Handmade Lemon-herb Pasta

March was National Flour Month, and I’m finally catching up on paying respect to the many ways flour feeds us, beyond the obvious (bread). My first attempts at making handmade pasta 10 years ago were outright disastrous, mostly because I had assumed the method of stirring eggs by fork into a mountain-like peak of all-purpose flour was going to be easy. In my defense, the shows I had watched on Food Network made it seem easy, but in real life, it was a humongous freaking mess that left me cussing up a storm and vowing that I’d “never make that again.” Truth is, it is those really frustrating failures that inspire me the most to give it another go, and I’m so glad I did!

In my later efforts, I enjoyed more success, letting my KitchenAid do the mixing, but there was always something about the handmade pasta that didn’t sit right with me, even after I had invested in a “Made in Italy” hand-crank pasta roller. The dough always seemed heavy or thick, even on the thin roller setting. It fell apart or crumbled, or stuck to the roller or cutting blades. But a few years ago, I found the perfect, James Beard Foundation-approved recipe that fixed all the problems I had encountered. My issue was not only how I was making the dough or rolling the pasta, but also the ratio of ingredients I was using. To that point, I had been using only all-purpose flour and whole eggs (yolks and whites). I had no idea what temperature was best for my ingredients, nor did I fully understand how long to knead the dough or whether it needed to be rested.

I cringe when I see this old photo. Besides all the background junk in my tiny, post-divorce apartment kitchen, the ragged edges on my pasta sheet reveal how much I had yet to learn! 🙂

The better recipe, and the one I use to this day, takes advantage of a special variety of wheat called durum, which is used to make semolina flour, the gold standard in authentic Italian pasta recipes. Semolina lends a warm, slightly nutty flavor, a light yellowish color and a firmer, more toothsome texture. It has been a game changer in my journey to making handmade pasta.

The other big difference was a shift in liquid ingredients in my formula. Rather than using whole eggs, the recipe that has become my standard requires separation of the eggs, using only the yolks, plus an amount of water. Once I found this easy formula, the flavor possibilities became near-endless. And that’s where the real fun of making handmade pasta begins! Being creative with the colors, flavors and shapes of handmade pasta is one of the things that gives me—a home cook—a very satisfying sense of accomplishment.

I won’t claim that handmade pasta is “easy,” because I still feel the ego bruises from my early attempts, but I will say that if you are already making handmade pasta, go on and experiment with the flavors until you find something amazing. New flavors make their way into the mix either in the liquid, perhaps by using finely pureed vegetables as part of the water measurement, or by way of dry add-ins, as I am sharing in today’s post. And if you’re still on the fence about trying handmade pasta, I hope my adventure inspires you!

This recipe has helped me use some of the abundance of fresh herbs I’ve had since my husband, Les, gifted me the countertop hydroponic herb garden that keeps throwing parsley at me. The lemon, parsley and basil combination is terrific and perfect for spring, but you could just as easily flavor your pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, roasted red peppers or—well, you can imagine your own (and I do hope you’ll share those fabulous ideas).

Making your own pasta is so much fun. I hope you’ll try it!

Adapted from
Semolina Pasta Dough Recipe | James Beard Foundation

Ingredients

8 oz. semolina flour (plus extra for rolling pasta dough)

4 oz. unbleached, all-purpose flour* (see notes)

2 oz. white whole wheat flour*

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup filtered water, room temperature*

2 egg yolks, room temperature*

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine is whole lemon-fused for bright lemon flavor)

Zest of one organic lemon* (only the bright yellow peel)

2 Tbsp. very finely minced fresh herbs (I used a combination of Italian parsley and Genovese basil)


*Notes

All-purpose flour is easy to find, but “00” flour is better if you can get your hands on it. The double-zero flour is milled to a very fine texture, and its use results in tender, silky pasta. I have seen it in well-stocked larger supermarkets, gourmet shops and online. I also use some portion of whole grain flour in my pasta dough, but if you prefer, skip the white whole wheat and make up the difference with equal amount of additional all-purpose or 00 flour.

As with bread dough, I have found that hydration of flour for pasta dough is much improved with room temperature or slightly warm water. Cold water makes for very stiff dough that is tougher to knead.

Eggs are more easily separated when cold, but once this is done, cover the bowl of yolks and let it rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you begin mixing the pasta dough.

Most of the time, conventionally-grown citrus is fine. But when you intend to eat any part of the peel, it’s best to choose organic to avoid chemical pesticides.


Instructions – making the dough

  1. Zest the lemon and mince the herbs first, and spread them out on a cutting board so that the add-in ingredients dry out a bit.
  2. Combine flours, salt, lemon zest and lightly dried herbs in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  3. Combine egg yolks and water in a separate bowl and whisk them together until the mixture is light and frothy.
  4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour the wet ingredients into the center and use the dough hook to do the blending. Though it might seem logical to mix with the beater blade, using the dough hook completes the blending from the center-out, in the same way as the chefs using only a fork to gradually mix the eggs into the flour. Allow the mixer to do this work for you, until the dough mixture is combined but crumbly, and no dry flour remains in the bowl. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, if needed to achieve this stage.
  5. Empty the dough onto your work surface, and knead by hand for at least 10 minutes, probably more like 15 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic, with no creases or cracks or lumps. If the dough shows any sign of cracking or breaking, wet your hands and continue to knead, repeating as many times as necessary until the smooth texture is achieved.
  6. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough ball at least one hour, or up to overnight. Do not refrigerate more than a day.

Time to make the pasta!

Here’s my work station for rolling pasta dough. My machine is clamped onto the edge of the counter, my cookie sheet and drying rack are ready, and my chilled dough is resting at room temperature.

Remove the pasta dough from the fridge (still wrapped) about 30 minutes before you plan to roll it, to remove some of the chill. Set up your pasta rolling machine, and keep fresh semolina out to aid in rolling and to prevent the dough from sticking. Have a parchment-lined cookie sheet within reach, and set up your drying rack if you’re using one.

Instructions – rolling the pasta

  1. Unwrap the pasta dough and use a bench scraper or sharp knife to slice off sections of dough about one inch thick. Keep remaining dough tightly wrapped until ready to roll, so it doesn’t dry out.
  2. Flatten a piece of dough into an oval-shaped disk, then roll it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. For the first few passes, fold the pressed dough in half and run it through again on the same setting. Fold it in thirds, as you would fold up a letter, and turn the dough 90° so that it runs through the machine at a different angle. This helps to reduce curling or bending when the pasta dries later. When the dough feels supple after running through the press several times, begin reducing to thinner setting with each pass.
  3. When the dough reaches the desired thickness (either the thinnest or next-to-thinnest setting, allow the sheet to dry slightly before cutting into strips or using as ravioli. In my experience with pasta, the cutting and shaping stage seems to work better when the pasta is not super-soft. If you rush directly to cutting it, at least with a machine, the dough tends to stick in the rollers, and it will definitely stick to a ravioli mold.
  4. After pasta sheets are complete, allow them to rest for a couple of minutes before cutting, either with the pasta machine or by hand with a fluted pasta trimmer, pizza slicer or sharp knife. If cutting by hand, the simplest way is to fold the pasta sheet crosswise multiple times, and slice through the layers with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Dust the pasta really well with extra semolina flour before cutting to minimize sticking.

This time, I’ve opted to use the cutter attachment for my pasta roller to fashion my lemon-herb pasta into fettucine strips, but this lemony pasta would also be terrific for making sweet crab-stuffed ravioli, or ricotta-filled tortellini. I will save those for another day. 🙂

We used the lemon-herb pasta in a couple of ways—first, with littleneck clams in white wine broth, and again as a base for an amazing dish of chicken thighs in vodka sauce that Les made for us.



Perfectly Crispy, Pan-fried Potatoes

If any doctor ever tells me that I’m allergic to potatoes, I’m all done. Just put me in the ground. Something in me is completely hard-wired to crave the starchy goodness of a potato, and the more texture I can experience in one bite, the happier I’ll be.

There are as many great ways to cook potatoes as there are varieties of potato. And I love them every which way—soft and creamy, as my hubby’s ultra-decadent roasted garlic mashed; firm, cold and toothsome, as my dilly-dilly, double-heat potato salad; or crunchy, cheesy and slightly greasy, as the easy hash brown waffles that we enjoy so much for our big breakfasts on the weekends. Above all, it’s pure crispiness and simple saltiness on potatoes that really wrecks me. My favorite potato chips are the ones that are kettle-cooked with the skin on, and if they happen to be folded over, bubbled up and wrapped around each other, maybe burned a little bit—even better. Yes, give me some of that crunch, please!

Everybody should have at least one really simple potato dish that is easy to make at home, yet still delivers all the goods on texture and flavor, and this, for me, is that dish. These crispy, pan-roasted potatoes are crispy and salty on the outside, but soft, fluffy and tender on the inside. The dual texture that I find so satisfying is the result of cooking them twice, though neither method requires much effort, and they can usually be done in the background of whatever you are serving with them. You will want to choose small, thin-skinned potatoes for this recipe—my usual go-to is baby reds because they are waxy and firm enough to hold their shape through both cooking processes. Small gold or yellow potatoes also work, but russets are a no-go for this one, both for their crumbly nature and the thicker skin.

Begin by scrubbing the potatoes thoroughly, removing any little eye sprouts or dark spots, but keeping as much skin on as possible. Next, boil the potatoes gently until they are just tender enough to pierce with the tip of a paring knife. Drain and cool until they can be easily handled, then carefully press them under a flat dish to create thick potato disks. Then (here comes the best part) fry them over medium low heat in a mixture of butter and olive oil. Salt and pepper, nothing else. Oh. My. Goodness.

If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!

Ingredients

1 1/2 lbs. baby red potatoes, scrubbed clean (keep the peels on)

Kosher salt for boiling potatoes

3 Tbsp. salted butter (maybe more)

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper for serving


Instructions

Let’s run through it in pictures first, shall we? I’m sure you know how to boil the potatoes, so we are picking up from the point they are fork-tender and drained.

  1. Cover potatoes with cold water in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a low boil, add a good amount of salt (about a teaspoon), then reduce the heat and simmer gently until potatoes pierce easily with the tip of a paring knife or a fork.
  2. Drain the potatoes in a colander until they are cool enough to handle.
  3. Place one potato at a time on a cutting board and press it gently, using a flat-bottomed dish or bowl. Use a clear bowl if possible, to help you see how much the potato is flattening. It should burst slightly open on the sides, but you want to keep it intact as much as possible. Easy does it. After flattening, each potato should be about 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Heat a heavy stainless or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and all of the olive oil. When the butter-oil mixture begins to bubble at the edges, arrange the potatoes in a single layer in the pan. It’s fine if they are touching, but leave enough room to insert a spatula when it’s time to turn them. Reduce the heat to medium-low once all the potatoes are in the pan.
  5. As the potatoes begin to cook, they will soak up much of the butter-oil mixture. Slice off a couple dabs of cold butter and insert them between potatoes here and there in the pan. Give them about 8 minutes, then begin checking the bottom for doneness.
  6. When the potatoes begin to get browned and crispy on the bottom, use a small spatula to gently turn them over, one at a time. If you get over-ambitious, the potatoes may break, so take it slow. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. As with the first side, if the potatoes seem to soak up the butter right away, add a couple slivers more butter, or a thin drizzle of olive oil around and between the potatoes.
  7. When second side is browned, turn the potatoes over once more, for a quick “re-crisping” of the first side. This ensures that your potatoes are perfectly crispy and hot on both sides. Give them one last sprinkle of salt and pepper, and serve them hot.

These crispy, pan-fried potatoes are easy and done in the background while you work on whatever else you’re serving for dinner. We had them this time with our Easter dinner of roasted leg of lamb and asparagus. But wouldn’t they be great alongside a roast chicken, or meatloaf, or burgers, or just about anything?

These potatoes made our simple Easter dinner complete.


Watch that first step—it’s a doozy!

I love watching babies as they shift from scurrying on their knees to toddling around on their feet, and I find it not only adorable, but inspiring, to see them diligently rise after every fall, though they are clumsy and awkward in their efforts. The older I get, the more I find new things to be challenging or even daunting, but I seldom give myself grace to be clumsy in the transition.

The first step toward anything new is often a shaky one, and this week, I have been reflecting a great deal on my original purpose for Comfort du Jour. It has been a year since I launched my little blog, and I am aware of how easily I lose sight of my own goals. My perfectionist tendencies are notorious for hindering movement on personal projects, as I noted in my first post on CDJ, the day I announced to the world—or, more accurately, to about three people—that I finally took the first step toward starting a food blog. I shared the news initially with one of my girlfriends, who loves me, despite (or maybe because of) my insecurities and who also knows and has tasted my passion for cooking. I shared it with a cousin, whose love for food was nurtured in the same “Grandma kitchen.” And, of course, I shared it with my husband, who edits every story (except this one) for grammatical correctness and content flow. He is a trained former journalist and news editor, so he knows best on such things (and I am grateful). I did not ask him to review this post, because he might suggest that I am rambling (and I probably am), but I promise that I will bring my point full circle.

In all my review and pondering, I feel that I have lost my way somewhat in my original intention for Comfort du Jour, to be not only a creative outlet at the onset of stress resulting from a world pandemic, but also a place where I could be free to put my love for food on full display. I wanted to share what I have learned along my journey, which began in my Gram’s kitchen, picked up speed during my three-year stint in a commercial catering environment, and manifests today in my desire to simply appreciate and share all the flavors of the world for the greater good. In my panic over “page hits,” I become prone to compromise what I do best in favor of what I think everyone else wants. And that, sadly, is a theme of my life, and my therapist agrees.

Comfort du Jour is a virtual expression of what I had imagined might have been a cozy, diner-style restaurant, where guests would be transported in time to a table in their childhood, just like the fictional food critic, Anton Ego, in the Disney-Pixar film, Ratatouille. In my imaginary diner, my own “dish of the day” would be some combination of family-inspired comfort food and modern elegance. But there is more than that. I also want to share the many ways that cooking has taught me about life, and helped me to grow as a human being. It is no surprise to me that I am often more proud of my “leftover” creations than of any exquisite, perfect dish I have made. The sense of accomplishment in transforming unwanted scraps into something fresh, new and interesting is one of the best feelings ever. And that, happily, has also been a theme of my life, and one that I intend to continue.

So, as much as I had intended to roll out an exciting, “One-Year Awesome Anniversary” kind of post, filled with images of mouthwatering, “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” creations, I am offering something else—a real look into what drives me in the kitchen. It is not only the love of cooking that my grandmother instilled in me, but also my experiences in the catering world, which were brimming with high emotion, exquisite foods and naughty adventures. I was invited into that world by their events manager, a dear friend who recognized that my passion for cooking was a good match-up to their need for extra hands during busy seasons. Sadly, my friend is not here to appreciate or enjoy Comfort du Jour because we lost her to cancer almost three years ago. Let me tell you, she would have loved this. It is difficult to relive some of those memories, but I promise I will share them because there was plenty of joy in that part of my journey, and laughter is still the best medicine.

And that brings me, full circle, into my title for this post: “Watch that first step—it’s a doozy.”

Every adventure begins with a single step, and I’ve made a specific commitment to walking during the month of April, which I am secretly hoping will carry on into the months beyond. Walking is great exercise and affords me the opportunity for reflection and “resetting” my mind on goals, expectations and direction. It begins with the simple decision to get out of my chair and into the world outside myself, away from the computer screen and the TV and the smartphone and all these recipes and everything else that distracts. After a year of sheltering-in-place, it feels awkward to get out there, but the view is quite exhilarating.

Not a cloud in the sky above these incredible long-leaf pines.

It helps, of course, to have a walking buddy, and I am lucky to have a few of them. My husband, Les, and I took our dog, Nilla to nearby Tanglewood Park on Easter Sunday. It was our first time there in ages (maybe ever, together), and the walking trails were busy with families and couples and singles and dogs, all enjoying the same glorious day. Nilla met some new friends, including one of the beautiful horses who allowed her to get close enough for some socially distant sniffing. The hope of spring and fresh beginnings was visible all around us, and it was exactly what I needed.

Pleased to make your acquaintance, Sir. May I sniff your butt?

Last week, one of my new blogging friends shared about her commitment to walk 40 miles during the month of April, as part of a fundraising movement for the American Cancer Society. I cannot participate by means of the Facebook group associated with the effort—oh, let me count the reasons I hate Facebook—but I will be walking, alongside my new friend (though she is many miles away), and in memory of my departed friend who will oversee my steps. Walking is a small effort, but it’s a start, and it is something I can do without concern of whether I’m getting it right. I will donate to the cause, and I will proudly wear my “Team Tammy” bracelet as I work toward my goal, and I encourage anyone who has lost a loved one to the dreadful disease of cancer, or cheered them on to victory over it, to do the same—donate, walk and raise awareness as best you can, so we can keep our traveling partners beside us for the long haul.

Gotta go lace up now, because Nilla reminds me it is time for our walk. And here begins my second year of Comfort du Jour. May it be even more adventurous than the first…

The exhilarating view before me on one of my first walks.

Find out more about the American Cancer Society

Click the link below to donate in memory or in honor of someone you love.

https://www.cancer.org/involved/donate.html


Moravian Sugar Cake

We are only a few days from Easter, and the promise of new life is everywhere—from the blossoming daffodils and buds on the trees, to the cheerful song of so many birds outside my open window. I am nervously awaiting my first dose of COVID vaccine tomorrow and feeling an odd sense of disbelief that we are finally seeing real light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. Easter feels even more special this year, and I cannot stop myself from baking up something delicious and, in these parts, so appropriate for Easter.

Last weekend, my husband and I took our dog for a stroll through one of the oldest parts of our city, where it always feels like Easter to me. Old Salem is a precious gem in the apron pocket of our downtown; amid all the tall, modern buildings—including the old R.J. Reynolds Tobacco headquarters, which was the prototype for New York’s Empire State Building—you’ll find this quaint and humble community, established in the late 1700s by the Moravians, Protestant refugees from what is now the Czech Republic. Only a few steps from the bustling noise of downtown, a visit to Old Salem is like stepping back in time 250 years.

Beyond the cobbled streets, brick-lined sidewalks and meticulously restored houses, shops and tour buildings, you’ll arrive at Home Moravian Church and the gated entrance to God’s Acre, the final resting place of the people who founded this community so long ago.

It is here, in God’s Acre, that thousands of residents of all religions gather on Easter morning for what is believed to be the oldest sunrise service in the U.S. Under non-pandemic circumstances, you’d find yourself among the throng, shuffling along behind the brass choir and witnessing the beauty of the sun rising in the east above this expansive graveyard. This year, as last, the observance is limited to a livestream event, complete with the usual music and liturgy—and all are welcome to join virtually. Rise and shine—this Easter service begins at 6:15 a.m. Eastern. The weather is expected to be chilly, but beautiful.

In non-pandemic times, the faithful would gather here before sunrise for Easter worship.

At Easter, everyone around here is a little bit Moravian, and though there will be no crowd gathered at sunrise, we can still enjoy this delightful sugar cake, a favorite Easter tradition. And I hope this recipe will help you enjoy it as well, wherever you live and whatever you believe.

Moravian sugar cake is a specialty of this local culture—it is sort of a mashup of streusel coffee cake and buttery brioche bread, and thick with the sweetness of brown sugar and warm cinnamon spice. I have enjoyed this treat since my arrival in Winston-Salem 33 years ago, but until recently, had only purchased the mass-produced version of it that is usually so popular at Christmas. Little did I know that it is easy to make at home, and so much better! Mashed potatoes lend a unique softness to this yeasted cake, and the technique of pressing fingers into the dough (as you would when making focaccia) is what coaxes the buttery brown sugar-cinnamon mixture to form deep, pillowy pockets.

The cake is light, airy, sweet and buttery. And that topping, oh my! You can see how deeply the brown sugar melts into the dimpled dough. This is what Easter tastes like to me.

In addition to the generous crust of sweetness on top of the cake, the dough itself is rather heavy on sugar, which gives the yeast a real run for its money—under most conditions, yeast does not thrive in such a sweet dough, but, as you’ll soon see, the potatoes help in that regard as well. Come along, let’s make some!


Adapted from P. Allen Smith’s Moravian Sugar Cake
This recipe makes two 8 x 8″ cakes

Ingredients

2 1/4 tsp. instant dry yeast (one standard envelope)

3/4 cup mashed russet potato, boiled without salt and cooled to room temperature

3/4 cup whole milk, scalded and cooled to room temperature

1 egg, room temperature

2/3 cup cane sugar

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour* + 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (see notes for tips)

1 tsp. salt

6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

Topping

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. pie spice, optional

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter and 3 Tbsp. salted butter, cold*

*Notes

My guide recipe called for 3 to 4 cups of flour, which is a very wide range. If you measure the flour properly; that is, following the “fluff, sprinkle and level” method, you will use almost exactly 4 cups total. I measured out the full amount and added it gradually as suggested, and ended up with about a tablespoon left over. Also, I never, ever use only white flour in a recipe, but if you do not have the whole wheat pastry flour, feel free to use the total amount in all-purpose flour.

As with most baking recipes, a little bit of salt plays up the important flavors of the food, so I used equal parts salted and unsalted butter in the topping.

Instructions

  1. Combine mashed potatoes (they should be somewhat wet) and yeast in a small bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 2 hours. The sugar in the dough will make the yeast work extra hard for moisture, so the mingling with the potatoes gives it a leg up before that part of the recipe begins.
  2. Transfer potato-yeast mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add milk, sugar and egg, stirring to blend completely.
  3. Measure out the total amount of flour, and scoop about 1/2 cup, leaving 3 1/2 cups in the bowl. Add salt to the larger bowl. You may not need the full amount of reserve flour, but you want to have the total of salt in the recipe.
  4. Add flour to mixing bowl, 1/2 cup at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. The ideal dough will be even consistency and tacky, but not too sticky. Dough should pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl while kneading.
  5. Add softened butter, a tablespoon at a time, kneading to fully incorporate each addition before adding more.
  6. With lightly oiled hands, divide total dough between two buttered, 8 x 8” baking dishes, such as Pyrex or metal cake pan. Spread dough evenly to the edges of each pan. Cover loosely with plastic and rest cakes at least 90 minutes, until cakes are nice and puffy.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon and pie spice. Cut in cold butter to evenly distribute through the sugar mixture. You can use a pastry blender, a fork or a few pulses in the food processor.
  8. With lightly oiled hands, gently press your knuckles into the cake dough. Follow a random pattern, with plenty of indentations, but also plenty of high spots. The goal is to create deep pockets for the butter-sugar mixture to sink into, without deflating the entire cake surface.
  9. Scatter the butter-brown sugar mixture evenly over the cakes. The sugar mixture does not need to be pressed into the indentations; it will find its own way during baking.
  10. Bake cakes for about 30 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through for even baking. Cool cakes in the pan several minutes before cutting. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Want to make this recipe?


Maple Bourbon Cedar-Wrapped Salmon

If you were to scroll through your collection of recipes, I wonder which ones are most overlooked, and I wonder why. We all have recipe cards that hang out in the back of the box—either because they no longer suit our taste (which makes them ripe for a makeover), or they are specific to a season or holiday, or the ingredients are too pricy or difficult to find. Sometimes, though, I believe recipes get passed over because they seem complicated or intimidating.

My own “bucket list” of culinary challenges includes items from all those categories, but after recent conversation with various friends and acquaintances, I have noticed one standout category of food that seems to hold an air of mystery to a lot of people: seafood. It seems that most people enjoy seafood, but many are reluctant to make it at home. It’s no wonder seafood restaurant prices are what they are, and that’s a darn shame when some of those dishes are perfectly manageable for a home cook.

Every week or so, I peek at the activity insights offered by WordPress, where Comfort du Jour is hosted, and this helps guide me in deciding what to make next, and what to share with my foodie friends. I can see at-a-glance the number of views and downloads each page has had to date, and overwhelmingly, the recipe with the highest numbers of both is this one:

Really? Mahi Hemingway is the most popular recipe on Comfort du Jour.

It surprises me to see that Mahi Hemingway is so interesting to others, because it happens to be one of the simplest recipes to make, both from an ingredient standpoint and one of skill level. I developed my own version of that recipe because I couldn’t make sense of the $30 price tag on a similar dish in a local restaurant, which I expect points to another reason home cooks shy away from making their own seafood. If it’s so expensive in restaurants, it must be expensive and hard to make, right? Wrong!  😉

Most seafood is surprisingly easy to make, and I’m about to prove it again with this easy-and-done recipe that is cooked on the grill. The salmon fillet portions, which are easily found in most larger supermarkets, take an afternoon bath in a simple marinade of real maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard. The marinade infuses flavor into the fish during this phase, and becomes a flavorful glaze later, when the fish is grilled. If you prefer, you can also make this in the oven, and the cedar wrap is entirely optional, but I believe it is worth the extra expense. I found these in the grilling section of the supermarket , but you might also check your hardware store, Walmart or Target. Cedar wraps impart an aromatic smokiness to the fish, without the extra time and fuss of cedar planks. The wraps are also less expensive than planks (only $10 for eight of them), and they don’t take up much storage space.

I have garnished the salmon with chopped soy-wasabi almonds, which is a great complement to the maple and bourbon flavors, and the wasabi echoes the horseradish that spikes the easy buttermilk mashed potatoes underneath, the same potatoes I made at St. Patrick’s Day for the Bangers & Mash.

You can begin prep for this meal a few hours ahead, and cooking time is less than half an hour, including the mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. This meal is beautiful, tasty, quick and easy—collectively giving it a good chance at moving to the front of the recipe box.

I’ll bet this plate would be at least $24 in a seafood restaurant.

Two servings, easy to double.

Ingredients

I cut two portions from this whole fillet of salmon for this recipe. A larger chunk went on the smoker when we made our pastrami, and the rest went to the freezer.

2 Atlantic salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each* (see notes)

3 Tbsp. real maple syrup, preferably dark*

3 Tbsp. bourbon

1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp. Boyajian maple extract*

2 cedar wraps, soaked at least 5 minutes* (optional, see notes)

Small handful of wasabi & soy sauce almonds*

*Notes

The salmon fillets may be skinless or skin-on; it doesn’t matter because the skin will remain on the cedar wrap after grilling, which makes plating this dish super simple. If your seafood market has steelhead trout or arctic char, they would also be delicious in this recipe, but adjust your grilling time. Both are usually thinner and would cook more quickly.

For the love of good taste, please do not use a fake “maple-ish” syrup from the grocery store. Real maple is the best, and totally worth the expense. There are plenty of resources for good quality maple products; I order mine online from Big Tree Maple in Lakewood, N.Y. Why? Because I grew up under the shade of those lovely trees and they know me.

The maple extract, which is optional, amplifies the flavor of the syrup without adding sweetness. Look for it in gourmet specialty stores, or online at King Arthur Baking Company.  Another product I like for this purpose is maple-infused balsamic vinegar, which is easy to find in one of the specialty balsamic shops that have popped up all over the U.S. If you substitute with the balsamic, use about 1/2 teaspoon.

Cedar wood, when soaked and grilled, lends a phenomenal flavor to salmon. If you choose planks, be certain they are designed for culinary use. Cedar grilling planks should be submerged fully underwater for at least an hour, but I like the wraps because they only require soaking a few minutes. You could probably also use soaked cedar chips in a smoker box, alongside the salmon on your grill.

The wasabi & soy sauce almonds are a Blue Diamond product, and you’ll find them in the small cans in the snack aisle of your supermarket, alongside cans of peanuts and mixed nuts. I’m crazy about the horseradish-y flavor, and it is remarkably good against the sweetness of maple and bourbon.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

1 lb. potatoes (I used a combination of russet and golds)

2 Tbsp. salted butter (extra if you’d like)

1/4 cup thick buttermilk

1 tsp. prepared horseradish

Salt and pepper

Asparagus

1 average bundle fresh asparagus

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Zest of 1/2 fresh lemon (optional)

Instructions

You will want to marinate the salmon fillets a couple of hours, so plan this quick prep for mid-afternoon. I’ll run through the easy steps for the salmon here. For visual direction on the buttermilk mashed potatoes, check out my recent post for Bangers & Mash; it is the same recipe, though ingredient amounts are adjusted here for this dish.

  1. Season the salmon fillets with kosher salt and black pepper. Place them, skin side down, in a glass baking dish.
  2. Combine the maple syrup, bourbon and Dijon mustard in a measuring cup with a pour spout, Whisk in olive oil and maple extract (if using). Pour most of the marinade evenly over the salmon fillets, reserving about a tablespoon of it to drizzle over at serving. Turn the fillets over, so that the fleshy side rests in the marinade, and wiggle them around to be sure the marinade coats the exposed sides of the fish. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, preferably about two hours.
  3. Peel and cut up the potatoes. Boil gently until they are easily pierced with a fork, then drain over a colander.
  4. Add butter and buttermilk to the cooking pot and stir until butter is melted. Transfer drained potatoes back to the pot and mash to desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in horseradish and more butter, if desired. Keep potatoes warm until serving time.
  5. While the potatoes cook, prepare your grill, with temperature at 350° F. Soak cedar wraps and tying twine for at least five minutes.
  6. Remove salmon fillets from marinade. Center them, skin side-down, on the soaked wraps and fold up the sides to enclose them, tying snugly with twine.
  7. Place the cedar-wrapped salmon onto a grilling rack, and cook over direct heat for about 12 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with the twist of a fork. You may need to peel back a piece of the cedar wrap to test the flakiness.
  8. Cut the twine to unwrap the cedar and serve the fish atop a mound of the buttermilk-horseradish potatoes alongside your favorite vegetable. Chop the soy-wasabi almonds into crumb-sized pieces. Drizzle salmon with reserved marinade and sprinkle with almonds.

Make the asparagus concurrently with the potatoes and salmon

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Prep the asparagus by snapping off the trimmed ends. Rinse under running water and roll them around on a paper towel to dry them.
  2. Arrange the asparagus in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roll them to coat evenly. Season with salt and pepper and roast for about 15 minutes. Finish with a sprinkle of lemon zest. If you slide the asparagus into the oven just before the salmon goes on the grill, it will be done right on time!

Want to make this easy salmon recipe?

One more thing…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie

Dilly-Dilly, Double-Heat Potato Salad

There is a common thread that runs through the culinary fabric of the U.S. South. And that thread, in a word, is sweet. Whether it’s beverages, desserts, BBQ sauces or even potato salad, the foods you find on a southern menu will surely satisfy your sweet tooth. That’s a bit of a challenge for people like me, who prefer more savory flavors. In a salad, I want freshness, with tangy, herbal and briny flavors.

When I spotted an online recipe for potato salad with dill and horseradish recently, I got excited about the brightness of flavors and especially the absence of sugar. I found inspiration in that recipe, so I made it (with my own tweaks, of course), and my husband and I enjoyed it so much I’ve made another batch and it will make its way into our recipe rotation. Me being me, though, and always pushing the envelope on flavors, I’ve adjusted it yet again. This time, I doubled down on the dill, adding chopped dill pickles to the original idea of fresh chopped dill. I heaped jalapeno heat on top of the horseradish and crowned the finished salad with chopped hard-boiled egg. Oh, happy Spring! 🙂

This salad is fresh, bright, herbal and zesty!

Best of all, for me, is that there is no sugar in sight. The salad is very dill-forward, and that freshness makes me eager for all the other light foods on the way for Spring. The heat, though doubled, is subtle in the background. The yogurt (or sour cream, if you prefer) contributes a creaminess that isn’t all mayonnaise. And the capers and chopped egg provide a little something extra, as a salad you might expect to find in a good delicatessen.

The result is this dilly-dilly, double heat potato salad, delicious as a cool, savory side to sandwiches, hot foods off the grill or anything you might be serving as a casual meal for Passover or Easter.


Adapted from The Spruce Eats: Dill and Horseradish Potato Salad

Ingredients

About 3 pounds waxy potatoes, peeled* (see notes)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup Greek yogurt or sour cream

1/3 cup chopped dill pickles*

1/4 cup minced red onion or shallots

2 Tbsp. fresh dill, chopped*

2 Tbsp. pickled jalapenos, chopped*

2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish

1 Tbsp. capers

Salt and pepper to taste

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (for garnish)


*Notes

The best potatoes for this recipe are those that do not fall apart too easily. Red, yellow or white potatoes are all good options. Russets, not so much. Their starchy fluffiness makes them more prone to mashing.

If you do prefer a slightly sweet flavor, substitute bread and butter pickles for the dills. The dill flavor will still be present, but the sweetness will help to soften the savory edges of this salad.

This is the right time of year to find fresh dill in the supermarket, but if you do not have access to it, substitute dried dill leaves, but only about a teaspoon. Remember that dried herbs are much more potent than fresh.

Can’t stand the jalapeno heat? I promise it is subtle, but if you don’t want or like jalapenos, leave them out. This is my recipe, but you are always in charge of the decisions in your own kitchen, so make it the way you like. Want it hotter? Well, now you sound like my husband. Go ahead, add more. 😊


Instructions

This is one of the simplest recipes, but I’ll share the steps in pictures anyway. Keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.

  1. Cut up the potatoes into large, “three-bite” size. Boil gently until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Drain them and cool completely before cutting them into smaller pieces. If you wish, cook them a day ahead and refrigerate overnight. Cut the cooked potatoes into cubes about the size of croutons.
  2. Combine all remaining ingredients, except eggs, in a large bowl, seasoning the dressing with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Fold the cut-up potatoes into the dressing. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours.
  4. Serve with chopped hard-boiled eggs scattered on top of the salad.

Want to make it?


Sourdough Pumpernickel

We have entered the last full week of March, and I’ve yet to mention that it is “National Flour Month,” a near-unforgivable oversight for someone who enjoys making homemade bread as much as I do. My adventures with sourdough have been well-documented here on Comfort du Jour, but it took St. Patrick’s Day to bring me back around to making our favorite sourdough pumpernickel. It had to be done, given the volume of homemade corned beef we have (not to mention all that pastrami), and the rising aroma of this bread from the oven was enough on its own to convince me I’d waited too long.

What makes this bread extra special for me is that I make my own flour for it, from freshly milled rye grain. This sounds more impressive than it really is, thanks to a handy grain mill that latches onto my KitchenAid stand mixer. I just turn the dial to select the grind, pour in the grain and turn it on. I purchased the mill in the summer of 2016, when “Pete,” my sourdough starter, was still wet behind the ears, and I’ve found it particularly useful for some of my lesser-used grains, including rye. After whole grain has been milled into flour, the freshness clock starts ticking, and there is nothing tasty about rancid flour. Now, when I want to make rye bread (or pumpernickel, which is technically almost the same), I mill the grain fresh, but only the amount I need, and I’m good to go with flour that far excels what I could have bought pre-milled.

Milling the grain myself allows me to grind only the amount I need, so my whole grain stays fresh longer.

This recipe relies on sourdough for rise and flavor, though there is also a small (optional) amount of instant dry yeast to boost the rising power and make the ferment time more predictable. As with many other sourdough loaves, this one begins the day before with a pre-ferment called a “sponge,” and that’s when the freshly milled rye flour starts working its magic. The rest of the flour is high-protein bread flour, which is needed for its strength because rye does not have a lot of gluten.

Coarse-milled whole rye grain is known as pumpernickel meal, and it may surprise you to know that the dark, rich color of “pumpernickel” bread is mostly for show, and it comes into the bread by way of either caramel color (which isn’t likely in your pantry), strong coffee (either liquid or powdered) or—as is the case with mine—cocoa powder! And no, it does not make the bread taste like chocolate. There’s also an unusual, time-honored technique that will come into play with this bread, and it involves bread from another time (more on that in a minute).

Up to this point, the sourdough pumpernickel recipe I’m describing has been drawn straight from p. 246 of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, the same book I depended on to learn sourdough baking in the first place. But something in my nature will not let me leave well enough alone, and I have put my own spin on this recipe—not because I think I know better than the author, but because I love certain additional flavors in my rye breads, and so I have either substituted or added ingredients, following rules that Reinhart himself would approve. Rather than brown sugar, I add molasses for a deep, earthy sweetness, and I accent this bread with onions, dill and caraway seeds, none of which are called for in the original recipe.

The resulting bread never ceases to thrill my taste buds, and it has been terrific this past week with our homemade corned beef, but I confess my favorite way to enjoy it is the same as most every bread—it makes fabulous toast!

Just give me this, every day for the rest of my life, please!

Ingredients

On Day 1:

7 oz. ripe (recently fed) sourdough starter

4.25 oz. coarse whole grain rye flour* (see notes)

6 oz. water, room temperature

Combine the starter, coarse rye flour and water in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it ferment at room temperature about 5 hours, until it looks very bubbly and active. Transfer the sponge to the refrigerator overnight.

On Day 2:

2 Tbsp. molasses

2 oz. water, room temperature

2 Tbsp. olive oil (mine is infused with dill)

1 heaping Tbsp. minced dried onion, rehydrated with warm water

9 oz. bread flour*

1 Tbsp. cocoa powder* (optional, see notes)

1 tsp. instant dry yeast*

1 1/2 tsp. fine-textured salt

1 Tbsp. caraway seed, plus a few sprinkles for topping* (optional)

Up to a cup of dry bread crumbs from a previous rye loaf* (optional)

1 or 2 tsp. dried dill leaves (optional)

Egg wash for topping and cornmeal for baking

*Notes

If you don’t have a grain mill, it’s no problem. Use whole rye flour, which is available in specialty markets such as Whole Foods. The pre-milled flour and resulting bread will have a finer texture, but all the flavors will still be present.

I mentioned above that strong coffee is sometimes used to give deep color to pumpernickel, but for this recipe, I would not recommend using brewed coffee in the overnight sponge. Espresso powder or a fine-textured instant coffee mixed with the flour would be a better bet if coffee is your coloring agent of choice.

Caraway seeds give a distinct note to rye or pumpernickel bread, but it is a polarizing flavor for some people. When someone tells me they don’t like rye bread, I usually assume it is the caraway. It is a warm, slightly biting flavor, and I love it, so I put it in the dough and also on top of the bread.

The addition of the “old” bread crumbs is optional, but it adds an interesting texture and depth of flavor to the finished bread. In a way, the secondary crumbs are another type of sourdough, given that the flavor and existing yeast in them contribute something to the final product. If you choose to try this, I would recommend using crumbs from a home-baked bread, and preferably sourdough, to exclude unnecessary commercial preservatives and such.


Instructions


  1. The day before you intend to make this sourdough pumpernickel, you will need to feed your starter with the entire amount of coarse, whole grain rye flour and water to make it a soupy mixture. Cover it with plastic wrap and give it a few hours at room temperature until it becomes foamy and bubbly, then put it to bed in the fridge until morning.
  2. Remove the sponge from the fridge for about an hour to knock the chill off it. Pour a small amount of boiling water over the dried chopped onions to re-hydrate them.
  3. In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine the bread flour, cocoa, salt, instant dry yeast and caraway seed. If using the “old bread” technique, also add the crumbs to the flour blend.
  4. Stir water, molasses and oil into the fermented sponge.
  5. Combine the sponge mixture and re-hydrated onions with the dry ingredients and mix with a beater blade until dough becomes a cohesive mass around the beater. Scrape down dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a slightly damp towel and rest 30 minutes.
  6. Switch to the dough hook and knead in the stand mixer about 5 minutes. The dough will be dense and sticky, but resist the temptation to add more flour or you will end up with a gummy bread.
  7. Shape dough into a smooth ball and place it in a large, oiled bowl. Cover and rest in a quiet, warm spot of the kitchen until dough has doubled in size, which may be anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on ambient room temperature.
  8. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan and sprinkle corn meal into the pan, tapping to distribute it evenly in the pan.
  9. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter, pressing and stretching the dough into an oblong shape, about 8 inches wide and 16 inches long. Sprinkle the dried dill onto the dough, then roll it up into a loaf shape to match the length of your bread pan. The loaf will rise more evenly if the ends of the dough meet the ends of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap or an elastic cover and let the bread proof 60 to 90 minutes, until dough has risen to about an inch above the rim of the pan.
  10. Near the end of the proofing time, preheat the oven to 350° F, with rack in the center.
  11. Brush the surface of the bread with egg wash and sprinkle it with additional caraway seeds.
  12. Bake for 45 minutes, turning bread halfway through baking time. Internal temperature should be about 190° F and the bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
  13. Turn bread out onto a cooling rack, and cool completely before slicing.

No, this pretty girl is not asking for pumpernickel. She can smell butter from 100 miles away!

Want to make this sourdough pumpernickel?


Lemony Lobster Risotto

Special occasions call for special foods. Whether you are preparing to celebrate an anniversary, a loved one’s birthday or some other kind of milestone, it makes sense that you would want to enjoy a meal that is a bit more extravagant than the usual. When I turned 10, my father and stepmother took me to a “fancy” restaurant for my first taste of lobster, and I still remember how lusciously sweet and rich it tasted, especially when dipped in the warm drawn butter. During pandemic times, of course, enjoying a special meal has more likely meant digging deeper into your own recipe vault and perhaps brushing the dust off some of your lesser-used cooking skills. You may have even been nudged into fresh culinary territory, taking the plunge on new equipment for your kitchen or learning new techniques or cuisines to make your favorite special foods. All of the above have been true for me over the past year, in addition to starting this blog, which has been a lifesaver for my mental health.

When Valentine’s Day came around this year, I had already decided that lobster tails would be the highlight of our romantic dinner-for-two. I made them last summer when my husband, Les, celebrated his birthday and we both commented how much we enjoyed the lobster and should make it more often. Lobster feels decadent, and though I’ve never been brave enough to prepare a whole, live lobster (mainly out of fear that I’d have to become vegan afterward), I find lobster tails to be one of the simplest seafood preparations out there. Splitting the tail and broiling with nothing more than clarified butter, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of fresh herbs is the way to go. For me, it’s the sides that require a little more thought—you want something elegant enough to pair nicely with such a luxurious main, but nothing too rich or fancy that would compete for attention or overwhelm the palate. Les requested easy roasted asparagus and a Caesar salad, which I glammed up with homemade green goddess dressing. And I wanted a starchy side, but not potatoes and definitely not pasta.

Enter risotto, stage left.

As I mentioned in my January post for the scallops with spinach on bacon risotto, there is no advanced skill required for making this Italian-born side, only patience and attention. I consider risotto a “blank canvas” food, in that you can easily switch directions with it to suit the rest of your menu. For our understated Valentine’s meal, I wanted light, lemony freshness, something that would match the simplicity of the lobster tails. I found a bottled lobster juice in one of our specialty markets, and it has all the luscious sweet aroma of lobster, with exactly the right amount of salt for flavor. Lemon zest gave echo to the fresh lemon we’d be squeezing over the lobster, and did I mention how much parsley we have these days thanks to our indoor hydro garden? I finished it off with a gentle splash of light cream, and the meal was perfectly lovely.

The other thing that is nice about risotto is that you don’t have to make a huge batch of it. For this meal, I wanted only enough to cradle our lobster tails, so I scaled down a basic recipe and used only 1/3 cup of Arborio rice. We had no leftovers, which was perfect.

Ingredients (two dinner side servings)

1 Tbsp. minced shallot

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/3 cup Arborio rice

8 oz. bottle Maine lobster juice* (see notes)

2 oz. dry vermouth (or dry white wine)

Filtered water, amount needed to finish risotto

1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest

2 Tbsp. light cream (or half and half), warmed

A couple pinches of fresh chopped parsley

*Notes

I found this lobster juice in a specialty supermarket, same aisle as tinned fish. The label suggests a serving is a tablespoon, so I’m not sure what most people use it for. When I tasted it, I knew it would be perfect as a broth for my risotto, and I used the entire bottle. If you cannot find this product, consider a seafood stock from the soup aisle.

If you cannot find the lobster juice, substitute packaged seafood stock.

Instructions

  1. Combine lobster juice and dry vermouth in a saucepan over low heat. Bring this up to a very low simmer, and keep it warm for the duration of recipe. If you have a tea kettle, warm some water as well. You may need it to finish cooking the risotto and it will help to have it on standby.
  2. Place a small, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter; add minced shallot and sauté until softened and slightly translucent.
  3. Add Arborio rice to the pan, and toss it around with a wooden spoon until all grains are coated and the rice begins to look lightly toasted in color. Reduce heat to medium low.
  4. Add a small ladle of the warm lobster broth and stir rice around to evenly distribute it. Cook, stirring or shaking pan frequently, until the broth seems mostly absorbed. Repeat with only a small ladle of broth each time. As the recipe proceeds, you will notice that the risotto takes on a cloudy appearance. This is good! The starches are breaking down into different form, and this is what creates the rich, creamy texture. Keep going, but take it slow.
  5. When you have nearly exhausted the broth, do a taste test. Perfect risotto should be tender, but not mushy. If it feels like it will stick to your teeth, it needs more time. Add warm water to the remaining broth and continue cooking. You should expect this process to take about 40 minutes from start to finish.
  6. When the risotto texture seems right, add the lemon zest and fresh parsley. Stir in the light cream or half and half, and serve immediately.

To make clarified butter:

Place a small saucepan over very low heat. Add a whole stick (1/4 cup) of unsalted butter and leave it alone. You want the butter to warm slowly so that it melts but does not brown or burn. Avoid temptation to stir or swirl the pan, as this will reincorporate the milk solids. When the butter is completely melted (which may take as long as 30 minutes), turn off the heat and let it rest for a minute or two. Carefully tip the saucepan, pouring off the clarified butterfat, but leaving the milk solids behind in the bottom of the pan. Do this a day or two ahead, if you wish. Keep the clarified butter covered and refrigerated until ready to use. Reheat over medium-low heat, or in the microwave, but only 15 seconds at a time.


Prepping and cooking the lobster tails:

If you have purchased the lobster tails frozen, it’s best to thaw them slowly in the refrigerator, as it makes separation of the flesh from the shell a bit easier. In a hurry? Place them in a heavy, ziptop freezer bag, squeezing out excess air (the shells have sharp edges, so sandwich-type bags won’t do). Put the bags in a large bowl or pot filled with cold water. Place something heavy over them to keep them submerged during the thaw process.

Use strong kitchen scissors to cut the top side of the shell lengthwise, clipping as far as you can to the tail fins. Next, carefully slide a sharp, slim paring knife between the meat and the shell, and shimmy it all the way around to loosen the flesh. Using one hand to gently pry open the cut shell top, carefully lift the tail flesh up through the shell opening to rest it on top. This affords the prettiest presentation. Blot away excess moisture with paper towels. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to broil the tails.

Set your oven to high broil setting for about five minutes, with oven rack in the center position. Arrange the lobster tails, at least 4 inches apart from each other, on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment, or use a broiler pan. If the tails don’t sit upright without tipping, you can make a nest of aluminum foil to hold them in position.

Drizzle a spoonful of clarified butter evenly over each tail. Broil on high for about 7 minutes, until flesh is plump and white, and shells are bright orange-red in color. Remove immediately, drizzle on more butter and sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve on top of lemony risotto with wedges of fresh lemon.

Simply elegant, and totally delicious!

Want to make it?


Not Quite Katz’s (but darn good pastrami)

April, I have decided, is a lovely time to visit New York. When my husband, Les, and I traveled there for our honeymoon trip a few years ago, I realized that being in the city with someone who grew up in the city is the best experience of all. When you are traveling with a “native son,” you don’t feel as much like a tourist, but you quickly get used to the idea of walking—a lot. Les and I walked, on average, about 6 miles each day, and I was free to enjoy the scenery along the way. In New York, in April, there were tulips everywhere.


The city was abuzz with the sounds, sights and smell of spring, and I was positively in love—with N.Y., of course, but especially with my husband of only a few days. His confidence in navigating the city of his youth gave me even more reason to appreciate being with him. I didn’t have to worry about a thing! Les knew instinctively which subway trains to take for various planned excursions, what time to leave and (most importantly) where to go for the best food, including John’s on Bleecker Street for pizza, which became the gold standard in my own effort to achieve the perfect N.Y. pizza dough.

One of our day trips included a visit to the Freedom Tower, now the tallest building in N.Y., at the site where the North Tower of the World Trade Center once stood. We had visited the landmark and the memorial earlier in the week, and merely seeing the names of the people who died on that dark day of history was truly devastating. I cannot (and don’t want to) imagine what it must have been like to witness those events.

There are not enough words.

We had intended to ascend the Freedom Tower on that first visit, but were offered a reschedule on our tickets because of heavy fog that apparently made visibility from the top almost nil. We had better luck on the second visit, and the view from the One World Observatory was jaw-dropping.

I wondered how many people down there might have been looking up to where we were standing.
And how about that dreadful smog?

All that walking left us feeling pretty hungry, and our steps (and appetite) led us to the Lower East Side, to the most iconic eatery in all of Manhattan.


From the outside, Katz’s Delicatessen is pretty unassuming—just an old-school corner building with a neon-letter sign—but inside, the joint was jumping! We squeezed into line with all the other hungry tourists and locals, pulled our tickets and shouted our orders to the sandwich makers behind the counter, who were generously offering samples of the deliciousness to come. It was the most exciting lunch I’ve ever eaten, in a place you’ve probably seen, even if you have never visited New York. Katz’s Deli was the setting for the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in the film, When Harry Met Sally. And if you do visit the city—you know, when the world reopens—I highly recommend a visit to Katz’s, and I highly recommend that you have what I had—the $23 pastrami on rye. Worth. Every. Penny.

My pastrami in the foreground; Les’s corned beef in the back. It was a collective mountain of food!

When business is booming, Katz’s reportedly sells 15,000 pounds of pastrami a week—and as you can see, most of that ends up on one sandwich. I did my best to stretch my jaw onto that thing, and my city-savvy hubby had to show me how it’s done, face-first and with both hands.


We had a ton of leftovers, of course, so we wrapped up the remains of our sammies and took them back to our room. It was on this trip that I learned cold leftover pastrami on rye is fantastic for breakfast.

I’ve had a hankering to try making pastrami at home ever since that trip, and although we cannot match what they do at Katz’s (at least, not without giving up our full-time jobs), Les and I were pretty darn excited with the results of our first pastrami effort. When we began our corned beef adventure this year, we had purchased two large, grass-fed briskets, knowing that both would be brined at least a week, and that one would travel on to the smoker with a spicy dry rub to become pastrami. My inspiration came from Katz’s, but my recipe is drawn mostly from The Gefilte Manifesto (Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern), the same book that inspired my pierogi with potato, leek and spinach last fall. Jeffrey’s pastrami recipe instructed a 7-day brine, followed by extensive rinsing, a generous rub-down with copious amounts of spices and, finally, several hours in the smoker.

Our driveway, where the smoker was set up, smelled like the stuff deli dreams are made of, and our first pastrami was fabulous! I will not torture you with three pages of ingredients and details, because you probably just want to see the pictures, anyway. So, here you go!



In reviewing all my notes and looking back at the instructions offered in The Gefilte Manifesto, we realize that we made a couple of missteps, primarily with the finishing of the pastrami. We should have waited to cut into it, pending an overnight in the fridge and a two-hour steaming. But the aroma caused us to lose our minds a bit, and so we just charged in and cut the thing. Fantastic flavors, and we will steam the slices as we go. We’ve got nothing on Katz’s Delicatessen, but our pastrami was pretty darn delicious. We will absolutely do this again, and by that time, we hope to invite all of our meat-loving friends to join us for a pastrami feast, fresh and hot off the smoker. Who’s bringing the potato salad? 😀


DIY Corned Beef—Done!

It has been a fun week of St. Patrick’s Day-themed food prep at our house. As I’ve chopped and cooked, hustling from one recipe to another and digging into the history of the foods associated with Ireland, I’ve felt an almost spiritual connection to the Irish people. Theirs is a rich and layered culture, and my background music of choice, the Springsteen album Live in Dublin, gave me additional inspiration. Here’s a taste, for your listening pleasure as you tag along for the rest of my corned beef adventure.

It has been a deliciously rich week, too. We’ve shared these tasty recipes, including two versions of mashed potatoes, a no-yeast bread, a no-bake dessert and some bangin’ sausages. By the time we finish the leftovers, I expect I will have sweet Irish butter flowing through my veins. Wow!


The Irish food party started last week, when I detailed our adventures with making our own corned beef. Whether or not you jumped on the DIY wagon with us, I thought you may appreciate seeing the end result. As mentioned, we avoid meats processed with nitrates and nitrites, so I certainly do not go out of my way to find or use them in our homemade version of this St. Patrick’s Day classic. The ingredients we do use to brine our grass-fed brisket—kosher salt, pickling spices, brown sugar, Irish ale, celery juice and sauerkraut brine—add layers of flavor, and we don’t care about the pinkish color the added nitrates would have otherwise lent.

Let’s pick up where we left off, from the point of pouring the brine over the briskets and sending them to the refrigerator for a nice, long nap. I noted that we would finally make good on our goal of making pastrami from one of the briskets, and we have done that (I’ll share it tomorrow), but corned beef is the guest of honor this week, and the post-brine process is very simple. I turned the briskets each day to help them brine evenly, and the corned beef got an extra day’s soak on Sunday—a total of eight days, which is about right for a nearly 6-pound hunk of meat. I rinsed it thoroughly, nestled it into the slow cooker on top of celery and onion chunks, and sprinkled it with about half a bottle of fresh pickling spices. We have done corned beef nearly the same way for several years, so I decided to try a twist that I saw in my news feed, though I cannot for the life of me remember the source. Anyway, the suggestion was to use white wine in the brining liquid. This makes perfect sense to me, given that I use wine to roast so many other meats, so I tried it. This will become a new standard for us.

This may well be the best batch of homemade corned beef we have ever made. The meat is perfectly tender and easy to slice, and the flavors are richly entwined with every fiber of the meat. The flavor is richer and more complex than any store-bought corned beef I’ve had, and my husband, Les, suggested that it rivaled the delicious corned beef we enjoyed a few years ago at Katz’s delicatessen in New York!


Instructions

  1. Remove brisket from brine and brush away as much of the picking spice mixture as possible. Discard the brine, and I’d recommend that you pour it through a colander to strain out the seeds, berries, bay leaves, and chunky solids that might otherwise clog your kitchen drain.
  2. Rinse the brisket. Cut up a whole yellow onion and a few stalks of celery. Scatter the aromatic vegetables into the bottom of a large pot or slow cooker. Place the brisket, fat side-up, on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle about half a bottle of fresh pickling spices over the brisket.
  3. Pour in 1/2 cup dry white wine, and enough water into the pot to completely cover the meat. Bring pot to a slight boil, then reduce heat and simmer about one hour per pound of meat, until brisket is desired tenderness.
  4. Carefully remove brisket from the cooking liquid and rest on a cutting board for 15 minutes before cutting.
  5. If you are cooking cabbage and carrots to accompany the corned beef, but them on to boil now, and use the brisket braising liquid to echo the corned beef flavors.
  6. Slice brisket against the grain—opposite the direction of the meat fibers.
  7. You’ll find that the corned beef slices particularly well after chilling. To reheat slices of corned beef, place slices in a steamer basket over simmering water. Or, strain more of the braising liquid into a jar and keep it in the fridge for steaming the leftovers. Why waste that flavor? 🙂

You don’t have to be Irish to love it!

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