Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Salmon & Roasted Corn Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Leftovers. I kind of love them.

Making a meal of leftovers is usually an ad hoc exercise in cleaning out the fridge... a particularly prevalent activity among those of us with a not-let-anything-go-to-waste kind of mindset. Bits of this and that go into a scramble, get tossed into a soup, or scooped into a taco. There never seems to be enough of anything left over to actually stand on its own; too meager a morsel to plate as it might once have been plated. Not enough to go around to again be last night's dinner. And, thus, like chameleons, those bits, pieces and scraps are remade into something entirely different, ever adaptable to the change. It's a creative and spontaneous exercise. Oftentimes what you end up with remains a mystery until it's nearly done and on the plate.

And sometimes you hit on something that becomes a meal you go to again... and again. Like these salmon cakes.

And when you do it's really more of a set aside than a leftover. I suppose a set aside is what a leftover aspires to be. Because once you hit on something that works you actually plan that second meal along with the first, setting aside enough to ensure its creation. In other words... you buy extra.

I make these salmon cakes (and other renditions like them) quite often. Sometimes they come about because I simply have some salmon left over. But, most often, it's because I intentionally over buy salmon... knowing these will be our reward.

Of course you can simply cut to the chase and make these cakes straight away, but it's a lot more fun knowing you'll get two great meals from one planned effort.

I started with a pan-seared salmon served over a roasted corn and pepper salad, topped with a roasted red pepper sauce.

The extra salmon and corn salad from this meal was then set aside for salmon cakes. A quick chop of the salmon is tossed in with the corn salad, a bit of mashed potato, and an additional chop of cilantro. The patties are then coated with a touch of panko bread crumbs and pan fried for just a few minutes. Quick, easy and delicious... whether spontaneously created or deliberately planned.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Easy, One-Skillet Veggie Tacos

I learned early on in life, thanks to my fifty-percent hispanic heritage, that a good taco is made by putting almost anything you love into the fold of a corn tortilla. I grew up understanding that if a meal was good... it was even better in a tortilla.

Oftentimes, our tacos were simply warmed corn tortillas slathered with a pat of unsalted butter, a sprig of cilantro and a sprinkle of salt. Once dressed, you simply roll the warmed tortilla into a little flute, pinching up the end between two fingers to prevent a cascade of butter from running down your chin, pooling into your plate, or splashing onto your shirt... going to waste.

As a young girl, our best tacos weren't even really planned. They were just made from whatever leftovers were left over... the pork roast, the beef brisket, fried chicken, or rewarmed potatoes. I can remember (and still make) tacos with fresh slices of avocado, sprinkled with salt and pepper; tacos with fried egg and fresh spinach leaves; tacos with bits of salmon or cod from the previous night's dinner; or tacos with just a crumble of cotija cheese and a touch of salsa fresca.

Tacos, visiting Mexico City, as we did almost every summer of my childhood, weren't really even "tacos." They were simply fresh tortillas, purchased just minutes before the evening meal from the corner tortillaria by one of my cousins. Rolled, filled or just topped with a little something off our plates and, voilá, we had tacos. It's how most people might understand their table's bread basket; tortillas were our bread... with an accent, perhaps.

So say what you want about those artificially-created shells that are prefabbed, popped into formed molds and cellophane wrapped... or the tex-mex taco that has the traditional ground beef, cheddar and shredded lettuce. They are but mere impostors.

True tacos celebrate flavor... and simplicity. To be really good... you don't need to over think it. You simply need to think with your taste buds.

Though not purchased from a neighborhood tortillaria, the flavor of white corn tortillas warmed over an open flame is quite satisfying. And, with the weather almost too warm to heat the oven... or even fire up the BBQ... a one-skillet, quick sauté of veggies makes a great filler. Russet potatoes fried up with a good pop of onion, until they are caramelized and slightly charred, together with diced zucchini and slices of cremini mushroom offer a perfect medley of goodness. Topped with a little green salsa, a hit of fresh feta (or cotija) cheese, and a sprinkle of shredded cabbage... and you have the easy makings of a pretty terrific taco. The filling is great on its own... a yummy side for almost any entrée... good on its own... but even better in a tortilla.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Almond Cake with White Peach Compote

I have a particular affinity for white peaches.

Whether eaten straight off the tree, or dressed up into a compote for a delicious almond cake... I always take advantage of this fruit's rather short season... always with just a bit of a nostalgic tug.

When I was a kid, my parents held an annual PPDP party that they launched with the specific purpose of unloading the almighty bounty of white peaches that consumed the branches of the one rather scrawny tree that stood in our backyard, just footsteps from a pirate fort my dad had built for my brother and me. You had to climb a wooden ladder to access the fort; a square structure with a pirate logo (thus, the name) that stood high off the ground on four wooden beams with a two-seater, wooden swing hung from its underbelly, and a rather large beam that extended high off its side wall to accommodate two, traditional "kid" swings. From these two swings we could launch ourselves out over the hillside below (covered in a rather unattractive ice plant that guaranteed a soft landing).

While we'd often grab a little nectar before heading to the fort to take a few flings from the swings, the proliferation of fruit from our one and only peach tree never ceased to amaze me. Now, looking back, this little tree was quite the over achiever. It was just average in size but had a good number of branches. As its season approached, its limbs would sprout an abundance of fruit and slowly become so laden that its appendages would begin to sag, many languidly resting on the grass below, thankful for the reprieve.

We ate a LOT of peaches straight off this tree during peak season; picked buckets to disperse to neighbors, and plucked a ton to toss onto ice cream or cereal. But it wasn't until my parents came up with the PPDP party plan that we truly felt that the harvest was used to its full fruition.

A few weeks before the peaches truly came into their own... that little window between this is great and this needs to be trashed... we sent out the PPDP invites. I loved the whole festive nature of this annual party even though I really wasn't a true participant. PPDP (PEE-PEE DEE-PEE), pronounced as two, two-syllable words (which I loved to roll off my tongue about as much as I loved the fruit to which is was a tribute), involved alcohol and, at the ripe old age of nine, I was but a mere observer.

The acronym, PPDP, stood for Perennial Peach Daiquiri Party and once the date arrived for said "party," our yard would fill with a lot of very happy participants partaking in the fruit of the nectar. Our blender ran on over-drive, the peaches disappeared, and my brother, cousin and I enjoyed the festivities launching out over the ice plant and playing hide and seek in the many nooks and crannies of our large backyard, with lights and voices twinkling into the evening sky.

To this day I am enthralled with the arrival of sweet, white peaches. As soon as I spot them at the market, I pluck them up. Whether it's nostalgia's tug, or a genuine love for the fruit, truly doesn't matter. Like so many years ago, I still find it fascinating to cut open this seemingly colorless fruit and be rewarded with an abundantly sweet, juicy nectar. At their peak of ripeness they practically burst upon biting... a party just waiting to happen. Unlike their more brightly-hued brethren, white peaches have a more delicate, sweet, slightly floral flavor, with very little acidic tang. Though not entirely noticeable when baked, this distinction is quite apparent when eaten fresh.

For this almond cake (adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz), I warmed sliced peaches (skins removed) in just a little honey and lime juice, creating a great little compote that enhances the delicate flavor of the peaches without adding too much sweetness or interfering with their intrinsic goodness.

The almond cake is a perfect complement, incredibly light and moist, with a subtle almond flavor that pairs beautifully with this blush-white fruit.

While this particular treat has no invites or alcohol involved, it does celebrate the sweet glory of fresh, ripe, white peaches beautifully... and stays true (somewhat) to the PPDP acronym, being but one of the many ways I satisfy my Particular Penchant (for) Delicious Peaches.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Spinach & Edamame Hummus

After spending an idyllic week on the "big" island of Hawaii, staying in a beautiful, private home nestled atop a terraced hillside in Kailua-Kona with breathtaking views of the Pacific (thank you J & K), you'd think I'd come home with a post of all the amazing ahi we had... on the grill, in tacos, in appetizers... but I give you hummus.

Before each dinner, prepped and cooked looking out onto an incredible expanse of blue ocean and picture-perfect sunsets that marked each and every day like an exclamation point (to ensure you'd not take this beauty for granted), we had a little appetizer... an "appy" if you will.

This particular appy was inspired by a local favorite, Sam Choy's. We stopped in one afternoon for a late lunch enroute home from a hard day's romp at the beach. While all our entrees were fish based, we started our meal with a little hummus of spinach and edamame, nicely laced with garlic to give this otherwise mellow union a little punch.  (Quite ironically, we later met Sam's son, Chris, while guests of Captain Gene, aboard the beautiful Sea Genie II. Gene is the only Captain in the history of Kona sportsfishing to ever land three Pacific Blue Marlin Granders!!)

We enjoyed this simple hummus so much... the flavor and the idea of eating all that healthy goodness... that we recreated it at the house a few days later, served along with some whole wheat pita crisps.

And... now again at home.

Only this time as a light lunch, served atop a crusty piece of toasted whole wheat bread, peppered with a bit of crispy bacon (crisp prosciutto would be good, too) and just a bit of organic micro greens. I love it when something so good is also so good for you... kind of like a relaxing vacation with nothing more to contemplate than whether you'll bask in the sun on a lounge chair or navigate the pool on a floatie (exclamation point).