Sustainable salmon–from the freezer


Once upon a time, fresh salmon made a regular appearance on my dinner table.  The California fishery was still relatively healthy and I could always count on finding fresh, locally-caught king salmon at my neighborhood grocery store throughout the spring and summer.  The succulent orange flesh of the thick steaks and fillets was irresistible.  Prices weren’t bad either.

Fast forward a decade and fresh salmon from local fishing boats has become a rare luxury.  Federal authorities have placed the California coastal king salmon, also known as Chinook, on their list of threatened species. The state closed salmon fisheries altogether for the first time in 2008 and 2009 because the stock of Chinook was so low.  This year, the ocean season was restricted to the month of April and catches were limited to two salmon a day.

Of course, there’s still salmon in the market, but most of the wild-caught fish has been shipped from Alaska with prices to match. Even then much of it is labeled “previously frozen” because most of the Alaskan catch is flash-frozen on the boat as soon as it’s caught.  So I’ve been reconsidering the shrink-wrapped wild salmon in the freezer cases at stores like Trader Joe’s, where prices are about half that of fresh fish. Continue reading Sustainable salmon–from the freezer

Bittman on the iPhone


New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman always seems to have his finger on the pulse of how America cooks.  His encyclopedic book of pared-down recipes, “How to Cook Everything,” Wiley, 1998, long ago displaced the venerable “Joy of Cooking” as the everyday kitchen reference in our house.  My husband would be lost without it.

Now Bittman has joined the smart phone age with his nifty new iPhone app, “How to Cook Everything On the Go” ($4.99). I’m not going to give up my hardback version of his cooking bible anytime soon but I’m smitten with this clever bit of technical wizardry.  It has everything in the book and more in a to-go format that is much easier to search.

The shortcake pictured here is based on the simple scone recipe I found while browsing among the strawberry entries.   The ingredient list is short, the instructions are simple, and the results are delectable.  This may be the easiest, most tender and flaky scone I’ve ever made even though I switched out half of the white flour for whole wheat pastry flour.  Use a food processor and the scones are ready to bake before the oven has warmed up. Continue reading Bittman on the iPhone

Fresh favas worth the effort

fava salad

Sometimes there aren’t any shortcuts to good food.  If you want the flavor of the real thing, you just have to put in the time and effort.

Fresh fava beans are a prime example.  Each plump little bean must be liberated from its cozy cocoon within a sturdy pod before you can even think about peeling and cooking it.

Yet these beans are so wonderful that cooks around the world are happy to spend the time shucking and peeling them for everything from a simple antipasto to a spring stew with artichokes and new potatoes.  The subtle flavor is one of the true delights of spring – fresh and sweet with buttery overtones and just a faintly bitter finish.

This year, I fell in love with a salad of tender spring favas and salty pecorino cheese tossed with fresh arugula, basil and mint that I found in Sara Jenkins’ Mediterranean cookbook “Olives and Oranges,” Houghton Mifflin, 2008.  Simply dressed with olive oil and sea salt, it’s a feast of the season.  Continue reading Fresh favas worth the effort

Lemon bars hit the mark


I’ve been looking for the ideal lemon bar recipe for ages.  Over the years, I’ve made bars with fabulous citrus zing and bars that held their shape when cut, but only rarely did I get both in the same pan.  More often than not, the very best tasting bars never set properly and I ended up chilling them to the edge of freezing before cutting. Or I’d just slurp up the soupy center squares with a spoon.

Leave it to Martha Stewart to solve the problem.  I found these luscious squares in “Martha Stewart’s Cookies,” Clarkson Potter, 2008, one of the best cookie cookbooks in my experience.

These bars are bright and fresh tasting with just enough mouth-puckering tartness to satisfy a real lemon lover.  Yet they’re also firm enough to slice into perfect squares when cooled. Continue reading Lemon bars hit the mark