Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From Mush to Delicious

Mike and I recently celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary! The word 'wedding' may seem redundant in that sentence, but when you meet a man like Mike, you celebrate the day you met him, the day he proposed, etc. I know, I know - this is just too MUSHY....now stop putting your finger down your throat like that! Seriously, when you meet the person you want to be with forever, it is like magic, like a wonderful dream, like...like a recipe that works out just as you had hoped and will file in your 'forever and ever' recipe binder!

And believe you me, I have tried my fair share of recipes that have NOT worked out!
I aim to blog at least one new recipe a week, but was sent into a bit of a foodie funk after a disappointing encounter with a tofu burger.

Recently I have tried several recipes from a cook book that I have had for a few years, Moosewood Restaurant New Classics. Two were winners and will be added to my 'forever and ever' binder - but the tofu burgers were a complete flop.

The introduction sounded great -  "popular, yummy"  - so with optimism and naivete I jumped headfirst right into the recipe - even took photos to blog. To my dismay, the result was a bland and boring burger. I quickly realized this recipe was not a keeper when the boys resorted to soy sauce, ketchup and other 'flavor enhancers' to make them tolerable. What a sinking feeling when you give so much time and loving care to a recipe only to have it fail. Well, it is the past and I am over it... really.

After the recent flop I knew I had to 'get back out there'  again and start trying some new recipes. Luckily my nature is to not hold back -  to jump headfirst in again. Even if it turned out to be a rebound recipe, I knew I had to give it my best try!
So, I have always loved fish cakes such as crab and salmon cakes, but have not been able to reproduce the tastes that I have enjoyed in restaurants... until Moosewood's Salmon Cakes.

Everyone loved them and wanted more - no flavor enhancers requested!
Yes! I found another recipe for my 'forever and ever' binder!

SALMON BURGERS: adapted from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics
Warning: there is a lot of mush in this recipe

Put 2 cups peeled, diced potatoes, 1 cup chopped onion, and 1 cup peeled, chopped carrots in a large saucepan with water to cover them. Put the lid on and bring this to a boil. Then simmer for about 10 minutes or until veggies are tender.

Then add 2-3 fillets (about 1 pound) of skinned, 1 inch pieces of salmon to the pot. Cook for another 7 minutes and drain in a colander.

Transfer this to a bowl and mash it into mush. Fun!

To this mushy mixture, add 1 egg, 1 tbsp mayo, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice, 1-2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tsp salt, some freshly ground pepper, and 1/2 cup fine bread crumbs.
Mix well - but not too well!
Heat up a small glug of olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Shape the mushy mixture in your clean hands and sprinkle with a little bread crumbs before carefully placing it in the heated pan.
Fry for approximately 4 minutes on each side - until crisp and golden.
Try serving these with a nice green salad dressed with some of the leftover lemon juice and olive oil - keeping the side simple so that the cakes can take center stage!
So you see; a little  MUSH can be delicious!

BTW - Mike and I celebrated by going to the Trellis Cafe in Hubbards, a little seaside village 25 minutes from here. It was a delicious meal of haddock, crab cakes, greens, wine, really fine coffee and homemade chocolate cake. Adding to the fun and ambiance were live music and a friendly crowd with many familiar faces.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Foraged Fiddleheads are Finger Food!

Yet another reason to love Nova Scotia - fiddleheads!
But fiddleheads as an appetizer?
Appetizers are not my forte - I usually do a no-cook item like grapes, cheese, olives, and bread. If I am hosting, I save my energies for the main events - main course and dessert -  and just rely on good wine and conversation to lead up to dinner...hoping no one will notice the absence of h'ors d'oeuvres.

Last week my fun, foodie friends asked me to bring an appetizer to a dinner party so
when I saw the baskets at the Halifax Farmers' Market filled with fiddleheads - I knew we had to have them! But Fiddleheads as an appetizer?...as a finger food?

Fiddleheads  are the tight little frond of an Ostrich Fern before the sun coaxes them to relax and open up. Reminds me of the fable about the wind and the sun - do you know it?  Real life lesson here people! Listen up!
The wind challenges the sun to a contest: " I bet I can get that man to take off his coat faster than you". The wind starts to blow and blow -but the man just holds onto his coat tighter and tighter. Now the sun's turn - All the sun had to do is beam her sweet face down on the man and, sure enough, he takes off his coat! Just for fun - if you know the moral of the story, please write in a comment.....

Back to fiddleheads - thus named because they look like the scroll of a violin - or fiddle. They are only available for a few weeks in early spring in Atlantic Canada and the Eastern States.
They are not farmed; but foraged. If you decide to go fiddlehead foraging, make sure it is the Ostrich Fern - some ferns can be toxic!

Fiddlehead Finger Food:
Wash your Fiddleheads very well - changing the water at least 3 times to remove all of the outer filmy brown skin. It is important that they are clean, but also the rinsing will improve the taste by removing some tannins that may lend a bitter taste. Then trim off any brown on the stem.

I didn't want to bother my host for a pan, butter etc..but they needed to be made on the spot...and be served hot, hot, hot! So I took my own pan with butter in it - the fiddleheads already cleaned and prepped.

Put the fiddleheads into a saucepan of boiling water and simmer for about 7-8 minutes - until they are bright green and tender crisp. Don't be alarmed by the residue of brown that may appear - it is just some tannin and plant matter.

Drain the water off, add the butter and saute for 3-4 minutes - I was lucky that Diana (host) had some lovely Fleur de Sel directly from France to sprinkle on top.
Now, I am going bold here - serve right away!

I really feel that it is important to keep it simple with fiddleheads -  no sauces or strong spices - so that you can enjoy the true taste of the new fern that just sprung up from the earth. A little garlic may enhance though.

Now... I think that the Fiddlehead can be classified in etiquette rules as a finger food in this circumstance. Similar to a whole stalk of asparagus in a casual setting. What do you think?
Here is my buddy, Brian enjoying - in fact - loving the fiddleheads. But using a fork?
Next time Brian - try it with fingers.
Hard to imagine, but they taste even better when popped into one's mouth with your fingers!


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Snack Happy

Growing up in sweet little Antigonish in the seventies, we had a small grocery store called MacDonald Brothers on Main Street. If my mother was too busy to go out, she would call in her order: " two cans of tunafish, one can of cream of celery soup......" , and one of the brothers' sons would deliver the cardboard box full of groceries right to our kitchen table with a smile! The store had about 5 aisles and a well worn wood floor - I would have noticed that because I liked to lie on the bottom of the shopping cart. The butcher was at the back behind a glass counter full of freshly cut meats; his apron covered in blood. I am sure I heard screams coming from back there.....no wonder I tend towards vegetarian foods so often!
There was one shelf at the end of an aisle with vachon cakes, and a small selection of cookies. Snacks were usually simple, real foods -  Mom always kept a bowl of fresh fruit on the table and other than that it may have been cheese or honey on a homemade biscuit. Thanks Mom!
Now, fast forward to our supermarkets these days - oh, I am not mooning about the past -  just trying to make a point about what the term 'snack food' has come to mean.
There are aisles and aisles filled with snack 'food-like' items. Think of granola bars, cereal bars, mammoth muffins, chips, tortilla chips, dozens of cookie and cracker choices, yogurt tubes, pop, and on and on!!!
Now, don't get me wrong - snacking can be great to avoid that mid afternoon slump, to bridge the energy gap between meals that are more than 4 hours apart, to supply nutrients, and to prevent overeating later on - but make sure you snack on real food.
Choose snacks like fresh fruit, raw veggies, cereal and milk, or nut butter on toast.

Nuts and seeds (raw and unsalted) make a power - packed snack. Full of protein, fiber and healthy fats.
A nice handful of almonds or walnuts with an apple mid afternoon will keep you going until dinner.


Mike makes this mix up regularly and puts them in little bags to take to work so that he won't get tired and cranky by mid afternoon - and oh, when that man gets cranky- well.... lets just say he needs his nuts!

It is a mixture of almonds, raisins and a few chocolate chips for a little kick!

 Pop 'em in...

Happy and energized - great recipe Mike!