Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Salmon with a Twist

I'm a big fan of salmon in any form, so anytime I see sockeye salmon on sale, in my shopping cart it goes. Some of my favorite recipes for salmon are Cajan Salmon, Salmon Burgers, and a couple of weeks ago I tried Marie's of Proud Italian Cooks' recipe for Salmon stuffed with artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes, It was simply scrumptious!

We try to have fish twice a week around here and this week I tried yet another new recipe a friend mailed to me. She'd clipped it out of her local newspaper knowing how much we enjoy salmon and sent it along. This recipe was easy to prepare, and really delicious. I kept the meal simple, serving just garden greens along with citrus baby beets. Dessert was another thing :+)

Salmon with a Twist or Salmon rollups

1 1/2 lbs Wild Sockeye salmon filets
2 TBLS unsalted butter
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/4 cup celery, minced
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
3/4 cup clump crab meat
3/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp dill weed or chives, minced
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup baby spinach, chopped
1/4 cup Pinot Grigio
olive oil for drizzling

In a saucepan saute shallots and celery until transluscent. Remove from heat and cool completely. Transfer to a bowl and add lemon juice, crabmeat, bread crumbs, egg, cream cheese,peppers, spinach and herbs. Blend together well.

Cut the salmon filets into two lengthwise pieces. Season with a bit of sea salt and white pepper. Now spread the crabmeat stuffing on each piece of salmon. Starting at the wider end, roll salmon up as in jellyroll fashion. Cover with Saran wrap and pop it into the freezer for twenty minutes to make slicing easier.

Once firm enough, with a very sharp knife, slice salmon into 2-inch portions. Coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Place pinwheels in pan, and drizzle just a bit of lemon rosemary olive oil on top of each round. Now just pour the Pinot around them, and loosely cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes or so in a 425 degree oven.

I ended up with a little leftover stuffing, so the next day I made some stuffed mushrooms to use up the remaining filling. Enjoy!

For dessert.. Raspberry Chambord Torte.. yumma!

Asparagus Puffs

It took me years to realize how rare and precious a flourishing asparagus bed can be. I was fortunate enough to buy a farmhouse that had a well established asparagus bed on it. It had been so well cared for over the years--free of weeds and with three different varieties of asparagus growing to choose from. Just the sight of those beautiful spears breaking through the soil in the Spring is one of nature's wonders. Maybe secretly I was drawn to this farm just because it had these beds.

Growing asparagus requires patience and restraint--three to four years of growing is needed but will reward you with beautifully formed spears that will allow you at least six weeks of harvest each year thereafter, and even better-- a well established asparagus bed will produce for decades to come! At just about the same time of the year the spring nettles and fiddleheads are are also at their best, so I like to prepare dishes using these ingredients as often as I can during their short season here in New England.

Asparagus is extremely high in vitamins A, C and E. It's not only delicious but really good for you too. You can find fresh asparagus all year but it is the most affordable in the springtime, that's why it's so popular at Easter.

Fresh asparagus is delicious on it's own but by adding a few simple ingredients you can turn a simple side dish that your entire family will adore. This recipe is light, very tasty, a breeze to prepare and oh so good! The mildness of Muenster and goat cheese will accent, but not overpower the delicate asparagus flavor.

1 lb asparagus
3 TBL unsalted butter
2 TBLS olive oil
2 TBL shallots, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup dried nettles (found at any health store if you don't grow & dry your own)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp sugar
5 eggs
1/3 cup cream
1 cup Muenster cheese, grated
1/4 cup herbed goat cheese, crumbled *opt
sea salt & ground pepper to taste

Rinse,roll and cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces. You should end up with 2 cups. Melt 1 TBLS butter and olive in a saute' pan and saute onion, shallots until soft and golden. Add asparagus--sprinkle with sugar, cover and steam cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and cook until liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool slightly.

Beat together, eggs, cream, dried nettles, thyme, sea salt & ground pepper to taste. Melt and put remaining butter in a two inch high baking dish. Pour in egg mixture and bake in pre-heated 400 degree oven until it just begins to set(about 3 minutes). Remove from oven and arrange asparagus and onions on top of the eggs. Back into the oven, bake another 5 minutes. Remove from oven once more and cover asparagus layer with grated cheese and goat milk crumbles. then bake an additional 10 minutes . When the eggs have puffed and the cheese is lightly browned, this dish is finished. Let it set a few moments before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Makin' Whoopie

Making these classic eat with your hands treats is a piece of cake. There are some things about whoopie pies that pretty much everyone can agree on. First, they're really not pies at all, but instead a sandwich type dessert usually made with two chocolate cakes and a white frosting filling. Though you'll find them in all sizes from the hamburger bun size right down to mini whoopies, but beyond that, everything else about whoopies is pretty much up for debate--including just where they originated.

You might call it a mystery from the American culinary past, but just who's responsible for creating the magnificent whoopie pie? Both Maine and Pennsylvania claim credit, along with two competing stories. Maine lore asserts that a woman in Bangor baked some leftover cake batter in cookie-sized rounds and stuck them together with frosting. Here in Maine, the whoopie pie is practically its own food group and even some bakeries in the state claim to have been making them since the mid-1920's. Given our Maine bias that's long enough for me to justify the state's claim to makin' whoopie creations.

On the other hand, there's the name to consider. The Amish of Lancaster County, PA also claim to have created the whoopie pie from leftover cake batter, with even a traditional explaination for it's unusual name for this treat.. it is said the Amish children would cry out "whoopee" when they found the pies in their lunch bags, and so the name stuck. Some folks speculate that migrating Amish introduced the treat to Maine and other surrounding states, which might explain why the whoopie pie seems to be best known in New England and Pennsylvania. One thing's for sure, no matter where whoopies came from originally, there's more than one way to make them and it's up to you to pick your favorite (which, translated means multiple test batches might be in order!) Whoopee!

First there is the cake itself. The traditional are chocolate, made with unsweetened cocoa. The higher end dark cocoa powder will result in a darker richer cake, Regular cocoa is fine too and results in a more milk chocolatey like cake.

Then there is the size to consider. A typical whoopie pie found here in Maine lends itself to two-handed eating, but this is another area open to interpretation. Some folks prefer to make a smaller, snack size whoopie pie about two to three inches across. This is the size I generally make. I get more yield per my recipe and they're easily wrapped and may be frozen for later. Then there are the wee mini- whoopies that are about 1 1/2 inch across--that make for a nice cookie-tray offering or party dessert.

And finally there is the flavor to consider. Even though the classic whoopie pie is chocolate with a white vanilla filling, the structure itself of the whoopie pie lends itself to all sorts of flavor variations in both the cake and the filling. Pumpkin cake with cream cheese filling is popular here in the Fall, and a reverse version for fans of vanilla cake with chocolate filling. In the Spring you'll find the strawberry whoopies at most farmers market and I've tried nearly all of them ;) Actually I am one of the original taste testers at my friend Claire, of Little Cottage Bakery booth at market weekly.. it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it! Ayup, whoopie pies are always a hit around here.

Fillings are so varied, but have two essential components: fat and confectioners' sugar. Some folks favor shortening, some prefer butter and oftentimes a combo of both is frequently called for in printed recipes. It all boils down to the taste you like best. Then, there's the matter of a third ingredient: marshmallow creme is the traditional part of the filling, and yet you can readily find whoopie pies that don't use it. To me, without the marshmallow, any filling, no matter how tasty are heavy and rather dense--more like a thick frosting, which I don't really care for in my whoopies.

This week, I broke my own rule and made a new version for me.. chocolate peanut butter whoopie pies, and gosh they were good..but I did miss the lightness the marshmallow lends to fillings. So who can really lay claim to the creation of the whoopie pie? What constitutes the best filling, cake and flavors? In the end does it really matter? Something as good as a whoopie pie doesn't need an accurate history or ingredient concensus.. it just needs an appreciative recipient--and a tall glass of ice cold milk chaser to please me. :) These cakes have a taste reminiscent of milk chocolate, the perfect compliment to peanut butter.
I hope all you Moms out there have a wonderful Mothers Day!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

Chocolate Cakes

3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk

Peanut Butter Filling

6 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2 TBLS unsalted butter, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4 cups confectioners' XXX sugar
2 TBLS milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat two cookie sheets with cooking spray or parchment paper.
In a large bowl mix the butter and sugar until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, mixing until smooth after each egg. Mix in vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add half the flour mixture to the first bowl, mixing until well combined. Add half the buttermilk and mix again until smooth. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk. The batter will be thick and slightly springy.
Here's where you will decide which size pies you want to make. Pictured, I did up a sample of the three most commonly used sizes. I dropped 2 TBLS portions of batter onto the cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between each portion to allow for spreading, and then baked about 12 minutes until they were puffed and set, but still soft when lightly touched. Let the cakes cool for 5 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to finish cooling about 20 minutes.
Prepare the filling while the cakes are baking and cooling. In a large mixing bowl mix cream cheese, peanut butter, butter, vanilla and salt until creamy. Add confectioners sugar slowly while continuing to mix and lastly the milk and mix until light and fluffy about 5 minutes total.
Assemble the whoopie pies by spoon filling onto the flat sides of half the cakes, dividing it evenly among cakes. Top with remaining unfrosted cakes and serve.. or wrap each pie up in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for two days or up to a month in the freezer. Seldom, does this happen around our house. Enjoy!