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Monday, March 23, 2009

New Cookbook, New Recipes

My in-laws gave me a new cookbook for Christmas, The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. This cookbook, a revision of one that was first released in 2005, is produced by the same folks who publish Cooks Illustrated magazine. This loose-leaf (some assembly required) book offers recipes, product reviews, explanations and photos of techniques and, most interesting, results of tests that the authors performed in their efforts to achieve the best results.

Kimberly was the first to use the cookbook, when she whipped it out to make a fantastic carrot cake (p. 547). A week or so later, she made "Gig and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies"using the recipe on page 499 ane earning our son's comment that they were the best cookies he had ever eaten. (Don't worry, Ken, I still like your family-secret oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies better.)

I used the cookbook this past week on two occasions. Having come across an unopened (and somehow forgotten!!) bottle of marsala wine in the pantry, I decided to make Chicken Marsala (p. 287). The recipe was quite simple and very good, though I managed to misread one of the ingredient lines and used WAY too much lemon juice. The addition of the extra lemon juice gave the dish more of a piccata flavor than I had planned on, but it was nice anyway. It was good served with linguine and green peas and, as I had kept the pasta, the chicken, and the sauce separate, it refrigerated well and made great leftovers the next night.

Like many people, I've been trying to cut back on red meat, but I'm also aware of the ecological problems with overfishing and even the problems with farmed fish. Some time ago, Kimberly clued me in to the the Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Seafood Watch program provides regular updates on which species of fish are threatened by overfishing, which ones pose environmental problems or health risks. Really, you owe it to yourself -- and to the environment -- to visit their website. Really!

Salmon has been a favorite with my family, but, according to Seafood Watch, which recommends wild-caught salmon from Alaska or Washington, farmed Atlantic salmon poses a whole host of problems: "Waste from the fish passes freely into the surrounding environment, polluting wild habitat. Farmed fish can escape and compete with wild fish for natural resources. Escaped fish can interbreed with wild fish of the same species, compromising the hardiness of the wild population. Diseases and parasites can spread to wild fish living near or swimming past net pens."

A friend of mine, who is a seafood wholesaler, introduced me to Arctic char as an ecologically responsible alternative to salmon. It is very good, though I haven't often found it at grocery store fish counters. Yesterday, while doing some list-free grocery shopping after church, I decided that I wanted to make maple-soy salmon for dinner. I found some organic, farm-raised, Atlantic salmon at King's Market in Cresskill and brought it home to try. While I know that the label "organic" doesn't necessarily mean much, I decided to give it a try as an alternative to the "regular" farm-raised salmon.

When I got it home, I tried the ultra-simple recipe in my new cookbook (p. 244). It was as good as anything I've ever had at any seafood restaurant and was almost as quick and easy as plain broiled salmon. I served it with wild rice (drizzled with a bit of the maple-soy glaze) and steamed sugar snaps. This is definitely a "serve to company" dish!

Maple-Soy Glazed Salmon (or Arctic char)

1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each, 1 1/4 inches thick)
2 t. sesame seeds, toasted

1. Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 500 degrees. Bring the maple syrup and soy sauce to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until the mixture is syrupy and measures roughly1/2 cup, about 4-6 minutes. (My glaze took a bit longer to reach this stage and tended to bubble up as it cooked.)

2. Meanwhile, remove any pin bones from the salmon. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper, and lay it skin-side down in a lightly oiled 9x13-inch baking dish (space about 1 inch apart). Bake for 5 minutes.

3. Using a pastry brush, spread a thick layer of the maple-soy glaze over the tops and sides of the salmon. Continue to bake until all but the very center of the fish has turned from translucent to opaque, about 5 minutes longer. (I like my salmon a bit more well-done, so I let mine cook about 7 more minutes.)

4. Brush the fillets with another layer of glaze and sprinkle with the sesame seeds before serving.

Note: In the future, I might try putting some slices of fresh ginger in the maple-soy mixture as it simmers.

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