Monthly Archives: September 2013

Potato Horseradish Crusted Salmon

Further to my previous post, I just had to mention this dish because it makes two usual ingredients (salmon & potatoes) really dance in combination.  It is also a great way to cook salmon differently, recycle baked potato leftovers and complete a one savory and spectacular meal in a few easy steps.  

I saw it once on the Food Network show performed by Chef Michael Smith, got hooked, took notes and, voilà, have been making it now quite often.  I added some herbs to the crust and made it twice thicker than in the show, so it became more of a potato salmon pie than just salmon, and that’s the way I like it.

The horseradish taste and acidity really heightens the other flavors. I prefer to use a pure horse radish sauce without beets coloring, but if you only have a pink one in your fridge, feel free to use it, the potato crust will have some pinkish color, but the taste will be still great.

I like it crusty, so I am using one potato per one salmon fillet, but if you prefer thin crust, use just ½ of a potato per fillet. Serve it with just lemon wedges on the side, or like Chef Smith suggests, with a quick pickle sauce: a variation of home-made tartar which includes chopped dill pickles, mustard, mayonnaise, lemon juice and herbs. As I mentioned before, it combines really well with kale chips as a side dish, so, be my guest.

4 skinless salmon fillets, 6 oz each
4 medium-size potatoes, baked, chilled and grated
2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
2 tablespoons green onions, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of thyme (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp of cream & 1 tsp of mustard mix for bonding
In the baking pan or sheet, drizzle salmon fillets with olive oil and slide under the broiler for 5 minutes to broil them on 1 side only.  Remove the fish and chill. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Stir horseradish into grated potatoes. Add green onions, oil, thyme, salt and pepper and mix well.  Spread the cream & mustard mix on top of the fillets to bond the potato crust to the fillets. Pat crust on top of fillets using fork or spatula.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until salmon is cooked through, and the crust is golden and crispy. If using a thin potato crust, bake for just 15-20 minutes.
Adapted from Food Network notes on Potato Horseradish Crusted Salmon from Chef Smith.

Kale Chips: Good-For-You Snack

I might be not the first one, but definitely not the last who recently hopped on the kale wagon. For a long time I’ve resisted it, although, almost all labels in natural food stores screamed ‘’Kale’’ and gave the stats on how this leafy green can improve your health.   

Then I was absolutely cornered to try it. Still, even perfectly concocted Portuguese-style Kale, Bean and Chorizo soup could not really warm me up for this veg. Until I run into the Kale Chips recipe in ‘’It’s All Good’’ cookbook earlier this year and got hooked on the idea and simplicity of it.  Now I can’t stop gushing about Kale Chips. Oddly enough, not so many know about this dish (although Internet is now loaded with it) and every time I make it people ask me for the recipe.
Kale chips taste very much like roasted seaweed snack (which is addictive), just much fresher and without the preserving agents or MSG. The beauty of making them is that there actually is no recipe. Just tear the leaves, wash and dry them, toss with the olive oil, and roast them for 10-12 minutes.  In over a dozen of recipes I’ve viewed, one thing is obvious – there is no consensus on the roasting temperature. Most recipes suggest 350 F, however, many ask for 400F (like the one below).  Experiment for yourself (I am sure you will be able to burn some batches a few times). I think it depends on how powerful is your oven and if you like the chips more or less crispy. Contrary what is suggested in most of the recipes about salt, I don’t use any salt at all, but if you use it begin with a very small quantity or you can easily ruin your chips (kale will significantly shrink during the process). Use some smoked paprika, crushed chili flakes, curry powder or even nutritional yeast to add an extra layer of taste and goodness if you wish. Kale chips make a great party snack, salad ingredient, or a side dish to numerous mains. In my case, it goes very well with potato-crusted salmon.
If you are looking for a way to stop ignoring and start enjoying kale – this is a good start. For truly, this vegetable is all mighty for your body and soul, which is why it literally flies off the counters of the farmers markets. We just rarely notice that. 
In case you decide to grow it yourself next year, here is something from my experience. This vegetable is relatively easy to grow however it can easily go under the attack of cabbage worms if you don’t water it regularly and/or keep the soil cool with mulch.  Next spring I’ll be sowing kale again, in much bigger quantity.
Kale chips snack might not sound like a big deal, but for me it is another step towards better, healthier life. And to dig further into cooking this super hero leafy green, here is a great list of 15 creative kale ideas that might inspire you to eat more kale.  
1 bunch of kale, stems discarded and leaves torn into 1.5-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Coarse salt to taste 
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Toss the kale with the olive oil and spread out on 2 baking sheets. Roast stirring once, for 12-15 minutes, or until gold and crispy. Sprinkle with salt and/or your favorite dry flavor dressing (chili flakes, curry powder, paprika, nutritional yeast, etc.) Serve immediately. Enjoy!
Adapted from: ”It’s All Good” by Gwyneth Paltrow with Julia Turschen, Grand Central Life & Style Hachette Book Group, April 2013.

Tart Tatin at Its Best

Somewhere between apple picking, bird watching, making cider and classic apple pies, I managed to make a delicious Tarte Tatin.  It turned out to be perfect this time (well, almost perfect), so here I am with my little tips in the midst of our continued fall adventures. 
The French dessert classic is an appealing combination of a crust and caramelized apples that is equally spectacular and comforting, which explains why this tart has been undimmed by time and is constantly in renaissance. Dozens of interesting tarts have hatched from this ancestor, including fruit upside-down tarts (pears, apricots, pineapples, peaches, figs, plums, etc.), veggies (tomatoes, onion, zucchinis, eggplants) and savory versions (seafood, fish, poultry, mushrooms and game) of Tatin.  The original Tatin, however, was made only with apples.
Created by accident more than a century ago, when the innkeeper sisters Tatin from the Loire region forgot to line the baking pan with dough and decided to place it over the apples, this tart is inherently forgiving. Which is why, the French whimsical culinary invention is also prone to cooking abuse: too little or too much apples, sugar or butter; wrong pastry/baking pan; messy inverting process.  Sooner or later you get it, and here I am posting my little tips on ‘’how to make your tart Tatin a success’’.
The following are my own discoveries on how to turn your tart Tatin from moderately successful to the best possible:
Apples: Royal Gala or Granny Smith make two best choices of apples for Tatin – they hold their shape during cooking and do not melt into apple sauce.  The second choice would be green Golden Delicious or Jonathan.  All other kinds failed (turned into apple sauce) during my numerous experiments.
Dough: Although puff pastry is a popular version, which can also save you a lot of time and effort, I find pâte brisée brings the best out of caramelized apples and delivers unmatched results in taste. Use the food processor to make it foolproof. Rolling the dough over parchment paper (I use my hands rather than roller ’cause the pastry is sticky) and chilling it before placing on the hot apples makes this step easier.
Pans & Caramelized Apples:  A 12-inch non-stick skillet works best for me. I am using a stove top method in which apples are slowly caramelized in a skillet on top of the butter and sugar before baking. This method is not used in many Tatin recipes, but delivers much better and more controllable results, to my opinion.  Once I tried cast-iron frying pan and oven method, I made a complete botch of my attempt at caramelizing apples, with too much butter and sugar – they quickly turned into a burnt apple sauce emanating lots of smoke and disappointment. I did not try the oven method for apple caramel again. Finally, I significantly cut the amount of butter and sugar in the apple caramel compared to most of the recipes to allow the apple ingredient to really shine and make the caramel leaner since pâte brisée crust is sweet and buttery enough for me. But if you are a real sweet tooth, feel free to add more sugar and butter before caramelizing your apples.
Tart filling ingredients:
3 lbs (1.5 kg) about 7 medium Royal Gala or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved
Juice of ½ a lemon
¼ cup (75 ml) unsalted butter
¾ cup (175 ml) granulated sugar
1 pâte brisée pastry crust (see below recipe)
In a large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice. Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast-iron or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the sugar.  Stir until the butter is evenly mixed in.  Working clockwise, tightly pack the apple halves into the skillet, laying them on their flat sides. The apples will shrink as they cook, so don’t be afraid to pack them tight. Cook the apples over medium heat until the butter and sugar caramelize for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and carefully turn the apples over to the other side using 2 forks. Make sure that the apples are browned before you turn them over. Pack the apples tightly on their sides. If you see a loose area, rearrange the apples a bit to fill in the gap. Return to high heat and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the apples cool in the skillet while you remove the dough.  Wrap the skillet handle with aluminum paper (if using the same pan for baking), or, transfer and arrange apples carefully with their flat sides up in another baking pan (i.e. stainless steel with oven proof handle, like I did last time).
Carefully slide chilled dough on top of the apples in skillet. Place skillet on cookie sheet to catch drips. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven; let stand 10 minutes.  Run a knife or wooden spatula along the edge of the pan to loosen the tart. With your mittens on, place large plate (preferably with lip around edge) over skillet; carefully invert. Replace any apple pieces that have stuck to the skillet. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, or cold with crème fraîche. 
Pastry: pâte brisée ingredients (for one tart):
1 cup (250 ml) all-purpose flour
½ tsp (2 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) granulated sugar
½ cup (1 stick or 125 ml) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup ice-cold water
Combine flour, salt, sugar and butter in a bowl of a food processor. Process pulsing about 6 times, until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Transfer to bowl, add water and stir with fork until combined. Shape dough into ball with hands. Cover in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour or until needed.
About 1 hour before baking, roll the dough on parchment paper into circle about 12 inches (28 cm) in diameter (or whichever size your baking pan will be), pierce with fork and chill in the freezer until ready to put over the caramelized apples.

Time for Apples: Apple Cider Vinegar Treasure

For years, we have been chasing a dream of our own private Garden of Eden, and now that we have it, it keeps us really busy, particularly in fall.  Apple picking is an important season for us: so many things to do with them and so little time in our hands! It is also magical, for each time I am wandering into the garden and catch the aroma of ripening and fermenting fruit it Proust-affects me and triggers some of my best childhood memories. End of summer: still no school, my grandparents collecting a mountain of apples to be processed, clouds of bees and lady bugs dancing around. My grandma in her summer kitchen behind the giant apple press squeezing out and giving me the first glass of the precious amber liquid. I walk through the fields of gold towards an old monastery orchard with my grandpa to learn about varieties of heirloom apples…  Oh, those days of freedom and wonder when you walked bare foot! They seem to be so far away… 

The Quebec climate is perfect to have wonderful orchards and one of the most interesting places to visit in fall in our neck of woods is a simple cider mill. Already busy with our own garden, I am not interested in going somewhere unless I can squeeze in a visit to an apple farm or a cidrerie.  
 A lovely short trip to the country is worthy of a lifted glass of a great apple cider at the place like, Michel Jodoin, for example, but there are so many, just minutes away from Montreal.
Spring, summer, fall or winter – there is something immaculate about the strait cascades of the apple trees in every season.  Anytime, I am ready to enjoy a humble winter silence of an orchard, a spring flower blossom, a comforting green shade in summer and, finally, the proverbial fruit that attracts zillions of living creatures to share the fermented apples feast.  Even elk or moose are no exceptions!

Our latest fall hobby is making our own apple cider vinegar.  There is absolutely nothing to making apple cider vinegar and many people I know are starting to do it too.  You just need some organic apples and a bit of patience. Fermenting is a new canning.  The importance of probiotics is sweeping our planet and comes closer and closer into focus. Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles – they are all good, but a homemade apple cider vinegar holds a very special place in my kitchen.  A spoon of a homemade apple cider vinegar added to a stock, stew, anything braised or roasted, makes wonders to the dish acting as a an enhancer and stabilizer of a flavour and bringing the best out of the cooking process. For me, it’s a truly revolutionary ingredient. You can officially ban the MSG once you have your own organic apple cider vinegar in your pantry.

The rule of thumb is: 4 weeks to make alcohol, plus 4 weeks to turn alcohol into the vinegar. If you are using a freshly pressed juice from organic apples, just roughly filter the juice, add one tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar to the ¾ full wide-mouthed one gallon jar of a juice. Fix the top of a jar with a cheese cloth/cotton linen and elastic to prevent Drosophila, the little fruit flies, which will surely appear in mass. Place the jar/s in a dark (I am keeping them on the garage shelves) at a room temperature for 4-6 weeks. You will surely notice the musty aroma of fermenting apple juice while the sugar will be transforming into alcohol. After 4-6 weeks, filter the liquid through the cheesecloth and sieve and return to the clean washed jar. Cover back with a cheesecloth or linen and place it again in the dark place at the room temperature, for another 4 weeks to complete the fermentation process.  By the end of 4th week your apple cider vinegar is ready.  Do not filter it, just transfer the liquid to the dark bottles and store it in your pantry. The best is to visualize the steps for you, so here you are:
If you are living in an apartment and don’t have your own apple trees, you can equally use just cores and peels from organic apples (collect them in the zip lock bag in the freezer until you have enough amount to fill up the large-mouth glass jar of the selected to ½ (half full)). When ready and the apple scraps are in the jar, add some filtered water enough to submerge apple scraps but to not exceed ¾ of a jar.  Sprinkle sugar, or add organic honey (approximately ¼ cup sugar to each 1 quart (4 cups) of water). Add a tablespoon of a good quality organic apple cider vinegar to jump start the fermentation process.  Mix well with the wooden spatula, cover the jar with triple layer of a cheese cloth or a piece of linen and fix with elastic or band. Place in the dark warm (room temperature) room for 4-6 weeks. I store the jars in our garage in the wooden wine boxes on the shelves and cover the jars with pierced brown paper bags to make sure the light is not inhibiting the growth of bacteria and slowing down the process.  If you use the freshly squeezed clear apple juice, there is no need to mix the liquid once a day, but with scraps, you have to mix it once a day to assist the fermentation process.
After 4-5 weeks the scraps will start to sink to the bottom. At this point you filter the liquid through the sieve covered with a cheese cloth or paper towel.  Rinse the jar with cold water, return the strained liquid to it, cover with linen or cheesecloth again and let it ferment in a warm dark place for another 4 weeks.  No need to mix the liquid anymore, within 4 weeks it will transform into live vinegar with the mother formed on the surface of the ferment.  You will notice some sediment at the bottom of a jar. Do not filter it, because the mother of the vinegar needs this environment to stay alive.  As long as it is there, you can use some to start another batch of apple cider vinegar. Store the final product in the dark (preferably) glass or plastic containers from the former apple cider vinegar and place on your pantry shelf.  Enjoy it in salad dressings, stews, soups and other dishes.  Or, as your daily diet partner: a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar diluted in a bottle of water to help your cholesterol level. Even as a beauty product, such as, a hair rinse. Check these lists of benefits of apple cider vinegar for some interesting tips.