Happy Birthday USA ~ Fresh Oysters on the Half Shell with a Watermelon, Champagne and Cucumber Mignonette

 

Happy birthday USA!

Today is all about celebrating our country, and this year I decided to do that by celebrating our little corner of the country with some of the best treats that the Northwest has to offer.

We started with a plate of Penn Cove Select oysters on the half shell with a watermelon, champagne and cucumber mignonette. I think of sparkling wine when I think of the Fourth, since the sparkles remind me of fireworks :). The watermelon and cucumber also added a summery sweet freshness to the oysters’ salty brininess. I must admit, oysters are something I am just now beginning to enjoy. I’ve tried them in the past, but they were never my favorite choices. I liked this mignonette so much, that I had three of them! The most important thing is to get live oysters from a fishmonger that you trust. The recipe is based on one from Oprah.com, and I’d like to pass it along to you.

Fresh Oysters on the Half Shell with a Watermelon, Champagne and Cucumber Mignonette

12 shucked fresh oysters

1/4 cup watermelon juice

1/4 cup champagne vinegar

1/2 cup champagne

1/2 tablespoon prepared horseradish

2 tablespoons minced English cucumber

2 tablespoons minced shallots

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/2 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon for garnish

To make the watermelon juice, place 1 inch pieces of melon into a food processor, and process until pureed. Place a coffee filter in a strainer, and place the strainer over a large cup. Pour the melon puree into the strainer, and let it drain into the cup. Discard the pulp.

Combine the watermelon juice, champagne vinegar, champagne, horseradish, cucumber, shallots and black pepper in a bowl. Mix well.

Serve about a teaspoon of the mignonette on top of each oyster. Garnish with the chopped tarragon. Serve immediately.

For the main course, we had a Dungeness crab boil…A classic American summer celebration dish with a Northwest twist. It was super easy and delicious. I always ask my fishmonger to dispatch and clean the crabs when I buy them. They are much sweeter if they are cleaned before they are cooked. For two crabs (about 2 lbs each), steam for about 17 minutes until they are cooked through. At the same time, in a separate pot, boil the potatoes and corn. That’s it! 🙂 It couldn’t be easier.

Dessert was even easier and equally as delicious. We had a big bowl of Rainier cherries. They have a very short season, so they always feel like a special treat. They don’t need any help from a recipe :).

We paired dinner with a Chandon Liberty Sparkle cocktail from DomaineChandon.com. The recipe is basically the same as the Pomegranate Fizzes that I wrote about earlier this year, but with an added patriotic name for a red sparkling cocktail! It’s just a splash of pomegranate juice and a splash of Grand Marnier topped with sparkling wine.

I hope you have a safe and happy Fourth of July!

It’s Canada Day! ~ Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon with a Maple Glaze

 

Happy Canada Day!

We love our neighbors to the north :). We spent our honeymoon on Vancouver Island, and British Columbia is one of our favorite places to visit. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from Seattle, and it’s an absolutely beautiful province.

Even though we aren’t Canadian, who can’t use an extra reason to celebrate? Celebrating non-traditional holidays shakes things up a bit and it’s fun!

I think of maple syrup when I think of Canadian cuisine, and British Columbia has some great seafood similar to Seattle, so I decided to make cedar plank roasted salmon with a maple glaze. The wooden plank infuses a subtle smokey flavor into the fish. (Luckily it didn’t smoke the house, as well ;). It did make the kitchen smell nice and toasty, though.) I found the recipe at Epicurious.com. I followed it pretty closely, so I just want to pass the recipe onto you since it was so delicious and special!

 

Cedar Plank Roasted Salmon with a Maple Glaze

1 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

An untreated cedar plank (you can find them at specialty cooking stores)

2 1/2-pound center-cut salmon fillet with skin

1 bunch of scallion greens

In a small saucepan, simmer the maple syrup, ginger, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste until it is reduced to about 1 cup. (About 30 minutes). Let cool.

Place the oven rack in the middle position, and preheat your oven to 350. Heat the cedar plank by itself in the middle of the oven after it is up to temperature for about 15 minutes to get it a little toasty.

Pour half of the glaze into a small dish, and keep the other half in the pan. Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice into the sauce on the stove, warm and cover.

Arrange the scallion greens in one layer on the plank.

Put the salmon, skin side down, on the scallion greens and brush with the remaining glaze in the small dish. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and roast until just cooked through, about 35 minutes.

Cut the salmon crosswise into 6 pieces and drizzle with the warm sauce.

Happy Canada Day to all…Whether you live in Canada or just enjoy their beautiful country :).

It’s the first day of summer! ~ Oven Baked Fish with Chips

It’s the first day of summer! The sun actually cooperated in Seattle today, and it feels like summer is here. No coats necessary :). We celebrated by having fish and chips for dinner alfresco. In the summertime, we occasionally visit a little fish and chip place on Lake Union called Ivar’s. The view on their little deck overlooks the lake and the city skyline, and the food is very tasty, but it isn’t what I would call bikini friendly :). So I decided to try a baked version of this favorite summertime treat. A recipe in The Best Light Recipe cookbook inspired me again. It is basically the same as the “fried”chicken recipe I wrote about earlier this month, but with fish. We tried halibut and salmon, which were both delicious.

Oven Baked Fish Fillets

1 5 oz box of whole grain Melba toast broken into 1-inch pieces.

2 tablespoons canola oil

3 large egg whites

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 fish fillets, about 1 inch thick and 6 oz each (A firm fleshed fish will work nicely like cod, halibut, or even salmon)

Salt and pepper

Canola oil cooking spray

Adjust your oven rack to the upper middle position, and preheat to 450. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place a wire rack on top.

Pulse the Melba toast in a food processor until it is coarse crumbs. Place in a shallow bowl and mix in the oil.

In another shallow dish, whisk the egg whites through the cayenne together.

Pat the fish dry with paper towels, and season well with salt and pepper. Dip each fillet into the egg mix and then the Melba mix, pressing to make sure it adheres. Then place each piece of fish on the wire rack and spray the top with cooking spray.

Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the fish just flakes apart and the coating is golden brown.

Serve with baked chips and tartar sauce if you’d like.

We also had a summery wine to go with dinner called 2007 Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon. It starts with a berry aroma, but finishes as a full-bodied Cabernet. Yum! It might become our new house wine. I must admit I am inclined to fall for cute wine labels, and this one has a little boy who is poised to splash into a lake. Perfect for the season :).

Summer is (almost) here ~ Dungeness Crab Cakes

We tend to do a little more entertaining as the weather (slowly but surely!) gets warmer and sunnier. It’s a treat to have dinner alfresco after staying inside over the winter.

One dish that I make time and time again for entertaining in the warmer months is my Dungeness crab cakes. They are one of our very favorite things…Ever! One thing I love about them is that they can be made ahead of time, stored in the refrigerator, and then baked off once our guests arrive. I am not mussing and fussing in the kitchen, so I can enjoy a glass of wine with our friends out on the deck while the cakes bake in the oven. They are also full of crab…Very little filler. That’s how we like our crab cakes! I would highly recommend them for easy gourmet entertaining. 🙂

Dungeness Crab Cakes

Based on a recipe from Sunset magazine

1 pound cooked and shelled Dungeness crab meat

1/4 cup finely diced celery

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce

1 1/4 cups panko, divided

Preheat your oven to 475 F. Make sure your crab doesn’t have any hidden bits of shell mixed in before you begin. In a large bowl, mix the celery, chives, mayonnaise, egg, mustard, and hot sauce with a fork. Then add the crab and 1/4 cup panko. Stir gently until everything is well blended.

Place the remaining 1 cup of panko in a shallow bowl. Shape the crab mixture into cakes. (I usually get about 6 or 7 large cakes, but make them the size you prefer. Whatever size you choose, they should be about 1/2 inch thick.) Place each cake in the panko and coat on all sides. Press gently to make sure the crumbs stick. Lay the panko-covered cakes slightly apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. (You can make them up to this point earlier in the day. Just cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.)

Bake until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Serve immediately.

I usually serve them with a good store-bought tartar sauce.

I hope you enjoy these as much as we do!

Happy Mardi Gras! ~ Red Jambalaya with Chicken, Shrimp and Lobster and Chandon Sidecars

This year, we had red jambalaya with chicken, shrimp and lobster for our Mardi Gras celebration. I’ve been working my way through the recipes on the Domaine Chandon website, and this one caught my eye awhile back. It seemed perfect for tonight, so I saved it until now. I must say, it was worth the wait!  I would recommend it highly. I did make a handful of changes to make it a little healthier. I used brown rice instead of white, I only used 2 andouille sausage links (chicken or turkey preferred to pork) instead of a pound, I omitted the bacon grease or butter and replaced it with grapeseed oil and I used skinless chicken with the bone in. Other than those differences, I followed the recipe closely. We thought it was a delicious gourmet spin on traditional jambalaya.

Red Jambalaya with Chicken, Shrimp and Lobster

3 lbs chicken breasts and thighs with the bone in but skin removed

3-4 tbsp grape seed oil, or any other oil with a high smoke point

2 medium-sized onions, chopped

1 green pepper, diced

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 tbsp flour

2 links of sliced chicken or turkey andouille (about ½ lb) (if you would like less heat, you might want to use only one link)

3 cups tomato plus one extra medium tomato, chopped

½ tsp thyme

½ tsp pepper

½ tsp Tabasco sauce
(if you don’t like things very spicy, use a little less)

1 cup water

1 cup tomato juice

¾ cup uncooked long grain brown rice

½ lb jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 small lobster tails, shelled and cut into small pieces (may substitute 12 oz small shrimp, shelled and deveined)

½ cup scallions, diced (discard green stalks)

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

 

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tbsp oil and sauté until just browned and remove from pan. (It will not be cooked through.) Do not discard oil.

In the same pan, sauté onions, green pepper and garlic until onions are translucent. Remove from skillet.

Add remaining oil and gradually add flour, stirring often. Simmer until the color turns light brown.

In the same pan, stir in sausage, chicken, onion, pepper and garlic mixture and tomatoes (except for the extra medium tomato). Cook 10 minutes on medium high, stirring continuously.

Add thyme, ½ tsp pepper, Tabasco sauce, water, tomato juice and rice. Mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender.

Stir in shrimp, lobster, scallions, remaining tomato and parsley. Cook an additional 5 minutes until the seafood is just cooked through.

Makes 8–10 servings.

We also had my take on a Chandon Sidecar cocktail to go with our dinner. We were first introduced to sidecars at one of our favorite nightspots in Seattle called the New Orleans Creole Restaurant, so I always associate them with Creole cooking. For our drinks, I used ¾ oz of Grand Marnier, ½ oz Meyer lemon juice (its a little sweeter than regular lemon juice, so we didn’t need any simple syrup to balance it) and ¾ oz of Cognac. Then top it with dry sparkling wine to your liking.

I hope you have a festive Mardi Gras! 🙂

Sweetest Day ~ Butternut Squash Soup with Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean and Cider Glazed Salmon

Happy Sweetest Day! This is one of those little holidays that gives us an excuse for a little celebration. I am all for that :). I decided to make a special dinner menu to mark the occasion. The recipes were from a really good book I read this year called A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. It was written by an author who lives here in Seattle, Molly Wizenberg, who has a well-respected recipe blog called Orangette. I read the book in the spring and have been saving these two autumn recipes until now. They are a little gourmet, a little decadent, and very delicious. Perfect for a fall evening that feels a little special.

The first recipe I made was a butternut squash soup with pear, cider, and vanilla bean. It’s a very funky combination, I know, which is why I had to try it! It just sounded so unique and special with the vanilla. Both Rob and I agreed it was a very nice and refreshing flavor combination. I would highly recommend it! I lightened the recipe a touch by using less half and half, and replacing the other portion with skim milk. It was still very creamy and silky because of the squash, so we didn’t miss the extra richness at all. I also only needed 1 tablespoon of olive oil instead of 3. Other than those two little details I followed the recipe, so I am just passing it along in all of its goodness :).

Butternut Squash Soup with Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 lbs of peeled and seeded butternut squash cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

2 peeled and cored pears cut into 1 inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 chopped
white onion

1 cup apple cider

4 cups low sodium chicken broth

Salt

¼ cup half-and-half

¼ cup skim milk

1 vanilla bean

Add the oil, squash, pears and onion to a large pot over medium low heat, and cook uncovered for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and the pears are soft. Add the cider and bring it to a boil over medium high heat. Add the broth, lower the heat to medium low, and simmer partially covered for about 30 minutes until everything is tender.

Carefully puree the mixture in small batches in a blender. Return the soup to the pot and continue to cook over medium low heat, uncovered, until it has reduced to a thick and creamy consistency that you like. While the soup is bubbling, put the half-and-half and milk in a small saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds with the back of a knife. Put the pod and seeds in the dairy and put the pan over low heat until it is just steaming, but not boiling. Strain the vanilla pod from the mix and set aside. When your soup has reduced to the thickness you desire, stir in the vanilla mixture. Season with salt to taste and enjoy!

Makes 4-5 servings

The main course was a cider glazed salmon dish. It was so simple, but so delicious. Isn’t that the way with the best recipes? 🙂 I used half and half instead of all cream, but other than that detail I followed the recipe. I usually don’t use cream or butter, but because you only need a little bit of this glaze to make an impact, I didn’t skimp. I think a little bit is just fine :).

Cider Glazed Salmon

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium shallot, cut in half and peeled

2 cups apple cider

2, 3 or 4 salmon fillets (depending on the number of portions)

Salt

½ cup half and half

In a large skillet bring the shallot, butter and cider to a simmer over medium high heat.

Place the salmon in the cider blend, cover and simmer gently. Flip half way through. For every inch of thickness the salmon needs about 10 minutes to cook until it is just cooked through.

Remove the fish from the pan and cover with tin foil.

For the glaze, raise the heat under the pan to medium high, add a pinch of salt and simmer until the liquid is reduced by about 2/3. It will be a slightly thickened. Reduce the heat to medium and add the half and half. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, until the mixture darkens to a light caramel color.

Plate the salmon and top with a spoonful of the glaze.

Rob also treated me to special little chocolate pumpkin truffles for dessert. One of my favorite local chocolatiers called Moonstruck Chocolate makes creative little pieces to go with the seasons. Almost too cute to eat….Almost :).

 

Wine Pairing

We had a new wine tonight from Columbia Winery called Romance Red. Since Rob and I had our wedding reception at that winery, it seemed like a good choice for a romantic evening celebration :).

10th Wedding Anniversary ~ Mussels, Clams and Shrimp with Saffron Risotto and Green Olive Relish and Caramelized Pear Cake

Rob and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary today with a romantic dinner at home. Cooking is always a fun way to spend time together, and there’s nothing we like more than to create a nice meal and enjoy it outside on a warm summer night. To us, that’s a perfect evening together…The perfect way to celebrate this milestone. The recipes I chose were adapted from the September 2000 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, which I thought was a fun and special way to choose a menu :). Both of the original recipes can be found at Epicurious.com. We had mussels, clams and shrimp with saffron risotto and green olive relish as well as caramelized pear cake for dessert. I followed the risotto recipe pretty closely, except I halved the garlic. It was a romantic anniversary after all! 😉 We also added more seafood than the recipe called for since it was a special occasion. I changed the cake recipe quite a bit, however. To lighten it up a little, I cut the sugar and the butter and I replaced some of the oil with applesauce. I have to say, we didn’t miss it one bit! The presentation looked very fancy, as well, which was perfect for a special finale.

Mussels, Clams and Shrimp with Saffron Risotto and Green Olive Relish

1/2 cup chopped green olives

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 ½ teaspoons lemon zest

2 cups low sodium chicken stock

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup chopped shallots

1 cup Arborio rice

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup bottled clam juice

20 mussels

15 manila clams

24 uncooked large peeled shrimp

3/4 cup chopped fresh tomatoes

1/4 cup sliced green onions

Lemon wedges

To make the relish, combine the first four ingredients in a small bowl – Olives, oil, parsley and lemon peel. (This can be made the day before and refrigerated).

Bring the stock and saffron to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and cover. Heat the olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté about 2 minutes until they are tender. Add the rice and the garlic and stir 1 minute. Add the white wine and stir until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup saffron stock and simmer until absorbed, stirring constantly. Add the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the stock to be absorbed before adding more, stirring frequently until the rice is cooked halfway, about 10 minutes. Add the clam juice, seafood and chopped tomatoes. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender, the mussels and clams open, the shrimp are cooked through and the liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Discard any mussels and clams that did not open. Divide the seafood and saffron risotto equally among 4 bowls. Sprinkle with sliced green onions and serve with lemon wedges and the green olive relish on the side.

Caramelized Pear Cake

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

About 2 pounds Bosc pears, peeled, quartered and cored

1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

2/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

1/4 cup canola oil

¼ cup applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 cup grated peeled Bosc pears

Preheat your oven to 350. Melt the butter in the microwave, and mix it with the brown sugar in the bottom of a 10 inch cake pan. Spread the mixture in an even layer. Arrange the quartered pears in a flower design on top of the sugar. (One tip is to cover the pears in a little lemon juice while you are peeling and quartering the bunch. That way the first ones won’t turn brown while you work on the remaining ones. Then just give them a light rinse and dry before arranging them in the pan).

Whisk the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, crystallized ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, ground ginger and salt in medium bowl. Whisk the eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla and orange peel in a large bowl. Then mix in the grated pears to the wet mixture. Finally, mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined.

Carefully pour the batter over the pears in the cake pan. (It will be a pretty thick batter, but just coax it gently with a spatula to cover all of the pears). Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for about 20 minutes. Then run a knife around the pan sides to loosen, place a serving plate over cake and invert it onto the plate. Serve warm. (It also refrigerates well if you would like to make it a day ahead. Just microwave the slices for about 20 or 30 seconds to warm through before serving).

We paired the meal with a bottle of Tin Barn Vineyards red wine that our parents gave us for our “tin” anniversary :). The winery was also founded 10 years ago. Perfect! (The Cabernet Sauvignon blend was very yummy…I’d recommend it if you like artfully crafted red Meritage blends).

Make an ordinary summer night special ~ Steamed Clams

Rob and I have started a new little tradition that makes an ordinary evening feel like a special occasion to us. We light some candles and our tiki torches outside, have a glass of wine and enjoy this steamed clam dish together. We used to go out for a similar dish at a nearby restaurant called BluWater Bistro, but I figured out a comparable recipe that we like even more at home. I don’t use nearly the amount of butter they use, but I think it still needs a tiny bit for flavor. I also think half the fun of clams is watching them pop open as they cook…Something we miss when we go out to eat. Not to mention, it is much less spendy to make at home :). This is not a strict recipe. Just taste as you go to make sure you have the flavors you like.

Steamed Clams

1 or 2 cloves minced garlic (depending on how much garlic you like)

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 cups low sodium free-range chicken stock

Splash of dry white wine, such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc

About 2 lbs of farmed clams

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley (optional)

French bread (optional)

Scrub your clams very well and discard any that are cracked or open. (If any clams are just a tiny bit open, tap them on the counter…If they close, they are still alive and good to use. If they don’t, they are not safe to eat, so toss them.) Melt the butter in a large pan (one that has a lid), and sauté the garlic for a minute or until fragrant. Pour the chicken broth and white wine into the pan and bring to a boil. Taste for seasoning once it is hot, and add salt if you desire. When the mixture is boiling, put all of the clams in the pan and cover with the lid. Watch them closely. When all of them have opened, take the lid off and take the pan off the heat. (If any did not open, discard them.) Spoon the clams and broth into two big bowls. If you desire, finish with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley and serve with slices of French bread to soak up the extra broth. Also, be sure to serve with an extra bowl for the shells.

Baked Coconut Shrimp

One of my favorite restaurants in town called Cactus used to have my very favorite coconut shrimp in the city. Actually, I would say they were my favorite coconut shrimp, period. I have tried them in quite a few places and nothing ever beat theirs, in my humble opinion. Their chef decided to change the menu recently, however, and they no longer serve them. Soo…That inspired me to try to figure out the recipe! I learned that baking them works really well, as opposed to frying them. This recipe is based on one I found in Cooking Light magazine (the original can be found at MyRecipes.com) with a few personal touches.

Baked Coconut Shrimp

30 large peeled and deveined shrimp with the tails still attached

1/3 cup cornstarch

Pinch of salt

3 egg whites

2 cups sweetened flaked coconut

Cooking spray

Aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 400°.

Coat a baking sheet with aluminum foil and cooking spray. Rinse and dry shrimp. Combine the cornstarch and salt in a little dish. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl with a hand mixer until they are slightly frothy. Place the coconut in a third dish. Dredge each shrimp in the cornstarch mixture, the egg white and then the coconut. (Press gently to keep the flakes in place). Place the coated shrimp on the baking sheet, and spray the top of the shrimp lightly with cooking spray. Bake for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of your shrimp, turning once. (Watch them closely, so as not to over bake).

I also made a super easy salsa to go with them…Just a mix of crushed pineapple with jalapeno pepper jelly to taste.

A little side note is that I try to find farm raised or wild shrimp from the US or Canada instead of imported shrimp. I like this little seafood selector website (find a fish) since it’s sometimes hard to remember which choices are the healthiest when I’m at the store.