Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What mojo is made of

Once in a while, a recipe comes along that makes you believe that there is nothing wrong in the world, and that, more importantly, you've still got your mojo.  And when you're knocking on the door of your Double-Nickle Birthday (isn't that a cute way of referring to being almost 55? Thank you, Thea!), you need all the mojo you can get.  Especially when hitting the Double-Nickle means carrying an extra 35 pounds.  That's Mojo with a capital M. 

Her Mojo-ness came home last Friday from the local HEB with a large portion of salmon.  And feeling rather uninspired (about which I have recently wined whined), I decided not to think about how to prepare it until much later in the evening.  And by much later, I mean after several glasses of wine, and about fifteen minutes until it was almost time for dinner.

This is how I maintain my Mojo-ness: plenty of mystique and plenty of grape juice. 

In an effort to avoid thinking about cooking dinner (and as an excuse to drink more wine), I scanned through my email inbox.  And there, like mojo from heaven, was an email from Snooth, with a passel of ideas about how to cook salmon.  Even though several looked delicious, I chose the recipe for which I had most of the ingredients. 

This is what Mojo-ness is made of: making what you've got work.

The original recipe called for oil-cured olives.  Since I go through these beauties quite frequently, I had none in the house.  I subbed canned pitted black olives and capers to approximate the salt content.  I think you could easily sub sliced kalmata olives, but know that these substitutions don't approximate the texture and unctuousness of oil-cured olives. 

I used small yellow, orange and red tomatoes instead of the plum tomatoes called for, and I think that visually, that choice made the fish a stunning centerpiece.  The tomatoes were also very sweet, which was a delightful counterpoint to the saltiness of the capers and olives. 

I would like to make this recipe again very soon, to add diced fennel to the tomato/caper/olive mixture, and to try it on halibut or another dense, oily fish.   I also baked the salmon, instead of grilling as the original recipe suggested.  I think you can omit the saffron if you have none in your pantry, but it did add a subtle depth that made this main dish sophisticated, beautiful and elegant.

We enjoyed this salmon with a lovely, slightly fruity pinot noir, McMannis Pinot Noir 2011 (CA).  This lively red is an interplay of red fruit, predominantly berries, vanilla and oak spice.  Tasty and nicely balanced, this wine is a real bargain for just under $10.

Salmon al Cartoccio   (Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking)

     Seriously.  Yum.

1 cup mixed small tomatoes (red, yellow, orange, green zebra--make it colorful), halved
1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped black oil-cured olives (20 to 25 olives), or substitute 1/2 cup sliced canned pitted black olives and 1 Tbs. drained non-pareil capers
1/2 cup finely diced fresh fennel (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbs. minced fresh garlic (3 to 4 medium cloves)
1/2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Pinch saffron (15 to 20 threads)
Freshly ground black pepper
Four 6-oz. center-cut, skin-on salmon fillets (or substitute halibut)
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

1.)  Heat oven to 375 degrees.
2.)  In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, olives, capers, optional fennel, olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt, saffron, and pepper to taste.
3.)  Set one piece of salmon, skin-side down, on a 12x18-inch piece of heavy-duty foil; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Spoon a quarter of the tomato mixture over the fish and seal tightly. Repeat to make four packets.
4.)  Place foil packets on a large baking sheet and place on bottom rack of oven.
5.)  Roast for approximately 20 minutes, or until fish is opaque throughout, about 8 minutes (open a packet and cut into the fish to check).
6.)  Let fish rest for a few minutes before serving and garnish with chopped parsley.  Serves four.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Blues for breakfast

It should not be OK to complain on a food blog about how tired you are, how busy you are, how uninspired you have been, or how much you just REALLY NEED A VACATION.

But I just did complain.  And I still do need a vacation.

And while I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for all of the tiredness, busy-ness and lack of inspiration to go away (hopefully in the form of a vacation), along comes this recipe for Blueberry-Stuffed French Toast with Blueberry-Orange Sauce:

The original recipe came from Texas Co-op Power Magazine, a monthly production of my electric cooperative.  I have to stop right here and put in a plug for my great electric utility cooperative, Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, one of the oldest electric cooperatives in the state of Texas.  I also want to thank Texas Electric Cooperatives for producing several regional editions of their great magazine.  I look forward to reading it from cover to cover every month, and aside from well-written articles about Texas history and great local interest articles, by the looks of every issue, it's evident that people in Texas like to cook, and that they love to share their recipes with Texas Co-op Power Magazine.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, Texas Co-op Power, for bringing me great recipes all year long!

When I saw the recipe for stuffed French toast in the June 2013 edition, not only did it immediately visually appeal to me, I knew by the ingredient list that I had to eat it soon.  So, at a recent brunch, I served up my own version of the original recipe.  And I remembered to take pictures.

But wouldn't you know it, the picture that I liked the best didn't show how the stuffing oozes out of the French bread.  That's mostly because the amateur photographer who also thinks she's a food stylist thought about all of that after the fact.  However, look at how beautifully golden and vivid that plate of food looks?  Doesn't it look good?  Moist, custardy and creamy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, this French toast delivers looks, class and great taste, all on one plate.

You would think that the blueberry-orange sauce would be sweet, but it's balanced nicely with the tartness from the fresh oranges and the orange juice, and it's made sophisticated by a healthy glug of Grand Marnier.  The filling is rich with cream cheese and orange zest and bursting with blueberries.   Even better, you can prep this recipe the night before since that makes the bread extra-custardy.  Bake the next morning, reheat the orange-blueberry sauce, adding the optional Grand Marnier and viola!

Blueberry-Stuffed French Toast with Blueberry-Orange Sauce

     I've adapted the original recipe and made it bit richer and more sophisticated.  It's become a keeper in my kitchen.  If you're making this recipe ahead, follow steps 2 through 8, preheating your oven just before you are ready to bake and serve.

6 eggs
2 tsp. grated orange zest, divided
2/3 cup orange juice
3 Tbs. sugar, divided
Pinch salt, optional
8 oz. neufchatel or cream cheese, at room temperature
2-3 Tbs. milk or cream
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed and drained, if frozen)
1 large loaf Italian or French bread, cut into 8 thick slices
1/3 cup sliced almonds

1.)  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside.
2.)  In a medium bowl beat eggs, 1 tsp. orange zest and orange juice, 2 Tbs. sugar and the salt until well blended.
3.)  Pour into a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan and set aside.
4.)  In a small bowl, combine the neufchatel, cream, orange zest and remaining sugar, mixing well.
5.)  Stir in the blueberries gently until well-coated.
6. )  With the tip of a sharp serrated knife, such as a steak knife, cut through the middle of each slice of bread, from the top down, until about 1 inch from the bottom crust.  You should have a "butterfly" or a "book."
7.)  Fill butterflies with the blueberry mixture, dividing evenly.
8.)  Place filled slices into the egg mixture. Let stand, turning once, until egg mixture is absorbed, about 1-2 minutes on each side.  The drier the bread, the longer it should sit in the egg mixture, up to overnight. 
9.)  Arrange bread on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with almonds.
10.)  Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, turning slices after 10 minutes. Serve with Blueberry Orange Sauce (recipe follows).  Serves 4.
Blueberry Orange Sauce with Grand Marnier
     You can make this sauce the day before and chill it until ready to heat and serve.  If you're using the Grand Marnier, just make sure you add it after you reheat.

3 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt, optional
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup orange sections (about 2 oranges)
1/4 cup Grand Marnier (optional)

1.)  In a cup combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.
2.)  In a small saucepan bring orange juice and 1/4 cup of water to a boil.
3.)  Add blueberries and orange sections and return to a boil.
4.)  Cook until liquid is released from fruit, about 2 minutes, then stir in sugar mixture.
5.)  Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes.
6.)  Remove from heat, stir in Grand Marnier, and serve.  Makes about 2 1/2 cups.