Archive for January, 2009

salmon with a Thai touch

Here in Albuquerque we don’t have local fish, but we do have a local couple, the Fishhuggers, who sell Alaskan salmon and other fish, sustainably fished in Alaska by the Fishhugger himself. It’s frozen shortly after being caught, and when thawed and promptly cooked, is a lot closer to fresh than anything we can buy in the stores. You can find it at the Corralles farmers’ market. I keep frozen blanched greens in my freezer in one-cup portions, ready when I need a winter pick-me-up.
When I cook salmon I usually use their wild-caught sockeye, which is a brilliant red-orange tone and loaded with omega-3s. I like to use other brilliant colors, usually bright greens, to complement the lovely fish. Today I combined the salmon with Thai accompaniments, and the green coconut-milk curry set off the plainly pan-grilled fish beautifully. Whenever you eat fish, remember to support sustainable fishing! The Seafood Watch card is a handy way to decide what to buy. Click here to print one out.

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Leeks in the winter garden

Leeks are delicious luxury vegetables that withstand mistreatment and hang in there well into winter. You can eat them all winter if you make some effort to protect them. I don’t give mine any protection at all, and they’re still good.
I start with purchased plants, and nearly always get mine from Territorial Seeds. You can get very fancy about digging a trench, planting the new plants in the bottom of the trench, then gradually filling it in over the summer to get the longest white shafts possible. Or you can use my rough-and-ready method: Stick a trowel its full blade length into well-prepared and rich soil, use the trowel to hold open a slit the depth of the blade, stick the new little plant down into the slit you have created behind the trowel blade until only about an inch of the leaf tips are showing, draw out the trowel blade without displacing the plant, and firm the soil a little. Keep the plants at least 6″ apart each way. When all done, water your new planting. If I get ambitious later in the year, I’ll heap compost around the plants or even build a rough frame about 6″ deep that fits around the leek patch and fill it with mulch to blanch more of the leeks. But when I’ve planted deeply to begin with, I know that I’ll have at least 6″ of white shaft even if I never get around to hilling them up any further. Keep them weed-free through the summer, and make sure they have enough water. If they send up flower stalks, cut the stalk away asap.
They are ready for harvest in the fall, and will hold until January or longer, depending on the variety and the amount of protection they receive. I don’t protect mine at all, and the outside of the shaft gets ratty-looking, but when ready to use them I pull them carefully out of the ground, strip off the ragged outer layers right in the garden, cut the tops off with my garden knife, and am left with leek shafts about a foot long and a little under 1″ in diameter. The books say only to use the white part, but I use the green part too, up through the part where the center looks bright shamrock green but stopping where it starts to look emerald green. I do not find the light green parts tough at all.
They are the sweetest and most delicate member of the onion family and have hundreds of uses, and I advise checking out any good vegetable cookbook for recipes, but my own favorite is classical French creamed leeks. I serve this as the main dish for dinner with slices of good hot baguette to eat with it and a glass of light red wine to enliven the ensemble.
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A colorful and delicious toast to 2009

Over the holidays my husband devised a pomegranate margarita which is deliciously fresh. Drink it only when beautiful fresh organic pomegranates are in the market. The bottled juice won’t do. They’re a popular ornamental in our area, and if you have a bush of them in your yard, all the better. You can juice the pomegranates with a citrus juicer, but my own favorite method is to cut them in half, hold each half over a bowl, and scrape it with the back of a spoon until all the juice has run out. The juice is loaded with antioxidants and has as beautiful a color as nature offers. We are all working toward a more sustainable life, but there can be (and should be) color, freshness, and fun along the way. Click here for the recipe

Red Wine Vinegar

There’s a very good reason to make your own red wine vinegar at home: it will be about twice as good as any you can buy, because the wine you put into it will be twice as good as that in commercial vinegars. If you want a more formal process, you can find excellent directions in Paul Bertolli’s book Chez Panisse Cooking. My own more rough-and-ready process goes something like this:
1. Get a large glass jar (anywhere from quart to gallon-size, depending on how much vinegar you want) with a glass lid and rubber sealing gasket. They are widely sold as canisters. Buy enough good red wine to (eventually) fill it. The wine must be good enough that you would thoroughly enjoy drinking a glass of it. The best vinegar I’ve made so far was made with J. Lohr cabernet, which is widely available.
2. Get some vinegar mother. Some winemaking supply stores sell them, but I got mine from a bottle of Bragg cider vinegar, which is available at La Montanita co-op.
3. Add one bottle of wine to the jar, add the mother or about 1/4 cup of the Bragg vinegar, put the lid of the jar someplace where you can find it later, cover the jar loosely with a dish towel held on tightly by a rubber band, and set it in a dark place. Check it every few days. Somewhere between a week and a month later, depending on temperature and other factors, you will notice light grey wispy streaks on the surface of the wine. This is the developing mother.
4. Once the mother starts to grow, you can add more wine, but it has to be done carefully. You want to leave the surface as undisturbed as possible. I use a short length of clear tubing from our local winemaking supply shop, Victor’s Grape Arbor. I put one end of the tubing below the surface of the developing vinegar and use a funnel to pour wine slowly into the tube. That way, wine can be added without drowning the mother. Be sure not to add too much at once. Adding about two cups every week or two works well, until you have filled the jar that you plan to fill. Be sure to fill it right to the top; I’ll go into the reason for this later.
5. When the jar is full, keep it in the dark place and, every week, taste a little with a spoon, being sure to disturb the surface as little as possible. Keep it tightly covered with the dish towel between tastings. When it tastes like vinegar, you’re ready to proceed to step 6. It will still taste sort of rough and raw. Don’t worry.
6. There is no question that wine vinegar needs oak aging to taste its best. If you want to fill an oak cask that’s fine, but it isn’t necessary. Use a wide spoon to carefully remove all the mother and a little of the vinegar under it. Put this in a small jar. Scrape the bottom of your vinegar jar with a slotted spoon to see if a gelatinous substance has formed. This is a submerged part of the mother. If it’s there, add it to your removed mother in a small jar and store in the refrigerator for the next time you want to make vinegar. Now for the oak aging part. At winemaking supply stores you can get small bags of oak chips. Carefully add the oak chips to your vinegar. You will have lost a little volume removing the mother, so the chips should bring it back up to brimming full. Make sure all the chips are wet (Over the next few weeks, they will gradually absorb vinegar and sink to the bottom.) Now put on the lid, not the dish towel, and seal it. Make sure that the vinegar doesn’t touch the gasket when the jar is sitting level. If it does, remove a little vinegar until it doesn’t.
8. Now let the vinegar age in a dark place for as long as you can stand. It gains mellowness with age. Richard Olney says it needs 2-3 years to reach its best, but I’ve never held out that long. In six months it will be very good.
9. When ready to use it, funnel it into empty wine bottles and cork them tightly. At this point you don’t want it exposed to the air any more than necessary. You can store it in the refrigerator if you have room. I usually keep it on the counter.
10. Start to use it. It will make a great vinaigrette dressing, of course, but you’ll find lots of other uses. Click below for some recipes.
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