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Archive for May, 2009

I’ve always considered myself a pretty flexible, go with the flow kind of person, and nowhere is that more evident than in the food that I will eat. I’m no gourmet and I don’t require an exotic or complicated meal ever; I’m just as happy to chomp through a grilled brat as I would be to sit in front of half a dozen fancy courses at dinner. No one has to worry about cooking me something amazing if I am invited to dinner. Even though I prefer eating healthier options, I’m OK with eating a wide range of foods, and flexibility is key to happy indulgence and peaceful co-existence. I never want to be considered a diva about food.

At one point in my life I was dating a very nice guy and it seemed like it might be getting serious. Then one evening for a meal, I suggested that we have salmon.

“Oooh, I don’t really like salmon.” Was what he said, or something like that.

This statement gave me pause.

“You don’t like salmon?” I said, gazing at him quizzically, mentally tossing out all those ‘permanent’ thoughts I was starting to entertain. How could I be serious about a man who didn’t eat salmon?

“Why?”

“It’s just too dry and flavorless.” (or something like that. It’s possible I may have blocked out some of this conversation to save my sanity)

“Hmmm.” I was scratching my chin and trying to think of something witty. But I couldn’t.

“Well, would you try it if I make it?” And thankfully he agreed.

It was a delectable Maple Glazed Salmon that the guy actually liked. A lot.

And apparently he liked a whole lot more too.

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You see, there was a lot at stake in the appreciation of that piece of fish.

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I can’t say that it was just that piece of perfectly cooked salmon that set in motion three lives to be intertwined forever, nor was it the multitudes of perfectly cooked fish that have crossed our plates since then. I just know that slightly more than 8 years ago, I met a man who didn’t much care for fish and with one plate of plump pink salmon, the future seemed pretty rosy.

And we sealed it all with a kiss.

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I’m sure you could be wondering…. did he fall in love with me, or with my cooking?

I’m certain it was me, because at that point in my life, while I was a pretty good cook, it paled in comparison to what happens in my kitchen these days and it was that salmon that seemed to be the start of my epic culinary journey. I had concocted a delicious recipe for Maple Glazed Salmon and submitted it to a magazine, which somehow got them all excited and itching to talk to me, which led to a two-page spread about ‘Cooking Healthy for Your Family’ that included my Salmon recipe, photos of all of us and lots of nice words. This was in the Spring issue of Reiman’s Light and Tasty magazine way back in 2003. The following year, after submitting my most favorite veggie pizza recipe to a ‘Meatless Marvels’ contest and winning a Runner-Up prize, I looked at what I wanted in my life and felt like food was the key. Healthy food. Better for you food. Not your Mama’s food.

maple glazed salmon 004And to think that all that love, that nurturing and contentedness, and 8 years with a great guy (nearly 7 of them married), all that started somewhere back around a piece of fish, with a willingness to be open to potential and the flexibility needed to understand that life isn’t always the way you might imagine. Or remember.

maple glazed salmon 009This recipe is quite simple, and stands up well to the assertiveness in salmon. I don’t recommend it for lighter and mild fish such as tilapia, halibut or mahi mahi, but it would be equally welcome on pork or chicken if that suits you. Use top quality maple syrup too.

Kate’s Maple Glazed Salmon

2/3 c. pure maple syrup
1 T. worchestershire sauce
1 T. brown sugar
1 T. ketchup
1 T. cider vinegar
1/2 t. ground mustard

1 salmon fillet, or two steaks

In a small saucepan, blend all ingredients together and bring to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened and darker in color. Pour into a heat-proof container, such as a pyrex measuring cup, to cool, whisking regularly. You can speed up the cooling process by placing the container in a bowl of cold water and whisking briskly.

Brush about half the glaze onto the salmon and allow to sit for up to 30 minutes. Heat a skillet to hot and place the coated salmon, glaze down in the pan. Allow to cook until nicely browned and the glaze is bubbling. Carefully turn over, brush on more glaze and cook over lowered heat until cooked through, but still tender. Salmon can be served drizzled with remaining glaze.

The side dish in the photo is a blend of cooked barley, wheatberries and spinach, with plenty of shaved parmesan cheese.

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For a brief and terrifying moment, the very real possibility of never being able to do any of this again presented itself in our lives.

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Mike fell off the roof at our lake home during a roofing project and landed flat on his back.

But I’m here to tell you that nothing short of a miracle occurred; he got up, walked into the cabin and immediately iced his back. I trip to the ER was imminent, and an X-ray showed a compression fracture of the 3rd lumbar vertebrae, plus a break on the facet joint.
ouchieHe can walk, move, sit, turn, stand, laugh and with proper healing, he should be fine.

To be able to say “He should be fine.” To watch him walk, even in the agony of the pain, to hear him making jokes and chuckling, to wake in the night reaching my hand over to feel him breathing, warm and solid is all that much sweeter and life affirming in the wake of any number of  “What if…?” thoughts I try to continually push aside.

I’m getting to a point where I can relate the story fully, almost tear-free but I still feel like I can break down in the blink of an eye; just over three years ago, a youth pastor at our church had the same accident- falling off a roof- although his injury was more severe, and he hasn’t walked since. I keep thinking about him, and about Mike and the potential for the same devastating impact on our lives and when I do so for too long, I am a weeping mess.
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I’m hoping he’ll be able to waterski again; that he’ll show me his awesome one-foot dock start, and the professional quality moves on the water, but we certainly won’t be doing any tandem knee-boarding together this summer like we really enjoyed last year.

And you know what? That’s all right with me. Because he walks, and jokes and laughs and still teases me while he wraps his arms around to embrace me, and grasp close all that we have. With proper healing, there’s always next summer and the fact that we’ll have that possibility makes me profoundly grateful.

It’s a stunningly sober thought to feel that there is but one moment of your life among the millions that you experience which drastically changes your perspective. I’ve had mine, thank you. Let me be done with them for now, please.

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yhst-73011301488282_2053_5859150I’m the minority in my neighborhood. The only girl out at the grill on any given night. The back of that mug is absolutely correct- it says ‘Saucy, smokin’ and HOT!’

And let me tell you, those boys ain’t got nothing on me.

Why is grilling such a guy thing? You go to any festive outdoor event in the summertime and there’s a guy at the grill, and the other guys there are gathered around like an envious pack, watching the grill, assessing the technique, gazing covetously at the grill itself, or the toys the cook waves about. They clutch their beers and shuffle their feet. It’s some odd ritual that I can’t possibly figure out. And where are the women?

I was never in the kitchen, or clustered around the food table, crowing like a group of hens with the other women- I was out at the grill, pushing my way front and center, taking in the scents and sights. I knew from a very early age that being at the grill was where it’s at, among the smoke and flames, the one everyone turned to because they were hungry and you held the key to filling that void. It’s about fire. And from the dawn of time, fire has been a guys thing.

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Well not in this house it isn’t!

I do the majority of the cooking in our house and so naturally it falls to me to grill as well, although I know plenty of partnerships where, despite the female influence at the stove, the guy automatically gets grilling rights. Hhhmmmpff.  Step away from the flames and hand me my tongs. Please. Like I said, the guys ain’t got nothin’ on me.

Although meat does make a slight comeback in our house during the warm months, as it takes on a flavor unlike any other when cooked over a flame, I’m just as happy with a huge plate of grilled vegetables and have made many other items on a grill too, my favorites being Pizza and Quesadillas. I even built a wood-burning pizza oven inside my patio Chimnea. More on that later.

Quesadillas have been a stand-by for a grilled meal, a simple and quick way to cook up a smoky treat. Once the filling is ready, they take but a snappy 5 minutes on a hot grill to be perfect.

So I marinated some chicken in lime juice and Penzeys Taco Seasoning-
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Made a bowl of my famous Guacamole-
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Stirred together some mustard oil for brushing on the vegetables-
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And prepped an array of goodies….baby vidalia onions, red peppers and zucchini-

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I love the flavor of grilled vegetables. Our gas grill is going on 7 years old and really needs to be replaced, but it is advantageous for this method because it has a superb hot spot that is just perfect for fire-grilling.

Mmmmm…..yummy charred goodness!
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The chicken looked spectacular. It almost seemed a shame to chop it all up.
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And wow, did it smell fabulous!

After prepping the vegetables and chicken, I left the grill on to get it smoking hot while I took everything inside and assembled the quesadillas.
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I use one tortilla per quesadilla as it makes it easier to rotate and turn on the grill. I’ve tried using two, with the filling between them, but inevitably when you go to flip them over, some of the filling is lost to the flames. Using one tortilla folded over eliminates that headache, and lost goodies AND cleaning out the charred bits from inside the grill!

Ta-Da!!
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Guacamole

3 ripe avocados, diced
zest of half a lime
juice from half a lime
1 T. kosher salt
2 t. Penzeys Adobo seasoning (or 1/2 t. each cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and black pepper)
1 medium tomato, diced

Combine all ingredients and stir to mix. Allow to sit at room temperature for flavors to develop. {{I don’t use fresh garlic or raw onion in my guac- I think it’s a bit too overpowering, but to each their own}}

Mustard Oil for grilling

3 T. spicy brown mustard
1/2 c. olive oil

Whisk to combine and allow to sit for about an hour. It will not make an emulsion, but the mustard will flavor the oil and it’s terrific on grilled vegetables.

Making the Quesadillas is pretty subjective; use veggies suitable for you or your family. Shrimp or beef is a great substitute for chicken, or make up a whole lot of toppings and have a Build-Your-Own deal. I use the 10″ flour tortillas, folding one over the filling. The larger wrap-style tortillas work beautifully for quesadillas too, being quite substantial. The grill grates do not need oiling for tortillas- they won’t stick. Serve with sour cream, salsa and guacamole on the side.

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I’ve been holding out on you, but not on purpose.

I’m guilty of thinking that somehow giving you a simple recipe as a means to serve frozen corn might just bore you to death. Really, it isn’t anything superbly fancy, but right about now, as we are staring down the summertime bounty of vegetables and with fresh corn season coming quicker than a May thunderstorm, I think it’s time to share the love. Especially since I enhanced the dish with my current love- bulgur- and made it a couple thousand times better.

I don’t even know when it was that I came across this method on Kim’s blog, but I was immediately transfixed and had to try it. Which I did, and which I almost regretted because I could barely think of anything else. Now I need to share it with you.

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I simply call it Brown Butter Corn. How easy is that? You take some good butter and heat it in your pan until it’s toasty and brown, add in frozen corn and cook it until it’s tender and delicious, maybe tossing in a handful of fresh basil, or rosemary, or thyme and a seasoning of sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Pile it on your plate next to your main course and you’ve elevated your meal slightly from the humdrum to the hubba-hubba.  (wow, did I just say that?)

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Only this time, with a container of my current whole grain love all cooked and ready in the fridge, this side wasn’t just about the nutty and toasty, it was far better. Copious amounts of fresh basil really sent the flavor sky-ward. And with a perfectly cooked piece of Mahi-Mahi as an accompaniment, alongside an effusive smiling husband (and a kid-free evening), it quickly became one of those meals that sends shivers through you, making you slow down, smile more, sigh often and think “When can we have this again??”

Brown Butter Corn with Bulgur
by Kate

4 T. good quality butter
1 pkg frozen corn, shaken in a wire sieve to remove any ice or frost- NOT rinsed!
1-2 cups cooked bulgur
Fresh herb of choice- basil, rosemary and thyme all work well
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Heat butter gently in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s darkened and smelling toasty, add corn (it will sizzle!!!) and quickly stir to combine. Allow to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add in bulgur and fresh herb, stir to combine and heat through. Season with salt and pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
The simplicity of this dish is ridiculous. Even without the bulgur it’s delicious, and the variation of vegetables that you could use is astounding. I think of fresh summer squash, a julienne of root vegetables, diced eggplant or even a mix of greens. Sub in another grain for the bulgur- like farro, another of my current loves- or add in wild rice, red rice or a mix. I’ve loved corn and rice mixed together since I was a little girl, but there is something about the browning of the butter that makes it so much more elegant. Watch out though! The butter slips easily from ‘browned’ to ‘burned’ and once that happens, you need to throw it out and start over. ‘Burned’ butter corn, I’m thinking, isn’t all that appetizing. Heat it gently and stay close by. And by all means, DO NOT rinse the corn! The butter is scalding hot when you add the vegetable, and if there is water on it, the likelihood of bad splattering is quite high.

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Life isn’t simple anymore. Not that this is a shock to anyone with an adult’s perspective. It seems that everything has gotten so much more complicated, and while we burst through life determining what path to take that is right for us, we are constantly faced with decisions and truths that require a ‘turn on a dime’ change of direction. It’s just not like when we were kids.

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Of course, this isn’t a bad thing either. It’s nice to look at our past and see where we’ve ‘grown up’ even if, somewhere inside us, we still are surprised at the face that looks back from the mirror. I still can feel like I’m 12 again, or 24, or 30 and a brand new Mom. Of course I wish that I could still run barefoot from June to September, the sun hot on my skin and nothing more pressing in my day except where the next adventure would take root; I think about Kool-Aid, Popsicles and A&W Root Beer with a hard scoop of vanilla ice cream floating in it. I think about one-room air conditioners, the smell of bed linens fresh off the clothesline and how it seemed so perfect to take a peanut butter sandwich outside to the backyard for a picnic. And while all of this speaks more to the carefree days of childhood and what I find I can no longer freely indulge in, it’s more than just a nostalgic turn; I think I just yearn for a time when I was blissfully unaware that life existed outside the realms of my neighborhood. With all the gloom and doom present in our daily media, it’s no small feat to try and close it out. And while I can grasp my adulthood fully with both hands and move ahead with the changing world, there still are times that I want something that reminds me of simpler days.

Not too long ago I posted about finding plenty of nostalgia in a perusal of food blogs, and it got a conversation rolling with Jamie and Kristen about foods from our past. Kristen especially tickled me in a discourse we had over cream soups and some of the dishes we used to make with them, and part of what we talked about was that although these foods often have good memories attached to them, they aren’t all that healthy. Looking around me in the grocer, I had to wonder if it was possible to bring them back with less guilt, and possibly more flavor.

The ubiquitous Tuna Mushroom Pasta was a standard from my childhood; macaroni, canned mushrooms and tuna, cream of mushroom soup and a crush of potato chips over the top was a mainstay for dinner. No one really went “Ooooooh!!!” whenever it was presented, and I recall a time when I clearly told myself I would never eat it again. And in that representation, I never did.

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One good thing about following the flow of life is watching your food mature around you. I’m glad to be far away from the foods of my past, although it’s nice to think I can recreate them, but better. And more flavorful.

mushroom-tuna-and-pasta-012(Not exactly the Beauty Queen of Cuisine…..but oh so delicious!)

No one is chained to Campbells soups anymore; Amy’s Soups has a lovely creamy mushroom soup, Health Valley Organics makes a completely natural line of cream soups, and then there’s my favorite- this Portabello Mushroom soup from Imagine Natural Creations. When the desire strikes for a meal that not only satisfies my need for a little nostalgia, but also will bring smiles to both Mike and Griffin- who absolutely LOVES this dish- this is where I turn; better ingredients, and a more sophisticated method.

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Kate’s Mushroom Tuna Pasta

1# dry pasta, cooked to taste
1 pkg. Baby Bella mushrooms
1 large leek, split and washed, sliced very thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1-2 3-oz pkgs Tuna (or other tuna of choice)
1 16-oz container Imagine Portabello Mushroom soup (or equivalent)
1/2 c. frozen peas
Butter and olive oil for cooking
Worchestershire sauce (optional)

Other optional add-ins: Toasted seasoned bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese.

In a medium sized skillet, warm approximately 2 T. olive oil and 2 T. butter  and add leek, cooking for about 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring regularly. When soft and beginning to brown in spots, add in yellow pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes. Stir in peas, cover and keep over low heat.

In a separate pan, warm 4 T. of butter and 2 T. olive oil, add mushrooms and cook over medium-high heat, stirring regularly until mushrooms begin to release their liquid. If using, at this point add about 2 T. worchestershire sauce to mushrooms, along with a generous grind of black pepper. Stir to combine and continue to cook, allowing mushrooms to sear and brown.

Drain pasta, reserving about a half cup of pasta water, but don’t shake off excess. Return to pan and add in soup, tuna, the leek mixture and the mushrooms. Stir to combine. Add in some of the pasta water if the mix is thick. Season to taste with salt and more fresh ground black pepper.

KATE’S NOTES:
This method, while a bit futzy, produces a very flavorful end result. By no means is it carved in stone. I do heartily recommend a separate pan for cooking the mushrooms, solely for the flavor it will impart, but in a pinch you can cook all the vegetables together. Regular chopped onion is fine too, it seems lately I’m kind of on a leek fix. Skip the butter if it isn’t your thing.

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My love for toasted bread crumbs knows no boundaries. I prefer Panko for this application, reserving the bread crumbs I make from scratch for use as a filler or bond. I mix about a cup of Panko with melted butter and some olive oil, then add in a multitude of dry seasonings such as dried basil, garlic and onion powder, fresh ground pepper, maybe some dried mustard and then heat them gently in a pan, stirring continually, until they are fragrant and browned. Be sure to remove them from the pan when they’re done or they will burn. They keep in the fridge for a while, although I’ve never determined exactly how long because I make up excuses to eat them.

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