Friday, December 12, 2014

'Tis the season to …..

We are being pressed to secure all those gifts with the starting gun firing even before the leftovers have cooled with the pathetic frenzy of Black Friday and anonymous click through of Cyber Monday. This is no longer the season celebrating the birth of a messenger of love, but loving what is hidden within tissue paper stuffed, bow adorned box.  Receiving pretty, shiny objects are great, just not sure I trust it as a measure of how much one is loved.

Personally, I will admit to never really loving getting gifts, perhaps it is a reflection of my insecurities coupled with my love of control. I have gotten better at saying, how wonderful, thank you. It is the gift of ritual, and a shared life that cannot get parceled and shipped overnight express, which really brings me to my knees with gratitude.

I am a few years into my marriage and this time of year prompts me to reflect on the copious amount of gifts I have already received: my marriage is recognized by family, friends and the IRS; a honey-do list is generated every weekend as we personalize the new homestead, and sweet treats are plated as reward for work well done. There is an agreed perspective that we have what we need, and as for want --- it is gotten with reason. Our dining table is where gifts are laid out. Birthdays produce slices of moist, gooey-coated carrot cake; Sunday nights is for wings and Christmas, well for my Swedish husband, gravlax must be made. Participating in these traditions is the best gift of any season.

Gravlax – yields approx. 10 servings
2-pounds salmon fillet (skin still attached)
¼-cup kosher salt
¼-cup sugar
1-teaspoon minced lemon zest
1-teaspoon ground coriander seed
1-packed cup dill (stems and leaves)

Cut the salmon fillet into 2 pieces of equal length.

In a small work bowl mix the salt, sugar, lemon zest and coriander to fully combine.

In an 8-inch long glass or ceramic dish lay a quarter the dill down, and place a fillet skin side down. Sprinkle half the salt mixture over the fillet and another quarter of the dill. Sprinkle the other salmon fillet with the remaining salt mixture, and carefully place on top of the salmon in the dish, skin side up. Distribute the remaining dill over the salmon. Cover with plastic wrap, and put a 6-inch sauté on top of the covered salmon. Put in the refrigerator, and after 24-hours remove the sauté pan. Flip the salmon and return to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for another 24 to 48 hours. Every 12 hours spoon the liquid that collects in the bottom of the dish over the salmon.

After 2 to 3 days remove the salmon, and discard the dill. Carefully slice the salmon vert thinly from the skin. Serve with Dill Mustard or Sour Cream.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thanks for the memories

Growing up I remember the refrigerator in the garage – that spare one. It was packed with cold bottles of seltzer and coke – before I established my coffee routine it was a big gulp of coke every morning. Clearly, I was not raised with any sense of food consciousness or restrictions, and it seems like a miracle that I actually ended seeing food from the point of view of how it impacts our body, soul and emotions. It was after I left my parents house and reflected nostalgically on that garage refrigerator, not for its beverage compartment but for what was stored in the freezer I started to understand the emotional component to eating.

My mom baked daily. Her confections were not necessarily destined to served at the end of the evening meal really if I think about, she rarely presented dessert. No, most of this was headed to another one of her culinary warehouses – the freezer. If you walked in our garage you would not be wrong if you mistook it for a convenience store. With its well stocked, reach-in refrig and the shelving unit along the wall packed with nonperishables from dry milk and instant potatoes to bottles salad dressings and ketchup. She had two freezers: the larger upright unit that stored a season’s worth of precut, pre-packaged meats and drop-and-boil vegetables, and the other smaller one, which I would make a beeline for. In there cakes bundled in cling wrap sat frosted and stacked, and old sneaker boxers secured with rubber bands hid little treasures. Within those waxed paper lined boxes were cookies – chocolate chip, butter crescents, rugelach and walnut where always to be found. Though they were off limits being saved for a special occasion or company. I became very fond of eating frozen cookies for I would never dare risk being found out by bringing in them into the house to thaw.   

I will confess I have taken up the mantel, perhaps not to the extreme of my mother, but there usually is a store of frozen bake goods in one of my four freezers. Though my excuse is that it is good prep work for when there are quiet days, particularly when a client springs upon you their last minute decision to attend a cookie swap. Unfortunately, I have not gotten over my urge to sneak hard, frozen cookies and every time I chisel through one, I am back in my childhood garage sitting on the hood of my mom’s Delta 88 unknowingly consuming love.

Chocolate Cardamom Cookies– yields 30 pieces
4-ounces unsalted butter
1-cup sugar
2-whole eggs
1-teaspoons vanilla extract
2-cups all-purpose flour
1½-teaspoon baking powder
⅛-teaspoon salt
½-cup cocoa powder
2-teaspoons ground cardamom
¾-cup chopped pecans
¼-cup powdered sugar

In a mixer with the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar to very light and fluffy. Then add in the eggs, one and at time, fully incorporating before adding the second one. Mix in the vanilla and orange blossom water.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa,and cardamom cinnamon. On a low speed mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Then stir in the pecans to thoroughly distribute.

Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for an hour or two.

Pre-heat to 350-degrees.

Coat your hands with some powdered sugar, and form the dough into balls about the size of a walnut. Place on a parchment line-baking tray, and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. 

Cool completely. Then roll in confectioner’s sugar to lightly coat.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Its the time

It has begun, that frenzy of holiday dinners, cookie swaps and potlucks. This is the best thing of this
time of year – hosting or contributing to a gathering. It is also the time to renew and replenish. Most of the spices in the cupboard have been in there since last year, to be generous. A purchased pre-ground spice has about a 3 to 6 month shelf life given that most of us store our spices in a cabinet where heat and light can act to degrade them. Not to mention, the factory where the spices were milled smells wonderful but that scent did not end up in the jar. It is time to go through your myriad containers of spices and purge. Any tins that came with you when you left your parent’s house have to go. Newer ones should be sniffed for the presence of fragrance. When you go out restock your inventory you may want to avoid the supermarket aisle and seek out an Indian store. The cuisine of the sub-continent utilizes a vast amount of spices, where turnover will most likely be quicker than at your local Piggly Wiggly. I go so far as buying the majority my spices whole and grinding what will be used as needed – an inexpensive coffee grinder does the trick. In the spirit of absolute honesty, I store my spices not in a draw or cupboard adjacent to the stove, but in the freezer. The cold, dark storage helps my spice collection maintain its maximum aromatic potential for far longer than a year. Labeled, small plastic bags are lined up in canisters that thought they would house post-its, paper clips, a stapler and pens. Of course, they are alphabetized.

I am confident that when I make a batch of cardamom chocolate cookies or add my spiced chickpea salad to a potluck the gift of fragrance will be there.  

Spiced Chickpeas – yields 6 to 8 servings
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium red onion – sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves – crushed to a paste
1-tablespoon grated ginger
1-teaspoon garam marsala (see below)
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 small carrot – peeled and grated
4 scallions – washed and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4-cup fresh lime juice
1/4-cup chopped cilantro

Garam Marsala
2-inch cinnamon stick
1/2-teaspoon whole cloves
1/2-teaspoon aniseed
1-tablespoon whole black pepper
1/2-teaspoon whole mace
8 cardamom seeds

Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder, and process to a fine powder.

Heat an 8-inch sauté pan over a medium heat, and add the oil and onion. Cook the onion until it is limp, and a light golden brown. Mix in the ginger, garlic and garam marsala, and cook for a few minutes moving the onion mixture constantly. Mix in the chickpeas, carrots and scallions, and cook to warm through. Remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, limejuice and cilantro. Serve warm or cold.