and omega-3 fatty acid levels in edible portions. The good news is both wild and farmed salmon have low levels of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish are derived from plants (algae, leaves, grass).

Here's a quick salmon primer:


In wild salmon, the amount and type of omega-3s found are based on the algae and plankton found in their diet. In farmed salmon, the omega-3 levels are dependent on what type of feed they eat, which is made from plants, grains, and fishmeal.  Farmed salmon fillets contain as many grams of omega-3 fatty acids as wild salmon because farmed salmon are fattier than wild salmon. New feeds are being developed with less fishmeal in them and more protein derived from grains and oilseeds, such as soybeans. Fish oil is also being partially replaced with plant-derived oils.

In general, the more plant-based ingredients, the lower the level of long-chain omega-3 fats in the salmon. However, fish are fed feeds containing enough fish oil to maintain omega-3 fatty acid levels equivalent or higher than most wild fish. Health professionals recommend that we increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for nervous system, heart, and brain health. Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Those of particular importance are alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentacenoic acid, docosopentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid. Research has shown that eicosapentacenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid in seafood provide health benefits for the developing fetus, infants, and also for adults.

Wild salmon is the preferred choice, but its availability is limited and seasonal. I'm sure it would be preferable if we could all go up to some lovely stream where they are spawning and catch them bare-handed, like bears do, but this is not always possible, even for the most conscientious eater, so we have farmed salmon, and much of it is quite good.

According to The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch (a globally trusted resource for those concerned about sustainable seafood practices), virtually all Atlantic salmon is now farmed rather than wild-caught, anyway. Atlantic salmon farmed in closed tanks is a "Best Choice." Closed tanks often have less effluent, disease, escapes and habitat impacts than other aquaculture systems.  Currently, only 0.1% of farmed Atlantic salmon is farmed in closed tanks. These sources will be labelled as "land-based" or "tank-based" salmon. Atlantic salmon farmed in Maine and Verlasso® and Blue Circle® brands are "Good Alternatives." These sources have reduced some of the impacts that typically occur when salmon is farmed in net pens. Atlantic salmon farmed in Canada, Scotland, Chile (excluding Verlasso® brand) and Norway (excluding Blue Circle® brand) is on the "Avoid" list.

About 60% of Chinook salmon is farmed. Chinook salmon caught in Alaska, farmed in New Zealand and farmed in closed tanks is a "Best Choice." In Alaska, management of salmon fisheries is highly effective. In New Zealand, the industry operates on a small scale and has few environmental impacts. Closed tanks often have less effluent, disease, escapes and habitat impacts than other aquaculture systems. Chinook salmon caught in Washington's Puget Sound is on the "Avoid" list because a significant portion of the catch is from stocks that are threatened. All sources of Chinook salmon from California, Oregon, and Washington (other than from Puget Sound) are "Good Alternatives." The fisheries are managed to avoid endangered or threatened stocks as much as possible. However, most fisheries undoubtedly impact these at-risk stocks, and Seafood Watch considers this a high concern. Some sources of Chinook salmon are certified sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council.

Now that you are experts, you can wow (or annoy) your local fishmongers with your knowledge. Be ye mindful and fishify! Fresh salmon is a glorious and flavorful way to springboard into healthful dietary habits, and so pretty too. There are a variety of ways to serve it, here's one:




Spring Renewal: Slow-roasted Salmon in Lemony Yogurt Sauce with Fresh Sugar Snap Peas And Shaved Pecorino Salad








Note:



This recipe will serve 4 relatively fit hopeful diners or 8 frantic, worried dieters.
It's really an excellent dish for people who don't usually enjoy fish because the slow-roasting & the marinade tame the volatile oils in the salmon, avoiding the "fishy" smell that can make this healthy delicious protein so unappealing to the uninitiated.

Pitted olives are fine to use in the salad, but I prefer mine to be less handled by a grocer, so I use whole olives. I like releasing the tender meat from the pit with the perfect tools for the job - my lips and teeth... so primal. The Arabequina olives I chose are meaty, buttery, highly aromatic... bringing you a taste of the Mediterranean with every bite, but there are other tongue-pleasing varietals. 
Almost every supermarket here in the U.S. has a huge variety of olives from oil-cured to brined to seasoned... experiment, see what you like. 

You will need to trim the sugar snap peas, here's how:  Using a paring knife, with the inside curve of the pod facing you, sever the top of the pea and pull off the tough string that runs along the length of the pod. (Sometimes stores have already trimmed the string.) It’s not necessary to remove the other end, though you can if you’d like. (This also works for snow peas.) You can also, of course, avoid the pea pod trimming altogether and substitute haricot verts (small young green beans), fava beans, or even asparagus. It's your kitchen... you reign supreme. I just like the contrast of the sweet pea with the salty Pecorino. 


Ingredients:


For the salmon:


4 six oz. skinless center-cut salmon fillets, preferably wild king salmon
1 tsp. madras curry powder, or any other tumeric-based seasoning
1 Tbs. olive oil
freshly ground salt & pepper, to taste (I keep a basalt-like hunk of Pink Himalayan Sea Salt with its own grater on hand at all times...)

For the sauce:


1 cup Greek-style yogurt (or plain yogurt that has been strained in the fridge for at least 3 hours and brought to room temperature)
1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded & coarsely chopped
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 lemon, juiced and zested (Meyer's lemons are the best, a cross between orange & lemon in flavor)
1 tsp. chopped chives
1 tsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
1 Tbs. mint leaves, finely chopped
freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

For the snap peas:


4 cups fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (preferably Meyers lemons, about 3 or 4)
1 shallot, finely minced (you can use garlic, if you prefer)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped leaves only
4 oz. thinly shaved pecorino romano or other sharp tasting cheese; parmigiano-reggiano works fine, too, if you prefer something mellower

1/2 cup of black olives (I used meaty Arabequina olives, but use what you like)
1/2 pint of small tomatoes (grape or cherry), sliced in half  
2 cups fresh baby arugula leaves (optional)




Directions:


Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place salmon on a cutting board, remove any pin bones with a tweezer. Whisk olive oil and curry powder together in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over the surface of each fillet. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Set aside.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While water is heating, fill a large bowl with equal parts ice and water. Set aside. When pot reaches the boil, add snap peas and cook until tender 2-3 minutes. Drain peas and add to bowl of ice water. Drain again. Pat dry with paper towel. Place peas in large shallow serving bowl; set aside. (Snap peas can be prepared to this point 1 day ahead, if desired). In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, garlic, olive oil whisking until well combined and an emulsion forms. Pour dressing over snap peas toss well. Sprinkle in cheese, parsley, tomatoes, olives; toss lightly. When ready to serve, add arugula,  gently folding ingredients into one another. 



Cook salmon:


Place curry marinated salmon fillets on a large lightly oiled oven-proof non-stick pan. Do not overcrowd pan or salmon will steam not roast. Use 2 small pans if you do not have 1 large enough to accommodate all the fillets. Roast salmon without disturbing for 10 minutes then with a sturdy spatula carefully turn salmon over & roast 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and serve with a dollop of the lemony yogurt sauce on top. Serving additional sauce at the table, if desired (recipe for lemony sauce follows).

While the salmon roasts, make the sauce. Add all the ingredients for the sauce except the lemon zest into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth & creamy about 30 seconds to a minute. Place in serving bowl, stir in lemon zest, taste to adjust seasoning, adding pepper to taste. Serve on the side with fish. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead but should be brought to room temperature before serving).