Monday, September 23, 2013

Fig balsamic vinegar relish

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Summer felt slow, relaxed, leisurely. But now that fall is here, the days are whizzing by.

All year I was looking forward to fresh fig season. And then, in what seemed like a blink, it came and went.

My friend Erin's Mission fig tree was generous this year. I visited three times in three weeks and picked 10 pounds each time. More figs than I would ever buy. More figs than one family can eat in a month.

And yet, now that we've eaten our fill and the tree has given and the season is over, I miss those figs dearly.

Or is it summer I'm missing?

One August day, when the tray of Erin's figs was challenging me silently from the counter, I made this fig balsamic vinegar relish to serve to guests with a platter of cheese. Spooned on top of a log of fresh, creamy goat cheese, the fig relish added just the right touch of sour and sweet and summer.

Make this relish a day or two ahead and let it sit in the refrigerator so the flavors mingle and marry. It's beautiful with goat cheese, but cream cheese would work, or Brie, or ricotta. If fresh figs are gone for the season, don't despair - you can easily substitute dried figs (just add a little water to the pot to compensate). And don't use your most expensive balsamic vinegar. The cheap supermarket stuff will do just fine for this relish.

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Fig balsamic vinegar relish
Make this fig relish a few days ahead so the flavors have time to mingle and marry. Serve at room temperature over a soft, creamy cheese.
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 small red onions, peeled and diced
  • 4 cups fresh figs, preferably dark purple Mission figs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stems, finely minced
Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add red onion and saute 3-4 minutes, until onion begins to turn translucent. Add figs, vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, and rosemary. Stir to combine, bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer about 45 minutes, until the mixture is glossy and thickened. Check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary. Cool before serving or storing.Note: For best flavor, store fig balsamic vinegar relish in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before serving.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: approximately 4 cups

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Canned salmon salad with dill pickles

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I hear a lot of complaints from parents who hate packing lunch for their kids.

Actually, I don't mind packing lunch. It sure beats having my high schooler eat crappy public school cafeteria food or having to shell out $8 each day for the catered lunch at my younger son's private middle school.

We get into a rhythm with school lunches. On a typical day each boy gets a sandwich, two pieces of fruit, and a chocolate milk box (one kid gets soy, the other regular). If I've baked muffins or cookies, each kid also gets a small treat.

I always keep canned salmon in the pantry to make this simple, flavorful salmon salad, one of the boys' favorite sandwich fillings. The secret: I mince petite dill pickles in the mini-processor and add them to the salmon salad. The pickles add a little tang and a little crunch, balancing the richness of the salmon perfectly.

(Why not celery, you ask? My husband hates it, so I'm out of the habit. And why salmon instead of tuna? The mercury thing.)

A note on ingredients: Costco has excellent wild Alaskan salmon in cans, as well as large jars of petite dill pickles. As for mayonnaise, I am a Hellman's girl, although of course it's called Best Foods out here in California.

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Canned salmon salad with dill pickles
Minced petite dill pickles add crunch and a little tang to this easy salmon salad. Perfect for lunchbox sandwiches.
  • 3 6-ounce cans salmon (preferably wild Alaskan salmon)
  • 10 petite dill pickles, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (or a little more or less, to taste)
  • 1/2 small fresh lemon
Drain the canned salmon and empty the cans into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the pickles and mayonnaise. Squeeze the lemon over the ingredients in the bowl, taking care to fish out any pits. Mix everything together with a fork, flaking the salmon as you mix, until the salmon salad is well combined. Serve chilled.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: approximately 4 cups

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Blueberry zucchini muffins

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Sometimes I bake to help me think.

The other day I was working down in my home office (also known as The Garage, Former Repository Of Crap). I was going around and around in my head on a tricky bit of copywriting for an important project.

I was getting nowhere.

So I came up to the kitchen and baked blueberry zucchini muffins.

Somehow, between grating the zucchini, beating the eggs, scooping the flour, and folding the batter together gently, I worked out the thorny copywriting problem.

And I got dessert.

Note: These muffins aren't overly sweet. That's a good thing in my book.

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Blueberry zucchini muffins
These muffins aren't overly sweet and they contain both a vegetable and a fruit. Score.
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups zucchini, grated or shredded
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 24-cup muffin tin (or 2 12-cup muffin tins) with paper liners.In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, and sugar until they are well combined. Add the vanilla extract and zucchini and whisk again. In another bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon, making sure there are no lumps of baking powder or baking soda remaining. Add the blueberries to the flour mixture and toss gently to coat the berries. (This will prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins.)Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and fold together gently just until the mixture is combined. Do not overmix. It's okay if you still see a few streaks of flour.Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling them about halfway. If you have extra batter after filling all 24 cups, go back and add more to each cup until you have used all the batter.Bake about 25 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove the muffins from the muffin pan and cool the rest of the way on a rack. Serve at room temperature.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: approximately 24 muffins

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Salmon quinoa cakes with dill caper sauce

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Inspired by my friend Kristina Vanni, owner of Cooking Contest Central, I've been trying to enter more recipe contests lately. Kristina often points out that hundreds of food companies and commodity boards run recipe contests each year, with substantial sums of money and other prizes up for grabs. Food bloggers create recipes all the time - why not do it for a shot at the gold?

The thing is, there's a knack to winning recipe contests. That's why the members of Cooking Contest Central, a longstanding online community for recipe contest participants, consistently beat the pants off the rest of the field. Look at the winners of just about any recipe contest and you'll see at least one CCC member. The same names come up over and over.

What does it take to win a recipe contest? An eye for trendy ingredients and flavor combinations. Clever, highly visible use of whatever ingredient(s) or product(s) are sponsoring the contest. If it's a contest with history, an understanding of what kinds of dishes have won in years past. And a way with recipe names. I'm still learning on all these fronts. I've entered more contests this year than any other, but my track record hasn't been great.

Which is why when I entered the Alter Eco Foods quinoa recipe contest last month, I wasn't expecting to place. And yet, somehow, I did! My Salmon Quinoa Cakes with Caper Dill Sauce made the semi-finals. True to form, veteran CCC member Merry Graham took the grand prize for her quinoa tacos. But that's okay - Merry will enjoy her weekend in Napa Valley, and I'll be very happy with my year's supply of Alter Eco quinoa.

You can make these salmon cakes with leftover cooked salmon or canned salmon. Either way, no one will turn down these crispy pan-fried fish cakes with crunchy, nutty quinoa and a creamy dill sauce with tangy capers.

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Salmon quinoa cakes with dill caper sauce
Crispy pan-fried fish cakes made with leftover cooked salmon and quinoa, then dressed with a creamy dill sauce.
  • 2 cups cooked salmon (fresh or canned)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup cooked Alter Eco quinoa
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons mustard
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice, divided
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 2 Tablespoons brine from capers
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill
  • freshly ground pepper
In a large bowl, flake the salmon with a fork. Mix together the salmon, eggs, quinoa, green onions, parsley, mustard, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, salt, and half of lemon juice.Form into 8 patties, using about 1/3 cup of the mixture per patty. Heat olive oil in a large skillet and pan-fry patties until golden brown on both sides.While salmon quinoa cakes are frying, make the sauce: Mix together remaining mayonnaise, remaining lemon juice, lemon zest, Greek yogurt, capers, caper brine, dill, and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve salmon quinoa cakes hot with sauce pooled over.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 8 servings