Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Smoked Salmon Spread (or, Put a Little Protein on that Giant Carb)

It's ill-advised for me to think about math too early in the day, but here's a pre-coffee postulation for you:  breakfast is a binary event. Win/lose. Carb/protein. Sugar/salt. You choose between an Omelette or Waffles. Well, you might order bacon with your pancakes, ye who just have to have it all. But usually I approach breakfast hungry for one - sugar/salt or carb/protein (win/win either way) - or the other.

A bagel with smoked salmon is one of my favorite things. This is exactly how I like it: the top half of a fresh onion bagel (not toasted, unless it's not fresh) with a thin shmear of cream cheese, a smattering of very thinly sliced red onion, a layer of smoked salmon, three not-too-thick slices of tomato, several turns of fresh ground pepper and a pinch of kosher salt or a few dashes of Redmond Real Salt. Having drained my coffee, it occurrs to me that you get a smidgen of protein with your carb here. But let's be honest, like 99% of the calories here are from the bagel.

One day, with a need to bring something breakfasty to a meeting and a short supply of smoked salmon, I conjured up a recipe for salmon spread. Oh, it is SOOO good! And wonderful for a crowd because it takes some of the work out of layering process. I served it recently at a 60-person brunch along with a basket of sliced bagels and a platter of sliced red onion and tomato. No capers. Boo, capers. Anyhoo, I had a bit leftover and it made a nice little afternoon snack atop Triscuts.

Smoked Salmon Spread
Print recipe only here

8 oz. cream cheese
2 T heavy cream
pinch kosher salt
2 T shallot, minced
1 tsp. fresh parsley
4 oz. smoked salmon, gently shredded

Soften cream cheese in a mixer using paddle attachment.

Add cream and beat for another minute or so.

Add shallot, parsley and salt and combine briefly. Add shallot, parsley and salt and combine briefly. Add salmon and stir in by hand (or use mixer on lowest speed for just a few turns). Do not overmix.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mind These Peas, Please

I've been noshing on peas like these all summer. The original recipe came from a cookbook by Sarah Raven called In Season. It's a great resource of a cookbook and is a great complement to James Peterson's Vegetables cookbook. Anyway, I have to give Mariana a shout out for gifting me Sarah's book. It's yielded a number of tasty sides.

I've played a bit with the original recipe, sometimes sauteing the mint, sometimes tossing it on at the end. On one occasion I followed Raven's recipe and added some fresh squeezed lemon juice but I really didn't care for it. Another time I added shallot at the beginning, sauteing it gently before adding the peas to the softened shallot and warm oil. But this way is my favorite way.

I don't know how good this would be using frozen peas. The might be ok, but I think the beauty of this dish is the crunch of the fresh pea and the marriage with fresh mint. I hope you won't have trouble sourcing fresh peas. You can always check the salad section at Trader Joe's. Their 10-ounce bag has not disappointed.

Bright Summer Peas
Print recipe only here

1 to 2 cups fresh peas
1 t olive oil
2 T fresh mint, finely chopped
generous pinch kosher
fresh ground pepper

Gently pulse peas in a food processor to crush them a bit. Don't overdo it. You want to retain their texture.

Transfer peas to a small saucepan or saute pan. Add the olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir gently for 3-4 minutes over a low-medium flame. Turn off heat, add chopped mint, stir and serve.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

A Desk of One's Own

I had a bee in my bonnet all summer about finding a desk. Complicating the search were the dimensions (it had to be small, like no more than 48 inches wide) and determining the exact spot it would inhabit in our house. My interim desk was a bookshelf to which I bellied up a bar stool and into which I would fold one leg. My back is still complaining about that arrangement.

Sometime in the last week of summer before the kids went back to school I discovered, while trolling the internet, an antiques shop in nearby Oak Park. And nearly every morning during that week I announced my intention to skip out there and see if they had my desk. And every afternoon, around 2 pm, when the window had nearly closed on agreeable transit times between Chicago and Oak Park, I caved to my children's pleas to enjoy their last bit of summer and not spend it shopping. Wise children, I have.

Lo, on the first day of school, after the school doors closed behind them, and the parental meet and greet and Room Parent meeting had adjourned, I got in my car, cranked some hillbilly rock (the Avett Brother's Mignonette album) and drove myself out to the land of Arts and Crafts. And there, tucked in a back room of Oak Park Antiques was my desk. Unlike Mary, who Bruce Springsteen sings about in Thunder Road ("You ain't a beauty but, hey, you're alright"), she is lovely, just lovely. That line - worst pick up line, ever - always makes me chuckle. My bet is that Mary did not take the long walk from her front porch to Bruce's front seat.

If I had any uncertainty about that desk being my desk (it is shy of 48 inches and I was slightly concerned I would need a bit more space) it melted when I opened the top drawer and found an old book of short stories from the New Yorker. It has a couple of names inscribed inside, as well as a handwritten date: December 1942, the month and year my mother was born.

I've been thinking about my mother a lot since last month when I turned the age she was when her life ended. I've been thinking about how to live my life more fully, about working and playing harder, about appreciating the life I have without complaint.

My mom and daughters are good at reminding me to stop shopping, or tidying, or busying myself with activity less important than cramming onto the couch, holding my cards close to my face so the children pressed in against me can't see them, and being commanded in variety of silly voices, to hand over all my Sevens. Lucky, too, for a desk at which to consider it all.

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