Herbed Salmon Cakes

Our first CSA delivery of the season arrived last week! It’s a little sad that I get so giddy about our CSA starting. I love how the box of fresh produce injects some much needed energy into my cooking. I love that moment of panic upon clicking open the email with the packing list for the week, fearing I’ll never know what to do, and then love even more when that moment of epiphany arrives, especially when it’s at the very last minute.

This first delivery brought us much in the way of what I’d say are ingredients, but not much that would make for a stellar entrée or side dish. I’m talking tons of herbs– fresh mint, chives, cilantro, and garlic scapes. (Garlic scapes! I actually yelled, “Woot! Can I get a wha wha?” to myself, all alone in my office, when I saw that on the packing list.) So that moment of panic lingered as the options for using herbs seemed infinite rather than inspiring.

Luckily, the realm of possibilities got a little smaller when I spied wild kind salmon on sale. So far, the baby loves salmon– make that LOVES salmon. Making salmon cakes seemed like a fun way to keep getting her to enjoy eating it. I wanted to make a truly fantastic salmon cake– one where you can see the chunks of firm, pink fish, not bite into a mushy pile of cat food like, fishy puree. I envisioned a salmon cake that was bright in flavor– tons of flecks of green and fresh in flavor from some of the bright herbs, yet rich at the same time, thanks to toasted brioche crumbs to help hold the mix together. (What can I say? The baby loves brioche too. Raising a foodie baby is going to be expensive.)

Once the cakes were formed and pan-fried, then plating was easy. I played up on the bright pink and green colors by sitting my salmon cakes up on a pile of lightly dressed greens, including arugula from the CSA and some sliced pink beauty radishes. The acid from the dressing and the peppery bite of the radishes added contrast and crunch. CSA? You gave me a challenge by giving me lots of ingredients but little “meat” to work with, so to speak, and to that, I answered, “Challenge accepted!” Can’t wait to see what else this season brings!

  • 2 thick slices of brioche bread
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh mint and dill, finely chopped
  • 16 oz wild king salmon fillet, deboned, skinned, and finely chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • mixed baby greens and arugula
  • 3-4 medium pink beauty radishes, halved then sliced at an angle into wedges
  • your favorite, vinaigrette salad dressing

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, add brioche slices that you have roughly torn into smaller pieces. Pulse until you have course crumbs. Spread out crumbs on a baking sheet and lightly toast at 250 degrees F (or in your toaster oven on the medium light setting) for about 10 minutes or until crumbs are golden brown. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, add the chives, mint, dill, salmon, cooled brioche crumbs, salt, pepper, and egg. Mix together until combined. Using your hands, cup together about 1/2 cup size portions into a patty, lightly pressing until they are about 4 inches wide. Place on a plate then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Place a large pan over medium high heat. Add butter and olive oil. Add salmon cakes and lightly fry until golden brown and cooked through (salmon will be opaque)– about 5-6 minutes per side. While cakes cook, add salad greens and most of your radish wedges to a medium bowl and toss with a light coat of dressing. Plate mixed greens then add a salmon cake on top, scattering a few pieces of radish on top. Serve immediately.

Makes about 5 salmon cakes.

CSA Count: 4

Chives, mint, arugula, pink beauty radish

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Three Easy Squash Soup Variations on Second City Soiree

It’s winter and therefore, perfect weather for cozying up to a piping hot bowl of creamy, sweet and spicy, winter squash soup. Below is a recipe for the soup, adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, then visit Second City Soiree for three easy ideas for garnishes that transform this one soup into three different but equally delicious variations.

  • 1 medium winter squash of your choice, be it butternut, sugar pumpkin, or kuri (pictured above), peeled, seeded, and chopped, yielding about 4 cups of 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large leek, trimmed of dark green and root ends, quartered length wise and thinly sliced. Place slices in a bowl full of water and stir around to release dirt. Use a strainer to remove leek pieces to drain.
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons of a mix of spices of your choice– I’m a fan of ground cinnamon, curry powder, cayenne, and ground ginger
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Spray a large glass or microwave safe bowl with cooking spray. Add the squash. Microwave on high for 7 minutes. Take bowl out and stir. If squash pieces are fork tender, you’re done. If not, microwave for another 3-7 minutes. Place a colander over a medium bowl and drain squash, reserving any liquid. Set aside squash and squash juice.

In a large soup pot, melt butter over medium high heat. When butter’s foam has subsided, add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally for 4-5 minutes. Add the squash and squash juice along with the spices and thyme. Cook for 10 minutes or until juices have evaporated and a fond has formed on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with 1 cup of stock. Add another 3 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes. Puree using an immersion blender (or in batches of no more than 2 cups at a time in a regular blender, holding the lid down with a towel.) Add more stock to reach your preferred consistency then season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Middle East Pitza

Over at My Kitchen, My World, the destination for April is Egypt. I, for one, am particularly excited to see what my fellow bloggers come up with this month to learn more about Egyptian cuisine while watching this country struggle to form its new democratic process. As for my submission, I don’t know how authentic it is, but I drew inspiration from a website of Egyptian cuisine suggestions and can vouch that it’s fun to eat and pretty tasty.

It’s simple enough: a whole wheat pita, toasted until crisp in the oven, then slathered with layers of smooth and spicy baba ganoush, ground chicken and pine nuts that have been spiked with cinnamon and cumin, and dollops of creamy, tangy tzatziki sauce. I made two of these and served them with some roasted broccoli for a light dinner with John while we watched Cleopatra in honor of Elizabeth Taylor, but I could see wedges of these being served as a fun appetizer at a party. Hope you like them too!

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • olive oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tahini paste
  • 4 cloves garlic, divided
  • juice of a lemon, divided
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 13 oz ground chicken
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion plus 1 tablespoon more, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 6 oz Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber
  • 1 teaspoon each finely chopped mint and parsley
  • 4 whole wheat pita

Start by making the baba ganoush. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly brush it with olive oil. Cut the eggplant in half, lengthwise then lay the halves cut-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until skin has darkened and is a little puckered and the flesh side is slightly charred and soft. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes or until cool to touch. Scoop out eggplant flesh into a food processor fitted with steel blade. Add 1 large clove of garlic, grated with a rasp or finely chopped, along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, tahini paste, juice of half the lemon, about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, 1 teaspoon of cumin, and chili powder. Puree until mostly smooth with some small chunks of eggplant. Remove contents to a bowl, cover, and set aside until ready to use.

Reduce temperature of oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly brush pita with olive oil then bake on a baking sheet for 10-12 minutes or until crisp. Remove from oven, and cover with a paper towel to keep warm.

While pita toast, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and the pine nuts. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and pine nuts are lightly toasted, about 5-7 minutes. Add the ground chicken meat, breaking it up and mixing in the onions and pine nuts. Add in the remaining teaspoon of cumin, along with the cinnamon, and oregano, and cook until chicken meat has browned and any liquid exuded is mostly evaporated, about 10-12 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

While chicken cooks, mix together the yogurt, remaining tablespoon of onion, remaining clove of garlic that has been finely grated, juice of half a lemon, cucumber, mint, parsley, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt with 1/8 teaspoon of pepper.

To assemble, spread about 2 tablespoons of baba ganoush on crisped pita. Top with about 1/4-1/3 cup of ground chicken mixture. Dollop with tzatziki then cut into quarters before serving with additional tzatziki on the side.

Baked Brie Palmiers

We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in this household as both John and I fall firmly on the cynics side of the great V-Day debate, that this is a day primarily orchestrated for the benefit of the card, chocolates, and flowers industry. But if you choose to celebrate by making a lovey-dovey meal for your significant other, the least I can do is help you out in your endeavor to be a cheese ball. 🙂 In this case, why not start your meal off with this cheesy (in a good way), heart-shaped appetizer.

The concept: combine palmiers, those delicious, buttery, heart-shaped cookies, with another favorite puff pastry treat– baked brie. I was inspired after watching Ina Garten make savory palmiers by spreading pesto, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts on a sheet of thawed puff pastry. Charged with making appetizers for my parents’ Christmas Eve dinner, I made one batch of Ina’s savory palmiers, and one batch that would allow me to use her technique but express my creativity. I love baked brie, what with its melty goodness, complemented by sweet, sticky jam and toasty nuts, and thought that maybe this might be a cute way to make bite sized pieces of it.

You can vary the flavor of jam or kinds of nuts used according to your tastes, but in my case, I had a long forgotten jar of homemade ginger pear preserves on hand and some toasted walnut pieces leftover in my freezer. To help out, I’ve put other spread ideas in the Note below. These were easy to assemble, quick to bake and best of all, pretty to look at (although as usual, my photography skills don’t really demonstrate that with the picture below), and best of all, delicious to taste. Frankly, I can’t think of a better way to show the ones you love that you care than with the gift of cheese.

Note: Other delicious jam flavors to consider: raspberry, apricot, fig, or for a little heat, some pepper jelly. Or forgo jam and opt for honey or my favorite– sweet chili Thai sauce.

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 cups jam of your choice
  • .6 lb wedge brie, sliced 1/8 inch thick into rectangles
  • 2 tablespoons toasted, chopped walnuts

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the sheet of puff pastry until it measures 9.5 by 11 inches. Turn the pastry sheet so that the short end is facing you. Remove the metal lid from your jar jam or place jam in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 20 seconds or until slightly runny. Spread the jam over the sheet from end to end. Lay the slices of brie in 4 vertical rows then sprinkle with toasted, chopped nuts. Lift up the left side and fold it about 1/4 of the way to the center, repeating with the right-hand side. Repeat the folds again so that they almost meet in the center then take the right side and fold it up and over the left hand side so that you have a long cylinder, pressing lightly to seal together. Cover with plastic wrap, then place the rolled up cylinder on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and chill in your refrigerator for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Remove chilled cylinder from the refrigerator and using a serrated blade, cut the cylinder into 1/2 inch thick rounds. Place the slices about 2 inches apart on the parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 14-18 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Serve while still warm.

 

Sweet Potato Cilantro Pancakes

I love sweet potato fries, but I’m not so great at making them. Sure I could pull out the fryer, but that always seems like more trouble due to the clean up than it’s worth. And as for oven roasting them, well, I just haven’t found a method that works for me.

My oven sweet potato fries, unlike my oven potato fries, always turn out soggy and limp. Make that usually turn out soggy and limp. Fed up with sub par sweet potato fries, I did a quick internet search to figure out how I can adjust my method. I settled on a recipe from a favorite food blog as it included a couple of reader notes to boost up the given recipe’s crispness even more: I cranked up the oven to 500 degrees F instead of 450 and preheated a greased baking sheet in the oven before adding the sweet potato cuts.

Fail. Fail. Fail. These weren’t soggy; they were burnt and charred to a crisp. John tried to be game about salvaging them suggesting I try one. I almost barfed as the burnt taste was overwhelming. Even worse for me, that overcooked sweet potato smell lingered in the house for a couple of days, reminding me of the days when we lived near a brewery and that smell was pervasive in the air all the time.

So when I wanted to use sweet potato as a side I thought about whether there was a different way I could have crispy sweet potatoes but not go down the inevitable failure route that for me is the sweet potato fry. And then it occurred to me– sweet potato pancakes! I could shred a yam, squeeze out the extra moisture, and make little cakes to fry up in a pan.

Since this was a side for an Asian style entrée (will post that next week), I decided to spice these pancakes in a similar fashion. I added a touch of curry and five spice powder along with some chopped fresh cilantro. I then made a dipping sauce out of soy sauce, minced serrano pepper, garlic, and plenty more cilantro. These little cakes were crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and a great balance of sweet and spicy.

Sweet Potato Pancakes

  • 1 large yam (that’s the orange flesh tuber), peeled
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Dipping Sauce

  • 1/4 cup Tamari soy sauce
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 3/4 teaspoon)
  • 1 serrano pepper, minced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

Shred the yam, either in a food processor or with a grater. Sprinkle the shredded yam with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and mix together in a colander. Let this stand for 15 minutes then squeeze out extra moisture either in a clean kitchen towel or in paper towels. Add the dry yam to a large mixing bowl and mix in the egg, garlic, curry powder, five spice powder, cilantro, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper. Sprinkle in the flour then mix together. Pick up about 1/4 cup of the mixture and form into a patty. If the patty holds its shape, you’re good. If it’s too loose to stick together, add a little more flour until the mix binds together well.

Heat canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat while you shape the pancakes. When the oil ripples, it’s hot enough to cook the pancakes. Cook pancakes, four at a time, for 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown, adjusting the heat as necessary to avoid burning. Remove cooked pancakes to paper towel lined plates to drain excess oil, sprinkling with more salt and pepper to taste.

While pancakes are frying, mix together the dipping sauce ingredients. Serve in a small bowl with the pancakes so that diners can add as much or as little sauce as they want.

Yields 6-8, 4 inch wide pancakes.