Monday, December 31, 2012

Prawn and Ginger Dumplings

We spent the few days after Christmas in Inglenook, California (just north of Fort Bragg), at a little cottage tucked away down Beal Lane.  At the end of the lane, you can take a small path behind some Cyprus trees to emerge upon the most wonderful of sand dunes.  Rising up hugely, like hills, sometimes higher than houses, the dunes have that particular windswept cleanliness, the sides curdled then smooth.  For a ten-minute walk across the dunes, you are rewarded with the croak of frogs from a nearby river and the roar of the ocean you know is somewhere on the other side of the dunes, but you cannot see it.  A feast of sound and sand.

I walked there one evening with my father-in-law; we talked of ways to make one's life filled with more love and beauty, and I thought a lot about a dear friend of mine who is struggling right now with some major health issues.  She has been on my mind a good deal, and she is good and she is strong and she is determined.  The walk was long--we were out about two hours--but we saw only three other people, one seal, and an astonishing lavender sky. To be surrounded by sadness and frustration and good company and loveliness and a large, open sea: so ends this year.

When we returned from the walk, the husband and I made these very simple wontons for his parents in a small cottage kitchen.  In the next room, a wood-fired stove crackled and puffed, keeping everything warm in the two rooms.  The filling is almost exclusively shrimp, which at first might feel too ascetic; however, the simplicity of gingered shrimp came through in a comforting way.  We dropped the dumplings in a ginger-infused chicken broth to make wonton soup rather than dumplings (we did need to take the chill off from the walk), and I sliced up a quick cabbage slaw.  We sat around a too-tight dining table, knees and elbows bumping, while we drank good wine and talked some more.  Good soup or good dumplings are not cure-alls, but they go a long way to bring about more of the beauty and love that we talked about on the walk. 

And so we end this third year of the blog.  Much has happened in these three years, and I imagine at the end of three more years, I will look back even at this post and see a simplicity.  And that's a good thing.  A beautiful walk.  A bowl of soup.  A family around a too-tight table.   Thoughts of a dear friend.

One Year Ago: Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes
Two Years Ago: Irish Whiskey Fruitcake

Prawn and Ginger Dumplings
Adapted from  Donna Hay's Flavours

4 Servings

10 ounces raw shrimp or prawn meat, finely chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon sesame oil
20 wanton or dumpling wrappers
2 cups fish stock
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons chilli sauce
1 tablespoon sugar

1.  Place the prawn meat, shallots, ginger, lemon juice and sesame oil in a bowl and mix to combine. Place 1  tablespoon of the mixture onto a wanton wrapper and brush the edges with water.  Press the edges firmly to seal.

2.  To cook the dumplings, place the stock in a saucepan over medium heat and allow to rapidly simmer.  Place a few dumplings into the stock and cook for 3 minutes, or until the dumplings are cooked through.  Set aside and keep warm while you cook the remaining dumplings.  [We skipped this entirely, and put the dumplings in a piping hot pot of ginger-infused chicken broth.]

3.  To make the dipping sauce, combine the lemon juice, chilli sauce, and sugar and serve in a small bowl with the warm dumplings.   [The dipping sauce is quite good (we had it on another night). Don't be put off by the amount of chiles.  This is a hot sweet and sour sauce, and the wontons are good with a little kick.]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


Today, I learned that poet Jake Adam York died, too young.  He loved poetry, barbecue, language, music.  Thus, a poem from this dear teacher, mentor, inspiration and man whose kindness I will remember. 

               By Jake Adam York 

Because my grandmother made me
the breakfast her mother made her,
when I crack the eggs, pat the butter
on the toast, and remember the bacon
to cast iron, to fork, to plate, to tongue,
my great grandmother moves my hands
to whisk, to spatula, to biscuit ring,
and I move her hands too, making
her mess, so the syllable of batter
I’ll find tomorrow beneath the fridge
and the strew of salt and oil are all
memorials, like the pan-fried chicken
that whistles in the grease in the voice
of my best friend’s grandmother
like a midnight mockingbird,
and the smoke from the grill
is the smell of my father coming home
from the furnace and the tang
of vinegar and char is the smell
of Birmingham, the smell
of coming home, of history, redolent
as the salt of black-and-white film
when I unwrap the sandwich
from the wax-paper the wax-paper
crackling like the cold grass
along the Selma to Montgomery road,
like the foil that held
Medgar’s last meal, a square of tin
that is just the ghost of that barbecue
I can imagine to my tongue
when I stand at the pit with my brother
and think of all the hands and mouths
and breaths of air that sharpened
this flavor and handed it down to us,
I feel all those hands inside
my hands when it’s time to spread
the table linen or lift a coffin rail
and when the smoke billows from the pit
I think of my uncle, I think of my uncle
rising, not falling, when I raise
the buttermilk and the cornmeal to the light
before giving them to the skillet
and sometimes I say the recipe
to the air and sometimes I say his name
or her name or her name
and sometimes I just set the table
because meals are memorials
that teach us how to move,
history moves in us as we raise
our voices and then our glasses
to pour a little out for those
who poured out everything for us,
we pour ourselves for them,
so they can eat again.

Click here to hear him read "Grace" and some other poems; in this reading, you can hear his dear humor.

Broiled Salmon with Citrus Herb Crust

Dear world:  Enough with the bad news.  In the mean time, a post I wrote yesterday about salmon.

Salmon.  Mmmmmmm.  Filled with Vitamin A, Vitamin D, B vitamins, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is the king of fish.  Do you see what I did there?  I made a king salmon pun.

Oh dear.

Anyhoo, for all its glory, one has to be careful with one's salmon.  Wild salmon is better than farmed salmon, as the wild has considerably fewer environmental pollutants in it.  That's important.  However, wild salmon also has less Omega-3.  However, I think that's a fine trade-off.  Less contaminants.  Less fatty acids.  Then to boot, almost 99% of Atlantic salmon is farmed and around 80% of Pacific salmon is wild.  All important to know when you're standing at your local fish monger eyeballing the salmon (and the rock cod is eyeballing you back).

The cookbook that I am cooking from is a new one for the family.  Have you heard of the Sonoma Diet?  On the surface, it smacks of fad diet--and it certainly has some elements of that.  However, for the most part, the eating plan is just a more healthful way of eating.  Fill 50% of your plate with vegetables.   Fill 30% of your plate with protein.  Fill the remaining 20% with carbohydrates.  (To make it easy, I just think 25%/25% for the protein/carb ratio).  While I don't always use this as my guide to eating, it's helpful.

Nonetheless, there is a cookbook that goes along with the plan.  These past three weeks after the heavy (and oh so sweet) indulgences of Thanksgiving and as we're leading into the Christmas week, we have been cooking from this cookbook non-stop (or at least on the weekdays), and sweet business, people, we have made really wonderful mango-chutney-marinated flank steak, a shrimp and avocado and citrus salad, a darned tasty mustard-baked chicken, and a fantastic wild mushroom and barley "risotto."  I would actually argue that this cookbook ranks up there as one of the best low-fat, high-flavor, healthy-eating cookbooks that I own.  I would recommend this cookbook even if you have no interest in following Guttersen's eating plan.

Plus, you get to eat this salmon, which was quite tasty next to roasted broccoli, and then I ate the leftovers the next day for lunch as part of a little salad (with cucumbers, red bell peppers, olives, capers, tomatoes, and a lemon vinaigrette). The citrus herb mixture on the salmon was tangy next to all of those veggies and I really liked it.  So go out and catch yourself some wild salmon (or see your fish monger), for this is a meal for two days.  But not for three.  Because then fish, like house guests, begin to smell.  Oh dear.  Did you see what I did there?  I used a salmon cliche.  Let me stop now.

One Year Ago: Duck Braised with Red Wine and Prunes
Two Years Ago: Grilled Cepes

Broiled Salmon with Citrus Herb Crust
Adapted from  The New Sonoma Cookbook

4 Servings

12 ounces salmon fillets
Salt and Pepper
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh oregano
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 close garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
Zest of one orange
2 teaspoons olive oil

1.  Pat salmon dry.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cut fish into four pieces--about 3 ounces each.  Set aside.

2.  Finely chop oregano, cilantro, scallions, and garlic.  Transfer to a shallow bowl.  Stir in lemon juice, citrus zest, oil, salt and pepper.  Generously coat salmon with herb mixture (I put the salmon in a plastic bag and rolled the salmon around in the herb mixture).  Allow the fish to marinate for 15 minutes to an hour.

3.  Preheat the broiler.  Broil the salmon for 6-8 minutes. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

White Cheddar Gougères, Apple Pulp, Bacon and Sage

Okay, this is a rambly post, unedited, and filled with a discussion of Christmas, gougères, and Michael Chabon.  Follow along:

I am one of those people.  I put my tree up the day after Thanksgiving and I would leave it up until Epiphany if I could (given that the husband has endured the tree for little over a month, I
cave to the pressure to take it down New Year's Eve Day).  I genuinely love Christmas music.  I love Holiday Parties, Holiday Cards, Holiday DecorationsGiven that I am not Christian, it does seem somewhat bizarre that I embrace this season so fully.  But I think I love the way lights shine through ornaments, the simple joy of keeping in touch with friends and family with a handwritten note, the presentation of tokens of how one feels to another person, the way the house feels warm and cozy once a seven-foot tree has taken up valuable real estate, and the feast of rich foods with family around a crowded table.

I know that this season gets hectic for people (me included!), what with the parties, the ice skating, the dinners, the turns around the carousel, the obligations, the shopping for those aforementioned tokens.  This year, I have been taking good care of myself--lots of yoga, lots of lounging--and I have been trying to keep the hectic sense to a minimum.  Even if there is as much to do, I have been trying to do just that one thing.  I am not always successful, but it's an attempt at least.

So Thursday night, we had book club, and I made these gougères.  I love gougères:  I love their kitschy quality--come on, people, I made cheese puffs!--but I also just love the way they look and taste.  The light dough is called pâte à choux, a method of making dough that contains only flour, water, butter, and eggs, a spin around a stovetop pot, and a half an hour in the oven.  The dough rises because of the high moisture content; the steam makes these fantastic caverns into which one can easily stuff cream (profiteroles!) or, as in this case, apples, bacon, and sage.

I made some adjustments to the recipe.  If you want to see the original, click on the Food Network Magazine link below.  I think this recipe needs a little more work.  I used a smoky bacon, and I think that was the wrong choice.  Go with the prosciutto as in the original recipe or with a not-so-smoky bacon.  However, the original recipe was a little unhelpful in terms of amounts.  I had six gargantuan honey crisp apples, and I ended up using only four.  The "one bunch" of sage was also misleading, so I chopped up some sage and put it in the apple mixture, which was great.

I do think that with some more modifications, these could be fantastic appetizers at any family holiday gathering.  While the peeling and coring of the apples is the most time consuming part of the recipe, it is also oddly satisfying.  You can't rush it.  You have to just be peeling and coring apples.  I like that.  

Finally, a word about book club.  We read Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  It was a lovely gathering of readers, but the book was not to my taste.  In fact, Michael Chabon is not to my taste.  Let me digress for a moment:  In late November, in The New York Times Book Review, Jess Row wrote about Sherman Alexie's new collection Blasphemy; in her review, she claimed that "Alexie’s gifts have hardened and become reflexive over time. Alexie began writing in an era dominated by the dirty realists — the unholy trinity of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford — and his work shares with theirs a certain bluntness and rawness, an aversion to sensory description, nuance or context, and an overriding interest in (some might say obsession with) male solitude as a fount of life lessons. There’s a tendency in Alexie’s work to condense experience and biography into two- or three-sentence packages...The effect of all this workmanlike prose is a desire to skim for the funny parts, which show up with great regularity, two or three to a page, like jokes in a sitcom script."

This particular part of the review actually made me want to read the collection.  Row is right; Alexie did come of age among these "dirty realists" and as such, his style is distinctively of a moment.  In fact, Alexie's blunt voice and his summation sentence-packages are some of the things I love most about his writing.  One comes to Alexie's work expecting them, even if they are, as Row suggests, "hardened and ... reflexive." 

That's how I feel about Chabon.  I cannot fault him for his overworked prose chock full of effluvient similes and metaphors that need authorial intrusion to explain them.  That's his style.  Some love his "completionist" prose (a term coined by the father-in-law during the discussion, and I liked that!) that feels the need to detail every bit of minutiae.  And Chabon is not alone in this--Franzen (whom I do love), Pynchon, Eggers join him --and this kind of writing seems to be of the moment now.  However, it is not the writing I long to read.

However, we did have a nice little spread of pita chips, hummus, tapenade, cheese, crackers, pork and leek dumplings, and these little gougères.  There was much joy, as one member revealed her growing belly (a girl!  in May!) and another had to miss because she is in the throes of wedding planning, and much, much laughter regarding, of all things, rocks and sticks as appropriate holiday presents.  I enjoy these Thursday nights once every six weeks or so, and I am looking forward to February's foray into Wolf Hall, a book I have already read and already know that I love.   

In the mean time, I have the holiday season to enjoy, and a gougères recipe to perfect.  One thing at a time.


One Year Ago: Braised Duck with Red Wine and Prunes

Two Years Ago: Parsnip Galette with Greens
White Cheddar Gougères, Apple Pulp, Bacon and Sage
Adapted from  Food Network Magazine

35 to 40 gougeres


For the gougeres: 
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar

For the filling and toppings:  

4-6 honey crisp apples
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of ground cloves
1 tablespoon orange blossom water 
Juice of 1 lemon

2 slices bacon

 1/4 cup chopped sage
Olive oil for topping 
Salt and Pepper


1.  To prepare the gougères: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

2.  In a large saucepan, combine the butter, salt and 1 cup water. Stir over high heat until the butter melts completely, then remove the pan from the heat and add all the flour at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth, then transfer to a large bowl.

3.  Use an electric mixer on medium speed to add the eggs one at a time, ensuring each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next. Stir in the grated cheese.

4.  Transfer the dough to a pastry bag, or use 2 wet spoons to drop neat 1-tablespoon mounds onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and crisp. When done, turn off the oven and let the gougères dry out in the oven with the door ajar to keep them nice and crisp.

5.   To make apple filling: Peel the apples and discard the core; cut into 1/2-inch dice. Melt the butter in a large saute pan over high heat. When foaming, add the spices. They will toast instantly and become fragrant; add the apples and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until browned. Add 2 tablespoons water, the orange blossom, water and lemon juice. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced and the apples are tender. Set aside to cool slightly. 

6.  Set a clean saute pan over medium heat. Crisp the bacon. Drain on paper towels. Tear into small pieces when cool.  Add the bacon and the sage to the apple mixture

7.   To assemble: carefully tear off the top third of each gougère and spoon in some apple filling.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

So Many Helpers

I have been thinking about my next recipe post, and I just can't seem to post it.  It's all typed up and ready to go, but every time I get ready to press publish, I just can't.  Even this post seems hard.  I am torn between remaining silent out of respect and speaking something because I am so sad.

You see, my heart--like everyone else's--is breaking and has been all weekend.  Those children, those educators, that mother in Connecticut are all on my mind.

Someone I know on facebook posted this quotation from everybody's favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers: 

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

I am trying to think about the helpers, too.